Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Vtory, Feb 12, 2019.
LS50's but in a small room.
Freya S + Aegir.
Google: Schiit Power Amp Thunderdome
For the sake of an additional data point, I ordered Freya S and Aegir to use with LS50 in a small room (near field) and was somewhat surprised to find that I preferred my previous Saga (tube) and Vidar set up with those speakers. Definitely better staging, layering, and midrange with Aegir (as suggested by the Power Amp Thunderdome), but I missed the extra bass thump the Vidar provided for the LS50, which seemed kind of thin and unconvincing without it. By contrast, I preferred Aegir over Vidar for my JBL L100C speakers by a wide margin. YMMV, but point is that it wouldn't be a bad idea to directly compare Rag 2 and Aegir in your specific system to see which you prefer.
Order placed tonight. Waiting patiently...
Thanks for the advice everyone.
Is the ragnarok 2 preamp portion as good as/ similar to a freya s?
These type of "I just bought something, and I'm waiting for arrival" posts are discouraged here. Just let us know what you think after you've had some time with it.
Source: Qobuz (and one Spotify track) through Yggdrasil A2 via USB
Headphones: Sennheiser HD700 with foam mod
Current Headphone Amp: Schiit Ragnarok 2 (fed with balanced cables from the Yggdrasil A2). Headphones only
Previous Headphone Amp: Monoprice/Monolith 788 THX AAA DAC/AMP (No DAC - only the amp was used)
(Note: I was going to do a back/forth and compare the Rag2 against the Monolith THX AAA headphone amp with different tracks but decided against it.)
Overall sound impression:
- Placement: "In your face" is an understatement. With the lowest gain setting, the Rag2 positions voices in the front row. The Monolith 788 spread instruments and vocals evenly across the front/center but further back.
- Soundstage: The Rag2's soundstage is not as wide and tall as the Monolith 788 THX AAA. I've noticed that Instruments are often placed far to the extreme left and right of the soundstage but their proximity is practically right next to you.
- Tone: Fuller midrange? Slightly rolled off highs (cymbals, reverb). Not sure if this is the Yggdrasil or Rag2. But on rock/metal, the instruments have a fuller, "browner" texture. This is impressive.
1. Unchained (2015 Remaster) - Van Halen: I've known this song by heart for many decades, and I've never heard such an aggressive tone from Eddie's guitar off to the left. I love it.
- The guitar's flanger effect actually has a soft impact when flowing up/down through the chorus - you can hear Eddie's pick strike the strings and I've never heard that before. On other equipment and 2-ch setups, the flanger hides in the background and fades away. Not with the Rag2.
- Eddie hits a harmonic in the second verse right after DLR sings "Maybe enough ain't enough for you" (roughly 1:15). The harmonic's "whaaa" note had more distortion and tone than I've ever heard in my life.
- Alex's cymbals: If you've heard this track on different systems, the most annoying part of this song has to be the mushy cymbals that are constantly played throughout the verses and chorus. They sound more like static than a metal object. The Rag2 adds a distinct shine and sustain to Alex's cymbal strikes, and you can actually hear separate strikes as the song goes on. The decay, however, fades away fast - not even the Rag2 can save this aging recording.
2. Another One Bites the Dust (2011 Remaster) - Queen: I usually listen to this song when I want to test for speed. Listen to Roger's drumming and Deacon's bass line - both are usually in sync on a nice setup and the Rag2 didn't disappoint.
- Freddie's voice is distinct, clear and present. I don't think I've ever heard his lyrics so clearly in the middle of the song (after the chorus).
- Drum strikes are quick and fast. Not as tight/crisp as I've heard previously, but very nice.
- The signature bass line is full and more forward than I've heard previously, but not sharp. There is a mushy, unfocused character that I'm not used to but it isn't bad at all.
- Brian's guitar: Good Lord. Much more present (e.g. Loud) but I'm not sure if that was a result of this remastered track. Someone at the console also set the guitar track's Ambience to +10.
3. Houses of the Holy (2012 Remaster) - Led Zeppelin: I often use this track to test how clear a system can place the different instruments. In particular, there's a lot going on here and a great system will allow JPJ's bass line to play clearly apart from the drums and guitar starting at 0:16.
- JPJ's bass line is distinct and quick, but is still a little further back in placement at the front and center. However, I've never heard this play so clearly.
- Robert Plant's voice hovers above JPJ's bass line, and I've never quite noticed that before. On other systems, Plant's voice will step all over the bass line and results in a cloudy mess. The Rag2 seems to place Plant's voice 3-5 feet vertically above the front and center bass line. Very impressed with the separation.
- Bonham's drumming has some rolloff on the cymbals but it isn't too noticeable. I love how the drumhead gets more of a pop than a thud with the Rag2.
4. Blue Steel ("Spotify HD Digitally Remastered 2010" - whatever that means) - Henry Mancini: This track has a lot of glare and sass to the brass instruments. On a poorer sounding system, the brass section will stand out dominantly but stab your ears with more treble than you'd like. The Rag2 rolls some of the high end off (I sense a trend here), but there is no obnoxious glare or burn from the attacking instruments. I've never heard this song sound so pleasant.
