Pros: Balanced and SE headphone outputs have very similar levels of technical performance with slightly different sound signatures…It’s essentially 2 $300 amps in 1 $400 box! Huge amounts of system flexibility for the price. Tons of power. Punchy macrodynamics.
Cons: Smaller performance improvement over Asgard 3 than price would indicate. Power switch is in the back (thanks again, Schiit \s)
Schiit has been killing it with many of their updated products as of late. The Asgard 3, Modius, Magni 3+ & Heresy, Bifrost 2, Lyr 3, and even the Magnius are all well-respected products for their performance, and just as important, their bang-for-the-buck. So, we in the audiophile community waited for the refreshed Jotunheim with bated breath. It’s finally here. The Jotunheim 2 launched very late in 2020 and here is my review very early in 2021*. A big shoutout goes to @Delta9K for buying the Jot 2 and sending it to me for review. Thank you! For the rest of you, Delta did not ask for anything other than this review in return and has made no attempt to influence my opinion.
The Jotunheim 2 is a bit of a mixed bag. It is not on the same level of technical performance as many of the mid-tier headphone amplifiers that have become de facto standard bearers on this forum and elsewhere. At the same time, a particular thing the Jot 2 does very well is unique in the mid-fi head amp category and makes it a very compelling value option for the right buyers, by essentially sounding like two slightly different but virtually technically equal amps in one chassis. Read on to find out why.
I’m A Schiit-head
If anything, I am biased in favor of Schiit as a company. I like the way they run their business. I agree with the goals of the company. Many of their products, like those mentioned in the first paragraph, are fantastic performers and fantastic values. And finally, their company name is a crude and juvenile poop pun! What’s not to love about that!? Though their failure – to this point – to acquire the name “Pyle” does cast some doubt on their dedication to said pun of a name. Likewise, their failure – to this point – to launch a line of products under the name Engyggles (Introducing Schiit’s Engyggles!) further casts doubt on their dedication to that pun of a name. But, I digress. The point is, I came into this review really wanting to fall in love with the Jotunheim 2. I share this with you to help provide additional context for this review and hopefully aid in your understanding of what I’m about to say.
Alright, with my own juvenile punnery now (maybe) out of the way, let’s get on with the review…
FEATURES & BUILD
The Jot 2 is a $400, fully balanced headphone amplifier with Schiit’s Continuity circuitry. As I understand it, Continuity is the name Schiit gives to how their circuit design bridges the changeover from Class A operation to class A/B operation, supposedly making volume control more linear at that changeover. Of course, this also means the Jot 2 is a class A/B amplifier. There is also a slot for a DAC module or phono input card, similar to what the Asgard 3 offers. The back panel has XLR and RCA inputs, both XLR and RCA preouts (which are active at the same time), and the power switch. I’ll say it again so the message keeps getting out there: Schiit, PLEASE stop putting the power switches on the back. The front panel has XLR balanced and quarter inch single ended headphone outputs, volume knob, and three switches; one switch each for input selection, gain (hi or lo), and toggling the headphone outputs or preouts. The chassis has the classic Schiit aesthetic with the brushed aluminum top and front panel than curves around the top front edge. Unlike the Asgard 3, there is a white LED on the front panel to indicate the power is on. Also, where white LED light leaks through the ventilation holes on the top of the Asgard’s chassis, cool-looking orange light comes up out of the top of the Jot 2:
There are no tubes in there. It’s a fully solid-state amp. But, I could be convinced if you said that Schiit wanted you to associated tubery with this amp to some extent.
The overall build quality is rugged and sturdy. The chassis has nice feel. The amp has good weight. It’s fairly standard for Schiit’s build. There have been reports of some volume knob issues with this unit, though (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/schiit-jotunheim-2-impressions-thread.949824/). In fact, Delta9K has his own such story. On this unit the volume knob was initially set too deep on the potentiometer stem and was rubbing against the chassis. He had to do a fair amount of work to pull it off and set it to the right depth. He did a good job and when the unit got to me I had no complaints with the volume knob or the feel of the potentiometer, but it’s still a thing that happened. I’ll let Delta fill in the rest of the story. Otherwise, it’s a solidly built amp and should last awhile.
