Colotube goes stereo – Gino Colombo’s Swiss 300B monos have just spawned a stereo version [CHF 17.700] which still runs the same Czech Emission Labs output bottles and EML 5U4G rectifier but changes the drivers to JJ ECC99. Power output is 6wpc, volume control is purely manual and warranty (tubes excluded) is 5 years.
Let’s get the snickering out of the way right now. The product I am going to review today is called the Asgard and it is made right here in America by Schiit Audio. I am sure you get their joke but let me be very clear, Schiit Audio is no joke. Despite the name these guys build powerful, great sounding amps and DACs at pretty reasonable prices.
The Asgard — all of their product names come from Norse mythology which I think is better than continuing that scatological joke – is the entry level amplifier in the Schiit Audio line up. The solid state Asgard is the primary amp in my desktop system. It drives all of my phones, including the infamously difficult K702s. Because I spend so much time at my desk the Asgard gets better than 80% of my listening time and it does it effortlessly, day in and day out.
At a tiny $249 ordered directly from Schiit, it is a real bargain and I have found I can listen to this amp for more than 8 hours without it becoming fatiguing. With 14dB of gain from a single voltage gain stage and fully discrete opamp-free non-inverting circuitry, the Asgard puts out 20V peak to peak. Response is an impressive 2 to 200 (Hz to kHz, -3dB). Allowable load impedances range from 8 to 600Ω. This baby can drive most anything you come across without breaking a sweat.
Sweat is an interesting term here because the Asgard has the ability to make you sweat buckets. Before I purchased the Asgard I had heard it ran a little hot. A few folks had even said it had to be dangerous. I assumed there might have been a bad batch or people were exaggerating. They did not in fact exaggerate, this baby runs hot and I mean really hot. It won’t burn you if you touch it but it takes some courage to test that based on the heat you feel just being near it.
My home office is small and at the far end of the house. It is already difficult to cool off in the Texas summer heat and the Asgard should be a real problem for me but it sounds so good I have lived with it, besides it is really helpful during the winter months when I fail to get the heat going. It really does sound good enough that I forgive the heat.
The reason I keep it is because I have a wide group of cans I use in my office and a very limited amount of desk space. I need an amp that does a respectable job for all of them but that is a tall order. The Asgard does the job with aplomb, never making me wish I had another amp to use in this system. It doesn’t make me forget I have better sounding amps, it just never offends me in any way, and it is a pretty damn neutral amp that carries itself quite well.
Most people don’t even own a dedicated headphone amp, do you think it is crazy to own a selection of them?
Trying to recreate a recording as accurately as possible is both an admirable quest and folly. There is no perfection available at any cost; the best you can do is get close. Making matters even more difficult is the simple fact that the only people who actually know what that exact sound was are the artists and recording crew. Even they have altered it in their minds, a moment in sound is exactly that and it is lost in the next moment, changed slightly by the mind’s eye if you will.
Perfection is therefore subjective and even fluid. The ears of an audiophile, despite what they would like to believe, change over time, preferences change. Many of us have equipment we call accurate and some we call fun. The HiFiMan EF2A is one of the fun pieces. It has no right to be sitting among my best equipment, it is inexpensive, ugly, and is anything but accurate.
I won’t address the terrible DAC as I bypass it and use the single RCA input, triggered by the push button on the front. I am interested in the tube amplifier section of this little gem. Yes, I called it a gem even after I said all those terrible things about it. I will even heap another negative onto the pile, it sounds bad if you don’t do some tube rolling.
I purchased the HiFiMan EF2A for use in my office at work where I had hoped to save space not only by adding a small amp but because it includes a USB DAC. I knew it wasn’t going to be great even matched to BeyerDynamic DT 990 600 ohm headphones. These phones are fairly accurate which can mean they are, well boring sometimes. This combination lacked life; it just didn’t sing with detail or jump out in any good way. The bass was muddy despite being laid back and it turned the sound of horns into a dull blat.
I decided it was time to do some tube rolling and replaced the original nondescript Chinese 6J1 tubes with a pair of NOS Mullar CV4010’s. After a few days of burning in the tubes I jumped upon hearing it for the first time. The music bopped along with a heavier bottom end and filled the frequencies around horns with life. This is not accurate sound but it is sure fun. It has just enough distortion to make MP3s listenable for use on Turntable.fm. These tubes pop up occasionally on Ebay at very reasonable prices and for anyone looking for an inexpensive amp I highly recommend this combination as long as you will be using it with an external DAC.
At $169 on Amazon, this is a piece of equipment that gets a surprising amount of use next to my much more accurate and more expensive amps. It is fun and while I can’t listen to it for long periods there are times I want a change, I want to live on the audiophile edge with some thumping bass and screaming horns.
Do you have a favorite tube, a fun piece of equipment? Tell us all about it now.
For as long as I can remember, and trust me it is a long time. The thought of buying audio equipment made in China was laughable to anyone with ears and a budget that cracked the ten dollar ceiling. It wasn’t just the fact that overall build quality was abysmal but the sound was akin to that offered by a Dixie cup phone system.
Jump forward to 2010 and not only is China making pretty much everything consumed on the planet (and possibly nearby planets) but electronics and the technologies that manufacture them have progressed to the point where top audio companies often have their products assembled there.
Internet only audio companies like Emotiva design their products in the US and have them built in China. Removing the middleman and selling direct to the public already allows these companies to sell quality equipment for far less than the competition, having it built in China demolishes the old world pricing structure. Many established, high end companies have moved their manufacturing to china but must retain their expensive brick and mortar distribution chain. I am going to address this change in relation to headphone amps and not how it has changed, for better or worse, the overall audio industry.
A number of individuals in China saw a demand the major manufacturers had failed to address. Reasonably priced amps, both for home and portable use were almost nonexistent. Companies like Little Dot and Matrix began with a single person building amps on the weekend. Sales quickly pushed dozens of these startups into full time production. Selling their wares on Ebay or through simple websites kept costs down and word of mouth overcame the fear of ordering directly from a business based in China.
If you are new to audiophile headphones it is important that you do your research before making a purchase but don’t immediately dismiss a Chinese product, it may be the best purchase you make in this hobby. In later articles I will discuss the types of amps available and why you may want more than one. As always, I encourage you to post your questions, suggestions, and comments. This passion keeps growing because of a tight knit community of which you and I are now members.