5. Rooster (Live at the Majestic Theatre) - Alice in Chains Unplugged: I've always enjoyed this live performance track, and the Rag2 adds dynamics that surprised me.
- The acoustic bass hit lower and fuller than I've ever heard on playback. I won't be walking straight after this.
- Jerry Cantrell's acoustic guitar notes initially sounded vibrant but decayed quickly as the song went on. It sounded like someone moved the guitar mike off his guitar and placed it 10 feet away.
- Layne Staley's vocals hovered quietly and suddenly jumped forward as the song progressed. Great dynamics.
6. Snowbound - Donald Fagen: You know this song. You know this singer. You know that the bass line will distort your headphones for the first 38 seconds. Yet somehow, the rest of the song can be almost brutally crisp and clear (I'm listening to HD700's, remember?).
- With the Rag2, the overcrispness gets smoothed over and the ceiling of the soundstage drops down to about 7 feet above the stage floor. With the Monolith 788, everything is spread tall and wide gently.
- At the middle of the track, I thought someone increased the gain level of the amp because Donald Fagen suddently brought the band one foot away from me. Still trying to figure out if I've ever noticed this before on other equipment.
This is an interesting amp, because I'm hearing things that I've never recognized before. Dynamics are greater, the tone is fuller (especially with a "brown" guitar sound) and bass notes are louder and lower. However, I hear a distinct high frequency rolloff and ambient sounds decay quickly when compared to other equipment. I'm not sure if the Yggdrasil A2 is meshing with the Rag2 or fighting it, but I find this equipment combo interesting.
And again, thank you to all who contributed advice, opinions and suggestions in this thread. Much appreciated.
Stereophile (reviewer: Ken Micallef) reviewed the Ragnarok 2 in the February 2020 issue. Just hit Zinio today, so I thought I'd post a few snippets from the review to tide us over until it hits the website. Demo chain appears to be: internal DAC vs. BorderPatrol DAC // Tascam CD player // laptop using Amazon USB cable into USB DAC input // Kuzma Stabi R turntable // various cables (Triode Wire Labs, Shindo, Auditorium 23) // DeVore Fidelity O/93 speakers.
EDIT 01/31/20: https://www.stereophile.com/content/schiit-audio-ragnarok-2-integrated-amplifier.
General sound impressions
Sound was "bold and punchy, with good dynamics and precise imaging."
"Through the Rag 2, [Ella Fitzgerald's] artistry--every dynamic nuance, every subtlety of timing, every inhalation and exhalation--was reproduced better than through any amplifier I've had in house. The Ragnarok 2 was so resolving, yet in such a nonanalytical way, it was almost like being inside Ella's head. Her vocals sounded more human and less canned than I've ever heard."
"[D]oesn't soften transients. . . . [E]ach musician's timing--how one musician pushes the beat as another pulls it back--was clearer than I've heard before."
"[T]he Rag 2 provided a front-row-seat perspective, presenting palpable images within a deep soundstage."
"Midrange frequencies are where this amplifier excels."
"Shelly Manne's drums were textured and present--not as present as colorful as when played through my Shindo gear, but with more warms than any other solid-state amplifier I've reviewed. The Rag 2 performed the neat trick of being crisp and warm at the same time."
"While the Rag 2's midrange was consistently full and engaging, I found its bass response mixed. The Schiit's reproduction of bass weight--upright and electric bass, bass drums, timpani, deep organ notes--was less substantial than that of other solid-state (and some tube) amplifiers I've had in house."
"The $1850 BorderPatrol DAC SE did not trounce it." Blah blah blah recording "sounded more natural and relaxed through the Rag 2 DAC, but the soundstage was deeper through the BorderPatrol." More texture in voices on BorderPatrol, but Ragnarok 2 placed band farther back on the soundstage.
"If I had to choose, I think I'd take the Schiit's DAC and keep the cash."
Impressions vs. Ragnarok OG
"Instrument tone and impact were superior through the new amplifier. The orchestra's soundstage was slightly wider. Brass and reeds, placed hard left and right, sounded farther back on the soundstage. . . . [T]here was more air around the higher piano notes. These were small differences, but the Rag 2 definitively improves on its sibling's performance."
Atkinson's conclusion in measurements section
"I had problems measuring the behavior of Schiit's original Ragnarok amplifier, due to the unique biasing scheme, where the output stage bais was modulated by the signal history. But I had no such issues with the Ragnarok 2. It is a well-engineered, apparently conventional design offering low noise and distortion coupled with usefully high power. The options include an excellent, low-noise, MM-compatible phono preamplifier, though the USB digital input will be outclassed by standalone digital processors."
Think we're starting to see some consistency in reviews on this amp. The reviewer flagged much of what I did during my time with the loaner: warm, punchy, dense midrange, and deep and wide soundstage.
What does JA’s maximum power ratings show into 8 and 4 ohms?
Rated: 60W at 8 ohms; 100W at 4 ohms
JA-measured clipping (1% THD+N): 78W at 8 ohms; 93W at 4 ohms.
To the people running Rag 2 as a speaker amp: what speakers do you pair it with? I'm currently auditioning the Buchardt S400 and I don't know whether it's the pairing or the S400 aren't as great as the Internet led me to believe but currently it just sounds unimpressive compared to my almost 4x cheaper f500
Describe “unimpressive”...and also, what is an “f500”? Give us some more details man we can’t read your mind - all this stuff is a matter of taste. Also, how long have you broken in the S400? And are you running nearfield or mid/far?
