Schiit Asgard 2 Review: The Asgard 2 is borderline outstanding in its class. This is a headphone amplifier that works well with a range of sources and comes across as amazingly detailed and transparent. Married with a five year warranty and a nice build quality, this is a unit that is built to last.
With years of growing monotony cast from the corporate hoop jumping of the digital age, 2009 became the year in which two ardent audiovisual engineers, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat, stumbled past years worth of tough tethered bull-
Once with an iPod, and a ‘That Guy’, pair of Apple headphones by his side, Stoddard was eventually liberated with the gift of a pair of V-
Schiit’s aim was to produce exceptional quality audiophile quality equipment with simple production processes for a low BoM (Bill-
Thankfully Schiit happened and their popularity grew rapidly… The rest, as they say, is history.
It is important to note that this is a review for the second iteration of this particular product and they were both released with exactly the same price ($249). The first version was released shortly after Schiit was founded in 2010, and the Asgard 2 was debuted in mid 2013.
Whilst both are solid state headphone amps, the physical differences between the original Asgard (1) and the Asgard 2 are the following: The Asgard 2 has a pair of output RCA’s which are only operational, or acting as a through, when headphones are not being used; this caters for users with powered monitors. There is a output gain is switchable, from low to high, to cater for headphones with low or high impedance, and finally the input stage features a higher voltage cascoded JFET stage before being routed into an 80w Class A MOSFET output stage without the output coupling capacitors as found on the original Asgard. Schiit adopted this DC input/output method from the Mjolnir amp design and its purpose has lowered the noise floor, refined the soundstage with less harmonic distortion, and extended its headphone capabilities.
In the spirit of cutting out unnecessary elaborations to bring savings to the consumer, the Asgard 2 arrives in a standard double cell wall white box with minimal monochrome branding details. Once inside the Asgard 2 is suspended with two high density foam blocks, an 1m RCA to RCA lead, four sticky silicone feet, and is finally partnered with a single region specific 1.5m IEC (kettle) lead. All accessories appear to be of a good quality, nothing particularly notable, but should capable to last for a number of years.
Making up the main body of the Asgard 2 is a 2mm thick extruded brushed aluminium U-
Turning our attention now towards the ‘faceplate’, the Asgard 2 is a very simple affair. Beginning at the far right hand side of the unit, there is a single ¼” jack input partnered next to a small white LED on status indicator, this is then completed with a substantial aluminium potentiometer cap and no level indicator. What’s strange about this is that the on/off and gain level toggle switches are missing from the faceplate, because they are located on the rear of the device; not exactly the most convent position! Now I fully understand that relocating these controls to the faceplate would result in a higher manufacturing cost, however the minor upgrade would really help with the presentation and ease of use. Forgetting this, for a moment, the rear of the device sports both of the aforementioned input and output (through) RCA’s and finally the IEC input. You know what, it’s great to see that Schiit have managed to build in an internal power supply considering the extra cost involved with this. Many other manufactures with products standing at the Asgard 2’s current retail price opt for inconvenient external wall-
Like all Schiit products, the Asgard 2 has, incredibly, been designed and assembled in the United States. It seems almost impossible how Schiit can match China’s diligence and bargain basement assembly pricing structure, when you consider that this is a precision machine dealing with, initially tiny, voltages, but the sheer confidence in their product is unprecedented when you consider that they top this off with a ‘no questions asked’ fifteen day money back guarantee alongside a standard five year warranty. I currently know of no company that can possibly match this, although Jason Stoddard, Co-
Internally Schiit is a manufacturer with nothing to hide. Unlike many other manufacturers who would prefer that you didn’t see the internal workings of their product, Schiit proudly publish an birds eye view of the fully assembled PCB complete with their [trademark] garish red solder mask. With regards to the components the majority are standard OEM’s so nothing is particularly notable there, apart from the Neutrik branded connectors and use of a premium Japanese ALPS ‘Blue Velvet’ potentiometer which has a beautifully buttery degree of resistance. The genius of this design comes down to the implementation, and an example of cutting costs is with the external aluminium enclosure being used as a heat sink for the internal Class A circuitry. With this said the unit does get hot and we have identified an average running temperature of 46°C (or 114.8°F). Thankfully Schiit have not cut corners when it comes to safety and they have implemented a number of relay protection circuits within the Asgard 2 in order to protect your valuable headphones during startup and shutdown.
Performance wise the Asgard 2 has a reported frequency response of 20Hz -
ARCAM irDAC, Lynx Hilo D2A/A2D Converter System, CAD USB, The Chord Company Signature Tuned ARAY RCA, various Van Damme cables, Fostex TH900, Fostex TH600, Beyerdynamic T90, Grado SR325e, Beyerdynamic DT250, Chord Electronics Hugo, Sonic Studio Amarra, and WAV source files.
Before we progress, I would like to share an observation with you; this is that the Asgard 2 benefits from a warm up period. At fifteen minutes the amplifiers soundstage appears to open up and it looses some of the immediate treble brittle sterility, whereas at forty-
In many ways Schiit have created a class leading headphone amplifier here, this desktop beauty is an absolute steal! With a penchant for transparency, the Asgard 2 offers a crisp clean soundstage with an energetic, ever so slight, buttery tapered edge that appears to be more analytical than musical. Perhaps this is why it can be quite brutal on the type/quality of the source, because when paired with certain darker, more texture complex, DACs the Asgard 2 can lack lustre and contrast. With this noted, experiencing this is a rarity and only applies to some DAC’s and lossy codecs. On the other hand the Asgard 2 makes an excellent pairing with more natural, and even darker, headphones.
In terms of staging, the Asgard 2 is spritely and engaging headphone amp. There is an organic, nimble, almost youthful, feel to the space around each instrument and, as a result, you can feel the many complex layers that come together to form a three dimensional environment. The depth is right up there and micro details are still placed with precision amongst dominant instrumentation and, as a general consensus, I really do respect Schiit’s Asgard 2. This is a well balanced tight coherent headphone amp that has fire in its belly and a painless snappiness about it. It manages to follow rhythmic elements to a good level and has beautiful synergy over the low frequency range, which leads to a defined well controlled punchy rhythmic attack and a slightly critical decay. Focusing just on the decay for one second, the speedy nature of the amp in general can slightly loose some of the natural smoothness that you would otherwise expect. This really isn’t that much of a criticism, merely an observation of the, otherwise, detailed persona in comparison to higher priced amps, although the Asgard 2 certainly still is an excellent headphone amp that deserves significant notoriety. It is, undeniably, a winner in its class.
Over at the high frequency borders the Asgard 2 feels like a breath of fresh air with supporting tones extending well, and being moderately forward, to the point of great satisfaction. There appears to be absolutely no evidence of sharp fractal-
The Asgard 2 is a super tight transparent beast with an excellent price tag. This desktop solution has enough firepower to pair well with a midrange priced DAC and the build quality appears great for what it is. Schiit have utilised the design to it’s full potential and have passed on the saving to the consumer, as a result we award the Schist Asgard 2 with four and a half stars.