Dogma says: tubes are better than solid-state; vinyl is better than digital; multibit is better than delta-sigma. These are the sounds of the Know-It-All-Audiophile whose black and white ideological thinking makes no room for shades of grey: no room for “Yes, but…”; no room for outliers; no room for matters of implementation. All other things being equal, would a $500 vinyl front end sound better than a digital source selling for thrice as much? Probably not — but we cannot know for sure without knowing which turntable, which cartridge and which phono stage as well as which streamer and which DAC.
These devilish details are flies in dogma’s ointment. Dogma is for those who want to make us (and themselves) believe that they’ve got the (audio) world all figured out. Knowing what they don’t know has long since been dispensed with. In head-fi, for example, our dogmatist might claim that the only way to build a headphone amplifier is with discrete components: transistors, resistors and capacitors. It’s an ideology held by Burson, Ayre Acoustics and, until a few months ago, Schiit Audio.
In reworking Schiit’s US$99 Magni 3 headphone amplifier, company co-founder Jason Stoddard moved the internals from a two-layer board to four and added a driver stage to produce a mini Vidar but for headphones. The incoming Magni 3+ offers “THD+N of -105-106dB at 1V RMS into 32 ohms”. That’s 10 – 15dB lower than the previous version. Job done?
Not quite. This time out, Stoddard also challenged his DiscreteOrDie dogma to create an all op-amp version of the same headphone model and place it in a devilish red and grey chassis. The Magni Heresy will also sell for US$99 but with an “OPA1662 for gain, OPA1688 x 8 for output buffer, no overall loop feedback, but local feedforward—internal to the OPA1688 topology—in the output stage)”. The kicker? Schiit’s Audio Precision analyser says that the Magni Heresy delivers “THD+N of 113-115dB at 1V RMS into 32 ohms”. In other words, lower THD than the Magni 3+.
No doubt there will be audible differences between the all-discrete Magni 3+ and the op-amp Magni Heresy. At this stage, which model will be preferred when listeners start plugging in their headphones and IEMs – for which Schiit promises a hiss-free experience – is anyone’s guess. That’s for reviewers, YouTubers and forum dwellers to report on and for time to decide. To wit, the sales numbers for each Magni will ultimately determine which one lives on in the Schiit range and which one gets EOLd; a battle royale that Schiit is calling Thunderdome.
Only fools will fall for the dogma that only the numbers/listening matter – delete according to preference – when, in reality, the truth probably resides somewhere in the middle where buying decisions will also be determined by associated headphone model and music taste.
“Now, we can see if our customers want a discrete headphone amp with excellent performance or an op-amp headphone amp with even better measured performance. It’s literally up to them. To facilitate early comparisons of the two headphone amps, Schiit is offering a special “buy both, return one” promotion to the first 250 takers. With this, a customer can order both amps, keep both for an extended time (30 days), and return one with no restock fee.” says Stoddard.
Further information: Schiit
Photos: Lee Shelly