Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by GiantHeadphoneSquid, Nov 11, 2020.
Ditto on Genalex Gold Lion. It's bright.
Semi-vintage Sovtek for upper mid bite.
I went to the Schiitr today to listen to the Jot 2 and on something of a lark plugged into the Vali 2+, and it kind of rocked my world. So much so I bought one to take home.
A/B’ing with my Lyr 3 and I honestly think the Vali beats it in overall tonality, for me. Bass is mostly the same quantity-wise, and I think the Lyr is overall cleaner sounding, but the Vali absolutely has more of that sweet tube sound than anything else I’ve heard from Schiit.
I never heard the Vali 2 and it’s been too long since I listened to the original Vali to remember how it compares, other than it did not capture my attention the way the latest iteration has.
It really makes me hopeful for a Lyr 3+ with the clarity and precision of the 3, ‘plus’ whatever magic pixie dust Jason and Co sprinkled on the new Vali. It’s really special. I’ll share more thorough impressions on it after I’ve had some more quality time.
Since this has devolved into tube rolling notes, here are some of my napkin notes on a yay/nay basis. Goal (with vali2+) was to find a small amp that ran off 1-2 readily available tube/s for <$40, ideally <$15 that I can use when I don't want to burn expensive tubes in big amps.
Testing doesn't follow any sort of proper or scientific testing criteria, etc. ~10-60 min of warm up per tube, only listened for 20-60min per tube for below. Yggdrasil > V2+ mostly on low gain > HD6xx with each tube, UE5 + UERM on some but not all of the tubes. Most tubes were sold to me as NOS, didn't test or measure any myself, some were used for <5hrs on other amps while others were unused before this (i.e. no burn in). No burn in due to 1) too time required 2) in my experience burn in may alleviate existing issues with tubes, but it has never made any tube suddenly sound like a different tube. None of the tubes rolled had noise or hiss on low gain with UE5.
- Stock GE 6BZ7 - date code EF - yay, but for some reason the sound stage was really compressed compared to all the other tubes.
- GE 6BZ7 - date code FV - yay, sound stage not as overly compressed, but the sound has a little bit of the limp / lifeless sound. Sounds like there is a slight 5.5k dip as well. I suspect there was enough tube to tube or batch to batch variation with the GE tubes... or they need proper burn-in.
- RCA 6BZ7 - yay, a bit warm/wooly in mids and bass, some highs were slightly piercing, slight cohesion issues, but overall the least issues or errors with the sound
- Sylvania 6BZ7 - nay, individual elements sound fine, but overall sound was not disjointed
- CBS 6BZ7 - N/A, tube made buzzing in Vali2+.
- RCA gray plate 6CG7 - nay, this slightly beats any of the 6bz7, but is also 2-4x the cost. Also lacks texture and extension. Sounded a bit thin, not as filled in - not bad per se depending on preference. Small increase in performance not worth the price differential.
- Sovtek 6922 (modern) - maybe, cheap and not bad with 6xx. Didn't add as much extra bite as expected, but sound was not filled in enough, muffled sound as well, transients sounded lazy.
- Amperex ECC88, Holland, small O-getter - nay, there is kind of a roughness to the sound
- Amperex ECC88, Holland, D getter - nay, actually sounds pretty good, but I didn't realize these were $100+ now.
- "good tubes" such as Amperex Bugle Boy ECC88, Amperex 7308 PQ, Telefunken ECC88 - NO. In short, what purrin said, it's still sounds like a vali2+ (or whatever cheap tube amp you prefer). Please save these tubes for $$$ equipment.
- Sold / no longer have most of my other 6922 family tubes that I had before.
Used an adapter for all of the below - DO NOT PLUG IN DIRECTLY. Also make sure there are no solder splatter shorts in the adapter if you one on ebay, etc.
- Ericsson 2C51 - yay, can't always find these for <$40 anymore, but if you do, it was pretty good. Not as warm of a tube as it is in the AF but I will be saving mine for use with the AF.
- Raytheon CK5670 - nay, 2 tubes from 2 different eras. 1st one (newer) lacked macro, everything else was ok. 2nd one (older) didn't lack macro as much but introduced new tonality issues and the highs were a bit "much".
