Schiit Magni 3 Affordable Headphone Amp and Preamp

(Editor's Note: I very happy to place the first of what I hope is many reviews from Tyler Schrank in the pages of InnerFidelity. Though you might remember him from his visit to my home in 2015 for the "Big Sound" event. Known as "Hands" on the headphones enthusiast forums, Tyler has a long history of critical headphone and electronics listening and commentary. He also does quite a bit of headphone modification and measurement on his DIY headphone measurement system. No need to go on and on, if you're a regular reader of superbestaudiofriends.org you already know him, if you're not, well...sit back and enjoy. This guy's got chops.)

I'm going to make a bold statement right out of the gate. Schiit has rewritten the rules for budget headphone amplifiers with the Magni 3. Then again, they've done the same for other product categories multiple times in the past. Whether it be their $2399 Yggdrasil DAC down to the $179 Eitr USB->SPDIF converter, they offer high-performing, value-oriented, and often game-changing gear. So, perhaps that isn't so much a bold claim as it is more the norm for the company.

Schiit Magni 3 ($99)
The Schiit Magni 3 is Schiit's entry level, lowest priced, dedicated headphone amplifier. The standard and Uber options have been consolidated into a single, new amplifier. Only the name and core functionality remain. It offers greater performance through a new, fully discrete, current-feedback gain stage, and a linear power supply. As Jason Stoddard of Schiit put it in the official announcement:

It's an entirely new topology, one that offers considerably higher bandwidth, together with lower distortion and noise, than any other Magni before it. In fact, Magni 3's gain stage is substantially similar to the one used in the $699 Vidar speaker power amplifier.

The listed specifications are impressive. 2W RMS per channel into 32 ohms, low distortion and noise, and low output impedance at both gain settings. The amplifier itself is rather small, measuring 5"x3.5"x1.25" and features Schiit's signature look with the nicer aluminum top from the Magni 2 Uber. Schiit claims it's a "no excuses, do-all" amp, even at $99.

I personally enjoy the look and feel of Schiit's products. They're usually no-frills and have more of an industrial sort of design to them. Their less expensive products often have some rougher elements to them, such as sharper corners on the aluminum top, but this does not bother me. If you, for some reason, come in frequent contact with the casing of your amplifier, you may want to consider this.

Schiit_Magni3_Photo_RearPanel

I also know some have voiced concerns about having power, gain, and other switches on the back of Schiit products. Depending on where you put your amp, this could be a minor inconvenience. Still, the Magni 3 has one switch for power and one switch for gain. It's easy enough to reach back and flip what you need without looking. I have no qualms with this and find it perfectly usable. If you keep your amp turned on in your bedroom, you may find the front LED too bright. Some have recommended light-blocking films to cut down on this.

Another possible downside, depending on your perspective, is that Schiit needed to use a wall wart for the transformer to keep the size of the amp small. You'll be trading desk space for power strip space. But, hey, you can't have everything at this price point, and I believe having everything in a larger, more refined case, would make for a noticeably more expensive amp.

Speaking of wall warts, I did want to mention my experience purchasing the amp from Schiit. Their product page said the amp was on backorder due to a shortage of the transformer wall warts. I ordered nonetheless. To my surprise, they shipped the amp with their "Cthulhu" floor wart, which is $24 by itself, just so customers could get their amps sooner. Talk about great customer service without asking! Plus, the floor wart is great if you don't have immediate room on your power strip or don't want to power multiple of Schiit's smaller devices without using a separate wall wart for each. Very nice!

Anyway, the Magni 3 feels solid and has some minor, but expected, compromises for its low price point. But let's take a listen and see if this truly is a "no excuses, do-all" amp.

COMPANY INFO
Schiit Audio
24900 Anza Drive
Unit A
Valencia, CA 91355
info@schiit.com
(323) 230-0079
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Rthomas's picture

Nice to see Hands on IF. He is super picky and knows his gear. I wonder if I'll live long enough to see the release of a headphone that makes him sell his beloved HD650 :D

veggieboy2001's picture

Great review...as usual. I'm very glad to see other sources tapping your talents.

I hope to read many more!

cspirou's picture

Excellent review although I wish the preamp functionality got some mention. The Magni 2U was the device that showed me that the addition of a preamp can improve the sound considerably and not just impart it's own signature. I'm sure the Magni 3 is similar in this regard.

Before I had a Modi 1 and a chipamp. Modi 1 doesn't have the best grounding so a lot of noise got through. My chipamp has a built in pot and I had it in my head that it was better not to insert an active component in the chain because it could only make things worse. The only reason I started using the pre-outs was because I was getting tired of switching the cables between the M2U and the chipamp. So I was surprised when the noise dropped substantially after the addition of the M2U, as well additional clarity from my amp.

