If you need a balanced headphone amp, this is unquestionably the most affordable option. If you don’t, it’s still one of the best amps you can buy. It will supercharge your headphones.
See the Schiit Magnius
What We Like
- The Schiit Magnius delivers a fully-balanced headphone amp and output for a knockdown price.
- The sound quality of the Magnius is clean and assured, and will unquestionably boost your headphone audio.
- The industrial design and clean looks of the Magnius work really well, and the build quality is rock-solid.
- The preamp outputs make this a versatile amp that can easily be incorporated into a speaker system.
What We Don’t
- The Magnius isn’t a giant leap forward—and those who don’t need balanced outputs can save a lot of money by going with another model.
- The soundstage of the Magnius isn’t as wide as we would have liked, with minimal stereo separation.
- Those looking for an included DAC will need to look elsewhere.
Schiit Magnius Specs
|Price||DAC||Headphone Range||Watts Per Channel||Dimensions||Weight|
|$199||No||16-600Ω||5W/32Ω (Bal.)||9" x 6" x 1.5"||2lb|
Table of Contents
- Design and Features
- Sound Quality and Performance
- Why You Should Buy the Schiit Magnius
- Why You Should Not Buy the Schiit Magnius
- The Competition
- Comparison Table
- Test Equipment for This Review
Schiit Audio—it’s pronounced exactly like you think it is—make some of the best and most affordable hi-fi gear you can buy. We go out of our way not to show favoritism on this site, but Schiit make it incredibly difficult. They not only offer headphone and speaker amps that are right up there with the best available, but they do so at prices that, quite frankly, embarrass their competitors. While the new $199 Magnius isn’t a complete slamdunk for them, it’s still one of the best headphone amps you can buy. And if you use balanced headphones, it’s a no brainer.
Looks and Build Quality
Schiit definitely have a house style. You can spot one of their products from 20 feet away. The Magnius is no exception, a black metal box with a low profile and the distinctive curving upper edge that the company is known for. Despite the low cost— and really, $199 is very affordable for a headphone amplifier— the build is absolutely rock solid. There’s a satisfying weight to the amp, and it’s hard to imagine even scratching the grainy metal surface, or doing damage with anything short of a long fall off a table.
Over the years, Schiit have proven really good at dealing with the little details. It would have been very easy for them to simply take the design of the Magni (full review here)—the $99 wonder amplifier that this model is clearly based on— and upsize it with more power and a bigger price tag. Instead, they paid attention to the little things. Take, for example, the volume knob.
Don’t worry, we aren’t about to delve into the intricacies of volume knobs—not even we are that boring. What you need to know is that on the Magni, the knob is an Alps RK09 model, and it’s fine. It’s a volume knob. It gets the job done. We barely noticed it. Thing is, Schiit did. And on the Magnius, they’ve swapped it out for another Alps knob, the RK27114 27mm “Blue Velvet” (yes, it really is known as Blue Velvet).
It’s a tiny thing, but it makes a surprising difference. The volume knob really does feel high-end, with satisfying travel. Its appearance on a sub-$200 model is a very pleasing sign indeed. It’s the same volume knob that appears on their Jotunheim amplifiers, which cost over double what the Magnius costs. This is another thing that Schiit are really good at: doing everything they can to minimise the final cost to the listener, focusing on streamlining their production to make the best amps possible, at the smallest price tag possible.
Again, it’s really hard to write a review like this without coming off as shilling for Schiit. But you know what? We aren’t robots. If a company continually produces quality amps and DACs year after year, at highly competitive prices, that’s worth celebrating. But bottom line: the Magnius is built like a tank, and we loved it even before we turned it on.
The Magnius has one unique selling point that makes it different from just about every other amp out there. It is a fully balanced headphone amplifier, at a ridiculously affordable price— a price that easily beats similar models. Before we get into this, let’s do a quick recap about what balanced amplifiers are, and why you should care.