You're right. By unimpressive I mean that the difference between the Fyne Audio F500 I'm running right now and the S400 is rather minimal. Female vocals are smoother and there is more texture in the bass but overall, it's not a difference I expected coming from headphone world where 4x price difference between different pairs can be night and day. The pair I'm using is a demo unit I borrowed from a dealer so I assume it's already been broken in. I'm running them from about 3m distance.
Ok. So these are just my rough thoughts here. I’ve never heard the Fynes so I can’t really give you an answer why/how they sound different.
With respect to the Rag, I feel it may be a bit underpowered for the Buchardts. A single Vidar does pretty good with them in my setup (which is over 200w into 4 ohms btw), but dual Vidar in mono is where they really sing and have a lot of get up and go and slam. Also, the Buchardts are a bit denser overall in presentation through the mids, and Rag is also supposed to be thicker/richer as well, so it may be too much and sound a bit dull or slow. I feel the Buchardts do well with a lot of power into 4 ohms and something that is speedy sounding and more neutral-to-lean. I don’t get the sense that the Rag is like this, nor that it has the current to drive very power hungry speakers, but I could be wrong. I would also find out if the Buchardts were broken in as well with at LEAST 100 hours.
When it comes to “better” in the speaker world, there are differences compared to headphones for sure, these just may not be things you care about right now or are accustomed to yet. You’re likely better off sticking to what you have at least for now. Like headphones, amp matching is very important, and also, paying 4x doesn’t always equate to “better” than sometimes just “really different”. In this case, with this amp, it seems like you’re getting a bit of a refinement, but not enough “difference” and overall improvement to be worth it.
One other thing I’ll mention about headphones vs speakers, which I should have before - The room, speaker positioning and your listening position can have a massive impact on the sound of speakers - it can color the sound so significantly as to negate many of the benefits you’ll get from “better” speakers. For similarly sized/configured/placed speakers, most room modes and reflections will be the same from speaker to speaker, making them sound like they have many of the same attributes/faults in some cases. Some rooms and setups will definitely be worse than others, but this is obviously something you don’t have to deal with in the headphone world.
I've really been enjoying the Rag 2 for the last two days. Both on my Jamo tower speakers and Aeon 2 headphones. I was previously using a Monolith Liquid Platinum for the headphones and a Peachtree nova for the speakers and this thing easily replaces both and brings a nice upgrade to the headphones. It has a very warm character and it sounds just very slightly mid-forward, which I'm loving. I have it paired with a Chord Qutest and it's very interesting that I can hear more detail in the soundstage than the LP, but I can't tell much of a difference between the Qutest's filters. On the LP, I could easily tell the difference when toggling through the filters. The amp seems to be adding enough of it's own character to the Qutest that it's handing the treble in it's own way, and since it's my preferred warm sound, I'm good with that. I have a pair of Susvaras on the way and I'm expecting this to be a really fun pairing.
First off, Schiit is an awesome company... the people & the products. Thanks Jason, Mike, Denise, Amy, and everyone else that I have had dealings with over the last few years.
I'll try and keep this focused (TLDR, I failed). Like many of you, the pandemic has caused me to work from home instead of the office. So I turned my listening room with a desk in a back corner, into a home office with a very above average sound system (when compared to normal people, not audiophiles). Base system at the start of the pandemic was Sol/Bifrost 2 --> Saga --> Vidar/Asgard 2 --Zu Omen DW/KLH Kendalls/HD600s/HD6XXS. By my estimation a respectable collection, nothing crazy elite, nothing subpar.
In early 2020 I got an email from PS Audio, asking if I was interested in beta testing their new Stellar Strata integrated amp. Sometime in early 2019 I had expressed interest after seeing Paul mention it on his YouTube videos, and they must have added me to their mailing list. They were offering a paid beta, like Sol was, with money back/return guarantees if I didn't want to keep it. Being a good audio junkie, I emailed them in earnest. A month or two passed without more details, so while the world stayed at home I followed up with PS Audio. Fortunately my timing was good, PS Audio was forging ahead during the pandemic and looking for beta testers, so I signed up.
Meanwhile I was talking on Slack to a couple of friends I’ve made through this hobby, and we were discussing the price, features, topology, function, form, etc of Strata vs Ragnarok (both 1 & 2). Both my friends own OG Ragnaroks, and love them. During these conversations I started to ponder what Strata sounds like compared to Ragnarok 2. Then a crazy thought came into my head. I wondered if Schiit had any loaner/review Rag 2s available to send out & would it be crazy to email Jason and ask? I learned long ago, that you never know until you ask, and that the worst that can happen is they say no. So I reached out to Jason and, SUPRISE!!!, he replied, said they might have one available, and put me in touch with Denise and Amy... Imagine my shock and excitement!!! Truthfully, I’m still surprised by it.
I received the PS Stellar Strata the 1st or 2nd week of May and Ragnarok a week or so after that. Like a good adult, but irresponsible audiophile, I let each amp sit for a good 7-10 days before unboxing... Probably overkill, but my wife and I are expecting our 3rd, better safe than sorry.
