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Sonis

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  1. I too am a big fan of this company’s products (the name? Not so much). They give excellent high-end performance without the high-end price tag and they don’t make the audiophile pay for high-end case-work and bling.
  2. Schiit Audio Asgard 3 Headphone Amplifier Schiit Audio was founded in June of 2010 by veteran audio entrepreneurs Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard. Moffat is best known for starting Theta and Theta Digital, and is a pioneer in the development of digital audio for the high-end market. Moffat designed the first ever stand-alone DAC while at Theta, and is responsible for that company’s bit-perfect digital filter algorithms. When Theta became Theta Digital, Moffat designed the first DTS surround processor. Jason Stoddard worked for many years as the lead engineer for Sumo, where he designed too many amplifiers to mention here. Between them, the two have enough digital and analog design experience to make some killer state-of-the-art DACs and amplifiers, including headphone amps. The company’s first effort was the Asgard headphone amp which was introduced in June of 2010 (Asgard is the name of the mythical castle in Valhalla where the Norse god Odin and his wife Frigg are said to have ruled). This amp debuted to excellent reviews and in February of 2013, the Asgard 2 was launched to replace the original model. The main differences between the Asgard 1 and the Asgard 2 is the addition of the preamp outputs on the newer model and the switchable gain. The other differences lie in the way the Asgard 2 is constructed. The newer model uses surface-mount parts which allows for some assembly automation, keeping costs down and allowing for increased functionality and higher performance without raising the retail price. The Asgard 2 is a Class-A, solid-state design which sold for a then remarkable $249. To look at the package, one would think that it was a much more expensive unit than it is. The case work, while not fancy, is obviously of very high quality with decent components in evidence everywhere. Looking at the unit, one is immediately struck by the ventilation grills on the top of the unit. Leave it on for a while and the reason for these large ventilation openings becomes apparent. This unit runs really hot! Put that down to the Asgard 2’s pure Class-A operation. Enter the Asgard 3 Several months ago, Schiit introduced the latest incarnation of their premier product, the Asgard 3 headphone amp. This unit differs in many ways from its predecessor. One of the most unexpected changes from the Asgard 2 is it’s price. We are all used to newer models of anything costing more than their predecessors. In this respect Schiit is very different. The Asgard 3 is actually fifty dollars cheaper than the Asgard 2 at US$199! The unit is different in other ways as well. First of all the new amp is no longer full Class A in operation and cannot be sold as a coffee cup warmer like the Asgard 2 could have been. It runs much cooler! That doesn’t mean that it has no Class A functionality. In fact, the first 500 mW of power are Class A, but due to a proprietary mode which Jason Stoddard calls a Continuity Constant-transconductance Output Stage, the advantages of Class A operation are extended into the non-Class A region of operation. The company says that this circuit topology has the following advantages over the amp’s predecessor: More power: Asgard 3 provides 3.5X the power output of previous Asgards. Higher performance: Asgard 3 is also far quieter, and has less distortion than previous Asgards. Modular, configurable, upgradable: Asgard 3 accepts all the same modules as Jotunheim and Lyr 3, so you can add an internal DAC or phono stage. Continuity, not Class A: Asgard 3 uses our unique Continuity output stage to extend the benefits of Class A operation. It’s still biased heavily into Class A, with over 500mW of Class A operation into 32 ohms. Bigger power supply: Asgard 3 now has a 48VA transformer, 50% larger than any previous Asgard, plus over 20,000uF of filter capacitance and low-noise series regulation of stacked power supply rails, plus