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As preamp: The most likely scenario for the Lyr as preamp would seem to be an affordable faux integrated, i.e. an amp with just a passive pot rather than dedicated preamp stage. In the 25/50wpc into 8/4Ω Dayens Ampino from Serbia I had just such a one to represent the breed. I also had the matching €800/pr-delivered Tizo+ monitors for review to stand in for proper speaker mates. As affordable source I ran my 160GB iPod Classic with AIFF files into the Cypher Labs Algorhythm Solo. That battery-powered portable computer audio transport taps the iPod via asynchronous USB. On its analog ¼" socket it outputs a standard 2V signal that's been decoded by Wolfson's top chip (you can also exit S/PDIF coax for D/A conversion beyond the Solo).

As quiet as the Lyr was on headphones, it now exhibited PSU noise. Its already high output signal was further amplified by a completely unattenuated Ampino (volume control fully opened to be bypassed). Lyr noise disappeared when the amp's control was closed by half to sit at 12:00. Given that the Lyr's core equation of 50:50 valve/transistor aspects was shifted to get sandier by 75% if not more, it was reasonable to expect lesser 'tube goodness' enhancements. And so it was. Very much to its credit if neutrality was a core design consideration, lyrification of the signal path produced only modest differences. Bass mass and heft built out, overall weightiness increased. On the flip side transparency, subjective speed, separation of tight weaves and transient sharpness diminished. Both flip and flop were surprisingly mellow, give and take balanced to not make this a clear-cut step upward but more a lateral move into a different flavor.

Peeling out the valves to roll 'em proved royal buttnik. What sticks out is pathetically short to get a grip. I did manage though and concluded that just like Schiit's Singaporean importer I preferred the Valhalla's driver tubes. I don't know their reason but in my context I got a higher transmission of energy and a bit more of what my Peruvian friend Saturnino calls hallucinante. Valve lovers even without Spanish know exactly how this applies to soundstaging. Things seem in higher relief, dimensional pop is harder. Revisiting headphones was a return to louder tube contributions to further magnify these aspects. On preamp performance I'd call the Lyr an only partial success. Unlike a pure transistor preamp its high gain makes it noisier. Unlike a pure tube preamp of MiniMax caliber it's more neutral. As such it somewhat dilutes the valve virtues. A truly great preamp only adds (also lots of moolah) but doesn't take away. Here the Lyr steals from resolution to make a rather small payment to body.
Clearly the core target audience are headfiers. Those who also run speaker systems are well advised to give the Lyr a go. But I'd not recommend that preamp buyers pursue the Lyr as primary target. Its illustrious headphone performance only diminishes in that application. To equal it as a preamp takes longer green. And to jump ahead, to exceed it as pure valve headphone amp could take $4.000 for an Eddie Current Balancing Act or fully tricked out Woo Audio Model 5.

Sennheiser HD800: This model has been extensively reviewed. It's a known quantity even to those who haven't heard one. The 800s positively adored the Lyr. Switching from the transistor Asgard brought to mind three automotive images. One was downshifting a gear at freeway speeds. The car responds better to the accelerator. Two was a bigger engine. Everything feels more powerful. Three was turbo boost for a sportier deeper experience. I also thought of subliminal reverb action where everything gets fuller and richer.

Usually the Sennheiser can't match the Audez'e on bass power and its top end is forward and overly energetic. Where the LCD-2 is 90% pure Swiss chocolate with a goodly hint of Cayenne (deep, dark, pungent, smoky, lush but with monstrous dynamic wallop), the Sennheiser is lit up, lean and slightly nervous. Running it off the Lyr brought its performance and voicing a lot closer to the LCD-2 as run off the Burson HA160D. The center of gravity shifted downward, the design's built-in flightiness chilled out. Put differently, since acquiring the Audez'e I'd given the Sennheiser short shrift. With two ears I can only listen to one headphone at a time. Reaching for my clear favorite is logical reflex. With the Lyr I developed a new appreciation for Sennheiser's top dog. While it's cliché to say, unless you've heard the HD800 over the Lyr you've not yet met the real McCoy. Everything the Sennheiser does naturally well remains untouched—soundstage illumination and stage size, speed, high resolution—but where it is traditionally weaker—bass power, body, fleshiness, saturation—gets royally kicked in the arse and up a few very obvious notches. At $449 the Lyr is simply a must audition for any HD800 lover or considerateur.

Audez'e LCD-2: As explained earlier, this ortho can run straight off an iPod. It won't shine but it works surprisingly well whereas a HifiMan equivalent is completely verboten. As such the Audez'e benefited less and with its polar opposite voicing to the Sennheiser I ultimately favored it most with the all-transistor Burson HA160D which to me is another match made in heaven. But let's go directly for the HE-6.

