Schiit’s website says of the Vidar: Here’s your ultra-high-end amplifier, without the ultra-high-end price.
I’m sure that members of the ORFAS crowd will take umbrage with such marketing tactics on the part of Schiit, particularly the “ultra-high-end” part*. ORFAS members can rest assured that the Vidar does not threaten their $5000+ amplifiers. The Vidar is not a giant killer. However, normal folks can rejoice that the Vidar is a superb amp for the price – a high value, an extreme value.
* Given Schiit’s marketing approach, I am sure that this statement was tongue-in-check. And that anyone would have to be really stupid, like really really stupid to actually believe such a statement or take it seriously. Still, I was impressed by certain build elements. The speaker binding posts were not cheap. Neither was the big EI core power transformer (not pictuired). I’ve seen cheaper binding posts and torroids on power amplifiers at least five times the price of the Vidar.
The Vidar is a 100/200W (into 8/4 ohms) power amplifier in stereo mode. It can also be used as 400W (8 ohms) monoblock. When used in the monoblock configuration, the Vidar can accept balanced lines (XLR). I’m not going to repeat product features or specs here, so go to the Schiit Vidar webpages for this. Jason Stoddard at Schiit has recommended that we start with one Vidar and use it single-ended (RCA). I’m sure many people will not listen to him because of the unnatural fascination with “balanced” raging in the home and personal audio worlds. Balanced is supposed to be better right? More power is always better right? Not necessarily. Balanced outputs from preamps or sources tend to run hotter (higher voltages). Coupled with the fact that we will get twice the gain in monoblock mode, we are left with only a special use case: we should consider running the Vidar as a monoblock when we have low efficiency 8 ohm speakers. There is such as thing as too much gain (noise on higher efficiency speakers).
So how does the Vidar stack up to other amps? I’ll just cut to the chase.
Compared to the Hegel H2**, the H2 is the clear winner. The soundstage of the H2 is significantly more expansive with greater depth, almost on the scale of a good DHT SET amp. Microdetail rendering is on another level on the H2, capturing ambient cues, and trailing decays that the Vidar only gives us a sense of. However, the Vidar exhibits superior bass clarity, texture, and articulation – the H2 in comparison has a bit of haze and murkiness in the bass and lower mids. The H2 is brighter with zippier transients, so is more demanding of component matching (or just pad down the treble on the speakers). The Vidar seems spot on neutral in terms of tonality (give it ten minutes to warm up). The Vidar actually matches the H2 ability to convey heft and impact. Finally, I should mention that the H2 retailed for $5000.
** The Hegel H2 is older than the H20, but superior because it uses bipolar transistors instead of the MOSFETs in the H20. Supposedly, dealers asked Hegel to make a MOSFET amp because MOSFET was all the rage back in the day. You know, Nelson Pass uses MOSFETS in a lot of his designs. And Nelson Pass is like audio God. And audiophiles believe all this stupid shit. This is third hand information (the Hegel part, not the Nelson pass part). I personally prefer the sound of bipolar transistors and dislike MOSFETS, although there are some exceptions.
Compared to a lightly modified AliExpress 10W John Lindsey Hood 1969, the Vidar crushes it in the lower registers. While the mod (“bypassing” electrolytic output cap with higher quality smaller film cap) tilts the JLH69 to a neutral sound with less veil, the JLH69 just can’t completely overcome the fact that there’s still a big electrolytic at the end of the amp’s signal path (and that it’s only 10 watts). The JLH69’s greatest weakness is the low end. It’s not the clearest; the bass is rounded, lacks ultimate control, articulation, and impact. From the mids on up, the Vidar might just edge out the JLH69 in reproduction of fine detail, but the JLH69 seems to make better of what’s available to it with better microdynamics. Transients, timbre, naturalness, and stage are actually quite similar between the two amps (all very good). The issues with the JLH69 are as follows: only 10 watts (completely unsuitable for most modern speakers); can only be purchased from iffy Chinese vendors on AliExpress or eBay, so buyer beware; requires modification (light soldering of a film cap) for it to be competitive.
The above impressions were arrived at using two systems:
Now compared to some other amps not on hand (to memory, and my memory is usually pretty good about these things, mainly because I tend to use the same references, or know how things triangulate):
- Parasound Halo A23: At about $1000 new, this is garbage. Even used at $350, it’s still garbage.
- Vincent SP-331: The SP-331 is comparable with the Vidar. Warmer tone, more bloom (hybrid with pencil tube input stage). The Vidar has better bass and stronger tighter attacks. The rest on up is mostly a different presentation: warmth / bloom vs. control / precision. I’d probably give the Vidar a tiny edge in terms of microdetail and microdynamics. The SP-331 has more open stage, but more blurry and less precise. I prefer the Vidar. I can see many others preferring the SP-331.
- NuPrime STA-9: Price seems right, but the STA-9 is insipid Class D sounding garbage with second harmonics intentionally added (presumably to make it sound more tubey, but this misses the point of tubes). The STA-9 does everything right (lots of power, ease unstrained presentation) and everything wrong (boring and unengaging) at the same time.
- Crest CA-2: I’ve recommended the better pro amps over audiophile amps costing up to $2000. The Vidar handily beats the CA-2 in all aspects.
In conclusion, the Schiit Vidar is a fanastic value power amplifier. The bass quality is first rate, comparable with the best. The mids and treble do not quite exude the magic or immediacy of the super high-end amplifiers (costing thousands and thousand of dollars) or epic vintage amplifers (no longer available or in dubious condition). However, the Vidar is still more than competent. My hunch is that the Vidar will be able to compete with amps at the $2000-$2500 point.
Questions that need to be resolved:
- How will the Vidar compete against amps at the $2000 price point? Like the Parasound A21 or Cambridge Audio 851W? I would like to make a direct comparison, but I definitely do not want to spend funds to be disappointed and left with unsellable garbage like the A23 or S19.
- Moderately high to super high efficiency speakers were used to assess the Vidar’s sonics. Will Vidar perform better in a power range where it is more suited, with 87db or worse efficient speakers?
- How would the Vidar perform in a biamp arrangement, where one Vidar powers the highs, and another powers the lows?
I am currently using the Vidar in biamped system. The Vidar is driving the 12″ woofers in a ported boxed. The JLH69 is driving the Lowther DX3s in the Oris horns (with a simplified x-over, a single oil-paper cap). Both amps are being fed by the Saga preamp’s single-ended outputs. This combination is quite wonderful.