Schiit Audio Vali 2+ Review
Honey look , I shrunk the Lyr 3
Pros: – Great natural sound
– Excellent measurements
– Low noise floor
– Only one tube to roll
– Small and stackable
– Good build quality
– Budget price
Cons: – Stock tube don’t do it justice
– Could use some more power
The Vali 2+ was kindly provided by Schiit Audio.
This is my honest and subjective evaluation of it.
(A Greek version of the review is uploaded at hxosplus website – https://www.hxosplus.gr/reviews/schiit-vali-2-review/)
Well , Schiit Audio needs no introduction.
Widely known since 2010 they have started a revolution in the audio industry by designing audio products with really great value to performance ratio.
Run by the legendary Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard it is a company that is always evolving , never resting on their laurels.
They pay great attention to the customer feedback and keep improving all the products.
At the beginning there were small headphone amps and dacs but since then they have expanded to include everything an audiophile will need to build a complete audio system.
One of the first and most beloved headphone amplifiers was the original 2013 Vali which was then upgraded in 2015 to the Vali 2 and now a new Vali 2+ version is available.
There is no better place to be informed about Vali 2+ than Schiit’s own website where you are going to find detailed information with their unique sense of humor.
We have summarized for you below.
Vali 2+ is a hybrid headphone amplifier designed and built in California retailing at just $149.
Vali 2+ delivers plenty of power for hard-to-drive headphones and also provides low noise for sensitive cans. Plus it acts as a preamplifier to use it with powered monitors.
The key difference between the previous and this version is that Vali 2+ has double the power with lower noise and the same price.
There is a single Canadian made NOS 6BZ7 tube at the preamplifier stage and a discrete bipolar class A driver and Class AB output stage.
The tube can be rolled with all the ECC88/6922/6N1P/6CG7 equivalents.
It is their latest topology called “Coherence” and it is a scaled down version as can be found in Lyr 3.
This is the only hybrid at this price point to run the tube at high 60V voltage on the plate thanks to the unique linear power supply with both 24VAC and 6VAC outputs, regulated HV and LV rails for tube and bipolar components plus 6V AC heater.
The board is populated with Nichicon capacitors and precision thin-film resistors and the volume pot is a ‘custom-taper’ ALPS.
The old Vali 2 was an already well measuring amplifier but the 2+ is a major step up with numbers like THD<0.009%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 1V RMS, 300Ω , SNR>115db at low gain and THD<0.3%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 1V RMS, 300Ω , SNR>100db at high gain.
According to Schiit, it’s an amplifier that loads in plenty of second-order harmonic distortion to thumb its nose at low THD obsessives and to remind us that THD figures can be highly misleading when read in isolation.
As a single figure, we know not if the distortion being summed is mostly odd order or mostly even order.
Anyway if you ask us we find that the results are excellent for a hybrid headphone amplifier to satisfy even the most hardcore objectivists.
The maximum rated power is 1.5W/32Ω at 5% THD and the output impedance is 0.4Ω/low gain and 1.8Ω/high gain.
The footprint is very small measuring just 5 x 3.5 x 2.75” and it will perfectly stack with Modi and Loki.
Build quality is very good without hard edges and the unique minimal Schiit design that is much to our liking.
They use the plain metal chassis and not the machined thick aluminium one that we find in the higher priced products.
At the front we can see the potentiometer and the 6.35mm headphone output without a power LED.
At the back it is a little more cramped with stereo RCA inputs and outputs the gain and power switches plus the power supply jack.
Inside the box we get the amplifier with the AC transformer and the stock 6BZ7 tube plus the very amusing manual.
Line cable is not included.
Since this is a tube amplifier we decided to let it burn for about 100 hours before critical listening.
We have used various headphones from the Sennheiser HD660S and Hifiman Sundara or Drop 5XX to the 20 times more expensive Meze Empyrean (yes why not?).
A few listening sessions were performed with iems in order to check the noise floor.
Power is sufficient to run most of the headphones in the market but it may struggle with hard to drive planars or inefficient high Z cans.
The amp was fed with various sources from the high end Denafrips Venus mkii to the Cambridge Audio 851N or even the entry level SMSL M100 mkii.
All impressions are taken with the stock tube unless otherwise noted.
Is this a solid state amp in disguise?
Well , if a warm , syrupy , old school tubey sound is what you are looking for then the Vali 2+ is not meant for you.
This is a neutral and linear sounding amplifier with a great technical refinement and linear frequency response no matter the tube used.
