Review: Schiit Vidar Power Amplifier | iLounge

Review

Review: Schiit Vidar Power Amplifier

B+
Recommended

Company: Schiit

Model: Vidar

Price: $699

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Guido Gabriele

As an audio reviewer, this first paragraph is like a rite of passage: our first review of a Schiit product. This is the part where we have to say yes, that really is the company's name and yes, it is pronounced like you think it is. California-based Schiit trolls the audiophile world with attractive, made-in-the-USA-for-real amplifiers and DACs that are far more affordable than their similarly-performing competition. Budget-minded audio fans have been following this company for years and, if this is your first time hearing about them, we welcome you to the club. Today, we're looking at a first for Schiit — their first dedicated loudspeaker power amplifier, the Vidar. It's quite good.

Like nearly all of Schiit’s audio gear, the Vidar has a simple design, centered around a single sheet of thick, stiff aluminum. At 9” x 13” x 3.85” it’s relatively compact for a power amplifier, but perhaps more importantly the Vidar is longer than it is wide, making it easier to fit two units on a single shelf (more on that later). The Vidar is relatively hefty, at 22 pounds, though its size is somewhat inflated by large metal heat sink fins protruding from either side of the Vidar’s case. Like other Schiit producs we’ve used, the Vidar is well-built, but it’s also clearly hand-built — our Vidar arrived with a loose screw on the top casing and some small dents on the heat sinks. Those minor issues aside, the Vidar looks very cool — it’s got a raw, industrial, futuristic look, like that of a Cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. It’s available in black, but we felt compelled to buy the classic Schiit matte silver version.

Where many companies are switching to Class-D amplifier designs, Schiit went with the audiophile-preferred Class-AB design. On the back of the Vidar we find two sets of high-quality binding posts, left and right RCA jacks, a power switch, and a single 3-pin XLR jack. That’s right — the Vidar can be used in dual mono mode, with one balanced XLR cable to each amplifier. The Vidar’s specs are impressive: 100 watt RMS per channel into 8 ohm speakers, 200 watt RMS into 4 ohms, and 400 watt RMS into 8 ohms when used in mono mode. Schitt’s support staff told us that the Vidar can be used with 4 ohm speakers that may dip closer to 2 ohms within reason, though driving those ultra-low impedance speakers to very high volumes may trip its protection circuit. The Vidar has no active cooling — all cooling is handled passively via the case and heat sinks — no fans mean less noise, but the Vidar will range from warm to hot based on how hard it’s being pushed. There’s no auto-standby on the Vidar, and the power switch is located on the back; clearly, the Vidar is meant to be left on at all times. Though Class-AB amps aren’t exactly the greenest amplifier topology available, our research indicates that the Vidar idles at about 60 watts; plan on adding the cost of one light bulb to your monthly electric bill.

We should express our appreciation for the Vidar’s internal protection function. The Vidar features an active protection circuit: “microprocessor-controlled monitoring and management of critical operation points.” To avoid damage from excessive heat or power draw, the Vidar will shut off if it detects excessive current draw, heat, or other problems. This can happen if the Vidar has an internal part failure, if it’s used with very low-impedance speakers (4 ohms or less) at very high volumes, or, left in a cabinet with insufficient cooling. In our testing, we discovered another failure mode: careless reviewers. We unintentionally tested the Vidar’s protection circuit when switching speakers by accidentally allowing the speaker cables to touch another metal component, short-circuiting the Vidar and causing a loud POP to be heard from the speaker that was still connected. The Vidar’s protection triggered, its LED started to flash, and the sound immediately stopped. We switched the Vidar off, unplugged it for a bit to be sure, and then powered it back on. Neither the Vidar or speakers seemed to be damaged; though reviews usually focus on power, sound, and price, we owe Schiit a debt of gratitude for that safety net.

We tested the Vidar with speakers of varying size and sensitivity, and against amplifiers with both higher and lower output. There’s no replacement for displacement — though our 25 watt TEAC A-101DA was able to power speakers like the KEF Q300 we reviewed recently, the Vidar drove them better in every instance. We were particularly impressed with how the Vidar paired with the Ohm Walsh 1000s — though we had initially tried those speakers with a budget Onkyo amplifier recommended by Ohm, the Vidar was able to extract audibly better low-end and overall life from the Walsh with just a bit more power. We detected no coloration in sound by the Vidar — just a lot of clean power. We used the Vidar on an open component rack, and never had any problems with heat. We think integrated volume control or auto-standby functionality might make the Vidar a better fit for a wider range of customers, but as a pure power amp, the Vidar is hard to beat.

At $699, the Vidar isn’t “cheap” and, of course, you’ll need a preamp to control its volume. However, the Vidar is very affordable considering the quality of its design and components, expandability to dual-mono mode, and substantial, clean power output. For those looking to get started in the speaker world, we think the Vidar is a great initial investment — it’ll power almost anything you can connect to it, and can easily be expanded as your system grows. Be warned, however: if you’re like us, after using one, you’ll be tempted to buy another. 

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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