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Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amp & DAC

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Schiit Asgard 3 with its optional AKM4490 DAC Module. It was kindly purchased by a member and drop shipped to me for testing. By itself, the Asgard 3 costs US $199. With the optional DAC, the price becomes US $299 plus shipping.

The look is typical of Schiit products:

Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amplifier with AK4490 DAC Audio Review.jpg


Power switch is unfortunately on the back. You have a choice of low gain (0 dB) and high gain. And using it as a variable pre-amp or headphone amp.

The unit is quite heavy due to inclusion of mains power supply which I like:
Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amplifier with AK4490 DAC Back panel inputs USB Audio Review.jpg


What I didn't like is how hot the unit runs. During testing the right side where the DAC board is, quite very hot on the bottom. The metal chassis should help with heat dissipation but still, I like to see it run cooler.

Since there is a DAC in there, let's measure that by itself first using preamp mode.

DAC Audio Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard:

Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amplifier with AK4490 DAC Audio Measurements.png


Ouch! This is not good. We have a second harmonic distortion at 2 khz of nearly -90 dB which sets our SINAD (sum of noise and distortion) to almost the same value. This places the DAC in the "poor" (red) section of all DACs tested:

best headphone DAC reviewed 2020.png


This must be one of the older DAC designs from DAC. As such, I am just going to quickly grind through a few more tests:

Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amplifier with AK4490 DAC dynamic range Audio Measurements.png


Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amplifier with AK4490 DAC IMD Audio Measurements.png


Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amplifier with AK4490 DAC jitter Audio Measurements.png


Very poor measurements. This DAC simply is not competitive this day and age.

Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements
Again, let's start with our dashboard, feeding the unit 2 volts and asking it to generate the same ("unity gain"):

Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amp Audio Measurements.png


Ah, now we are talking! This is much more respectable. Distortion is an inaudible -115 dB. Overall ranking is very good as a result:

Best headphone amplifier review 2020.png


Noise performance falls in the same category:
Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amp SNR Audio Measurements.png


most quiet headphone amplifier 2020 review.png


Frequency response is excellent:

Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amp frequency response Audio Measurements.png


Output impedance is very low as well which is good:
lowest headphone output impedance measurements.png


Channel balance as you rotate the volume control is "OK" at 20 dB of attenuation:

Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amp Channel Imbalance Audio Measurements.png


Note that with these analog volume controls there are a lot of variations so your unit may be better or worse.

Headphone Amplifier Power Measurements
Now we get to the meat of the review to see how much power this amplifier has starting with 300 ohm load for high impedance headphones:

Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amp Power into 300 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Interesting results. In low gain mode you have very low noise and distortion, almost approaching state of the art. If you need more power, then toggle the high power mode and boy does this thing pump out wattage! It produces 650 milliwatts which is huge. My standard for power in this test is must 100 milliwatts. There is a ton of headroom available here to drive high impedance headphones.

Switching to low impedance causes some heartburn for Asgard 3:

Schiit Asgard 3 Headphone Amp Power into 33 ohm Audio Measurements.png


While low gain mode still has very low noise, distortion sets in at 10 milliwatts and climbs. High power mode is much worse but produces lots of power again at 3.4 watts.

Headphone Amplifier Listening Tests
As usual, I start with my tough to drive, low impedance (25 ohm) Ether CX headphone. I drove the Asgard 3 using its DAC input and while I had enough power to drive the CX, I was surprised that I had to max out the volume control to get it super loud. Same thing happened with Sennheiser HD650 headphone. This was puzzling.

I switching things around and drove the Asgard using my everyday RME ADI-2 DAC V2. Wow, what a transformation. I had enough power to once again cause my ear lobes to literally resonate with the bass beats! Power was clean and seemingly infinite. Yes, with the CX I got it to crackle but that was at such a level that hearing damage would occur at any moment. Overall fidelity was superb with fantastic detail, resolution and impressive bass.

It seems that the internal DAC is the older Schiit designs that only output 1.4 volts and hence can't drive the amplifier section to max power (nominal DAC output is 2 volts for RCA/unbalanced).

Conclusions
Let's dispense with the bad news first: the AKM4490 DAC simply is not performant. It doesn't measure well and produces too little output to let the amplifier spread its wings. It doesn't integrate well anyway, forcing you to still use an analog volume control with its attendant channel mismatch.

Pair the Asgard 3 with an external DAC though and you have one of the most powerful headphone amplifiers out there especially for high impedance headphones. The results is immediate satisfaction with amazing authority to produce any level of loudness you want or need.

