A Complete SchiitShow

Enthusiastically digging the new Schiit.
Photo Credit: Purrin

Ed Note: I was gonna go, but I got sick. Thankfully Anaxilus (Mike) volunteered to pen a post for InnerFidelity readers...and I must say I don't think I could have done as good a job of it myself. Thanks for filling in, Mike.

For some time now, the headphone and portable audio community in large metropolitan areas has gotten used to rather large, noisy, highly commercialized affairs relative to smaller more community oriented meets. While some might not feel it necessarily bad to expand and capitalize on the growing market, it is nice to see vendors who are willing to step back from the more industrial and monolithic approaches to audio marketing. Recently, Light Harmonic in conjunction with Brook Berdan of Los Angeles were able to do just that along with added participation by Ultimate Ears, ALO, Eddie current, and Schiit Audio at a recent meet here in Southern California. Such regional community based events simply add a depth of both interpersonal and technical experience for participants that is unrivaled by larger affairs where their value and comradery gained are just impossible to quantify.

So, while many were surprised that Schiit Audio would go ahead and do their own thing, anyone who knows Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat know anything is possible at anytime. The 2015 SchiitSchow was a wonderfully executed meet and product reveal allowing listeners the opportunity to focus primarily on their new products and how they relate to their flagship offerings in a more controlled environment.

For ambiance, this was unlike your typical Canjam trade-show atmosphere with wall-to-wall noise and crowds sprawling over each other to try the latest and greatest audio offerings. The Hotel MDR provided a quiet listening room enclosed by glass sliding doors. Inside we could find four listening stations. Two Ragnarok/Yggdrasil stations running Surface tablets and JRiver or Macbooks and Audirvana. On the other side, two more stations comprised of two rigs each including the Lyr 2/Bifrost combinations with both solid state and vacuum tubes simultaneously, and two of the Mjolnir/MB Gungnir providing the same. The staff promoted a quiet listening environment along with metered time for each station for participants to rotate through not unlike the audio version of speed dating!

So how did it all sound? Well, bear in mind we only had a few minutes at each table per the speed dating protocol employed. Consider this something of a tasting menu. By the way, did I mention said show included food and everything was free to all those who registered? I dont think it gets much better than that! So what was on the menu? Three big reveals and then some! Lets dig in!"

The Antipasto

Photo Credit: Marv
We were served a treat the likes of which few have rarely seen. Solid state tubes! Dubbed LISST (linear, integrated solid state tubes), these devices offer tube rollers of Schiit amps an opportunity to try out or convert to solid state for various reasons. Cleansing ones sonic palate; establishing a reference point; or simply avoiding the quirks of variability and reliability that tubes can sometimes present. One downside however, do NOT install these in your non Schiit approved amp. They are not ubiquitous like typical 6922 tubes. If you do, dont say you werent warned!

The Primo

Photo Credit: Merv
The next course for our sonic palate consisted of the revamped Mjolnir 2 amplifier with TUBES! Originally a solid state amp with balanced input and output only, this newest iteration provides a tube option, as well as single-ended outputs for headphones as well as pre-amp duty. One now has a plethora of options to roll any of the 6BZ7, 6DJ8, 6922, ECC88 or 2492 family of tubes. It also has a new front mounted gain switch to make it possible to listen with IEMs.

While the original Mjolnir was pretty good and competitive for the price point, I feel this iteration is a clear step up. Designed as a differential amp based on a Circlotron topology—as someone said at the show—the Mjolnir was meant for tubes. Based on my listening, the Mjolnir 2 takes a bigger leap with its revision and ability to roll vacuum tubes or LISSTs versus the Lyr2. While I may have preferred LISSTs with the Lyr2, the opposite was clearly true relative to the Mjolnir2.

In this circuit, the Mjolnir2 simply let the vacuum tubes bring more of what they could offer to the table rather than imposing the amps inherent signature upon them directly as the Lyr2 did. While the LISSTs still sounded good with the Mjolnir—binging their previously mentioned linear strengths to the table—vacuum tubes were simply offering a more profound and involving experience. Its a matter of getting more of the music and less of the circuit. Strings just become more articulate; you get a greater sense of plucks and rosin flying; the window into music just gets a little clearer and everything sucks you into the experience a little bit more...your eyes begin to close. As with the Lyr, tube selection will matter and dictate the warmth, tone and technical prowess of your final sound. So choose wisely!

