As enthusiasts, we like to push. We push our graphics in the latest video games. We push our computers to higher clock speeds. We even push ourselves to grind out that one more level before giving in for the night. Today, we’re turning our eyes (and ears) to audio and exactly how we can push our listening experience. Whether it’s games or music, the Schiit Audio Magni/Modi stack is the headphone amplifier and DAC combo to take your listening to the next level.
Current Price: $99 Magni, $99 Modi
Magni Headphone Amplifier
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20Khz, -0.1db, 2Hz-900KHz, -3dB
- Maximum Power, 16 ohms: 3W RMS per channel
- Maximum Power, 32 ohms: 2W RMS per channel
- Maximum Power, 50 ohms: 1.3W RMS per channel
- Maximum Power, 300 ohms: 430mW RMS per channel
- Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 230mW RMS per channel
- THD: Less than 0.001%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 1V RMS, less than 0.02% at 5V RMS into 32 ohms
- IMD: Less than 0.001%, CCIF
- SNR: Greater than 108db, unweighted, referenced to 1V RMS
- Crosstalk: -70dB, 20 Hz-20KHz
- Output Impedance: Less than 0.3 ohms at either gain
- Input Impedance: 25k ohms
- Gain: 1.4 (3db) or 7 (17db), selectable via rear switch
- Topology: Fully discrete, fully complementary all-bipolar, symmetrical current-feedback design with no capacitors in the signal path and DC servo
- Protection: Standard failsafe DC power input and muting relay
- Power Supply: “Wall wart” style 24VA 14VAC transformer, regulated +/- 17V rails with over 6,000uF filter capacitance
- Power Consumption: 6W
- Size: 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”
- Weight: 1 lb
- Inputs: USB, Toslink SPDIF, Coaxial SPDIF
- Sample Rates and Bit Depths: 16/44.1 to 24/192 via USB, Coax, and Optical
- USB: C-Media CM6631A
- SPDIF: AKM 4113
D/A Conversion IC:
- Modi 3: AKM AK4490
- Modi Multibit: Analog Devices AD5547
Analog Summing, Active Filtering:
- Modi 3: Based on OPA1662 with precision thin-film resistors, DC coupled
- Modi Multibit: Based on AD8512 with precision thin-film resistors, DC-coupled with DC servo
- Output: RCA (single-ended)
- Output Impedance: 75 ohms
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz, +/-0.25dB
- Maximum Output: 2.0V RMS
- Modi 3: <0.001%, 20Hz-20KHz, at max output
- Modi Multibit: <0.006%, 20Hz-20KHz, at max output
- Modi 3: <0.001%, CCIR
- Modi Multibit: <0.007%, 20Hz-20KHz, CCIR
- S/N: >104dB, referenced to 1.5VRMS, unweighted
- Crosstalk: -80dB, 20-20kHz
- Modi 3: USB powered with +/-5V switching rail generator; auxiliary USB power input for 0mA USB power draw devices (like phones and tablets)
- Modi Multibit: Included 16VAC wall-wart with 100% linear power supply
- Size: 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”
- Weight: 1 lb
Taking Your Audio Game to the Next Level
With the rise of streaming, gamers everywhere are discovering the importance of having great audio. Whether that’s from watching their favorite streamers rock a pair of DT-990 Pros or realizing that they no longer need a gaming headset once they have a standalone mic, we’re seeing a resurgence in gamers looking outside the world of gaming for their headphones.
It doesn’t take long once you starting googling “great headphones” to stumble across threads from headphone forums recommending different amplifiers. That’s how I discovered my first amplifier, but before I did that deep dive I didn’t even think it was something I needed. Who needs to amplify their headphones in 2019 anyway? Then I picked up a pair of DT-990 Pros, the same ones worn by mega-streamer, Ninja.
Oh. Alright then.
I specifically purchased the 250-ohm version thinking, in the same naivete as many budding audio enthusiasts, that higher impedance must be better. And after all, my gaming motherboard said it could run headphones up to 600 ohms, no problem. Except, well, that was a lie. At 250-ohms, the DT-990s brought my z270 motherboard to its knees. The sound was too quiet and what I could hear sounded distorted and messy. Thankfully, I had an old portable amp from Creative lying around that I’d purchased for its Bluetooth. I plugged it in and it was better. Not loud enough by a long shot, but the distortion was gone.
That was the beginning of my journey with headphone amplifiers. It’s a wide world and, frankly, a pretty difficult one to decipher if you’re shopping for the first time. You can spend a huge amount or a little and get huge sound or a little - on both ends of the spectrum. You can get neutral amps or “colored” amps. Some look incredibly simple and others like they belong in a recording studio.
Here’s one thing I’ve learned in that time. An amplifier isn’t just about volume and even headphones that don’t need one can be improved by one. So, if you’re looking to take your audio game to the next level, investing in a good headphone amp is a great way to do that.
What do they offer?
- Improved volume (of course)
- Improved dynamic range (or the clarity between loud and quiet sounds)
- Customization features (on some models)
- Subtle flavors to the soundscape
- Better bass, mid, and treble response
A good amp is the jump from 720p to 1080p to everything you hear. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what I believe is the best amp/DAC combo you buy for the money.
Introducing the Schiit Audio Magni Headphone Amplifier and Modi Digital-to-Audio Converter (DAC)
It was in searching through those headphone forums that I continually came across one name, Schiit Audio. Yes, it’s pronounced how you think it is. They’ve developed quite a name for themselves, the founders having worked for years in major audio companies and being denizens of major audiophile forums like Head-Fi. Spend any time in an audiophile forum, though, and you’ll quickly notice that audio enthusiasts can be a picky bunch. The repeated recommendations stood out and so I reached out.
