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Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amp Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the new Schiit Magnius Balanced (input and output) headphone amplifier. It was kindly sent to me by the company and costs US $199 direct plus shipping.

The sample I received is in black which gives a serious look to the new amp:
Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR Audio Review.jpg


There is an input selector (balanced or XLR) and gain with dual settings.

The volume control is a bit stiff but not a problem.

Back panel shows what you expect:

Schiit Magnius back panel inputs outputs AC transformer review.jpg


The AC transformer is hefty in size and gets a bit warm in use. Do not attempt to replace it with a DC power supply. AC power is used so that it is easier and higher quality to generate both positive and negative voltages needed for the amplification. So you need to get the right one for your country's voltage.

Headphone Amplifier Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard of 1 kHz and see what comes out of the unit. I started with 1/4 inch headphone output while feeding the Magnius XLR input:
Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier Quarter Inch HP Audio Measurements.png


Hmmm. This is no good. We have headphone amplifiers clocking at SINAD (sum of noise and distortion) at 120 dB and here we are short of that by good bit at 94. And the issue is that second harmonic spike. I figured Schiit would not send me this unit if it did not measure well so I checked the XLR balanced headphone output and Magnius came to life:

Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR Audio Measurements.png


Distortion sank down to less than 140 dB and SINAD is now playing with the rest of the record setters:

Best headphone amplifier review.png


I confirmed the above with the company and they confirmed that is expected performance.

From here on, the tests are all with balanced output.

At unity gain like above, signal to noise ratio is excellent (left bar charts):
Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


When reducing the output way down to just 50 millivolts, performance is above average:

Most Quiet Headphone Amplifier Measured.png


Frequency response is flat way beyond audible band which is expected and great:

Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR Frequency Response Audio Measurements.png


32-tone test signal resembling "music" shows the same very low distortion levels:

Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR Multitone Audio Measurements.png


Distortion versus frequency is very low and consistent:
Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR THD+N vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


Balanced Headphone Amplifier Power Measurements
Headphone amplifiers subjectively live or die by how much power they generate and how clean they. The are brand new tests with optimized wiring harness and best settings in the analyzer. Let's start with 300 ohm load:

Schiit Magninus Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR Power into 300 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Using low gain, the noise and distortion levels are state of the art. You get 57 milliwatts which should be enough to drive many headphones.

If you need more power, high gain mode produces whopping 762 milliwatts of power that is competitive with likes of Drop THX 789.

Going the other extreme with a 50 ohm load to see how much current is available we get a similar picture:

Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR Power into 50 ohm Audio Measurements.png


As before low gain produces the best performance with max of 1/3 of watt. Unleashing the high gain mode produces whopping 4.2 watts. There is some rise in distortion at the limit but it is still at 112 dB which is inaudible for any practical purpose.

Headphone Amplifier Channel Balance
The Magnius doesn't have the ultra low, negative gain setting that some other amps have so you may rely on the lower settings of the volume control for sensitive IEMs making this test important:

Schiit Magnius Balanced Headphone Amplifier XLR Channel Balance Audio Measurements.png


Performance is good to about 30 dB of attenuation but after that, the error climbs exponentially with the level dropping the same way.

Subjective Listening Tests
Only my very low sensitivity, low impedance Ether CX headphones were ready to go with balanced cables so I tested with that. In low gain, Magnius was able to drive the Ether CX to near deafening levels. The sound was exceptionally clean with authoritative bass. Indeed it is so good I have been enjoying listening to my audiophile playlist as I have been typing this review!

Switching to high gain spanked the Ether CX like nobody's business. I could easily get the drivers to bottom out and start to crackle!!! I only did this for a second or two so please don't try to do it yourself as you risk hearing damage. I am here to do stupid things so you don't need to!

Conclusions
For a balanced input and output the Schiit Magnius provides superb performance objectively and subjectively at incredibly low price for this class. XLR input is very useful to avoid common ground loops especially in desktop products connected to computers where such annoyances and pop up. If you have a balanced DAC like Schiit's own Modius, you have found the perfect match for it.

Performance using 1/4 inch headphone is ordinary from measurement point of view so I don't recommend getting it just to use it that way although the benefit of XLR input remains.

Overall, I am very pleased to recommend the Schiit Magnius balanced headphone amplifier. It breaks the price/performance barrier for exceptional performance at budget pricing.

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

I had to set the alarm to get up "early" to post this review post announcement. I do a lot for you all but getting up early is not one of them! So I expect to get paid and paid good for not getting enough sleep by having you donate what you can using : https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #3
Me too. They have incredible footprint in desktop product and as such, can lift the performance of so many systems.
 
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#6
I could easily get the drivers to bottom out and start to crackle!!!
You are really testing the Schiit out of it.
I would start to worry about those poor headphones. Your ears seem to be bulletproof :D

Edit: Ah whats the output impendance?
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #7
You're really gentle on this one given the unbalanced out performance -- kind of disappointing performance really.
I debated that but how do you give a lessor rating to an amp that beats the THX AAA 789 in balanced output???

