I have fond memories of the original Aragon 4004 power amplifier from my days when I worked as a high-end audio salesman. That was in the late 1980s and the big 200 watt amp sold for a lot less money than the reigning high-end amps of the period. The distinctive styling, with a "V" cutout in the 4004's chassis, made it stand out from rows of lookalike designs at the store. While the Aragon amps sold for a couple of thousand dollars, they were more affordable than most high-end amps. A few years after the 4004 arrived … Read more
High-end audio can be a rather expensive hobby, but every now and then I stumble across something really amazing that's priced for the real world. The Schiit Audio Asgard headphone amplifier looks and sounds like an overpriced high-end audio component, but it sells for $249!
How good is it? Much better sounding than run-of-the-mill headphone amplifiers, the sort designed around inexpensive integrated circuits found in home theater and stereo receivers. The Asgard is a no-holds-barred Class A, single-ended, zero-feedback design. Pardon the audiophile jargon; let's just say the Asgard is built like a serious piece of high-end gear.
Look inside and you see individual resistors, capacitors, transistors, etc, configured in a proprietary design by Schiit Audio's founders, Jason Stoddard, formerly of Sumo, and Mike Moffat, formerly of Theta Digital (two pioneering American high-end audio companies). The Asgard's chassis, circuitboard, and power transformer are all sourced from American suppliers, and the amp is built in Newhall, Calif. Oh, and Stoddard, his wife, or Moffat actually listens to each and every Asgard before it leaves the premises.
The Asgard's clean lines and elegant proportions strike me as distinctive, I love the look. The brushed, all-metal chassis' fit and finish are excellent, easily on par with high-end electronics that sell for four times the Asgard's price. That's no exaggeration, it's really nicely put together. I mostly listened to the Asgard with my Ayre C-5xe SACD/DVD-Audio player, but you could hook it up to any stereo analog connection.
The amp is fairly compact, and can be placed horizontally or vertically. The chassis measures 9 by 6.75 by 2.25 inches, and it weighs 4 pounds. Accessories include a 3.5 mm to 6.3 mm headphone plug adapter, and a high-quality 3.5mm to male RCA cable adapter.
The amp's high-current design makes it suitable for use with all sorts of headphones, rated from 8 to 600 ohms, and it worked perfectly with my favorite Grado, Hifiman, Phiaton, and Sennheiser headphones. A lot of companies toss around phrases like "high-current design," but judging by the amount of heat the Asgard generates, I believe the claim.
It runs very warm to the touch, and even so, Jason Stoddard told me the Asgard was built to have a 20-year lifespan, or at least 5 years if left on continuously. How many $249 consumer electronics products can you buy with that sort of life expectancy?… Read more
Subwoofers make bass, that's easy. But really high-quality affordable subwoofers are surprisingly rare. The big problem facing subwoofer designers is the pressure to make really small subwoofers. That's not to say small subs can't make bass, they boom and thunder all right, but the sound tends to veer to the muddy side of accurate. That can sound acceptable for home theater duty, where nuance and subtlety aren't always big priorities.
So sure, a 1-foot cube sub can get the job done for a home theater, but can it define the sound of a 1962 Fender Precision Bass? Can it play music and let you really hear what's going on in the bass? No way! For that you need something a bit more substantial: a large subwoofer. Big subs also make their presence known in home theaters, where their sound has the gravitas no minisub can match. Oh, but most large, high-performance subs come with heavyweight price tags.
That's why I'm jazzed about the $799 Epik Empire; this bad boy boasts two 15-inch woofers; a Class D 600-watt (1,500 peak watt) power amplifier; in a 22-inch-high, 18-inch-wide and 24-inch-deep cabinet. The Empire's 120-pound weight might be a not so subtle indication that it's solidly built.
I briefly spoke with Epik's founder and chief designer, Chad Kuypers, Thursday. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy, and he told me he's working on some really cool larger and slightly smaller subs, but for now he's just offering one model, the Empire. Epik Subwoofers is located just north of Chicago, Illinois, where they build the subs, including fabricating the precision CNC machined cabinets in-house.… Read more