- WE396a - nay, doesn't meet use criteria, but plugged in a 70's O-getter tube just out of curiosity, overall "the best" with least "errors" compared to all tubes tested. Introduces a warm sound, more so than when used in EC AF. Slightly bloomy in the mids. Oddly highs didn't sound as "open or natural".
Conclusion: Will stick with 6BZ7 tubes for <$10. Sure, they're not "as good" vs some of the others, but any 6922 worth using are probably $100+ (i.e. would rather put $ towards expensive tubes for big amps) and hunting down good 2C51 tubes = really not worth the time or cost for my use case (that and if I did find one I'd rather use them in my AF anyways). Most flaws / drawbacks with 6BZ7 were not in my face enough to be a distraction in media, games, or most of my casual / quick listening.
Anyways - on the actual amp itself:
I don't have extensive experience with most Schiit amps so I can't really do detailed direct comparisons. With the LIMITED experience I do have, they more or less all have the Schiit house sound to varying degrees and the spider charts and feedback I've seen on this site have more or less match what I've heard.
Overall sound: Using only comparisons, I would say the closest amp I've heard <$400 to this is a MCTH. They don't quite sound the same though - just share enough of the same traits. Schiit house sound (which includes being slightly more incisive, about row 5, everything in the sound comes towards you at once) as mentioned above. Slightly more towards a thicker/fuller sound (but not meaning warm poo) instead of a thin and well separated (but not meaning empty / tinny) sound. Neutral to warm, depending on tube used. Never got a cool/er sound with the tubes I tried.
- No listening fatigue regardless of tube used.
- A little less resolution than the MCTH if I remember the sound of the MCTH correctly but it's close - good for the price (only in my experience though). Could easily hear the difference between when SDAC vs Yggdrasil was plugged in.
- Handles busy music well enough
- Surprisingly good PRaT for <$250
- Something I normally assume is OK with more $$ amps, but channel matching in pot is good enough at quieter listening levels using low gain with UE5 (pretty sensitive CIEM).
- No major flaws with tone, timbre, transients and decays, texture, or lows/mids/highs (aside from a tube that can't perform)
- Haven't tested extensively, but not too headphone or DAC picky so far
- Not a factor for some, but doesn't run hot at all. Case isn't much warmer than room temp right over the vents next to the tube. IIRC, MCTH runs hotter than this.
- Certain performance aspects will vary by quite a bit per the tube - ex sound stage may really shrink, tonality may be off, may lack in extension in the lows or highs, etc. as mentioned above - even though it retains it's "vali2+" sound regardless.
- Regardless of the tube used, sound stage is small and compressed even compared to other amps <$250. I feel like I get 2 blobs (L/R) that start to wrap around but don't quite make it all the way around the front. Layering is fine though - or at least as OK as it can be with the stage.
- I know it's only $150 but the pot is sometimes loose, sometimes kind of grindy, or sometimes feels sticky at random spots in the cycle, etc... all from 6:30' to 12'.
- EDIT 1/5: Forgot a small complaint - kind of dumb, but I wish the volume knob was slightly further from the 1/4" jack. Finger rubs against the plug every time, sometimes bumps the plug and makes me have to "turn again", etc.
Conclusion - I didn't know if I wanted this at first. Now that I've had it for a bit, I would buy it again.
I don't know how exactly it will translate towards the vali 2+, but among 10 or more tubes I borrowed/tried with my vali 2, I find the JJ Gold pin to be the most natural and not expensive. I havent tried the WE tube with my vali yet though.
So... tomorrow is the final day I could return the Vali, if I wanted to. But I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my current Schiit stack -- Bifrost Multibit and Lyr 3 -- is about to start looking kind of ridiculous. I'm sticking with the Vali 2+, and will likely sell the Lyr 3.
The last two weeks have been an odd cycle of:
1) Listening to the Vali, thinking I can't possibly be enjoying this $150 amp more than the $500 MSRP one, right? I must be missing something on the Lyr, something nuanced and refined that my pleb ears haven't detected yet. Maybe I happen upon a specific recording sounds that a little harsh up-top... that one is probably better on the Lyr. I better check.
