February graced us with another blind A/B comparison in the audiophile realm at Schiit Audio’s retail location in Newhall, dubbed the SchiitR. The topic this time around was amplifier technology, specifically, class A vs. class AB along with something that Schiit’s founder Jason Stoddard calls “continuity” – which is found in his popular Schiit Aegir power amplifier.
Continuity claims it “is a way to eliminate transconductance droop outside of the Class A bias region, and extend the benefits of Class A biasing. It also solves the NPN and PNP device mismatch problem, since it uses both NPN and PNP devices on both rails. It’s still a very hot-running amp, though, with over 10W of Class A standing bias.” What we should give Jason full props for is his stalwart approach to the presentation in a very public setting. The monthly meet up was well attended in the retail space, with several hungry and seemingly experienced audiophiles jumping at the opportunity to participate in a blind A/B with three choices: a full class A setup, a more traditional AB amplifier, and then a regular Schiit Aegir with continuity. Even though the process was done in a way that should satiate many of those that favor a die hard scientific leaning, some items were unavoidable due to the host’s generosity with their time, mainly that Jason was the one who augmented the amplifiers. But the experience is one that is supposed to be fun, and Jason has never really attempted to lead, sway or even really say much during the actual listening sessions. His demeanor at these meets is generally curious, and why wouldn’t it be? The little micro research sessions often reveals some great subtext to his ongoing work in the field.
And just as a side note, technically speaking, the listening session could be generally considered a double blind A/B/C test, as the hosts didn’t really know (at least initially) which option was which upon the completion of the event. The three options were all visually similar, being housed in the same Schiit Aegir casing with the top removed. The amplifiers where then placed far up on a shelf so participants could no longer see the tops, or peer into the casework to see if there were any other physical differences.
The amplifiers were fed into a pair of Salk Song 3 loudspeakers, and in total about 5 participants got a solid impression of the three topologies and revealed their favorites. The observations are listed below, communicated before they knew which option was which, being identified only as options one, two and three. The listeners where also asked which options was their favorite or preference at the end (not necessarily the same as “the best sounding” or “most correct”).
Class A Impressions
The first attendee out the of the room felt that the Class A option was the most detailed of the three. Follow up options varied from terms like “aggressive” to “upper mids were a bit harsh”. Dynamics and slam were often lauded, with a few listeners showing great appreciation for the low end presentation. There were a few critics of the perceived instrument separation, along with some imaging consistencies for those who sat off axis, but several participants did list Class A as their favorite sound of the evening.
Class AB Impressions
The event’s second option was often described as “pleasant”, leaving some to observe if that was a true complement or a slight in some regard. Complementary specifics included better transient reproduction, quick responsiveness, and a fine parter for the rock and roll music genre. Occasionally “pleasant” would be expanded into “pleasing brightness”. Less positive observations included reduced detail, a fuzzy top end and another “aggressive” label.
Initial responses observed a close correlation with the sound of the Class A amplifier, although many described the sound as the most “tube-y”. A few called the presentation the most mellow overall, while some said it was the most 3D, spacious with one “the best of both worlds”. Along the lines of the idea of tube-like behavior, some said this option had the least slam and lesser performance at high volumes.
Upon collecting together as a group, a few of the respondents pointed out that there might have been a slight low end congestion in the bass region, either due to the speakers, or possibly the room. This extended across all three options, which may have influenced some of the grand sum of impressions for that section of the frequency spectrum. All in all however, most attendees seemed very pleased with the performance, and good vibes were easy to find in the packed spaced.
When it came to preference, there was no unified response. This has most surprisingly been the case for every one of these meet ups. What this says about the experience, or the hobby at large is up for debate. It was implied by one attendee that perhaps the entire hobby is full of BS, which I personally found humorous from an individual who himself had dedicated so much time, money and energy to the subject. But a deeper look might lead one back to the idea of personal preference and something I’ve emphasized before – the old “favorite ice cream flavor” proposition. How much salt/pepper is the exact right amount? The diversity in sound and even EQ presentation varies greatly across all price points in the market, from inexpensive to the very high end. I would propose that you do see a slight coalescing of sonic opinions at the top end moreso than the entry level, but it remains nonetheless and with even some significant and dramatic outliers.
Total count for each option were: 2 votes for Class A, 2 votes for Continuity and 1 vote for the Schiit Aegir AB.
Will these two options ever become real world products to buy? Only Jason knows for sure.
More Schiit Meetups:
If you would like to hear more from Jason Stoddard himself, check out this interview with him discussing all the important parts of the anatomy of an amplifier, which includes some interesting observations about his design philosophy and what he thinks makes the biggest differences in sound quality from both a parts standpoint and material use. Listen on iTunes, or the embed below.