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Schiit Vali 2+ Review (Tube Headphone Amp)

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Schiit Vali 2+. It was kindly purchased new by a member and drop shipped to me. It came with a stock Canadian 6BZ7 tube and costs US $149.

I must say, this is a cute little thing:

Schiit Vali 2+ Review Tube Headphone Amplifier.jpg


I don't know why it says "2" instead of 2+. Are they using old stock boxes from the last revision? That aside, this is a (dual triode) tube front-end followed by solid state output stage.

Back panel shows what you expect including the typical Schiit rear switches for everything:

Schiit Vali 2+ Review Back panel power supply Tube Headphone Amplifier.jpg


Sure would have bee nice to at least have the gain switch in the front.

As you see, power is provided by a dual AC voltage transformer (6 and 24 volts).

Schiit Vali 2+ Measurements
Before testing the unit fully, I decided to measure its distortion+noise as it warmed up:
Schiit Vali 2+ Warm Up Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


Performance improves for a while and then there is a glitch around 7 minutes. Then keeps getting better until about 17 minutes where I got bored waiting and it reached an asymptote. The vertical scale is highly zoomed. Net improvement is just 1.5 dB which is not going to be audible unless it is reduction in noise floor.

Once there, I started my testing as usual with our 1 kHz dashboard with gain set to low and output adjusted to get 2 volts out from 2 volts in:

Schiit Vali 2+ Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


Looking at the FFT spectrum, there is a ton of power supply noise (60 Hz and harmonics). To rule out grounding issues I tried many combinations of grounding but it made almost no difference. So it is poor filtering or isolation from the power supply or both. Next to that, we naturally have a lot of distortion although dominated by the second harmonic. Overall SINAD rating lands it right next to two other Schiit tube products:

best tube amp reviewed.png


The high power supply noise penalizes the unit heavily in our signal to noise ratio:

Schiit Vali 2+ SNR Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


At 50 mv output, performance once again lands at the bottom of the pile and right next to another Schiit amp:

Most quiet tube amp reviewed.png


To keep us from getting too depressed, the Vali 2+ delivers impressively flat and wide frequency response:

Schiit Vali 2+ Frequency Response Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


Multitone test runs at lower max levels so it too shows the device in better light:

Schiit Vali 2+ Multitone Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


Schiit Vali 2+ Multitone 32 ohm Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


Most important measurement in headphone amp is THD+N versus power level so let's get into that:

Schiit Vali 2+ Power into 300 Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


Performance is dominated by the distortion created in the tube buffer stage. Output stage is innocent and is helping produce lots of power to the tune of 300+ milliwatts. This is of course unfair to solid state amps which deliver their max power with least amount of noise and distortion but let's play along.

The situation gets worse at 32 ohm as now both the buffer and output stages distort:

Schiit Vali 2+ Power into 32 Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


Channel matching is good as far as my limit of 0.5 dB but there is early deviation in volume range which I like to not see:
Schiit Vali 2+ Channel Balance Measurements Tube Headphone Amplifier.png


Schiit Vali 2+ Listening Tests
I started testing in low gain and found it totally inadequate with any of the headphones I tested. Sound was anemic and poor even at max volume. So I switched to high gain and perform AB tests against the output of my RME ADI-2 DAC V2 which is also the source for the Vali 2+. I started first with Drop Ether CX headphone. The sound was universally distorted and the more you pushed the amp, the worse it got. There was also clear lack of detail that was so evident as I would switch back and forth with RME headphone output.

I switched then to Sennheiser HD-650. Here I was pleased to see there was plenty of power to drive them hard. Alas, subjectively I thought the highs were grungy and dirty with nothing else positively added to the signal.

Above was with dynamic content. When listening to softer music, the flaws took a back seat and the sound was less objectionable. But again, nothing positive either.

I imagine if you come from a low power headphone amp or no headphone amp you find the Vali 2+ quite an improvement. But if you already have a high performance headphone amplifier, then the power factor gets eliminated and you are left with distortion if you are sensitive to it.

Conclusions
While I have seen worse performing tube amplifiers, I fail to see any reason for Vali 2+ to exist. Both objectively and subjectively it underperforms wide range of fully solid state amplifiers. While they bring the detail and wonderful dynamics, the Vali 2 smears all that and add audible distortion that I don't find pleasing at all although at best it could be benign. Get yourself a proper headphone and please don't waste your money on misguided products like this.

Before posting this review, I watched a number of videos where these people rambled about this and that nebulous thing that is good about this amp. I suggest they take some training in hearing distortion first before judging future products. Start with a low impedance headphone where distortion is far more apparent so you can learn to hear it. Then switch to higher impedance headphones. Get yourself trained please before you cause people to waste their money on non-performant products like this.

Needless to say, I can't recommend the Schiit Vali 2+. It is a good effort in looks and checking audiophile boxes but it simply doesn't deliver the goods.

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

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

imagidominc

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I bought this already suspecting it was a piece of crap, and of course, turns out it is! I was curious about this “tube sound” audiophiles keep talking about… eh, it’s nothing interesting. I can also hear the distortion and grunginess Amir talks about. So am I gonna throw it away or destroy it? …No, I like it, I like the way it lights up and with an HD600 it isn’t too bad. It’s a good little backup amp. But dear god, PLEASE do not buy this amp as a substitution for a proper clean amp.
 

