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Desktop Amps item created by nightmancometh, Aug 31, 2010
Pros - Buttery smooth unfatiguing tube sound; built like a tank.
Cons - Farts tube noise and possibly DC offset when 1st turned on...
I've owned an EarMax and Sennheiser HD 580's for 20 years, so I'm already familiar with tubed OTL headphone amps. The linestage of my old Quicksilver started developing some noise, and I didn't want to send it back, so I started using my EarMax as a simple linestage. This worked amazingly well, but made headphone listening inconvenient. When I saw that AudioAdvisor had one of these original Valhallas for $199.00, clearance, I couldn't resist.
My original plan was to use this unit for my yeoman line stage, and retire the EarMax back to headphone amp duty. Once I fired it up, it took all of 20 seconds to realize this was NOT a good plan.
This particular unit farts loud clicking as the tubes warm up. That's not so bad, but it seemed to be passing some DC offset, because the protection circuit of my Odyssey Kismet monoblocs kept engaging; the 1st this had ever happened. So, I turned the Valhalla off, replaced the EarMax as my linestage (which is always impeccably behaved), and made the Valhalla my headphone amp, as that's what it is designed for!
It took another 30 seconds of listening to find that this was a VERY good plan! Cut to the chase...buttery smooth, unfatigueing, but revealing triode sound at its best! With my 300 ohm HD 580's, this amp is even a better match than my EarMax. Highs are rolled off in absolute terms, but not so badly that you feel you're missing out on anything. Unbelievably smooth mids, powerful and quite tuneful bass. Buttloads of gain, very quiet for an all tube design. Probably not the best amp to pair with low impedance headphones; it is clear these tubes like being a voltage rather than a current source. Pair this amp with a 300 ohm or higher set of cans, you will NOT be disappointed. Tube farts aside, this amp STAYS! Whether you do classical, or grunge, this amp serves this music RIGHT. And as an aside, I have to note that the build quality of this amp is like a four figure headphone amp, not an entry level one. Unbelievable! Highly recommended. ONE CAVEAT:This amp does indeed pass DC when it is first turned on. So to save the drivers in your headphone, it is better to power it up 1st, then WAIT a MINUTE before you connect your cable. Same goes with powering down. Disconnect your headphone cable 1st, THEN power it down. You'll have no problems that way. FWIW, this amp does need some warm up time to sound its best. Don't even THINK about listening until the volume knob gets warm...that's when you can start. But the longer you leave it on, the better it sounds. That said, I'd not leave it on ALL the time, because you'll go thru your tubes too fast, that way.
Pros - releaxed yet capable treble, not overly warm/lush, timbre and neutrality, price, build quality,
Cons - excessive heat, diminishing returns,
After upgrading to the Valhalla, I thought I'd give it a review while comparing the lower end Magni that I upgraded from. Keep in mind these are all subjective thoughts, what may be a con for me may be a pro for you based on your preferences.
Non sound impressions: Build quality, as always, is excellent with Schiit. I can't find a single thing wrong with how it was constructed, it's solid, and even though it has a pretty compact size, it weighs a lot more than you would think. Compared to the Magni, it runs much, much hotter, but that is expected from a class A tube amplifier. The potentiometer works better on the Valhalla, it has less channel imbalance at lower volumes and is more precise than the Magni's potentiometer. The Magni's high gain seems to make the potentiometer almost useless, especially with low impedance headphones.
Bass: I can't notice any difference in the bass, they are both equal in impact and extension.
Midrange: The Valhalla adds a little more "meat" to the music and harshness is smoothed over. For example, Electric Guitars sound fuller, more laid back, and richer. The Magni sounds a bit thinner and brighter with the Electric guitar.
Treble: The Valhalla has less emphasis on sibilance and treble, however, the treble is still well extended and is there when needed, it doesn't sound overly warm or lush like a stereotypical tube amplifier. Cymbals and hi-hats still have a good sense of air and dominance, but the Magni renders them with a sharper, brighter tone. If you have been reading other reviews, the general consensus is that the Valhalla is actually quite bright for a tube amp, I agree. The Magni in comparison is a bit brighter, sharper, and more uncontrolled in the treble. However, the Magni can be much more exciting because of this, the downside is that it is more fatiguing and less forgiving of lower quality sources.
Soundstage: I don't notice much of a difference at all versus the Magni. The Valhalla sounds just a touch wider, deeper, and less in your head.