Now, there are some who found the Mjolnir a little too forward and perhaps aggressive—especially in the treble. To me, this character is notably mitigated regardless of the Mjolnir2 tube complement. I suppose it could be said it still has some of that inherent character, but it is less offensive or committed to letting you know it. This is a more refined listening experience and a notable improvement pretty much across the board that puts it closer in tonal character to the Ragnarok than before.

So, for someone looking to scale their headphones or even DACs in future, the Mjolnir2 would be the obvious choice versus the Lyr2 in my opinion.

I feel it necessary at this point to comment on the consequence of having added single-ended output to the inherently balanced design of the Mjolnir. As it was for the Ragnarok, the single-ended outputs of the Mjolnir2 audibly seem to have been summed. There is simply a greater degree of sonic warmth and compression which reduces the overall engagement factor of music. So, for any single-ended headphone users out there, consider these new features to be merely convenience items. If you are content or determined to stick with SE listening, you should consider staying with the less expensive offerings. Yes, it makes that much of a difference.

Ed Note: Mike is quite right here; the very nature of the circlotron circuit is such that considering it for single-ended use is akin to cutting a see-saw in half at the center for solo use. Jason used the term "utility outputs" in a phone chat with me about the Ragnarok.

The Secondo

Photo Credit: Pyrate leader...argh.
Palates now ready for hearty nourashment, the new Multi-Bit Gungnir was served up. A rather tasty alternative for those looking to get closer to that flagship Yggdrasil R2R DAC sound while on a more approachable budget. It uses the new multi-bit board consisting of the same closed loop filter and four AD5781BRUZ DAC chips rather than the four AD5971BRUZ chips found in the Yggdrasil. Due to the complexity of the firmware upgrade process, anyone looking to upgrade will have to ship their Gungnirs back to Schiit to install the new board.

Now, there was a bit of confusion regarding this DAC being shown off at the recent Colorado meet. Impressions varied quite differently from the general consensus offered at the SchiitShow. There is a very good reason for this. It was never at the Colorado meet according to Jason Stoddard.

That clears that up.

As stated above, this revised Gungnir could essentially be termed a baby Yggdrasil. I was never a big fan of the original Gungnir as I felt it too warm and lacking in proficiencies like clarity and resolution. Sure, it had a nice organic and natural tone, but I need to hear more of the music. The MB Gungnir gives me just that. Listening to it through the Mjolnir 2, this was clearly a different beast from the previous Gungnir. Open window clarity, lots more recorded information coming through, better precision in imaging and transient articulation. There is definitely something of an Yggy familial resemblance here.

Stepping over to the Yggy/Ragnarok station things do get a bit more clear and refined, but its close enough that I'm not sure how much of that is from the Yggdrassil and how much of that is from the Ragnarok. Afterall, thats the question people will be asking. Do I go all in and get the Yggy, or do I save some dosh and barely miss a beat? Based on the logistics of the meet and your subjective personal priorities, its simply too hard for me to say. What I can say is I know an industry guy that feels the MBG is 90% there, and he doesnt feel hes missing a step when bringing it to demo their amps instead of the Yggy.

A Bit of Dolce?
SchiitShow_Photo_EtherC Yes, we have treats! Dan from Mr.Speakers was kind enough to drop-off one of his box of chocolates. Inside, we found a plethora of Ethers and Ether Cs (closed planar dynamics) to sample with all the goodies the Schiit boys had already plated on the tables.

This closed planar magnetic headphone seemed to bring the most division between listeners with different priorities than anything else at the show. Those that liked it appreciated the relatively even and balanced sound which did not accentuate or highlight any particular part of the audio spectrum. They also liked that it was cleaner and clearer sounding, presenting a sonic picture that was easier to dissect or step back and enjoy. I can appreciate and understand this position.

My ears told me a slightly different story, however. I think the Ether open falls behind the HD800, having some bass issues, and lacking ultimate resolution and imaging abilities. Ether C simply seems to fall a bit behind both.

To my ears, the Ether C presented a more 'polite' and 'even' sound that could conversely be called dynamically compressed. Using a reference track, I need my musical instruments to pop dynamically and with tonal distinction. There is simply less contrast between low end and top end tone and dynamics versus both the Ether open and HD800. While some might prefer the aforementioned Ether C's even signature more, I personally do not. Live music simply has a higher contrast ratio than what the Ether C is delivering to my ears. What it delivered for me was something more akin to an audio presentation versus live music. The HD800 and open Ether were simply fuller and more dimensionally complete with their imaging and spatializations. If the Ether C seems more resolving or clear, it's possibly due to a leaner signature devoid of the Ether open's lower bass bloom.

