Schiit Audio Ragnarok integrated amplifier Page 2

With the KEF LS50 speakers: Listening to Red Norvo's beautifully recorded Just Friends, with the Bucky Pizzarelli Trio (LP, Stash DST230), not only put me in a carefree mood, it showed me how much I'd underestimated the virtues of the KEF LS50s ($1499.99/pair). Folks, I know I sound like a skipping LP, but you can't hear a speaker without an amp, and a good speaker will sound unsubtly different with every amp you connect it to. The pairing of Ragnarok and LS50s played Norvo & Co.'s light jazz with cheerful, articulate, supersweet abandon. Norvo's vibraphone emitted pulsing spheres of glowing energy. This wasn't a ringing, or a tubey halo—just the singular, full-bodied sound of vibes setting the air in my room into shivering harmonic motion. This super-vivid recording of the 75-year-old Norvo delivered the juiciest euphonic tones I have experienced since my return to audio—a euphony I would not characterize as coloration. Why? Because, in the case of this recording by Norvo, guitarist Pizzarelli, pianist Russ Kassoff, and bassist Jerry Bruno, everything felt just right. The Norse Apocalypse moved the music along, keeping each note steadfast, fresh, and engagingly clear.

Conclusion 1: The Schiit Audio Ragnarok plus KEF LS50s ($1299) is the most enjoyable stereo system I've used in the 21st century.

With the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a speakers: "Play 'Freebird'!" "Freebird"? Forget "Freebird." (Because "there's too many places I've got to see"!) Play Ervin T. Rouse's "Orange Blossom Special"—now that's my idea of a close-the-show stage burner! If it happens to be sung and strummed by Jerry Howarth and Schuyler Snow, with Ralph Jones on mandolin, I promise you won't care if you "do-die-do-die-do-die-do-die"—you'll have already passed over and gone to heaven.

That 1947 version of "Orange Blossom Special" can be found on Bluegrass: Early Cuts 1931–1953 (4 CDs, JSP Records JSP7731A). Played through the Ragnarok and Falcon LS3/5a's ($2195/pair), that scratchy, crunchy, train-sound wonder did the old vestigial audiophile trick: It made my skin bump up. Tone and texture were well-worn Ozark denim. The Ragnarok drove the Falcons like the fastest train on the line. Pace? Rhythm? Timing? Like a locomotive with a boiler full of steam. Wooo-Wooo! With the Ragnarok, I felt hauntingly close to a paintless wood porch, a rocking chair, and some drunk-Deliverance mandolin plucking.

With the Magnepan .7 speakers: I don't want to sound judgmental, but if your expensive stereo is playing some New Orleans R&B—like Frankie Ford's "Sea Cruise," from The Best of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, Volume Two (CD, Rhino R2 75766)—and you're sitting in your soft chair all serious and thoughtful—well, it's a crap system. Box it up and give it to a needy oldster. High fi-del-i-ty is not ever about sound or "accuracy"—it's about feeling. The most important thing a quality stereo can do is let you feel the music. The Schiit combo of Ragnarok and Bifrost DAC ($399) played this entire Big Easy CD with such naturally soulful strut that never once—not even for an instant—did I wish for a 7" 45rpm single.

Hi-fi systems should be admired only for the types of records they play enjoyably. The Schiit played New Orleans R&B and every other genre I tried, without any obvious sonic deficiencies. It drove the Magnepan .7s effortlessly, and with more flat-out boogie-woogie and glittering tone than did the Rogue Audio Sphinx ($1295) or the Simaudio Moon Neo 340i ($4700). Its sound wasn't as refined or transparent as the 340i's, and maybe it couldn't hammer spikes and lay track like the Sphinx—but its midrange tone was more saturated than either. Oo-ee! Oo-ee, Baby!

Conclusion 2: The Schiit Audio Ragnarok and Magnepan .7s ($1400/pair) comprise a stereo of ridiculous quality and the second most enjoyable hi-fi I've used in my patrimonial lean-to.