Most amplifiers are single-ended. What that means is that the audio signal flows down a single straightforward path, from one end to the other. It’s a perfectly acceptable way of listening to music, and it gets the job done. We use it all the time. But balanced amplifiers are a little bit different. They create two copies of the signal, flowing down completely separate paths. Right before that signal reaches your ears, the circuitry compares them. If there is any difference in the two signals— like electrical noise, for example, picked up along the way— it’s eliminated. Balanced amplifiers don’t sound dramatically different to single ended ones, but they are known to be cleaner, with less noise. They also tend to be significantly more expensive than straight single-ended models. As an example, the next-cheapest headphone amp we could find with balanced outputs was the S.M.S.L SP200 THX AAA-888, at $266 (versus $199 for the Magnius). It also has a much worse name, but that’s neither here nor there.
The Magnius is fully balanced. Every part of the circuitry, from end to end, is designed to be balanced— not just the output. And this, more than anything else, is the reason it exists. If you listen to headphones with fully balanced cables (which, to be fair, takes in the large majority of high-end headphones) a fully balanced amp is the way to go. And as we’ve said, this is absolutely the most affordable way to do it. It’s relatively basic, when you get down to it— outside of the silky volume knob, there’s an input switch and a gain switch and that’s it. But in terms of balanced audio, there simply isn’t a cheaper way to do it. And as you’ll see when we talk about the sound quality, cheaper does not necessarily mean that you sacrifice on audio.
Unfortunately, the Magnius’s raison d’etre is also its biggest weakness. If you don’t use headphones with a balanced cable, you’ll still be able to use the Magnius quite happily— it has a regular single ended output next to its balanced XLR one, and it works with all headphones. But why would you? If all you want is an amp with clean sound quality to boost your headphone sound, and you plan on using the standard 6.3mm headphone jack common to just about every amp in the world, then you may as well save yourself a hundred bucks and just buy the Magni. There is only a minimal difference in sound quality between that amp and its bigger brother, something we go into in more detail below. And although you miss out on a few features, like the balanced preamp outputs, the Magni is such an incredible little amplifier that we genuinely can’t imagine any reason to buy the Magnius unless you plan on making use of those balanced outputs.
Well, perhaps one reason. Schiit Products are famously stackable, and if you own or plan to buy the Modius DAC, the Magnius sits perfectly on top of it. We didn’t have one handy to test, but given the company’s track record, we imagine they sound pretty spectacular together. That said: unlike most other Schiit products, there is exactly one color option here, which is black. It’s not a negative, necessarily, but if you’ve come to like customary Schiit silver, you might miss it. It’s going to be especially irksome if you already have a silver Modius DAC to place it on top of.
One of the issues we had with the Magni was the giant wall wart power supply. We understood why it had to be this way, why Schiit would want to keep all those noisy electronics out of the amp itself. But it still felt annoying to use, and unfortunately, that same wall wart has made it across to the Magnius. It’s quite difficult to fault them on this, because it’s clearly a very deliberate design decision, one made in order to extract the maximum performance from the app. But annoying is annoying. In any case, it’s the only accessory that comes in the barebones cardboard box. A remote would be nice—Schiit make a good one— but we do see how it would add to the cost.
Balance and Clarity
Whether you go for balanced or single ended connections, we can’t imagine you being displeased with the sound quality of the Magnius. It’s genuinely good, regardless of the genre of music. The name of the game here, unsurprisingly, is balance: crisp, clean, even audio. While it doesn’t boast the rigorous neutrality of something like the Drop + THX AAA 789, a similarly balanced amplifier that costs $329, it still manages to get the music across without coloring it. You will, for the most part, be hearing the sound as the artist intended.
There is a direct line between the aforementioned Magni, and this amp. The Magni really set the bar for incredible sound at an affordable price, and the Magnius builds on that. We love how detailed the sound is, how every guitar bites down hard, how every snare drum is as crisp as the crust on a crème brûlée. The bass is superb, with good control and power. It’s never boomy or overly harsh, giving only a clean, balanced impression.
If you’re looking for an amplifier that colors the sound, perhaps through the use of vacuum tubes, then the Magnius isn’t going to satisfy. It’s an amp with a very singular purpose: delivering the cleanest, freshest audio possible. It doesn’t have the character of something like the Monoprice Monolith Liquid Platinum (full review here), but it’s not meant to. It’s meant to present your music, and then get out of the way. While we did have some misgivings about the soundstage (see below) we were still hugely impressed with the sound coming out of the Magnius. It rocks.