Finally, there’s LOTS of power on tap here, especially from the balanced output. Here’s a copy/paste of Schiit’s specifications for reference:
Balanced Headphone Output:
Maximum Power, 16 ohms: 7.5W RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 32 ohms: 6W RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 50 ohms: 4W RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 300 ohms: 1.2W RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 600mW RMS per channel
Single-Ended Headphone Output:
Maximum Power, 16 ohms: 2.4W RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 32 ohms: 2.0W RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 50 ohms: 1.2W RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 300 ohms: 330mW RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 165mW RMS per channel
Either way I never found power to be an issue with this amp, from either output, even with my most demanding loads. The SE output powered my 600Ω Beyerdynamic DT880 with ease and plenty of headroom.
One note I have that could either go in the Build or Sound section is there is a slight mid-range grain initially when the Jot 2 is cold and powered on and used right away. That grain disappeared as the amp warms. But, it’s something to be aware of. There are also some audible relay clicks when you switch between the headphone outputs. These are not loud or dangerous, but they are present.
For the most part Schiit’s Bifrost 2 and Modius DACs were the source gear for this review. Less time was spent using the Denafrips Ares II as a DAC.
The Good Schiit
The most exciting part about Jot 2’s performance is how good it sounds relative to itself from both balanced and single-ended headphone outputs. The technical performance delta between the two is very small, if it exists at all, and there are two slightly different signatures in one box. I don’t know of any other amp in the $400-600 range (and it’s still rare above that) that can boast that it sounds basically technically equal from both outputs and can produce two different signatures. THX-based amps like the SP200 can claim one of those – sounding equally bad from both headphone outputs – but can’t claim having a different signature from each. From the balanced output the signature is close to studio-reference neutral with lots of cleanliness and good detail and a huge amount of headroom. From the single-ended output the signature is much like the Asgard 3, just a touch warmer and thicker than neutral, with a little bit more width and detail than the A3 can muster. I’ll comment a little bit more on the sound from each output in the next couple of paragraphs.
The balanced output sounds very clean and neutral. There is good separation of instruments and sonic images. The treble is sparkly and detailed without being forward or harsh – this last bit sounds like it’s an improvement over the original Jotunheim, as it had a reputation for being a bit too harsh in the treble. Bass is punchy and powerful but not forward to where most would claim it sounds colored. The mids are also reasonably natural with good timbre. The soundstage is wide with some level of depth – but this is still a mid-fi amp which means that soundstage depth is going to be limited, and it is.
The single-ended output is the star of the show here, IMO. It has that hint of stereotypical tube-like sound with that slightly warmer-and-thicker-than-neutral signature that the Asgard 3 has. In fact, in terms of signature it sounds nearly identical to the Asgard 3. The Jot 2 has slightly more detail, slightly improved spatial performance, a little more natural timbre than the Asgard 3. And that’s saying something because the Asgard 3 already has excellent performance in all those areas, especially for a $200 amp.
I don’t think there is much difference in actual detail retrieval between the balanced and single-ended outputs. The balanced output initially presents itself as more detailed because of its perceived cleanliness, but when I listened closely, I can’t remember a single instance, nor do I have any written in my copious amount of notes, where the SE output lacked a subtle detail the balanced output had. It’s just that the balanced output was little more forward about it because those small little details didn’t get obscured in that slightly thicker sound of the SE output.
