In my review of the RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones I opened with the following statement.
“The RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones are unequivocally the most sensational audio product I've ever heard. Honestly, no product has ever captured my attention, caused me to listen to more music, or garnered my enthusiasm like the SR1a Earfield headphone monitors.”
I still stand by every word in that review and see nothing on the horizon that could change my opinion or usurp the SR1a. What interests me now is pairing these headphones with different amplifiers. However, due to the unique amplification requirements of the SR1a, I can’t just bring in a handful of popular headphone amplifiers and have at it. Powering these headphones requires either 1) A 100 watt+ traditional amplifier and the RAAL-requisite ribbon interface box that converts the output of the power amp into a signal that can drive the SR1a, or 2) An amplifier built specifically for the SR1a, in what’s considered a direct drive approach.
Since embarking on a tremendously fun journey to find great amplifiers for these headphones I’ve brought in three “traditional” power amplifiers from high end companies Parasound, Boulder, and Constellation Audio. These are physically large and heavy beasts that range in price from several thousand to well over ten thousand dollars. The amps connect to the SR1a via their speaker output terminals. This means plenty of heat dissipation, a set of speaker cables, and the RAAL-requisite ribbon interface box. Great sound for sure, but not without significant drawbacks.
On the opposite side of the SR1a amplification continuum is the Schiit Audio Jotunheim R. It’s a $799, seven pound, direct drive amp that’s less ten inches wide. The JR requires no ribbon interface box and has the power to drive the SR1a as if this was a normal headphone / amp relationship. Just plug the headphone cable into the amp and press play in one’s app of choice.
I asked Schiit Audio co-founder Jason Stoddard to join me via Skype to get into all the details of the Jotunheim R as opposed to me word-smithing the spec sheet and manual. I think readers will find this JR specific conversation very informative.
Now for the fun part and the reason anyone would purchase the Jotunheim R, listening to and enjoying music. Let's begin with a track off the new Haim album titled Women in Music Pt. III. Track thirteen, called FUBT, features only Danielle Haim and her electric guitar for much of the song. It's an absolutely beautiful song full of emotion, effects, harmonies, and a lush guitar sound throughout. Right from the start of the track, I got a Stevie Ray Vaughan vibe when listening through the Jotunheim R. In no way is Danielle Haim a guitar virtuoso like SRV, but the sound of the guitar and the artifacts in the background remind of me SRV's version of Little Wing, with the tube amp buzzing underneath the guitar wizardry. The Jotunheim R presents this track in all its imperfect glory, and to me that's perfection in itself. Letting the rawness of the dirty guitar and amp sound shine through without smoothing out the bumps is essential and done very well by this direct drive design.
A few times throughout the track Danielle is joined by her sisters Alana and Este for beautiful harmonies juxtaposed with the blunt language of the track. At 1:12 into FUBT hearing the sisters chime in, singing the line "Either way I'm gonna lose" is delightful. Even better are the harmonies at 1:45 into the track when the sisters synchronize on the lines "How can I sleep when I can't dream at night? All of my needs I say I don't need." The Schiit Jotunheim R presents these vocals wonderfully and allows this vocal talent to shine through.
Finally, at 2:25 into FUBT, the Jotunheim R reproduces Danielle's guitar solo superbly. From the vinyl-like noise preceding the solo to the fuzzy, grungy, and lush sound of her Gibson SG Standard, it's all there for the ears enjoy. Listening to this part of the track reminds me a bit of Tony Peluso's solo on The Carpenters' 1972 hit Goodbye to Love. Mixing smooth vocals with a dirty guitar can be magical. When played on amazing headphones and a great amp, the sound is very memorable.
As many readers know, I'm a huge fan of music. As such, I'm going to take you from Haim to The Carpenters to Taylor Swift and even an audiophile classic and a symphony orchestra. Pick and chose to read what you'd like, or come along for the sonic satisfaction.
On July 24, 2020 Taylor Swift surprised the music world by releasing her eighth studio album titled Folklore. Listening to the entire album, one can't help but notice the duet, titled Exile, with Wisconsin native Justin Vernon, recording as Bon Iver. The track was recorded with both singers/songwriters working remotely during the current pandemic. The beautiful opening piano leads into Bon Iver's deep yet smooth vocal with subtle birds chirping in the background as if recorded at a cabin in the woods like his acclaimed album titled For Emma, Forever Ago. The track has its share of pop music production, but overall the quality is really good and it shows through the Schiit Jotunheim R amp.