I noted that I don't recommend it for unbalanced out.
 

Vasr

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#8
You're really gentle on this one given the unbalanced out performance -- kind of disappointing performance really.

I'm guessing the unbalanced preamp out has the same distortion issue?
Makes a case for having two panthers on some reviews (or a bipolar one?). :)

One for balanced output performance (relevant only if you have balanced input headphones) and one for unbalanced output performance.

You could also use this bipolar panther for all the AVRs that have poor or no 4v pre-out but have good performance at low voltages.
 

T.M.Noble

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#9
You're really gentle on this one given the unbalanced out performance -- kind of disappointing performance really.

I'm guessing the unbalanced preamp out has the same distortion issue?
I think this is a legitimate criticism but there was a lot of thought that went into this. We only use one phase of the balanced output so there is no cancellation of distortion between phases. We could have made the SE measure the same but to be honest it adds parts which adds cost, we didn't like how it sounded when tested and frankly we have an awesome SE amp in Hersey. We made an extraordinary balanced amp at a very competitive price. If you want SE performance, save yourself a hundred bucks and buy Heresy.
 

garbulky

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#12
I think this is a legitimate criticism but there was a lot of thought that went into this. We only use one phase of the balanced output so there is no cancellation of distortion between phases. We could have made the SE measure the same but to be honest it adds parts which adds cost, we didn't like how it sounded when tested and frankly we have an awesome SE amp in Hersey. We made an extraordinary balanced amp at a very competitive price. If you want SE performance, save yourself a hundred bucks and buy Heresy.
Can't argue with this. I think it's fair to have high performance on only one mode.
 

3125b

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#13
There are some weaknesses, but this kind of performance would have been nothing but a dream a few years ago, let alone at 199$.
Great work Schiit.

@amirm Try not to get a burnout, you're outdoing yourself.
 

Vasr

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#14
I think this is a legitimate criticism but there was a lot of thought that went into this. We only use one phase of the balanced output so there is no cancellation of distortion between phases. We could have made the SE measure the same but to be honest it adds parts which adds cost, we didn't like how it sounded when tested and frankly we have an awesome SE amp in Hersey. We made an extraordinary balanced amp at a very competitive price. If you want SE performance, save yourself a hundred bucks and buy Heresy.
Another approach could have been to leave out the unbalanced outputs altogether on this one so that people (not necessarily on this forum) who don't realize this big gap in performance but buy it for future-proofing are paying more for less. If you weren't happy with the output performance of unbalanced and you had an alternate product for them.

But that is easy for me to say as an armchair critic. ;)
 

garbulky

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#15
Another approach could have been to leave out the unbalanced outputs altogether on this one so that people (not necessarily on this forum) who don't realize this big gap in performance but buy it for future-proofing are paying more for less. If you weren't happy with the output performance of unbalanced.

But that is easy for me to say as an armchair critic. ;)
94 db is still great performance, Easily inaudible during music so no need to leave it out.
 
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#16
I think this is a legitimate criticism but there was a lot of thought that went into this. We only use one phase of the balanced output so there is no cancellation of distortion between phases. We could have made the SE measure the same but to be honest it adds parts which adds cost, we didn't like how it sounded when tested and frankly we have an awesome SE amp in Hersey. We made an extraordinary balanced amp at a very competitive price. If you want SE performance, save yourself a hundred bucks and buy Heresy.
We can't deny :)
 

MrGash

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#17
The press release made a big deal out of the pot. You simply mentioned it was a bit stiff. Care to elaborate any further? Any inherent benefit or is it just marketing?
 

T.M.Noble

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#18
Another approach could have been to leave out the unbalanced outputs altogether on this one so that people (not necessarily on this forum) who don't realize this big gap in performance but buy it for future-proofing are paying more for less. If you weren't happy with the output performance of unbalanced and you had an alternate product for them.

But that is easy for me to say as an armchair critic. ;)
I actually think the SE sounds great. The analyzer just doesn't like it as much. Maybe one day I can buy robot ears. ;)
 

ElNino

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#20
I think this is a legitimate criticism but there was a lot of thought that went into this. We only use one phase of the balanced output so there is no cancellation of distortion between phases. We could have made the SE measure the same but to be honest it adds parts which adds cost, we didn't like how it sounded when tested and frankly we have an awesome SE amp in Hersey. We made an extraordinary balanced amp at a very competitive price. If you want SE performance, save yourself a hundred bucks and buy Heresy.
Why even include the unbalanced outputs then, if the performance is so wildly different?

I think Amir's measurements here are charitable, in that they just show elevated levels of second harmonic distortion, which might be less audible. But the intermodulation distortion (IMD) performance is also pretty poor in unbalanced, as shown in the AP measurements posted on Schiit's website.

This is a lot like the Bifrost 2... harmonic distortion measures ok, but IMD tells quite a different story.
 
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