separate supplies just for the oversight and the cards. More convenience: Now you can select the input and gain from the front of the amplifier. Previous Asgards didn’t even have selectable input, and gain was on the back. Lower cost: Asgard 3 costs $50 less than previous Asgards, despite all these years of depreciating dollars and all the new features. While some of the features are carried over from the Asgard 2, such as a sensitivity control (but now moved to the front panel from its previous position on the back), a single ¼ inch standard headphone jack on the front, and a single set of analog inputs on the back (unbalanced, RCA) as well as a pair of unbalanced outputs (also RCA). The power switch is still on the back next to a standard IEC mains connector. On the Asgard 2, the single volume control knob was affixed via a allen-set screw (and came loose all too often). On the Asgard 3, this has been replaced with a half-shaft keyed push-on volume knob that cannot come loose. Schiit recommends that the Asgard 3 be left “on” all the time (which is probably the reason that the power switch is on the rear of the unit) and I concur. While the Asgard 2 became very warm (OK, it became hot!), the Asgard 3 gets barely even warm to the touch, so it will certainly use less power and help keep one’s listening room a bit cooler in the summer months. But the biggest change of all, physically, to the Asgard 3 is that it takes Schiit’s modular add-on features such as one of two DACs or a phono stage. These modular add ons, are the same ones as sold for the Jotunheim and Lyr3 headphone amps. The true Multi-bit DAC module adds US$250 to the US$199 price of the Asgard 3 and the AK4490 Delta-Sigma DAC card adds US$150 as does the phono preamp card. These modules are mounted in a single slot on the back of the unit and are selectable as either the RCA analog inputs or the modular inputs from a switch on the front panel. Obviously, only one module can be fit at a time. One criticism that I have is one that I also have with the Yggdrasil DAC. Schiit chooses to use icon-like symbols to denote various modes of operation and switch functions. For the most part they are fairly self explanatory, if you can see them! For some reason the company makes the iconography so small that one almost needs a magnifying glass to make them out. I finally had to take a piece of masking tape and place it above the selection lights of my Yggy and write on it in a black marker so that I could tell which input I had chosen! I have the same complaint with the Asgard 3. Speaking of lights, the Asgard 2 had a very bright white LED peaking through the front panel that beamed balefully at one when the power was on. For the many audiophiles who like to listen in the dark to their music, this glare was so annoying that many Asgard 2 owners put black electrical tape over the LED’s aperture to make it go away. Well, it looks as if somebody at Schiit listened, because the Asgard 3 has no pilot light on it! All of this is very interesting and quite a breath of fresh air. A new model with more features and supposedly better performance than the earlier model, and at a lower price. This is almost unheard of, and it would be pretty academic if the manufacturer didn’t make good on the promise of better sound. Luckily, they do. How Does the Asgard 3 Perform? I have two classes of headphones at my disposal: electrostatic and dynamic. The dynamic phones that I own or that I have access to are the HifiMan Edition X, v.2, and the HiFiMan Ananda as well as the Sennheiser HD-800s. The Asgard 3 headphone amplifier from Schiit are designed for headphones of from 16Ω impedance to 600Ω impedance with the most power (5Watts RMS) being available to ‘phones with an impedance of 16Ω and the least power being available to phones of 600Ω impedance. Both HiFiMan phones have an impedance of around 33Ω and thus have about 3.5Watts RMS available to them. The Sennheisers have an impedance of 300Ω, and so they have only about 600mW RMS available. That’s only about 10% of the power available for 16Ω ‘phones. With that in mind, our listening will be done with the HiFiMan phones only. The first thing I noticed was the difference in bass presentation