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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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... However, Topping adopts that off standard very low impedance for balanced inputs that is a try and error situation. ...
Yeah, that seems to be an example of chasing specs at the cost of practical utility. The non-standard low input impedance makes it less flexible/practical/useful, presumably to reduce noise, which was already so low it was not a problem. In this sense, the low input impedance is a solution that has no value, to a problem that didn't exist.
 

Moscardo

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Yeah, that seems to be an example of chasing specs at the cost of practical utility. The non-standard low input impedance makes it less flexible/practical/useful, presumably to reduce noise, which was already so low it was not a problem. In this sense, the low input impedance is a solution that has no value, to a problem that didn't exist.
A solution, to be underlined, that is in contrast with design best practices and international standards.
See what recommends the
IEC 61938:2018
Multimedia systems - Guide to the recommended characteristics of analogue interfaces to achieve interoperability

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Soria Moria

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The only thing I haven't designed is amplifiers. I bought my power amps from Hugh Dean in Australia. He's now +80 years old and has decades of experience making amps. And in his extensive experience, his conclusion is that the ear can pick up more than a THD measurement can. Our ears are way more sophisticated than a plain THD-measurement. And I agree with him in this regard.
Has he done proper volume matched double-blind tests to actually prove this ground breaking theory? Proof is everything. The reason why people here demand proof of these things is that we are constantly told that there is more to it than what measurements can show but if no one can even prove that there is anything that actually changes in the sound through proper blind-testing then there is nothing to go after and it'd be chasing ghosts.
 

Soria Moria

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Don't be a fucking idiot. The proof is in your ears. That's the end goal. What you hear. You demand proof for something that can't be measured. Blind test-idiots are the fucking disease of hifi. It's a long time since the most prominent developers in hifi disputed the significance of THD-measurements as a scale of experienced sound quality.
I'm going to ignore the anger and insults in your post and instead say that our ears (and brain) aren't proof WHEN we don't account for biases. It needs to be level matched. It needs to be a blind test. There are more senses than ears when evaluating these things and that's why people constantly claim that there's more to it because they 'heard' it. They probably did hear it (or more accurately think they did) but whatever they heard would go away in proper blind testing. That's why it's required.
So for clarification, if there IS more to a DAC/Amplifier than measurements are showing then it needs to first be proven in properly level-matched double-blind listening tests. There have probably been 1 000 posts on this website where people claim they hear something and that therefore the measurements aren't inadequate. Prove it first.
Blind test-idiots are the fucking disease of hifi
You mean the lack of them. It's why so much nonsense takes place.
You demand proof for something that can't be measured
I demand proof for something that according to you can be HEARD.
 

solderdude

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I have made speakers that measure identically, yet sound dramatically different.
Nah... completely impossible.
You mean you take a spinorama and the measurements, directivity and distortion levels are the same yet sound dramatically different ?

Our ears are way more sophisticated than a plain THD-measurement
Yep, totally different in sound 'processing'.
A plain THD measurement says very, very little. No one here said this is not the case.
To characterize distortion you need a lot of different types of distortion measurements at various levels.

A low THD preamp can for sure sound bad
Why ? Please explain why this would be so.
Is it the same for a DAC and power amp ? The same for speakers ?
Why would a recording need to have distortion added to sound 'good' ?
What specific type and amount would that be ?
Do you think you can add harmonic distortion but not also introduce IM distortion (which is not musical) ?
Speaker drivers that have the same T/S parameters, but sound dramatically different in real life.
Different cone break-up, distortion levels, directivity, enclosures ?

You demand proof for something that can't be measured.
Is signal fidelity not something that can be measured with accuracy ?

after 20 years of designing dacs and speakers
Just curious, what speakers and DACs (brand and model) were designed by you ?
Publish any papers ?


Sometimes low feedback can give a more natural sound despite worse THD measurements
What would be the reason ?
And why only sometimes ? On other more common occasions better 'THD measurements' can give a more natural sound ?

In Kara balanced is lower distortion so SE sounds better or is this a not 'sometimes' situation ?

Blind test-idiots are the fucking disease of hifi.
Yep, understandable. When properly done (difficult) they can ruthlessly show actual differences but can also ruthlessly show that the abilities someone claims they have can not be demonstrated to exist. For that reason some people love these tests and others hate it.

t's a long time since the most prominent developers in hifi disputed the significance of THD-measurements as a scale of experienced sound quality.
Yep, has been known for decades and many papers have been written on it.
Distortion and perceived sound quality have no direct link unless distortion is so high it becomes audible and even then it may not always be objectionable (depends on the type of distortion)
That does not mean all measurements are worthless and ears rule.
 
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solderdude

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Tell me how you have no experience developing audio equipment, without telling me you have no experience.

Why not address the points I raised instead of having a tantrum ?
 

