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
Tyler Schrank's picture

If you want all of those things, and I do mean all (cleaner and harder hitting bass, airier and more 3D stage, greater resolution without being fake, more tangible overall, etc.), I'm partial to recommending the TOTL tube + output transformer coupled amps from Eddie Current, with a used, and preferably modded, Super 7 being about the cheapest you can do if you can find one. Even then, given the tube nature, it still might not be what you're looking for if you specifically want a SS sort of sound. And I'm more of a tube guy at the end of the day, so I'm biased. I'm trying to get more SS amps in house for more familiarity.

Now, EC isn't the only place for well-rounded, TOTL amps. ECP puts out some really great SS amps, and they can be pretty pricey. And I haven't been up long, so I'm having a hard time thinking of other options at the moment. :)

Point being, if you want an amp that has all around excellent performance and plays nice with everything, you'll probably end up spending well north of $1K to feel like you handily bested the Magni 3.

Now, amps like the Massdrop ZDT Jr, which I can't fully review specifically due to it not being readily available for purchase all the time, are more resolving and tangible sounding than the M3 (with the right tubes!) BUT suffer with bass quality.

Personally, I'm more partial to the ZDT Jr over the Magni 3, but I know it isn't as well-rounded and has more trade offs. It also works best with dynamic headphones, like the HD650. No so much with planars or really sensitive stuff. To me, and for my needs and tastes, the ZDT Jr is the "better" amp. But trying to recommend more specialized amps as better or worse to the general populace is asking for trouble. Not to mention, the amp seems picky with tubes, and the stock Russian ones are so-so.

And my main point there is you can find amps under $1K that best the Magni 3 in a few areas, but at the expense of other trade offs. Maybe the bass will be looser (i.e. ZDT Jr). Maybe the treble timbre will be rough or steely (i.e. Mjolnir 2 rougher, Jotunheim more steely). Maybe it will only work with one type of headphones. And so on. Plus, you'll get tons of disagreement about more particular amps, whether they're good or bad. Plays more to individual's tastes. I do hope to review more of these "specialized" amps in the future, but what excites me about the M3 is that it's kind of a no-fuss, no-worry amp for $100 and sounds great doing it across the board. Easy to recommend to about anyone.

geniekid's picture

I think the content in your response is very interesting, but I understand due to its context-specific nature why it might belong in a forum/thread post instead of a review article targeting the general populace.

Regardless, I appreciate your response and look forward to reading more stuff from you.

tili's picture

timbre of an amp? yeah...

Three Toes of Fury's picture

1) Welcome: Welcome Tyler!! Outstanding review. Thank you. I very much look forward to more from you going forward.

2) Schiit Talk:

(Ill try to be brief (not easy). The last time i tried to post my experiences with Schiit, on another site, I was berated, made fun of, mocked as a creator of "noise", and touted as an @ss kisser. Regrettably there are some in this community who view positive feedback as a negative. Or "noise" in the signal to noise metaphor. My ONLY interest is to share my experience and knowledge with others to help the community make educated and informed decisions when looking at gear.)

Schiit does outstanding work with their audio gear. I cannot comment on the magni3 as i havent snagged one yet but i have extensive experience with its two predecessors, the modi line, fulla line, and lyr line. For those of you with lots of experience with Amps, DACs, etc, you likely know Schiit and know where you stand. For those of you who are not familiar and havent made the plunge yet...the Magni3 that tyler reviewed is a PERFECT jumping in point. It is reasonably priced, well reviewed, and WILL make a substantial difference in your headphone listening. I run Magni's at work and at home. They are low profile, easy to run, look slick, and sound awesome. Build quality and reliability are top notch. Most of all i believe Schiit delivers some of the highest sound-quality-for-money-paid within the industry.

As far as companies go, Schiit really cares about the audio community. Jason's chapter by chapter postings on headfi give a great glimpse behind the curtain and provide a great education for those looking to learn more. My personal first hand experience with the company has been exceptional.

As for comparisons...ive played with other amps in the Magni price ranges (including the aforementioned O2 and some lower level tube gear) and always come back to Schiit.

Peace .n. Living in Stereo

3ToF

sciencemajor's picture

.

BrooklynNick's picture

How does it compare to the MJOLNIR 2, which costs 8 times more?

Tyler Schrank's picture

The Mjolnir 2...now that's a beast of an amp! The M2 has an insane amount of bass slam and dynamics. Very hard hitting amp. Just very dynamic overall. Plus, it has the benefit of being SE and balanced compatible, and you can roll tubes to tweak the sound.

Some downsides to the M2 is that it can be a bit rough around the edges, sort of dry sounding, and a bit fatiguing in the treble. Not quite as outright bright and hard as the Jotunheim, but more akin to that in the treble. The M2 also has a super wide stage but lacks depth.