We genuinely don’t think you’ll find a pair of headphones that cannot be powered by the Schiit Magnius. It delivers serious juice. On a 32 ohm load, it delivers five watts RMS power per channel through the balanced outputs, and two watts through the single ended (Here’s what all this means in a lot more detail). That is far more power than is needed by even the hungriest headphones, and all of it delivered without any sort of extraneous electrical noise.
Let’s compare that to a similarly priced headphone amp, the $270 Mayflower Electronics ARC Mk2. Admittedly, the Mayflower is a different beast, with an included DAC and a microphone input. It’s not really designed to do the same things the Magnius does. But at 32 ohms, it can muster no more than a single watt. Now, power isn’t everything, and we do want to stress that the ARC will be able to drive almost all headphones. But it is illustrative that the less expensive Magnius provides more power, and sounds much better, than amps that are significantly more expensive.
We proved this by hooking the Magnius up to a pair of ZMF Atticus headphones. At 300 ohms, they are relatively hard to drive, and yet the Magnius didn’t even break a sweat. And when we tested a pair of in-ear monitors, the outstanding Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020, there was no noise or hiss to speak of. Sensitive IEMs sometimes pull this out of amplifiers that aren’t quite up to standard, but it didn’t happen here. No matter which pair of headphones or IEM’s we tried, the Magnius performed exceptionally well.
Being a headphone amp is only the first part of what the Magnius does. Round the back, you’ll find multiple inputs and outputs, both balanced and single ended. The inclusion of outputs means you can use the Magnius as a preamp for a bigger system. That’s exactly what we did, connecting it to a pair of Vanatoo Transparent Zero wireless computer speakers we’ve been testing.
We were seriously impressed with the performance. While it’s obviously designed to power headphones, first and foremost, the Magnius is no slouch in the preamp department. It made the sound of the speakers a lot more full and vivid, bringing out the details and increasing the impression that we were hearing absolutely everything. If you’re into hi-fi separates, then a $200 preamp may be a little below what you’re looking for. But we can honestly say that we’d put the Magnius up against just about any preamp in the sub-$1,000 dollar price range. It performed exceptionally well.
If there is one element of the sound quality we didn’t like, it was the soundstage. It wasn’t that it was bad, per se, it’s just that it never impressed us in the way that the rest of the sound did. Separation of the instruments in the tracks we listen to was fine, but they did feel a little boxed in, as if all that fabulous circuitry was herding them into a place they didn’t want to go. It’s not a problem we had with the fabulous Magni, and we can’t help thinking that Schiit should have paid this area a little more attention. Nevertheless, it’s a minor issue.
If you use headphones with balanced cables, then the Magnius is a no-brainer. It is, quite simply, one of the best balanced headphone amps ever made, and absolutely the most affordable. We also think that if you’re looking at a single box that can handle both headphone and preamp duties, then the Magnius should be on your list. Overall, it’s an excellent headphone amp, albeit one that isn’t quite as groundbreaking as the original Magni.
As we’ve said, the biggest flaw that the Magnius has is that if you don’t own headphones with a balanced cable, there are less expensive options available which sound almost as good. We love the Magnius, and we think it’s a terrific headphone amplifier, but it is definitely not the best option for most people. You can save yourself quite a bit of cash by sticking with single ended connections and buying the excellent Magni.
Schiit Magnius vs. Schiit Magni
We were fortunate enough to have a Magni in the office while testing the Magnius, so we could directly compare the two. To keep things fair, we tested only the single ended outputs (the only type of headphone output the Magni has) and kept all the equipment and test audio exactly the same. Same DAC, same headphones, same tracks.
How did the $99 Magni fair against the $199 Magnius? There was no doubt that the Magnius sounded better, with audio quality that was little richer and more full, especially on the low end. But we are not talking dramatic differences here. The change was very subtle, and honestly, that sealed the deal for us. For almost everyone, the smaller Magni will do the job. Yes, you don’t get the gorgeous volume knob, or the balanced output. But you get almost everything else, including sound quality that is just as good, and a sub-$100 price tag. If you need balanced outputs, then go for the Magnius. If not, get the Magni. There’s a reason it’s sat at the top of our headphone amp roundup for so long.