I find the new Ethers and the HD 800 to have quite a family resemblance. I actually found the 6-7 kHz peak on the Ether C more spotlight with certain tracks versus a stock HD800. This was actually verified on Dans own provided graphs. Perhaps this is due to the 'C' having a narrower peak versus the HD800's wider one even though the elevation is similar. It also has a larger peak at 10 kHz which may or may not be notable depending on your sensitivity to things like a T1. Thankfully its not nearly as dramatic an aberration as the Tesla. Tracks used and associated gear will help to accentuate or diminish this aspect, but the peaks presence is objectively there. In the end, your ears will decide.

Ultimately, Dan did do a commendable job mitigating the effects of making a closed can more bloated and deserves quite a bit of credit for his attempt relative to recent closed planar magnetic offerings that simply failed.

Such is the lot of sealed headphone designs, they'll just never be open.

So, thats the ShiitShow in a nutshell. Oh, there were a few more unannounced surprises there, but on that, unfortunately, I cant comment. One was heard by most, the other was likely not even noticed. Thats okay, we need to keep our appetites whetted. Im sure everyone will be satisfied when those dishes are finally served. Till next time!

The Digestivo

Ed Note: Wait, what!? You mean me getting sick lost me a chance at making Moffat laugh? Damit! We'll I'm gonna give it my best shot now. You lemme know if I made you laugh in the comments, Mike.

Didja hear that "The Little Rascals" Buckwheat converted to Islam?

His name is Kareem-a-wheat now.

Thanks for the great report, Anax!

tony's picture

Oh dear,

Kareem ?

I guess this shows the hospital drugs haven't worn off fully.

The new Schiit stuff is keeping the "Actives" well on the upgrade path.
I've heard from plenty of them after they "placed their orders".
Plenty more are planning with plenty more impatiently waiting to read your group's combined wisdoms. ( I fall into this last group ).

This seems nice reporting by Mike, thanks Mike!

Bob Katz and his "semi-secret" electronics designers are itching to test their stuff against the best stuff ( sitting on ur tables ) so more fun and reporting is on offer.

Geez, we are having such high levels of suspense now-a-days : Multi Bit designs, trained ears listening, near death encounters, solid state Tubes…., what's next? ( iPhone7?)

It's gonna take till christmas to dig thru all this year's advancements, maybe another 6 months to buy/own/adjust.

Is 2016 gonna be as exciting?

Tony in Michigan

inventionlws's picture

it seems the closed planers are really hard to design, but they are really practical in office use. Still waiting for more competent offerings

tony's picture

Maybe so, maybe not.

I can seal-off my Open HD580s with a bit of double stick tape and some felt of other dense material ( attractive ) to achieve useful results.

I kinda agree about the Planers though, I tried both the Open and Closed Audeze 8s, I purchased the better sounding ( to me ) Open versions.

For closed or Isolation purposes I'm feeling IEMs the best solution. You achieve nearly 40db of quiet from the best of them.

Tony in MIchigan

Three Toes of Fury's picture

Awesome write up Anaxilus! The schiitshow is one event that i was eagerly waiting to hear about for some time now. The head-fi gang did a good job with updates in the conversation threads, however i think you review is one of most comprehensive and informative.

Jason, Mike and the Schiit gang continues to impress. Jason goes above and beyond in keeping folks informed and involved. The new product launches @ the Schiitshow indicate that the team is not just focused on next generation amps/dacs but also new ways for current amp/dac owners to both expand their gear as well as get something new out of it. I dig it the most!

Peace .n. Living in Stereo


PS: For those of you who are headphone fans but havent gotten into Amp's or DAC's yet, i HIGHLY suggest checking out the Magni2 and Modi2. They are very reasonably priced jumping in points and they opened my eyes and ears to a whole new world of music appreciation.

Smiling Kev's picture

I have really enjoyed the improved sound made possible by my Modi2 Uber/Magni2 Uber Schiit stack! I invested the extra $$ for the "Uber" models because it allows me to use my CD player as the primary source - and tap its output via a coaxial interconnect. Earlier this week I bought a second Modi2 Uber and paired it with my treasured Headroom Micro amp. This "Schiit Head" combo gets fed by the CD player (via optical interconnect), too. It's lots of fun to compare different headphone/amp combos as they convey the same musical selection simultaneously.

Smiling Kev's picture

You gathered a lot of useful information and judicious impressions from your "speed dates." Thanks for making me a lot less sad about not being at (or anywhere near) the Schiit Show. It was fun and educational to attend the gathering vicariously by reading your report. Thanks!