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Schiit KARA Preamp and Headphone Amp Review

Rate this preamp and headphone amp

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 5 2.2%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 17 7.4%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 90 39.3%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 117 51.1%

  • Total voters
    229

MRC01

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... So the Kara with 3 gain settings sounds ideal for me except for the added relay noise. Schiit!!!
I consider it a feature, not a bug, an audible reminder that it is a high precision control.

... I do need to bypass the integrated preamp in my Parasound HALO amp because the output from my DAC is too hot and most of my listening is around the 8 o'clock position, or up to 9 o'clock when I'm feeling spunky or playing the first 2 Led Zepp albums. Also the remote volume control runs way too fast for making any fine adjustments and even manual volume adjustments can be touchy. ...
Does your DAC have a volume control? If so just turn it down a few dB. That should solve both problems. Otherwise, why not use a simple 10k voltage divider ladder interconnect? You can wire up your own with 4 metal film resistors (2 for each channel), or buy a pair like this. Then plug your DAC into your preamp and use the preamp's volume control.
 

audiot

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Does your DAC have a volume control? If so just turn it down a few dB. That should solve both problems. Otherwise, why not use a simple 10k voltage divider ladder interconnect? You can wire up your own with 4 metal film resistors (2 for each channel), or buy a pair like this. Then plug your DAC into your preamp and use the preamp's volume control.
My DAC is the Ares 12th-1 which does not support volume control. I can control volume in Audirvana software but Denafrips doesn't recommend doing that with this DAC so I quit using software for fine volume control. I have spent many hours exploring possible resistor attenuators but it all seems like more of a kludge than bypassing the built-in Parasound preamp. So here I am looking for the perfect, inexpensive DAC-less preamp. Kara is soooo close!
 

MRC01

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My DAC is the Ares 12th-1 which does not support volume control. I can control volume in Audirvana software but Denafrips doesn't recommend doing that with this DAC so I quit using software for fine volume control. I have spent many hours exploring possible resistor attenuators but it all seems like more of a kludge than bypassing the built-in Parasound preamp. So here I am looking for the perfect, inexpensive DAC-less preamp. Kara is soooo close!
Seems reasonable, as gain matching is one of the functions we expect of a preamp.

However, a simple 6 dB or 12 dB attenuator between the DAC & preamp doesn't seem like a kludge to me. It's sonically transparent and adjusts the gain so you can use the preamp for its intended purpose, get fine-grained volume control and simplify your system. You don't really need another volume knob; you already have one. All you need is a single fixed-value voltage step-down from your DAC to preamp.

With a few bucks in parts (4 metal film resistors and RCA jacks) you can build your own in 30 minutes. Or buy a pre-built set of attenuating RCA jacks for not much more, as linked above.

PS: I wonder if the preamp can be modified to provide a low/unity gain path. That could be generally useful not only for this but also for other applications. And would probably have slightly lower noise & distortion.
 
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audiot

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Seems reasonable, as gain matching is one of the functions we expect of a preamp.

However, a simple 6 dB or 12 dB attenuator between the DAC & preamp doesn't seem like a kludge to me. It's sonically transparent and adjusts the gain so you can use the preamp for its intended purpose, get fine-grained volume control and simplify your system. You don't really need another volume knob; you already have one. All you need is a single fixed-value voltage step-down from your DAC to preamp.

With a few bucks in parts (4 metal film resistors and RCA jacks) you can build your own in 30 minutes. Or buy a pre-built set of attenuating RCA jacks for not much more, as linked above.

PS: I wonder if the preamp can be modified to provide a low/unity gain path. That could be generally useful not only for this but also for other applications. And would probably have slightly lower noise & distortion.
I don't want to belabor this issue, but yes I could use resistors. [edited out untrue foggy brain comment here]. Your comment about modifying the preamp got me wondering if Parasound could offer any advice so I just wrote them. I don't expect that they will want to help anyone modify their gear but it's worth a shot, and besides my amp is out of warranty.
 
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SCG

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Jason's words I believe could give you his insight an opinion on our direction. This was a question about a customer hearing "distortion" while the relays were clicking.

"There will always be some weirdness as a relay ladder changes volume, because we don't have precise control over every relay. They are mechanical devices, using physical switches. So yeah, we'll take the transient chatter of a relay ladder (not distortion, actually volume glitching) when adjusting volume--for the best possible performance when actually listening."

Now that I've spent some time with Kara, I understand this statement better and this is beyond the "relays clicking" (coming directly from the unit) and this "transient chatter of a relay ladder, volume glitching" is audible thru the speakers and is very noticeable when listening at higher volumes and making larger up or down volume changes and it's becoming more disconcerting to me with time, and is in addition to the "relay clicking" sound .
 