2) Plug in to the Lyr -- ah, there it is. Really crystalline and clear; 'immaculate' springs to mind. Effervescent high end, articulate imaging. The sense of soundstage seems a mite larger. Okay, I think I've got it now -- time to switch back to Vali, which will surely sound like dogshit now, right?
3) Nope; I fall in love all over again. I love the bloominess of the bass into the midbass. I love the tastefully tubey snap in the mids-to-upper-mids. Drums are just lovely, rich with timbre and energy. Vocals and distorted guitar are deliciously textured. The Lyr 3 fairly clearly trumps the Vali as far as absolute resolution and cleanliness into the treble region... but I kind of don't care. Something in the Vali 2+'s overall tonality I find more pleasantly revealing than the Lyr 3's more relaxed, more mature (but maybe more boring?) presentation.
It's not perfect: as I mentioned, the bass is a touch bloomy, which is great on some tracks but on others can end up sounding somewhat 'one-note', almost. The highs do lack some refinement, which on well-recorded tracks is fine, but on thinner recordings accentuates the brittle, brushed-steel texture such tracks tend to have. There's a vague sense of haziness, or a veiled quality, to the Vali 2+... I don't want to overstate this aspect, but it's there. The Lyr 3 is overall more forgiving. And I don't doubt that for different tastes of music -- I'm thinking classical, or ambient/atmospheric music -- the Lyr 3 will be more your speed overall than the Vali, but for my own tastes (rock, metal, jazz, alternative here and there) the Vali 2+ checks more boxes, and better complements my stable of headphones (HD600/650/800/ZMF Ori), and at a third of the price.
The only real chagrin I have with the Vali is the small form factor: It's somehow ridiculous, it feels wrong that this is where I've landed, with my big brick of a Bifrost and a tiny little tube amp protruding at the top. If it's stupid but it works, I guess... I may just look into downscaling the Bifrost to the Modi MB, or possibly even merely the Modi 3+, if it's good enough. Why not. Fuck it. (The added benefit here is I can try another source with the Lyr 3 -- maybe it's a synergy thing between the Bifrost MB and the Vali 2+.) Or maybe hang onto the Bifrost and hold out hope for a revamped Valhalla or Mjolnir that elevates this heretofore unheard-by-me Schiit-tube-ish sound. (Or maybe the Jot 2, when I finally hear it in my setup, will win out.)
It cements for me something I've thought a lot about in the past, which is the placebo/bias effect and how it could be coloring how I hear equipment. I've always felt that my ears have been fairly price-agnostic (e.g. even early on I was not impressed with Violectric/Lake People amps), and this really reinforces that impression for me. I absolutely did not ever in no way expect to enjoy this amp to this extent, given its price point and, let's face it, toy-like appearance. I've heard and owned quite a number of fairly expensive amps, and heard some utterly prohibitive ones, and like Schiit because their products really punch well above their price point (a cliche, I know, sorry), but the value of the Vali 2+ is a new echelon.
I can't help but feel insecure about giving such a glowing review. The Vali 2+! Isn't that like, baby's first tube amp, or something? But no -- between ZDT Jr or Bottlehead Crack or Darkvoice or CTH or Liquid Plat, and Vali 2+, I'd go with Vali, all the way. (Though I'd want to listen to the CTH again to be 100% sure, it's been awhile.) And I think I'll be sitting happy until the day comes I can finally afford something from, say, ampsandsounds.
Cure: add RPi+Pi2AES in the Pi2AES case, which if you have the Vali sitting over on one side of the Bifrost will nicely fill the remaining space. And will further increase your listening pleasure. You're welcome.
This is not odd at all. I have my own lower cost favorites, for example, I generally prefer the Gungnir A2 a little bit better than Yggdrasil A2 on my main headphone system. All gear sounds different in one way or another and better in some aspects. Oftentimes different triumphs better because of component synergies and preferences.
I would definitely get a demo. This reason is that is you preferred the Vali 2+ over the Lyr 3. The ampandsounds stuff tends to sound more toward the direction of the Lyr 3 .
