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.
Cons - You might come in expecting too much from it.
Way overdue review. I've had a lot of tube amps. Love 'em. Constantly trying to find gear combos that just make me happy to listen to my music.
The Vali is one of those pieces of kit that I roll into my listening. It has not always blown me away when critically listening to it. But it is a no-brainer to keep one on my desk.
Listening to some Muddy Waters right now. Geek Out 1000 > Vali > Semi-modded HD800. Sounds sublime...
I also have a Wyrd, Magni, Magni 2, Magni 2 Uber, and Modi 2 Uber sitting in my desk stack right now.
Two of the three Magnis are mine. I'll probably pick just one Magni to keep on the desk with the Wyrd and Vali for a very sweet little modular system with rollable components.
These are so reasonably priced that you can keep more than one amp around (Vali on top of Magni) for listening depending upon the recording, mood, phones, upstream gear.
I'm lucky in having different phones and DACs so I can tweak the tonal balance that way. The Vali changes the FR less than you might expect when you hear that it is a tube amp. It's a hybrid tube/solid state design and not supposed to be really "syrupy" or colored. I do happen to find it a bit mid-centric (not as extended at the ends), but it shouldn't immediately sound colored when you try it...don't expect a "darker" sound from it. It is not like Magni is the HD600 and Vali is the HD650. Think smaller differences.
Expectations: The Vali does not let you roll tubes and it not so colored as to be the thing to "tune" your system with. So expectations that you may have about "tubey" sound or coloration may disappoint. Or any expectations that you may have upon first listen based upon our reviews (waiting for a big "wow" or something). Rather, this little amp just works really well and surpasses expectations by being neutral enough, resolving enough, different enough to keep around and enjoy. It is standing the test of time as I try to reduce gear and make some choices. If your preference is absolutely clean/fast sound, this amp is just...slightly...creamier. Different rendering of space- headstage size, separation between the two amps. The touch of "wetness" or "creaminess" manifests in decay, attack, transient response to my ears. Again, not glaring and super obvious but over time these things are revealed. Some recordings and gear combos show it more than others...
Like today- the Vali is accentuating the plate reverb of the vocals in comparison to the Magni 2 Uber . Not as black a background with as much dynamism/attack as the Magni 2 Uber. But it sounds really good and I could listen for hours (I will). The Magni 2 Uber does other things well and is a great amp too. This will be a question of taste. The Vali is just that bit smoother and warmer but both are an amazing deal and have their strengths. I won't list a bunch of recordings and how each sounds different on Vali vs. Magni 2 Uber to me, I am just presenting this example because it grabs me as a good one to explain the small differences that can add up to a different experience with both amps. Which one will be better at which moment? Just switch the RCA cables over to find out...
Pros - Made in the USA. Reasonably priced. Super easy to use. Did I mention it's made in the USA!!
Cons - Addicting. Has caused me to completely revisit my music collection.
Greetings everyone. I'm perhaps the newest member of the Vali admiration society. I ordered mine directly from Schiit on a Friday and received it on Saturday ( How is that for service?)
I'm rather new to headphone amplifiers and my only means of comparison is a A / B test with a Bravo Audio Ocean that I have had for a few weeks. So far I hear little difference between the two. That is not a bad thing as I am very pleased with the little Class A Bravo Ocean. The cost of each amp is nearly the same and each have slightly different features. But a sonic comparison reveals very little difference. At least so far.
I'm listening with a pair of Sennheiser HD 598s and one of the things I have noticed is that the Vali has a lower output as compared to the Bravo Audio Ocean, when using the same line level input. My input is currently the variable output of my TV / monitor as driven from a Roku box. I'll be trying a fixed level line input this week and I'll also probably be updating to a Schiit DAC in the near future.
I'm doing a little experiment. I'm driving the Vali using the preamp outputs of the Bravo Audio Ocean. This allows me to achieve loudness levels that I will seldom exceed, and both units have their gain controls set to no more then the 12 o'clock position.
Update: I've connected my Vali to the fixed output, line outputs of my CD / DVD player, and my concerns about the sensitivity / output of the Vali are unfounded. It produces a clean, ear shattering signal with the gain control just past the 12 o'clock point.
I'm currently listening to Dark Side Of The Moon and I'm hearing things I've never heard through my SS Integrated Amplifier.
I give this little Vali my highest praise. That is, I'll be purchasing more Schiit based on it's performance.