The Vali 2+ is clear and resolving with a great extension to both ends of the frequency spectrum.
Fast enough with good transient response can easily handle busy and complex passages without losing it’s pace.
Bass is full but still tight and well controlled with great layering.
Mids are clear with strong presence and well articulated while higher frequencies sound lively and detailed yet smooth and engaging.
The transistors come into play with great dynamic behavior and full control of the drivers especially at the high gain position while the low gain is somewhat more restrained.
Power supply is certainly improved over the previous generation because now the amplifier is dead silent with a black background even with higher sensitivity headphones at least in the low gain.
A very satisfying technical performance not far behind from pure solid state amplifiers of the same price point
So by now you have probably been wondering what’s all the fuss about the tube and why shouldn’t I buy the Magni 3 which is a better technical performer and also cheaper?
It’s the Tube you stupid…
The included tube is not just there to illuminate the room and produce heat.
It’s job is to mess with harmonics and add a touch of magic while not affecting the overall performance.
Sound is rich and meaty with great density from top to bottom.
Bass is visceral and textured without bloating the mids which sound very lifelike , rounded and vibrant.
Notes gain in substance and presence even at the strident higher pitched instruments which decay and fade away very naturally.
If you ask us, timbre is what we seek and in our case that single tube helps with voicing to add a great dose of natural tonality with a very musical and analogue character to it.
As we all probably know , tubes are the stage masters and this is one of Vali 2+ greatest strengths.
Excellent space allocation with a three dimensional soundscape full of all the necessary reverberation that results in an out of the head and lifelike experience although lacking in ultimate positioning precision.
It is perfectly clear by now that the Vali 2+ can challenge solid state siblings in technical performance although it cannot reach in ultimate control , slam and precision or clarity and resolving ability.
But in exchange we are rewarded with a natural and very musical voicing that is equally pleasing with all kinds of music.
The Vali 2+ was a great match with all the headphones we tried even with the mighty Empyrean and we have thoroughly enjoyed all our listening sessions.
Of course we don’t imply that the Vali 2+ is an end game solution but it is certainly up to the task.
Last but not least let’s not forget that it also acts as a very capable preamplifier very useful to run active speakers at our desktop.
From Russia with love
While the supplied 6BZ7 tube is really good for starters (and free of course) a little tube rolling was an eye opener.
And don’t be scared at all as we are talking about some budget options from the land of Tsars that outperform the stock Canadian without costing an arm and leg.
Meet the usual suspects the Sovtek 6N1Pi (€14.20) and the Electro Harmonix 6922 gold pins (€28.30) or even the Electro Harmonix 6CG7(€20.50) which are all current production and easy to find.
The stock tube can sound foggy and a tad harsh or edgy at the upper registers plus it is somewhat restrained regarding dynamics and overall bass weight.
Switching to one of the above mentioned tubes and we get instantly rewarded.
More smooth and extended top end with added clarity and detail plus an increased and more dynamic bass.
Every tube used added a touch of different flavor without altering the general sound signature or affecting the technical performance.
All of them are worth considering and if you ask about our preference we lean on the 6CG7 for it’s excellent timbre.
Compared to the Lyr 3
It’s been a while since we have reviewed the excellent Lyr 3 and it is not of a secret that it is our favorite hybrid tube amplifier.
Unfortunately the sample has returned back but since we have spent a lot of time listening to it we feel confident and offer a brief trustful comparison.
The two amps share the same approach regarding music presentation both favouring timbre and tonality with an analogue character to them without severely lacking in overall technicalities compared to similarly priced solid state offerings.
The Lyr 3 is the Vali 2+ on steroids with more power and control , better articulation and refinement , higher resolving ability and clarity , greater dynamics and more visceral and nuanced presentation.
So yes the Vali 2+ is a scaled down Lyr 3 for the budget conscious buyers who will get a good portion of the bigger brother excellent performance without breaking the bank.
At the end
The Vali 2+ from Schiit Audio is a clear winner and a proof that Schiit aren’t just replacing their models for mere marketing reasons but rather they are greatly improving on them.
Don’t be fooled by its low price as the Vali 2+ in our opinion is the best budget hybrid tube amplifier in the market with a highly musical nature and excellent technical performance.
If you can’t afford the Lyr 3 and you like tube hybrids then the Vali 2+ will get you almost there without breaking the Bank.
We have greatly enjoyed our time with Vali 2+ and we strongly suggest that you should do so.
Playlist – http://open.qobuz.com/playlist/5669033
Copyright – Laskis Petros 2021.