Price (RRP): $1,600
Manufacturer: Schiit Audio
It’s ever so cool to be “disruptive” in industry. You can offer fancier functions or packaging or style and be lauded. But what if you just choose an irreverent business name and engineer solid gear while selling it at a low, low price … at least by industry standards. That brings us to the Schiit Audio Vidar stereo power amplifier.
Introducing the Schiit Audio Vidar
There are two kinds of stereo gear in the world: audiophile gear, and the rest. You can get fine, involving sound from any number of stereo systems, priced from the high-hundreds of dollars up to the several thousands. But they typically won’t offer the sound that thrills audiophiles. I count myself amongst that strange breed, although I confess to being more tolerant of not-quite-audiophile systems than many of the species.
Audiophile equipment produces a sound quality that is kind of magical. It isn’t just a natural and effective tonal balance. It isn’t just accurate stereo imaging. It’s a recreation of the original content on the recording. It is equipment that allows an aural rendering of a recording that makes each element sound like it’s actually there, in that space in your listening room.
There’s no end to the number of rabbit holes into which one can descend in seeking the ultimate realisation of all this. There’s plenty of snake oil-like stuff that’s marketed into this space.
Which in a strange way brings us to the Schiit Audio Vidar. This is an audiophile-quality power amplifier. But there’s no snake oil here. It’s built on sound engineering principles. And it’s unusual in two ways. First, it’s reasonably priced. Okay, $1,600 may not seem “reasonably priced” if you’re not familiar with this kind of thing. But take my word for it, it is.
Okay, don’t take my word for it. On the website for the retail outlet associated with the importer of this amp, only one lower-priced stereo power amp is listed – and it’s a rather low powered thing. Above the Schiit Audio amps, the prices start at $3,200 and reach as high as $18,000.
What is a power amplifier?
The other way in which the Schiit Audio Vidar is unusual is that it isn’t made in China or some other low-cost nation. It’s actually made in the USA. And it comes with a five-year warranty.
A power amplifier is a device that takes a “line level” signal and amplifies it so that it can drive low-impedance loads, which is what loudspeakers present to an amplifier. You may remember old-fashioned stereo amplifiers. They were typical integrated models, which included a stereo – two channel – power amplifier, but also a preamplifier. A preamp provides volume control and allows the selection of inputs. Some preamplifier sections even include tone controls and other sound shaping processes.
A power amplifier has none of that. You plug the output of a preamplifier into the power amp. The power amp’s limited job is to make the attached loudspeaker do what’s supposed to do. Obviously, a big user of power amplifiers are audiophiles but they have other roles.
In home theatre, for example, some home theatre receivers have extra output channels for more surround speakers, but don’t have all the amplifiers required to run them. You can add a power amp for that extra functionality.
Schiit Audio Vidar features
The Schiit Audio Vidar produces two channels of sound, each rated at 100 watts into eight-ohm speaker loads. Let’s get this out in the open up front. There are many devices which claim to deliver 100 watts, including plastic things from the big retailers. You can probably extract the rated output at a high level of distortion – typically at 10% total harmonic distortion. (Unless the rating is “Peak” or “Dynamic”, in which case I defy anyone to obtain a valid measurement meeting the claim.) By contrast, the Schiit Audio Vidar’s 100-watt rating is for the full audio band – 20 to 20,000 hertz – at a THD level of less than 0.01%. And it’s continuous, not peak or momentary.
Furthermore, if you halve the impedance to 4 ohms the Schiit Audio Vidar is rated to deliver 200 watts per channel. And it also supports a bridged mono mode which is rated to deliver 400 watts. In that case you’d want to buy two of them, one for each channel. (If you’re using the bridged mono mode, then minimum speaker impedance is 8 ohms, not 4).
That’s what the company says, but is it real?
Let me dwell on that 4-ohm output for a moment. All else being equal, if you halve the impedance then the output power doubles. It’s as simple as that. Except in the real world not all else is equal. In particular, limitations in the output stage’s ability to supply high levels of current typically result in much less than a doubling. Indeed, driving 4-ohm loudspeakers is so hard that most home theatre receivers have a special setting for use with those speakers. That setting typically reduces the power supply voltage to the output stage in order to limit power output to the same delivered into eight ohms.
But the Schiit Audio Vidar does, at least according to the company, double its output into four ohms. That speaks of a solid overbuild in capability.
If it’s all true. Is it?