Assuming you leave the DAC behind, I am happy to recommend the Schiit Asgard 3 headphone amplifier.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Spent all afternoon planting watermelon seedlings in the garden. Fingers are tired from all the digging. Can't wait until they produce some fruit. Until then, I love to have some to eat so please donate what you can using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

3125b

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#2
Interesting unit, despite some "engineering hickups" (funny term, isn't it?).
 

vkvedam

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#3
To leave the DAC behind I think Heresy is a better buy :confused:
 

LTig

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#6
If one wants to stick with Shiit: Omit the internal DAC and pair it with a Modi 3, much better performance for the same price. And the Asgard probably runs cooler as well, increasing its life time.
 
Last edited:

solderdude

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#7
1.5dB more headroom than Magni 3+ (32 Ohm) and 3.5dB more headroom in 300 Ohm.
An onboard power supply, bigger/heavier build, similar circuit and a nicer volpot.
Magni3+ is the better measuring device though.
Hot running and non DC protected amplifier.

As LTig said... buy the Modi 3 as a DAC when it has to be Schiit.
 

Karu

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#8
But why would Schiit release this “world class dac” (in their website) as part of the Asgard combo after all their history and improvements?
 

pavuol

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#10
..from their specs page:
Topology: Fully discrete, current feedback with Continuity™ constant-transconductance output stage and stacked power supply rails

Someone shall explain in words comprehensive for laymen ;)
 

Koeitje

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#11
Here are their APx555 results. Haven't compare them to Amirs', task for another member.. But I wonder, are their any other manufacturers that publish this level of data?
A lot of Chinese companies do, not complete reports but at least some AP measurements. They kinda have to, because they sell their stuff based on performance not on brand name alone like most other well known western/Japanese names.

..from their specs page:
Topology: Fully discrete, current feedback with Continuity™ constant-transconductance output stage and stacked power supply rails

Someone shall explain in words comprehensive for laymen ;)
No op-amps. Which isn't necessarily a good thing, because op-amps are REALLY good these days. Building a discrete headphone amplifier at this price point seems to be a waste of time and will lower performance.
 

solderdude

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#12
Someone shall explain in words comprehensive for laymen
Fully discrete in this case means the amplifier part contains no opamps, other than the one used for DC-servo, in the audio path. (DC servo strictly speaking is not in the audio-path)

Current feedback technology differs from voltage feedback technology in that current feedback circuits have better slew-rate (are faster).

Continuity™ constant-transconductance output stage: probably means the output devices will never switch off (stay partly in class A when they are not providing signal) which explains the generated heat. A poorer efficiency but no crossover despite the current feedback used.

stacked power supply rails: All I can think of is that either the non-regulated DC voltage is used for the output stage and regulated for the driver stage (sort of like power amplifiers) or that they have 2 separate windings for the + and - power supply with 2 bridge rectifiers and then joined rather than a centre-tap transformer with a single bridge rectifier.

Maybe @T.M.Noble can clarify or correct my assumptions ?

In any case a lot of expensive buzzwords are used.
 
Last edited:

bboris77

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#13
Amir, would it be possible to run the frequency response test in high gain mode just to ensure that it is equally as flat as in low gain?

It would also be interesting to see how things change measurement-wise when the unit leaves Class A mode, as it is advertised to run in Class A up to 500mW. Not that most people will ever need more power than that with normal headphones.
 
Last edited:

AudioSceptic

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#14
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Schiit Asgard 3 with its optional AKM4490 DAC Module. It was kindly purchased by a member and drop shipped to me for testing. By itself, the Asgard 3 costs US $199. With the optional DAC, the price becomes US $299 plus shipping.

The look is typical of Schiit products:

View attachment 71005

Power switch is unfortunately on the back. You have a choice of low gain (0 dB) and high gain. And using it as a variable pre-amp or headphone amp.

The unit is quite heavy due to inclusion of mains power supply which I like:
View attachment 71006

What I didn't like is how hot the unit runs. During testing the right side where the DAC board is, quite very hot on the bottom. The metal chassis should help with heat dissipation but still, I like to see it run cooler.

Since there is a DAC in there, let's measure that by itself first using preamp mode.

DAC Audio Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard:

View attachment 71007

Ouch! This is not good. We have a second harmonic distortion at 2 khz of nearly -90 dB which sets our SINAD (sum of noise and distortion) to almost the same value. This places the DAC in the "poor" (red) section of all DACs tested:

View attachment 71008

This must be one of the older DAC designs from DAC. As such, I am just going to quickly grind through a few more tests:

View attachment 71009

View attachment 71010

View attachment 71011

Very poor measurements. This DAC simply is not competitive this day and age.

Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements
Again, let's start with our dashboard, feeding the unit 2 volts and asking it to generate the same ("unity gain"):

View attachment 71012

Ah, now we are talking! This is much more respectable. Distortion is an inaudible -115 dB. Overall ranking is very good as a result:

View attachment 71013

Noise performance falls in the same category:
View attachment 71014

View attachment 71015

Frequency response is excellent:

View attachment 71016

Output impedance is very low as well which is good:
View attachment 71017

Channel balance as you rotate the volume control is "OK" at 20 dB of attenuation:

View attachment 71018

Note that with these analog volume controls there are a lot of variations so your unit may be better or worse.

