- 3 gain stages, including negative gain designed for IEMs
- 2.4wpc at 32 ohms
I was loaned another piece of Schiit for review, this time the IEMagni. The IEMagni is one of three models in Schiit’s latest generation of Magni headphone amps. The Magnis represent Schiit’s entry point in headphone amps with the 3+ and Heresy being $99 each and the IEMagni being $119. The IEMagni is more closely related to the Heresy and includes a negative gain stage that is designed to make it the go-to entry-level amp for IEMs, yet maintain the guts of the Magni line that give it the power to drive almost all full-sized headphones. Did Schiit succeed? Let’s find out!
Schiit succeeded. They really did create a do-it-all entry-level headphone amp. The IEMagni handles IEMs and full-sized headphones with equal aplomb. The sonic background on IEMs is silent. Eerily. Dead. Silent. There are a couple of ergonomic quirks – like if that gain stage is such a big deal why is the gain switch on the back? Even so, it’s a rock-solid power plant that won’t break the bank and gives a pretty honest evaluation of most headphones and IEMs up to $500, and some beyond.
FEATURES & BUILD
The Magni line is well known at this point, with the IEMagni being basically generation 4.5. You get the classic Schiit aesthetic – in only black and gray – with an aluminum chassis. The back panel has one set each of RCA analog inputs and preamp outputs. The back panel sports both the power switch and gain switch. The power switch on the back is a quintessentially Schiity move. Basically every reviewer under the Sun, myself included, bemoans the fact that turning a Schiit on/off is a reacharound affair. I think at this point Moffat and Stoddard are just laughing at us. But, it is what it is. The gain switch on the back is arguably the more irritating one as it’s the gain stages on this amp that are the big draw. Anyway, the front panel has the ¼” (6.3mm) headphone output, volume knob, and Schiit logo. That’s it.
Like it’s Magni brethren, the IEMagni is rated for 2.4 watts of output power at 32Ω. It’s got quite a bit of oomph for the price and for its size. Even with 600Ω cans and big planars the IEMagni delivered an impressive amount of power.
The big selling point of the IEMagni over it’s $20 cheaper siblings is that negative gain stage. The 3+ and Heresy each have the standard Hi and Lo gain. The negative gain stage on the IEMagni is designed to make it dead silent with IEMs, which are often sensitive and will show you the noise floor of your amp. Does this negative gain stage do what it’s supposed to do? Yes. Very well. More will be said in the section where I talk about…
For serious testing I fed the IEMagni with the Schiit Modius DAC that was connected via RCA coaxial SPDIF to a Singxer SU-2 digital-to-digital converter. I also used the Cayin N6ii DAP with the E02 module set to lineout mode and used a 4.4mm pentacon – to – 3.5mm TRS adapter and 3.5mm TRS to RCA ‘y’ cable. I used the Tin T3 and Jomo Flamenco as IEMs and the Beyerdynamic DT880 (600Ω), Massdrop + Sennheiser HD6XX, Audeze LCD-2 prefazor (rev 1), and Focal Radiance as the full-sized headphones.
If you’re familiar with Schiit’s Asgard 3, the sound signature of the IEMagni is quite similar – just slightly warmer and thicker than neutral with a smooth, somewhat relaxed, but dynamic presentation – but not quite to the extent the A3 does it. I’m not going to spill too many words here other than to say that detail retrieval, timbre, soundstage, etc. are all appropriate for a product in the price range. More will be said about some individual aspects of sound in the comparison section below.
How about that negative gain stage? I can confirm that with the Tin T3 and the Jomo Flamenco there is virtually no audible noise through the IEMagni. On the negative gain setting and the pot maxed out, there is silence. The negative gain setting also allowed both IEMs to play around my customary 72-75dB average SPLs with the potentiometer at about 12:00, give or a take an hour depending on track level. As far as I can tell, Schiit succeeded in their goal of making a Magni that is IEM friendly.
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER (HOPEFULLY) RELEVANT PRODUCTS
The budget headphone amp market is a bit flooded right now. Where does the IEMagni fit in? To find out I compared the IEMagni to the JDS Labs Atom amp, the Monolith Liquid Spark amp, the Schiit Asgard 3 headphone amp, and the amp section of the Cayin N6ii DAP with E02 module. Let’s start with the Schiity comparison.
Making Scents of Two Schiits
As mentioned above the IEMagni and the Asgard 3 sound fairly similar in overall signature. The Asgard 3 is overall more refined, more dynamic, has greater detail retrieval, and more dynamic punch. None of this should be surprising given that the Asgard is twice the price of the Magni line ($80 more than IEMagni), and more importantly, has a more capable power supply. Most of the differences I heard can be traced back to the fact that the Asgard has more power coming in and circuitry that can deliver that power more effectively. The subbass rumble is more present and powerful with the Asgard 3. Kick drums kick harder. The overall presentation is more dynamic and yet also more refined. The DT880 brought these differences out the most. The Asgard 3 can summon the power to make the DT880’s bass reach deep and rumble. In contrast, the IEMagni ran out of juice.
IEMagni vs Atom vs Liquid Spark
This is a more fair comparison as all of these amps fall between $99 and $119. Signature-wise the Atom is studio-neutral, the Spark is warm, smooth, and dynamic, the IEMagni falls in between, being closer to the Spark than the Atom. Consistently I found the Atom to be the most forward sounding of the three. It’s not necessarily aggressive, but it’s more in-your-face than either of the other two. It’s also wider in soundstage, but a bit more wall-of-sound-y in its presentation. The Spark was consistently the warmest, bassiest, and punchiest of the three. It rumbled the most in the subbass and hit hardest with kick drums and bass guitar. The IEMagni was the most overall refined and detailed. I did not have a consistent favorite among these three. It varied by headphone, if it varied. I thought the DT880 did the most right out of the IEMagni and the 6XX did the most right out of the Spark, at least as far as full-sized headphones go.