So while I agree that you might be better served looking at Schiit's line of preamps, I feel like if you bought a Magni 2U/3 only for preamp functionality that it would still be well worth the money.

bradleyp's picture

I was just wondering about how the rca outs sound, then I found this post. I imagine a substantial percentage of folks who use the headphone jack will run a pair of monitors or other powered desktop speakers off of the unit, too. That's why Schiit put 'em there. Is the pre-amp functionality an active line stage or passive attenuator?

cspirou's picture

It's active. If it was passive I wouldn't have hesitated so much.

It's basically just the headphone output with 75ohm resistors attached to it.

mnaganov's picture

I've read this sentence and I'm not sure I've understood it: "I remember falling for the Objective 2 amplifier hype several years ago. My world turned upside down the day I A/Bed an amp that measured similarly but sounded better."

Could anyone please provide any links describing this experiment? What was O2 compared to—Magni 3 or something else?

Pokemonn's picture

Toslink > Chord Hugo2 > Stax SRM-727(solid state) modified > Stax SR-009
its one of the lowest distorion headphone system in fact.
but surpringly it sounded dead boring for me. spec war has already over.
also O2 sounded boring for me.

sciencemajor's picture

Boring is good, means it is accurate.

Pokemonn's picture

Music listening is NOT measurements.

Tyler Schrank's picture

Oh, this was years ago. 2012, maybe? I can't recall exactly. There was a ton of O2 hype on Head-Fi and the like around 2011-2012, and I still see it recommended today on sites like Reddit. I picked up a Leckerton UHA-6S Mk2, which also had objectively excellent specifications, did an A/B test, and found the Leckerton to sound noticeably better, more refined, than the O2. I had bought into the assumption that similarly measuring gear should sound the same, and that turned out to just not be the case. I wanted to be purely scientific and got my ass handed to me! Made me feel a bit crazy for a bit, but I accepted it for what it was. (And, I might add, I did quite well in Tyll's A/B amp comparison test, so I think there's really something there.)

Magni 3 I've been compared with amps like the Massdrop CTH, Massdrop ZDT Jr, and my personally modded Eddie Current S7. The Magni 3 is no slouch and arguably more well rounded than any of these amps, which are more specialized for certain headphones.

mnaganov's picture

Thanks for recalling all those details, really appreciate that!

Three Toes of Fury's picture

Howdy @mnaganov.....the history of O2 does have some roots in mystery as i recall..I'll paraphrase here as i dont want to miss quote, but it'll get you enough to google if interested in learning more....there was a person who posted alot in the community as NWAVGUY. He/She was critical of higher end gear and designed or claimed to design the O2 which JDS built and supplied. The idea being that it was as good as or better than alot of much more costly amps and this was further proven by comparisons of amp specs. This situation led alot of folks, myself included to check it out. My experience with it has been good..its a nice sounding amp and even has the option of portabability with two onboard 9vlts...however I prefer the sound quality of the Magni and Magni2 over it.

Peace n Living in Stereo

3ToF

mnaganov's picture

Yes, I'm aware what O2 is, and about its history. In fact, it were NwAvGuy's posts that sparkled me to start learning audio electronics and solder up a couple of headphone amps. At least, NwAvGuy succeeded as an evangelist :)

I was just wondering why you were labeling the rise of O2 as a "hype", and what you were comparing it to. Thanks for all those explanations!

I think, it's not a wonder that with the advances of technology it's now easy to beat O2 both in price and quality, which Magni 3 seems to be demonstrating.

stalepie's picture

Have you ever subjected yourself to blind tests to see if you can tell the difference between volume-matched amps and DACs?

Three Toes of Fury's picture

great idea @stalepie....personal bias is such a difficult thing to remove from the equation...blind testing seems to be the most honest way to reallllly differentiate.

stalepie's picture

To answer my own question, he recounted an experience with blind testing a couple of years ago here in this article...

https://www.innerfidelity.com/content/big-sound-2015-participant-report-...

He says he could tell amps apart with the HD800, but fared worse with the HE1000. ("I didn't ace the HE1000 blind test like I did with the HD800. I did better than 50/50, somewhere around 11 or 12 out of 15 "points," if I'm remembering correctly.")

sciencemajor's picture

so, the placebo affect, obviously.

dogface_jim's picture

I find experiences like this very interesting because it speaks to some inadequacy in how we spec / measure gear. The typical suite of measurements may not encompass all audible phenomena, especially when you consider various nonlinearities and all possible interactions of measurable attributes... but if you can hear it, it should in principle be possible to measure. Good instruments are more sensitive and exact than ears, after all.

Any thoughts on how you could, in theory, quantify what you heard? Do yo think it had to do with distortion, FR, IR, something else?

SonicSavourIF's picture

My experience so far with headphone amps O2, Meyer Audio Corda 3Move, Headphone outs of my Marantz receiver, and Marantz CD Player is, that there is not much difference, exept, that the Marantz receiver delivers more bass (probably due to output impedance) and is not really usable since you can barely turn up the volume (it's the full amp behind the headphone section apparantly. Of course, this could also be the reason for the perceived difference). Both the ODAC/O2 and Corda 3Move give you worry free PC Audio especially with sensitive cans, since you do not have to use noisy output jacks of computers and laptops anymore. But frankly, my HD650 with its 300 Ohm impedance straigt out of a laptop is also not noisy and the sound is fine and loud enough. Same goes for Ipod classic.I don't hear any improvement with a headphone amp. Regardless of volume.

