Schiit's muscular Lyr headphone amplifier
Most headphones are easy to "drive" and sound great with an iPod, but some high-end home headphones need a lot of juice to come alive.
I've written about Schiit's amazing headphone amps before, but their new Lyr is the company's first high-output headphone amplifier. It delivers up to 6 watts into 32 ohm headphones. If that sounds like overkill for most headphones I'd agree, but there are a few headphones that need more power to sound their best. That's where the Schiit Lyr ($449) comes into its own.
When I first auditioned the Hifiman HE-6 ($1,299) full-size headphones last year I wasn't impressed. The sound was lackluster and I couldn't get them to play loud with any of my headphone amps, the HE-6 was too hard to drive. Schiit's first amp, the sounded great with lots of other headphones, but it couldn't get the HE-6 headphones to strut their stuff. The new Lyr looks similar to the Asgard, but it has two tubes sticking out of the top panel. The two amps insides are quite different, and so is the sound. To say the Lyr brought the HE-6 to life would be an understatement, the combination of the two - Lyr & HE-6 -- was spectacular. Anyone who doubts that headphone amps can make a difference should listen to a HE-6 plugged into anything else, and then try the Lyr. I used Schiit's Bifrost digital-to-analog converter for all of my listening tests (watch for the Bifrost review soon).
Schiit ships the Lyr with your choice of JJ or GE branded tubes, and I preferred the JJs for their clearer sound. Part of the fun of owning tube electronics is you can change the sound signature by changing tubes. The tubes typically last 5,000 hours or so, and a new tube set should cost around $20. The amp measures 9 by 6.75 by 3.25 inches, and it weighs 7 pounds.
The rear panel has stereo RCA inputs and outputs, so the amp can also be used as a stereo preamp with an external power amp that drives speakers. The Lyr is made in the U.S. and it's covered by a five-year parts and labor warranty (tubes get a 90-day warranty). Schiit sells the Lyr direct with a 15 day, money-back return policy.
The Lyr with the HE-6 headphones was an awesome combination. Yes, it could play as loud as any sane person would ever want, but even when listening at a very moderate volume the clarity and detail were impressive. Classical music was vivid, but never bright or thin sounding; other good quality headphones sound cloudy by comparison with the HE-6 (review in the works). Stereo imaging was liberated beyond the confines of the headphones, and the open quality made the Lyr-HE-6 very easy to listen to for hours at a time.
The HE-6 headphones sounded great, but I also wanted to try the Lyr with a couple of more affordable headphones, starting with the Hifiman HE-400 ($399, review in the works). Highly dynamic music had exceptional impact, bass power and definition were excellent. The Lyr's wide-open soundstage was still evident with the HE-400 headphones.
Next, I brought out a pair of($300) headphones. The L1 has a rich tonal balance, and the Lyr maintained that, but added a degree of control and detail I've never heard from the L1s before. When I wasn't playing music I heard a very small amount of tube noise over the headphones, but that's not unusual with tube amplifiers. I didn't notice the noise when I played music.
Summing up, I loved the Lyr, it brought out the best with every headphone I tried. Considering its sound and build quality, Schiit's direct-sale home trial policy, and five-year warranty, the Lyr deserves my highest recommendation.