between the Asgard 2 and the Asgard 3. John Williams and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter collaborated recently with Deutsche Grammophon and a Hollywood studio orchestra on an album called “Across The Stars”. This compilation contains a number of excerpts from such John Willams scores as the Star Wars franchise, The Harry Potter films as well as the haunting theme from Schindler’s List, all arranged for solo violin and orchestra. This album is available for streaming in 24/96 MQA encoded audio on Tidal, and that’s how I played it for this review. The first track, Rey’s Theme from “The Force Awakens” has a prodigious and very cleanly presented bass line and I noticed immediately that the Asgard 3 had much tighter and much more impactful bass than did the Asgard 2! Going up the scale, I found a slight difference in the Mutter’s violin as well. The Asgard 3 simply sounded richer and more alive. To double check this, I played Miklos Rozsa’s Violin Concerto with Jascha Heifetz and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra recorded by RCA Victor in the late 1950’s. This is a superb performance and recording of one of the great 20th century violin concertos. Again the difference between the Asgard 2 and the Asgard 3 with regard to the violin was palpably apparent. The Rozsa is not MQA, but is standard CD fare, but as with the Williams album, Heifetz’ violin seemed to have more body with the Asgard 3 and the highs were cleaner and better articulated through both of the HifiMan headphones. Moving on to a bit of jazz The album “Rudy Van Gelder Edition” Created by Tidal, has a cross section of Van Gelder’s masters from the 1950’s up through the 1990’s. The cut Oleo sourced from the album “Relaxin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet” has some of Davis’ best trumpet work. It sounds good through the Asgard 2 but it sounds great through the Asgard 3. The trumpet has more “bite” and the instrument’s overtones sound cleaner and more relaxed. I thought that the pure Class A of the Asgard 2 would make it a tough (if not impossible) act for Schiit to follow, but I was completely wrong. While the manufacturer is very vague in their description about what a ‘Continuity Constant-transconductance Output’ actually is, but whatever it is it betters the pure Class A output stage of the Asgard 2 by a goodly margin because, at once it gives better sound, more output, and does so at a lower price than its predecessor! One further comment. The review unit came with the multi-bit DAC module. While such an option is nice for those who listen exclusively to headphones, it really has nothing to do with headphone listening per se, so my mention of it here is simply an aside. I gave it a short listen and compared it to my Schiit Modi Multi-bit DAC (which I haven’t used for a while). I found the sound to be essentially identical. I thought that the module in the Asgard 3 sounded a bit warmer, but that could be because the Modi had been sitting in a closet for about a year and wasn’t as warm when I listened as was the Asgard 3. At any rate, the difference wasn’t enough to fret about. Conclusion With the Asgard 3’s larger feature set and improved performance over the Asgard 2, coupled with the US$50 drop in price to US$199, this thing is a steal. It punches way, way above it’s pocket-money price range and you should be ordering one for yourself right now. Get to it! Product Information: Schiit Audio Asgard 3 Headphone Amp / Preamp / DAC ($199 +) Asgard 3 Product Page Asgard 3 Owner's Manual (PDF 751K)
  3. Yeah, that makes to most sense. Keeping these models straight in my mind over almost a decade of hearing different ones at different times, is confusing and I'll admit that a number of times I wrote from memory rather than checking my own earlier writings to make sure that I didn't misspeak. Such are the wages of laziness!
  4. I suspect that KumaKuma is right and he meant that I lack integrity. He's entitled to his opinion. But it is obvious to me that Skatbelt just like to stir up sh_t. Either that, or he's a shill for Audeze. Either way, in this case, denial (of the collective opinions of Chris, Mitchco, and myself) is not a river in Africa!