The Magni 3 in comparison is less dynamic sounding, has less bass slam, but is still no slouch. Pretty much any headphone will sound lively from the M3. The M3 also has a warmer response overall, with softer, and arguably more natural, sounding treble. Not quite as incisive as the M2. It's not as wide sounding but has a bit better depth. Overall, it's just an easier going amp without sounding laid-back or dull.

So, this is a case where an amp does best the M3 in some areas, namely overall dynamics and bass slam. But it also has some downsides to it that some might not like. The M3 in comparison just seems refined and well behaved even if it is a bit more polite, a bit less clean in the bass, and a bit less detailed.

Hope that helps!

BrooklynNick's picture

It does help. Thank you.

rockofeller's picture

How does this compare to the opamp in the Chord Mojo? I'm driving Focal Utopias!

Tyler Schrank's picture

Haven't heard that one, so can't say for sure. Sorry!

chrolls's picture

First of all, great review!

Second of all, I've almost fallen under the impression that you HAVE to have a dac amp combo, like they're "incomplete" without each other. Does it really make that much of a difference? Thx in advance, I appreciate it!

Tyler Schrank's picture

I'm sure you're aware that DAC differences are going to be relatively minor (save for a couple weird exceptions). Amps are a bit more noticeable, but still tough. Headphones make the biggest difference, by far.

I think it may be wise to at least have an inexpensive but solid DAC that checks off the usual list of good specs, since that may be an improvement piping audio straight out of a PC, for example. And, even then, you might not be able to hear the difference. Sometimes it takes training, and sometimes it just doesn't work out, but that's also not necessarily a bad thing. This hobby brings out the crazy in all of use, and keeping your sanity is a plus.

The Modi is probably a good place to start. If nothing else, the Modi/Magni stack is convenient. But you can find similarly performing DACs around $100 from a variety of companies, used or new. Really a tough question to answer unless you're ready to try out all sorts of stuff, so I recommend just getting something nice but not too pricey for peace of mind.

chrolls's picture

Thx! I don't really get to demo any gear so I'm limited to what I can gather from trusted, well-informed sources. This helps a a lot! Between sbaf and Tyll, I've had my eye on upgrading to the magni from my total bitHead (which Tyll was involved with from his time at Headroom if I'm not mistaken?) for a while as it is to pair with my he4xx. This might just put me over the edge.

Speaking of which, pretty sure I know the answer given how well-rounded you've said this amp is, but I'm assuming this amp plays well with planars?

tony's picture

No.1 )
After all these years, those dam little switches on the back are still a total pain in the ass ( shitter ), I've complained. I have to keep my Amp out where I can reach behind.

No.2 )
The Company Name is an embarrassment. These are Marketing people ??? ( it feels like they're giving everyone else the middle finger )

No.3 )
The LED does need covering with a jeweled Translucent covering and the Main Vol. Knob is too-dam slippery ( I've had to replace mine with a wooden knob).

I'm an Asgard 2 owner and I'm mostly happy with it. ( until I decide which PS Audio System to invest in ).

Performance wise, the Valhalla 2 with Russian Glass ( from Kevin Deal ) transforms into a World Beating little Amp.

Overall, Schiit stuff is made kinda cheap and lite, it holds up ok, it's nothing special. ( especially compared to the British Stuff )

On the other hand;
Schiit Culture, Schiit Guru'dom and the ongoing Saga of the Schiit Owner are vibrant things to claim association with, like going to an Amway Group Meeting.

Schiit needs a Line of accessories like Shirts, Hats, Tote Bags, Pens, Zippo Lighters ( for happy-tobacci ) and all the other misc. ( stuff that Harley Davidson boosts their monthly Sales numbers with ) ! I contributed the Idea of a Black Schiit Shirt with a little power switch screen printed on the back.

Well, somebody is gonna be the cheapest out there, the least expensive thing yielding useful performance, the lowest financial Risk investment, someone has to be the "training wheel" outfit: Stoddard & Moffat chose to be those people. god bless em !

NwAvGuy and his designs pass the test of time, I know of Mastering Engineers that own and use his DAC & Amp.

Tony in Michigan

flathearing's picture

So much superlative codswallop in the above review; indeed a characterisation of SBAF in general. And of course EC had to be mentioned somewhere, SBAF being a jumped up billboard for them.

Want a giggle - have a look at Marveys spidogram detailing the varying degrees of 'plankton' inherent in each piece of Schiit. Don't know what I'm talking about? Good, then head to Audio Science Review or similar for insight into Schiit's engineering chops eleswhere, or lack thereof.

Lest anybody forget or not know, don't forget that lots of these amp shilling types suffer from sensorineural high frequency hearing loss. It's a fact of age, and makes subjective takes all the less worthwhile. Word to the wise...

Tyler Schrank's picture

I'd point out that I'm actually quite young and seem sensitive to upper frequencies. Probably one reason I run NOS DACs.