Moscardo

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@solderdude @Soria Moria it seems that faenjeggiropp decided to quit. In fact, this is a strongly measurements driven forum so subjectivists hardly survive here.

IMHO, the idea that standard measurements are unrelated or even inversely related to the perceived sound quality is basically flawed. An ideal amplifier, i.e. a wire with gain, would have perfect measurements, so obviously any measured distortion is a departure from ideality and cannot be "better" than zero distortion.
We can discuss about audibility of different types of distortion, but the fact that distortion, any form of distortion, is a wrong thing should be obvious for all.
This is not the case in the audio community: on the contrary, a lot of people seem preferring some level of distortion, often some presence of even harmonic distortion and/or some phase shift at higher frequencies declared to convey a more natural and spatial listening experience.
I can agree that a colored reproduction can result pleasant, but it is no more faithful to the source, and highly subjective.
While we can agree that, at the end of all, consumer and professional audio could have different quality parameters and purposes, and in the consumer world the listener satisfaction is the final scope, it also true that listening experience is exposed to any sort of bias and placebo effects, and refusing any objective quality parameter open the door to any sort of speculations, in particular products designed to be pleasant and priced well above their actual technical content. In other words, the present hi-fi sector.
So, while aware that standard measurements could not fully describe the real world performance of a piece of equipment, I tend to prefer an approach where they have an important role to judge the technical level of the component, and in general I tend to prefer an accurate device to a "pleasant" one, because accuracy requires good design.
 

solderdude

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The issue remains though. In the last 40 years or so I have been in audio electronics this has always been the same and will not likely change in the future as well.

It is all about signal fidelity and the fact that the hearing is not as discriminate as most people believe it is.
vs
preference and the belief that the ears are much more discriminate than 'simple measurements or numbers' show.

Frequency response is directly related to perceived 'tonality' and has 100% 'match' if one is able to describe those tonal differences. It becomes more difficult the more deviations there are (transducers + room + HRTF).

Distortion is another issue. The relation is not obvious and detection levels are highly dependent on the type of distortion, the amount of it and above all the recorded music.

Signal fidelity is easily and accurately measurable and what ASR is mostly about.
Preferred sound quality is NOT easily measured nor quantifiable but can be tested under controlled conditions. This is anything but easy to do correctly.
There simply is no clear 'connection' between signal fidelity and 'preference' of people as they have no relation.
The only thing they have in common is recorded music and electronics + transducers.

For some the deal is simple... when signal fidelity is near perfect every thing you hear is in the recording and it does not get any better than that (when corrections of transducers/room is done according to standards).
For others the only thing that matters is if the enjoy what they hear and care less or not at all about signal fidelity, targets that ain't theirs, and coloration they prefer.

Different folks, different views, different methods, different theories of how things work.
 

Moscardo

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For some the deal is simple... when signal fidelity is near perfect every thing you hear is in the recording and it does not get any better than that (when corrections of transducers/room is done according to standards).
For others the only thing that matters is if the enjoy what they hear and care less or not at all about signal fidelity, targets that ain't theirs, and coloration they prefer.

Different folks, different views, different methods, different theories of how things work.

Different but not at the same level. Suggestion is always present, listening pleasure is a moving target, and coloration can be good for a music genre and not for others. As a consequence, second category folks are always changing components in the eternal search of the graal of full satisfaction obtained by sound edulcoration.

On the other hand, signal fidelity moves the focus on software quality. Found the highest fidelity system within budget, first category folks are always searching for good recordings and "the best edition of" preferred music. Also because an high fidelity and resolving system evidences also recording defects.
 

solderdude

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Yep, different in approach yet both using electronics and acoustics to achieve their (differing) goal.

Both hardcore 'SINAD chasers, this measures slightly better' and the 'it must be able to sound even better' people are caught in the endless search for their form of 'perfection'.
 

nagster

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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.
RCA in/out measurement of TOPPINGA90D. AP dashboard and 32tone.

Measured cheap sauce under two types of loads. The cheapest USB dongle (Apple A2049) and the cheapest desktop DAC (TOPPING D10 Balanced) that I own.
I made a terminator from a resistor I found nearby. The total input impedance including AP is now 1.9kohm and 46.6kohm.
 

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solderdude

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The D10 does not seem to be bothered by a 2k load which is a good thing to know but is not usually tested.
 

RosalieTheDog

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The issue remains though. In the last 40 years or so I have been in audio electronics this has always been the same and will not likely change in the future as well.

It is all about signal fidelity and the fact that the hearing is not as discriminate as most people believe it is.
vs
preference and the belief that the ears are much more discriminate than 'simple measurements or numbers' show.

Frequency response is directly related to perceived 'tonality' and has 100% 'match' if one is able to describe those tonal differences. It becomes more difficult the more deviations there are (transducers + room + HRTF).