HifiMan HE-6: Fang Bian's creations are the current AKG K-1000 bad boys of fuel consumption. Just as a big Aerial or Dynaudio speaker transforms with a really beefy amp behind it, HifiMan's take on a 21st-century planar headphone comes into full focus only when gripped by proper current and what for headphones is optimized low-impedance drive. If the Audez'e is an orthodynamic take on an offspring between beyerdynamic T1 and Grado PS1000, the HE-6 is an HD800 equivalent.
Over the Lyr the HifiMan retraced the prior voicing morph of the Sennheiser. Without sacrificing its elegant but extended top end, the center of gravity lowered. The oft-cited blacker blacks entered but here not from a reduction of noise floor as we read ad nauseam about power conditioners but rather, stronger heavier bass that benefited tone color saturation just as the equivalent hue/saturation command does in Photoshop [right speaker].

Where my prior estimation of the HifiMan had always placed it a clear second behind the Audez'e, the Lyr/HE-6 combo now seemed very fairly matched to the Burson/LCD-2 duo not for sameness but equality. If you've auditioned the HD-800 and T1 to prefer the former, you'd prefer the Lyr/HE-6. It has more air, light and energy and—as far as those parameters can be linked to our subjective impression of detail magnification—higher raw resolution. It's a bit of a night and day thing.

This gets us unceremoniously to the end of my coverage on Schiit's oeuvre. Though it should be crystal, this build-in-the-US company leverages know-how of not only circuit design but the entire manufacturing process. They offer very simple but well executed circuits in equally simple but solid and attractive casings. Prices compete head-on with Chinese imports for bona fide shock value. Their name proves that the guys don't take themselves too serious. Just don't mistake that nonchalance for a lack of business savvy or engineering chops. It's simply a ploy to start conversations. It's also to stand apart from Corey Greenberg's infamous indictment about old goats ruling high-end audio to make it irrelevant to infidels outside the church. A bit of hipness is sorely needed. Schiit delivers.

I felt from starting with the Asgard that the company deserved an award. I simply wanted to sleep my way through all their super models first before tacking that distinction on one. Because the Lyr does it all—power, refinement, quiet and drive into any commercial load—it's the one. HifiMan's planars are its natural-born brides for a complete no-brainer wedding Las Vegas style. Then owners of Sennheiser's HD-800 who've already spent $1.400 on just their cans ought to really put Schiit's $449 amp on their to-do list. Yes ALO Audio's upgrade leash is very worthwhile to take the Senns up a few notches but first let the Lyr retaliate with even bigger bang for the buck.

Because Schiit is into word games just for shits and giggles, I'll add one to close out. Whilst the Lyr's specs paint it the brute apparent, it's a very lyrical performer whose various strengths pool into a more emotional response rather than removed spectator sports perspective. It's so not about brute force or damaged voice coils. Where that magic smoke is concerned... well here the Schiit heads have engaged in a most suitable double entendre. Delivering true hifi quality with lighthearted fun rather than haughty arrogance is such a breath of fresh air that the below award should really be extended to the entire concept, 'corporate' culture and market positioning. We're lucky indeed that the old dawgs of Moffat and Stoddard decided to not rest on their laurels; or re-entered the scene with more high-priced D'Agostino-level bling; but went for the jugular. In this iPod age that means slick industrial design, headphones, a solid whiff of the high end and (wo)man-in-the-street affordability. In combination it would advocate this schiit for sainthood if this were more than a harmless hobby and hedonistic indulgence...
Quality of packing: Good.
Reusability of packing: Many times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Website comments: Informative with a deliberately fresh attitude.
Human interactions: Prompt, candid and no bull.
Value: Given performance, build quality and boutique US manufacture, high.
Final comments & suggestions: Though clearly intentioned to give orthodynamic owners a proper tool, lovers of conventional dynamic designs like Sennheiser's HD-800 would do themselves a grave disservice to write off the Lyr as muscle-bound ortho mule. Tubes are a bitch to remove but persistence and cursing pay off. The 6N1P used as driver in the all-tube Valhalla model works brilliantly. Like this writer many could prefer it to the stock E88CC. Schiit sells a pair for a whopping $20, i.e. half of their JJ E88CC replacements. Order a pair together with the Lyr so you're all set on your first finger-slippin' saucy-worded valve rolling adventure.

Schiit responds: Wow! Realsization Award! I'm thrilled... and Mike is too. Thanks again for the reviews. By the way we're expanding a bit due to demand. Mike is now dedicated to this full time and we actually have another guy doing assembly rather than us doing 100%. We aren't going to have palatial offices or anything but it's great to see the business taking off. I really like making things again and making them locally.

What you can look forward to:
1. A line of 3 DACs, the first to be announced in June as the highest-value product like Asgard was announced last June. We'll also give at least a brief roadmap of what's coming so people can know if they want to wait or not. All of the DACs will have some surprises but the final 'statement' DAC will be the most, ahem - surprising.
2. A 'statement' headphone/2-channel product.

Hopefully all the above will be announced by the end of the year, then it's time to make some new plans.
All the best,
Jason Stoddard
Schiit Audio website