Aside – if interested, my semi coherent thoughts on the Strata can be found here. https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...new-integrated-amplifier-stellar-strata.9491/
The rest of this post will focus on Ragnarok, and Rag vs Strata.
First off, Schiit packs their stuff very well. Everything is secure and safe, the foam cradles they use are simple & effective. I was surprised how large Ragnarok is. It dwarfs the Strata and the Marantz unit I own. Also, this sucker is heavy. Vidar seems light by comparison. Ragnarok seems to be the dimensions and weight similar as two Vidars placed next each other. This means you want to be very very careful when lifting/moving/adjusting the amp. I’ve scratched myself on Vidar, and I’ve scratched myself on Ragnarok. I don't blame Schiit. I'm kind of an oaf and scratch myself on everything. It also seems to be heavier on the front end (like Vidar), likely due to the transformer weight. If you like Schiits design aesthetics, you will like how Ragnarok looks. It looks big and powerful, but with curves in the right spots to show some refinement. I appreciate the simplicity of its operation. Whenever you change inputs, outputs, or gain, there is a noticeable pause in operation and an audible click. Once you slow down and learn the rhythm of the machine these cues are handy to have. One thing I do wish is that Schiit could get their aluminum vendors on the same page as far as finish goes. My Bifrost 2 and the loaner Ragnarok 2 don't match exactly. Close but not the same. Something with the pattern/texture of the brushed aluminum must cause light to reflect differently off both units. I only notice it when in full light. At low light I can't tell a difference.
I have an original Saga, and with the Saga I was always aware of how sensitive the remote control was. The volume knob didn't track when using the remote, so you had to have a light & quick finger. Pressing the button too firmly often resulted in more than one click from the attenuator. Ragnarok 2 has a motorized pot and volume tracking. If the volume is turned all the way down the pot will move some before the attenuators start to adjust the volume. One of my audio sensei’s that we will call Frank, has commented this is normal for motorized pots. The motorized pot seems to have solved the sensitivity quirk I encountered with my original Saga. A firm but quick press and release if the remote will now often trigger only one step of attenuation. If you hold the remote it will take off and get loud or quiet very quickly. With the three levels of gain and 128 steps on the attenuator, Ragnarok delivers precision control. It really is exceptional. In house right now I've got an original Saga, an Emotiva A-100, and a Marantz PM6006. The volume control on the Ragnarok bests them all and is the most precise I've ever encountered (not that my experience is much to write about). Earlier in the testing period I also had a loaner HP amp that was designed and hand built by head-fier @Paladin79 . All tube, all class A. I love that amp, and it had a high quality pot, but I liked it best controlling the volume with a Schiit attenuator.
So, how about some actual thoughts on how Ragnarok sounds….
First let’s start with the pre-amp and amp section itself, forgetting the phono and dac cards for a moment....
Ragnarok is pretty awesome. It's a great sounding amp. I’m feeding Ragnarok balanced from Bifrost 2 (cables bought from cablesforless.com) with Qobuz/iPhone/USB. Speakers are Zu Omen DW, KLH Kendalls. HPs Sennheiser HD6XXS and HD600s, both balanced and SE.
SE hp jack vs Balanced – SE is very good, but balanced has something else to it. I think its differential design of the amp, going to SE loses that balanced differential goodness. I have a black dragon cable paired with the HD600s, its immensely enjoyable. Medium gain seems to be my sweet spot for all modes, unless I am trying to get 2 ch really loud.
Ragnarok and Bifrost 2 are a match made in Schiity heaven. They play so well with each other. Detail, imaging, depth, texture, feeling, raw emotion. Ragnarok and Bifrost give us everything. I have listened to a ton of music with this combo. Rock, metal, pop, country, electronic, jazz, bluegrass, classical, blues, etc....not once have I been left wanting more (or less). Everything is detailed, fast, full, tight, and precise. No bloat, no mud, nothing recessed or sounding as if it were in a back room just off stage. It sounds like you are seated a few rows back. It sounds real. You ever been in a room at a bar, club, hotel, and live music is playing? You aren’t seated in a “prime spot” but the music sounds great. And you can hear the chatter of the crowd? That’s what live recordings sound like on Ragnarok and Bifrost with the speakers I have. Yes the imaging and soundstage is spot on when you are in the right spot, but if you close your eyes and just absorb the music it’s a wonderful experience. It takes no effort for me to suspend disbelief & criticality, and just enjoy the music.
I have owned Vidar for 2ish years and love the amp. Before I heard Ragnarok I didn't know I wanted more, I didn't understand rolled off or recessed treble. Vidar is still awesome, but when comparing the Ragnarok to Vidar, Ragnarok offers so much more (subjectively, from a crazy music nut) in terms of top end detail, depth, texture. Take Steely Dan’s track Gaucho for example. There is an instrument that plays throughout the track that has kind of a shimmer or wave, sounds electronic... I compare it to an electric version of "the Wave" it starts on one side and moves across the soundstage. With Vidar that part was always present and hearable but slightly muffled/hidden. With Ragnarok this part became one of those song components that made me go ooo and ahh.
