Gramophone Dreams #38: HEDD HEDDphones, Schiit Jotunheim amplifier Page 2

The HEDDphone's rectangular AMT drivers are installed into a conventional-looking but very solidly built (718gm!), circumaural, open-back headset with thick, tight-fitting ear cups that cupped my ears with greater bulk and pressure than I have previously experienced with headphones.

But that is okay. Form must follow function.

At 42 ohms and 87dB/mW, the HEDDphone is easier to drive than the 83.5dB/mW HiFiMan HE6se and about the same difficulty as the 47 ohm, 88dB/mW Abyss AB-1266 TCs, which means it still requires extra gain and current to sound its best.

720gdr.hedd2

I started my auditions using the Jotunheim, which Schiit claims will, if necessary, put a whopping 3Wpc into the HEDDphone's 42 ohm load.

Besides my obsession with that Dylan track, "Murder Most Foul," I have fallen lately into the art of London/Manchester-based composer, performance artist, and saxophonist Angus Fairbairn, aka Alabaster dePlume. I have listened to all the dePlume albums on Qobuz and Tidal, and my current favorite is To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals, Vol.1 (24/44.1 FLAC, International Anthem Recording Company/Qobuz).

720gdr.hedd3

Listening to one of the warmest, friendliest tracks, the strangely sunny but off-kilter "Whisky Story Time," the Jotunheim driving the HEDDphones showed me that the HEDDphone was making music sound unusually solid. The saxophone and piano on "Visit Croatia" were dense and present in a way that makes music easy to engage with. And there was this unusual transparency that reminded me of the Abyss planar-magnetics in its quality and in its feel, but not its quantity. The entire Alabaster dePlume album seemed slightly closed-in and dynamically compressed.

I thought, despite its great power, the Schiit amp was not showing the HEDDphones at their full potential.

Curiosity roused, I tried the Jotunheim with a much-easier-to-drive headphone: the $1490, 104dB/mW, 55 ohm Focal Clear open-backs. Surprisingly, the aluminum-magnesium dome drivers in the Clear played this same recording with less weight and density than the AMT HEDD but with a greater, more-expansive sense of energized space. With the Clear, subtle microdynamics that were not there at all with HEDDphone revealed the breathiness of vibrating air going into and out of Angus Fairbairn's saxophone. The Focals made full-spectrum tone color, haloed by a sunny brilliance. The Clears loved the Jot. The HEDDphones delivered a more limited palette and a darker perspective. The radiant, open sound of the Clear made the open-back HEDDs seem closed-in and gray. I was surprised.

This closed-in un-dynamicness did not correlate with my February auditions of the HEDDphone at CanJam NYC 2020.

Confused by the sound I was getting from the HEDDs, but still needing to get a better handle on the character of the Jotunheim, I switched to one of my long-term reference headphones, Audeze's LCD-X ($1699). I used to think the LCD-Xs were heavy and high-pressure on my head (they weigh 600gm), but now, after weeks using the HEDDs, they seemed light and loose. The LCD-Xs seemed light and loose sonically as well—and with the Jot, faster than the HEDDphones at reproducing the picked strings of a cimbalom (a dulcimerlike instrument) at the beginning of the traditional "We Shall Be Happy" off Ry Cooder's Jazz (24/44.1 FLAC, Rhino-Werner/Qobuz). With the LCD-Xs, the tuba and bass trombone octaves (35Hz–150Hz) seemed more present and detailed than they did with the HEDDs. Overall, the Audeze with the Jotunheim gave reproduced music more life and brilliance than the HEDD Audio HEDDphone did.

Time to change amps.

And voilà! The HEDDphones opened up and marched in better time when powered by the $3500 Pass Labs HPA-1 headphone amp. The HEDDs got lively. Transparency and spatiality improved dramatically. With the Jotunheim, the HEDDs made rather one-note bass. With the HPA-1, bass not only got tighter, it became nuanced! Now the tuba on the Jazz album was stealing the show again. Driven by the HPA-1, the HEDDphones achieved an extraordinary level of transparency.

Then lo dang and behold! I have no good technical explanation for this, but the whole Ry Cooder Jazz album (and a dozen others) came alive and sparkled with fresh sunny life when I drove the made-in-Germany HEDDphones with the $2599, built-in-Poland Feliks Euforia Mk.II OTL tube headphone amplifier.