To my surprise, the company’s co-founder, Jason Stoddard, emailed me back directly and seemed genuinely excited to share his products with our gaming audience. Schiit, it seems, have noticed the same thing we have: there’s a bigger demand for audio gear in our sector than ever before. As such, he sent over the Magni/Modi combo (colloquially called a “Schiit Stack”), and several other items which we’ll be looking at in future reviews.
The Magni is the headphone amplifier and the Modi is the Digital-to-Analog-Converter. They’re best together but can be used separately if you already have a DAC or amp (or are content with your motherboard’s DAC chip - some high-end gaming boards aren’t bad at all). When connected over USB, the Modi acts as your sound card, handling all of the audio processing before handing the signal over to the Magni to juice it up and send it to your headphones.
This is such an important step and unless you already have a great DAC chip in your PC, the Modi will almost surely be an improvement. Over USB, it’s able to process 24-bit/192kHz audio, which is a marked and noticeable improvement from the traditional 16-bit you’re probably used to (assuming your music file is high quality). It also does this well away from the other components in your PC, eliminating any chance for interference or signal degradation with all of the other electrical noise from your computer. That clean, high-res signal is then passed off to the Magni with a pair of RCA cables.
The Magni, on the other hand, is the smallest powerhouse I’ve ever seen. No really, the Magni is able to send out a massive amount of juice that should be enough to power any set of headphones you could find. How much power you actually need… well, that’s another story. It’s also where things get confusing.
In short, your headphones are rated for a certain impedance which is a measure of electrical resistance rated in ohms. The higher the impedance, the more power your need. This is also directly tied to the sensitivity of the headphones, which we can think of as how the headphones accept that electricity. Your best bet is to pull up the specs on the headphones you’re considering and plugging them into a Headphone Power Calculator which can do the math for you.
Or, you can get the Magni and rest assured that you’ll have enough juice for anything you’d care to throw at it. This amplifier can throw a massive 2000mW at 32 ohms and 230mW at 600 ohms. For $99, that’s an unprecedented amount of power. My DT-990s can are easily driven by the Magni and when used in a stack with the Modi, sound better than I’ve ever heard them.
What Do They Actually Do To The Sound?
My big question going into such a well-respected amp/DAC combo was why: why did so many people love these things? What did they do to the sound that had won so many people over?
The answer, I found, really depended on the headphone but there were few qualities I picked up on after a good week of testing. First off, the Magni/Modi combo was better than my gaming motherboard in terms of sheer dynamic range. Because the Magni had such an easier time driving any headphone I threw at it, I heard much more clarity in both loud and very quiet parts of songs and games. Especially games, where sound files are frequently uncompressed and dying for a good HDR headset (that’s how I think of it, anyway). Second, the sound is smooth. I have a few pairs of headphones that can be quite sharp on the treble. With the Schiit Stack, I was able to roll back the volume from the source and get a much more pleasant signal, though be aware that this amp isn’t going to change the character of the headphones themselves - bass or treble heavy sets will still be bass or treble heavy. I also found that the bass was also tighter and more responsive without becoming overwhelming.
In the pair of weeks I spent testing, I used many different headphones and some benefited far more than others. My DT-990 Pros needed the amp for volume but I was most impressed by how much better the low end sounded, as if the Magni tightened up slack in the film of the driver. My Sennheiser HD6XXs had a similar response but really presented smoother than ever before. Each sounded so much more full.
My Audio-Technica M50Xs didn’t seem to change at all. I didn’t think much of this since they’re a low impedance headphone to begin with but then I tried other low impedance headphones and found that even they sounded much better from the Magni. The biggest difference was my Tripowin 10-driver earbuds that came alive with the extra power - which makes sense with 10 speakers to drive. But the energy, clarity, and separation the extra power elicited was really something. The TIN Audio T2 Pros also gained a good dose of response and separation when used with the Magni/Modi.
In games, this was remarkably nice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it gave me a competitive edge but the wider soundstage and better imaging were definitely nice when adventuring through RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin 2. I also loved that I could crank up the volume and really pick out what direction gunshots were coming from in APEX: Legends.
The Magni/Modi on the Asgard 3 for reference
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about just how well-built each of these items is. Both feature an industrial aesthetic and are made of aluminum and steel. I love the minimalism here and find it rather beautiful. Both products are small, only about five inches wide each, but they have a nice weight to them and every piece feels built to an impeccable standard. Even the knobs and switches feel tuned for the precise “snap” and resistance.
Schiit’s About page describes their products as “overbuilt” using the best materials in the body and electronics, taking things beyond where they need to be for their own standard. They’re also built right here in the United States with the headquarters based in Valencia, California.
The only thing I dislike is that the power brick for the Magni is big. It demands its own outlet or the end of your power strip. Anywhere else on a straight strip will cover at least three outlets.
All of this comes together to make quite an impressive combination. At $99 for the Magni, I’m impressed a the value Schiit has been able to offer here. The sheer power of the amp at that price is excellent but when you add in the superior craftsmanship and smooth audio delivery, it’s easy to see why its earned so many fans. The Modi is another $99, but is another solid upgrade to ensure what you’re feeding the Magni is as good as it can possibly be.
Depending on your headphones, you may not need an amp but you sure will enjoy this one and I think that says it all.
- Outstanding power delivery for the price, enough for virtually any headphone
- Magni/Modi combo is well-priced
- Smooth audio
- Impressively built
- Great for music and games
- Improved most headphones tested (including low impedance headphones that don’t “need” an amp)
- Oversized power adapter