Boy was that a disapointment that all the talk of „you need a headphone amp to up your game/Without a headphone amp you are missing out sooo much./It's a night and day experiene blabla“. I also remember not accepting this and trying to find minuscule difference which I would label „night and day“ convincing myself that there was soo much difference with a dedicated amp. Simply pathetic.

At the here discussed price point at least, I might consider giving headphone amps another try just for fun. Although I fear I already know the answer: Audiophily is more about constantly worrying about your sound quality overlooking, that you already have excellent sound. For sure it is not about enjoying music, but worrying about your equipment instead. At least, that's what got me sucked into it. Luckily, albeit quite late, my scientific mind started kicking back in. Thanks brain, now I can just enjoy music.

Pokemonn's picture

sorry current science really doesn't cut it .
mankind’s understanding of nature is still less than 0.01% of God creation according to some scientists.
and you should remember that understanding of human brain has not archived yet. its 21st century’s homework.
so we still don’t know what is the best sound.

I recommend to read this good old article of Stereophile.
https://www.stereophile.com/features/203/index.html
as Tyll said before, distorion is really yummy!

SonicSavourIF's picture

No, (audio) electronics are pretty well understood. Proof of it are far more complex electronics like computers/signal processing electronics/etc and above all measurment systems that are feasable to day (in different fields of physics). Open questions, like you are vaguely refering to, lie in fields that are way beyond audio, ableit there being enough interesting questions in perception for example.
I'm feeling, that the audiophile world likes to take the inherent remaining uncertainty of any empiric theory and take it as an excuse to believe whatever fits their view. Typically electrical engineers like to joke about audio being „practically DC“ because many physical effects that are frequency dependent are practically irrelevant in the low frequency range that audio is.
Why am I even answering this...

mnaganov's picture

What you are saying is a good point. I think, a lot of "A/B comparisons" that we read about will turn out to be flawed if you get a real scientist to evaluate them. Heck, a lot of scientific studies published in peer reviewed journals later were found out to have flaws in their methods. It's really hard to perform a true unbiased comparison.

SonicSavourIF's picture

that's true, you don't need certainty in a publishable quality to get a grip of things. I can only invite people to try it themselves and be honest to themselves (even if they have spent some money on gear). If you cannot hear much of a difference in an unmatched test, there is no reason why there should be if you go through a tidious level matching process etc. For myself I concluded, that even if a difference exists, it is so minuscule, that it will not affect the pleasure of listening and stopped worrying about it.

Raymund's picture

If you cannot hear much of a difference in an unmatched test, there is no reason why there should be if you go through a tidious level matching process etc. For myself I concluded, that even if a difference exists, it is so minuscule, that it will not affect the pleasure of listening and stopped worrying about it.

I agree with @SonicSavourIF's subjective opinion. If a difference exists in the sound of competently designed headphone amplifiers (e.g. those with no audible noise or hiss with IEMs, like the O2), it is so minuscule, that it will not affect the pleasure of listening to your music.

sciencemajor's picture

A/B means not blind, so a worthless sighted test.

buckchester's picture

I have had the same experience as you. You only need a headphone amp if you can't achieve the volume levels you require. No sound quality difference is in well constructed solid state amps. If you do a blind test and guess right once that's not good enough. You have to be able to reliably tell the difference, otherwise there is no difference or it's too small of a difference to matter. If you want to improve the sound of your headphones you should look to EQ (like Sonarworks) not amps, dacs or gee whiz cables.

stalepie's picture

What concerns me is that these products actually don't sound the same. That means they aren't providing "inner fidelity" or "high fidelity." It means the audio makers view themselves as like a cook putting their own finishing touches, a little extra spice here, a little thickener there, to make it tastier than the competition. A few years go by without measurements being done by third parties to provide a check and you're left wondering if any product is accurate or if they've all gone off in their own directions.

sciencemajor's picture

Placebo Effect.

dogface_jim's picture

I would just say that if you're listening on something like a laptop or a phone, there is no guarantee that the analog components are capable or competently designed. Many of them are fine, but not all.

For example, on my work laptop, any pure bass tone below say 50hz I play through the 3.5mm output gets horribly distorted. I can't pin it down exactly, but it sounds like some frightening combination of extreme crosstalk and soft clipping.

Won't speculate as to the underlying issue, but the laptop will play fairly loud thru IEMs - but not with good quality on anything.

geniekid's picture

I thought the comparison to the Vali 2 was very useful and would have appreciated more comparisons to other existing amps.

"Some amps might have an airier soundstage with greater depth and layering. Some amps might have harder hitting and cleaner sounding bass. Some amps might sound a bit clearer and more detailed overall, more resolving, without adding sibilance, brightness, or other fatiguing traits. And some amps are just generally going to sound more "real" and "tangible."

What are some of these amps?

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