720gdr.felix

So much for solid-state making better bass. Bass went lower, felt the most powerful, and showed more detail. Instrumental dynamics went from restrained (with the Jot) to very good (with the HPA-1) to joyfully unfettered (with the Euforia). But why?

One of my DIY friends told me his experiments showed that sometimes a highish amplifier output impedance can reduce speaker intermodulation distortion. I wondered.

According to Feliks Audio, the Euforia generates only 0.13 watts into 32 ohms and has a high (20 ohms) output impedance for driving the 42 ohm HEDDphones. If I didn't try this amp, I would never have known how ridiculously exciting these HEDDphones could sound. Playing Alabaster dePlume, the Euforia made the HEDDs sound effervescent, with a brightly lit transparency. With the Feliks driving the HEDDs, Dylan's "Murder Most Foul" went from low-contrast black-and-white to Technicolor and Cinemascope. The balance of vocals and instruments seemed just right in a way that illuminated and separated each instrument, making the narrative more engaging. With the Feliks, the HEDDs went from not very spacious to extremely spacious.

The beauty of this combination worked both ways: The Feliks amp brought out the excellence of the HEDDphones, which made me think even more highly of the Feliks Audio Euforia Mark II.

Jotunheim R
I was big-grin happy when I heard that Schiit audio was making a dedicated "Jotunheim R" amplifier for my personal nomination as Stereophile's 2019 product of the year: the RAAL-requisite SR1a pure-ribbon headphones. It pleased me that Jason Stoddard also appreciated the quality and importance of the RAAL's invention (footnote 3).

720gdr.raal1

To the best of my knowledge, the $3500 RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones employ the world's first-and-only full-range, pure-ribbon drive-units. RAAL Audio founder and chief engineer Aleksandar Radisavljevic calls them "Earfield Monitors," and I believe the SR1a's extreme resolution justifies a moniker like that. When I reviewed the SR1a's in Gramophone Dreams #32, I found them to be "both revelatory and revolutionary. Class A+."

720gdr.raal2

After months of daily use, my feeling about the RAAL SR1a is: They're easy to get used to and astound more over time. My only source of discontent was the bulky mass and expense of having to connect them to a $4900 Pass Labs XA25 amplifier that had to sit on the floor instead of on the pine board shelf above my desk—they need that much power. Then Jason Stoddard at Schiit Audio sent me an email announcing the introduction of a "direct drive ribbon headphone amp" especially for the RAAL ribbons. I was gobsmacked.

I asked Stoddard why he made the Jotunheim R: "Isn't that a pretty esoteric product?"

"No," he said. "We did it because there was no good option other than the interface box (that comes with the SR1a) and a speaker amp at the time. Simple as that." (The interface box is used to connect the SR1a to the speaker outputs of a power amplifier—a "speaker amp" as Stoddard put it.)

You can purchase the Jot-R directly from Schiit for $799 or from RAAL as part of a package with the SR1a that costs $3999–$4199, depending on whether you choose the Jotunheim's DAC (footnote 4). That is a lot less money than the RAAL SR1a with its standard interface box ($3500) connected to my $4900 Pass Labs XA25 stereo amplifier. The SR1a may be purchased without any interface for $3199. Or, for $7399, you can get it with RAAL's new HAS-1a headphone and speaker amplifier. Purchased alone, the impressive-looking HAS-1a costs $3900. Stay tuned for my review.

720gdr.ins

The Jotunheim R looks just like a regular Jotunheim except that it has three little toggles instead of two: one selects input (DAC, XLR, or RCA), the second engages the "baffle compensation" filter for use with the open-baffle SR1a, and a third enables or disables the Jot's passive-preamp outputs. The regular Jotunheim's ¼" SE and four-pin balanced XLR are replaced by a single four-pin male XLR that mates with the SR1a's female connector, preventing accidental connection with nonribbon balanced headphones.

