Ode to Schiit: Vali Coaster

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Aug 8, 2020.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    IMG_20200808_211536.jpg

    I have a story behind this. Well, not the coaster. The original Vali amp. The coaster Vali isn't quite as good as the original Vali, but it's close. I was going for a futuristic Ancient Aliens look with the Lego blocks, one that would be compatible with the Schiit aesthetic.

    @Psalmanazar mentioned something about idm in another thread. I am listening to early 90s The Future Sound of London.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2020
  2. Deep Funk

    Deep Funk Deep thoughts - Friend

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    Excellent use of tube glow. My compliments.
     
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Ten years ago (has it been that long) your very @CEE TEE and I organized a series of headphone meets in the Bay Area and SoCal. These were the Head-Fi meets where hobbyists like us brought their stuff, DIY, purchased, or otherwise, to share with the rest of the community. Vendors would be invited, but they would have to chip in. Like $150. This was before the Head-Fi meets became commercial and vendors would have to chip in thousands. Pay to play is the game now.

    @CEE TEE and I would trade notes with each other on how to strategically place the vendors among the hobbyists to give it a more community vibe. We paid attention to details, like placing vendors of headphones at tables where we knew there would amps nearby that synergized with those headphones. We placed people who we knew did not like each other in separate rooms or opposite corners. (These little things are what made @CEE TEE so successful at Drop). We would limit the number of vendors so it wouldn't be feel like trade show. These meets were for the hobbyists by the hobbyists, with the help of a few vendors willing to support the hobbyists.

    In 2011, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat showed up at one of these shows, Asgard and Lyr in hand. They started some company named Shit. WTF we all thought, who dafuk names their company Shit? At that time, many of the hobbyists who showed up were advanced in the hobby to varying degrees, at least those who had tables. I myself was among those who had a table. I owned a Melos SHA-1* (or was it an even more expensive Apex) at that time with an AMB Gamma 2 DAC. Of particular interest to me was the Lyr. I heard the Asgard with Grados and Beyers and thought, hey this combination works; but what I really was interested in was the Lyr, a tube hybrid like my Melos. Jason, who I did not know at the time, talked it up on Head-Fi, so my expectations were super high. I was hoping the Lyr would be a replacement for the temperamental Melos. The Lyr was OK. Surely highly dynamic, but missing that last bit of soul which the SHA-1 possessed. In hindsight, I realize that those guys weren't there for me, who was further along in the hobby, but for the newcomers.

    Regardless, there was a sense of excitement, anticipation for hearing stuff we hadn't heard before, meeting new people. These meets was when I first met @rhythmdevils. He found my table at one of the @CEE TEE's meetings up north, unzipped his backpack, and dumped a bunch of random headphones. I still remember that AKG Sextett, the one with the six passive radiators (AKG was much more willing to experiment at one time.) There was fellow named Paul too. He was in the process of moving from the Bay Area to the UK. This was going to be his last US meet. Like Whitney, he too brought a backpack and dumped a bunch of headphones on my table: every single Grado model, including the Joe Grado HP1000/HP-2 and the HP-1 with the polarity switches.

    What does any of this have to do with the Schiit Vali? We'll get to that soon.

    * The Melos SHA-A is still a good sounding headamp if you don't mind your 6DJ8s eaten every eight months.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2020
  4. CEE TEE

    CEE TEE Free Agent

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    Watch out for epic meets...

    First you think tube amps are crazy. Maybe ugly. Maybe weirdly interesting.
    Then you go to a meet and see one, hear one- it still may not totally convince you at first.
    Yet, as you go along, it just might haunt you (as it did me).

    Yeah, Jason has always been cool and totally supported all of the Bay Area meets. Actually, to start with, we just sold optional raffle tickets to cover the cost of the rooms and asked vendors for an item to raffle. I am afraid to know what meeting rooms cost now but in a couple of years (when safe again) it is time for another one!