I've been looking for an amp to pair with my AKG Q701, and Vali was highly recommended by the users.Now I know why....Before vali,I was using Fiio e12/X3 combo.(yeah I know it's portable)
Fiio e12 and X3
There was a noticeable improvement this combo over my smart phone's hp-out.The sound stage got bigger, and the music was slightly realistic sounding.I used e12/x3 over six months, and it was time to upgrade!!!
Okay...I got my Schiit package,then I opened it. And my first impression was " Hmm..Smaller than I thought.Instead of pairing my q701 with schiit, I listened for 15mins with Fiio combo. "Then I hooked my AKG Q701 and gave it a listen. Honestly,..I couldn't hear any difference at first.So I gave it a 3hour listen straight.After that I switched back to my Fiio combo, and all the music was "lifeless" .Soundstage got narrower, overall sound became rough,bass got lightened.So I think that it needed some burn-in time.I gotta say that this amp is fabulous! It's an addictive sound.
So vali/modi gave q701 1.Wider soundstage with a great 3 dimensional realism and instrument separation
2.Smoother sound overall
3.Enhanced bass response
4.Great detail retrieval
Sound signature in vali is neutral.It's a smooth overall presentation.It will work well with even bright headphones imho.
You can hear a ringing sound when you turn it on; plugging a headphone.Although Schiit has said that we would hear it when we move vali or tap on it.But I didn't have any issue in that regard.Ringing will remain for 30 seconds. Sometimes it will appear with out any reason stated above, and it'll be annoying.It won't go away until you turn it off.Yes... that's a bad thing.But don't worry fellas! After playing with it a week, I found a solution for that.This is the most important tip I can give you.Plug your headphone,before you turn on the Vali.
I don't have any other headphone to pair with Vali. So this review will be mainly for Q701 owners who are looking for a great sound at a low price.
If you're looking for an amp to pair with a Q701, just buy this little beast and enjoy your music.Cheers!
Cons - Tubes will Eventually Die But are Replaceable by Schiit, Less Powerful of the Bunch
I've been reading so many replies and reviews how the O2, Magni and Vali sound the same. After weeks of listening to all of them, (yes I have them all) they are all not exactly the same . I've been using the same music and all else in the system is the same and have only changed the amps. Started with O2, then went to Magni. Yes the Magni and O2 sound very close. The Magni does sound a tad processed and thin compared to O2 but the Magni does have more authority as it is more powerful in comparison even though they all seem to struggle reproducing the source.
Then I went to the Vali. The Vali sounds nothing like the others. It's slightly more smoother and warmer, more of a natural sound but ever so slightly, and more realistic sounding. I was enjoying it very much for weeks. Then I decided to get the Asgard 2. Why? I read so much about it I just had to try it. The Vali like the others also seem to struggle reproducing the source which makes sense as it's less powerful of them all.
BUT, the Vali does sound better than all of them in the form factor and price range.
Pros - great price, nice full bass, excellent pairing with the Q701,
Cons - tube ringing when plugging in headphones.
Very few times in this hobby have I run across a piece of gear that's turned me into a rabid raving lunatic fan boy.
The Vali is a nondescript no frills entry level tube amp weighing in at a lowly 119.00 bones. Whats special about this little amp is the phrase "entry level" is deceiving when you take into account what its capable of. Compared to far pricier amps the Vali may lack fineness but in still exudes tons of control and detail over the gear it drives. So much so I have no qualms saying that its the titan amongst other amps of its price bracket and in many ways a predator capable of embarrassing some gear out there that's two or three times its MSRP.
You don't believe me? Watch my video review below and then go order yourself one and decide for yourself. Considering its MSRP the risk is quite minimal. Be warned, since I've owned the Vali many of the other amps I own have since started to collect dust leaving me to wonder why the heck I ever wasted my time and money on them.
Well done Schiit Audio. Fingers crossed your upcoming flagship gear will blow people away like the lowly Vali has.
An interesting introduction for me to tube sound. No idea if this is a faithful representation of the genre.
When I turned it on it the first time, left channel had lots of hiss. But the signal was equal in both channels, when playing music. So I decided to keep it for a while. After a few hours, the hiss evened out, but still was noticeable with the following equipment. Hiss was with only the headphones connected to the amp, no sources or cables.
HD 280 Pro
RP HTF 600
The nominal impedance of HD 280 and HTF 600 are 64 and 56 Ohms respectively. The hiss though lower than in the others, is still clearly audible to me, especially in quiet passages of classical music.