Song tests: (Source is a Schiit Modi, 320KB MP3s or FLACs, and a Sennheiser HD600)
Avenged Sevenfold, God Hates Us, Rock
Valhalla: Neutral and flatter. The Valhalla has more realistic timbre on the instrumentation versus the Magni.
Magni: Brighter and more colored. The Magni has less realistic timbre on the guitars and drums, but, it is much more exciting. The guitars and drums are thinner and have more of a "pop/snap." The vocals, while more sibilant and sharper, are more exciting.
Winner: None, tie. Do you prefer accuracy or an exciting sound?
Flying Lotus, Table Tennis (Feat.Laura Darlington), Electronic
Valhalla: Even though I was able to download this in a lossy format, this song isn't mastered too well, the Valhalla has less sibilance and everything is more laid back and lightly smoothed over with less peaks in the treble.
Magni: Sibilance is more present, the Magni is not forgiving of the recording. The guitar at the end is a bit sharper with quicker decay, the tennis balls and respirator in the background are more prominent. Treble gets a bit peaky.
Winner: Valhalla, much more smoother and forgiving.
Miles Davis, So What, Jazz
Valhalla: Towards the start, the drums on the right had less air and weren't as prominent on the Valhalla. When the trumpet abruptly starts at 1:29, the Valhalla sounded less sharp and didn't have as much glare. Good timbre on all the instruments as well. Once the trumpet goes crazy again at 3:25 on the left, the Valhalla once again sounds smoother, less sharp, and easier on the ears.
Magni: Towards the start, the drums on the right had a bit more air and sounded a bit more dominant and in your face. When the trumpet abruptly starts at 1:29, the Magni
initially renders it with a sharper tone. Timbre is alright, but the Valhalla is ahead by a hair. Once the trumpet starts up at 3:25, the Magni again rendered it with a sharper than natural tone.
Winner: Valhalla, better timbre and more controlled.
Snnop Dogg and The Doors, Riders on the Storm, Hip-hop/rap
Valhalla: The clapping in the beat is less prominent and has a slower decay (Fades away slower). Less sibilance and sharpness, sounds less in your head, but not by much.
Magni: The clapping in the beat is more prominent and has a quicker decay (Faded away quicker). The Magni has slightly more sibilance and sounds more in your head, but again, not by much.
Winner: Valhalla, more resolving in the soundstage and smoother.
A quick breakdown.
Bass impact/extension: Valhalla=Magni
Treble quantity: Valhalla<Magni
Soundstage Depth/Width: Valhalla>Magni
Detail:Valhalla=Magni (It can be argued that the Magni's treble exaggeration leads to fake detail perception, so I'm marking this as a tie.)
That about sums up my thoughts between the two amps. I must emphasize that the difference between the two is minimal, most of the differences I noticed was with critical listening and A/B testing. The reason why I only have four songs in the comparison is because in most songs, I really couldn't pinpoint much of a significant difference, other than "it sounds slightly less bright." The Valhalla is a diminishing return and it is not that much better than the Magni, in fact, on some songs it sounds even worse. I enjoyed the Magni with metal and rock, it had a more exciting and involving presentation, but, for the most part, the extra treble was unwelcome in most of my music. When I listened to lower quality music, I appreciated the Valhallas more forgiving nature. I also preferred the Valhalla for jazz, classical, and instrumentals for its more realistic timbre and pleasant tonality.
Pros - Tons of juice, good punch and control, beautiful midrange, dead quiet, good looks.
Cons - Nature of tubes, heat.
I used this amp mainly with a pair of HD 650 and it does what it is supposed to do: it has way more power than I need, it's quiet and it makes everything sound in its place. I have never heard other tube amps before, but I didn't get the "lushness" or the "tubey" thing , at all. It may be there, but it's just to tell you that if it is there, well, it's subtle. To my ear, this is neutral. I have no idea why exactly or how to explain it, but it has a "better" sound to me, more control, than my previous Fiio E10 and Aune T1 for what it's worth. Overall, a really good sounding product from my experience and I'm still enjoying it as much as the first day I got it.
Now for the bads... Well, if you ever thought about buying this amp, you are probably already aware of its "downsides". They don't lie on their website: this thing gets toasty. After a few hours, the volume knob gets really hot to the touch, but I don't care really. It takes arround 10 seconds for the amp to work when you power it on, and it takes like 10 minutes to completely power off. Tubes makes sounds (clicks) when they change temperature, but again, I couldn't care less.
