Schiit HEL 2 Review
Schiit HEL 2 Review
A non gamers adventure…
Pros: – Musical and engaging
– Powerful with low noise floor
– Compatible with most gaming consoles and Android ready
– Extra microphone input with discreet volume control
– Optical input and two gain settings
– Build quality and design
Cons: – Nothing of note just a USB type C to C cable would be appreciated
The Hel 2 was kindly provided by Schiit, never asking for a favorable review.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of it that I would like to share with the community.
Schiit Audio is one of the most beloved and well known companies in the audio hobby so we are not going to waste your valuable time with boring introductions.
Looking at the company website (www.schiit.com) we can spot a product category named gaming DAC/Amps populated by two products the Fulla and the Hel both of them at their latest revised versions.
Hel 2 is a high power DAC/AMP for gaming , music and communications that sells for $199 and we can buy it directly from Schiit
Hel 2 is the latest generation of the popular and powerful transportable DAC/amp.
It’s so powerful and versatile that you may find Hel 2 is everything you need in one single box.
If You’re a Gamer just plug Hel 2 in to any PC, Mac, PS4, PS5, or Switch, and you’ll get tremendous sound combined with a podcast quality microphone input with 24-bit AKM analog-to-digital conversion.
Hel 2 is also an amazing DAC/amp, with incredible flexibility.
Connect it to your computer via USB, your TV via optical, and create an entire system with powerful headphone output and versatile preamp output for powered monitors or external speaker amplifiers.
Hel 2 uses the AKM AK4490 D/A converter with TI OPA1656 based filter stage and an output with 4 amp stages per channel.
Coupled with an Alps RK09 potentiometer, high-quality filter and amp stages from Texas Instruments, a sophisticated bipolar +/-12V supply, and precision thin-film resistors and film capacitors, Hel 2 delivers amazing performance for its price.
The Hel 2 must use an external 2.1A power supply since the generic USB output cannot provide the needed current.
Maximum power is at 1350mW/16ohms , 1200mW/32ohms
, 800mW/50ohmd and 200mW/300ohms with an output impedance of 0.25ohms and two gain settings.
The USB Receiver is the C-Media CM6635 and sample rates supported are for USB 16/44.1 to 32/384 supported without drivers on Windows 10, Mac, Linux, Android (any UAC 2 device) with auto switching to UAC1 for PS4, PS5, and Switch consoles.
Optical Input supports 16/44.1 to 24/192.
The Hel 2 is designed and built in California and is covered by a two year guarantee.
So what’s the difference between Hel and Hel 2?
– More power: Hel 2 is rated at 1200mW into 32 ohms, 20% more than Hel.
– More connectivity: Hel 2 adds an optical input, so you can connect it to any TV with an optical output.
– More compatibility: Hel 2 has built-in UAC2/1 switching, which means it’s now compatible with many gaming consoles like Sony PS4, PS5, and Switch.
– More modernity: Hel 2 uses USB-C connectors, rather than Hel’s USB-micro.
– More quality: Hel 2 offers lower noise and distortion than Hel.
Why should I prefer the Hel 2 over the Fulla?
Because you want more power or flexibility.
Hel 2 offers much higher power than Fulla, it has a gain switch for harder-to-drive or more sensitive headphones, and it has front-panel adjustable microphone gain and a stereo mic input.
If any of those features are important, it might be worth more than Fulla for your needs.
Physical specifications and build quality
The Hel 2 is a rather compact device measuring 12.7×8.9×3.5cm (including knob) and weighing 369gr that is easily transportable inside a small bag.
Build quality is top notch with excellent craftsmanship and the unit feels very sturdy and durable.
It is nicely finished with a black and red paint job that looks cool and modern.
The Hel 2 like it’s little brother the Fulla has that unique design with a large volume knob at the top of the unit.
At the front panel from left to right we can see the microphone potentiometer and input jack , the input and gain switches and the 6.35mm headphone output jack.
