Review of Schiit Asgard 2: preliminary thoughts after one weekend of beta testing
I was recently sent a new production, slightly modified Schiit Asgard 2 for beta testing. I’ve been an owner of the Asgard 1 for some time, and I went through two earlier Asgard 2s. The two Asgard 2s were sent back to due pretty loud transformer hum and a high noise floor, even when using low gain.
My reference system is a Trafomatic Head One with a Musical Fidelity V-DAC II powered by a V-PSU II. With my HD600, this system is as good as it gets for me. My search is largely over. However, despite how good the Trafomatic is, it doesn’t drive my DT990s to their maximum potential. This is where I use the Asgard 1 extensively. The Asgard 1 drives them very well, and better than the Trafomatic. When I first read the specs of the Asgard 2, I immediately wanted it because the higher voltage, at least on paper, would benefit the DT990s.
When I audition amps, I don’t have an elaborate A/B method. However, I do have a set procedure that works for me. I listen to a few albums I know very well using both my DT990/600 ohm and HD600. That’s it. Then, I record my notes and impressions.
I’ve had the Asgard 2 for three days now, and I’m in a good position to describe the amp. My chain remained the same, except for swapping in the Asgard 2 for the Trafomatic. The amp might burn in some more and mature a little, but I have a good feel for its flavor at this point.
Initial impressions? For starters, the transformer hum is gone. Completely. Even more silent than the Asgard 1. The transformer has been redesigned according to Jason. Secondly, the noise floor is also much lower when using low impedance, high sensitivity headphones. I'm not sure as to the cause, or the remedy of the noise floor, but it is a welcomed addition. It appears that Schiit fixed these complaints with flying colors.
Whenever I seriously test out an amp, I make sure I use my DT990/600s. When they are under-driven, the bass bloats and loses control, the sound stage collapses, the treble gets etched and aggressive, sibilance becomes more apparent, and the overall sound loses focus and proper imaging. In other words, they sound bad and not very pleasing.
When using the Asgard 2, the DT990s sound fantastic. The sound is musical, open, textured, smooth, detailed, smooth, and in control. The bass runs deep, but never bloats. It is precise and textured. The bass runs deeper on the Asgard 2 than the Asgard 1. The treble is sweet, yet detailed. The Asgard 1 had some high frequency roll off, but it was not objectionable. The Asgard 2 does not have the same roll off, but it is still a pleasing combo with the treble-happy DT990s. The amp never loses focus or control, which when driving the DT990s, is a major accomplishment. Overall, the Asgard 2 sounds very musical and engaging. It maintains the house Asgard 1 sound, but does it better. If I was to grade on a shifting, standard school scale of how well the Asgards drive the DT990s, I'd say the now end-of-line Asgard 1 is about a B+ and the Asgard 2 is an A- or an A.
I make sure I always play the same two “difficult” albums when auditioning amps. As a reference point, the Trafomatic has no problem with these two albums. The Asgard 1 was very good with them, but it did have some trouble maintaining bass texture and also experienced a little wonky imaging in the high treble region. Other amps I've owned have had their problems with these two albums.
With these albums, the Woo 3 can sound woolly and congested at times. My various iPods also struggle with them when driving low impedance, high sensitivity headphones. When I briefly had the HiFiMan EF-5, that amp had moderate success, but was still a step behind the Trafomatic. You could argue tube rolling, but that's neither here nor there. Bottom line, of all the amps I've auditioned to this point, only the Trafomatic passed when playing these two difficult albums.
The first is Big Head Todd and the Monsters’ “Sister Sweetly.” This album has one of the most textured and detailed bass arrangements I have ever heard in an indie rock recording. Lesser amps do not showcase the complexity and texture. They don’t dig deep enough and often blur the notes and tones together. Lesser amps have poor decay and PRAT on the bass lines. The Asgard 2 nailed the bass lines with absolute precision. The other voices on the album aren’t very complex, so I only use this album to measure an amp’s ability to handle intricate lower registers. In fact, when using the DT990s, the Asgard 2 dug deeper into the bass nether regions than the Trafomatic. That is certainly a statement.
The second album is Brian Eno and David Byrne’s “Everything that Happens Will Happen Today.” Over the radio, some of these songs don’t sound very complex. However, when using headphones fed a good source, the songs are very complex. There are all sorts of background sounds and images characteristic of both Talking Heads and Brian Eno. Lesser amps lose focus and can blur the sounds together. The imaging can lack. When the DT990s are under-amped while playing this album, very bad things happen. The Asgard 2 and DT990 combo was marvelous while playing album. I try to avoid hyperbole and superlative descriptions, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard this album sound better when using the DT990s. Overall, the Asgard 2 outperformed the Trafomatic when driving them. It was extremely open, detailed, and musical. All of the intricacies came together in a very pleasing manner. I never got bored with it, and I can get bored with an album if it loses imaging.
So, in the end, the problems of the earlier Asgard 2s have been fixed. The Asgard 2 is a definite step up from the Asgard 1. It is a very good amp. At this point, I suggest that it has passed its beta test. I’m going to listen to it for a longer time to see if things change, but I seriously doubt that I will have to revise my strong recommendation. Those who are waiting for the Asgard 2 to ship will be very happy with this finished product.
In the coming days (and hopefully weeks if I'm allowed to keep the test amp longer), I will record my impressions when using the HD600s. The Asgard 1 did very well with the HD600s, but the Trafomatic was a step up. I will see if the Asgard 2 can close this gap.
Edited by hodgjy - 4/15/13 at 8:44am