Schiit Magnius vs. Schiit Asgard
Up until now, the Asgard has been that the amplifier that Schiit has offered at the $199 price point. We think the Magnius is better, overall. It sounds cleaner, and the Asgard has no balanced connections. However, it does have one thing that the Magnius doesn’t, and that’s the ability to add a DAC.
Obviously this adds to the cost, but you have the option at checkout to add multiple types of DAC to the Asgard, turning it into a single box solution. That gives it the flexibility and versatility that the Magnius doesn’t have. If you’re looking for a combined DAC–headphone amp, then check out the Asgard. And yes, they are now aware that they are selling a product called the Schiit Ass Guard. Apparently, it didn’t occur to them until well into production.
Schiit Magnius vs. Monoprice Monolith Liquid Platinum
Let’s say you’re ready to take a step up from the Magnius, and invest in a tube amp that can really boost the sound and give it delicious character, rather than keeping things balanced and neutral. If that’s the case, check out the Monoprice Monolith Liquid Platinum. It’s relatively pricey, at $640, but you absolutely get what you pay for.
Like the Magnius, it’s a balanced headphone amplifier with an added single ended output, and like the Magnius, it has no DAC. We think it’s a different proposition, rather than a better or a worse one, but it remains our current favorite tube amp, and one that you should definitely take a look at if that’s the direction you’re willing to go in.
Schiit Magnius vs. Drop + THX AAA 789
Balanced headphone amplifiers under $500 are relatively rare, and at this point, we think the $320 Drop + THX AAA 789 is one of the few that can compete with the Magnius. It’s obviously significantly more expensive, which is a big downside, and it lacks the Schiit amp’s balanced preamp outputs.
So why buy it? Because in our opinion, it’s one of the most transparent, realistic amplifiers we’ve ever heard. If you demand hearing your music exactly as the artist intended, if you will accept nothing less than audio perfection, with no color whatsoever, then the AAA 789 should be your first port of call. We think the Magnius is a better amplifier, with better value for money, but there’s no denying the quality of the AAA 789.
Schiit Magnius vs. iFi Audio Zen DAC
The iFi Audio Zen DAC Is an impressive little number. It’s a $130 single box system, complete with DAC. Like the Magnius, it’s fully balanced, and is arguably a little friendlier to most headphone owners. The balanced output isn’t a chunky XLR, like you’d find on the Magnius, but a simple 4.4mm socket.
Truth be told, as fully featured as the Zen DAC is, we think the Magnius is a better choice. In terms of construction, sound quality, and features, it just smokes the Zen. Yes, it may not have a DAC, but those are cheap as chips these days. Don’t get us wrong, the Zen DAC is an excellent system, but it’s not quite up there with the Magnius.
|Schiit Magnius||$199||No||16-600Ω||5 / 32Ω||9" x 6" x 1.5"||2lbs|
|Schiit Magni||$99||No||1-600Ω||3 / 16Ω||5" x 3.5" x 1.25"||1lb|
|Schiit Asgard||$199||Optional||16-600Ω||3.5 / 32Ω||9" x 6" x 2"||5lbs|
|Monoprice MLP||$640||No||3-300Ω||1.78 / 33Ω||8.8" x 8.5" x 2.0"||3.2lbs|
|Drop + THX AAA 789||$320||No||16-600Ω||4 / 16Ω||8.3" x 9.1" x 2.2"||3.4lbs|
|iFi Audio Zen DAC||$130||Yes||16-1600Ω||0.23 / 32Ω||4.6" x 3.9" x 1.18"||1.8lbs|
*DAC = Digital-to-Analogue Converter
**RHI = Recommended Headphone Impedance
***WPC = Watts Per Channel
Below, you'll find a list of equipment we used in conjunction with the Schiit Magnius while doing our listening tests for this review. It's all gear we are familiar with, which helped us evaluate the amp's audio quality.
- ZMF Atticus Headphones
- Andover Audio PM-50 Headphones
- Sennheiser HD600 Headphones
- Chord Electronics Hugo 2 DAC
- Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 IEMs
- Vanatoo Transparent Zero Wireless Speakers