So apparently I was lying a while back when on an audio subreddit, I said that I wouldn’t do a blind abx test. To provide a bit of context, a friend of mine purchased a Schiit Magni, so we decided to compare it to the o2 since one of the things that we’ve seen around some audio sites a lot is the idea that all “transparent” gear should sound the same or at least in a blind abx test. The results were interesting.
As far as our method goes, we decided to make all parts of the setup identical (same set of Denon D2000 headphones, cables, and ODAC) except the Magni and O2. Then we started abx testing in two methods. For both methods, we took 30 seconds of listening in which we knew which amp we were listening to based on verbal confirmation (before this we had only spent about 15 minutes on each other’s amps). After that, we started blind testing and left the song playing pulling out the headphone cable between each declaration of an answer until 10 answers were recorded. For the first test, after each pull out of the cable at which either a change or no change could occur, we had to name which was the Magni and which was the O2 based on the 30 second preview that we had. Both of us got between 4 and 6 correct in each of our 3 sets of 10 trials. For the second method (fourth set of 10 trials), we simply had to declare if the amplifier switched. I scored a 9 out of 10 correct and my friend scored a 4 out of 10 correct.
I’m sure you’re saying at this point that because the results of the blind abx were inconclusive, that there is no sonic difference. That’s not the case though. During most of the trials, we both had moments in which we knew (and usually exclaimed it out loud in the form of expletives) that we had screwed up which was which and the data showed it in that once the switch got made in our mind, we guessed correctly that there was a change, but got confused on which was the O2 and which was the Magni. The other thing that we noticed was what exactly we were listening for was different — after we finished abxing we debriefed as far as what in the tracks we were listening to for the giveaways of which was which. For a certain track, one of us would say vocals and the other bass kick or one of us guitars and the other piano. Upon re-listening to the track without commenting on which differences we heard, we were able to understand where we had gone wrong. On some tracks there was no difference between the vocal presentation, but there was in the bass and vice-versa. The other problem that we noticed with abxing is the mental pressure aspect. The idea that there could be no change (and the subsequent desire to not look like an idiot by getting it wrong) created a scenario in which the test was not necessarily about what was being heard — it was about the game being played. I had many times in the test where I detected a change or no change — and then the second guessing started. Would he really put a no change there? Would he really switch? Once the doubt in what you heard becomes apparent, the awfulness of auditory memory shows up and you begin to invent differences all in the name of not of the inherent desire to not want to look as if your ears are inferior in terms of detecting differences. It’s equivalent to taking a scantron test and noticing that every single correct answer is A except you aren’t detecting differences on something reliable like knowing a fact. We found that with sighted listening, since the mental game was out of the equation, we were better able to focus on differences in general sound signature and individual details at the same time instead of attempting to focus on mind games and sound at the same time.
So without further hesitation, here’s what we heard during our abx trials and sighted listening. Keep in mind that these are generic impressions based on listening to both amps on the same track set of tracks and that these impressions might not apply for every single track that one listens to.
1) The O2 has a much cleaner presentation as far as detail retrieval
2) On certain songs, the Magni suffered as far as sub bass. It was almost non-existent on some tracks and on others it appeared as a fuzzy fwump noise while the O2 delivered a precise thump
3) The Magni’s vocals almost have a veiled warm and thick quality while the O2s were somewhat brighter
4) The O2 has more sparkle on instruments such as guitars and piano
5) The O2 has a better soundstage as far as width and better placement of things within the soundstage
As always, thanks for reading and happy listening!