Games aren’t really much without sound. Trust me I’d know, I’ve done transmog runs in World of Warcraft while on conference calls before. Maybe nothing came out of the call, but I sure as hell completed my Ulduar mail set for my hunter. But without sound, it wasn’t a gaming experience – it was just something to do. Today we’re taking a look at something that takes your computer audio solution and amps it up into an immersive experience. Last year Schiit took their high grade line of amps and DAC’s and made their foray into the gaming world with their Fulla ($99) and Hel ($189) amps. We were able to get our hands on a Hel to take it for a test drive and to see what this Schiit was all about. Here’s some specs before we begin:
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20Khz, +/-0.3db
- Maximum Power, 16/32/50/300 Ohms: 1200/1000/650/200mW RMS
- THD: <0.0015%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 1V RMS, IMD: <0.0015%, CCIR, SNR: >108db, A-weighted, referenced to 1V RMS
- Crosstalk: >-80dB, 20Hz-20KHz
- Output Impedance (headphones): 0.25 ohms
- Output Impedance (line out): 75 ohms
- Input Impedance (rear 1/8″ jack): 10k ohms
- Gain: 1 (0dB) or 5 (14dB)
- DAC: AKM AK4490 with TI OPA1662-based filter stage
- Output Stage: TI OPA1688 (4 amp stages per channel)
Specs and Design
The Hel’s controls should be enough for the majority of gamers (well, it was for me anyway) and are super intuitive to build into your computer audio. The nice and huge volume dial on the top can’t really be missed, and is much easier than any other in-line controls or even your Windows volume settings. The main input in the front is built for a headset, mainly the type with mic/audio split TRRS connections as opposed to ones that are driven by USB. Audio out for the headphones are 1/4″ but there’s an adapter in the box to take care of that for you so you don’t have to buy anything additional. The two switches on the front control input selector (there’s another on the back) and your gain preference.
The back has an analog input for another audio source (the other one I mentioned a couple of sentences ago) and a preamp out. The last jacks are micro USB – one for the included 2.1A power block, and the other for a data input. So like I said, pretty self explanatory for the most part. Especially since everything you need is included in the box.
I’m not a podcaster or streamer but I do love good audio from my games. So plugging in the data and power on the back and connecting my desktop speakers or headphones through the 1/4″ audio out was enough to do it for me. I was using a set of Cooler Master MH670’s for the headphones/headset and a set of sub-powered 2.1 desktop speakers (Logitech Z533) for “out loud” audio so I could test out both. For standalone mics you’re going to have to see what works with your setup. Something USB powered like a Blue Yeti will have to stand alone outside of the amp, but stuff like Audio Technica’s AT2020 can definitely benefit from the Hel.
In addition to intuitive controls the unit itself looks cool, with a solid metal construction in a red and black motif. When the power is flicked on it adds a red LED visible through the top of the unit behind the main volume dial. It’s nice and small (]5 x 3.5 x 1.375” @ 13oz) too for the amount of power it’s packing, so it will fit right in on most of your desktop setups. The size also makes it very portable, so if you’re a content creator that runs on a mobile studio, it’s just as easy to travel with.
So a lot of those specs at the top are going to be kind of hard to decipher, so we’re going to make this as easy to understand as possible – this thing blows the doors off of whatever audio gear you’re currently using more than what one would expect $189 to get you. Whether you are using speakers or a headset the sound driven into your face through the Hel is enhanced on every level. To start with, the enhanced clarity will make you feel like you paid hundreds of dollars more for your audio solution than you actually did. Every tone is crisp and clear and more importantly, it’s clean even in high gain mode. While this flies in the face of the general belief that loud = distorted, the Hel keeps it all under control no matter how hard you turn the dials. Highs come in sharp, and bass hits are heavier and deeper without being overpowering. In Schiit’s own words, “turn up til you smile, but not until your ears bleed.”
While this is aimed at the gaming public, we tested this with not just games but movies too. For the movie we went with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum for the absolutely full spectrum mix of sound. The scene of interest? John wick on a horse. Turning up the dials hit us full in the eardrums without any kind of overlap, or sacrificing lows for highs. The hooves clicking on the ground weren’t sacrificed for the rev of the motorcycles, environmental noise, or the high chirpy rings of gunfire – and undistorted in stereo sound.
We got the same experience in the games sphere playing Overwatch, where I not only had no issue wondering when justice was raining from above or when it whether or not it was high noon, but if a Roadhog was around the corner ready to hook me or if a Tracer was zipping around behind me. And much like while watching JW3, the sound was exceptional.
At the risk of continuing what I’m sure is an insane rate of puns off of both the names of the company and the product, we have to say we absolutely love this Schiit. The sound is Hel-aciously good. $189 is a modest price to up your audio game by the extent the Hel is capable of. It’s small, it’s powerful, it looks good, and will do wonders for not just your gaming or content creation, but your media experience in general. You can get it direct from Schiit here.