At 1:20 into the track Taylor Swift enters with her vocal that is equally smooth yet nothing like Iver's baritone in the opening. The two singers are a great pair and continue throughout the track to harmonize and play off each others verses. The SR1a / Jotunheim R combination enables the listener to hear deeply into this pop song with vocals isolated in each channel, seemingly unrelated sounds as well as subtle singing in the background. It's a great track made even better through this great component combination.
In 2014 Yusuf Islam / Cat Stevens released an album titled Tell 'Em I'm Gone, produced by Rick Rubin. While not a critically acclaimed album by any means, it's one I've come to like quite a bit. Track three is a cover of Edgar Winter's Dying to Live, and it's my favorite version of this track to date. Yes, I know it isn't a heavily covered song, but I now have no interest in Winter's or Jonny Lang's versions. On Islam's version both the piano and his voice sound very authentic and unprocessed. The Schiit Jotunheim R reproduced this track, full of midrange prominence, very well. Tiny intonations in Islam's voice, fingers sliding up and down fretboards, and even some off-hand character between verses are all easily audible and enjoyable on this headphone/amp combo.
I must've listened to this entire album a dozen times through the SR1a / Jotunheim R combination. It's a relaxing album full of midrange lushness that's presented incredibly well by the Schiit Jotunheim R.
A perfect audio component doesn't exist. Period. Finding the limits of a component can help potential purchasers decide if the limits matter and if surpassing the limits is worth the added cost. Let's dig into the limits of the Schiit Jotunheim R.
I've had an old audiophile favorite stuck in my head for a few days. I first heard this track while auditioning a pair of Innersound Eros speakers at HiFi Sound & Electronics here in Minneapolis circa 2000. The track is called Company from Patricia Barber's Modern Cool release. I have the MFSL version at 16 bit / 44.1 kHz. Above all, this track reveals the limits of the Jotunheim R's dynamics & leading edge transient response. The SR1a is the most dynamic headphone I've ever heard and has lead some to deem it a bit too dynamic. I don't believe this will be the case through the JR.
Barber's track Company is full of dynamics and drums with leading edge attack and a solid bass line that lays the foundation throughout. Cutting right to the chase, at 2:45 into the track drummer Mark Walker plays a magnificent solo that can put the listener right next to his kick drum. Through the Jotunheim R, this drum solo lacks immediacy and the ultimate in dynamics. The leading edge of the transients is slightly rounded, similar to how my McIntosh MC275 amplifier sounded with the SR1a headphones. While the MC275 didn't have enough power to completely drive the SR1a, the Jotunheim R has plenty of power. It just doesn't have the brute force, punch, and the attack to push the ribbons in a way that can tear one's head off. Some listeners may jump for joy with this sonic limitation because the SR1a can be brutal in its dynamic reproduction. The overall dynamics through the Jotunheim R are somewhere in between a lush tube amp and a punchy solid state model.
When I listened to this track through the RAAL-requisite ribbon interface box and the $10,000 Audio Research VT80 SE amplifier, I was absolutely thrilled with the speed of the transients and dynamics. Given that the Jotunheim R is less money than the sales tax on the VT80 SE in many states, it's no surprise there's a sonic difference in this category. Comparing the Jotunheim R to the Schiit Vidar amps configured as monoblocks, I believe the JR comes up just a touch short in overall punch.
Readers should note that sonic differences here may be related to how Schiit handles baffle compensation versus how it's handled in the RAAL-requisite ribbon interface box. Both solutions do this compensation a little differently and should produce different results.
Switching to the Kansas City Symphony's version of Passacaglia, from the out of print Reference Recordings album Britten's Orchestra (HR-115), shows the limits of the Jotunheim R's ability to reproduce reference level detail and delicacy. The opening strings on Passacaglia are sweet sounding with a bit of texture. Through the Jotunheim R the sound just isn't as sweet. The Jotunheim R doesn't reveal as much detail and delicacy as the ARC VT80 SE, and it shouldn't. Don't get me wrong, the JR is completely capable of producing this track at a very high level that'll likely be better than many people have ever heard.
Compared to the Vidar monoblocks, I think the Jotunheim R is a bit better in this area. The JR sounds to me like it has lower noise than the Vidar amps, even though based on specs, it doesn't. Perhaps this is because the configurations between the two setups are quite different. The Vidar requires a preamp or DAC with built-in volume control. For much of this review I used the Schiit Yggdrasil (Analog 2 & Unison USB) connected directly to the Jotunheim R.
