Desktop digital-to-analog converters keep getting better and better, and the Micromega MyDac is a fine example of the breed. The 24-bit/192-kHz MyDac has three digital inputs: coaxial, optical, and USB, all selectable via the thumb wheel control on the front panel. The stereo RCA analog outputs can feed either your powered speakers or power amp. I was pleased to see the MyDac has a built-in power supply, so it doesn't use a wall wart. Micromega will soon release a matching headphone amp, which I hope to review here with the MyDac. Available in black or white finishes, its … Read more
Schiit Audio's very first product, the Asgard headphone amplifier, left me shaken and stirred back in 2010. It sold for $249, looked and sounded amazing, and to top things off, it was made in the U.S. -- not just assembled here. Most of the Asgard's parts are sourced from U.S. companies.
The Asgard is still in company's product line, and it's still $249. But Schiit has grown since then, and now offers a full line of more expensive headphone amps and USB digital-to-analog converters (DACs) -- which is great. But the company's most recent offerings sell for just $99 each! The Magni headphone amp and the Modi DAC are also made in America, and they sound spectacular. … Read more
Red Wine Audio makes some of my all-time favorite headphone amplifiers, but they're pretty expensive. The Isabellina HPA LFP-V Edition, for example, runs $2,500; it was designed and built in Vinnie Rossi's small factory in Durham, Conn. The Isabellina is more than just a headphone amp, it features a spectacularly good digital-to-analog converter and a hybrid transistor/vacuum tube audio amplifier. While the amp can be run off an AC power outlet, it sounds best powered by its built-in 25.6 volt Lithium Iron Phosphate battery pack. The battery can play for up to 10 hours, and … Read more
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.
If you think a lot of audio has become far too complex, check out the Halide Design digital-to analog converters (DACs). They're plain black boxes, without even a single LED, display, control, button, or connector jack (the DACs come with permanently attached USB and RCA cables).
The elegant simplicity of the Halide Design DACs is a brilliant alternative to most of today's overly complex gear. They have just one function--zeros and ones go in at one end--and analog signals come out the other end. The little Halide black boxes are the best-sounding DACs I've heard on my … Read more
Sound-quality advances in headphone design show no sign of slowing down, and even old names like Philips and Sony are getting serious about making great-sounding headphones. Sadly, those brands aren't attempting to make anything that could be compared with the world's best, like the JH-3A headphone/amplifier system, from JH Audio.
That company's founder and designer, Jerry Harvey, started building in-ear monitors for rock bands in 1995. He counts Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, Aerosmith, Foreigner, and Linkin Park as customers. Harvey is currently with the Van Halen tour--the band uses his 'phones onstage--and Harvey uses their feedback to improve his designs.
The JH-3A is an amplifier/in-ear headphone system, with analog and digital inputs with up to 24-bit resolution and 96kHz sampling rates. I've used portable headphone amplifiers before, and they can sound great with all types of headphones, but the JH-3A takes in-ear headphone performance to another level.… Read more
While I regularly write about ultra-high-end gear that's made in the U.S., I also cover as much affordable stuff as I can find. Grado Labs in Brooklyn manufactures some of my favorite headphones priced from $79 and phono cartridges from $60. My friends at Schiit Audio in Newhall, Calif., make headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters with prices starting at $249. As for speakers, Zu Audio makes gorgeous-sounding models priced from $1,200 per pair. These companies aren't just based in the U.S., they also manufacture their products here.
If $1,200 doesn't qualify as affordable, … Read more
Our resident CNET audio expert Steve Guttenberg finally joined the rest of us and started his own Twitter page, so we invited him back on today's episode to see what else is going on with The Audiophiliac.
Steve always comes prepared with relevant (and not so relevant) talking points for us, and today's includes Joy Behar's mixed-breeding novel Sheetzucacapoopoo (Steve's a big fan of her work), the value of headphone amplifiers, and his concerns about the next generation of self-proclaimed audiophiliacs.
It's not a term that should be lightly used to describe anyone who loves music, and Steve considers a real audiophiliac to be someone who is truly concerned with an active music listening experience where extra attention is paid to audio fidelity in all its expensive glory.
The high-priced equipment might be the reason why audiophiliacs are a dying breed of enthusiast, but Steve makes it clear that quality audio gear is worth the price, especially when you consider that some equipment like headphones can last a lifetime.
We also learn that today's younger audiophiliacs are specifically interested in headphones and can be found on Head-Fi.org, a comprehensive audio site with in-depth headphone reviews, expert forums, and more.
