The Audiophiliac Component of the Year: Schiit Ragnarok stereo amplifier

The Ragnarok amplifier is the brand's first to drive speakers and/or headphones, and it sounds like it means business.

Schiit is best known for its headphone amps and digital converters; Ragnarok is its first stereo integrated amplifier for speakers and headphones. It's a purist, sound-quality-first design, and stands head and shoulders above run of the mill integrated amps that come stuffed with as many features as possible. The minimalist Ragnarok keeps it dead simple: There are five pairs of stereo analog inputs (2 XLR/3 RCA), but no digital inputs, or even a phono input for turntables. If you need those, buy a digital converter such as a Schiit Bifrost Multibit, which is what I used for this review, and if you play LPs, pick up the Schiit Mani phono preamp. Of course you could also use other brands converters or phono preamps. The Ragnarok's rear panel also has stereo RCA and XLR preamplifier output jacks; upfront there are 6.3mm and balanced 4-pin XLR headphone jacks (more on those two later).

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The Schiit Ragnarok stereo amplifier

Lee Shelly

It's a class AB amplifier design, power is rated at 60 watts per channel for 8 ohm speakers, 100 watts per for 4 ohm speakers; the Ragnarok measures 16 x 12 x 3.75 inches (406 x 305 x 95mm), and weighs 32 pounds (14.5 kg). This bad boy runs hot, just like most of my favorite high-end amps. Schiit's five-year warranty is considerably longer than what you get with most mass market electronics.

Curiously, no remote control is provided or available, and if that's a deal breaker for you, I understand. Me, I don't mind getting up from the couch to change volume, and when you turn the volume control knob up or down you hear the amp's internal relays making clicking sounds. And again, that might be an annoyance for some buyers, but not me. The power on-off switch is inconveniently located on the rear panel, but a reach around maneuver gets the job done.

Ragnarok is designed and made in the US; the amps are always available in the snazzy-looking silver finish, and the factory occasionally makes a limited run of black Ragnaroks, and they have a few right now.

Holding the input button down switches the Ragnarok's output mode of the amplifier between three options: headphones and speakers, speakers-only, headphones-only. There's no way to know what mode the amp is in at any given time just by looking at it. The Ragnarok's ergonomics are pretty lame, but its sound quality is as good as it gets for integrated amps in its price class, which is $1,699 in the US, £1,500 in the UK, and AU$2,949 in Australia. That's not cheap, but the best stuff never is.

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The Schiit Ragnarok stereo amplifier rear panel.

Lee Shelly

For my listening tests I first hooked up Ragnarok to my Magnepan .7 flat panel speakers, precisely because they are far and away the best speakers I've heard for the money, but they're a brutal load for amplifiers, and most AV receivers and budget integrated amps never come close to making the .7 speakers sing. The Ragnarok fully exploited these speakers potential.

Magnepans aren't known for their bass prowess, but teamed with the Ragnarok the .7's low-end was magnificent. Even so, the .7 still isn't a rock-and-roller's dream speaker, but bass oomph was ahead of what I've heard from the .7 speakers with reasonably priced amps.

With Ernst Reijseger's score for Werner Herzog's film "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" the .7s utterly disappeared as sources of sound. This chamber music was recorded in a church, and hearing voices and instruments with 3D presence in the church's reverberant acoustic space was a real thrill.

Paired with my KEF LS50 bookshelf speakers again the Ragnarok kicked butt, the speakers really came alive with this amp, dynamics and bass slam were hugely impressive for a small speaker. Stereo soundstaging opened wide, there was a nice dimensionality to the sound with great recordings, like the soundtrack album for the film "Birth." I also had great results with my Zu Druid V speakers, and it's with those speakers I totally rocked out with the Ragnarok. Bass punch, truly visceral dynamics, combined with a sweet midrange tonality were the fruits of this amp/speaker combo.

The Ragnarok uses its speaker output circuitry to directly drive headphones hooked up with cables terminated with XLR balanced connectors. The Ragnarok's other headphone jack, a standard 6.3mm, puts out less power, but plenty enough to drive other headphones.

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Here's what a four-pin XLR headphone plug looks like.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

My high-end headphones from Abyss, Audeze, Hifiman, MrSpeakers and Sennheiser can all be fitted with balanced cables with XLR plugs, so I was eager to hear how the Ragnarok would sound with them, and yes sir, the amp's transparency was exceptional. Throw the hardest to drive headphones at the Ragnarok, and it'll take them all in stride. The amp's standard 6.3mm jack sounded nearly as good with my other headphones, including my Sennheiser IE800 in-ears. All of that is noteworthy because a lot of stereo integrated amps don't sound all that good with headphones, but the Ragnarok really shines. It would be worth the price if it were just a headphone amp, but it also does an exceptional job with speakers.

Schiit took the path less taken with the Ragnarok design, and its all-analog signal circuitry ensures its long-term usability 5, 10, or even 20 years from now, and it's still going to be a great amp. No matter which music formats come and go over the coming decades chances are good the players and/or converters will have analog output jacks that can be run with the Ragnarok.

Add it all up and you'll see why the Schiit Ragnarok integrated stereo amplifier is the Audiophiliac Component of the Year for 2015!

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