The first goal of my Jotunheim R auditions was to see if Schiit's little black box could match the transparency and material presence of the RAALs driven by my Pass Labs XA25. The more I've used the SR1a, the more I've realized they reproduce recordings with unprecedented levels of musical texture and tactility. In this sonic parameter, they exceed even the Abyss TCs and the HiFiMan Susvara. With the "Jot-R" playing a live performance of Björk's Vespertine: A Pop Album as an Opera (24/48 FLAC, Oehms Classics/ Qobuz), I got chills and goosebumps, enhanced by the illusions of thunder crashing and wind howling behind the expansive three-dimensionality of The Orchestra of the National Theatre Mannheim. Forget "Pop"; Vespertine is spine-tingling high art.

With the Jot-R direct-driving the RAALs, contrasts of big/little, hard/ soft, near/far, light/dark, warm/cool, and loud/quiet were presented with a unique and delectable exactitude. This almost-calibrated precision was enhanced by an intoxicating sense of space and soundstage dimension. I can say without qualification: No headphone images anywhere near as accurately or spectacularly as the SR1a, period—and that's with the $799 Schiit amp connected to the $2199 Mytek Audio Brooklyn+ DAC. Please understand: This is a complete high-fidelity audio system that costs only $6200 (plus a little extra for the balanced AudioQuest Cinnamon interconnects), and it outresolves and outimages (!) anything I've heard at a fancy audio salon or audio show. Add a better DAC, and the sky is the limit.

As a reality check, I played the live Vespertine opera through the Schiit Yggdrasil DAC feeding the Rogue Audio RP-7 preamp, into the Pass Labs XA25 amplifier to the standard RAAL interface box. Right away, the wind on "Chaos" sounded more tangibly real. The deep, wide space of "Hidden Place" was so transparently and microscopically rendered that it was a distraction from Björk's words.

Interestingly, the Jotunheim R rendered these well-recorded live tracks with more there-ness and deeper bass than the Pass Labs amplifier did. Compared to the Jot-R, the XA25 might be considered a little too light and airy.

To my ears, the RAAL-requisite SR1a ribbon headphones, coupled to the dedicated Schiit Jotunheim R amplifier/preamp, transduce recorded music at a level of verity and resolution matched only by the best at any price. Sincerely recommended.


Footnote 3: RAAL advanced loudspeakers d.o.o. Djordja Simeonovica 4, 19000 Zajecar, Serbia. Tel: +381 64 144 1111. Web: raalrequisite.com. US Distributor: Requisite Audio Engineering, 2175 Goodyear Ave., Suite 110, Ventura, CA 93003-7761. Tel: (818) 437-0779.

Footnote 4; The options for the Jot-R are a bit different than those for the regular Jot: The R doesn't offer a phono stage and if you opt for the Bifrost DAC, it's external. The "True Multibit" DAC is the only internal expansion option.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
PeterG's picture

Great review! But saying Murder Most Foul is about Kennedy is a bit like saying that Highway 61 is about Highway 61. Kennedy is a touch point, but MMF is about our deep fall as a society. Kennedy, Vietnam, Watergate, COVID-19, racism and hatred--it's all the same thing, we are still living it again and again. The song is epic, gripping, timeless. How many times must..?

Now excuse me, I need a good cry

Herb Reichert's picture

Of course you right. And I feel the same about it.

hr

Anton's picture

So well done that if I were going to get into headphones, it would be this plus the RAAL headphones and done.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In that case, you may even give up on listening to loudspeakers :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country' ..... John F. Kennedy.

Big Star 72's picture
SpinMark3313's picture

but I will never, ever, purchase a Sch**t product due to its stupid, juvenile brand name. Not that they care, obviously wildly successful, nor does anyone else. That I know of.
So, I stand on my old fashioned principles. Alone. In the wilderness.
But, I do feel much better.

Jim Austin's picture

Your post reminded me of the passage about naming the company in Jason Stoddard's book about Schiit, serialized online at head-fi.org.

I've got schiit to do,” I’d tell Lisa, and disappear.

She’s endlessly patient, but one day, she’d finally had enough. “Why don’t you just call it Schiit?” she shot back, crossing her arms.

“Call what schiit?”

“The new company. You’re always saying you’ve got schiit to do. Why not just call it Schiit?”

At first, I laughed. A company called Schiit? No sane company would do that. If we proposed that name to any Centric client, I imagined what they’d say. Way too out there. Can’t believe you’d propose that. Piss off too many people. What a crazy idea. Then they’d fire us.