With balanced headphones: The only headphones for which I had balanced cables were MrSpeakers' Ether open-back planar-magnetics ($1599), and AudioQuest's dynamic-driver, semi-open-back NightHawk ($699). Powered by the Schiit Ragnarok, the Ethers' V-planar pleated diaphragms sounded even more linear and low-distortion than they had with Linear Tube Audio's tubed microZOTL2.0 ($1100) or Simaudio's silicon-state Moon Neo 230HAD ($1500) headphone amps. Remember how I said that the Schiit integrated didn't sound like a tube or a solid-state amp? With the MrSpeakers, the Ragnarok sounded more tube-like than the microZOTL and more controlled and forceful than the Neo 230HAD. In contrast, the Linear and Simaudio amps were both more absent than the Ragnarok. The Ragnarok's sound was clean and clear, but with an assertive, undeniable, and slightly thick presence that made it difficult for me to assess its talents for transparency.

In the past, the MrSpeakers Ethers always sounded more cerebral than corporeal. Not with the Schiit. The combo of Ragnarok and Ethers was equally good with blissful choral reverie and wall-of-death metal moshing.

In balanced mode, the pulp-driver AudioQuest NightHawks delivered the most scrumptious midrange textures imaginable. Faced with the Norse Apocalypse, the NightHawks loosened up and boogied down, playing every song with near-perfect tone and tangible believability. Unfortunately, with the Ragnarok, some of the NightHawks' finer detailing and distant spaces felt like they were immersed in and obscured by a thick morning fog—a fog I barely noticed because banjos, bongos, accordions, and Farfisa organs sounded so ecstatically real!

With single-ended headphones: The headphones I most often use are AKG's oh-so-precise and neutral, open-back, dynamic K812s ($1500). If I were a record producer, these would be my monitors. I love them. They're what I used to align phono cartridges, evaluate recordings, and assess headphone amps. Their overt transparency and aggressive resolving power give a mediocre amp or a mechanical-sounding DAC nowhere to hide. Through the Ragnarok, they were the exact contrary of the slightly dark and thickish AudioQuest NightHawks or the overtly sunny and ethereal MrSpeakers Ethers. Their sound was completely open and rock solid, fresh and transparent—no fog at all! All I heard was big-time boogie-woogie and what seemed low levels of odd-order distortion.

I played Steeleye Span's Below the Salt (LP, Chrysalis CHR 1008) over and over through the Ragnarok with the KEF LS50s (punchy, engaging, highly resolved) and the Magnepan .7s (sweet, big, detailed, open, with extraordinary tone character)—but through the Schiit and the AKG K812s, I felt I was experiencing this old favorite for the first time. The a cappella "Gaudete" gave me chills. The K812s and Ragnarok made a perfect marriage. I fell in love all over again with the songs and artists behind this British folk classic. If you've ever wondered what a vibrant live-mike feed might sound like, try the Ragnarok with the AKG K812s.

With JH Audio IEMs: JH Audio's Siren Roxanne in-ear monitors ($1549), also made in America, are as neutral and professional-sounding as my beloved AKG K812s, but sound considerably more full-bodied in the lower mids and upper bass (their bass level is adjustable). Though not as open or transparent as the K812s, which occasionally sound a little bumped up between 1 and 2kHz, the Roxannes' dynamics, tone balance, and resolution seem almost beyond reproach.

Each earpiece of this Jerry Harvey design contains 12 balanced-armature drivers—four bass, four midrange, four high-frequency—and a three-way crossover. Their impedance is specified as a fairly low 15 ohms. Through the Ragnarok, the Roxannes sounded a bit softer from top to bottom than with the Moon Neo 230HAD. However, the Raggy let the Roxies play melody and rhythm with better bounce and sweeter élan. The Schiit amp and JHA Roxannes generated some of the most satiny instrumental tones I've ever heard through headphones.

Conclusion 3: Even if the Ragnarok were only a headphone amp or only a loudspeaker amp, it would be worth more than $1700.

Overall Conclusions
One of the definitions of shit that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition lists as "usually vulgar" is: "any of several intoxicating or narcotic drugs." Schiit Audio's Ragnarok fits that definition perfectly. Most important, it's the first amplifier of my experience that plays earth and sky, mind and body, brown eyes and blue, speakers and headphones, with equal narcotic intensity. It likes every type of music. It's fully balanced. It's frolicsome. The Raggy is made in California by two exceedingly Ras dudes. It looks expensive and it isn't. And if you buy a Ragnarok, disagree with my assessments, and send it back within 15 days of purchase, put a handwritten note in the box, be rude, use lots of vulgarities, and blame your mistake on me.

