Can the Schiit Audio Lokius Equalizer save your greatest albums from a blood transfusion? Douglas Moore explores!
In my younger years of the 80s when I was cutting my teeth on audio and getting my first “bedroom” system going, equalizers were in the full swing and very popular. With only a small bedroom with which to listen and work, I had some limits to my setup and could not set my speakers out into the room as I wished. My budget was very tight as well so I had to work with what I could afford.
Even then, I questioned whether a device like an equalizer would be necessary given that the system and mainly the speakers were set up correctly and the room was treated correctly.
Some of my first systems included speakers from brands like Cerwin-Vega and Bose which anyone that has heard those brands from the 80s knows that their frequency response needs a little help in most cases to sound right. I often questioned the design of these products due to them needing this help to sound correct.
Many years and systems later I have developed products in my system that need no help in the form of equalization or manipulation to produce the sound they should. In fact, as time marched on, I have been against equalization in quality systems due to the potential harm it can cause to the music, especially in the hands of someone that does not know how music is supposed to sound.
In the last 10 or so years we have seen a large growth of DSP-based room correction and equalization that tries to fix areas in the frequency response of rooms and or speakers to produce a more accurate response. Products like Mini-DSP and others have come on the scene to take the guesswork out of the process as long as you are computer savvy. Roon has built-in EQ that stays in the digital domain allowing it to work without adding distortion to the digital signal. I see the benefits of these sorts of setups but also have experienced a downside to DSP.
For one DSP is exactly that, digital. That means that if you have analog sources in your system as well they have to be converted to digital for DSP to work. Also, a lot of the DSPs out there seem to strip the music of its soul in my opinion. I have heard many DSP-based systems that sound sterile or lifeless which to me is a tradeoff I am not willing to make. In my opinion having proper room treatments, the right speaker positioning, and proper cabling and setup trumps any DSP countermeasure I have heard.
The passage of time has led me to my overall stance on equalization. In my opinion, Equalization is NOT to be used to fix issues in a systems setup! There is also concern with the phase shifting that goes on in an analog equalization circuit and the artifacts that it can cause.
DSP-based correction has its place and works wonders in home theater setups and subwoofers but in 2-channel music systems it can have issues especially if your source is analog. Equalization does have a place though, and I have found it!
If you are like me and listen to a variety of music from different genres, years, and quality of recordings then you know what it is like to have a great system only for it to sound mediocre when you play a subpar recording on it! I listen to hard rock and metal from the 80s at times when the mood strikes, and when I do I am constantly reminded that many of these recordings were made when the transition to compact disc was taking place and many of the engineers had yet to know how to utilize its strengths.
Numerous recordings from the 1980s sound thin, with little bass and an incredibly etched and harsh upper midrange. Even if you adore the music on these records, these problems can make many of them practically unlistenable. In this situation, you have an option between putting up with the recording and hoping that your ears can endure it or adjusting the sound to make the recordings more tolerable.
Schiit Audio is a very popular company that knows what they are doing when it comes to high-value oriented audio equipment. The company was started in 2010 by Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard– two industry veterans that wanted to try something new to shake up the world or two-channel and headphone audio. They offer products built in America at prices that many people can afford.
The Schiit Audio Lokius is an analog equalizer that sits in the middle of its lineup of equalizers. I tried to get my hands on the top of the lineup Loki Max since it would have fit the level of my review system better but review samples were short at the time so the Lokius is here before us.
UNBOXING THE LOKIUS
The Schiit Audio Lokius came well packaged with all the basic packing elements. The Lokius is very well put together considering its price point. Its small form factor allows it to be used in a multitude of applications from home audio to headphone setups. I generally like the look of the unit and its simple, basic design.
While this unit is lightweight, it feels sturdy with a good fit and finish. It consists of a power supply wall wart, a rear-mounted rocker on-off switch, a front panel switch for either balanced or RCA connection, a bypass or active switch, and 6 separate rotating knobs to control the equalization. The equalization bands are as follows: 20Hz, 120Hz, 400Hz, 2kHz, 6kHz, and 16kHz. The knobs and switches all feel of high quality at this price point and feel like they are going to last.
CONNECTION AND USE:
In my system connecting the Lokius was as simple as installing the unit between my preamp and power amplifier via XLRs. The unit is clearly labeled making it easy to put in the chain. The only added pieces to the system to connect it was an extra pair of XLR cables to go from the preamp to the Lokius.
Installing the Lokius was as simple as turning the unit on and selecting the XLR connection on the switch. Using RCA and XLR connections at the same time is not possible with the Lokius. Another thing about the Lokius is that it is fully analog. This means that when you connect it between your preamp and amplifier it can equalize any signal going through it. Whether it is from an analog source or a digital one, this gives you the functionality that a digital equalizer cannot give obtain without a conversion process.
If you happen to want the Lokius to equalize one certain source component you can connect it between the component and your preamp or integrated amplifier. Lokius contains a very useful and simple bypass switch for when you want to bypass it. This is useful for times when the recording is of high quality and correction is not needed to ensure full signal integrity. I would never put an equalizer in my system that did not have a transparent bypass option. I know any time you add a component to a system, especially in line with the preamp and amplifier you are going to get some degree of added noise or distortion. The Lokius is no different and when the unit is active I can notice a slight difference.