  5. I don’t know what “integer” means in this context. I wasn’t going to respond to your latest hate-fest at all, but you caught an error by me. When I wrote that I borrowed a pair of LCD-3s and thought them great, I was wrong. I had confused the sound of the LCD-2s which I had heard at the 2012 Dagogo San Francisco Hi-Fi show with the sound of the LCD-3s that I heard at the 2013 show. It was the LCD-2s that I was able to borrow back then from a local HiFi shop, not the LCD-3s (confusing, eh?). Anyway, thanks to my “archiving” of all of my reviews and show reports, I was able to go back and straighten it out. I will now go to my computer (I’m on my iPad here), and post the excerpt from my 2013 show report that covers the LCD-3. "The most interesting headphone exhibit, from a sound quality perspective, was for Audeze, the US manufacturer of a high-end line of isodynamic headphones. These phones work like Magneplanar speakers for the ears and as such are similar in concept to the Hi-FiMan ‘phones reviewed in these pages last year. While the sound was similar, it was obvious that the Audeze LCD3’s were in a whole ‘nuther class. They are certainly cleaner sounding than the HE-400’s I tested and also seemed cleaner than the HE-500’s that I was able to audition and another table at the show as well. They also have more and better bass than any phones I’ve ever heard. The build quality on the Audeze LCD3 is extremely good as well, with ear-cups fashioned from exotic Zebrano wood with lambskin leather ear-pads. They are not cheap at almost $2000 a pair, but these are the first phones I’ve ever heard that could give the fabulous and fabulously expensive Stax SR-009 Electrostatic Ear Speakers an honest run for their money. At less than half the cost of the Stax (without the required dedicated amp), and not requiring a dedicated amp/energizer to power them, they certainly are a lot less expensive and a lot more flexible than are Stax phones with very similar – that is to say – excellent, audio performance." And believe me, they didn't sound ANYTHING like the LCD-4z! One's sonic memory is not all that specific or all that good, for that matter, but I'm more than certain that if the LCD-3 and the LCD-4z had sounded anything alike, I certainly wouldn't have given them the positive mention in my show report. In fact, I likely wouldn't have mentioned them at all! Now, let's just end this nonsense. You don't like my review of the LCD-4zs -FINE, you don't like my writing, period, it seems, also FINE, You are able to ignore that my findings have corroborated by Chris, FINE again, and you choose to also ignore that a thorough objective review with comprehensive measurements shows that the measurements and Chris's and my subjective evaluations match, and that is certainly your prerogative. But, let's just end it here, OK? I don't mind answering any legitimate questions about my reviews or my methodology, and I DO appreciate it when people bring to my attention errors and inconsistencies on my part. After all, I'm only human and do admit to relying on my memory a bit too much at times (my laziness, I suspect), but I do not appreciate being harassed, for the sake of harassment. So good-bye, good luck, and please don't read any more of my reviews or posts!
  6. All I have to say is that I’m tired of people doubting my veracity, my integrity, and my conclusions with regard to these headphones. I am not here to make people like you feel all warm and fuzzy inside about products you personally like. I’m here to offer my opinion and personal insight into audio components that I review. If my conclusions differ from others, then that’s too bad. Ultimately it is what it is. I am also not obligated to get into these pissing contests with people who do not agree with me. But I will offer this: it is my considered conclusion that anyone who thinks the LCD-4z sounds accurate to the sound of music simply does not know what real music sounds like, and that, in and of itself, is very sad. In conclusion, I’d like to remind you that I heard the LCD-3 at a Hi-Fi show, under show conditions and I found nothing wrong with them during that brief encounter. I do not remember saying that they were “excellent”. In fact I said that I thought they sounded like “music”. But then, I listened for 5 minutes, to music with which I was unfamiliar, so you should take that opinion with a grain of salt. Also, if you do not like either my conclusions (which I strongly stand by) or my writing style, I have a suggestion for you. Don’t read me! ‘Nuff said.
  7. Look, if you like the sound of your phones to be shrill and distorted in the highs and to sound like a $2 pair of ear-buds everywhere else, then buy the LCD4-Z and be happy with them. Your insistence that these awful phones are good means only one thing to me: that your idea of high-fidelity sound reproduction and mine are light-years apart! I think they’re terrible, Chris thinks they’re terrible, the man who bought the pair thinks that they’re terrible and so does his 18-year old son. Other friends of mine also agree. I guess it takes all kinds, and frankly, I’m past caring that you don’t agree with my assessment of this fraudulent product. My evaluation was accurate and I stand by it. Chris’s evaluation mirrors mine and Mitchco’s measurements back up what the rest of us heard to a surprising degree. End of story.