    I've had some Schiit too:
    CT3 SchiitStack.jpg

    2011:
    _DSC8846.jpg
     
  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    So why the heck did I dig up the Wyrd and the Modi-Multibit to pair with the Schiit Vali coaster amp and Grados, with the bowl pads, nothing less? Because this hobby be is supposed to be fun, it's supposed to give us a sense of wonder. I miss the old hobbyist-oriented meets, the in-person interactions. I miss having dinner with the guys in NY, who would roll out the welcome mat for me whenever I was in town. (My old job took me there at least once a year). I miss the two dozen of us bunched up in a suite up the Hilton LAX talking shit. I miss not having to take measurements for amps and DACs, only for headphones where the errors where gross. I actually even miss not really knowing WTF to do, buying random shit from reading Skylab at Head-Fi, and either being horrified that hundreds of dollars went down the drain or elated that I found a gem.

    No one buys a Wyrd or USB regen type products now, but it sure was fun when it came out. I initially mated the Vali coaster amp with the Modi-Multibit. Knowing that the USB is that DAC's greatest weakness, I dug out the Wyrd. I could have gone Eitr, but that would have been too intelligent. Wyrd is just that much more silly. The Vali coaster sounds darker and duller than the OG Vali. This is probably because the coaster version's tubes run at a lower voltage, thus are in less linear operating range, more distorted. The Wyrd tends to focus the transients and open up the headstage, and in this case did exactly that. I will dig out the Modi 2 DS Uber later as I suspect the more neutral sounding Modi 2 Uber will be a better fit.

    When I was putting all this stuff together, my wife and son happened to be watching Ancient Aliens - that's sort of their mother-son tradition. Always being afraid of the exposed contacts of at the bottom on PCBs shorting on something (oh, I've smoked a few prototypes because of a stray alligator clip or two), I had wanted to put the Vali Coaster into a chassis of some sort, just that I never had the inspiration. Well, Ancient Aliens, and a bunch of spare Lego tiles provided me with plenty! I must have been thinking of some kind of futuristic Mayan starbase. The point is that I wanted to make this fun. Like how Schiit wanted to make the Vali Coaster fun. I don't think anyone was under any obligation to build this. I mean, the PCBs do make functional coasters.

    IMG_20200809_114529.jpg

    Now this is where the conversation gets serious and turns into a downer. Someone had to ruin the party, pee in the cereal. And guess who? Audio Science Review. Read here to see how this fun Vali coaster was twisted from something silly into something nefarious on the part of Schiit (another one of Jason's evil plans): https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/schitt-audio-master-marketers.3926/

    "Here is a new one from the clever marketers at Schitt Audio taking a reject pile or leftover PCB boards and selling them to Schitt fans as coasters."

    "t's actually a new PCB they designed just for coaster duty which strikes me as even more bizarre..."

    "The only thing shit PCB's are good for."

    "man-puke brand as usual"

    "Wait a minute - a coaster with through-holes? No doubt someone more familiar with the company's products could find an Interesting metaphor there."​

    Amir, being Amir thinking he knows all about design (he doesn't and keeps relying on his credentials on managing over 1000 people - different skill set), couldn't help but point out the lack of a DC sensing circuit to shut down the output. Until someone pointed out that the outputs were cap-coupled. Regardless, how many headamps out there have a DC sensing circuit at the output, much less a DIY project? These goalposts seem to set farther away for Schiit than any other brand there. At least Amir ended with "Anyway, it is good to see this effort from them. They could have just shipped the PCB of a random circuit." I swear that was edited later. I remember reading something along the lines of how Amir hated Schiit's marketing tactics.

    Wow, what is wrong with people? I get the Disney haters, I understand parents with young kids who have confided to me that they will keep everything Disney away from their kids and never take their kids to Disney theme parks. But this, this is just HEAVY. This I do not understand! How does one wake up in the morning to enjoy the sunrise?

    Before we move on, the Vali coaster amp does measure like shit, shittier than the original Vali which measured like shit too. I will be providing measurements later in this thread (hopefully I can find the original Vali) to show y'all how they measure. The tubes are also super microphone. Ding........ that goes on for half a minute. However, it actually sounds pretty good. Big secret: despite (or because of*) the annoying micro-phonics, I've always preferred the OG Vali to the Vali 2. Feel absolutely free to deride me as liking the sound of distortion. I prefer to think that I prefer the sound of more open loop designs. Don't get me wrong, this amp does sound distorted.

