SCHIIT SAGA AND VIDAR W/HEADPHONES
I don’t really know what possessed me to purchase the Saga and Vidar to try with headphones. I mean when I think about it, the amplifier is a whopping 100 watts into 8ohms. For something like my modded T50 that translates into almost 16Watts. The moment after I clicked the last button on the Schiit website to confirm purchase my heart sunk as I thought “why the heck did I do that? I only have one planar that doesn’t get a lot of head time!”. I began perusing the impressions on the Superbestaudiofriends dedicated thread and noticed people commenting on the Vidar having hiss with headphones, hum with speakers, and how this was only made for speakers. In anticipation of it’s arrival I started wishing I could cancel the purchase but too late. Schiit was fast on getting the units out to me.
So here and now, both the Saga and Vidar are with me. Before I get into sound I must comment on functionality and usability. To my HUGE surprise, the combination is totally usable even with the HD650 and Atticus. I get a low level hum that is barely worth mentioning. I simply hook the Saga up to the Vidar which is being fed by my Pavane/Rednet combination; then run my banana plug adapter from the back of the Vidar and I am ready to listen. “So Lee, did you dither the volume down from your player? Did you turn the volume pot of the Saga all the way down and then creep up on the pot so you wouldn’t explode the driver as it hurled shards of the exploded magnet into your ears?” Yes I did and found that I actually didn’t even need to dither the volume of Audirvana down because there was plenty of play on the volume knob of the Saga. As a safe practice I turn the pot down on the Saga all the way but end up at about 10 o’clock for loud listening levels.
Now you may be apprehensive still about using the Vidar for headphones like the 650 and Atticus as were the guys at the mini meet we had here in Arizona. I couldn’t blame the owner of his HD650 for not wanting to damage his headphone. Much to his surprise the Vidar had barely any self noise; sounded just as good as the Jotunheim combination; and he had plenty of play on the pot without having to dither the volume of the media player down. His HE-6 had no noise whatsoever either.
So how does it sound as a headphone amp to me?
Pretty good for the buck in my opinion. The Vidar’s inherent sound profile is neutral with a very slight roll off in the upper treble. At 699 I actually heard it as an upgrade to the Schiit Jotunheim as the Vidar had better control, balance, depth, and imaging.
It is pretty hard for me not to use superlatives when talking about the bass but I cannot recall an amplifier that I have heard that I can definitively say does it better. The bass is pretty linear, extra deep and well balanced with a natural amount of presence. The control is stunning! I have never described bass like that before. It is not just focused but it is dense and hard with great texture. Slam is decent but gratifying; I was expecting it to make everything knock intensely but not so. The HE-6 had good presence and was decently punchy. More so than your average desktop amp but nothing jaw dropping in terms of raw dynamics. Body, definition, and accuracy is what it does really well.
Overall I find the midrange to have a good amount of presence with only maybe…questionably a slight glow in the upper mids but in all honestly I think it is pretty balanced. Voices don’t sound compressed and instruments have good texture. I find my Mogwai with Sophia KT88s to have a bit more clarity and openness in the mids giving voices more realism but the Vidar is no slouch. It is competitive with any sub 1K solid state amplifier I have tried for sure. I kept thinking to myself that it sounded less compressed than the Auris HA2SE amplifier I used to own but less natural in timbre and without the tube warmth. Honestly if the amplifier had a slightly cleaner sound (can’t expect it to at class AB and all this power into headphones) It would be a TKO.
This treble to my ears is actually just a wee bit ill extended it seems. However it is not nearly smooth enough to tame the HE-6 treble. People keep saying that if you power the HE-6 right all of its issues go away. I would like to call their bluff on that; or at least point out a misconception. Firstly you need to mod that sucker and fortunately the unit we used was modded so well it had nearly no treble issues but was still effectively clear. Even off of the ‘right’ amplifier an unmodded HE-6 will still be super bright (at least for my tastes). The HE-6 has air to spare and with the Vidar I couldn’t hear any of this slight roll off I mention. With other headphones like the HD-650 and Atticus (the closed back is not really airy anyhow) I found that the Vidar sounded a little less airy than my Mogwai and Sophias. However the treble has excellent bite and everything sounds really crisp and controlled. The Jotunheim meshed better with the 650’s treble but was not as snappy or defined.
I just made this an impressions post because it is NOT a headphone amplifier but enthusiasts like myself are willing to try lots of things. I have no idea how it performs with speakers on a technical level. But with headphones I find the Vidar is very detailed with excellent transient response (top notch). The soundstage is round with decent depth compared to something as flat as the Jotunheim and about as deep as my memory has the Torpedo III and Auris. One thing I can never say is that the leading edges are not defined; think TOTL solid state there but even better than most of them.
Of course it is not as clean and inky black as a lot of the best desktop amps but for the price and in the right application it is clear enough to get along well. It is relatively clear and didn’t give much if any grounds in that department to the Jotunheim. I can hear a graininess to the sound that can take away from the realism of the music when compared to my main amplifier but the trade off is unmatched grip from the Vidar. The presentation of the Saga and Vidar is a little heavy handed and lacks the finesse and flow I have heard from something like the Phonitor E. It also sounds just a little less clear and clean than the SPL TOTL headphone amp but it also has better focus and solidity. The way it plays music to me sometimes sounds just a little forced and strained, lacking that liquid realism. It lacks just a bit of fluidity and smoothness and sometimes sounds like it needs to open up and flow. But with the right headphone, say an open back planar with good air, it highlights all of the good things people like about planars (transients, quick decay, dense tones, low distortion) and still sounds very good.
While using the Vidar as the headphone amplifier, we briefly compared the Saga and Freya and couldn’t tell any differences in the short amount of time with the amplifiers set to passive which is to be expected. Tube rolling had us leaving the Sophia 6SL7 in the Saga for the most lively and clear sound.
The headphones that worked with little to no noise were the HE-6, HD650, Modded T5RP, ZMF Atticus(decently but the results were not optimal). The Utopia had a good match tonally but the amplifiers self noise was a little more audible with it.
I think I am going to hold onto the Vidar. It’s sound, while not ideal in some ways, is pretty nice in others. I am not going to say everyone should go and get a Vidar but it powered the HE-6 adequately and also works with some other headphones. I do wonder how it sounds with other preamps besides the Saga but I don’t believe the Saga is holding it back much so purchasing a ‘better’ preamp to me seems like a useless effort. I will try it with other preamps as they come and go but they may put too much power into it and cause noise. We will see. It makes me want to get back into planars and that is a good thing.
UPDATE: MY HD6XX DID END UP CRAPPING OUT w/ALL OF THIS POWER. Even though I hear no hiss or hum much, the HD’s gave out. Use planars only if buying this amp for headphones or get some resistors. BE CAREFUL.