But I’d had 15 years of marketing playing it safe, second-guessing everything we did, and watering down every great idea until it was meaningless. Maybe you can blame my decision on that history. Maybe it was nothing more than that.

And this company wasn’t about playing it safe. Hell, we were trying to reach Chinese prices here in the USA. And do it without a million-dollar investment. That was about as crazy as it got.

“Nobody would ever forget it,” I replied, finally.

“It would cut down your marketing costs,” Lisa agreed.

“And we could say we make some really good Schiit.”

Lisa laughed. “Why not? Go ape Schiit.”

“And Schiit happens,” I agreed.

“If you don’t have our stuff, you’re up Schiit creek,” Lisa added.

I nodded and sat back. Suddenly it didn’t seem so crazy. Hell, the word was meaningless for, what, 80% of the world that didn’t speak English? And if you spelled it funny, it could sound vaguely German.

Hell, the Teutonic connection opened up all sorts of stuff, including all the old Norse mythology. They named, like everything, from gods to spears to crows and forks. An endless source of non-alphanumeric names.

“Norse and German aren’t the same,” you say? Well, it doesn’t matter. We have comic books and movies to learn from. We’re dumb Americans. We mix stuff up. What’s more, we’re from California, where Thai-Mexican fusion food sounds like a good idea (and really is.)

And a name like Schiit would be unforgettable. Nobody could ignore it.

And, fact is, great marketing polarizes. Some people hate it. Some love it. An ad that hits the middle ground of “nice” is pure crap. Which is what most companies shoot for. Might as well cash out the whole marketing budget, roll logs of $100 bills, and have a big bonfire.

But we weren’t here to hit a nice middle ground. We were here to be unforgettable. (And hey, we didn’t have that many hundred dollar bills, either.)

And in that moment, everything gelled. We would be Schiit.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

SpinMark3313's picture

Good story.
When I first heard of the brand, I assumed it was pronounced "Shite." My son quickly disabused me of that notion...
Indeed, they've been getting the results. Good on 'em for the business model.

tonykaz's picture

Dammit, those guys...

1 ). Schiit is a defective name to have to live with for the next decade or decades ( for that matter ).

but it's not their biggest error

2 ). The Power Switch needs to be on the front ! FRONT!!!.

Hell, I own Schiit gear .

Stoddard and Moffat are super high integrity people.

Naming their gear Schiit is like taking a new-born infant child to a tattoo parlour and having barbed wire branded all over it's face. It's a grotesque name for an outstanding series of Audio Gear designs.

Tony in Venice

ps. Saying Schiit's name in society is being rude, for gods sake ( even for Norse gods sake ), it is not funny or a laughing matter.

Jim Austin's picture

Hey Tony, I can't help thinking this is a generational thing, and although I don't recall it being mentioned in Stoddard's account, I'll bet that was on their minds when they chose the name. While I know a lot of older Schiit enthusiasts, the name definitely distances the company from the older hi-fi crowd (says this guy, who doesn't give a **** about that word but who gets very annoyed by te casual cultural use of a different word), and that aligns with their value-centric approach.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Tyll & Steve G introduced me to Schiit & Stoddard at RMAF11, I cringed at their Branding back then. ( but I bought the Asgard )

These guys have a history of high-integrity.

Moffat & Paul McGowan are our earliest DAC designers.

Stoddard was building Audiophile Amps from way back .

Marketing themselves as "Untouchables" or "Deplorables" limits the potential futures of everyone affiliated with the horribleness of their Brand's labeling, it's especially hurtfull for employees.

Selling low self esteem ?, somebody is gonna be the bottom layer of the barrel.

Schiit kinda establishes that everyone else is somewhere above them, which is gonna be a dam good place because Schiit is dam good gear.

Tony in Venice

ps. I just looked at the Schiit Site to see beautiful products cursed and tinged, why? , so sad.

rainsoothe's picture

Something is not unfunny or horrible just because you say it is. I can say that naming your company Schiit is funny and in good taste, and it would be just as invalid as your statement - which is only relevant to you. I also disagree with the logic that "Schiit kinda establishes that everyone else is somewhere above them", which is quite the opposite - their product is so good that they can rock whatever name they want. Much like Elton John playing the piano dressed as Donald Duck.

tonykaz's picture

Even Mr.Stoddard describes his Branding as negative.

Schiit is USA Made, is outstanding in performance, is priced wonderfully.