If you read the previous paragraph correctly, you will understand that there is no real cons to this amp. In my book, this thing is a winner. It has the looks, it has the sound, it's made in USA, its 350$ and it has a killer warranty/customer support.
To be honest, if you asked me why I bought this amp over let say the Asgard 2 (or any other amp really), well I had a good price on my unit at the time as it was opened-box and the Asgard 2 wasn't available (and it ain't still) in a Canadian retailer. Would I buy the same amp today? Maybe yes, maybe no, but I would probably get a SS like the Asgard or a Violectric because they are more versatile. But do I regret my purchase? Absolutely not. For it's intended purpose, to power my HD650 on my desk at home, this thing gets the job done with flying colors.
Pros - Soundstage, Neutrality, Price, Size, US Made
Cons - It wasn't free?
I had been looking for an amplifier for my Sennheiser HD650 headphones and tried many amps that cost much more than the Valhalla over the last 6 or so years. It's almost like they designed this amplifier to bring out the best of this particular headphone. If you are also a 650 owner and have always thought that they are a bit "veiled" in the mids/highs, and like me have done the mods (foam, cable) and you still feel that after all that's been done that the 650's still sound a bit "dark", then do yourself a favor and check this amplifier out. Seriously, before they realize they can be charging a bit more for it.
I had started my quest for the perfect amp for my 650s with Solid State designs, and before the Valhalla, it was paired with the (awesome) Headphone amp on my Crane Song DAC; we're talking about a mastering-grade DAC and monitor controller here folks, and it costs nearly three grand. I still felt that the mids and highs were a bit scooped. A fellow audio engineer suggested I try tube amps. I have heard some very good (and very expensive) tube amps with the 650s and a lot of them (interestingly, most of the really expensive ones) colored the sound a bit too much for my taste. I love the neutrality of the low end that I get from my SS amp, and all of the (really expensive) tube amps I tried colored the sound so much (and then I remembered that we audio engineers understand that if we want neutrality from amplifiers, that Solid State is the way to go). I decided to end my quest realizing that I already have a high-end SS amp in my Crane Song DAC, and simply felt that the 650s could not sound any more neutral and wrote the 650s off as a pair of headphones that simply could not be linear, as tube amps had let me down in the sense that they aren't neutral and colored the sound a bit too much to use in a critical listening situation (most audiophiles are fine with this because coloration is more accepted for leisure listening than it is for critical audio work, where neutrality is most desired).
I found out about Schiit and the Valhalla amp a few months ago, and several reviewers said that it sounded neutral for a tube amp, and this is what honestly got me interested. Again, a large portion of the audiophile community may not want this, and I've already seen reviews/comments from people who say to try different tubes because the amp isn't colorful enough. This got me even MORE interested. I got my amp about a month ago and all I have to say is: WOW. The sound stage is amazing. I'm hearing more details in the mids and highs that I had not heard from my 650s, all for under 400 bucks. Obviously I'm not interested in more coloration and love that Schiit offers a full set of replacement (matched) tubes for $40! I could not wish for a better tube amp for my 650s. I have absolutely zero interest in searching for matched NOS tubes, especially knowing that there will never be another set that's going to sound the same. I won't have these issues with the matched tubes that Schiit sells for this amp (and if there is a difference, I'm sure it won't be that drastic). I plan on ordering a couple of spare sets to have (I'm not going to wait until the tubes that came with the amp wear out before I order a few sets to have for backup).
For the audio engineer that loves the sound of the 650s but wants a more linear sound from this model headphone, this amp is a dream (and a steal under $400).
Pros - Wider soundstage, better dynamics
Cons - Not as warm and cuddly as I hoped
I'll start off by saying I prefer solid state to tube. I always found tube to be rather limiting and muddy, and I'm sure its just because I haven't listened to or owned really good tube gear.
I started off my Schitt journey with the Asgard, then got the Bifrost, and then decided to try the Valhalla. I found the Asgard/Bifrost combination to be a bit dry and clinical for my tastes. I wanted something a bit (as the marketing went) red dress in a smoky room... hehe. So after some hemming and hawing and saving, I splurged for the Valhalla. I figured I could sell my Asgard to make up some of the money....