  8. Well, there is subjective and there is subjective. Sure, people like different things, and certainly there is no accounting for taste. But, when somebody tells you that they listen to a ghetto blaster boom-box and believe that it is the best sound possible at any price, one has to wonder about this person’s hearing, or at least his qualifications for his rather odd opinion. Most people have two types of opinions. Some are informed, and some are uninformed. If someone tells you that they hate Mexico, but you find out that they have never even been there, nor have they ever known anyone who has been there, then, that is surely an uninformed opinion. Another person with the same opinion who, on a trip to Mexico, was abducted by members of a drug cartel, and barely got away with his life, has formed that informed opinion based on experience. My opinion of the LCD-4Z is based on many years of listening to reproduced music. I’ve heard and owned literally hundreds of pairs of headphones. As a recording engineer, I have used headphones to monitor what I’m recording for more than 30 years. I know what live music sounds like and I strive for accuracy with all the equipment I use, whether for recording live music or playback. There is an old saying: “Opinions are like anuses, everybody has one”. But as I said, some opinions are informed and some aren’t. You need to ask yourself which type are more important, which should be taken seriously, and which should be taken with a grain of salt? Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide who’s opinions to believe, but I strongly suggest that whichever reviews you choose to believe, that you listen closely and critically to the LCD-4Z before you decide to plunk-down four big ones for a pair. I really think that you will find, as did I, that they are the worst sounding so-called “high-end” headphones that you have ever heard. Good luck! 😃
  9. Ok. Maybe they’d ship a pair of LCD-4 to YOU but I doubt if they’d ship to me, but if you want to try to get a pair to me (without the “Z”, of course), I’d be happy to compare them to Ted’s LCD-4z (he still has them), for contrast. Might be interesting to do while I still have the $7000 LTA Z10e OTL electrostatic/dynamic headphone amplifier! Your call, though.
  10. The problem here is that where I live, there are no audio dealers, there are no HiFi shows, and there are no can-jams! The nearest places where such things might be found (except for the audio shops) would be either Sacramento, CA (I believe that there are two audio dealers there. They are over a hundred miles away), San Francisco (250 miles away), Salt Lake City, (300 miles away) or, Las Vegas - in January for the CES (400 miles away). So, the only way I could get my hands on a pair of LCD-4s would be for some-one to send me a pair. I can tell you right now someone who probably won’t be sending a pair to either Chris or myself, and that’s Audeze! Can’t blame ‘em though, as we seem to be the only two reviewers who had the chutzpah to come out and say that the emperor had no clothes.
  11. If you read both reviews, then you know that the pair of LCD-4Zs in question were returned to Audeze early in the process and were completely overhauled with brand new, closely matched drivers and that the newly-rebuilt phones sounded exactly like they did before they were returned to the factory! Also, the pair of phones that were measured by "mitchco" and posted by Chris as the objective review, was a different pair, and showed a frequency response graph that pretty much tracks with what both Chris and I heard. In other words, in spite of other reviews, OUR findings are pretty much exactly what this model of phones sounds like! If you want to spend that kind of money on headphones, there are plenty of other makes and models that sound like music (and most of them don't cost anything like the $4000 that Audeze wants for the LCD4-Zs! I recommend that you audition the HiFiMan HE-1000se, for $3500, or for an incredible listening experience, the HiFiMan Jade 2 electrostatic system for $2400. Even the HifIMan Ananda's at just under $1000 is light-years ahead of the LCD-4Zs in terms of SQ! There are also several models of Mr. Speakers dynamic 'phones that are excellent as are the Abyss AB-1266 Phi for $4995 or the Abyss Dianas for around $4000. In short, I don't see how one could spend more and get less than to buy a pair of Audeze LCD4Z headphones (although I heard a pair of LCD-3s at a HiFi show once and thought that they sounded like real music). My advice, is to keep looking. You'll find something that fits your private listening needs perfectly, and you may not have to spend $4000 to get i the sound you require.
  12. Giving full allowance for differences in “taste”, my comments, vis-a -vis, the Chord Hugo 2 vs the Benchmark DAC3, have nothing to do with taste. When one component lets the listener hear things in a recording that another, similar component completely misses, then the former component is simply better at its job than the latter one. If one has two amps, and one has so much distortion that the sound is just this “blob” of ill defined sound while the other amp lets you hear everything in the music, is it really a matter of taste as to which amp is best? Of course not. And it’s the same with these two DACs. One is clearly superior, because it allows the listener to hear deeper into the music.
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