When in active mode the sound takes a slight hit in transparency and soundstage. width and depth. Knowing the price of this unit and the likely systems it will be paired with I highly doubt most of them will show this difference but it is there. My system is very transparent and easily allows this to be heard. But my system is more in line with Schiit’s highest-end equalizer the Loki Max. I would love to hear if the Loki Max can keep transparency and soundstage width while in active mode. Being that the Lokius can be bypassed I did not notice any change in the sound of my system when the Lokius was in this mode.
For many of the people reading this review, this is going to be the most important part of the article. Like I have said before I have had a strong stance against equalization in the past and thought it was only suitable for music production or professional sound use. But seeing some of these newer products like the Lokius come on the scene, I wanted to see if my stance still holds up. In some ways it still does.
In fact, an equalizer like the Lokius can do wonders to a bad recording to make it more listenable and enjoyable. This stance is where I am going to focus on the sound quality assessment of this review.
The recording is one of the most important parts of music reproduction. It’s the first part of the chain that has to be right. Take a race car for instance, you can have the best-built engine on the planet and if you give it watered-down low-octane fuel it is not going to perform at its best. You can have a 2 million or a 2 hundred dollar system and neither will make a bad recording sound perfect, It just can’t be done. More times than not I have heard very transparent expensive systems that will show you exactly how bad a recording is.
Listening to Kings X’s 1989 album Gretchen Goes to Nebraska The song Over My Head is a song that brings back memories for me. I played guitar in different bands and always loved the guitar tone of this song. The one problem is that the recording is flawed by an upper midrange hardness that is hard to handle on a revealing system.
With the Lokius in play, I was able to turn down the upper midrange just a few decibels and everything fell into place. The sound was balanced and had a good tone. The midrange was now detailed without the harshness I have always associated with this album. The slight loss in soundstage and transparency was worth it for an album that is now much more enjoyable.
Slaughter’s 1992 album The Wild Life is an album that has many issues but one of them is the low end just seems rather anemic. It’s there but just sits in the background and does not party with the rest of the music. Also the upper midrange and treble suffer from many of the same issues as many albums produced at this time; being shouty and harsh. Again putting the Lokius into play helped me illuminate the harshness in the upper midrange and bring up the bass to match the rest of the music. This album hit the spot for someone wanting to enjoy a band from their childhood without suffering a headache!!
While both of these albums are not the first word in soundstage, imaging, depth, and frequency balance they are a great test for a product like this. I have said many times in other reviews that I don’t always play “audiophile” music to review gear because, in the real world, most people don’t just play that type of music (it would be a boring life if they did!!).
I do listen to everything under the sun from jazz, hard rock, metal, and much more. A great system will show you when a recording is good no matter the genre. But also it will show you a bad recording with the same unapologetic ferocity. It is just the nature of the beast. Great equipment will show you the reality of the music, whether the recording is bad or good.
The Schiit Audio Lokius is a product in the audio toolbox to overcome the shortcomings of bad recordings. It is not going to make a bad amplifier/speaker combination all of a sudden sound great. But if you are like me and have many recordings from bands you love that happen to have been terribly recorded, the Lokius can help with these shortcomings. The fact that it has a high-quality bypass circuit that retains the original signal integrity is also a great thing when you don’t need it. I highly recommend the Schiit Audio Lokius to someone looking for such a device!!
My Review System: Speakers: Spatial Audio M3 Turbo S open baffle./ REL T9x subwoofer/ Digital: Denafrips Venus II, / Modified PC-based Music server/streamer. Analog: Vintage Hitachi Turntable, Darlington labs MP-7, and SU-7 phono preamp, Audio Technica VM95SH cartridge Amplification: Hegel P20 preamp. Pass Labs X150.5 power amp. Conditioner: PS Audio Quintet. Cables: Iconoclast SPTPC speaker cables, Mogami XLR interconnects, Iconoclast BAV REL subwoofer cable
Specifications and Price:
Bands: 20Hz, 120Hz, 400Hz, 2kHz, 6kHz, 16kHz
Adjustment: +/-12dB at 20Hz and 16kHz, +/-9dB at 120Hz and 6kHz, +/-6dB at 400 and 2kHz
Maximum Output: 10V RMS (SE), 20V RMS (balanced)
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20Khz, -0.1db, 2Hz-1MHz, -3dB
THD: Less than 0.0008%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 2V RMS in/out, pots centered, active stage enabled, less than 0.002% at any potentiometer setting
IMD: Less than 0.001%, CCIF
SNR: Greater than 115db, unweighted, referenced to 2V RMS
Crosstalk: -85dB, 20Hz-20KHz
Output Impedance: 75 ohms
Input Impedance: 47K ohms
Schiit Audio 22508 Market Street, Newhall, CA 91321
WHERE the MUSIC BEAT meets the AUDIOPHILE ELITE !
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