    *It is speculated that one of the attractions behind DHTs (Directly Heated Triodes) such as the 45, 2A3, 300B, is that the filaments ring. Craig of Eddie Current speculated that part of the "harmonic richness and complexity" of the PX-4 Balancing Act was because of those super microphonic KR tubes. Subjective enjoyment sound sound reproduction is weird. They often can't be measured. Or maybe we are measuring the wrong things.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2020
  6. scblock

    scblock Almost "Made"

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    Key takeaway from all of this: this audio hobby should be fun!
     
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  7. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    What I've always thought. Or not so much wrong as very incomplete measurements.

    I've also found it very ironic that the hate here seems to start with ASR's dislike of Schiit marketing (I don't care that much about how Schiit vs Topping vs whoever markets audio products one way or another... b/c it's just audio products). Yet from what I understand about the Emmy awards (and many other similar big name award systems) would be those in the know also consider those largely marketing awards now in large part based on insider pay to play between corporations and big names with a little bit of current entertainment industry trends and themes mixed in.

    Of course ASR / Amir can use those as much as he wants to use those for his own marketing purposes too but why hate Schiit for using potty humor, etc.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2020
  8. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    I also suspect Amir knows very well that most people just want to latch on one or two easy things to comfort blanket them into spending money on something they already want or why their money was well spent on non-essentials... hence why most advertising / marketing for semi-complex things to the unknown/uninitiated frequently only focuses on 1 or 2 easy talking points or a lifestyle image rather than learning the system holistically and why the product is good. CPUs used to be huge on clock speed, cars is HP/Torque, frequently price points for complex foods/menus, etc even though these are all only a very minor aspect of overall "good". And I hate saying it b/c as much as I dislike how he harms the audio hobby and it's products this way... to some degree he's just giving people what they want.

    Regarding Vali coaster - I know I'm going to have to do research, circuit analysis, etc... but before I dive in how about how much flexibility is there in changing part values on the coaster (also FWIW, if I went through with the ideas I have, I would start with a breadboard, not the coaster)?
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2020
  9. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It can be both fun and serious! You guys know how I keep saying "not too tight and too loose". As human beings, we are going to be imperfect and stray one way or the other. However as human beings, we have been gifted with the intelligence that allows us to self correct. Shortly after I posted The Times They Are A-Changin' at SBAF, I received member suggestions, all well meaning, that we immediately cease all talk about politics (seriously, talking about solar panels is politics in 2020) and why are we not acting like monks and saints yet. No fricking way! The Times They Are A-Changin' at SBAF was about course correction, not immediate cessation of our traditions, including our assery ways. I'm not performing a lobotomy on SBAF. I know some of you guys still don't get it, so I will hammer home another point: course correction is not teleportation nor is course correction taking a U-turn.

    In terms of measurements, I do feel there is a middle path approach that can be taken with audio. Call out gross non-linearities, use measurements to make sure we didn't miss something, and see if the measurements are saying anything about what we are hearing. Confirm both ways. Even more interesting would be to explore transient response behaviors and how human perception works. The fact is, the current suite of measurements, steady state sine at a specific level, sine sweep across levels, etc - all that is just the first inch of the excavation! I know it's hard to people to fully realize this because we have atomic bombs, microchips, weapons systems that can shoot down mortar shells, and 24 qubit computers, but it really is this way. There's not enough money in audio.

    This is why I am a little bit suspicious. He worked at Microsoft overseeing Zune and therefore could have cultivated contract manufacturing relationships. He was a senior executive. Those guys tend to good at that kind of stuff. He's loves the JBL monitors (as do I), but then stuff comes out that he's "tight" with JBL: https://www.jblsynthesis.com/about/acoustics.html

    There are things in the JBL monitors that perform poorly (their internal class D amps have high distortion), but he doesn't call them out. It's strange that he's all so willing to call out any headamp with still good distortion as bad or "not recommended", yet seems to omit comprehensive testing or apply a lower standard to gear from brands that he has cultivated relationships with. If JBL monitor's class D amps distortion were that high, then Amir (and his wife) surely would have heard this as he did with the Schiit Jotunheim's distortion from the HD650 when the volume knob was cranked to the 200-300 position? Perhaps we should investigate and call out these omissions and inconsistencies? I know this was suggested by some senior members.

