Welcome to the least expensive serious tube hybrid amp on the planet. Vali delivers solid power into headphones from 32 to 600 ohms. It's a great way to get a taste of exceptional tube sound, for only a tiny investment.
Cons - can have some ringing, takes a bit of time to warm up
Equipment Used Source
Fit and Finish
As you guys probably already know, the fit and finish on this unit is fantastic. I was really impressed with the Vali from the get go. The stack looks very elegant and doesn't feel cheap in any way. You can tell Schiit really pays attention to the details on their gear. It's surprising to see this in such low cost units. Build quality seems very good as well. The coating seems clear and even and the rubber feet are a nice touch. The lettering and logo on units are both well done and classy. All the holes and screws are nice and clean. I did find the LED's a bit bright but honestly not too bad. My Vali is 772 and upon first opening the package I looked to see if my tubes had come up off the board as so many others had reported happening. So far no sign of them being lifted off the foam.
There are a few things I didn't love about the combo. I feel like the volume pot is a bit stiff and not as smooth as I would hope. Granted I do feel a bit silly saying that given the ridiculously low price point this amp is at. Aside from the volume knob feel, I have an ever so slight channel imbalance at the very start of the volume pot. If I start at 0 and very slowly turn it up, the left channel comes on first and then the right picks up shortly there after. This is at levels so low that you can barely hear the music so it's not a big deal. The only other thing I would change is the gain. I find that it's exceptionally loud at about 10 O'clock. I feel that with these cans, I would never need to turn it up higher than that. I wish I had a bit more play in the volume pot. Granted I can see the trade offs that must be made for an amp that is going to be used for a wide variety of cans. I would hate to have some inefficient cans that couldn't achieve the volume needed. I know I can adjust the volume going from the Modi via the windows volume but I like to try and run that at 100%. Those are my only gripes with it but overall they are no where near deal breakers.
I will say right up front it takes a few minutes to really get warmed up. This is my first foray into the wonderful world of tubes so I really didn't know what to expect. I brought the package into the house and let it sit for about an hour to let it warm up from the cold. I sadly didn't have any good quality cables on hand so I'm using a generic RCA and USB cable. I will be buying some proper cables shortly. After hooking it up, my computer immediately recognized the Modi and I was all set. Upon first flipping the switch I heard a very faint ringing for about 5 seconds. I had honestly expected a lot more ringing from this unit but was pleasantly surprised with almost no issues. I can rap on the case and hardly get a peep out of it. Adjusting volume or pounding on the desk doesn't trigger any ringing either. I may have just been extremely lucky with my unit and I can imagine with variances in the tubes themselves some could be worse than others.
I decided to just jump right in with the music and see how it compared to my onboard sound card. Here are some early impressions once it was warmed up
Paper Hearts and She by Silver Trees:
Even though these tracks are low bitrate MP3s, I love to use them to evaluate systems because there are so many interesting layers to the music. The guitar picking on both tracks were very defined with a hint of warmth. The vocals were just fantastic. There are some interesting reverb and layering effects used on the songs. I feel that it takes a system with a fair bit of resolution to be able to distinctly pick apart all the reverb and layers while not clouding the whole presentation. The drums were overall clear but suffered from compression of the MP3. All in all the vocals really stole the show with these tracks. The resolution and presentation were far and away greater than my onboard sound card.
Heaven by Los Lonely Boys:
This is another go to track for me. I feel that for a mainstream album, it's mixed and mastered well. Right away the electric guitar riffs were smooth and very well defined. I could hear the reverb and hint of distortion on the instrument which is great. I could hear the separate guitar riffs clear as day. The cymbals, toms, and snare were all nice and sharp with only a tad bit of smearing on the cymbals. The bass came through defined and with some amazing warmth. I feel it can tend to get lost in the mix with this track but I didn't have any trouble picking it out. The vocals were the star of the show on this track. They were buttery smooth and just fantastic.
Fix You by Coldplay:
I've always felt that Coldplay tended to master their material a bit to hot in the treble so I love to use their material to test how a system will handle the treble when it. I felt the Modi/Vali did a wonderful job on this track. The organ and piano sounded a bit warm to my ears but overall had a clean and clear presentation. The guitar came in a bit hot but very controlled and never seemed to edge over the line for me. The vocals again were stunning through this track. I can't get over how buttery smooth they are! Even though they can tend to sound harsh on this track, the Modi/Vali combo didn't skip a beat here. When the song picked up speed with the distorted guitar and drums it still maintained composure and very good instrument separation. I could hear the compression on the track (mainly with the cymbals becoming splashy) but I believe that is a product of the compression applied to the recording.
Back's Against the Wall by Judah & the Lion:
This is an interesting track. I love the variety of instruments and even though I think the recording isn't the best I've heard, I still love to see how a system will present this track. Right away the guitar and upright bass sounded well defined with a bit of a laid back feel. The mandolin and banjo both came through with incredibly realism and separation. Drums on this track typically sound a bit muffled and compressed and that was represented here as well. I feel the vocals have an interesting grunge applied to them. I don't know if that was on purpose or an effect of the mastering but they were well layered and defined. Overall the Vali did a great job providing a clear defined and spacious sound to this track.
I can honestly say the Modi/Vali combo is a pretty staggering difference from my onboard sound card. The amp itself was still cold to the touch on the first few tracks and had a bit of harshness to it. Once It physically warmed up that faded away to an incredibly sweet and clean sound. The onboard card had always sounded dull and veiled while being slightly splashy in the higher treble ranges. The Modi/Vali really took control of the sound. The extension seemed great and instrument separation was phenomenal. So far I would have to say the main attraction here is the buttery smooth mid range and incredible detail that this combo can pull out of the music. Even with poorly recorded tracks and compressed MP3s I found myself hearing so much detail and clarity. I don't think I've come across a track that really sounded harsh. It's just such a pleasant sound signature.
This amp is literally a no brainer in my opinion. I have been out of the audio world for the past 4-5 years and the Vali/Modi combo along with the HifiMan HE-300's are my entry back into it. I listen to this setup and am shocked at the quality I've gotten for a mere $370. The Vali has a wonderful way of presenting music that is both smooth yet detailed. I love that it never feels harsh or uncontrolled. Paired with the Modi it's a fantastic combo but I have no doubt it would work equally well with any other DAC.
Short & sweet.If you own this amp or are getting this amp you MUST isolate it from vibration for it to work to it's fullest potential!With the chassis properly damped the tubes are stable,microphonic ringing & tube rush vanish & the music flows from a black background!Use damping material underneath(cork is cheap & works great) & a heavy weight on top(DON'T COVER VENT HOLES).Leave undisturbed for 12 hours+ so everything can settle.I CAN NOT UNDERSTATE HOW IMPORTANT VIBRATION CONTROL IS if you really want to hear this amp at it's best.Here is my set up.Dead cold & just powered up & the amp is whisper quite....Hardwood table(ash)>#2 VibraPods>1" thick,food grade,Walnut/Maple cutting board>Herbies Big Squares>amp/dac>heavy(1lb.3oz.x2 & 2lb.11oz.)polyresin figures on top of cutting board,amp & dac.
This is my first tube amp. It does not sound warm and soft, as I expected but dynamic and "fast".
It had troubles when driving my headphones at insane sound levels, but after replacing the power adapter,
from 16V A/C 500 mA to a 15V 1A, this tube amp, now has lots of power. This must be my best buy ever.