When I contacted Schiit service, I was told this is working as designed and that some level of hiss is normal for tube equipment with these headphones. Again, I have no way of comparing this to any other tube equipment.
I still kept it because I was going to use this in a noisy work environ. And it was fun to listen to. And they got a few points for a funny user manual.
To me, this is unacceptable if used in a quiet listening area.
After a couple of months of using a few hours a week on average, the hiss seems to be worsening. Chain: computer -> USB -> micromega mydac -> HD 280. I'll wait a little more and if this trend continues, hopefully send it in for some service.
The other amps I have are the PA2V2 and a Grace m901.
My rankings in ascending order: PA2V2, Vali, m901.
The Grace seems the most neutral of the three to my ears.
If I had to pick a genre that this excels for me: Jazz and Blues.
- harmless or non hindering
- tiny bit of tube flavor(don't expect a lot)
- detailed (what you put is what you get)
- nothing recessed (maybe the highs a tad if anything)
- good power for any dynamic
- wow factor
To start I would like to say that right from the jump the Vali is a good pick for someone wanting an amp at an affordable price. It is pretty hard for me to explain what exactly this amp does do really well but more so it is hard for me to explain what it does bad and below is why:
MY EXPERIENCE WITH IT:
For a headphone amp you may be expect for your bass to become really strong, your soundstage to take off in width and depth, or your highs to become more clear and enhanced. The Vali has become for me a tool of learning. I think that equipment can fight each other and you can have a Good DAC but the amp mess it up and Vice Versa. The awesome thing about the Vali is that it won't mess up the sound quality of what is upstream of it. It won't muddy up your DAC nor will it make it sound better but maybe slightly different. The tube sound of this amp isn't all syrupy and lush either. It doesnt take your music and butter poach it for you.
I am limited in experience with DACs and amps but if any amp taught me my DAC it was the Vali. At first I plugged the Vali into the JDS LABS ODAC and the combo was pretty enjoyable but I kept feeling like it took away from the raw and natural sound of my Yamaha hph-mt220(the headphone I proselytize ...we all have one). It made it sound softer, a little more murky but balanced with the instruments rounded off in a way that made them less vivid and more emotionless. The bass became soft and lost its weight. The soundstage compared to my iMac out increased slightly and there was more space around the instruments but it left me wanting. It didn't leave me wanting more bass quantity or more highs or mids, but it left me wanting the headphone to sound like I know it is supposed to sound with other sources I have tried with it before. I had some serious brain burn in with the trio(yammie,odac,vali) and came to enjoy its more polite way of communicating my music but missing the Yamaha realism and clarity. Before this I had an emotiva and modi and tried the yamaha, focusrite forte, and fiio x3 with it so I knew how it was supposed to sound.
Then I got the late model Nuforce Icon DAC. The amp by itself brought everything back that I missed about the Yamaha and more, but sometimes a bit too much more. All of a sudden the bass firmed back up, the soundstage stayed as open, the highs sprouted, and the mids were ripe again. So I thought "Well let me try this Vali with the Nuforce DAC Section" ... VIOLA!! Nothing missing from what I love about the yamaha at all!!! The bass stayed clean and clear, the mids were very similar to how they were on the Nuforce ICON DAC by them selves and the highs were a little more palpable. The overall sound was just a tad smoother.
In short the VALI HINDERED NOTHING and only added a tad bit of tube flavor. I was baffled and played all night going back and forth between the Vali and Nuforce headphone outs to see if I was losing any textures or anything and could find nothing. It is very easy for me to hear the Nuforce Icon DAC through the VALI; "Hear through" factor to me equals transparency.
Previous reviews have mentioned flaws with the Vali like soft bass etc. but I would bet it is their source.
On the flip side I have heard comments about the bass being enhanced and the mids sounding fuller etc etc.... I also do not hear any of that either. I hear what my DAC is doing but with a very slight touch of tube.
What is true about this X 2 is the microphonics. I looked it up before I bought it to try to understand how it would sound. Good thing I didn't get a good description because it may have influenced my purchase. Well imagine a clean and high pitched synth midi note being sustained that is more than audible but annoying. When you move the thing around or tap the table it makes the noise. You can make it do this by tapping it with the metal end of a pen or something and it will ring. The ringing goes away after some 10-20 seconds and then it is music time. I can put up with that. I just turn it on before I am ready to listen.
So there is a review if you want to call it that. I will just say that these are impressions.