T.M.Noble

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Now that I've spent some time with Kara, I understand this statement better and this is beyond the "relays clicking" (coming directly from the unit) and this "transient chatter of a relay ladder, volume glitching" is audible thru the speakers and is very noticeable when listening at higher volumes and making larger up or down volume changes and it's becoming more disconcerting to me with time, and is in addition to the "relay clicking" sound .
Through my own subjective use of our products, I have never found this to be a big issue. But that's me.

Disconcerting is an interesting word. What exactly do you fear will happen? Or is this more of an annoyance?

Just curious about your experience and opinion.
 

SCG

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Thanks, the second definition 'causing an emotional disturbance to perturb or ruffle'. Kara is used in a near-field setup and I change the volume more than I thought (brought to my attention by the 'volume glitching') and it's starting to bother me than I spent so much money to make my system sound it's best and this byproduct of relay ladders is F'ing it up at times.
 

T.M.Noble

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Thanks, the second definition 'causing an emotional disturbance to perturb or ruffle'. Kara is used in a near-field setup and I change the volume more than I thought (brought to my attention by the 'volume glitching') and it's starting to bother me than I spent so much money to make my system sound it's best and this byproduct of relay ladders is F'ing it up at times.
The a big pre-amp for near field. I commend you.

To be clear: this is only occurring when you adjust volume and not at all times, correct? If it was happening while listening and not adjusting the volume I would recommend you RA the unit and we get you fixed.

However, if this is something that is going to bother you, we do have our return policy. You can contact customer service and we can help you through that process as well.

We want you to enjoy your purchase and be a customer for the long run. That won't happen if you are cursing Jason's name because of a design choice. :cool:
 
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SCG

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Thanks for the quick responses, yes it's only happening with volume changes and not steady state. I originally interpreted your quote from Jason with regards to the actual relay clicking sounds, which is not a issue for me.

But later, after repeatedly hearing the 'volume glitching' sound, I started to research to see if it's a issue with my unit or 'the way it is' and that's when I came across your post again. And like the ending of The Sixth Sense, now your post had an entirely new meaning and changed everything about what Jason described what the sound was and why it was happening.

I've had Kara since the 1st of Sept so I'm past your 15-day return window and even past a usual 30-day return window. I have to admit, I'm really not a fan of the volume glitching, while I do like everything else.

And LOL about cursing the designer's choice, I'm borderline :)

Lastly, is there a way to skip past a gain setting? I tried double pressing, long pressing, but if I want to cycle ahead 2 gain settings, it pauses at each stage, waits 5-6 sec then you can go to the next one, wait 5-6 sec before listening to music again.
 
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T.M.Noble

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Lastly, is there a way to skip past a gain setting? I tried double pressing, long pressing, but if I want to cycle ahead 2 gain settings, it pauses at each stage, waits 5-6 sec then you can go to the next one, wait 5-6 sec before listening to music again.
Sorry, but no. The mute kicks in when switching gain settings. This is designed to protect the system and stabilize before unmuting.
 

SCG

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Ok thanks, when I talked to Jason, he said "there was a way or if not there should be, as it's possible on other Schiit preamps as he designed the product to be user friendly but that he didn't remember how off the top of his head and to check with tech support on how to do it" but this was after a few glasses of wine :)
 

SD2KING

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Of course, I do not have measurements confirming that the joint use of 5 kOhm at the output and 10 kOhm at the input leads to certain problems, but personally I could not normally coexist with such a configuration - for the reason that the difference in resistances is clearly done for a reason (besides, in this the forum describes a list of possible problems because of this), and I have not met any measurements confirming the opposite either (the point is that the quoted quote is just someone's words), so I would feel worried about this. There is a general rule of 1:10 (and more) - and I do not understand why it is necessary to violate it for the sake of the Schiit brand, especially since with a $200 cheaper device, such compromises will not have to be made.

Thus, I still can't find any other use for the passive mode, except for beautiful measurements.
I would use the passive mode to have a high quality attentuator to avoid full blast volume software glitches with my Topping DAC and simple "switch" between my fully analogue turntables and the prior. From what I'm reading for it to go from single-ended to balanced I would need to power it.

I find it quite expensive for my use case, but am not finding many decent relay based attentuators with the limited in-and-outs that I need. Have therefor not pulled the trigger on it just yet.
 
D

Deleted member 66943

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I am new here, and I am new to Schiit products. I just wanted to chip in with my experience of living with the Kara as a preamp for two weeks now.