The Less Good Schiit
Usually in my amp reviews I separate a sound section from a comparison with similar products section. I’m going to combine them here because I think the Jot 2’s comparison with other amps is a really important part of describing its sound and its role in the market. I have the Monolith Liquid Platinum (MLP) and the Lake People G111 in my personal collection and on my desk right now. Flat out, the Jot 2 does not measure up to those two amps in technical performance. Now, some may point out that the G111 lists for $549 and the MLP was originally $799 so we should expect them to sound better than the Jot 2. That’s somewhat fair. However, in the case of the MLP its price has dropped as low as $293 in recent times and it’s spent most of its time lately at the same price as the Jot 2. This pricing means the MLP must be factored into the discussion about price/performance with the Jot 2**. Plus, it is my impression that many of us audiophiles were waiting for Schiit to update the Jotunheim in hopes that they would put out a solid state amp that was a true alternative to the MLP, G111, or the Rupert Neve RNHP, Rebelamp, etc. I know I wanted that, and on that front, I am disappointed. The problem is that while the Jot 2 betters the A3 in technical performance, it doesn’t do so by much and it isn’t the immediately noticeable upgrade from the A3 that the MLP and G111 are.
The Jot 2 is a marginal sonic upgrade from Schiit’s own Asgard 3. In terms of technical performance, it is better than A3 at soundstaging and imaging, it is better at separating sonic images from each other, it is better at vocal and instrument separation, it is better at detail retrieval, and it has slightly improved timbre over A3. It also has better treble control and does not go as sharp as often as the A3 can with bright headphones. However, outside of that treble difference it took me several hours of acclimation and lots of quick switching between the two before I was finally able to tease out the subtle technical performance differences I just described. In time I got better at hearing those differences and they were more readily noticeable. Still this experience is in stark contrast to when I first plugged in and fired up the MLP and G111 on my desk. I could tell right away that those 2 amps were performing at a higher level than A3.
The MLP with stock tubes has that warmer-and-thicker-than-neutral signature, with a bit of added mid-forwardness, that the A3 and Jot 2’s SE output has. However, it has noticeably better detail retrieval, improved spatial performance, and even more natural timbre. It also has punchier, deeper, and more articulate bass. The MLP also does a better job with soundstage depth and height than the Jot 2. MLP isn’t a master of those things because it’s still a mid-fi amp in its own right, but the Jot 2 sounds a bit vertically closed in by comparison. If the tubes in the MLP are rolled, it can become a no-contest. With my Amperex PQ Gold Pin tubes in the MLP, this sonic comparison is a blowout in the MLP’s favor.
The G111 has a studio-neutral type of signature and is very clean sounding as well. It also has noticeably superior detail retrieval than Jot 2, a wider soundstage, and has the same ability as MLP to sound like the verticality of the listening space is larger than the Jot 2. A couple of times after listening to a track on G111 and switching to Jot 2 it felt like the Jot 2 was putting a lid on the vertical listening space. The G111 is also much more controlled and smoother in the treble. Here “smooth” does not mean smeared together, but the timbre was more natural and the articulation was such that it sounded more realistic, effortless, and well, smooth. The G111’s bass was also punchier and more controlled than Jot 2.
To be clear, the above comparisons hold true for both the Jot 2’s balanced and SE headphone outputs.
To help contextualize these findings, if we grant that Asgard 3 represents $200 performance and we let MLP and G111 roughly represent $500 performance, both the Jot 2’s balanced and SE outputs sound to me like roughly $300 amplifiers – better than A3 but closer to A3 than to MLP/G111. I struggled with this reality because I really wanted Jot 2 to compete with those amps. But, while I was initially bummed by this amount of relative performance, I realized there is actually a very sparkly silver lining here.
Two Amps in One Box
In a very real sense the Jot 2 is two $300 amps on one chassis that sells for $400. Please be careful in interpreting this statement. I am NOT saying the Jotunheim 2 is a $600 amp. If you buy this amp expecting $600 worth of sonic performance, you will be disappointed. What I AM saying is you get two ~$300-level amps in one box. The SE and balanced outputs are different enough that they sound like two different amplifiers. They are both close enough to each other in technical performance that they sound like they should be priced at about the same level. With this two-in-one framing, the Jot 2 becomes a compelling value for the right customer.