Distortion is another issue. The relation is not obvious and detection levels are highly dependent on the type of distortion, the amount of it and above all the recorded music.

Signal fidelity is easily and accurately measurable and what ASR is mostly about.
Preferred sound quality is NOT easily measured nor quantifiable but can be tested under controlled conditions. This is anything but easy to do correctly.
There simply is no clear 'connection' between signal fidelity and 'preference' of people as they have no relation.
The only thing they have in common is recorded music and electronics + transducers.

For some the deal is simple... when signal fidelity is near perfect every thing you hear is in the recording and it does not get any better than that (when corrections of transducers/room is done according to standards).
For others the only thing that matters is if the enjoy what they hear and care less or not at all about signal fidelity, targets that ain't theirs, and coloration they prefer.

Different folks, different views, different methods, different theories of how things work.
Sorry for derailing the topic entirely, and though I agree with you, I find this way of putting it too genteel. It seems to me to be not about a difference of opinion between 'folks', it is about industries and avertisement interests vs. consumer interests.
 

solderdude

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Advertisments and the industry writes what the majority of consumers (so not ASR readers) wants to hear.
People want the magic and manufacturers would be stupid if they did not exploit this to the max.

Lets face it ... Jason is truly a master in this (to get it back on topic) and found a way to please 'budget buyers', ASR readers and people that like 'the magic'.
Schiit does this like no other company.
 
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Moscardo

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RCA in/out measurement of TOPPINGA90D. AP dashboard and 32tone.

Measured cheap sauce under two types of loads. The cheapest USB dongle (Apple A2049) and the cheapest desktop DAC (TOPPING D10 Balanced) that I own.
I made a terminator from a resistor I found nearby. The total input impedance including AP is now 1.9kohm and 46.6kohm.
They seem quite good, except the USB dongle that really I do not understand how was connected and why was included as the question was about RCA IN/OUT.
 

Moscardo

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Advertisments and the industry writes what the majority of consumers (so not ASR readers) wants to hear.
People want the magic and manufacturers would be stupid if they did not exploit this to the max.

Lets face it ... Jason is truly a master in this (to get it back on topic) and found a way to please 'budget buyers', ASR readers and people that like 'the magic'.
Schiit does this like no other company.
I do not agree entirely.
In '70 and 80', people hardly listened to HiFi equipment before buying it and chose it on the basis of specification and aesthetics.
Then, somebody succeeded in convincing them that there was some "magic" not shown by measurements and only experienced during listening. We now know that that magic was, basically, pleasant distortion.
Selling distortion generators as magic audio devices, at ridiculous prices, was a genius move for some brands, but a disaster for the consumer audio market, as audio systems, that were something present in any house like a TV set and a washing machine, became rare, esoteric and expensive devices reserved to rich and fanatic people. This situation changed only recently with music streaming and portable audio devices, that returned to be ubiquitary.
So, most people does not want or like "magic". That was/is commercial snake oil that alienated the majority of consumers with limited budget and only wanting decent music reproduction.
 

solderdude

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We now know that that magic was, basically, pleasant distortion.
That's what people expected it to be. With audible THD comes audible IM which is not pleasant.

In the 80's there were, at least in the Netherlands, paper hifi magazines talking about sound quality, the sound of capacitors and resistors and certain transistors and circuits that sounded 'magical' (think the Hiraga design etc). So this has been going on for decades ever since the birth of the word hi-fi.

For people, now and 40 years ago, electronics is kind of magic as they do not understand it but are human (sensors easily fooled) and gullible enough to believe what mags and manufacturers tell/sell them in (online) magazines, sales leaflets and magazines live of adds and revenues of selling mags. The more outrages the price the 'better' the sound is what we are told in mags, folders and stores. They all benefit from sales. Selling the dream is more lucrative than selling specs or the sobering truth.
From the 80's more and more 'technical terminology' and 'numbers' were thrown in that people do not really understand at all.
 
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Moscardo

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Selling the dream is more lucrative than selling specs or the sobering truth.
That's true, and some "mythology" does exist in several sectors: cars, motorcycles, photography... But in those sectors the niche of fanatics willing to pay a lot to buy the dream is a minimal part of the mass of consumers who cuts to the chase. In the audio world that mass in 90's and thereafter used to buy low quality products from China found in supermarkets, because "serious" audio products were out of reach and also too esoteric. On the contrary, in 60's 70's and also 80'a the "medium class" audio stuff was relatively affordable, the offer was huge and the market was big.
I am old enough to remember those periods. There was an extensive "brain washing" carried out by mags and sellers to convince people that good audio was only available at a price and low to medium cost products, even Japanese ones, were inferior and "lifeless". What they obtained was that the majority of persons concluded that, if inferior had to be, why spend more than a cheap chinese one. And the audio medium class virtually disappeared. Not a good deal, for the audio sector.
 
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