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A few days of break-in later, I combined the Valhalla with a more bass capable higher output source. This was a turbo-charged iPod portable rig by way of the triple-decker sandwich of AlgoRhythm DAC in the middle, ALO Audio RxMkII amp at the bottom (the latter was powered off). This grew the proverbial nuts down low and rather shifted first impressions. Now HD800 and T1 were dynamic and gutsy, i.e. right. With happy-hour levels at high noon and pounding material like Gaudi's Dub Qawwali with its club treatment of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's potent scatting, foundation might and control were impressive. Percussive elements in the midrange retained that forward slightly sizzly quality most such albums major in.

Checking in with my clarinet hero of the arabesque [Bergama Gaydasi, Laco Tayfa - Double Moon], Hüsnü Senlendiriçi's Turkish G clarinet (longer and lower than the B-flat of Jazz and classical music) had the proper richer timbre despite the far thinner reeds that are necessary for the many sliding Middle-Eastern embellishments. On the matching Hicaz Dolap album, it was dead obvious on which tracks he switched to thicker reeds to enter the 4th octave for complete melodic refrains under full power without getting screechy or breaking up.

Referencing Sasa Cokic's equally tubular Trafomatic Head One with output iron highlighted the difference. The transformer-coupled amp sounded warmer, softer and energetically more distanced. The OTL was more lit up, caffeineated, upfront and quicksilvery. At lower levels the Serbian managed to sound fuller and denser. The Schiit kicked into its version of glory at higher SPLs as though transients showed up first on the dial and body followed a bit later. Body's arrival could be delayed again by switching back to the analog iPod. Its sound is comparatively thinner and more nasal over offboard conversion. While the Valhalla is very affordable, it thrives on a good source. Going overkill just because, I grabbed one of my Onkyo ND-S1 docks, then set the Burson HA160D to a bog-standard 2 volts out. This added into the mix an even burlier all-discrete D/A converter. As expected image density, fullness and incarnation factor now showed up early. This made even gentle SPL fully satisfactory. While the high-value Burson was actually overpriced for this context, one expects that Schiit's Mike Moffat is already cooking up something more wallet-matched.

On headphones from my arsenal which post break-in seemed nicely matched, I'd single out the audio-technica W5000, Grado PS-1000 and beyerdynamic T1 in the top tier followed by the Sennheiser HD800 and AKG K-702 on the next. With a 'potentized' iPod for more gain than its analog output provides alone, all could play unreasonably loud. My hierarchy simply puts on the first rung those designs whose innate voicing is on the fuller richer side. For normal tubular expectations, those cans will get closer though the Valhalla obviously won't add audible 'output transformer effects' for any of 'em. Leaner headphones will veer farther away from the deep triode myth (which is essentially silly but nonetheless a resilient notion that's useful as an abstract reference polarity).

The crystalline/fast core virtues of Valhalla add a third by way of very defined quasi holographic soundstaging. Though I've never personally reviewed an Atma-Sphere OTL amp, commentators nearly invariably enthuse over spectacular staging. I don't know whether that's intrinsic to the concept—for any architecture there's always premium and poor implementations—but the Valhalla certainly has it. Anyone who favors very exact sharp teased-out placement/presence in what goes for soundstaging with headphones (between your ears and either more backward around the occipital like a cradle pillow; or somewhat more forward toward the frontal lobe) should love this Schiit. It does this even more than the Asgard. In triode lingo and with speakers, this also goes by layering. It doesn't really apply to headphones. But if it did, the Valhalla would be a layerer.

Those not reared on an instrument tend to hone in on the human voice as a familiar real-life reference. They should thus notice this presence effect—our short hand for 'layering', focus, image lock, crispness—particularly on vocals. It's not the come-hither fire-side intimacy of the deep triode myth. It's more like a spot microphone which the engineer boosted just a tad in the mix to lift out the voice from over against the background. Rather than bore you with a litany of examples, let's simply say that the Valhalla presents a close-to-stage perspective where the lights are bright, the shadows few if any, transients crisp and warmth/fuzz from ambient reflections zero. So what needs to be reiterated before closing this book? The presence of tubes will mess up those who carry particular mental baggage about them. The Valhalla so isn't about that sound. The Valhalla simply is an Asgard that glows in the dark and prefers higher-impedance 'phones to the Asgard's low-Z designs. Coming from the same designers, this shouldn't be surprising. The more experienced and better the engineer, the more a sonic ideal/notion will impose itself on a circuit regardless of output device. It's getting there by different means which becomes challenge and badge of mastery.

For those with headphones like the W5000 and PS-1000 which can go for either Schiit unconditionally, how to choose? For the purest treble, Asgard. For maximal control in the bass, Asgard. For fluidity on poetic long-decay stuff and the most three-D staging, Valhalla. For greatest vocal sex, Valhalla. For 'lesser' sources, Asgard again. These aren't day and night differences but mere shades of gray. As was true for the Mosfet amp, the valve amp too is an overachiever for the money asked. It's another fine example of American ingenuity that's focused on high value, not trophy hifi. What Schiit needs now—if I were asked—is an Onkyo ND-S1 dock with built-in DAC. Can we get an HRT iStreamer fully integrated with an iPod dock? For now, the $449 drive-anything Lyr will be next. We're promised a sample from the first batch to complete this triptych of headphone amps.

Quality of packing:
Reusability of packing: Many times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Website comments: Informative with a deliberately fresh attitude.
Human interactions: Prompt, candid and no bull.
Value: Given performance, build quality and boutique US manufacture, very good.
Final comments & suggestions: Runs hot.

The Schiit Lyr review follows on the next page.
Schiit Audio website