Headphone Amplifier Power Measurements
Now we get to the meat of the review to see how much power this amplifier has starting with 300 ohm load for high impedance headphones:

View attachment 71019

Interesting results. In low gain mode you have very low noise and distortion, almost approaching state of the art. If you need more power, then toggle the high power mode and boy does this thing pump out wattage! It produces 650 milliwatts which is huge. My standard for power in this test is must 100 milliwatts. There is a ton of headroom available here to drive high impedance headphones.

Switching to low impedance causes some heartburn for Asgard 3:

View attachment 71020

While low gain mode still has very low noise, distortion sets in at 10 milliwatts and climbs. High power mode is much worse but produces lots of power again at 3.4 watts.

Headphone Amplifier Listening Tests
As usual, I start with my tough to drive, low impedance (25 ohm) Ether CX headphone. I drove the Asgard 3 using its DAC input and while I had enough power to drive the CX, I was surprised that I had to max out the volume control to get it super loud. Same thing happened with Sennheiser HD650 headphone. This was puzzling.

I switching things around and drove the Asgard using my everyday RME ADI-2 DAC V2. Wow, what a transformation. I had enough power to once again cause my ear lobes to literally resonate with the bass beats! Power was clean and seemingly infinite. Yes, with the CX I got it to crackle but that was at such a level that hearing damage would occur at any moment. Overall fidelity was superb with fantastic detail, resolution and impressive bass.

It seems that the internal DAC is the older Schiit designs that only output 1.4 volts and hence can't drive the amplifier section to max power (nominal DAC output is 2 volts for RCA/unbalanced).

Conclusions
Let's dispense with the bad news first: the AKM4490 DAC simply is not performant. It doesn't measure well and produces too little output to let the amplifier spread its wings. It doesn't integrate well anyway, forcing you to still use an analog volume control with its attendant channel mismatch.

Pair the Asgard 3 with an external DAC though and you have one of the most powerful headphone amplifiers out there especially for high impedance headphones. The results is immediate satisfaction with amazing authority to produce any level of loudness you want or need.

Assuming you leave the DAC behind, I am happy to recommend the Schiit Asgard 3 headphone amplifier.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Spent all afternoon planting watermelon seedlings in the garden. Fingers are tired from all the digging. Can't wait until they produce some fruit. Until then, I love to have some to eat so please donate what you can using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
AKM's specs for the AK4490EQ and AK4490EN claim THD+N -112 and S/N 120, so have Schiit cocked up the implementation, or is there another, obsolete, 4490 which is much worse? <https://www.akm.com/us/en/products/audio/audio-dac/>
 

bboris77

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#15
AKM's specs for the AK4490EQ and AK4490EN claim THD+N -112 and S/N 120, so have Schiit cocked up the implementation, or is there another, obsolete, 4490 which is much worse? <https://www.akm.com/us/en/products/audio/audio-dac/>
I think these DAC cards are for convenience only and originate from the Modi 2-era. They are still borderline transparent but the low output voltage is the real issue because they drag down the performance of their amplifiers. Once their get updated with their Unison USB tech and the output is bumped up to 2V, they will be extremely competitive.

At the same time, I would LOVE it if all the modular Schiit amps came with a simple 2nd RCA input card by default. Most enthusiasts have their own DACs and are buying the Asgard, the Jotunheim and the Lyr as pure amps. May as well have the second RCA input in place of a sticker and a non-functional input switch.
 

Timbo2

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#16
At the same time, I would LOVE it if all the modular Schiit amps came with a simple 2nd RCA input card by default. Most enthusiasts have their own DACs and are buying the Asgard, the Jotunheim and the Lyr as pure amps. May as well have the second RCA input in place of a sticker and a non-functional input switch.
Agreed. Even better, since I assuming it has to power the DAC daughtercard, why next give it a 5V DC (USB) output jack. in the RCA daughtercard.
 
Last edited:

solderdude

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#17
as it is advertised to run in Class A up to 500mW
Did it say in which impedance?
There is a substantial difference between 16 Ohm (180mA) and 600 Ohm (30mA) in current when 0.5W is present.

In high gain it will probably also reach 100kHz minimum (it is a current feedback design)
 

Matias

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#18
Schiit should update the DAC board with a newer 4493 chip and see if they can improve its performance.
 

YSC

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#20
It actually looked quite nice for the amp only, respectable performance at a budget and a USA company. Personally I just avoid their products at first as their past track record is not that shiny, seems that bias can be dismissed from now on
 
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