Audiophile Insanity

 Amplifiers, Music, Solid State Amps  Comments Off on Audiophile Insanity
Oct 192012

Tequila or bourbon is the issue at hand. Unlike the unwashed masses I have a specific, perhaps even OCD routine for my dedicated listening sessions. It starts with a great deal of internal debate over listening to something new or pulling out something familiar. This part is likely to remain in the back of my brain, hidden right behind memories of my mother insisting I get a perm when I was 8. The close geographical relationship of these two polar opposite, cognitive processes somehow seems to balance that area of my cortex, keeping me from collapsing into an even more incoherent lunatic. They keep the loony on the path so to speak.

Today I decide on a new release from Donald Fagan called Sunken Condos. I haven’t read any reviews of this album but always look forward to the relaxing flow of Fagan records. Mixed with extreme care, all of Donald’s work is as close to recorded perfection as you can get.

I decide I am in a bourbon mood and pour a couple fingers of the dark liquid into my glass. I have already moved the hi-res digital files onto my main system and decided to skip the headphones today. I call the dogs that run and bounce around my feet as I move across the house. I open the door and plop down into my chair, placing my drink carefully into the cup holder.

I pull the Logitech Harmony One remote out of its charging base and hit Jukebox. The Emotiva USP-1 preamp jumps to life followed a split second later by the twin Emotive XPA-1 mono-block power amplifiers. The dogs settle in next to me and I locate the new album within J Rivers Media Center software and click play. In the next second the laptop, running on battery power to limit power interference, sends its flow of ones and zeros to the Schiit Audio Bifrost digital to analog converter, which decodes the digital signal and passes on the analog wavelengths to the preamp.

The Magnepan 1.6 QR speakers jump to life, their nearly six foot long, paper thin ribbon sending the first guitar note into the air. One of the dogs takes up her preferred spot in my lap as I take my first sip from the glass, close my eyes, and begin to meld with the music.

I do understand how very strange all of this may seem to most people. Music is supposed to be in the background, it is the soundtrack to your day, thumping away while you do laundry, drive, shop, party.  For some it is how we release the tension of the day, much the way my wife must work out every day to keep from becoming a nasty version of Dexter.

How do you relax? What is your relationship with music?

Oct 052012

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.

The Schiit Asgard

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?