At the back panel we have the analogue line output jack , the optical input , two USB type C inputs – one for data and one for power – and the on/off switch.
The Hel 2 comes nicely packed with an external USB switching power supply , two USB type A to C cables and a 6.35 to 3.5mm headphone adapter.
A USB type C to C cable should be welcomed and very useful since portable devices are gaining much popularity as digital transports.
A non gamers view
The Hel 2 is rightfully advertised as a gaming DAC/amp but since we are too old to game and we barely do any web meetings we have concentrated at it’s musical virtues.
As such we haven’t tested the microphone input and gaming console performance an area pretty much covered in this review
Our only remark is about the microphone potentiometer that is a little stiff to turn.
Setting up the Hel 2
Connecting the Hel 2 is an easy task because for Windows 10 there is no need to install any drivers and it is also ready compatible with Android devices.
We have successfully tested it with a couple of phones and tablets without encountering any functional problems.
The optical input is a very useful addition not only for TV sets but for old timers like us with rather big CD collections.
We opted for our Cambridge Audio CXC CD transport and happily enjoyed spinning some favorite CD’s.
The analogue line output is variable but we can also connect the Hel 2 as a fixed DAC to an external amplifier as long as we set gain to low and turn the volume up to maximum.
The volume potentiometer is very smooth with great feel and control absent of any scratching noise.
This little devil can run the HEDDphone
Various headphones have been used like the Sennheiser HD650/660S , the Focal Clear OG , the Drop Elex , the Sivga P-II and HiFiMan HE400se plus a couple of more sensitive iems like the FiiO FH5S and Dunu EST 112.
Hel 2 is very powerful so we never passed halfway the pot at high gain except with the HEDDphone which is difficult to drive but still the Hel 2 managed to do it justice.
It is also dead silent with a low noise floor and suitable for sensitive iems.
The Hel 2 sports a linear frequency response with a transparent and faithful approach to the original recording, greatly preserving the original information without adding or subtracting anything.
This is a mature and one of the best AK4490 implementations we have ever tested in a device of this type with a musical and thoroughly engaging presentation equally suitable for all kinds of music.
Music sounds full with natural timbre and harmonic richness with minimal digital artifacts that can’t spoil the whole experience although they do creep in at the higher frequencies.
Bass is well extended down to the lower registers and sounds full bodied , tight , fast and precise with ample depth layering.
The external power supply might be a disadvantage for some users but it surely pays off adding greatly to driver control approaching desktop dynamic performance
The Hel 2 can hit hard when it’s needed with lifelike contrast between rise and fall able to present us with the full swing of a large symphony orchestra in the most persuasive manner.
Mids sound rounded and finely articulated with lifelike vocals and high contrasted instruments nicely blended together in a colorful canvas.
Higher frequencies are well extended and full of energy in a luminous but smooth presentation that is always under control without any harshness or brightness.
Overall decay is on the natural side but some increased thinness and faster fading relative to the rest of the frequencies should be expected while rising at the top octave.
The sound stage is well extended with adequate depth and nicely arranged performers and while it will not exploit the full potential of a given headphone it still feels very natural without congestion and plentiful space.
The internal power supply filtering is of high quality greatly reducing noise below the audible threshold.
As a result Hel 2 is aided by it’s black background and while it is not an ultra detailed DAC we were satisfied with detail quantity and quality.
Especially with the way that fine particles were masterfully blended with the whole without sounding detached.
Hel 2 should be considered headphone agnostic because it matches well with everything we have thrown at it.
From the Sennheiser HD650 to the HiFiMan Ananda , it was able to highlight all the best parts of each headphone without ruthlessly exposing the shortcomings and every session was uniquely enjoyable.
At the end
Hel 2 is , well , a hell of a performer with an excellent sound signature , ample technical performance and power to spare.
Combine this with the enhanced functionality and connectivity , the great build quality and the friendly price and we have at our hands a real winner.
A – do it all – transportable DAC/amp without any compromises that can fit every space and budget rightfully earning our wholehearted recommendation and appreciation.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2021