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Review and Measurements of Schiit Valhalla Amp

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Schiit Valhalla tube headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The unit is discontinued. I think it came out in 2011 (?). From what I can tell, the cost was US $450 or so.

The sample I have has been through some war duty but otherwise matches the look of typical Schiit products:

Schiit Valhalla Tube Headphone Amplifier Audio Review.jpg

The volume control has a good feel.

There is nothing in the back but a set of RCA inputs, power and on/off switch so I will not be posting a picture of that.

The driver tubes were 6H1N Russian tubes. The output tubes were 6H6N.

The unit is very heavy for its size and gets incredibly warm.

Not much else to the unit so let's get into measurements.

Headphone Audio Measurements
Here is our usual dashboard:
Schiit Valhalla Tube Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Even though I am at just 2 volt output, distortion was through the roof. I thought something was broken by Shiit specs the unit at 0.5% distortion so we are "fine."

While Channel 1 was stable, channel 2 was all of the place. Its output level and THD+N would constantly vary. Reseating the tubes did not help so something is wrong with those set of tubes/channel.

SINAD (signal over noise+distortion) is just 43 dB, placing the Valhalla at dead last position in our headphone amplifier line up:

Best Headphone Amplifiers Reviewed 2019.png


Signal to noise ratio at full level and 50 millivolts out is:

Schiit Valhalla Tube Headphone Amplifier SNR Audio Measurements.png


Let's forget about the second channel which is off the reservation (broken). The "good" channel is well, bad:
Best Headphone Amplifiers SNR 50 millivolt.png


That is a second last place finish. Best not use any sensitive headphones with this amplifier.

Frequency response of the good channel is fine:
Schiit Valhalla Tube Headphone Amplifier Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png



Output impedance was a very high, 75 ohm:
Schiit Valhalla Tube Headphone Amplifier output impedance Audio Measurements.png


This will change the frequency response of many headphones and rules out using it with low impedance headphones due to high losses.

Output power vs THD+N at 300 ohm looks pretty horrific to the eye:
Schiit Valhalla Tube Headphone Amplifier Power vs Distortion at 300 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Forgetting again the broken channel, we see that the other channel also has very high levels of noise and distortion. The latter is mostly caused by asymmetric clipping of the negative cycle together with symmetrical rounding of the tops of the curve.

Testing with 33 ohm completely upsets the apple cart:

Schiit Valhalla Tube Headphone Amplifier Power vs Distortion at 33 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Stopping at -30 db, we barely have 1.5 milliwatts of power! There are dongles that do better than this.

Multitone response as you can imagine, is very poor:

Schiit Valhalla Tube Headphone Amplifier Multitone Audio Measurements.png


I think we should stop here and not belabor the point.

Headphone Listening Tests
I thought I get the easy out of the way with testing with Hifiman HE-400i low impedance headphone. As soon as you got any decent volume out of the distortion was evident especially with bass notes. Turning the levels higher would cause massive distortion, akin go turning up a clock radio to max volume. It is basically not usable.

Switching to Sennheiser HD-650 completely transformed the experience. Now the fidelity was good and there was plenty of volume until distortion set it. Correlation was quite weak with THD+N when I compared the Valhalla with JDS Labs Atom. Unless I really paid attention where the JDS Labs had slightly less distortion in highs and tiny bit better resolution, you could not tell them apart. Indeed I had my son here who is in his 20s and has excellent high frequency acuity. He could not tell the two units apart.

The dominances of second harmonic and the fact that it masks better, explains why the audible effect is not anywhere close to what the numbers indicate.

Mind you, there was change in frequency response due to high impedance of Valhalla. I could hear the tonality changing a bit, with highs more muted with Valhalla. This also made level matching more difficult.

Of note, there was a tiny soundstage difference in favor of the Atom because it has slightly more highs. Otherwise, there was no magic to the sound of the tube other than the subtle things noted above. Mid-range was NOT more mellow. Soundstage was NOT wider. Nothing was more liquid, etc.

Conclusions
Between high distortion levels, fragility of the tubes, and very high power consumption and heat, I can't think of a reason to buy the Schiit Valhalla. This Schiit, is really Schiit.

That said, if you have an affinity for things like this, and can buy one very cheap, and have a high-impedance headphone, and like a permanent but subtle EQ applied to all of your music, I am not going to chase you around the block if you buy the Schiit Valhalla. :)

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Xulonn

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#3
How old are the tubes?

Are there any reasons to believe this amplifier might have performed better when new?
 

amirm

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#4
How old are the tubes?

