Review - Schiit Asgard 3

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Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 

Intro...

After making a few changes to my listening setups, one of the additions is the Schiit Asgard 3, an amplifier that seems to be very difficult to get in Europe, as are most Schiit products, but is possible to buy and import from the US, if you are willing to pay the cost and/or deal with customs.


The amp sells for $199 in the US but by the time I added the shipping costs, the VAT, the customs tax and the Fedex charge, the Asgard 3 ended up costing over 300€ to get to Spain. If there are any warranty issues, which I hope there aren’t, I would also need to deal with the US. 


So.. is it worth the cost?





Presentation…


This is not the first Schiit product I have received, all being packed in an almost identical fashion, but it is the first time I have actually reviewed a Schiit Product, so I’ll briefly go over what you get with the Asgard.


First you get a brown cardboard box, with Schiit branded tape, a logo on the box and the model written in sharpie.


Inside the box, safely packed between two foam end pieces, sits the Asgard 3, with a short user manual, an IEC cable and a Schiit sticker.


That’s it, unboxing is done, let’s get on with the important bit, the amplifier.





Build and aesthetics…


Schiit builds some good stuff, at least those that I have seen personally. The case is fully made of aluminium, with a nice large and sturdy feeling volume knob, which I believe to be metal also. I personally opted for the silver version although it is also available in black (note that the volume knob is still silver on the black version).


With a fascia that is curved at top, sporting a small Schiit logo and “ASGARD” on the front, along with a larger logo and cooling holes on the top, it gives a simple but elegant impression. The amplifier is heavy and certainly doesn’t feel like it is going to fall apart. 


All in all, it is a simple layout that both looks good and is well built.





Functionality…


The Asgard 3 deals with functionality in the same way it deals with build, simple but well done, except for one thing… 


I think that anyone who has ever read or seen anything about a Schiit amplifier, will have already guessed the issue, yes, the power switch is on the back. This is something that has been spoken about forever and (according to Schiit) is not going to change any time soon. I am not going to rant about it because that has already been done to death but I wanted to get the negative out of the way first. Yes, I also hate the power switch on the back, especially because all of my equipment is in a rack and it means having to leave an extra empty rack unit above the 2U that the Asgard already needs.


So, with that out of the way, we also find on the back of the unit an unbalanced input, an unbalanced output, the mains power connection and an empty slot in my case. The slot is to add either a DAC or a Phono preamp that are sold by Schiit as modules for this amp. I personally had no need for either so I got a sticker saying “for expansion module”.


I am very happy that the power is via an IEC lead, meaning that I don’t have yet another PSU taking up space. I actually removed a couple of amplifiers and a Modi 3 from the rack lately and moved the SU-8 and Asgard to their space. Losing 3 wall warts in exchange for 2 shucko’s was nice. 


The unbalanced input and output are both RCA’s, as is to be expected, and have been spaced nicely, not having to worry about them being too tight for larger connectors. The unbalanced output is a preamp output, controlled by the volume knob, allowing control of another device. In my case I have mostly been using the Asgard output to feed the Cavalli Tube Hybrid.


On the front of the unit we continue with the simplicity. Everything is located to the right side of the Asgard, with the headphone output located at the extreme right, followed by two toggle switches to the left and a large volume knob just to the right of the center.


The volume knob is a pleasure to use, except for the fact that my unit seems to have an issue where the knob seems to meet some friction resistance between 2 and 3 o’clock. At first I was obviously not too happy about it but after using the unit for a while, I have actually found that I like that resistance, meaning that I notice if I am turning up without looking (we have all had that moment when we are focusing on other things like “why isn’t my PC playing”, then we unmute something and volume blasts us!).


To the right of the knob are two toggle switches which, in my case, only one actually does anything. The left of the two switches controls the gain level whereas the right one is to switch between the analogue input and the onboard DAC/Preamp (the expansion module). As I don’t have a second input, the second switch is down for analogue and up for silence, it does come in handy as a quick mute button.


Finally there is the headphone output, a simple 6.35mm TRS socket. This amplifier is a class A/B single ended amplifier, with a 500mW class A bias, that can put out 5W RMS per channel at 16 ohms. With 3.5W @ 32 ohms and 300mW at 600 ohms, there isn’t much that this simple single ended amplifier can’t power.




Sound…


My favourite part of amplifier reviews, the sound… :) I’m not going to rant on again about how I hate trying to describe the sound of an amplifier (you can see any of my other amp reviews for that) so I’ll just go straight at it.


How does it sound? Great.


Again, keeping up with the simplicity of the Asgard, it simply sounds great.


Before I received the Asgard, I had been using mostly the Atom and the Cavalli Tube Hybrid, having removed the Heresy and L30 from my rack. I reviewed the Cavalli Tube Hybrid not too long ago (you can see it here: Review - Cavalli Tube Hybrid) and I mentioned that it was a decent amplifier, adding a bit of warmth and smoothness in comparison to my SS amps. When I swapped to the Asgard 3, everything became smoother and more detailed at the same time. 


Moving back and forth over a few weeks, every time I would switch from the Asgard back to the CTH, everything would just seem to be a little flat, for lack of a better description. I mostly used the Ananda and HD6XX for these A/B tests and it was just clearly livelier when on the Asgard. I switched back and forth between feeding the CTH through the Asgard or directly from my source selector but I couldn’t tell a difference so I ended up just running it from the Asgard for commodity. 


I also have a THX789 in my system for reference purposes, an amplifier that does not lack detail nor power, and the Asgard is by no means less detailed and provides almost double the power, so the only difference is in how this is presented. As I said in comparison to the CTH, the Asgard is a very smooth amplifier but does not make you feel like it is losing clarity, it just presents the same details in a more musical fashion. I used the Asgard for my recent reviews of the Hifiman headphones and it matched them perfectly. Even with the sometimes overly smooth HD6XX, the Asgard brings them to life and really makes them step up in comparison to using them with other amplifiers.


I know how much some people hate car analogies when speaking about audio but I am going to drop one in anyway. I find the difference between the THX789 and the Asgard 3 to be similar to the difference between a 4 cylinder engine and a V6 (for you Americans reading this, a 4 cylinder engine is one of those found in those little european cars we drive ;) ). A 4 cylinder and a V6 can easily provide the same amount of horsepower, the same acceleration, the same top speed, but the V6 does it so much smoother.





Conclusion…


I really can’t find a bad word to say about the Asgard 3 (well, if we ignore the location of the power switch). At the sales price in the US of $200 it is an amazing value for money that I don’t think anyone should worry about it not performing as well or better than anything else in its price range. In my case, it cost me almost 300€ which is nearly double the US retail price but I honestly still think it is great value for the price.


While I still use amps like the Atom and the THX789 for reference and comparisons between headphones (and IEMs), the Asgard has easily become my preferred choice for music listening. Any of my headphones sound great with it and I am just happy to sit back and relax using it.


Is it a step up from something like the Schiit Heresy or JDS Labs Atom? As far as power and detail, it doesn’t suddenly give you details that are not there with the others, but it does present everything a little more relaxed and musical than those.


We are very lucky that at this time there are lots of good options as far as economical headphone amplifiers and while 300€ is 3 times the price of an Atom, I feel that you do get your money's worth from this amplifier.


SenyorC