Schiit Audio Vali 2+ headphone amplifier

In Schiit's words: "Measurements, schmeasurements! If you want measurements, we got measurements: the Magni Heresy's got you covered. But if you're ready to have some fun with something completely different, Vali 2+ is for you. Enjoy tube sound without tons of noise, play with different tubes without having to get a second mortgage for a matched quad, and see what this whole tube thing is all about!" (footnote 1)

In my words: Triode vacuum tubes (like those in the Vali 2+) are simple glass-and-metal devices that when used as audio-frequency amplifiers give rise naturally to some amount of second harmonic character, which audiophiles (including myself) have generally agreed sounds pleasant. Additionally, my 100 years of critical listening have inclined me to believe that some amount of second (and third) harmonic are actually necessary to assist the brain in constructing a believable, emotionally satisfying simulacrum of the recorded event. I believe, also, that too little harmonic information makes recordings sound gray and mechanical, distancing the listener from their tone and spirit.

For me, the aesthetic difference between listening to recorded music amplified by solid state and by vacuum tube electronics is similar to looking at a digital photo inkjet printed on paper, or backlit on a phone or computer screen. No matter how expensive the photo paper is, no matter how many faux-silver optical brighteners have been applied to its surface, the effective luminosity of an inkjet print can never equal the bulb-enhanced luminosity of the same photo displayed as a transparency, illuminated from behind.

I've seen some luminescent inkjet prints, but mostly in museums. I love the brilliance of dye-destruction prints, but I prefer my own color photos to be displayed backlit in light boxes. Similarly, my taste in audio amplification leans toward the gold standard for brilliance and luminosity, class-A triode tubes.

Fortunately for everybody, the chieftains of Schiit Audio, Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard, have built their maverick audio business by offering audiophiles a wide choice of tube and transistor products, built in California and sold direct in a manner that keeps prices low and returns easy.


This month, I compare Schiit's new tubed Vali 2+ headphone amp, which sells for a mere $149, to the company's very first product, the Asgard solid state headphone amplifier ($249 in 2010, still sold today for an even lower price: $199), and also to Schiit's solid state Jotunheim 2 headphone amp/preamp ($399–$799), which I reviewed in Gramophone Dreams #39.

Son of Odin
The day the Vali 2+ arrived, I happened to be listening to Anoushka Shankar: Live at Carnegie Hall (16/44.1 FLAC Werner Classics/Qobuz) through my best headphones: the $4995 JPS Labs Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC, powered by Ampsandsound's $4950 all-tube Bigger Ben headphone and loudspeaker amp—see Gramophone Dreams #47—sourced by my reference HoloAudio May (Level 3) DAC ($4998). This combination felt like it was showing me an exceedingly complete view into this beautiful live recording.

The Imp of the Perverse was sitting on my shoulder, as he often does, and when he saw me unpacking the tiny Schiit Vali 2+, he began jumping up and down, chattering frantically, "Herbie! Quick! Plug that little tin can in; let's see how it compares to a real headphone amp."

For better or worse, I've fashioned my life on the Imp's advice, so I did what he told me to do. Minutes later, I could hear the audience applauding and Anoushka's voice introducing the first composition of her Carnegie Hall program. I knew what talents Mike and Jason brought to the design, and I assumed the Vali 2+ would drive the Abyss. Likewise, I expected to be impressed with the sound.

But not as impressed as I was. At that moment, listening to that particular recording with that damned Shoulder Imp babbling in my ear, the Vali 2+ was giving me an unreasonably large chunk of the beauty and insight of Ampsandsound's Bigger Ben. Both tube amps played the 47 ohm, 88dB/mW Abyss TCs with ease.

The Schiit Vali 2+ is a tubed hybrid headphone amplifier and preamp in a brushed aluminum box. It costs $149. It has one ECC88/6922 electron tube sticking up through its roof. (A NOS GE/CGE 6BQ7A/6BZ7 tube is supplied.) It measures just 5" × 3.5" × 2.75", has switchable Hi/Low gain, and weighs only a pound.


The Vali 2+ has one pair of single-ended (RCA) inputs, one pair of single-ended line-level outputs, and one ¼" headphone jack. Power output is 1500mW/channel into 32 ohms, 1000mW/channel into 50 ohms, 400mW/channel into 300 ohms, 200mW/channel into 600 ohms. The input impedance is said to be 50k ohms and the output impedance a very low 1.8 ohms. Voltage gain is switchable to either a factor of five (14dB) or one (0dB). The Vali 2+ is supplied with a big wallwart—but it's not what you think it is. It's not the usual switching power supply (like almost every other wallwart); rather, it houses a transformer; the rest of the power supply is inside the amplifier, which adds useful weight. Schiit says the Vali 2+'s linear power supply puts a whopping 60V onto the tube plates.