Are there any reasons to believe this amplifier might have performed better when new?
I don't know. Hopefully the owner sees the question and answers it.

On second question, the measured distortion is similar to what Schiit advertises so likely is representative of when new.
 

Silou

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#5
The SNR at 50mV is just as good as my Ohropax® :p:cool:
IMG_20190805_062929.jpg

It is really depressing that you can not hear a big difference between the worst measuring headphone amp and one of the best measuring headphone amplifiers of ASR. Why do we even spend money on amplifiers?
 
Last edited:

solderdude

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#6
Current Valhalla: $349.00

Frequency Response: 20Hz-20Khz, -0.1db, 7Hz-200KHz, -3dB
Maximum Power, 50 ohms: 180mW RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 300 ohms: 800mW RMS per channel
Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 450mW RMS per channel
THD: < 0.02%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 1V RMS, high gain (worst case)
IMD: < 0.03%, CCIF at 1V RMS, high gain (worst case)
SNR: > 98db, unweighted, referenced to 1V RMS, low gain
Crosstalk: < -71dB, 20 Hz-20KHz
Output Impedance: 14 ohms (hi gain), 3.5 ohms (lo gain)

do note that it is specified at 1V output voltage and it is not specified into which impedance.
It is also very likely that at least one of the tubes crapped out in the 8 years of service.
Given the 14 and 3.5 Ohm output R of this model chances are the current Valhalla performs 'better' as there seems to be more feedback = lower distortion.

The tested amp, however, even the best channel is not something to write home about.
Not defending this amp nor the brand b.t.w. nor questioning the measurements.
Just sayin' the tested amp may well be broken (it clearly is in one channel anyway).
I reckon a second sample may be needed.
 
Last edited:

Daverz

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#8
This was reviewed because someone took the effort to send it in.

I'm still holding out hope for some of Schiit's newer stuff like the Freya S, Saga S and the newer Ragnarok since they are now publishing their own measurements (linked at the bottom of each spec page).
 
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#9
Why even bother measuring this company's garbage? I think the point has been made. They generally make crap, and they're really not worth paying attention to. Others do a better job.
What garbage?
There is no audible difference between the Valhalla and the Atom. Yes, the Atom has great measurements but who cares if you cannot hear it?
 

JJB70

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#11
I guess the question is if you can hear no audible improvement going beyond the Atom, and given its high power, why spend more? I have an Atom and see no reason to spend any more if simply interested in sound quality. I would however pay more for an Atom in a lovely Accuphase or Luxman style case.
 

maty

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#12
Hummm.... the transformers do not seem to be very well attached.

Same with Valhalla 2

Schiit-Valhalla-2-inside.jpg
 

amirm

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#13
Hummm.... the transformers do not seem to be very well attached.
That's been the issue forever. I mention it in every teardown of Schiit equipment with mains input.
 

amirm

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#14
I guess the question is if you can hear no audible improvement going beyond the Atom, and given its high power, why spend more?
There isn't any other than having a conversation piece.
 

amirm

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#15
It is really depressing that you can not hear a big difference between the worst measuring headphone amp and one of the best measuring headphone amplifiers of ASR.
That's only at high impedance. With low impedance headphones the Valhalla is total garbage.

But yes, the atom despite its low cost, will drive anything. Just needs a beefier volume control and case.
 

typericey

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#17
I have no experience with the Valhalla but I did own a Vali 2 (before I discovered ASR, now sold). The midrange did sound "good" (i.e. euphonic coloration) especially with rock guitar compared to my Violectric V280 which is neutral. Looking at this review, maybe the Vali 2 is also plagued with the same 2nd harmonic as the Valhalla? When I rolled the tube to a JJ it got a lot more distortion, not sure if the JJ wasn't compatible or I just got a bad tube.

Edit: the Valhalla PCB says "zero-feedback". Could this be the reason for its bad performance? They use Rubycon caps tho...
 

Blumlein 88

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#18
I do think maybe with a clear broken channel maybe this should have been investigated, and perhaps not published. The fact you come in around the spec in one channel means it may be working. But with tube gear with a few years on it, maybe not. Perhaps you should get a tube tester when you review second hand tube gear. It does seem fair to see the tubes are basically good on such units. I like the B&K Dyna-Jet 747 if you can find one, but there are other good choices.
 

daftcombo

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#20
Thanks Amir for the review.
Did that piece of Schiit sound better or worse than the other one named totaldac?
 
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