    As for me, Jason and I have beers together once every few months. I've never hidden that fact. I will talk a little latter about how I want to handle Schiit going forward. Some people will like it and some people won't. However, back on to the Vali. This conversation is getting too heavy.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2020
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Rockcod (not pictured) was to the left (table to my right). He had built Ti Kan's or AMB's Beta 22 amp. His source was a Shanling tube output top load CD player. His setup sounded really good.

    It was either this meet, or the following year's meet where while we were setting up, someone asked me if copper or silver cables were best for their HiFiMan headphone. I replied: "I don't believe in cables, but if I did, I'd go for the high quality copper with a good geometry". Everyone in room got a laugh out of that.

    ^ That reply sort of reflects my philosophy. Don't take anything I say as rigid. Except the Audio-GD Singularity 19. That was pretty bad where there is no way I could have talked my way to it being decent.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2020
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  11. CEE TEE

    CEE TEE Free Agent

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    Rockcod:
    _DSC8847.jpg
     
  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    So after two years of @CEE TEE organizing meets, it was now my turn down south. In a few more years, Jude would realize how lucrative these meets could be given the attendee counts that we were seeing without even trying. Those at the International SBAF !CanJam meet a few years ago know the spot: the Hilton LAX - the downstairs ballroom partitioned into one larger area and three smaller rooms with the heavy carpeting and dedicated power distribution blocks each row of tables.

    It wasn't fancy looking place, with the floors, the walls, the partitions, a light shade of baby poop, but dang the place was quiet and roomy, and the power was fantastic. Everything sounded good there. We had large area with enough room to space out some of the vendors and hobbyists tables. A dedicated high-end room. A dedicated STAX room. And another advanced hobbyist room.

    In the advanced hobbyist room, there was a kid not even in high school yet. Forgive me if you've heard the story before, but I feel it needs to be repeated. What he did was remarkable. He had a Bottlehead Crack with two sets of tubes for warmer and brighter, Sennheiser HD6** series headphones, a turntable of some sort, and a Jolida phonostage. It was better than most of the high-end stuff of the show. I am assuming he only had a certain amount for a budget, and picked up bits and pieces over time to build a system which was truly wonderful.

    The following year I met him again in San Diego. He had a Schiit DAC, a Schiit amp, and an Audeze. Moral of the story: component synergy with careful curation on a budget >> Head-Fi FOTM added together.

    So let's get back to the LAX meet. Jason approached me sometime that day and asked me if I could spare of some time after the end of the meet. He had a little something special he wanted to share with me. If there is a recurring theme by now, people sure seemed to approach me a lot. I don't know if it's because I seem to be a nice guy or I exhibit an audio guru field or something that like. I certainly don't walk around meets like Robert Harley of TAS who holds his chest out and struts like a kingmaker. If anything I figure most vendors hate him. I try to my twist my lanyard or cover my badge so vendors can't identify me as that dude who crappered on their gear. (Keep in mind this was Changstar days were I didn't pull any punches). And I'm not doing a pretend humble when I think to myself "why are you asking me, go ask @Vtory or @ChaChaRealSmooth, their ears are just as good as mine."

    Anyway, the meet was over and everyone was packing up. As one of the organizers, my duty was to help people break down their stuff, pack up, and and take stuff back to their vehicles. Hey, I get my hands dirty. Holy shit - I forgot something! I think I told someone I was helping that I had to go and apologized. I ran over to Schiit's table and they had almost packed up everything. "Did I make it too late? Did you still have something to show me?"

    "We're still around. We haven't packed up yet" Jason replied. He turned around and reached into a bag to bring out a little Magni sized amp. I plugged my headphones in. "WTF! This is better than the Lyr . Holy Shit. WTF. This is better than the Lyr." I exclaimed to the hysterical roars of laughter from the entire Schiit team. I think they knew what they had on their hands, but you know how it gets you when you make something yourself. It's always better to get an outside opinion.