In the context of Schiit's ever-expanding product line, the Vali 2+ is a piece of a miniature desktop system. Its preamp outputs can supply powered monitors or a power amp for speakers, and, according to Stoddard, "It stacks perfectly with Schiit's Modi DACs or Loki Mini equalizer to create a complete desktop system."

I will be auditioning Schiit's inexpensive headphone amplifier with some very expensive headphones. Some readers might find this off-putting, and it's a reasonable concern. Most people who buy the Vali 2+ will use it with under-$500 headphones: Sennheiser's $200 HD 560S or $399 HD 600, or the $200 Grado SR225e, which brings John Grado's engaging house sound to a large audience. The under-$500 headphone I know best is HiFiMan's $499 Sandara, which my 30-something hipster neighbor says "is utterly rad with Schiit's Jot-2 amplifier."

There are countless other Vali-priced headphones, and I'll be using none of them. No worries, though: The Vali 2+ was not designed to make only cheap headphones sound good. It was designed to make as many headphones as possible sound as good as possible—for just $149.


The directness and intimacy of plainsong and the colorful timbres of ancient instruments inform the Ensemble Gilles Binchois's performance of Messes de Barcelone et d'Apt (24/96 FLAC Evidence/Qobuz). I couldn't tell what type of space these compositions were recorded in, but microphones were placed rather close to the singers, making chapel tone and reverberation seem like add-on effects. Nevertheless, the recorded sound is clear as air and beautiful.

Footnote 1: See
Schiit Audio
22508 Market St.
Newhall, CA 91321
(323) 230-0079

thatguy's picture

It seems like using it as a preamp could be fun. I'd love to hear some impressions of that.

thethanimal's picture

My mother-in-law gifted me a subscription to that other audio mag after my wife suggested it for Christmas. After reading their latest issue last night, coming across your article this morning was like a breath of cool morning air — right in line with our unusually frosty morning in Atlanta. I look forward to each of your articles for the excellent prose, artistic references, and eclectic music. My Tidal library is getting hard to manage these days after adding so many of the recordings you’ve referenced!

Which brings me to a recommendation: Areni Agbabian’s album “Bloom” on ECM (Tidal MQA). Gorgeously atmospheric vocals and piano from this Armenian American woman, with Nicolas Stocker on various hand drums, chimes, bells, gongs, etc. Air, space, reverb tails, timbre, tactile drum skins, nuance, and emotion for days. Seems right up your ally.

Herb Reichert's picture

I am glad to be some 'cool morning air' and I am grateful for your time spent reading.

And thank you forever for the album recommendation.

I am listening to Areni Agbabian’s “Bloom” right now, and you definitely nailed my taste. It is a beautiful recording that is seducing me completely. Look for it in one of my next stories.

Got another album tip?

peace and tulips,


thethanimal's picture

I can’t claim any special credit for finding that album. I’ve added several albums from the ECM label over the last few years thanks to you and other Stereophile recommendations, and then I found a Tidal-curated playlist titled “Label Focus: ECM - Tidal Masters.” I hit play and the first track from Bloom — “Patience” — graced my ears a few minutes later. I’d recommend the whole playlist.

For other album recommendations I’ll start with something completely different: Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” Not the best sonics, but as a cultural landmark and an eye-opening view of a life so different from mine as a upper-middle class white guy I consider it required listening. It won a Pulitzer for a reason.

Beyond that, Sturgill Simpson’s “Cuttin’ Grass - Vol. 1” and The Avett Brothers’ “Emotionalism” for newer (and perhaps pop-ier) bluegrass or Americana. But don’t miss Avett Brothers’ “Murder in the City” off “The Second Gleam” album. Any of the versions of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” or “Eight Lines” (all on ECM I think) to close your eyes and take a hallucinatory trip through your subconscious. For contemporary choral work, I love Eric Whitacre, with my favorite album being “Cloudburst” performed by Polyphony led by Stephen Layton, but it’s not on Tidal. He might be more mainstream than Erik Esenvalds’ works (thanks again to Stereophile and John Atkinson for the albums with Portland State Choir!) but I hear similarities in their work.