I was talking to my friends Richard and Rick one night, and we were discussing how to judge new gear. One of the things that came to me was being made aware of new parts in a song or being able to pull multiple background singers out of the background. Ragnarok and Bifrost do this repeatedly, seemingly without effort. When listening to old favorites, I feel as if Ragnarok is the art restorers’ favorite tool. Just as a restorer peels back layers of grime to reveal hidden details, so too does Ragnarok remove the veil from your old favorites. I have listened to Americas self-titled debut album many times, and it seems with each gear upgrade I am presented with new details and information to process. Whether it be a string pluck, knock on a guitar, or delicate harmonies, Ragnarok is very pleasing and revealing. As far as my ears can hear, the clarity & tone of the treble is exceptional. With the Zu speakers I find myself listening to more stuff featuring a piano, regardless of genre, with the KLH’s I love intricate vocal harmonies. Ragnarok just enhances that feeling for both speakers.
One of the things I love about Qobuz is the Studio Master Edition releases. Running On Empty by Jackson Browne is one such album. This album is fantastic and I first heard it on cassette as kid in my dad's pickup. I own it on vinyl and love spinning it on SOL. On the track Nothing But Time, there always used to be a low rumble that didn't have definition or texture, it was muddy. I was working in my basement one afternoon, listening to this album, fairly loudly (90db peaks). I thought I could hear and feel the low rumble of a loud heavy truck outside. A farm truck or dump truck or something. It seemed to go on for awhile and I was wondering what the hell it was. When I went upstairs nothing was outside. I came back down, restarted the track and shortly went "whoa.... that's the tour bus!" The Ragnarok (with Bifrost 2) and Zu Omen DW made it feel as if a large bus was right in my room with me. I consequently did some reading and sure enough that track was recorded on the road (as was most of the album). I also spun this album on SOL and the internal pre amp card that is in Ragnarok handled the job with as much clarity & detail as the Qobuz version.
I like to think that I listen to a nice variety of music, what follows are a sampling of albums I loved with Ragnarok.
Steely Dan - Gaucho, Aja, Pretzel Logic
Van Morrison - Moondance, Days Like This, Poetic Champions Compose, Astral Weeks
Boz Scaggs - A Fool to Care
Beck - Colors, Hyperspace
John Mellencamp - Scarecrow
Dave Mathews Band – Crash, Live In Chicago 12.19.98
Yo-Yo Ma - Appalachia Waltz, Six Evolutions, Not Our First Goat Rodeo
Tool - Fear Inoculum
John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness
Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out
DeadMau5 - W:/2016ALBUM
Roxy Music - Avalon
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Crosby, Stills, Nash - CSN
Neil Young - Harvest, Homegrown
Rage Against the Machine - Battle for Los Angeles
Taylor Swift- 1989, Folklore
Ludovico Einaudi - Seven Days Walking
Sturgil Simpson - A Sailors Guide to Earth
Frank Sinatra - September of My Years
Joe Bonamassa - Live From The Royal Albert Hall
Reiner/CSO - Respighi - Pines of Rome.
Paul Simon - Graceland
AC/DC - Back in Black
ELP – Works Volume 1
And so on.... You get the gist, my musical tastes are varied. Everything I listened to with Ragnarok was fantastic.
The on board DAC and phono cards on Ragnarok are both pretty awesome.... The phono card especially.... I loved how SOL sounded with the internal card compared to SOL through Mani. I have a b stock Mani, and I thought the internal phono pre was much much quieter then my Mani. To the point of wondering if my b stock Mani has issues. In regards to the onboard DAC card, I was really impressed with it. It's not as good as my Bifrost 2. Not as much space, blackness, or detail, and a bit less body and weight, but I'll be damned if it isn't quite impressive, for the money and space required.
And this leads me to something else. My enjoyment of the internal DAC and phono was my first clue as to how special Nexus might be, or is....
Initially while listening to Bifrost & Ragnarok it was all balanced all the time. I mean why not? Balanced is generally revered amongst audiophile as "better" then SE. I've heard SE my entire life, balanced is new, it's better (or so I'd read). I want better! Well... It was really good, on the Strata balanced was for sure better. But after what is now two months of Ragnarok in house.....I'm not sure if balanced is better, at least not when Nexus is in play. Louder? Sure. Better? Highly subjective. My gut says no, not better. Ever so slightly different? Yeah. Slight enough that I'm wondering if cables come into play and impact the sound. My SE cables were inexpensive but are 18 ga, silver coated, OFC copper, shielded from Accessories4less.com. My balanced cables are a high quality copper cable with Neutrik connectors from cablesforless.com. Once I adjusted for the 6db gain, I felt like SE with Nexus on Ragnarok had something extra. I need to clarify this was from SE on Bifrost 2. Like it had an extra layer of detail that was revealed. Picture an umpire dusting off home plate, or lightly blowing the excess chalk off pool cue. Small stuff, but noticeable, even if hard to fully identify. Fine transients, extra body kind of stuff. The kind of subjective stuff tube aficionados or cable fanatics chase, and "sane” objective audiophiles dismiss as all in your head. We all know Schiit put a lot of work into making the SE outs on Bifrost extra special. Nexus might be one of the few inputs capable of fully displaying the worth of Bifrost 2. It certainly made me sit up from a Scotch induced sleepiness and go, “what is this that I’m hearing”?!