3125b

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Even for someone wanting distortion, this is just too noisy for all but the least sensitive headphones.
 

respice finem

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If humans were universally rational beings tube gear would have probably died long time ago, same with vinyl.
This. The amp is not Hi-Fi in today's terms, but not terrible IMHO for what it is: a cheap way to try the, excusez le mot, snobism of tube audio. Some very expensive tube gear probably won't measure a lot better. So, if buying it keeps the owner from buying "voodoo stuff" later, it can be money well spent ;)
It was the case with me, and Musical Fidelity's "piglet" tube amp (officially called X-CAN). After it, only solid-state for me.
 

charleski

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This. The amp is not Hi-Fi in today's terms, but not terrible IMHO for what it is: a cheap way to try the, excusez le mot, snobism of tube audio. Some very expensive tube gear probably won't measure a lot better. So, if buying it keeps the owner from buying "voodoo stuff" later, it can be money well spent ;)
It was the case with me, and Musical Fidelity's "piglet" tube amp (officially called X-CAN). After it, only solid-state for me.
The X-CAN is about 25 years old but shows pretty-much identical performance to this gizmo (I think Amir was being a bit too generous with the power ratings). So much for progress ...
 

Gorgonzola

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Thanks once again to Amir for an excellent and candid review of the type we've come to expect.

I'll make the point once again that people who tend to like these relatively high distortion products, (I'm not talking about the Vali 2+ specifically), do so not despite but because of their distortion.

Amir accurately, IMHO, describes the audible degradations: notably lose of detail and dynamics. But I think we need to understand that there is a category of subjective preference that happily tolerates a significant of these defects in favor of a smoother, "fatter", presentation plus the imaging effect associated by many with tubes and often described as layering or holographic.

Let me hasten to say that my own preference tends to maximum resolution and brilliant dynamics.
 
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virtua

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It's interesting how much your measurements differ from the ones provided by Schiit inhouse. I know they do test at around 1 volt though - very unlikely use case given their DACs have no volume control and output 2v unbalanced. Their test results would have you believe that it would have exponentially better power supply noise rejection and virtually no grass around the harmonics - to the point where looking at the FFT you could tell someone its a Garage 1217 product and they probably would believe you. Interesting how the distortion is audible though, I wouldn't have assumed it would be easily audible given that 2nd harmonic is -75 and 3rd is -100. I bet the noise hurts the ability to hear quiet details though.
 
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LTig

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I'd like to disagree with the max power results. Traditionally the limit is at 1% THD (-40 dB) and there the power is lower by an order. :(
 

Kegemusha

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I bought this already suspecting it was a piece of crap, and of course, turns out it is! I was curious about this “tube sound” audiophiles keep talking about… eh, it’s nothing interesting. I can also hear the distortion and grunginess Amir talks about. So am I gonna throw it away or destroy it? …No, I like it, I like the way it lights up and with an HD600 it isn’t too bad. It’s a good little backup amp. But dear god, PLEASE do not buy this amp as a substitution for a proper clean amp.

You can always use it as desktop lamp perhaps. :)
 

Matias

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Helicopter

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Thanks Amir. Nice to see how this performs. It looks like it does what it is supposed to do, i.e., deliver tube sound in an inexpensive and attractuve package within the Schiit aesthetic. No objections here. They are candid enough for my needs admitting something like Magnius or IEMagni us a better choice for objective performance, and those products certainly deliver what they should.

I am anticipating the fancy tube amp they have hinted about developing.
 

nyxnyxnyx

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This is a somewhat off-topic question: How difficult is it to design a hybrid or OTL amplifier that can achieve great measurements if budget is in consideration?

I mean, Schiit is known for delivering.... schiit products in the past. But over the last 1.5 year or so they did prove that they can make good objective products if they want to. So now I'm curious to see if this Vali 2+ is like this because this is the way they want it to be, or it has to do with budgets and limitations of designing a cheap OTL/hybrid amp.
 

nyxnyxnyx

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Thanks Amir. Nice to see how this performs. It looks like it does what it is supposed to do, i.e., deliver tube sound in an inexpensive and attractuve package within the Schiit aesthetic. No objections here. They are candid enough for my needs admitting something like Magnius or IEMagni us a better choice for objective performance, and those products certainly deliver what they should.

I am anticipating the fancy tube amp they have hinted about developing.

This is what I'm considering too. They made like 3-4 amazingly measured products in a row and now they drop this Vali 2+ on the market. I don't know if this design is their purpose or it has to do with factors like they can't make a cheap hybrid/OTL measure flawlessly.
Either way, at the very least it delivers good power to high ohm loads and it's not that expensive to be fair. I think this one will not be an instant reject for many headphones lovers.
 

aandres_gm

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This is what I'm considering too. They made like 3-4 amazingly measured products in a row and now they drop this Vali 2+ on the market. I don't know if this design is their purpose or it has to do with factors like they can't make a cheap hybrid/OTL measure flawlessly.
Either way, at the very least it delivers good power to high ohm loads and it's not that expensive to be fair. I think this one will not be an instant reject for many headphones lovers.
I'm pretty sure the Vali 2+ came out a while ago.
 

enricoclaudio

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