Well I was impressed. But not how I expected to be. The sound was more dynamic, more full, but I really didn't pick up any of the red dress and smoky room "life/lushness/organic/etc" I was hoping for. I still find the sound to be a bit on the clinical side for my tastes. I can't argue - this Valhalla sounds better than the Asgard, I am hearing more in my music than I did with the Asgard, but it wasn't a huge upgrade. If I was to do it again, I would get the Asgard and be happy with it. But Valhalla is a BIT better, so of course I have to keep the Valhalla after listening to it. haha.
The Valhalla chassis gets every bit as warm as the Asgard, but the Asgard is warm on the bottom and the Valhalla is warm on the top. I have to be a bit more cautious about leaving it on, as it will burn out the tubes quicker of course. So at lunchtime, I turn it off, where with the Asgard I left it on without worry.
Headphone-wise I used it with a variety of cheaper units:
Panasonic RP-HTTF600, Monoprice 8323, Beyerdynamic (DT770 250 ohm, DT880 250 ohm, DT990 600 ohm), Grado SR80i, AKG271 MKII, Bowers & Wilkins P5, Sennheiser HD-280. The Valhalla handled all of them well, even the 600 ohm. I never felt like I was pushing the amplifier very hard with any of these. I also have some JH Audio JH-5 IEMs but I didn't test those because they are not supported on this amp.
I listen primarily to 24/96 vinyl rips that I make on my home system (Clearaudio TT, Grado Reference cart, E-mu 1212m ADC, after a thorough vacuum clean of the vinyl - i am pretty anal about it). I listen to a variety of genres, and find myself enjoying this amp for rock/pop type of music. Like most of the Schiit offerings, it doesn't have qualities that (to me) favor certain types of music - very neutral sounding.
In conclusion, the tubes adding something to the sound, but not quite what I was looking for. I wish I could have some more Red Dress and less Lab Coat, but honestly overall its a very capable unit for the price and regularly brings smiles to my face. The more I turn the volume knob, the better it sounds - and isn't that what its all about?
Pros - sound.build quality. cost.
Cons - ???Can't think of any.
I use my Valhalla to drive my Beyerdynamic's T1's with the Cowon J3.Holy Schiit!!!!!Even my wife can hear the difference. I really enjoy the sonic landscape from this system.
Pros - High Quality, Nice Design, Clean Board, Great Customer Service
Cons - With Stock tubes give Solid State sound - Tube rolling suggested
Well after having a really bad experience with Amazon (they never sent me my Valhalla), I waited about a week hoping they could get one on stock (because magically they run out of them after I purchase mine). I decided to contact Schiit Audio´s guys. It was November 1st at 11pm when I bought it directly from their website, and also I sent them an email. It took less than an hour before they contact me and told me my order would be shipped earlier next mornning. Then I said well I need it this saturday (november the 3rd) and they offer me overnight saturday included delivery. I got it before noon. I am really impressed with their support.
The amp is really simple to setup, is really well built, the tubes sound very neutral and do not skip any detail. But lacks of deep bass, but let me tell you that bass is present and defined.
It has a 5 year Warranty! Wow...
I did not give a Overall 5 stars because IMO Audio Quality should be enhance with other NOS tubes.
Great Headphone amp, you wont be dissapointed! very well constructed and designed. I will wait if "burn in" will improve perfromance! And other tubes do their job!
Go and get it! you wont regret.
Pros - Tubes
Cons - Heat
Fantastic Amp, Love it!
Pros - Huge price to performance ratio - fantastic sound
Cons - Won't drive orthodynamics
Schiit Audio, now that’s quite a unique name isn’t it? And yes, you read it right, you say it just like that naughty word that you were never allowed to say growing up as a kid. All sarcasm aside, I have recently been questioning why people spend $500+ dollars on headphone amplifiers when they can get just as good performance out of something that is half the cost. Yep, the Schiit Valhalla is a $349 headphone amplifier, but it sounds nearly twice that price.
Schiit Audio really is something. Yes, I know their name is what people will be talking about the most, and who wouldn’t? It’s one of the most weird (yet quite genius) company names I have heard in a long time. How Schiit Audio become so popular is absolutely anybody’s guess, because whoever is behind marketing is one bright fella. Their amps however, are another story all together. Yes, their name seems to coexist perfectly with what some of these amps are all about, because trust me, the stuff that Schiit has been releasing, is some really, really nice Schiit.