Schiit is NOT shity. It should have the prestigious name of it's founders : Stoddard & Moffat.

I admire the Company and it's founders. I own the company's products and designs. I've always promoted these people.

But:

They make mistakes ( as everyone will ).

1 ). The early Asgard had a design problem that took NwAvGuy to correct.

2 ). Stoddard made a little tube amp that was Microphonic and had to be discontinued after they had it for sale for a year or more. All the Tubes they had were microphonic. Nice try but bad.

3 ). Brand Name Defects ! Brand owners are sort-of giving the middle finger to the World. I'm naturally feeling insulted just as it was intended to do. They are intentionally saying FU!

4 ). Power Switches on rear of cabinet. ( another intentional FU )

I'm happy for you to defend Schiit, I've been there with you since they began. But, I've had enough of their immaturity and rudeness.

Tony in Venice

ps. you sir, have a beautiful name: rainsoothe, have you considered changing it to something appalling ? of course not.

Jim Austin's picture

>>This is like watching our children use Methamphetamines and making life choices based on distorted thinking.

Calling your brand Schiit is equivalent to our kids doing meth? C'mon Tony.

You're welcome to your opinion, and you're welcome to express it here. This is NOT a reprimand. But, with respect, and with appreciation for your support of Stereophile and your contributions to these forums: That is a hell of a stretch. (Hope you don't mind that I used the h-word. :-) )

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

OK,

I went too far.

Tony

tonykaz's picture

Brace yourselves:

Tesla is now a more valuable Company than Toyota.

We should keep in mind that Tesla ( 2003 ) is about the same age as 'our' Schiit Co. that I first met in 2011. 48,016 employees --- Market cap around $220 Billion. --- 90,000 Cars in second quarter.

My Auto Industry peers are wondering if our traditional Industry norms and market place practices will survive this next calendar year.

Listening to "Fly me to the Moon" feels like a kick in the teeth, dammit Elon, Toyota and Honda were bad enough.

Now we have Electric Cars promising 1,000,000 mile life cycles that are 5x safer than F150s, priced under $50,000.

Tesla & Schiit crushing the competition.

Tony in Venice

ps. does anyone have any idea what 2022 is going to look like???

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Elon is doing well with Space-X ..... He may even 'Fly people to the Moon' by 2022 :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Just imagine, if your non-audiophile friend asks, what audio products do you recommend? ...... You would have hard time saying 'I like S***** audio products' :-) .....

tonykaz's picture

Chord, Astel&Kern, Genelec

Suggesting Schiit would be insulting, wouldn't it? ( to non-informed audio people )

Tony in Venice

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You can also recommend, PS Audio, Rogue Audio ..... Recommending S***** Audio won't be insulting, but that non-audiophile friend may not understand :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If you like RAAL headphones, RAAL also makes their own custom headphone amp HSA-1a for $3,900 .... HR is gonna write a review of that RAAL amp in a future issue :-) ......

Ortofan's picture

... Precide ERGO A.M.T headphones, which apparently use a full-range AMT driver?
They were mentioned in a 2011 T.H.E. show report on the Inner Fidelity site.
Also, Audio magazine carried a review of them in the December 1998 issue.

Graham Luke's picture

...else makes something like the Schiit Loki tone control?
No one that I am aware of. The Loki is absolutely brilliant and I wouldn't have cared WHAT the manufacturers called themselves. Word.

tonykaz's picture

Pro-Audio gear in it's entirity have Tone Control.

Even Audio Research had tone controls.

Tony in Venice

ps. RIAA Curves were/are tone controls, Loudspeaker Crossovers are tone controls. Every detail of high end audio gear has it's own tonal flavour.

tonykaz's picture

Cancelled

March 2021

Here we go again???

Tony in Venice

Apstarterkit's picture

S and M audio works for me

Relayer's picture

I'd upvote that if I could. lol.
Tony- keep it up, love your stuff.

David Harper's picture

My Vidar amp rocks. I wouldn't care if they named it F**K.

carlosetabares's picture

Hi Herb,
Did you drive the Hedd with the LTA amp? I love the microzotl 2 and loved the Heddphone when I listened to it at Canjam last February in NYC. Do the Hedd and the LTA complement each other? I would like to learn your take on these two.

X