I’ve heard various ampsandsounds over the years and have loved them each time. I agree though, when the time comes to drop that kind of coin on a proper tube amp I’ll be doing lots of homework. Fortunately I live not too far from The Source! I’d probably also want to try and find a way to listen to something Eddie Current as well, though that obviously might become difficult over time...
If you are in Sherman Oaks, give Craig a call while his lab in Calabasas is still open. If I were still in California, would have been happy to make introductions. The drive to Torrance can be painful. From the looks of the traffic, it would seem that the pandemic is over in SoCal, but it's not.
Just send Craig an email and ask if you can come by for a listen. Feel free to name-drop me, or mention something about super-whatever on the Internets.
Thank you for the suggestion!! I actually didn't realize he was still open for demos or the like. I'd been wanting to drop in someday for a long time but held off since their amps are still so beyond my reasonable budget, and I was somewhat afraid to hear something that left me hating the gear I can afford -- then I thought I'd missed the opportunity to go in person when it was announced they would be closing up shop. I'll jump on this right away then... and thank you for letting me to slip your name in there, hehe. That somehow does make me feel a tad less intimidated to ask to demo with no realistic possibility of my buying something.
And yeah, LA traffic is unfortunately regressing back to molasses. There was a period where I could make the drive to visit my sibling in Newport Beach in like half an hour. Those were the days.
This is my first tube amp and I'm finding it a nice little amp for the price. Compared to my ss amps, it added a little bit of the tube magic, especially to vocals though not as much as I had hoped for. I'm using it with my blackscreen hd650s, and I tend to agree with Steve Guttenberg's impression that the Vali2+ just made every instrument seem more real. For me the amp's main downfalls are its ultimate lack of macrodynamics and congested staging - I suspect the hd650's simply need more power than this amp can provide, and I am now investigating OTL topology.
A note on tube rolling; I tried the Philips ECC88 which is advertised on some websites as the perfect upgrade tube for the previous vali2. I found it to take away from vocal timbre, making voices seem fake, almost synthesised. I shall be sticking with the stock tube until I change amps entirely.
To add to that, this thing works wonders as a budget preamp for your speakers. It gave the vocals on my krk studio monitors a delectable creamy texture and seemed to help with staging a little.
man...reading these posts makes me want to pick up the vali2+ lol. I have a MCTH (with the Modi Multibit) but i get the itch to roll my other tubes. the MCTH doesnt seem to want to roll the 6S7N or the 6C8G, as they all exhibit some sort of low level noise/buzz/microphonics. I recall my Vali 2 to roll really well with those way back before i sold it.
That being said i've been pretty happy with my MCTH + 50s Russian triple mica 6n3p so far. (only really using my HD6xx / modded HD580 lately) Seems to bring more heft, clarity, punch & separation all across the board compared to the gold lions / various 6922 tubes ive tried thus far.
Now that ive got a HE5xx inbound, i'm wondering if i should pick up a Vali2+ to compare with my MCTH, or save up for Jot2+AKM board? Would the HE5xx sound way better with the Jot2 than tube amps? my assumption is that planars work better on SS amps?
I still can't post pictures, so the whole pics or it never happened will have to be on my honor. The Vali 2+ was finally back in stock, so I pulled the trigger. For $149, it was a no-brainer considering I have individual tubes that cost more than Vali 2+.
I've read various posts about tube rolling the Vali 2+, fully ranging from no difference in sound to drastic transformations. I entered tube rolling with an open mind.
The stock tube supplied was the one of Canadian origin. I understand there are also US stock tubes in the wild. The bottom of the tube was uneven, so it didn't seat very securely in the socket. This wasn't much of a concern, but the sound of the tube was. There's nothing egregiously wrong with the tube, but it was dull. It had a wool over it, voices were recessed a bit, and the bass was a little uncontrolled. So, due to the seating and sound issues, I decided to roll in a different tube.
I settled on the Voshkod rocket 6N1P-EV. Once rolling it in, I immediately noticed changes. Voices popped and the bass was more under control. I love the sound of certain Soviet-era Russian tubes. Many of those tubes are known for their tight specs, excellent linearity, low noise, and overall tonality. This particular tube seems to live up to that reputation, at least compared to the stock tube.