Passacaglia has a dynamic range score of 26! This is 20 "points" above most popular recordings. Given this, the quiet passages in the track require the volume to be turned up to an extremely high level. When this is done, component's tend to reveal flaws, design decisions, or just how good they are. The Schiit Jotunheim R was very quiet with its volume set to maximum level and the string section of the Kansas City Symphony delivering delicate notes. I believe it's this perception of lower noise that puts it ahead of the Vidar monoblocks with respect to detail and delicacy.
When I purchased my RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones I first opted to not purchase the ribbon interface box. I thought I'd just use the Schiit Audio Jotunheim R and call it a day. About 30 minutes after I ordered the SR1a I realized that I could be waiting for quite a while until the JR was in stock and I'd have wonderful headphones without any amplification. I quickly changed my order to include the interface box. Looking back on the decision, I'm happy I now have both the interface box and the Jotunheim R. They give me flexibility and options. Two things for which I'm a big fan.
Readers just getting into the RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones may be considering one box or the other for their initial order. The variables and listener tastes are endless and impossible to cover in any review. Factors to consider in one's purchase include simplicity, space, quality of traditional amplifier if using the interface box, and knowing one's own tendency to chase the audio dragon. There is always something different and possibly better. Those who aren't satisfied with leaving well enough alone, will love the ability to swap amps with the interface box and possibly get bored with the Jotunheim R due to its untweakability. However, even in this case I think the JR is a good add-on and good tool to have in the audio toolbox.
Those who want to find the best value and get themselves well on the way to sonic bliss, should just get the Jotunheim R and be done with it. No large amps or speaker cables to deal with and no thinking about the next system change. With the JR it's one and done. A single small box and a pair of SR1a headphones. Plus, the sound quality from this simple solution is terrific and may not be surpassed by inexpensive and unwieldy loudspeaker amplifiers.
Hardcore, knuckle dragging, card carrying audiophiles seeking the ultimate in sound quality without concern for price should plan on getting the interface box and a four or five figure amplifier(s). Even so, I still recommend the Jotunheim R as it can open up the world of fantastic headphone listening outside of the "audio room." When RAAL-requisite eventually releases its circumaural ribbon headphones, I will likely purchase a pair and use them with the Schiit JR (baffle compensation disabled) in my bedroom. Plus, I love the fact that I can bring the JR to any room of my house for temporary listening, while leaving the big beast amplifiers up in my listening room. Again, it's all about options and flexibility.
One last note about selecting an amp for the RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones. RAAL-requisite offers its own direct drive amp called the HSA-1b that sells for $4,500 (previous version HSA-1a was $3,900). I haven't heard this amp yet, but Audiophile Style contributor @austinpop is scheduled to receive a review sample very soon.
The simplicity of a direct drive amp for the SR1a can't be understated. Size, heat, and cost savings are big factors in almost everyone's purchasing decisions. My first experience with the SR1a headphones was with large two channel amplifiers for loudspeakers. Many of these amps were easily 50+ lbs and four square feet in area. When I dropped the Jotunheim R on my desk and cleared out the traditional amps, speakers cables, and interface box, it felt like my life just got easier. Like a weight was off my back. I had no clue what I was going to do with all my newly freed up desk space. In addition, while the Jotunheim R runs medium to hot, the heat it gives off is nothing compared to a traditional class A A/B power amp.
The Schiit Jotunheim R is a very unique amplifier built for a unique headphone. At $799 it's nearly $4,000 less expensive than the only other direct drive SR1a amplifier on the market. I usually leave value judgements to the readers, but in this case it's beyond obvious. The value of the Jotunheim R is off the charts. In fact, the value of the JR is so high that I believe every RAAL-requite SR1a owner should have this amp regardless of other amps already in their listening stables. I'd even purchase this amp over the RAAL-requisite ribbon interface box if I had to select only one of the two components.
The cost of entry into exotic headphones tends to be very high. Take for example Stax SR-009S electrostatics and their required amplifiers. Spending $10,000 isn't out of the question for those seeking good performance. The Schiit Jotunheim R brings the cost of entry, into what I consider the best headphone on the planet, down to an absolutely reasonable level. Readers still sitting on the RAAL-requisite SR1a fence should no longer be there because of price. The Jotunheim R just made that irrelevant. Great performance for an amazing price. C.A.S.H. Listed. Add to cart.
Community Star Ratings and Reviews
I encourage those who have experience with the Schiit Audio Jotunheim R to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.
- Schiit Audio Jotunheim R ($799+)
- Schiit Audio Jotunheim R Product Page
- Schiit Audio Jotunheim R Manual (322 k PDF)
Where to Buy
- Source: QNAP TVS-872XT Roon Core, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20
- DAC: dCS Rossini, EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40')
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream.