Our blind A/B testing series at Schiit Audio’s event space in Newhall continues with a Magni 3+ vs Heresy shootout. The newest $99 headphone amplifier update from the LA-based company comes in two flavors and two colorways.
Magni 3+ vs Heresy – Why two of the same?
$99 headphone amplifiers from Schiit are a very popular item and much conversation swirls about them. Audio measurements are one of the ways enthusiasts online like to evaluate items that they don’t opportunity to hear in person. But often the measurements provided don’t tell the whole story. In the case here we find two similar products in a head-to-head blind listening exchange, one built as “an affordable all-discrete current-feedback headphone amp” and the other an “all-op-amp based headphone amp” with “insanely good measurements”. Do better measurements equal better sound? The Magni 3+ demonstrates a continuation of the thought process in the Magni line, while Heresy takes a sharp left turn in step with the preferences of a measurements-intensive value set. With both amplifiers priced evenly at $99, it’s easy to see why stirring the pot with affordable options is really a win for everyone paying attention to the musings of this small corner the internet world.
Three stations were created in the headphone space at the company’s retail building in downtown Newhall dubbed the SchiitR. Each station was connected to a different headphone (in order from left to right): the Sennheiser HD 6XX ($200), the HiFiMAN HE 400i ($300), and the Dan Clark Audio Ether 2 ($2k). Hidden from view, a Modi 3 DAC fed by a MacBook Air equipped with Roon allowed for easy track selection via a iPad available at each station. A ONE Little Bear by Douk Audio MC 103-Pro switcher box was used to rotate between three selections labeled X, Y, and Z. On the other side was a Schiit Magni 3+, Magni Heresy or Vali 2 tube hybrid ($150) assigned in random order from station to station. Level matching was employed using an Avermetrics device at 1kHz within +/- 0.025 dB. Everything aside from the headphones and switching box was covered by a black cloth and not revealed until everyone had listened and recorded their feedback. The overall turnout for the meet was the largest on record. Interest for this type of comparison is very high and the blind A/B/C here really allows for a fun gathering of audiophile-oriented minds.
Starting out on the leftmost station equipped with the HD 6XX, the overall sound was very pleasurable and very HD 650-ish (in very good form). Credit must be given to the MC103-Pro switching box, the transition from X to Y to Z was shockingly smooth, with no real break in the sound or even a tiny click or pop to be detected. With that in mind, on the HD 6XX station barely any change could be discerned between the three choices. I quickly found that my impressions from the first station were to be heartily reinforced by others reactions. Given the noise level in the room and the open back nature of the headphone, it is possible that more deviation was just out of reach but if it was, it was very small. Moving to the Dan Clark Audio Ether 2 (formally MrSpeakers) the delta was much greater. To that end, it even appeared that a slight EQ change was happening on Z (which turned out to be the Vali 2). The remaining two options were more similar to each other than the Vali, but in the end the Heresy (X at this station) just edged out the Magni 3+ due to a bit more liveliness overall. Two others in the critical listening group that were polled after their turn featured a progression of Heresy, 3+, then Vali 2 but there was some overall back and forth between the two Magnis as to who was “best”.
Unfortunately, while the testing stations and user experience was fantastically seamless, there were a few bumps in the data collection part of the event this time around that led to a slight snafu in the aggregate totals. Further probing and follow up with the group that hung around afterwards did reveal several common themes that correlate with things we’ve seen pop up at other blind A/B events.
1 – Personal acoustics tastes almost always comes into play when deciding an individual “winner”, but appears to negatively impact consensus across large groups.
2 – Individuals will often hear similar differences between options, but it is not a sure fire way to predict preference.
3 – Preference with even remotely close sound signatures is unusually even between selections in these scenarios.
For those willing to jump on the bandwagon that better measurements = consistently better sound consider this: while the Heresy was the choice for at least 3 individuals for the Ether 2, it didn’t appear once as the #1 choice for the HiFiMAN HE400i. Again, no consistent winners – just diverse preference.
There IS A Catch
Even with all this talk of preference and a mysteriously absent silver bullet, there is one monkey wrench still to throw in the works. The input impedance of the 6XX is rated at 300 ohms, while the DCA Ether 2 is a mere 16. So what’s the impact to this X/Y/Z? One might say with some certainty (in this product collection at least) that higher impedance reduces the impact of the the amplifier, and that impact on the Ether 2 might not be merely a result from a more transparent headphone to source, but rather a reaction of the changes in impedance from amp to amp. This could also possibly explain the frequency augmentation for the Vali whose impedance is 1.2 ohms in low gain and 5.8 in high gain. The 3+ and the Heresy are .02 and .025 ohms, respectively. Takeaway: the 300 ohm Sennheiser HD 6XX might be subtly equipped stretch your budget even further, as cheaper amps might perform with it just as well as pricer ones. I would recommend an amp for the 600 series either way, a little more power never hurt when it comes to higher impedances.
Lastly, the collective output in our Magni 3+ vs Heresy debate here suggests that there is some credence to “synergy” between amp and headphone. Whether that is merely a function of the aforementioned specs or tuning to taste is still up for debate. But clearly the impact show at this event portrays a scene that is more intricate than a simple wire with gain.
Even with this experience behind me I would likely have to sit down with both amps with my headphones in my normal listening environment before I could designate any clear favorite for my needs. But put on the spot for an immediate decision I could live with Heresy – it’s the only one finished in black.