We all have different tastes, even on SBAF. We hear what we hear and like what we like, and we're open and honest about it. We can be biased too, as is true for anyone. You should see if there are any SBAF folks in your area you could join for a meet sometime! We'd love to have you and try out all our gear together. :)

--------------'s picture

What does plankton sound like?

roscoeiii's picture

Hi Hands,

You mentioned that you'd compared M3 to the Massdrop ZDF Jr and Cavalli Massdrop Hybrid. I saw a comparison to the ZDF above, how does the M3 compare to the Cavalli Hybrid? Thanks for the great review and being so active in this comments section.

Tyler Schrank's picture

The MCTH is more similar to the Vali 2 than the Magni 3. So, you'll get a bit more of that tube air and layered staging, a bloomier low end, and a slightly more tangible sound (very hard to describe in words) relative to the M3. The MCTH is more forward, slightly more aggressive, and and slightly more immediately engaging than the Vali 2, and maybe just a hair so more than the M3 (both of which are a little more laid-back in comparison).

The downside to the MCTH is that it can be a bit rough and fuzzy sounding, albeit a lot of this is due to the new production, stock, Russian tubes. They need a lot of burn in time. You can get smoother sounding tubes, usually NOS, to fix this up. But, even then, the Vali 2 is a bit more laid-back, a bit more neutral, but not quite as dynamic or detailed. The M3 is kind of in the middle of being forward or laid-back, has good dynamics, sounds cleaner than both, doesn't have quite the same sense of air, and yet still retains a natural, pleasant tone.

The MCTH is probably best suited for waking up laid-back headphones. It seems to work well with planars and dynamics. The Vali 2 is better suited for fairly balanced sounding dynamic headphones in my experience. The M3 is just agreeable straight down the line with about anything you plug into it. Still, doesn't mean you can't enjoy the MCTH or Vali 2 more for your own tastes and equipment.

Impulse's picture

Quite a useful comparison this one...

I'm hoping to compare them myself eventually, as I'm in on the CTH drop and I've been eyeing a Magni 3... But this gives me a pretty good idea how suitable they'll be for the different roles I have in mind for em.

My aim is to pair the CTH with PM-3/HD650 for living room use... Whereas the Magni 3 I just want as a cooler running less delicate alternative to my tube amp for gaming, heh. Got an Asgard 2 already that would work but I wanna reclaim some desk space too!

sciencemajor's picture

Well it is always sad to see someone fall for the placebo affect.

Bansaku's picture

Seriously, you keep spamming "placebo effect" yet don't back up your statement. For someone with the moniker "sciencemajor", that's embarrassing, yes?

Numbers on paper are absolutely meaningless without observation to back up the hypothesis. This is the backbone of what makes science what it is; Theory followed by observation, rinse and repeat. So how exactly are these people experiencing a "placebo effect" when in fact, they are practicing their own form of science? They read the data on paper, compare, listen, compare, so on and so forth with each new piece of electronics.

In the world of audio, subtle is often quite apparent. Trust your ears and not some internet smarty pants.

tili's picture

sighted listening has quite apparent effects on what you hear due to confirmation bias. therefore those observations are pointless aside from psychoacoustics. however it is still fun. fun is allowed, fun is the reason we are here. just don’t call it science

xnor's picture

People also swear that watered-down water can cure various diseases. They even have scientific studies that conclude this. Some of them properly controlled DBTs*. Most fail however (and some of them even get published! ;), and it's the same with the more or less scientific audio tests that have been conducted.

So homeopathy doesn't work, it's a scam and even a well known one (just like high end audio) ... and yet people still fool themselves and each other, build "careers" and their whole lives on it.
It's kinda sad.

*) If you wonder why then research the various problems with NHST and challenges in statistical inference.
In case you don't, here's the short answer: we fully expect positive studies even though there is no real effect.

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman

I've said this years ago and I'll say it again: the main cause for _real_ audible differences is differences in FR (in amplifiers due to different output impedance), which is easily measurable.

tili's picture

I wish Schiit products weren’t overpriced in EU compared to US prices

Martin.'s picture

In Norway, the only reseller of Schiit products sells the Magni for 193 USD. That's double the price. But you can get them cheaper used.

Tyler Schrank's picture

I still don't think I'd complain paying $200 for this. It's less of a crazy value, but a value nonetheless. You can do much worse for much more!

cspirou's picture

I was wondering if you can comment how this compares to the Apex Butte? The amp has been featured twice on Innerfidelity, both as commercial product and DIY, and I believe you made one as well. The price point is close too.

Tyler Schrank's picture

I'll have to drag my Butte out and do a direct comparison, but the Butte to me always seemed to be difficult to dial in right with opamps and possible feedback settings. Plus, I got a particular bad pot on my Butte. The Magni 3 seems more "no fuss or worries" in terms of sound for me.

touho's picture

Thanks for the review, it was a nice read.
I'm curious to learn how this would differ from the Arcam rHead that was also reviewed earlier? The heaphones would be HD650. I'm basically trying to figure out which one would be the better fit.

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