Like the classic NAD 3020 of the 1970s, the Ragnarok signals the beginning of a new Renaissance in high end audio. It is the perfect introduction to the joys of quality music reproduction in the home.

Schiit Audio
24900 Anza Drive, Unit A
Valencia, CA 91355
(323) 230-0079

doak's picture

"...if your expensive stereo is playing some New Orleans R&B—like Frankie Ford's "Sea Cruise," from The Best of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, Volume Two (CD, Rhino R2 75766)—and you're sitting in your soft chair all serious and thoughtful—well, it's a crap system."

As we are known & prone to exclaim here in N'awlins,Herb:"Yeah, you right!"

Odin 412's picture

Yeah, you right! No fun = crap system. It sounds like Herb had a good time with the Ragnarok. It's a great amp from a great company. Made in USA too!

fetuso's picture

I recall that Steve Guttenberg reviewed this amp a number of months ago over at cnet. He gave it a very favorable review also, but why do you guys think the lack of a remote is such a positive? I'm old enough to remember not having a remote for the tv and that was no fun. I have a Peachtree nova 125se, and I tell you I'd like it a lot less if it didn't have a remote.

Odin 412's picture

I agree that the lack of a remote is a deal-breaker for the Ragnarok as a speaker amp. For headphone use a remote isn't needed. From what I've heard Schiit is working on other to-be-announced 2-channel components (with remote controls!) so we'll have to wait and see what gets released later this year.

spacehound's picture

"High fi-del-i-ty is not ever about sound or "accuracy""

Fidelity MEANS accuracy. (In our case accuracy to the source, which will usually be a CD, a file, whatever.)

You haven't HEARD the live performance by the same performers at the same location so you can't use that for any comparison you make.

Do you actually THINK "I like it" means "fidelity"?

DH's picture

Sorry, That's a deal breaker for me in this day and age. Use a playlist and you need to adjust volume frequently.

I understand why Schiit didn't include one, but as their "top of the line" product, maybe it could have been an option?

Dr.Kamiya's picture

Is your friend! Replaygain or whatever set to album mode and you can just let the songs roll on and not be surprised by a sudden jump in loudness.

Most players are also now smart enough to switch to 24-bit when volume is adjusted in order not to truncate the bit depth of the song.

tonykaz's picture

That is the Story!

Geez, does Audio Research have a Remote?

I own a few Schiit designs, it's nice gear.

You get a whole lotta "bang for the buck" from these guys!

And they're even "Tube" people.

Schiit is money well spent.

Tony in Michigan

6AM's picture

"Geez, does Audio Research have a Remote?"


bigasherm's picture

I need to be able to mute the stereo if the phone rings, if someone knocks on the door, or if my my spouse wants to talk to me without having walk across the room. There are other integrated amplifiers in that price point that have remotes. The Rouge Sphinx 2 remote now has a mute button which now puts it into the running for me. Lack of a remote is a reason for consumers not to buy a product.

spacehound's picture

Must be terrible to be disabled AND have an impatient wife.

Bertie's picture

Poor comment. Given the choice the overwhelming number of people will choose to have an amp with a remote.

Capt Stormfield's picture

An overwhelming number of people will be happy with a Bose docking station. So...

Bertie's picture

This is a company wanting to sell a product and as it has been illustrated here the lack of remote is reason enough for many people not to spend money on this product. Own goal. Shot their own foot. So there....

audiodoctornj's picture

Shitt does indeed make very nice products, but are hardly the holy grail that you make them out to be, another review in an English magazine liked this amp very much but was hardly blown away by it.

Yes the Rangnarok is an excellent headphone amp, and it is a good amp but there are plenty of others excellent products that are in this same league.

The Rouge Sphinx you compared is a lovely little amplifier, but the Nuprime IDA 8 sounds far more transparent, adds APT X Blue tooth streaming, and a full function remote and costs $295.00 less!

What I find ironic about your review is that you proclaimed this product to be a miracle without comparing it a line of products that are also in many peoples minds, when they talk about sound quality for the money.

