I enjoy Schiit. The last couple of months I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing both the Asgard 3 and two versions of the Gungnir. The Gungnir is a fluid sounding DAC, organic and I hold it in very high regard. The Asgard 3 is a $200 miracle worker. To these ears it performs way beyond its price-point. It earned our first and so far only Green Award.
The Ragnarok 2 is an integrated amplifier. The one I was sent comes Fully Loaded – which means it has a Multibit DAC onboard, like the one found in the Schiit Modi ($249); and a phono stage based on Schiit’s own Mani ($129). Fully Loaded it comes in at $1799. As Just An Amp it’s $1499. Like every piece of Schiit it has the same clean and straightforward aesthetic: bright and brushed aluminum, a few buttons, and a volume knob. Black heat sinks on either side, and you got a basic but functional looking amplifier – which is how I prefer most things to look: honest.
The Ragnarok 2, as all Schiit products, is made and sourced in the U.S. Where possible, Schiit get their part from local manufacturers. That means less shipping, which means less carbon emmisions. And it supports the local community and economy. Very cool.
The Ragnarok 2 – which Schiit simply calls the Ragnarok – pushes 60Wpc into 8 ohms and 100Wpc into 4 ohms. More on that later. It is the first product from Schiit to sport their new Nexus differential gain stage. I’m not of the technically inclined, but supposedly it offers: seamless interaction between single-ended and balanced sources. Nexus converts single-ended inputs to balanced outputs, and balanced inputs to single-ended outputs—in a single gain discrete gain stage, without gain differences between modes, and with good performance in all modes.
But looks can be deceiving and the above might sound like Ragnarok 2 is a fire and forget kind of rocket. It’s not. It is a finely adjustable and high performing integrated amplifier.
First impressions last and the Ragnarok 2 made a good one. Direct and uncolored sound. Nothing harsh, a clean timbre and tonality right down the middle. Great dynamics and a vivid midrange. I used a modest source: iPad, Audioquest Forest USB cable straight into the onboard Multibit DAC. Like everyone else, we’re in Corona-lockdown here, so it’s a great option because both my wife and kid(s) can operate TIDAL from a tablet. Granted, my 3-year-old isn’t much of a reader yet but my eldest at 6 can queue up Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine with the best of them.
A niggle: the Ragnarok 2 only accepts USB as digital input. I would have liked a couple of options more so I could have connected my Bluesound Node2i streamer, which doesn’t have USB out. The niggle cuts both ways, though: I think the Node 2i should definitely have USB out…
I used my Croft Micro 25R and Series 7R to compare and triangulate. The Croft combo is a bit less than double the money and a tube-hybrid construction. It has the-same-but-different functional design aesthetic that I like. No fat, all muscle. I find that it is very transparent with a sweet and airy tone. It doesn’t have an onboard DAC and it doesn’t do headphones. It does, however, have a superb onboard phono stage which works splendidly with my Grado Reference Master 1 cartridge.
The Ragnarok 2 sounds less romantic than the Crofts and is perhaps a truer teller of tales. The first surprise the Ragnarok 2 threw at me was the level of transparency it resolved. This is listening Corona-style to some quiet jazz while my wife is working on her computer and the kids wander to and fro. Still direct from an iPad. A string of albums from ECM made the Ragnarok 2 play music with impressive clarity. Jacob Young’s guitar rang like a bell. Notes just hung there suspended and crisp while life went on around me.
The transparency from my Crofts are perhaps better and they are airier. But the Crofts have a romanticism that color the sound. I don’t mind color if it’s done the Croft way. But I really like that crisp immediacy and tonal accuracy that the Ragnarok exhibits.
The Croft might be more transparent and dig out more detail, but the Ragnarok 2 bests the Croft when it comes to separation and clarity. It is a marvel that this level of functionality/versatility and sound quality is possible at this price point. Players are exquisitely outlined and the space between instruments is widened and – emptied. Very impressive.
My Guru Q60 speakers (which I bought cheap direct from Guru Audio as a pre-production model) and the Ragnarok 2 got along famously. The Gurus can come off as a bit dark. The Ragnarok 2 tore right through that and made them play music with clarity and control. The tone was crisp and natural.
Imaging is pinpoint and soundstage is wide.
The Gurus aren’t hard to drive but they have big woofers. There was a sense of softness in the bass that my Croft-combo doesn’t exude. The Ragnarok 2 perhaps played it too loose with the bass. Conversely, the Ragnarok 2 have a wonderful and crisp midrange that suits my Gurus perfectly. Voices, guitars, drums, sounded more direct, present, vibrant, than they did via my Crofts.
Streaming direct from a USB-tethered iPad is almost nostalgic. – And it’s very family friendly: everyone can participate. I find the onboard DAC to be a fine specimen. I also find that it doesn’t sound as resolving or organically natural as the Schiit Gungnir Multibit ($1299). Quelle surprise!
