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Schiit Audio Valhalla 2 Tube Amplifier Review

By Christopher Coke on December 24, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | 0

So you've decided that you'd like to pick up a headphone amplifier. Like many things in the world of audio, deciding which to buy can be a rabbit hole of different designs, types, and price points. We've looked at quite a few amps and DACs here at MMORPG to help clear up those muddy waters and today we're back again with an incredibly interesting option from Schiit Audio: the Valhalla 2 Tube Amplifier. It's simultaneously classic yet distinctly modern and sounds amazing. Let's dig in.

 

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20Khz, -0.1db, 7Hz-200KHz, -3dB
  • Maximum Power, 300 ohms: 300mW RMS per channel at less than 10% THD
  • Maximum Power, 600 ohms: 340mW RMS per channel at less than 10% THD
  • THD: < 0.02%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 1V RMS, low gain, 600 ohms
  • IMD: < 0.03%, CCIF at 1V RMS low gain, 600 ohms
  • SNR: > 98db, unweighted, referenced to 1V RMS, low gain
  • Crosstalk: < -71dB, 20 Hz-20KHz
  • Output Impedance:  14 ohms (hi gain), 3.5 ohms (lo gain)
  • Input Impedance: 100K ohms
  • Gain: 7 (16.9db) or 1.5 (3.5 db), via rear switch
  • Topology: All-triode, noninverting, single voltage gain stage, current source biased front end and optimized WCF output stage, DC-coupled input
  • Tube Complement: 6N1P dual triode input, 6N6P dual triode output, 1 each per channel. 6N1Ps rollable to 6DJ8, E88CC, 6922, 6BZ7, and similar types.
  • Power Supply:  Two internal power transformers with over 2,000uF of filter capacitance
  • Power Consumption: 40W
  • Size: 9 x 6 x 3.25"
  • Weight: 7 lbs

The Valhalla 2 is a beautiful piece of technology. It keeps confidence with Schiit's minimalist design language, which I've always found to look very modern thanks to the brushed metal exteriors. The Valhalla 2 isn't a solid-state amp like the Asgard 3, however, so along the top we now have four glass tubes to add a healthy dose of "vintage" to the otherwise modern look. When you're talking about audio gear, how it looks only matters so much, but I adored how the Valhalla looked on my desk. It's just so unique compared to everything else associated with modern computers.

As a tube amp, the Valhalla 2 is actually quite different from many of the amplifiers on the market today. While it accomplishes the same core purpose of any headphone amp, to provide additional power and headroom to your headphones, tube amplifiers accomplish this a bit differently than solid-state options and have their own unique set of characteristics that may or not make them a better fit for your unique situation.

Tube amps, speaking broadly, are known for applying additional character to what you're listening to. In fact, this can sometimes be because of minuscule amounts of distortion introduced by the tube itself, but is more typically part of an inherent tonal shift inherent to that tube. Some tubes may offer a warmer, more bass-rich sound. Others might make music sound more energetic thanks to enhanced or altered dynamics. Regardless of your preference, the ability to change the tubes at any time and play with your sound is one of the most appealing aspects of it. It's a bit like being able to change the switches in your mechanical keyboard: variety is the spice of life.

But let's talk about color for a moment because, remarkably, that's not what the Valhalla 2 is after. In fact, Schiit's product page advises users that they're "in for a shock" if they go in expecting the saturated sound of tube amps of years past. Instead, the Valhalla 2 is about neutrality, dynamics, and being completely unfatiguing. If you're not already invested in the audio world, what that ultimately means is that the Valhalla 2 wants to step out of the way and let you hear what the artist of game dev intended, but in a way that feels alive with realistic energy and for as long as you care to listen.

One of the ways that the Valhalla excels is its clarity in dynamics. This isn't an amp that loses detail because a scene is quiet or struggles with sudden jumps in volume. There's also a poignancy to notes and audio cues that really feels active; less like you're listening to a recorded track and more like a live performance.