As you can tell I think Nexus is pretty awesome (it might be magic). While mostly joking about the magic portion I am really impressed with how excellent of a job Nexus does in extracting all of the audio goodness that SE outputs have to offer. Nexus appears to seamlessly transfer a fully transparent signal, whether that signal is input from Bifrost 4490, Modi Multibit, the Internal DAC Card, or either output from Bifrost 2. Or to say a less confusing way - It doesn't seem to matter what you put into it, or how you listen to it, you can be rest assured that your signal will be transferred and converted without loss of any data or detail, transparency, body, warmth, etc, etc. Hell,that was still too confusing. Lets try this - Nexus is magic yum yum sauce that will make all of your inputs sound their best. Hyperbole, sure, but I like it. Nexus will be a strength in your chain, not a weakness.
To ramble some more, Nexus is pretty flawless. SE in is about 6db down from balanced. My ears, plus the pink noise track on Qobuz, plus my handy dandy db meter confirmed this. No detail/transients seem to be lost at all. Tremendous. If your DAC or other source doesn't have balanced outs, don't feel bad or wonder if you are missing something for a moment. If I didn't have a Bifrost 2, I'd be ecstatic with Ragnarok 2 and my Modi Multibit. Nexus seems to extract every last bit of detail from your SE device. Both HP and 2ch. There are some queues I listen for on songs I have listened to over the years. All of those queues sound clearer and more defined with Ragnarok. Keep in mind I was SE only until the Strata and Ragnarok 2 came to town.
I know it’s a subjective comment take, but I swear I noticed a difference, a loss of something when comparing balanced in to SE in on the Strata. And that was using the same cables and DAC (Bifrost 2) as during my Ragnarok testing. If everything is the same when comparing SE vs Balanced on two different amps, and one amp has a noticeable dip in sound on SE, but the other amp might sound better on SE then Balanced, then I might not be crazy in assuming Nexus is the differentiator? Right? Or Wrong? I am probably wrong, please eviscerate me for this and another errors so I can learn more.
I did take a day or two to test out the preamp function of Ragnarok. I ran Bifrost balanced into Ragnarok, and then ran SE out from Ragnarok into my Vidar. My brain has decided that I am a guy who likes an active preamp. A ways up above I commented on Gaucho by Steely Dan, Ragnarok as a preamp on medium gain did a wonderful job of giving extra detail to Vidar. The shimmer portion I described above had increased detail and air to it. This makes sense to me, because I almost always run Vidar and Saga with the tube buffer engaged. I liked the top end air that Saga gave to Vidar. I might also like my music brighter then some. I usually have treble turned up slightly when using my Loki, and after I got the HD600’s the HD6XXS have become expensive decorations. I want to hear that fine detail. I am also debating whether to buy a Ragnarok 2, or whether to buy a Freya S (before they go out of stock) and an Aegir. I recall at one point that Jason said he thought Freya S sounded the best out of the 4 preamps in the original Thunderdome. Now I understand why.
Many people are firmly of the single usage mindset. 2 channel gear is for 2 channel listening only, it should not be used for TV or home theater. I am not one of those people. Having kids and income from a sole FTJ, doesn’t really lend itself well to gear that only does one thing, at least not if you want quality. As such Ragnarok got put through the paces in a family room arranged with little regard to acoustic sensibilities. My KLH Kendalls provide the sound here, and they are a great speaker for 2 ch and home entertainment purposes. Taking the toslink from my TV into Bifrost we spent many hours watching TV like Bluey, My Little Pony, Start Trek TNG, or music videos on YouTube & Tidal, playing video games (Mario Kart, Halo, Fortnight, Secret of Mana), and watching movies & musicals.
The volume control features and dynamic range of Ragnarok were on great display here. When you go from a crappy sound bar or even a middling integrated (Marantz PM6006), you can appreciate how hard it is to get a volume level that allows you to hear everything without feeling like the TV is shouting at you. Anyone else frequently turn their volume up during dialogue only to turn the volume way down again during action scenes? I have noticed that the better your equipment the less this happens. In my limited experience the great thing about high quality audio gear is that you can turn the volume up a good deal before feeling like the music is too loud, or sounds bad. This was evident as we watched Hamilton on Disney Plus over two evenings. We had Ragnarok turned up pretty loud for this, much louder than my wife usually allows, but she was ok treating it as if we were in the theatre. It was a spectacular tour de force of sound. As mentioned earlier, the Kendalls do vocals very well and paired with Ragnarok they presented Hamilton better than I could have imagined. Crisp, clean, forceful, delicate, and it never got crowded or muddled. Hamilton presents a very diverse cast of songs and vocalists, it’s quite the awesome show, and the Ragnarok & Bifrost combo handled it with ease. My wife immediately commented on the change in sound when I put the PM6006 back in.
Gaming with Ragnarok is super enjoyable. I believe Jason had gamers in mind when designing Ragnarok, and it shows. Putting on the headphones while gaming gives a completely immersive environment and instinctive experience. Pin point placement, separation, and sonic accuracy await those who game with Ragnarok 2. I don’t game that much anymore, but man was it fun to do again.