I would point to Herb that for not that much more money you can find a great competitor that has a world class Dac built in, is a fantastic headphone amplifier also, and has two matching amplifier pairings plus a full function remote control, if you want to hear what a remarkably transparent, dymanic, package that will shock you with its bass control as well as midrange, you should hear the LS 50 on the Nuprime gear.

We have the LS 50 set up with the DAC 10H headphone amp/dac, $1695 plus the Nuprime STA 9 power amp $649 for a package of $2,344.00 and this combination is remarkably musical, with the Nuprimes very high damping factor you would be amazed at how deep and tuneful the LS 50 sound in the bass with this amplifier.

jon91661's picture

I always get amused at some of the comments I read about someone not liking something that a reviewer loves and says its not all that? I realize that hearing is in the ear of the beholder and all that, but its quite obvious after the first paragraph that this guy is a Nuprime fan? Because he owns it and he made the decision to buy it, BOY, TRY THIS AMP, IT IS WAY BETTER THAN THAT ONE, I DONT UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS GUY IS TALKING ABOUT? I have heard Nuprime, I bought an IDA 8 when they first came out, so did a bunch of friends that I have. Nuprime cant hold a candle to the Schiit products, the IDA 8 to be specific, is a piece of crap. Nuprime having a world class dac? What Dac would that be exactly? I have owned better integrated amps also, FOR WAY MORE MONEY!! Not even a close comparison, I have heard both, and so have all my audiophile friends. There is simply NO comparison with the Ragnarok and the nuprime crap. Take it for what its worth. Nothing, Just my opinion.

neogeo's picture

Kudos to John Atkinson for the measurements on this amplifier! The Ragnarok proved ricky to measure, and I know of no other publication that would go to such great lengths to get meaningful measurements. Nice work!

John Atkinson's picture
neogeo wrote:
Kudos to John Atkinson for the measurements on this amplifier! . . . I know of no other publication that would go to such great lengths to get meaningful measurements. Nice work!

Thank you. But that's 3 days of my life I won't get back :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

audiovision's picture

Seeing you also did the review of Vinnie Rossi's LIO and also appeared to loved that piece, how would you compare them. While I know it's not totally an apples to apples comparison, your thoughts on these two manufacturer-direct products would be great.

Chet Roe's picture

any opinion vs Sterophile's recently well reviewed Parasound Halo? compare/contrast? same magazine same ballpark$ of amp, thanks

Bertie's picture

You can't measure our amplifier the same way you can measure every other amplifier on the planet because, eh, yeah, we got this algorithm see, and it does funny things when it knows it's not music playing.

Effectively, what they are telling us is this amplifier cannot ever be properly tested and measured the way all others are and to trust them that the reason the measurements are so bad is not because it's a poorly designed and poorly working amplifier but because it's got this algorithm.

Seriously, they were surely aware of this before sending it out to you to be tested. The way it seems to have happened is you got some very bad results, contacted Schitt who then came away with this story.

I mean, how did they design and test this amp before manufacturing it? How did they know it was the algorithm making a mess of the tests and not bad design? How did they know it was achieving certain parameters during the design and build stage if you can't test the thing?

helomech's picture

I was surprised when I found this amp rated under Class K in the Fall 2015 edition of Recommended Components. Was there an earlier, less favorable audition of this amp by a different author?

I also agree with others that the lack of a remote is a deal breaker.

helomech's picture

I apologize, this component was listed as Class K in the Spring 2016 Recommended Components, not in the Fall 2015 edition as I stated in my previous post.

Alain89's picture

Hi herb,

Yah i really love on the way how your describing this amp specially used to have the Gungnir MB DAC which was made by the same company. Of course not being biased to Schiit but they do really make good quality products considering value to money, anywaze how is this amp compared in sound vs the parasound integrated, recently im planning to invest on the maggie .7. In your opinion which amp does match well w/ the maggies considering my source as vinyl specifically the vpi scout jr. with ortofon red as cart, I'm more lean towards that rich midtone character, i have a rogue audio pharaoh but im planning to sell due to its recessed mid tone character, maybe because of its class d architecture, so hopefully you can provide insights or info to this amp, which of course again I am considering the .7 and a rich tone mid character sound as my preference, thanks a lot Herb more power to you and strereophile