So…here is my belated update on Archel 2 GMR vs Asgard 3. I have had a lot of audio projects going on at the same time lol
A bit about myself first: my reference headphone is HD600 and I like male and female vocals a lot, especially when the background is strings and other, which I have used to compare DACs/amps. I like classical music too but I don’t tend to use them to test because I care the mot about quality of vocal. Sound signature preference is probably mid forward and treble-oriented. I can appreciate deep-extended bass but dislike fat, muddy, bloated bass that bleeds into mid. Obviously all the comparison / testing is done on a non-scientific basis but I try to volume match.
From here you can probably already guess that my personal preference would be Archel and not Asgard (probably an unpopular preference here), but I try to be as unbiased as possible:
The first thing I immediately notice (even on the day of receiving A3, without any comparison) is that this amp is warm, but in a good way. Before that I came from Heresy, Magni 3+, some THX AAAs, Liquid Spark, Atom, Element II, SMSL SH-8. An example of good warm amp for me would be liquid spark, and an example of bad warm amp for me would be Magni 3+ and SH-8. I define warm here is more bass, steering the sound towards more mellow than clean (not that the A3 is not clean). So yes, A3 is a lot warmer than Archel, with more bass. Archel is still pretty good in terms of quality of the bass. Archel is also slightly brighter, but definitely not harsh.
One thing I personally don’t really like about A3 is precisely the warmth. To my ears it feels as if there is a thin veil of warmth that sort of wraps around the entire sound spectrum. As a result, I feel the background is less clean, spatial recreation is not as good, less holographic. I do think A3 has a tad larger soundstage, but because of the warmth, when the background instruments are less quiet, it feels a little bit congested and even fatiguing. Archel in comparison is just really clean and blackout in the background.
Because I focus on vocal a lot, the same warmth kinda also ruins it for me because on Archel the mid is Brought forward whereas on A3 it is more packed together. But in terms of the actual timbre of instruments I feel they are equally very good.
Another dislike I personally have towards A3 is that at times the treble can a bit harsh, despite being a warm amp. I am guessing it is to do with Schiit’s topology, as I find the same in a few other lower end Schiit amps. Archel 2 GMR seems to be better in this regard. It reminds me of Element II with that sweet, slightly rolled off high. But obviously this is my preference because I listen to a lot of vocals especially female, some people may see this as a flaw.
So far the TLDR is that, I feel A3’s technical performance is on par with Archel 2 GMR, but because of the warmth I have described I think sometimes it can feel as if A3 is a less superior amp.
Now the biggest difference I feel (apart from the warmth), again focusing on vocal, is that Archel 2 GMR is noticeably more resolving, and presenting the voice in a more lifelike manner. A3 feels more blunt (or some may call it smooth if you like the amp), with a little bit coloration towards the warmth. To draw a bad analogy here, A3 is like a photoshop enhanced selfie. But this is not to say Archel is not without coloration. Or at least, it has its presentation of vocal. An example of no coloration for me would be Atom and THX 789 which I didn’t like. I can’t quite find the words to describe, but it reminds me of some Audio Technica woodies like the W5000. It is just very resolving and lifelike.
To me, and again personally, Archel 2 is the clear winner here especially when it is cheaper than A3. What I especially love about Archel 2 is that although it is neutral and analytical, it definitely does not sound sterile – it is more musical than Atom, THX AAAs and even Heresy/Magnius. It probably is like better version of Element II to me, but at an even lower cost. But A3 with its power pairs really well with some other headphones I own on some genres of music that I don’t mind the bass, like Argons with some hip hop.
Long story short, if you want a clean, analytical, neutral amp, I think Archel 2 GMR beats everything until you reach something like Lake People or RNHP (which I don’t own). The most expensive on this type of amps I own is El Amp II. If you are like me who loves vocals and don’t like too much bass, Archel 2 GMR is the way. But if you want bass, want to be wrapped in some mellow warmth, go for Asgard 3. Both are really good amps, just that it happens my preference goes to Archel due to the general listening styles I have.
Hope this helps those who are contemplating of buying this great little amp from Geshelli Labs, or is at least somewhat entertaining to read. I do realise everyone has his own terminology and definition of words, so feel free to ask for clarification.