I want to mention how cool this hobby and associated communities are. Been loads of fun testing out three different amps, two integrated, one HP only. It’s also a great opportunity to introduce my daughter to different kinds of music. Something about Dust in the Wind by Kansas really grabbed her. She keeps asking to listen to it in whatever room Ragnarok is in. I can’t help but wonder if she’s enamored by some high frequency stuff in the song that I can’t hear. At any rate its cool having a six year old ask to listen to Kansas, then Tool, then the Beatles, before circling back to Taylor Swift or the Nut Cracker.
A majority of my thoughts regarding Ragnarok were formed with 2ch usage, but I should say that I used HP’s about 20 percent of the time. Ragnarok sounds great with both speakers and HP’s. Everything I’ve said about Ragnarok as a 2ch amp rings true as an HP amp. Ragnarok lights up the Sennheisers very very well.
The imaging, depth, soundstage, instrument & vocal separation, are top notch on both hp and 2ch. Ragnarok is extremely quiet. I love this transformer. Also – No speaker pop when powering the amp off. This is a very welcome feature. Even the Strata popped my Zus, and I was really surprised by that.
Ragnarok when fed from Bifrost 2 really has everything I want. Huge wall of sound with my 2 ch setup. But it’s not bloaty. Instruments and voices DONT seem larger than life. They sound like they are the right size, the stage is wide and deep. You can “see” between the artists, see the band placement, and everything seems well ordered & defined. Fine details and transients seem to emanate forth out of the blackground. Aside from the wall of sound, these thoughts apply to listening via the HD600’s as well. Want bass control, depth, texture, force? Want richness, nuance, inflection and vibrato out of your mids? Want air, detail, softness, tone, pitch and ethereal quality out of your treble? Check. Check. and Check.
A minor quibble – I still wish the preamp functionality was user selectable, either on the remote, from a switch on the back, or a special pressing of the buttons. Both Rick and Richard are happy with their Gen1 Ragnaroks, but Richard would likely have a Rag 2 instead, if the pre-outs were different. For me in my current needs, it doesn’t matter, but it might in the future. It would be nice to have the option. And well, that’s it really. To me that is saying something. A friend of mine owns a small town grocery store. He likes to say people always need something to complain about. He purposefully leaves one non-compliant light bulb in a socket in a back room. Gets warned about it every year by the health inspector, but that’s it.
(Continued, over the 30k character limit, holy cow.)
So, how does Ragnarok compare to PS Audio Stellar Strata? Well it really depends on what you want and expect from your stereo components. Both units are very good products. I am probably going to mangle an auto analogy here but I will do my best to elaborate my thoughts. If American made HiFi could be described to fall under an auto manufacturer, I’d say GM is like American made HiFI. In this example I would say that PS Audio is like Cadillac – Lots of bells and whistles, some are truly handy, good for folks who want it all, and don’t mind paying for it. They are striving to be refined & polished, a mix of performance & luxury, and depending on the model they probably hit their mark more often than not. Kind of expensive, but within reach for many people. Schiit in this example would be Chevrolet – They make stuff at varying price range, generally something for everyone, some of the features on Cadillacs aren’t available on Chevys, but Chevy is always working on many things behind the scenes, and roll out new products with better features as they go along. Sometimes they take a pretty decent model – a C7 Corvette for example, and make you go wow, like the C8 Corvette. Both companies have huge followings, some products sell better than others.
I hope this distinction makes sense, because they are important differentiators between the products. The Strata retails for $2999, and a fully loaded Ragnarok goes for $1799. The Strata has way more bells, whistles, and settings. You get to decide if you want lots of options in one box or not.
So a couple of things. I spent a good deal of time using Bifrost 2 as my reference DAC between the two models, as I’ve had it in house since December 2020. When using the Bifrost as a DAC I took a long hard look at the amp sections of both units and played the same playlist, volume matching with pink noise to a range of 57.1 to 57.4, so within .3 db of each other. This gave me a musical volume level with the average about 70-75 db, with peaks to 80 or so, depending on recording. In this way the amp sections are very accurate and really close to each other. Ragnarok plays all the same notes and details that the Strata does, and vice versa. The main differences I heard here was that Ragnarok was fuller, a little more muscle, sounded a bit louder, even though the db meter was the same with pink noise. Strata seemed quieter, more polite, not so much fullness. Strata doesn’t sound thin, but it doesn’t sound quite as full as Ragnarok does. I thought that Ragnarok sounded a bit faster, and was able to resolve some busy passages of classical music a little better than the Strata did. But that is a truly a matter of taste. I wish the Strata came in a just an amp package.
One of the last things I want to do is compare the fully loaded Ragnarok vs the Strata, in terms of sound quality through the USB inputs, as that is the only input the two units share. I selected 10 tracks that I am very familiar with and compared each track and input, volume matching via pink noise before testing out each track. I did this one track at a time, with 2 channel and the Zu over the course of a couple nights. The Strata ad copy says it has a world class, class A headphone amp. Its very nice, but I would compare it more in line with Asgard 2 quality, then I would to Ragnaroks HP output. Maybe the Senns made a big difference here. Ragnarok has way more power into HP’s then the Strata does, and I don’t own any high quality low ohm HP’s. So for this comparison I didn’t use HPs at all. I will talk about the key differences I heard on each track between the two units, if any.
