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I’ve had a few different headphone amps, and making a comparison is the best way I know to give others an idea of the sound signature produced by the THX 789 amp. These few popular amps are the Schiit magni 3, massdrop o2 desktop edition, JDS Labs eL amp, and Schiit asgard 2. They all range from $99 to $300 with the thx being the most expensive, not that I give more weight to price tags when reviewing gear. I’ll be using the Audeze lcd2c as my headphones reference.
First off is the magni 3 vs the thx. The magni 3 is brighter with a treble bias that seems to become grainy as you raise the volume. Sound stage is decent and bass reproduction is well pronounced, almost like a slight v shaped frequency curve. The thx compared to the magni 3 is much smoother, deceptively smooth even and somtimes you will find yourself raising the volume higher than normal because the treble does not become fatigued even thouh the treble is well represented. Its actually the first amp that has made me like some more treble intense songs. Sound stage is slightly bigger than magni 3 and there is more depth and seperation as well as a much quieter background.
The comparison to the o2 amp in the product page might be a little misleading. The o2 is a clean sounding amp, but the thx really is on a different level. The o2 is less treble biased than the magni 3, but at loud volumes will sound a bit thin and lacking in sub bass. The thx has the cleanness of the o2 with just more of everything else. more bass definition and control especially when using the balanced output with my Audeze lcd2c and still much more treble clarity while not becoming to dry or thin at higher volumes. The sound stage is also larger with better imaging.
The JDS Labs el amp is a bit smoother up top than the o2 and has more low end than the o2, but not as much as the magni 3 anddoes not really differ much in imaging or sound stage. Its the most neutral amp here which means it has less highs and lows overtly pronounced than the rest although it can get harsh on bad recordings especially with treble happy headphones like the hifiman he400i. Its a very subdued clinical sounding amp in comparison to the rest here with the smallest sound stage.The Thx compared to the el amp again wins on overall smoothness and is able to reproduce bass and treble much more effectively. There is an almost 3d like effect that some songs get with the thx that the others cant match.
The last amp is the Schiit Asgard 2. The Asgard 2 is a very close competition to the thx for me. Before i got the thx the asgard with the lcd2c and mimby was my absolute favorite setup. I’ve since replaced the asgard with the thx and added the eitr which has become a phenomenal little setup, but still use the asgard with some eq’d he400i to get a similar sound. The asgard is a bit on the darker side when listening in low gain and that is my preference with that amp.The sound stage is actually a little bigger on the asgard than the thx, but imaging and placement of instruments is not as precise. the background is also much more silent on the thx, but sometimes the hazyness of the asgard can draw you in. Bass on the asgard with the lcd2c is slightly more bloated in low gain, but tighter in high gain and the treble becomes more pronounced and not as smooth as the thx. Overall i prefer the thx as it has the best range of qualities i find pleasing in an amp. It has also allowed me to hear the difference between my dacs better as well as with my other amps it was a bit harder to tell when i switched between them.
Hopefully this helps people who are thinking of purchasing this amp and may have experience with some of these other amps to get a better idea of what to expect. To sum it all up all I can really say is that the thx 789 is really a phenomenal little amp and should be able to satisfy just about anyone. It will bring out the true character of your source better than any of the other amps I have listed and has the power in reserve and versatility to drive anything you plug into it.
I like this amp so much I got a second. Its the first amp I bought duplicates of, which is just another testament to its value and performance.
Very nice review. May I ask what DAC you’re using on your set up?
I just have my LCD2C and I’m planning to get the THX 789 amp.
I’m currently using a schiit modi multibit along with their eitr usb to spdif converter. I’ve tried the thx with a few dacs. The schiit modi 3, smsl su8 balanced, and topping d50. Before i got the eitr I was using the d50 primarily with the thx. Its close to the mimby(modi multibit) and matches better aesthetics wise. The differences between the mimby and d50 are that the d50 has a bit better low bass definition and a hint of more high frequency sparkle or edge. the mimby has more depth and space, but the d50 has maybe a bit more precision in instruments positioning. The smsl has a bigger sound stage and more seperation, but seemed a tad brighter as well. My smsl su8 is version one that did not have the best measurements on balanced performance. v2 is on sale now though massdrop i believe.
The modi 3 is close to the d50 oveall with the d50 having better low end and the modi 3 being smoother up top. The addition of the eitr made me go back to the mimby. it stacks really well and made the sound much more fluid and organic. It cleared things up a bit in the background and also took more edge off the treble. I really cant recommend the mimby, eitr, thx789, and Audeze lcd2c with balanced hp cable enough. I’m good for a while until I feel like dropping really big money, and am actually worried it won’t be much better even if i did. Very pleased with this setup. Hope this helps!
Do you think the THX 789 is still a good value at $500 + customs fees? That's what I'd be paying in Canada. We get hosed up here for prices of just about everything.
Hi, I was reading about the Balanced out issues on the SMSL SU8 - is there a way to tell which one you have? ( I have one as well and was curious. )
All I can tell you is that the sound presentation I'm getting with my current setup including the thx amp is above what I've gotten with much more expensive floor speaker setups that included brands like Krell and Revel. I've not heard any amp over the price of the thx for headphones, and the issue of something's worth is ultimately up to the listener. Even things like principle play a part. Some people don't want to pay more for something as long as others did not have too even if the product is better than other products costing much more.
I don't know honestly. I'm not sure when the serial numbers that included v2 started. I'm pretty sure mine is v1 since I got mine very close to the time of the bad measurement findings.
Fair enough. I could be on the V1 too and I'm not noticing any problems with this amp and the balanced outs from the SU8. The sound is clean and detailed, and I have had no distortion on any level ("Oh my god i'm going deaf!" Will happen first). Using it currently with the Senn HD6XXs balanced, but also have the Phillips X2s, and some MX40s to play around with :)
AFAIK, the only way is to open it up and look at the board. There are 3 different versions out, old and new, and some sort of weird hybrid that falls somewhere in the middle. I just got my SU-8 in and while I haven't physically checked yet, I have been told that most of them out there are either the middle or latest version.
Ah I see it. I'm on 1.1 and I think the board was put together in May. I'm cool with it though :)
I have the el amp and the nfb11.28 the el amp is dry and more clinical than the nfb11.28 love the energy the 11 gives me but the clarity of the el amp is better how would you say the thx is dry clinical wider soundstage imaging compared to both ?
The thx is more revealing than the el amp and has smoother highs, no low freqency roll off like the el amp an a bit bigger sound stage. Its the amp that sounds the most like your source, so I guess clinical would be a good description. But dont think that makes if dry because if you cive it a r2r, multibit, or delta sigma dac you will get the sound profile that comes from each. This amp does not add anything extra so it will only sound clinical or musical depending on what signal you feed it. I hope this helps you! :)
yes...thanks for the review..but is anyone else having issues with the 789?