I also found the IEMagni, despite it being ever-so-slightly more resolving than the other two, to be more forgiving. Playing a couple of bad recordings – The Wallflower’s cover of Heroes by David Bowie and You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette, which are both harsh and sibilant, and in the case of Heroes just kind of veiled and lacking space – the IEMagni handled the sharpness with less freaking out. These tracks were not as sharp or uncomfortable as they were with Atom of Spark. However, the Spark was closer to the IEMagni than the Atom in these regards for both tracks.
If you’re an IEM user then I think there is a clear winner here, and no surprise it’s the IEMagni. The Liquid Spark is the noisiest of the three. It has a fair amount of background noise with IEMs and also, even on low gain, has to have its potentiometer turned way down where it’s often in the channel imbalance range. The channel imbalance stops around 8:00 but by that time the volume is going to be getting pretty crazy loud. The Atom is not a bad choice for IEMs. It’s not perfectly dead silent like the IEMagni is, but its noise is still quite low. However, there is less play in the potentiometer. The Flamenco was starting to blow up my head already around the 9:00 range. The Atom also has a bit more treble bite than the IEMagni. I think that could be important if the plan is to pair one of these amps with a more budget-level IEM. In my experience, budget IEMs tend to be quick to go sharp and harsh in the treble and the Atom’s signature is not going to do that any favors. With the two IEMs I have on hand to test with, the IEMagni is the best ergonomic match – in terms of volume control – and also the best sonic match.
IEMagni vs Cayin N6ii + E02
The N6ii is the only other product I have on hand for which it could be argued that IEMs are one of the target products it can work with. I set it to line-out mode to use its internal DAC and the IEMagni as an amp, and then also used the E02 as an amp. The idea was to evaluate the two amps – the IEMagni and the internal E02 amp – and compare them. These results were more consistent regardless of whether I used an IEM (I used Flamenco mostly) or a full-sized headphone (mostly Radiance – it’s low impedance and easy to drive). The IEMagni had an advantage in dynamics, being punchier, more lively, and also had more subbass presence and rumble. The E02 had the advantage almost everywhere else. The title track on Hiromi’s Alive album illustrates the differences within the first 90 seconds. With either the Flamenco or the Radiance the IEMagni was able to give the very active bass line more heft and impact. The snare drum also had just a little bit more snap to it. But the E02 was overall more resolving, capturing the subtleties of the differences in tone of the toms and cymbals more clearly and resolving piano notes in a more natural way. The track opens with a lot of cymbal crashes. The IEMagni had some difficulty resolving the different cymbal sounds from each other creating a presentation that was overall more hashy and monolithic. The E02 wasn’t exactly stellar either but did a noticeably better job of separating individual cymbal sounds from each other and presenting the attack and decay of each strike.
Where Does the IEMagni Rank Among <$200 Amps
I have that big under $200 amp comparison. A missing piece at the time was the newest Magni line. The question is IEMs or headphones? If IEMs, the IEMagni shoots right to the top of the list. I love the Asgard 3 but it’s not particularly IEM friendly, suffering from some noise and not a lot of potentiometer control with IEMs. Schiit’s Magnius is probably the closest challenger to the IEMagni for IEMs. I briefly connected the Flamenco to the balanced output of the Magnius, it’s quite silent on low gain with the pot turned all the way, too. However, the volume takes a BIG jump around 10:00 on the potentiometer so there is less play in the volume. This volume jump can be mitigated if paired with a DAC that has volume control. In the brief testing I did in this comparison, I found the sound quality to be quite close between the IEMagni and the Magnius. IMO the Magnius’s extra $80 is a tough sell to use with IEMs given the extra hoops needing to be jumped and not a large gap in performance.
If the plan is to use full-sized headphones then the Asgard 3 is still the under $200 winner hands down. I’d still like to see someone beat the Asgard 3 at its price because that will be genuinely impressive and a very exciting product. However, arguably the Magni line is the most technically proficient at $99. And since the IEMagni is a Magni with a negative gain stage, then we can call the new Magnis the “Lightweight Champion” of under $200 amps and place it on my diagram here:
For full-sized headphones it’s really very close to its $99-109 competition. I like it slightly better but not enough to go through the effort of selling off either the Atom and/or Spark and keeping this one. Truth is, you can buy any of Atom, Liquid Spark, or the new Magnis and have an excellent power amp to explore <$500 headphones.
Who should buy the IEMagni? If you’re new to audio and don’t know yet whether you like headphones or IEMs, grab this one. It’s signature is neutral enough and its performance good enough to help you determine what your preferences are. It has the grace to handle sensitive IEMs and the power to handle both high impedance dynamic headphones and large planar magnetic headphones.
The IEMagni really is an excellent product at its price point. It sounds as good as it can rightly be expected to and powers just about everything not named HE6 or Susvara. Schiit accomplished a valuable goal of creating an entry-level head amp that can truly do it all. If you’re new to the game and don’t know what you like yet, grab this one. It will get you started nicely.
Thanks for reading! Enjoy the music!
Fantastic review, as always! Thanks for the write-up.
I agree with pretty much everything here while listening to IEMs from @CharlieBrown used IEMagni.
It is a pretty sweet little device for entry level, since it plays well with so many things and is pretty dang quiet with IEMS, no hiss
The unit I reviewed above is FOR SALE!