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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. Low-impedance headphones like the 50Ω Audez'e LCD-2 and Hifi Man HE-5LE and HE-6 planar-magnetics should theoretically be legit. Max achievable SPL will of course depend on source output voltage (an iPod puts out 1 volt, a standard CD player 2V, my Weiss DAC2 up to 5.5V). Power consumption is 35 watts. That and significant heat dissipation* confirm honest class A mode. It usually burns up at least 10 times as much power at the wall as it delivers into the load. Dimensions are 9 x 6.75 x 2.25". Weight is 5lbs. The power LED is a fashionable white. The enclosure's construction means the Asgard can be used on its feet or upright like a NuForce HDP.

* Given the 'entry-level' target customer, the realities of class A operation could require some education. Most people will instinctively regard heat and electronics as bad in combination. After all, when a car overheats it signifies trouble. With the Asgard, it's intentional. The aluminum shell is the heat sink which wicks away heat from the output devices. If the cover did not get hot, the always-on Mosfets would overheat. Here heat isn't an operational problem. For class A bias it's simply business as usual. The most effective self cooling does place the Asgard upright. Then both sides of its cover shed maximal temps.

Cauterized? If you wonder how—with all the can't-do-here attitude that has moved so much domestic manufacture to Asia—Schiit can build a quality homegrown product for midfi pricing that doesn't look it, don't be misled. Stoddard's nearly cavalier easy-going demeanour hides a plain fact. Such stunts take solid resources and meticulous planning. For the present platform it meant a U-shaped aluminum profile which slips over a bottom-less front-less box insert and affixes with just 13 screws. There's zero wiring to cut down on assembly time, just thru-hole parts. Four transistors and two voltage regulators bolt directly to the bottom of the aluminum shell. Their legs stick up and penetrate the board from below. The non-toroidal California Willits power transformer attaches to the board from above, then couples to the shell via standoffs. There's a 952 100KAX2 blue Japanese Alps pots, a number of Nichicon, Wima and other caps and a few resistors. That's mostly it.

Further ingredients not in but out of the box are significant volume commitments and an ultra-lean business model. For Schiit that's a 400f² operation with skeleton crew**. More profitable models will have to follow to grow such a business. Here buyers get mercilessly mercenary. They reject all involvement with their myopic "that's not my problem" attitude while shopping for the coolest price on the hottest performance. If that means sweat-shop labor in Malaysia, so be it. Schiit mixes things up right at this juncture. That's brazen and courageous. It's also overdue. But let's forego global economic and geopolitical comments and focus on the product.

** "There's only three of us involved: myself (mainly analog), Mike Moffat (mainly digital) and Rina Slayter (production lead). We're hand-building stuff at the moment but can also scale to a trusted local PCB assembly house if needed. Mike and I did over 1000 Cobalt 307 units a month at its peak. We know how to scale. Hell, Mike ran all of Theta with only 9 employees out of a 2200f² space in Agoura in the Cobalt 307 days. It can be done lean and local but requires incentives for the people who actually make the product (not sweatshop labor). It also requires exceptional reliability, large production numbers and extreme standardization."

Cough. You can read this verbatim on their website but it bears repeating: " Sumo Jason Stoddard designed the Polaris II, Polaris III, Andromeda III, Ulysses, Ulysses II, The Ten, The Five, Athena II, Diana, Artemis, Theorem and Axiom. At Theta, Mike Moffat designed the Theta Pre-Amplifier and at Theta Digital the DS Pre, DS Pro, DS Pro Basic and many other products. So yeah, fully balanced differential power amplifiers, fully discrete I/V conversion stages, audiophile D/A converters, relay-switched stepped attenuator volume controls in preamps, the first DTS home-theater surround processor on the market - we’ve done a ton of stuff."

Cogito ergo zero sum? While the Asgard is only $249, the experience behind it adds lots of zeros to that figure. And confidence. There's a 15-day satisfaction guarantee. Does something begin to sound too good to be true? I suggest that it's a reflection on current realities instead. Either chase Russian oligarchs and Hong Kong bankers with cost-no-object products to be utterly irrelevant to most. Or embark on the long slow walk. Rebuild middle-class values. Reintroduce real quality into products average music lovers who aren't equipment junkies can afford and want to own. Lest you missed the zest in the earlier jest, the type of ground-up efforts Schiit, HRT, Black Cat Cable and others are embarked on interests me tremendously. Trophy hifi is for the other guys.

That said, sounding too good to be true can always become self-fulfilling prophecy. Don't bring unrealistic expectations to bear on any affordable product no matter how high its intrinsic quality might be. Keep it real. With the Asgard's transistors, would certain power-hungry high-impedance headphones prove beyond its reach to practice the thematic watch-where-you-step dance? The single watt which the Mosfets put out into 50Ω at clipping becomes a mere 130mW into 600Ω (600mW into 100Ω, 260mW into 300Ω). While far too pricey for the Asgard's target shopper, I had HD800s and T1s to stand in for the hi-Ω brigade and test for implications.