Schiit Audio Vidar Vs Aegir. Bopping around the digital space that surrounds Schiit Audio products, one can find a fairly gleeful batch of consumers who are both enthusiastic and loyal to a brand that has really dug into their niche of high ratio bang/buck. The California and Texas based company offers a wide variety of products to cover a relatively small amount of field. For some feature sets there might even be a little bit of overlap. According to designer and founder Jason Stoddard, these type of releases are intended to be a version of Mad Max’s Thunderdome fight for survival based on sales (and other factors). This inherent competition often leads to additional burning queries from the market in terms of the inner spaces of the Venn Diagram for any set of closely related gear. One of these type of questions is the subject of today’s review, and pertains to the somewhat settled product category of budget external power amps from Schiit.
The first item out of the gate in the market fight of Vidar vs Aegir was the Schiit Vidar, a solid state class A/B amplifier retailing for $699 (at the time of publishing) with 100 Watts into 8 ohms in stereo and 400 watts in mono. The second option to come from Schiit Audio was the Aegir. The power rating was much lower at stereo 20 watts into 8 ohms, 80 watts mono – and cost an even $100 more. The plussed up feature? A proposed elongation of the class A performance which Schiit calls “Continuity”. Tech speak straight from the site: “Continuity 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.”
But still, the proximity of cost for the two amps has spurred countless debates and questions online. Which sounds better? What type of speaker pairs best. What is the grand sum of pros and cons here?
Vidar Vs. Aegir
When first firing up the Vidar, if you have high efficiency speakers, you may not be wowed. However, the amp with power hungry speakers, or speakers with difficult impedance dips and phase angles will really shine, and I think it even sounds better the more difficult to drive your speakers are. Like an F1 car or a thoroughbred stallion, the vidar likes to be driven hard.
The Aegir by comparison is an entirely different animal. This amp is most at home with relatively high efficiency speakers, and benign phase angles. Speakers with nice flat 8 ohm curves and steady phase angles will be what you want here, and this fits with the trend of increasingly efficient small towers from Focal Kantas, to Sonus Faber Olymica Novas, to Proac Response series speakers. Something like a Vandersteen or Wilson is not going to be kind to this amp.
What I found when paired correctly though is that there is a luminous warmth to the Schiit Aegir. While I won’t go as far as to call it tube-like, this amp does channel a coherence and warmth that is quite pleasing, and if you’re coming from other solid state amplifiers, this quality may surprise you with how musically engaging it is. Whereas the Vidar has dynamics, slam and bandwidth, the Aegir takes the lighter, more invisible approach.
Even with very inefficient speakers, I can never quite shake the sound of the Vidar. There’s a slight silvery quality, a sharpness and ‘look at me’ sound, that draws my attention to how tight the bass is, or how clear the midrange is. But images don’t resolve themselves as transparently as the Aegir, nor are textures particularly rich or involving. It’s a great amp, but it speaks to the head.
Aegir meanwhile dispenses with any wow factor straight out of the gate, and might at first seem underwhelming. On a more careful listen however, it presents bass which is coherent and seems to glue itself to the signal, a slightly silky and smooth top end and mids that are rich and dense. The auditory image is stable, tactile and all the things the Vidar is not. Despite this, and even with very efficient speakers, I hear the frequency extremes being slightly rolled off, a little warm in the top, a little less than totally subterranean in the low end.
There is underneath all of this an interesting quality to the amp. It does not sound like First Watt or Pass Labs amps, nor does it share much in common with Krell or D’Agostino. Most Solid State Class A amplifiers have a sound which achieves a certain level of neutrality of tone, but never crosses over into the truly organic and fluid sound of tube amplifiers. Warmth and silkiness only go so far to creating the sense that the amp is really dynamically moving with the music. The very best tube amps make it difficult for me to separate their sound from the musical signal.
The Aegir doesn’t quite do that, however it has a pleasing dynamic flow, whereby big dynamic swings, imaging cues and other spatial and musical goodies seem to organize themselves a bit closer to how a tube amp does it: more invisibly part of the musical signal. This is not a muddy amplifier, but it channels a little of the dense, more spacious nature of a great minimal feedback tubed design.
The two amps are mightily different, so while I standby the comparison of the vidar speaking more to the analytical brain, and the aegir more to the emotional ego, the fact is that you will likely be choosing between the two based on your speakers more than anything else. If you have behemoth speakers that need juice, the Vidar. If you have fast, nimble and high efficiency speakers that could do with a little edge taken off, the Aegir.
Personally though, what I get with the Aegir and a sensitive speaker is a greater sense of overall refinement, so to my ears, if you can run an Aegir and a more sensitive speaker, it is easier for me to get into the music. Not to say that the approach of running big speakers with Vidars is wrong, and if you like movies, electronic music or other bombastic dynamic style sounds, then by all means, go for that setup.
But intimacy in a system is addictive for me as a listener, and is something I value more greatly. Taking that into account, I don’t mind giving up a little on the frequency extremes in exchange for the denser midrange, and more textured harmonic structure of the Aegir. Plus, it’s hard to argue with that price.
More info: Schiit Audio
If you would like to hear more from Schiit Audio and Vidar Vs Aegir, check out this interview with co-founder and digital designer Mike Moffat on a recent episode of The Occasional Podcast, available on iTunes and the embed below. Mike’s interview starts around the 23:30 mark.