First things first, what exactly is the Valhalla? Well, it’s a triode OTL tube headphone amplifier, and the name comes from Norse mythology. Why? I don’t know, ask Schiit Audio, because all of their headphone amps seemed to be in relation to the Greek mythology one way or the other. Now, instead of talking about the technical specifications, the build, or anything of the sort, let’s talk about pure sonics, all right? I know everyone is dying to hear just how good the $349 Valhalla really sounds.
The Valhalla is quite a unique headphone amp, that’s for sure. It doesn’t follow the rules that tubes have gone by, it’s missing that lushness and warmth that a lot of tube amps are known for. However, hook up the Valhalla with a warm headphone, and your almost sure to get good results. In a nutshell, the Schiit Valhalla is a detailed headphone amp with a touch of lushness in the midrange and an extra bump or two in the lower sections. So, now that we have the summary down, let’s take a deeper dive and see what the Schiit Valhalla is really capable of.
As I said earlier, you should really pair this with a dark headphone, something like the Sennhesier HD650, which in my opinion, is a very good pairing. The treble region of the Valhalla is something that has grown on me since the day I picked this bad boy up. It’s not bright, but it isn’t smooth either. It has better extension and adds a lot more sparkle to the top end on my HD650’s. The midrange boasts an impressive amount of clarity. It has a touch of lushness, but is far from being warm and seems to bring the vocals of the laid back acoustics on my HD650.
The low end of the Valhalla seems to be a bit weightier, but isn’t exactly a significant improvement. The HD650 already has a pretty rock solid bass response, and while the extra weight and punch seem to give it a little more surge, the Valhalla isn’t the most bass heavy amp. The soundstage on the Valhalla is good, but it can’t compete with high end tube amps. I’m noticing more depth and width out of the HD650’s, but it’s not a significant amount. To my ears, the Valhalla doesn’t exactly sound like a traditional tube amp, the clarity and the very non super lush like mids make for a more solid state sound than the typical tube sound.
Every one of Schiit’s amps are made in America. Impressive, right? Taking into consideration that this amp only sells for $349 and features some of the highest quality components I have ever tested, it’s pretty awesome that Schiit was able to make such a fantastic product made in the USA and at such a low cost. The Valhalla has a nice brushed aluminum chassis all around the perimeter. The sides and back are also made up of a perforated metal coating (this thing gets exceptionally hot, so it’s nice that Schiit let in some breathing room) and features a power slot, an on switch, and two RCA slots.
The front portion of the Valhalla features a volume knob, a 1/4 inch opening, and an embossed Valhalla lettering, so nothing new there. On the top Schiit’s logo can be seen as well as a pair of 6N1P triode input tubes and 6N6P triode output tubes. Instead of me ranting of for the next 2-3 paragraphs, let me sum up everything about the design in one simple and easy to understand sentence. The Valhalla is one of the sleekest and sexiest tube amps that I have ever set eyes on.
I’ve been extremely impressed with the Schiit Valhalla. The sonics it pumps out are very good considering the price you pay at just under $400. Sure, it won’t outperform amps in the $800 range, but the Valhalla is a very good bang for the buck product. I think I may have finally found a good enough amp for the HD650 without having too spend thousands of dollars on a WA2 or WA5LE.
Pros - Value for money, great sound, no noise
Cons - No tube rolling
This is my first tube amp for headphone listening, and is also my first piece of kit for my listening upgrade. That being said, the Valhalla sounds great with my lackluster headphone output from my iPhone and using the less talked about V-Moda Crossfade LP headphones.
As you can see, the Valhalla is going to compliment almost you put to it. I noticed an immediate stage and sound improvement and this while using lossless (FLAC) through the amped headphone output. I truly look forward to using the amp with at a minimum line-out / digital output source.
I've tried the Valhalla through fuzz-rock, jazz, heavy metal, vocal songwriter genres and it has performed very well. Unfortunately, the V-Moda are tuned a bit to the low end so I can't speak of the highend veiling that @Skylab mentioned, but even with these headphones the highs were still clear and distinguished. I am looking forward to testing with my newly ordered Sennheiser HD598. The amp definitely opened up the bottom end and gave a nice large sound.
As a test, I tried some lowly Sennheiser HD201s and you definitely noticed the extra volume required by the amp going from a 32 Ohm to 24 Ohm and from what I've read from Schitt is the Valhalla's sweet spot is a 300 Ohm set like say AKG 701/702
-- Edit --
I've since been using the amp with my AKG 271MKII and Sennheiser HD598 and I'm very pleased with this amp.