I didn’t spend a lot of time trying other DACs because the one on-board was so satisfying, and with the kids at home and convenience being important, iPad-direct was the name of the game. Other than the Gungnir MB, I sparingly used the Hugo 2 with the new 2go module from Chord Electronics (which costs quite a bit more than the Ragnarok) and the lift in fidelity was immediately apparent. There was an easefulness to the sound and greatly increased resolution and separation which tells me that this integrated amp will scale well with better sources.
The onboard DAC is convenient and as such fine. If you have a streamer with USB out it will be even better, I’m sure.
But the phono stage that Schiit have put in this amplifier is very impressive. It is one of the stand-out qualities of the Ragnarok 2. It is very resolving and as such it fits the rest of the sound signature of the amp. Clean tonality, not too hot, not too cold. Very good transparency. I think the phono stage is significantly better than the DAC. I also think it would be interesting to see what Schiit could do if they made a phono stage at around $500…
Which brings us to another stand-out feature: the headphone output. Man, oh man, listening to records through the Ragnarok 2 lit up my LCD-Xs like nothing else. I used the balanced out and the sound was so visceral and punchy and dynamic and transparent. It was more rewarding than through my Cayin HA-1A which is no slouch. It is not quietest of headphone outputs, but the Gain-setting sorts that out almost completely.
The Hugo 2/2go and the LCD-X sound wonderfully cohesive and with very impressive separation. But running the Hugo 2/2go into the Ragnarok 2 and powering the LCD-X that way made the music sound more alive. More grip, better clarity, not quite so tamed/controlled/taut.
The headphone output – as the amp in general – has a visceral way of playing music. There’s no convolution, it’s as if nothing comes between you and the album you’re listening to. Visceral as in unfiltered. Visceral as in straight from the source. It hasn’t been stepped on. It hasn’t been diluted. Whether through speakers or headphones the Ragnarok 2 plays music with uncanny realism.
I switch to the Buchardt S400 in a smaller room. They are 4 ohm speakers. The Rag makes these incredible speakers sing. Very tight low-end is the first thing I notice – which is exactly what I missed on the Gurus.
The National’s secret weapon is neither Matt Berninger nor the Dessners. The rhythm section of Scott Devendorf on bass and especially Bryan Devendorf on drums is where it’s at. The guys in the spotlight might write the songs, but the drumming in The National are always inventive and commanding. And somehow at odds with the otherwise brooding mood of the songs. Frenetic is how I might describe Devendorf’s drumming.
The Ragnarok 2 and the Buchardts make his drumming on High Violet snap out into the room. The kickdrum is dead center and right in my chest. The toms spread out to either side. The believability is tangible. This tangibility is one of the standout qualities of the Ragnarok 2. Listen to his drumming on Sorrow: simple and with a great thwack on the snare drum. Simple but with momentum and invention. I love that song, but his drumming is what really elevates it. The next song, Anyone’s Ghost, is the same. And his work on the snare drum is exemplary.
The Croft-combo also sounds great. But rounder and less chiseled. I liked the Ragnarok 2 and my Gurus. With the Buchardt S400 the Ragnarok 2 is simply stunning. A rare match. With the Gurus there was a slight sense of bass not being quite as punchy as I would like. I emphasize slight.
I must mention again: while I used the onboard DAC and an iPad extensively and it sounded great, the uptick in fidelity when I plugged in the Hugo2/2go was even more apparent via the Buchardt S400s. Again: the onboard DAC is fine, but this amp is clearly capable of greater things.
The same thing happened when I used the phono stage in my Croft Micro 25R. The phono stage in the Ragnarok 2 is great for the money but the Croft is better. Detail retrieval, soundstage, ambience, a richer tone, airiness, sweetness.
I think the extra money it costs to buy the Ragnarok 2 Fully Loaded vs. Just An Amp is astonishingly low. However, if you don’t mind the extra box-count or have nice DAC and phono stage already this integrated amplifier will scale very well with much better ancillaries. You get a great amplifier and a great headphone amp. Just add sauce.
If you’ve read any of our reviews you know that modularity is something we value here at Green Audio Review. It makes a component future-proof rather than, as Schiit says it, dumpster-fodder. How many great integrated amplifiers have been resold or discarded because the DAC or the phono stage could not keep up with technology?
The Ragnarok 2 is a wonderful amplifier, and being able to upgrade the DAC and phono-modules as technology advances means that we might never have to buy another amplifier.
Once again, sustainability is tied with modularity. Making products that meet all our needs (speaker-amplification, DAC, phono stage, and a seriously good headphone amp) while being both great sounding, affordable, and upgradable shows us how simple and rewarding it can be to go green on audio.
The Ragnarok 2 is not the end of the world – it’s the beginning…
Here you go: a Green Award effortlessly earned.