I was looking for a reasonably priced preamp with low gain, stepped attenuator and a remote. The Kara seemed to fit the bill perfectly. My dac output impedance is about 500 Ohms, and the input impedance of my power amp is 28k. So all the parameters should be fine although the high output impedance (5 kOhms) of the passive is a little high. I liked the idea of a low global feedback discrete buffer/gain stage, which is similar to the I/V stage of my dac.

I have been messing around with the different settings in the Kara; passive, low gain, high gain. During my listening sessions it's become quite apparent that the Nexus amplifier stage of the Kara adds a bit of bloom and takes away some of the transparency of the sound. The low gain and high gain settings sound very similar. But the passive mode is significantly more transparent and realistic sounding. I don't know why, I would not contribute this to the measurements. My power amp has significantly higher 2nd and 3rd order harmonics, so I don't think that adding a fraction of distortion would make any difference. However, the percieved sound gets quite muddied up by the gain stage of the Kara.

As a passive stepped attenuator, the Kara is a 10/10. I don't mind the clicks. I don't hear any clicks from my speakers, just from the relays. It's intense, but it's fine. As a gain stage, I'm not so sure. It's definitely not transparent. It takes away some details of the sound.

I would like to hear from others who own the Kara, if your experience is the same. Right now I wish that Schiit would launch a passive preamp with a stepped attenuator and remote, and no gain stage or headphone pre.
 

SCG

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Personally, I don't hear a difference between the passive and gain stages other than the attenuation, and a little bit of near-field speaker hiss at high gain, really high volume levels. Interesting enough the designer states he uses the high gain stage because to him it 'sounds better'.
 

Moscardo

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Looks like Amir got a super matched pair of JFETs on one channel. Attached is what you would normally see from Kara.

Nexus requires matched JFETs. On one of the channels they were super matched and showed a bit higher performance there. There will be always a bit a variability here. A quirk of NEXUS.

Hope that helps.

View attachment 313689

I wondered why the RCAin/RCAout configuration was not specified in the quite detailed Kara specs nor in the APx555 report... this seems the reason. It is really poor, relatively speaking, when compared with the balanced In/Out configuration. Freya S had the same problem.

I really hoped that this issue would have been addressed in this new product, but it seems an intrinsic limit of the adopted circuit. Having some valuable SE sources, this weakness is relevant for me.
 

nagster

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It is discrete so you can count clicks. Of course that's more viable with a 32 or 64 step control, than it is with Kara's 128 step control. ;)
It's a difficult task for someone like me who has a short temper. I wish I could succeed every time...
 
D

Deleted member 66943

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I wondered why the RCAin/RCAout configuration was not specified in the quite detailed Kara specs nor in the APx555 report... this seems the reason. It is really poor, relatively speaking, when compared with the balanced In/Out configuration. Freya S had the same problem.

I really hoped that this issue would have been addressed in this new product, but it seems an intrinsic limit of the adopted circuit. Having some valuable SE sources, this weakness is relevant for me.

This is indeed a little suspicious. Most people will still be using RCA to RCA, so why do they not show this measurement in their specifications. THD measurements aside, it seems to me that the citcuit topology that they chose is not ideal for single ended operation. And this is a very relevant weakness.

As a passive volume control, the Kara is good. Even for the asking price it's still quite good value. A passive ladder volume control with remote would cost quite a bit of time and money to make on your own. So I'm not totally disappointed, but I don't think this is endgame for me. I would be interested in doing a comparison with the Topping A90 discrete.
 

HoweSound

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I'm still waiting for a comparison of Kara and Freya S. Is the Kara as a pre-amp a meaningful improvement over the Freya S?
 

Moscardo

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This is indeed a little suspicious. Most people will still be using RCA to RCA, so why do they not show this measurement in their specifications. THD measurements aside, it seems to me that the citcuit topology that they chose is not ideal for single ended operation. And this is a very relevant weakness.

As a passive volume control, the Kara is good. Even for the asking price it's still quite good value. A passive ladder volume control with remote would cost quite a bit of time and money to make on your own. So I'm not totally disappointed, but I don't think this is endgame for me. I would be interested in doing a comparison with the Topping A90 discrete.
I could not find any measurement of A90D RCA performance, it would be quite interesting.
However, Topping adopts that off standard very low impedance for balanced inputs that is a try and error situation. Fact is that many sources are not designed to be connected to such low impedance, they could struggle to drive them with enough current and this can be detrimental to the sound. Not all sources have powerful active output stages, some have passive ones or tube ones that expect an high impedance downstream.
I tried and returned a PRE90 because it clearly worsened the sound of my DAC.
 
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