Check it out if you're shopping for new cans or earbuds, along with CNET, of course!Episode 703 Subscribe in iTunes audio | Suscribe to iTunes (video) | Subscribe in RSS Audio | Subscribe in RSS Video… Read more
Headphones can sound only as good as the amplifier they're plugged into. The difference in sound quality between the built-in headphone amp in a typical receiver or computer and a high-end amp can be surprisingly huge. True, the very best headphone amps can get expensive, but Schiit Audio's made-in-the-U.S. amps' prices start at $249.
I was blown away by the sound of Schiit's solid-state Asgard amp ($249) a few months ago, and now it's happening again with the new Schiit vacuum tube Valhalla amp ($349). Which one sounds better, the solid-state or the tube design? Read on.
The Valhalla's chassis is a near twin to the Asgard, except for the four tubes peeking out of the top panel. The brushed, all-metal chassis' fit and finish are excellent; the Valhalla looks like an expensive high-end component. The rear panel houses stereo RCA inputs, an on/off switch, and a power connector. The chassis measures 9 by 6.75 by 3.25 inches, and it weighs 7 pounds.
Technically speaking, the Valhalla is a Class A, single-ended triode headphone amplifier with no overall feedback. The amp's innards are stuffed with individual resistors, capacitors, etc,; just like a no-holds barred high-end design, and it delivers classic tube sound. The chassis, circuit board, and power transformer are all sourced from American suppliers, and the amp is hand-built in Newhall, CA; though the vacuum tubes are made in Russia. Like most high-end designs, the Valhalla is built to last a long time; it should have a useful working life of 10 or more years.
The tubes probably won't make it to the 10-year mark; they're rated for 3,000 to 5,000 hours of use, so if you listen to your headphones for 10 hours a week, you won't have to replace the tubes for at least 6 years. The tubes are guaranteed for 90 days, and Schiit sells replacement tube sets for $40.
I spent some time comparing the solid-state Schiit Asgard with the Valhalla, with my Grado RS-1 and Sennheiser HD-580 full-size headphones, and the brand-new Ultimate Ears UE Reference Monitor in-ear headphones.
The Valhalla warmed up the Grado's sound; the Asgard was leaner-sounding, but more transparent. The Valhalla's soundstage depth on the Walkmen's excellent new "Lisbon" CD was more spacious than the Asgard's, but don't get the wrong idea; the tubes didn't soften detail, and the band's guitars had plenty of bite. The Valhalla/Grado sound is fuller-bodied and organic; the Asgard/Grado combo offers greater clarity. … Read more
High-end audio can be a rather expensive hobby, but every now and then I stumble across something really amazing that's priced for the real world. The Schiit Audio Asgard headphone amplifier looks and sounds like an overpriced high-end audio component, but it sells for $249!
How good is it? Much better sounding than run-of-the-mill headphone amplifiers, the sort designed around inexpensive integrated circuits found in home theater and stereo receivers. The Asgard is a no-holds-barred Class A, single-ended, zero-feedback design. Pardon the audiophile jargon; let's just say the Asgard is built like a serious piece of high-end gear.
Look inside and you see individual resistors, capacitors, transistors, etc, configured in a proprietary design by Schiit Audio's founders, Jason Stoddard, formerly of Sumo, and Mike Moffat, formerly of Theta Digital (two pioneering American high-end audio companies). The Asgard's chassis, circuitboard, and power transformer are all sourced from American suppliers, and the amp is built in Newhall, Calif. Oh, and Stoddard, his wife, or Moffat actually listens to each and every Asgard before it leaves the premises.
The Asgard's clean lines and elegant proportions strike me as distinctive, I love the look. The brushed, all-metal chassis' fit and finish are excellent, easily on par with high-end electronics that sell for four times the Asgard's price. That's no exaggeration, it's really nicely put together. I mostly listened to the Asgard with my Ayre C-5xe SACD/DVD-Audio player, but you could hook it up to any stereo analog connection.
The amp is fairly compact, and can be placed horizontally or vertically. The chassis measures 9 by 6.75 by 2.25 inches, and it weighs 4 pounds. Accessories include a 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm headphone plug adapter, and a high-quality 3.5mm to male RCA cable adapter.
The amp's high-current design makes it suitable for use with all sorts of headphones, rated from 8 to 600 ohms, and it worked perfectly with my favorite Grado, Hifiman, Phiaton, and Sennheiser headphones. A lot of companies toss around phrases like "high-current design," but judging by the amount of heat the Asgard generates, I believe the claim.
It runs very warm to the touch, and even so, Jason Stoddard told me the Asgard was built to have a 20-year lifespan, or at least 5 years if left on continuously. How many $249 consumer electronics products can you buy with that sort of life expectancy?… Read more