Upping the ante: The Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amplifier

The Audiophiliac loved the original Asgard, the new Asgard 2 is still made in the U.S., it has more features and improved sound, but it's still $249!

The original Schiit Asgard (left) and Asgard 2 (right) Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Right, the name attracts a certain amount of attention, but Schiit is no joke. The California-based company made its name with the very first product, the little Asgard headphone amp , which I enthusiastically reviewed on this blog back in 2010. Since then more Schiit headphone amps and digital converters won raves from me. This time out we're back to the Asgard, in its revised Asgard 2 format. The price is still $249.

The Asgard 2 adds preamp output jacks, so it can drive a stereo power amplifier or self-powered desktop monitors, like my Adam Audio F5s . When you plug in a set of headphones to the Asgard 2, the pre-out jacks are automatically muted. The original amp sounded great with full-size headphones, but didn't work so well with in-ear headphones, mostly because they usually have higher sensitivity and the old Asgard's background noise/hiss was audible. The Asgard 2 has no such problem; I used it with my Ultimate Ears and JH-Audio in-ear headphones and the amp was dead quiet.

Asgard on the bottom, Asgard 2, top Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Technically speaking, the Asgard 2's guts feature a high-voltage, JFET gain stage that feeds a high-current Class A MOSFET output section. Think of the Asgard 2 as a mini version of a high-end speaker amp, the little all-metal chassis runs warm to the touch, just like my big Pass XA100.5 amps that drive my Magnepan 3.7 speakers. The Asgard 2 measures a tidy 9 inches by 6 inches by 2.25 inches, and it weighs 5 pounds. You can stand it up on its side to minimize its footprint on your desktop.

When I compared the original Asgard with the Asgard 2 with a set of AKG 712 Pro headphones, I can't say I heard a huge difference. The '2 sounds clearer and bass firms up a bit, but the basic character of the sound is the same. Hey, it was good to start with, so I'm not complaining.

The higher-powered Schiit Lyr had a bigger, fatter sound, the soundstage was bigger, deeper and more atmospheric. The Asgard 2's sound is leaner and crisper with my Beyerdynamic T90 high impedance (250 ohms) headphones. Switching over to my Hifiman HE-400 low impedance (50 ohms) 'phones, the sonic differences between the two amps stayed the same. They're different "flavors" of sound, but the Lyr is more costly; it's $449. Schiit products are made in the US, sold factory-direct with a 15-day money-back guarantee, and a five-year warranty.

The Asgard 2's insides Schiit Audio

In other Schiit news, the company is offering two upgrades for the $349 Bifrost digital converter. There's a new $150 USB Gen 2 plug-in board and an improved Uber Analog circuitry board that runs $100. I installed both at the same time, and the sound was radically improved. The Bifrost's transparency was always awesome, but it's bumped up a few notches, and drums and other percussion instruments' dynamic contrasts are more alive. I've used the Bifrost as one of my ongoing desktop references, so I think it's great that Schiit offers owners an upgrade path.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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