    To this day, I prefer the sound of the Vali to the Vali 2. The original Vali is more lively, more energetic. I don't know if I have ever said that. Even if I did, no one would believe me. No one would have believed me if I said the Vali sounded better than the Lyr.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2020
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    As far as Schiit gear and reviews, I'm just going to keeping doing what I'm doing. There's always that little question in my head whether I should recuse myself. Na. I'm overthinking it. Not all my gear is Schiit and people know that. And whether I review Schiit gear or not, their gear always going to be insanely popular. At least I could verify measurements or tell a good tale while I am at it. The brand is so strong with loyal following because they are fricking affordable and have been so ever since they started. I'm not sure if their customers or their competitors truly realize the affordability aspect. If anyone has a problem with me liking Schiit, take it up with Schiit and the "lemmings" who I supposedly mind-control.

    Measurements tonight or the next few days. They look like shit, yadda yadda yadda. OMG, the horror, the horror, the horror. Most definitely not recommended. Schiit needs better engineers, etc. Don't care. Sounds good to me. Would you like me to document a blind-test? I've documented more level matched double-blind tests than everyone at ASR combined.

    I hope at some point Schiit goes back to making gear with 77-98db SINAD instead of over 113db SINAD. Schiit needed to pursue the zero dot zero zero zero zero game for business reasons; but with how I've seen Jason develop as an engineer, taking half-baked ideas from Broskie and turning them into reality, I think us audiophiles may have missed out a bit. It's OK, merely a minor delay.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2020
  14. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

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    @purr1n ive got a vali1 I can send you if you like
     
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  15. Philimon

    Philimon Friend

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    I have a PPAS amp I won from one of these meets. I think it was donated by FallenAngel (Pavel?). Doesnt turn on anymore but maybe it can be repaired - Ill ship free to anyone who wants it.

    Edit: Long story short: meets were excellent!

    Edit2: PPAS to @Merrick
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2020
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  16. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    This is great stuff! @purr1n and the rest of you have dropped hints on your history, ties to HF and what not, but only tid bits. As someone relatively new to the HP and non ORFAS scene I appreciate the picture being filled in a bit.
     
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  17. Wilson

    Wilson Socially Anxious Volleyball

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  18. Skyline

    Skyline Double-blindly done with this hobby

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    I still remember my first audio meet. I had little to no gear and was just showing up since it was the only chance I'd ever had to hear "big kid" gear. I told the organizer I really didn't have anything to share, but he was insistent I bring what I had.

    So I marched in, claimed a tiny spot at the end of a table, and proudly displayed my Vali 1 like a boss.

    I felt no shame. :cool:
     
  19. Pogo

    Pogo Friend

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    Semi sidebar here, but as a veteran of many trade shows, meets, fishing tournaments and the like, where one would meet with many fellow afisanados, I always had bitter sweet regrets from pack up/go home time. Yeah, tired and ready to go home,the adrenaline rush of new experiences worn off.
    But time spent with new and old friends, the lasting relationships, the fucking late nite dinners and hangovers the next morning....time well spent!
    Thanks all for this glimpse into the past.
     
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  20. rtaylor76

    rtaylor76 Can't wipe his tag

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    I met @Skyline at fist meet. I think I brought my turntable and my Schiit Mani and had to borrow an O2 because I didn't even have a real headphone amplifier at the time.

    I remember Dan was there from then Mr. Speakers introducing the Ether Closed. It was also the first time I heard a Yggdrasil and being floored. Granted it was with the Ether with a Liquid Crimson, I was still blown away. I am still chasing that high.

    What I got overall from meets is what my rig could sound like. What I did and did not like from stupid expensive gear. It made me doge things like AKG and TR-X00 headphones (too mid-centric),and gravitate towards stuff I did like (HD650 and other Schiit gear).

    Most of my gear choices are based on curiosity and fun rather than incremental steps up. The logical path is boring.
     

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