WHO IS THE JOT 2 FOR?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. I think if you’re hanging out at the entry-level with your amps – like Atom, Liquid Spark, or Magni 3+/Heresy level – the Jot 2 becomes a very interesting option. You get TWO noticeable sonic upgrades from those entry-level amps. You get TWO different sounds to play with and to mix-and-match headphones to find synergies or strengthen the listening experience with different music genres. I could also see the Jot 2 working for someone who does at-home mixing and mastering and is still on somewhat of a budget. For $400 you get a studio-neutral headphone amplifier to work on your mixes, and a second more ‘what does it sound like on someone’s desk?’ kind of amplifier to check your work. This amount of desk flexibility is attractive in the right situation. I’ve caught myself thinking that the Jot 2 would be an excellent choice to pick up and take to my work office after this COVID nightmare. I get two pretty good sounding amps in one box. I also get two sets of preouts to run to speakers and/or a tube-amp or something of that nature. That’s a lot of control and options in one box. Add in a DAC module and this one box can do a lot of things.
That flexibility and control could get even higher, too. Let’s say you opt for the $100 moving magnet phono preamp that Schiit offers for the Jot 2. Then, you match that with the Modius DAC (which, Modius + Jot 2 sounds darn good, btw). Now for $700, you get a phono input, arguably the best $200 DAC on the market right now, 4 digital inputs, 2 preamp outputs, and essentially 2 headphone amps. That’s SO MUCH for the money. And it does sound very good. I know I just said Jot 2 is barely better than A3, but let’s remember how good A3 is. It’s one of the biggest warpers of the price/performance curve out there right now, especially at $200. So again, the flexibility and control the Jot 2 offers is HUGE and that has its place at this price.
Who I don’t see the Jot 2 working for is people who already have quality mid-tier amps. The Jot 2 doesn’t do anything different enough well enough to justify it replacing or even sitting alongside many of the ~$500 amps out there unless you’re willing to take the sonic hit in the name of system simplicity. I also don’t recommend it as just an upgrade from the Asgard 3. If you’re sitting at Asgard 3 as your main amp right now and looking for an upgrade, the Jot 2 does sound better but I don’t think its price/performance ratio justifies it as a standalone upgrade from the A3. I’d look at MLP or ask around for what might be the best option(s) for your headphone collection.
The Jotunheim 2 amp is a very mixed-bag product, IMO. It doesn’t perform at the level that audiophile hope wanted or that Schiit’s recent history would suggest that it would. It falls off the price/performance pace set by MLP and even Schiit’s Asgard 3 if the goal is pure sonic performance. However, its remarkable ability to have 2 sound signatures that are very close to equal in technical performance – and still very good sounding – from its two headphone outputs is very unique at this price. It also allows the Jot 2 to function as essentially 2 roughly $300 amplifiers in one $400 package. Combine that with two preouts that can used simultaneously and there is a ton of flexibility offered in one package. That could be very attractive and a huge value proposition to the right user.
Thanks again to Delta9K for the loan. You’ll be getting your amp back soon! And thank you all for reading yet another novella of a review from me. Enjoy the music, everyone!
*For those reading on Head-Fi, this review was initially published on HiFiGuides Forum.
**The MLP spent the majority of 2020 around $500. I bought mine for $485 new direct from Monoprice in August 2020. It appears to have spent more time in 2021 closer to its original $799 price. This Jot 2 review was written in January 2021 when the price comparison of MLP and Jot2 was more appropriate. Even so, let’s not forget that Schiit claims that the Jot 2 performs like a $2400 amp – which I get is hyperbole but also means they’re inviting comparisons to far more expensive amps.
I like how the schiit look so much. I was so close to getting this dac/amp when I bought my lcd-3s but decided to go a different rout. I've been kicking myself for not picking this up even though I like my topping dx7 pro a lot. The phono preamp is what I'm missing even though I have no room for my turntable as is.