For me, the biggest takeaway from the Vali 2+ is the texture, provided you use an acceptable tube. It has all of the textural characteristics that seduce me into long listening sessions. For me, tubes have a certain texture to the notes that solid state often cannot duplicate. I have difficulty describing it in words, but there is a different crunch and reverberation to the lows where the individual bass notes have their own identity, more liquidity to the mids, and an overall lightening of the highs where they become more delicate and less etched. It's more life-like and dimensional compared to most of the solid state amplifiers I've hear. Also, the Vali 2+ throws a more holographic image that I don't experience with solid state amplifiers.
Bass has excellent slam and texture. It's not one-note and reproduces what the artist intended. If the recording has lingering bloom, the Vali 2+ reproduces it. If the artist wanted fast bass transients, the Vali 2+ has no issues with that. I threw my usual torture tests of Big Head Todd, Brian Eno and David Byrne, and Rush at it, and it never broke a sweat.
Mids have just enough enough bloom to make you realize there's a tube in the circuit, but it's not overdone. There's nothing overly warm, syrupy, or smokey here. The mids sound very believable and will satisfy mid lovers.
The treble is ever so slightly rolled off, which I have come to expect from many tube designs. It maintains all the necessary details, but it takes off the unnecessary edge.
Just make sure you ditch the stock tube. I recommend rolling in a Soviet-era Russian Voshkod rocket 6N1P-EV and calling it a day. They can be had for the price of 2-3 cups of takeout coffee. The stock tube lacked some texture and seemed more lifeless in comparison.
I agree that the Vali 2+ has excellent textural characteristics. I never tried it with the stock tube but with a WE396A it is an extremely enjoyable listen that never makes me wish I were listening to a “better” amp. I enjoyed the original Vali 2 but I think + is a big improvement and a real underdog in Schiit’s current lineup.
Interestingly, the changes I noticed in the Vali 2+ with different 6CG7 tubes largely mirror the differences I heard in my 45 PP amp. They actually sound somewhat similar when equipped with the same type of tube.
Another pleasant surprise is that the Vali 2+ does quite well with the T50RP - better than the Magni 1, at least.
I did some more tube rolling today
The Voskhod rocket 6N1P-EV is a nice tube, but since it draws 600 mA, it makes the amp run a little hot. Also, the sound of it also leans a bit warm and rich, which nice for the Philips Fidelio X2HR, but maybe not so much for the Audeze LCD-2. Has the richest mids and most rolled off treble of the tubes I rolled.
I have some 6922 and 6DJ8 tubes from my Woo Audio WA3 days. Many of these tubes are now spendy, so it may be foolish to run them in the Vali 2+. I wouldn’t go buy them for the amp, but if you have them lying around, why not roll them in?
Sylvania JAN 6DJ8 1975. Decent tube. A little delicate overall. Good mid bloom. Less warm compared to the 6N1P. Less texture, too. Works decently well with the Fidelio X2HR and the LCD-2. Excellent bass crunch.
Philips JAN 6922 1984. Good tube. Linear. Clean sounding, but you know it’s a tube based on the slight bloom in the mids. A little more aggressive than the 6DJ8, but not overly so. Less warm than both 6N1P and 6DJ8. Good texture, about on par with the 6N1P. The most solid state sounding of the group. A great pairing for the LCD-2. Has the leanest mids and clearest treble of this group. Most linear and cleanest of the group.
Both the 6922 and 6DJ8 have lower gain than the 6N1P and cause the overall temperature of the Vali 2+ to be cooler.
Can the Vali 2+ do IEM's up to SBAF IEM crew standards? I know the 1 wasn't able to and I never heard a "2". I haven't heard all the Schiit amps, but I believe it was the Asgaard 2 that I thought paired the best with my Andromedas - just a touch too much gain IIRC.
In the interest of "science"... I plugged in a Shuguang CV-181Z I had lying around into the Vali 2+.
Compared to my current reference tube (Raytheon black plate 6CG7), this has a fatter bottom, slightly softer top and possibly a wider soundstage. A more "fun" sounding tube. There's something about the mids that feels off though.
If compared to the stock tube, it is basically a different amp, as it has none of the rolloff and mushiness exhibited by the stock tube.
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