I may have to find one of those Japanese input tubes you mentioned for my Decware SE84UFO. I have NOS rectifiers — an RCA from the 1950s and a military surplus (JAN) that might have been made by Sylvania in the 1960s — but I didn’t get those until the stock rectifier blew on me so never got an A/B comparison.

thethanimal's picture

The Atlanta sun scorched my potted tulips, but the baptisias and coreopsis are in full glory, with the rudbeckias coming soon. Cardinals and finches and nuthatches battle for the sunflower seeds at the feeder. Thank God for spring!


Jack L's picture


Potted Tulips should NOT be put under direct sunshine.

Last month I got 2 potted Tulips (still bulbing), one red & one yellow, from Home Depot. I put them indoor with mild sunhshine thru the patio door vertical blinds. Now booming with beautiful large flowers !!!

Every spring/summer, I spend soo many hours outdoor gardening. I dare say I am a lawn turf repair 'expert' using seeds & black soils. NO no need costly sod.

Jack L

Herb Reichert's picture

are not as exotic as yours and my poor knowledge of flower names is comedic. But we must share a lot of interests as my writing desk sits arm's length from a window that looks over my plot in a community garden which currently features hoards of exploding tulips. When they pass, the Zinnenias and honeysuckle take over. (I bet you got mad good honeysuckle!) Also, right at my writing window are several bird feeders that mostly service sparrows and doves but sometimes I get 'visitations' from mocking birds, woodpeckers, blue jays, robins, and starlings - which are always exciting. Yesterday, a GIANT crow appeared on the ground in the garden. I had not seen a crow in years and this one was the size of a small dog!!!

And then, and then, me and my brother Jeffrey Jackson (The Salt Cellar horns) are also into Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” Thank you again, I will check out your other recommendations.

peace and verdant gardens,


thethanimal's picture

Indeed. Gardening has become a passion and I’m playing catch-up on bird identification.

I remember reading the reference to Lamar in your Salt Cellar horn article and wondered if it was DAMN. I’m loving my SET amp and full-range drivers, but ever since reading that article I’ve been longing to experience some horns like that system, or WE 15a’s, or even an Altec VOTT A-7. I’d like to hear some Devore Orangutans too, but there isn’t a dealer in Atlanta. Not that I could afford any of that, though. I did listen to a ~$50k KEF Blade rig at Hifi Buys (which is a great store with some great guys) but I liked my system better. My crossover-less SET rig has an immediacy that $50k can’t buy, it seems.

Jack L's picture


I wish gardening is a "passion" for me as well like my vinyl music.

It is now my job instead due to my fully-fenced backyard is converted to somewhat like Saint-Saens' "The Carnival of the Animals" in spring/summer.

Besides birds, intruders coming from nowhere include squirrels, rabbits, wild cats, & raccoons etc. These animals manage to squeeze through gaps between the wooden fence boards to enjoy the sunshine on the lawn.

My most hated is the rabbits, some big like a medium raccoon, eat away the lawn turf. So I got to patch it up.

So besides a lawn guy, I've become a fence mender as well, No choice !

Just last week, I spotted a huge dirty grey raccoon, sized like a small pig, walked across my lawn. It may look bulky & clumsy, but its long sharp claws can climb it up to any house rooftop. No kidding. By the law here, we have to leave these animals alone.

Jack L

Jack L's picture


Yes, tube SET is my passion like vinyl music.

For years, I've been playing vinyl & digital music with my design/built
SET. It's a very simple 2-stage all-triode class A SET power amp 5W+5W.

I'm now building a larger 2-stage 10W+10W SET power amp using the same zero-global/LOCAL-feedback class-A grounded cathode topology & triodes of the same models. For best sounding, IMO. Let's see.

Yes, "full-range drivers" are excellent sounding to those music lovers not too fancy for hi-low frequency extremes.

For for yours truly, I want to enjoy full range music with glass-shattering high pitch of soprano singing as well as floor shaking cathedral pipe organs deep bass music.

"Full-range drivers" can't deliver it. This is physics.

To achieve such frequency extremes, I've added a pair of Motorola direct radiating piezo (no-horn) tweeters (up to 40KHZ) to my fully-upgraded KEF 2-way bi-wired standspeakers. For deep bass, added 3 powered subwoofers (L, R & L+R) hooked direct to my design/built all-triode tube phono-linestage. It works like a chime, IMO.

For good music, don't bank on luck. Nothing comes easy.

Jack L

My Fi's picture

Any tips on where one can pick up an Electric Industry Co. Ltd. 7DJ8 that served as the capstone to this excellent review? Thanks!

Currawong's picture

...then these little amps do remarkably well. The key thing is that they run out of power much faster than the larger Asgard and Jotunheim.