Artist – Album – Track – All tracks played at CD Quality via USB from Qobuz and an iPhone 6s
Steely Dan – Gaucho – Gaucho
Ragnarok holds the edge here, as the tenor sax seems to be fuller with more edge & body. What I would call the shimmer or electronic waterfall portion throughout the song seems to be about the same with both combos. I believe this is a stereophonic synthesizer effect played a few times throughout the track that goes right to left, left to right, and is a light and complex treble part. It’s mixed in the back of the soundstage, and remains in the back with both units.
Eagles – Hell Freezes Over – Hotel California
Drum reverberation on both units is very similar. The mids on the Strata wins here as it has a bit more physical force & impact in terms of the thwack on the conga that plays throughout most of the track. There is also a couple of spots where the tom toms are played by hand. The strata had a bit more edge and bite here. Just felt the impact a bit more through the Zu – Slight edge to the Strata.
The Doobie Brothers – The Captain and Me – China Grove
Tie – I obsessed over this song for a while, my friends enjoyed ribbing me over it. Took me a few weeks to figure out the ARP Synthesizer here had kind of a woodwind flute sound to it.
Sturgill Simpson - A Sailors Guide to Earth - Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)
Piano at beginning seems a tad bit faster with Ragnarok, a little more piercing out of the blackness, ever so slightly better timing & better fine detail. Slight edge Ragnarok
The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out (Legacy Edition) - Take Five
Imaging, separation, placement & depth are very very close, hard to tell a difference. Ragnarok does seem to be a bit more revealing here, like I am hearing deeper into the recording. Slight edge to Schiit.
Jackson Browne – Running on Empty (Studio Masters Edition) – Nothing But Time
Earlier in the day I noticed the rumble of the bus this track was recorded on. That was listening to Ragnarok & Bifrost 2. The Strata does a better job of identifying/isolating the rumble of the bus engine here then the internal dac card does... Honestly surprising, because of how real it sounded on Bifrost 2 with Rag 2. This might be a clear indication of the separation in quality between Bifrost 2 with Unison, and the internal dac card on Ragnarok. Background conversation here was pretty equal. Edge to the Strata over the internal USB.
Van Morrison – Moondance, Deluxe Edition - What Do We Call This Van?
At the beginning of this track Van has some colorful ideas about where to stick a pencil microphone and explains why. Ragnarok 2 and the internal USB reveal the conversation clearer then the Strata.
Paul Simon - One Trick Pony - Late In The Evening.
A tie. I love this track, but there is a lot going on. Hard to keep track of everything. Both rigs sound great and I'm unable to identify anything separating the two units.
Supertramp - Even In The Quietest Moments - Even In The Quietest Moments.
With Ragnarok I feel like the birds chirping at the beginning had a bit more depth, separation, and clarity. Meaning soundstage was a bit deeper or more three dimensional. I also feel like the unknown bass drum variation had more body and fullness to it. I think the loss for Strata can be attributed to its more forward treble. I think this collapsed and congested the birds, at least on this recording.
Reba McEntire – Rumor Has It – Fancy
Ragnarok wins here because you can hear the room more in Reba’s voice, and background singers have better separation/definition. This track employs 8 different background singers, and it is a challenge to be able to identify and “see” them all.
So ten tracks – head to head, Ragnarok took 7, Tied 2, Strata 1. – All were close and required careful listening. And let’s be honest, this is all subjective and depends on the listeners preferences. I am sure a great many people like the more forward presentation of soundstage and treble that Strata offers. To me, it was a bit congested at times. I didn’t hear any tracks that caused me to appreciate this forward soundstage over what I would consider to be a more balanced approach on the Schiit dacs.
When comparing the dacs, I felt that the Bifrost 2 was the best dac out of the three options. If I had 3k to spend and was deciding between options I would select Ragnarok, Bifrost 2, and manually add the phono card in. But that’s just me. Strata is a great product, so is Ragnarok, it really depends on what your preferences are, and what you are looking for. If Stratas internal streamer had worked better for me it would be a different conversation. From what I have read on those forums I seem to be the only one experience those specific issues. It could be that I am just inept (shrug), who knows.
One last feature about Ragnarok that is worth mentioning. I was talking to Rick tonight about the volume level I was listening too. At that time, I was hitting peaks of 98.9 db, and Rick was lamenting that his wife wouldn’t let him listen to music that loud. He goes “I was just jamming out to speakers and my wife came home. All’s I got to do is push the button on my Ragnarok and turn it to a headphone amp I love… I think she might love it more than I do for obvious reasons…” Too true Rick…too true.
Thanks again to Jason and the rest of Schiit for this awesome experience. For the longest time I had planned on getting an Aegir and a Freya S to go with the Zu speakers. Now, I really don’t know… tough choices. LRS’s have been ordered, maybe Ragnarok would be the right choice. Maybe I should cancel the LRS’s and spend 650 on some planar HPs. Soo many choices. Fun hobby, cool communities. My sincere thanks if you actually read through this lengthy drivel. My apologies if it got to be too much.
Tremendous review. Thank you, a very enjoyable read.
Thanks, I really appreciate that.
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