The overpoweringly gorgeous Lyr hybrid tube headphone amp
By Paul Ridden
December 30, 2010
Schiit Audio is set to release a new headphone amplifier which pumps out ten times the power of a typical model. The Lyr has been principally developed to drive high power orthodynamic headphones coveted by audiophiles for their excellent soundstage, and which require more juice than a personal media player's amp can provide. The power amp also features an adaptive output technology that dynamically adjusts depending on the headphone load.
Given that the high-power hybrid design of the Lyr headphone amplifier produces 6W RMS per channel into 32 ohms – which may well hospitalize your average pair of phones (and probably the user too) – Gizmag put the simple question of "why" to company co-founder Jason Stoddard.
"Beyond Why not ? – which, to go off on a tangent, I think is probably still one of the most important reasons in the world for doing anything," Stoddard told us. "If nobody experimented with anything, where would we be? Living in caves. So, I'm totally comfortable with Why not ? That said, there's a very good reason to have a super-powerful headphone amp, and that's due to the recent popularity of high-end, orthodynamic headphones."
"These planar-magnetic designs require a lot of power," he continued. "Forget driving them from a computer or iPod. Even most headphone amps aren't up to the task. These headphones include the Audeze LCD-2, and HiFiMan HE-4, HE-5, and HE-6. They have retail prices that range from US$500 to US$1,200, so they aren't for everyone. But for someone chasing the best headphone sound on the planet, they're top contenders."
Hybrid design and adaptive dynamics
The Lyr amp has an impedance of 8 - 600 ohms, gain of 20 dB and frequency response of 2 Hz - 200 kHz, -3dB. Its total harmonic distortion of less than 0.1 per cent, 20 Hz-20K Hz, at 1V and its power consumption is 30 W. As you might expect of such a beast, it does generate some heat during operation but is said to operate slightly cooler than other Schiit offerings – and, yes, the name is pronounced exactly as you think it might be.
Stoddard also told us that the Lyr features something called a Dynamically Adaptive output stage, which is described as "a current-sensing adaptive output topology which allows the amplifier to dynamically adjust to the headphone load. The primary benefits are essentially single-ended Class-A operation for high-impedance headphones (300-600 ohms), moving seamlessly to push-pull Class A and finally into Class AB as current needs increase. This provides much higher overall efficiency."
This means that the Lyr automatically senses the current needs of the headphone load, rather than simply acting as a passive source and if the current needs of the headphones are low, it can operate similarly to single-ended Class A amplifier. If needs are high, the device can switch to either push-pull Class A, or move out of Class A entirely into Class AB.
The Lyr benefits from a hybrid tube/MOSFET discrete design, with JJ ECC88 tubes for voltage gain. Users can fine tune the device's sonic characteristics by swapping out the supplied tubes with any 6DJ8, 6922, or ECC88 type, up to and including 6N1Ps, varieties. The single voltage gain stage, and DC-coupling at input and output, is claimed to give exceptional transparency and enhanced dynamics with no overall feedback.
Built for lasting performance
Like all Schiit Audio products, the Lyr is made in the USA, using components that are primarily sourced in the U.S. – and there's not an integrated circuit in sight. It's constructed with longevity in mind and is intended to be something you can pass down to your children. According to Stoddard, unlike other powerful audiophile headphone amplifiers on the market, it's also "easy on the wallet."
There's no soundstage tweaking like with the Zo and Dolby doesn't even get a look-in. The Lyr is a straight headphone amplifier designed to bring out the best in high-end orthodynamic or high-impedance cans.
It's available now for pre-order, is priced at US$449, and has a likely shipping window of March 2011. Purchase does come with a warning though, the company says that it will "not be responsible if you blow up your headphones with it !"
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