This is also true for games - especially true, even. Playing Battlefield V in an intense battle is immersive. The dynamics add a layer of realism between the quieter sounds of reloading and bullet shells cascading to the ground and the lightning crack of your squadmate's rifle unleashing by your ear.

The Valhalla 2 also does wonders with soundstage. I'm no electrical engineer to understand exactly how these things come together, but side by side with Schiit's solid-state Asgard 3, the Valhalla 2 definitely sounds wider to my ear. Playing a newbie in tromping through the wilds of Elywynn Forest in World of Warcraft, I loved how evocative the soundtrack was through the Valhalla, how it would fade and rise and blend with the immersive audio of the rest of the soundscape.

At the same time, there's fun to be had in trying out different tubes or "rolling tubes" as audiophiles refer to it. I haven't done this yet but I have with my guitar amplifier, so I know what it's about. I liken it to exploring different headphones. Subtle differences, subtle flavors that allow you to experience sound in a new light.

The other element here is the headphones you're using. Your audio is all part of a chain and each piece plays its role in your overall experience. For the majority of my testing, I used the Beyerdynamic x Massdrop 177X GO headphones (low, 32-ohm impedance). I also tested it with my 300-ohm HD-6XXs. In between, I spent some time using it with the TIN HiFi P1 Planar Magnetic IEMs, which are only 20-ohms. Thanks to high and low gain stages, the Valhalla 2 is able to accommodate many different types of headphones. I think I appreciated it most with my high impedance cans the most; I never found the Valhalla harsh with any headphone but those cans felt ever-so-slightly softer like I could listen to them all day. I was genuinely surprised to find that it worked so well on such low impedance headphones too.

Its ability to scale is really one of the best parts of it. Without becoming too technical, it's able to output 340mW into 600 ohms, which is enough to push even the highest impedance headphones to painful levels. That level of headroom allows you to keep the volume level lower while still getting the benefits of that added juice, like added clarity and crystallization I've past likened to a sail that catches wind. It also means that it can be quite the capable pre-amp if you'd like to use it to drive powered speakers.

But, there are some considerations to keep in mind too. While I definitely prefer the tube design, it requires more maintenance over time. Tubes don't last forever and need to be replaced every 5000 hours of listening or so. You also pay a premium for the tube amp design, exactly like you would with a guitar amplifier. Even at $349, the Valhalla 2 is a tube amp only without a DAC built in, so you'll need to buy that separately or use the one that ships with your device. Space is also a consideration because you don't want anything touching the tubes when they're in use. They get hot.

None of these are deal-breakers and come with the territory of tube amplifiers. Compared to others with similar capabilities, the Valhalla 2 is actually rather modestly priced. Still, if you're not already sold on going tube, there are solid-state options, like the Asgard 3, that are simply phenomenal and will save a little maintenance and money that you could invest in other parts of your setup. But, they're not tubes.

Final Thoughts

The Valhalla 2 from Schiit Audio is an excellent amplifier. I loved how easily it scaled for any set of headphones I threw at it and what it accomplished for soundstage and de-fatiguing my P1s. I'm also genuinely excited to try out different tubes when this first set comes up for replacement. At $349, we're firmly into enthusiast territory and this caliber of device will easily be overkill for most gamers and music lovers. If you're considering a tube amp, though, or even looking at upgrading your current amp, there's a good chance the Valhalla 2 is going to have a lot to offer you. It's nothing short of impressive in every way I can consider.

Pros

  • Very well-built: full metal exterior, made in CA
  • Outstanding style, I love the aesthetic
  • Very scalable: dual gain stages allow it to work with low or high impedance headphones
  • Modular tube design
  • Expands soundstage, decreases fatigue

Cons

  • Requires more maintenance than a solid-state amp
  • Tubes become very hot

Considerations

  • Carries quite a premium over a solid-state amp but is in line with others of its type, if a bit cheaper for what's on offer

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purpose of review.

 


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight