Listening | “Fjäril” from Meadows

At the time of this blog post I am listening to ”Fjäril” from Meadows’ The Emergency Album.

Meadows bio from Spotify:

Born and raised in the small town Söderköping on the east coast of Sweden, the finger style guitarist and songwriter Christoffer Wadensten have traveled the world the last couple of years. Playing clubs, festivals, living rooms and theaters around Scandinavia, Europe, UK and USA. In autumn 2016 Meadows released his home made debut EP ”The Only Boy Awake.” In April 2017 the title track of the EP was featured in the Netflix series ”13 Reasons Why,” which brought him into millions of living rooms.

Oldenburn Internetzeitung in Germany described Meadows as ”In the jungle of the many songwriters, he is an exceptional artist. He just knows how to captivate his audience,” and Nerikes Allehanda in Sweden said, ”The humble but confident presence creates a connection to the audience that is…let’s say: amazing.” Based on listening to just Fjäril alone, I cannot disagree.

Fjäril translates to ”butterfly” in the English language. I did not look this up until after I had listened to the song many times, and learning the translation of the track name, it made such sense.

Meadows’ finger style of guitaristry is perfect for this, and he wrote this song so much for his style, by my reckoning. As you listen to this 1m 45s journey you’ll hear his fingers flutter across the strings.

The song starts out with a beautiful flourish of notes that changes tone back and forth, ending with some harmonics. Taking a slow, somber, and reflective turn, he slows down. The mid section of the song is lower in pitch, more deliberate, and contemplative. Around the one minute mark, the tempo increases and the flourish of notes returns. The flutters. The buildup to the end of the song has such forward movement, and delivers you directly to the completion of the song, which slows down and ends on a resolved note.

From an audio standpoint, the track is quite literally just guitar. No percussion, no samples, no vocals, and no other instruments. And it doesn’t feel the least bit lacking. Meadows manages to fill the track so fully with just his guitar. The detail and texture in the recording are nice as well, with the listener able to discern the movements of his fingers across strings and carefully pinging harmonics, but without any scratching or other unwanted artifacts. It is simply beautiful, moving, smooth and skillful guitar.

If you’re looking for a peaceful afternoon listen, look for further than ”Fjäril” from Meadows. You won’t be disappointed.

Happy listening,

~ Griff

 

 

Review: Schiit Modi 2 Uber DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter)

I feel the Modi 2 Uber is a great little device that dramatically improved the quality of my listening for a smaller stack of cash. If you aren’t using a DAC currently, need multiple inputs, and can find one used, don’t miss out on picking it up!

We’re back for another Schiit review and this time we are looking at the Modi 2 Uber, one of the US-based company’s entry DACs (digital-to-audio converters).  I picked up the M2U for about $90 around the same time I picked up the Magni 3, which I also recently reviewed here.

As with the Magni review and to keep things as consistent as possible, note the following:

  • Source: Desktop PC using both Spotify and some FLACs
  • Amp: Schiit Magni 3
  • Headphones: Hifiman HE-400i
schiit-modi-2-uber-angle
‘ Schiit Modi 2 Uber front view. Pardon the dust.

The M2U takes up the exact same footprint as the Magni 3 at 5 x 4 x 1.8 inches
making them a wonderful pair to put side-by-side or made into a little Schiit-stack. While the measurements in the specifications are about 0.4 inches different, in reality they stack directly atop one another with no variance in size whatsoever.

schiit-stack-front
The Modi 2 Uber makes a great companion to the Magni 3 for many reasons, its matching form factor and size being one of those.

The front of the device, in Schiit fashion, features the manufacturer logo and model name. From a functional standpoint, the front also features the button to change inputs and three white LED indicator lights to display which input the user has selected. The chassis of the device–like the Magni– is made of metal with smooth curves in the front and has a lightweight but nice feel to it. Unfortunately, Schiit went with a plastic button, not dissimilar to the plastic knob they used on the Magni. The cheap input selector really takes away from what would otherwise feel like a faily premium device. Additionally, the plastic input selector button gets quite loose quickly when it shouldn’t, from a design standpoint.

schiit-modi-2-uber-rear
Modi 2 Uber (rear view)

Moving to the rear of the device, we find the RCA output connection, a coaxial input, optical input, and the USB input for your computer as well as the power toggle switch and 16V barrel power jack. I am using the M2U with the USB input connected to my custom desktop computer and the optical input connected to a Sony PlayStation 4.

One of my favorite things about the Modi 2 Uber–apart from the improvement to the sound it provides, which we will get to shortly–is the fact that it supports multiple inputs. While not a breakthrough in technology, this is easily a requirement in DAC choice for me, as I often wish to change inputs. Besides, once I tied my PS4 to my DAC and better headphones, it’s hard to go back to lesser headsets. Despite a flimsy input selector button, the M2U handles input switching nicely with very little delay or lag and it is as simple as the tap of the front button. But let’s be honest. What’s really important here is the sound. After using the Modi 2 Uber for about 8 or 9 months, here’s what I think.

I’m always wary of treble, as it tends to hurt and tire my ears if not well-delivered. Because of this, I chose three different tracks to test treble in this review.

  • Listening to the famous ”Rosanna” from TOTO, trebles were balanced and analytical but without being too harsh. Around two minutes into the song when there are some higher harmonies, both parts come through clearly. The various horn lines and parts throughout the song are a bit higher in range and are energetic to listen to without fatiguing your ears, which was great for me. I’m I sucker for good brass and woodwind action in music.
  • Additionally, I of course listened to ”Water Night” by Eric Whitacre, as I always use this song to examine treble performance as it contains at least 4 soprano and alto parts and complex, swelling harmonies–much due to it being composed by Eric Whitacre. From the 2:00 to 3:00, and especially at 2:40, the soaring soprano melodies complement each other and build beautifully without feeling ”crunched” into the upper-end and maintaining their airiness.
  • Finally, also from Eric Whitacre, I had to use ”Lux Arumque” for its incredible, soaring solosist and other soprano delights. With this track, I often find through lesser hardware that some of the highest parts of the song–such as at 0:48–that, while beautifully written, are typically delivered in a cringe-y and harsh ringing fashion. This was not the case when listening via the Modi 2 Uber. Treble sections were well-placed and detailed without any ringing or harshness.

Moving on to the mid-section, which is often a rather busy part of music that can get flat and jumbled.

  • ”La Luna – binaural” from Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra is a special favorite of mine, and it’s always the first song I listen to when testing any hardware. This trade sounds very, very wide and I enjoy that tremendously. The main guitar line falls largely in the mid-section and was clear, detailed, and stood out from the accompanying rhythm guitar.
  • Stick with me here, because this isn’t my usual listening. ”Shake It Off” from Taylor Switch–and much of her album 1989–is well-mastered and has plenty going on to analyze. I had no trouble identifying the various parts that are usually jumbled over each other. The various horn lines were fun to listen to in the background. Little did I know that there is a sort of synth-y organ part for most the song. I had no idea. I knew the pitches were there, kind of, but had never really realized the part. Additionally, vocals were clear and percussive parts were easy to identify and keep track of, including small snaps and claps far in the background.

Lastly, but definitely not least, the bass.

  • You know what I’m playing. ”Bad Guy” from Billie Eilish has a bold, groovy, and textured bass line from the get-go and remains one of my favorite songs to listen to in terms of modern popular music. With each note the bass hits, you can really hear the texture and detail of the string actually vibrating, versus the level note you generally hear through lesser hardware. Additionally, the bump of the drum line is just…energetic and punchy. But not a glance to the face, punchy like when listening through your car stereo or included mobile phone earbuds. More like a thin layer of memory foam hitting an immovable surface that is infinitely hollow underneath with a resounding thud. It’s great, and the M2U makes it sound better than I’ve previously heard it.
  • The iconic ”Money” from Pink Floyd is another favorite of mine. It’s always been good, but I’ve particularly liked it since it was featured in the movie The Italian Job. It’s another one of those songs that just has a great bassline rooting the song the whole way through. While less punchy than other songs, but texture in the bass line is still enjoyable and percusive bass is very full and natural. The details that the M2U delivered in this region while keeping things smooth was impressive to me, especially having come from no DAC whatsoever.

Over all I have been very happy with the Schiit Modi 2 Uber and it has its place on my desk and will continue to get regular use. My only complaints are that the input switcher button is loose and cheap-feeling, the device gets quite warm during medium to long listening sessions, and that it uses a wall-wart style power plug that takes up a ton of space. This is a weak point for all of Schiit’s entry gear, so be advised of that. Beyond those three complaints, I still feel the Modi 2 Uber is a great little device that dramatically improved the quality of my listening for a smaller stack of cash. If you aren’t using a DAC currently, need multiple inputs, and can find one used, don’t miss out on picking it up!


Schiit Audio founded by audiophiles Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat and–despite the German-sounding name–is a US-based company producing fully balanced differential power amplifiers, fully discrete I/V conversion stages, audiophile D/A converters, relay-switched stepped attenuator volume controls in preamps, the first DTS home theater surround processor on the market, and much more. More information on Schiit Audio can be found on their website, https://www.schiit.com/

Review: Schiit Magni 3 Headphone Amplifier

Overall, the Magni 3 is clean-cut, smooth, and easy listening for a relatively small price tag.

While the availability of the Magni 3 has dropped a bit since I purchased the amplifier, and its successors the Magni 3+ and Heresey have become popular, the Magni 3 remains a solid choice for driving many headphones in a simple, straightforward fashion that you’ll never tire of. I can gladly recommend it without hesitation.

Looking for a relatively affordable headphone amplifier that isn’t a piece of Schiit? Well, the Magni 3 doesn’t fit that bill due to its manufacturer’s comical name, but don’t be fooled by the terrible pun–this headphone amplifer is a great entry amp for the budding head-fi enthusiast.

I picked up the Magni 3 on Amazon for about $119 at the time (this was probably about 8 or 9 months ago). This would be my third headphone amplifier as I experimented with some of the different lower-budget products available on the market. For the purposes of this review, do note the following:

  • Source: Desktop PC using both Spotify and some FLACs
  • DAC: Schiit Modi 2 Uber
  • Headphones: Hifiman HE-400i
The Schiit Magni 3 (front view). Pardon the dust and scratches; this is a real-life look at it in use, not a product photo meant to advertise or market the product.

The front of the device features the Schiit logo and the Magni name, a cylindrical gain adjustment knob, a white power status indicator LED, and a 1/4” female audio jack to connect your headphones. The construction of the device is nice and lightweight, but premium-feeling with the smooth metal body, rounded edges, and drilled cooling vent on top. My only complaint here is with the gain adjustment knob. While the body is made of metal, the knob is a plastic material that is textured/brushed to look like stainless steel. It also has some play in it and causes other issues–but more on that further down.

The rear of the device features RCA input from your DAC or source, a gain switch (hi or lo), and an RCA output option. The power switch and power adapter jack are also located on the rear. Footprint wise, the device is stunningly smaller than product photos would have you imagine, checking in at only 4.5 x 5 x 1.4 inches. Luckily, this small device packs a bit of a punch–especially if you’re not used to using a headphone amplifer, and it does so without generating much heat.

I’ve spent the better part of the past year listening via the Magni 3 and have yet to come up with too many complaints. I listen to just about everything with the exception of country and heavier metals. The rest of the spectrum is game, including various genres of rock, pop, jazz, indie, alternative, anything and everything electronic, big band, and choral/choir/orchestra.

The most noticable difference to me was how smooth everything sounded. When I first got a headphone amplifier, I thought of making things louder, and with that, I envisioned harsh treble, rattling bass, and just a general loudness where the details get lost. Not to worry, though, because that couldn’t be further from accurate with the Magni 3.

Over the course of the past 9 months I can conclude that bass and lows are beautifully smooth with no unwanted noise or grain–just clean, strong bass. Listening to Billie Eilish’s ”Bad Guy” without the amplifier provides some dull knocks on-beat and some slurred bass line that gets lost toward the lower end. Through the Magni 3, the lower end is cleaned up tremendously. The bass line has a heavy groove to it with specified and unique pitches, varitions, and direction. The beat offers an actual thud that you can feel.

Trebles feel placed and smooth; no troubles with fatigue were had in longer listening sessions. Listening to ”Water Night” by Eric Whitacre offered soaring and swelling soprano notes that were not at all garish or fatiguing. Various phrases which are difficult to listen to direct from the source, are not at all jarring with the Magni 3. The phrases swell beautifully, as directed by Mr. Whitacre, and have tremendous placement and energy.

The mids and vocals surprisingly did not get muddled or lost at all with the overall amplification. ”Sir Duke,” from legend Stevie Wonder is incredibly forward and crisp, and the vocals are not at all muddled or lost amid the numerous instruments and rhythms accompanying him. Each instrument is heard clearly and the vocals are completely…unable to be ignored.

Everything seemed to have its place, including silence, especially during pianissimo phrases in choral music or in the ethereal ”Formed by Glaciers” from Kubbi–which was actually silent. With the exception of one scenario: when adjusting the gain knob. I noticed after a month or two that when turning the gain adjustment knob, some noise, grain, and scratchiness could be heard. The knob did eventually start to feel cheap and flimsy compared to the metal body, which is an oversight, in my opinion. But I digress.

The other notable thing for me was that the Magni added a slight; warmth to the sound, when listening without an EQ. While some prefer this, others won’t, and that’s okay. Luckily that can be adjusted in software equalization should you so desire.

Overall, the Magni 3 is clean-cut, smooth, and easy listening for a relatively small price tag.

While the availability of the Magni 3 has dropped a bit since I purchased the amplifier, and its successors the Magni 3+ and Heresey have become popular, the Magni 3 remains a solid choice for driving many headphones in a simple, straightforward fashion that you’ll never tire of. I can gladly recommend it without hesitation.


Schiit Audio founded by audiophiles Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat and–despite the German-sounding name–is a US-based company producing fully balanced differential power amplifiers, fully discrete I/V conversion stages, audiophile D/A converters, relay-switched stepped attenuator volume controls in preamps, the first DTS home theater surround processor on the market, and much more. More information on Schiit Audio can be found on their website, https://www.schiit.com/

Listening | “The Girl (Color Source Remix)[feat. Cozi Zuehlsdorff]” from Hellberg

I recently did a screen recording to show some friends my desktop customizations I did using Rainmeter and Wallpaper Engine (perhaps I will create a post about that on this blog later). The background music that was playing in the video was Color Source’s remix of The Girl (featuring Cozi Zuehlsdorff) by Hellberg. A friend sent me a text message asking what the song was because it was so good–I agree!

Color Source takes a decent song and makes it absolutely fantastic. The Girl starts off with slow, calm ocean waves crawling up and down the shore. Soft synth and clean vocals enter about twenty seconds in, with a simple rhythm following shortly after. Over the course of the next minute, the song builds elements by layering percussion and additional sound samples until the verse transitions to the drop–which is…hard to describe, but great.

The song slows back down for another verse round before building again. All 4:09 of this song is great and it remains among one of my favorites in my library.

Color Source is the stage name of Daniel Kim–dance, electronic, and future bass remix master–who is signed to Monstercat and Simplify and is most well-known for this track and his Terms and Conditions track featuring Ashely Apollodor.

If you’re looking for an electronic track to groove to featuring a great vocalism, nice rhythm, and a pretty good drop, this might just be the track for you. Give the snippet a listen above or find it on Spotify.

Happy listening,

-Griff

Review: Sabaj PHA2 Amplifier

I picked up the Sabaj PHA2 headphone amplifier a week or two ago and figured now would be a good time to do some first impressions of the device. This little guy can be picked up on Amazon for about $50-60 and provides some powerful, smooth audio for no too much coin…

I picked up the Sabaj PHA2 headphone amplifier a week or two ago and figured now would be a good time to do some first impressions of the device. This little guy can be picked up on Amazon for about $50-60 and provides some powerful, smooth audio for not too much coin.

PHA2_front

The front of the device features a standard 3.5 mm low-impedance stereo audio-out jack for your headphones, in-ear monitors, or earbuds; a neighboring 1/4″ high-impedance stereo audio-out jack complements the aforementioned by providing an outlet for nearly all audio listening devices. Audio output from the quarter-inch jack is much, much louder and cleaner than the eighth-inch jack; after a little research and talkin to some folks on Reddit, I found that the jack in use in the photo has a large resistor on the board behind its function, thus degrading the sound a bit–whereas the larger output does not have the same issue. Moving on. The adjustment knob is at the right, and is pretty smooth-turning. Coming from the NTK059, the the knob adjusts more slowly than the NTK (you can turn both 3 degrees, and the NTK will get much louder as opposed to the amplification provided by the same 3 degrees turned on the PHA2). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the NTK’s knob feels overly-sensitive after much use. Finally, the power button is located at the left of the device. It clicks when you push it; a red LED indicates the device is powered, but not turned on, while a blue LED indicates the device is powered on.

PHA2_top

The footprint of this device is roughly 4 inches by 4 inches, so it doesn’t take up much desktop space, which is quite nice. The body is metal and feels well-constructed, but is not disproportionately heavy, which is nice.

PHA2_rear

At the rear of the device, we have two sets of stereo RCA connections–one input set and one output set. I ordered a nice, braided RCA to 3.5mm cable, as no such cables are included. The connections are approrpiately snug and have no play (no wiggle). The output jacks also allow for audio to be passed through the amplifier out to an external speaker or sound system. To the right of the input and output, there is a micro-USB port which accepts 5V DC input; you’ll have to use your own cable, as no USB cable is included. This port does not allow for data transfer, so you won’t be able to interface it with your computer over USB. At the far right is the regular power port which is also 5V DC. (Important note: Do NOT attempt to power the device from both the USB port and regular power port at the same time; it will fry your amp!).

After some usage, I am fairly impressed with the PHA2. While my KZ ZST Pro’s don’t require amplification, the use of the amp definitely smoothed out the sound, added some body to the bass region, and cleaned up the silence. My only issue with the Sabaj PHA2 is that at $50-60, there are options which offer more bang-for-buck value at only marginally more expense (such as the FiiO Q1 Mark II, which combines DSD, DAC, and amplification in a $75 portable device) . That said, if you don’t want to spend more than $50-60 on an amplifier, then the the PHA2 is probably for you, and I do recommend it.


Sabaj is a Chinese audio manufacturer based out of Shenzhen. Founded in 2016, their team of experienced audio engineers is committed to building favorable and quality audio products at low prices using internet-direct sales strategies.

Sabaj also manufactures the PHA3, which is a vacuum tube amplifier. There are some differences to consider here, which I will review if I pick up the PHA3 in the future.