Schiit Audio has been a favourite brand of mine for some time. I just think what they do to make things affordable is good for the hobby. I was especially impressed with their Saga+ preamp that sells for a lowly £390. Combined with a Vidar amp for £700 from them, it created a very musical and punchy presentation on my upstairs Wilson Audio TuneTot system. But I was a little hesitant to review the Aegir initially as I don’t exactly have a collection of efficient speakers lying around….but I was curious…
The Schiit Aegir amp is intriguing because I have always loved the sound of Class A amplifiers. I just love what they do to the mids and highs. Luckily I secured two very efficient loudspeakers for the review, the Tekton Designs Moab speaker at 98db efficiency and the JBL L200 which take just one watt (!) to produce 84db of volume.
First some background on the Aegir amp. Power output is 20 watts into 8 ohms or 40 watts into 4 ohms. The idea here was to make a Class A version of the Vidar, but the story is a little more complicated than that. They came up with a Continuity circuit, based on technology they used in their Lyr 3 headphone amp. In their own words, “Technically, 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.”
So the bottom line is that we should hear the benefits of Class A but it obviously works its best with very efficient speakers. So I arranged for some high efficiency speakers to listen to the Aegir at its best.
But first, a caveat. I am a tube guy. I mean I like high quality solid state but give me the midrange of a good neutral tube amplifier any day. Audio Research? Doshi? VAC? It’s all good. But I do confess that it’s hard for a solid-state amplifier to impress me. D’Agastino? Pass Labs? Constellation? Sure. But one that costs a mere £800? Hmm, we will see.
This one comes well packaged and is self-contained for RCA input operation but if you like balanced inputs, there is one balanced input so you have to run mono. I did not receive a second unit so I listened to the RCAs only. The casework is classic Schiit. Gently angled brushed aluminium with an operate button on the front which pulls it out of stand-by mode and an on-off switch in the back. Speaker terminals appear to be WBT and the banana connectors I used fitted snugly. There are two long and relatively sharp banks of heat dissipation fins running the length of the amplifier, and the amp puts out quite a lot of heat. Designed and built in California, the Aegir had a very solid feel and was quite heavy.
For sound evaluation, I went over to my friend Barry’s house where highly efficient Tekton Moabs were set up as both a two-channel system and a seven-channel surround system, but we listened in two channel mode only. The Moab speakers are fairly wild with what appears to be 15 tweeters in an array but are actually dome radiating drivers in an MTM array providing midrange. I like this speaker due to its presence in the midrange and some quite good bass performance. At first, we hooked up the Aegir to the Moab and used an Oppo 105 for digital playback. The Aegir did not sound all that great at first, but I looked at Barry and said, don’t panic, this amp takes a while to get going. We let it ‘cook’ for an hour and things really got going.
Barry and I have a CD collectors’ group in Atlanta so we are ‘old-school digital’ in that regard. I brought a stack of CDs I was familiar with and Barry has a huge collection and he tossed in a few gems as well.
Right off we listened to ‘The Dog Song’ from Cookie Marenco’s dynamite Blue Coast Collection SACD sampler [Blue Coast]. The opening guitar chords were simply natural and lifelike. This was solid state? Garett Brennan’s vocals were smooth and detailed. Dynamics were strong. A transient guitar pick in the middle of the song left a bit of a punch in my belly.
Next up was La Roca from Todd Garfinkle’s MA Recordings. A magnificent recording done presented here in 16/44 from a needle-drop done on a Continuum Caliburn. Yes, you read that right. We were listening to an LP of a digital recording then put on a CD sampler. Weird but sounds really great. It’s like the LP adds some analogue qualities…but the soundstage width and depth which Todd always seems to get right is what we came here for. The Moabs got this perfect. There is a sense of spaciousness and naturalness on this album which some consider Todd’s best work. Timbre of instruments is spot on. Instrument placement is set up nicely and it’s a bit odd hearing this from the listener’s chair because the Moabs are huge towers. Well done, Tekton!
The Doug Sax-mastered Analogue Productions gold CD of ‘Basie Jam’ follows with ‘Red Bank Blues’. Irving Ashby’s jazz guitar is the standout for me here. Clear and vibrant.
Barry brings me the Blind Boys of Alabama CD [Spirit of the Century, Real World]he’s been raving about on Facebook. ‘Run On for a Long Time’ is simply spectacular and the layered vocals of this close-harmony group are just amazing.
At this point, my smile gets wider as I know that the Class A in the first ten watts and the Continuity, Class A-like, power for the rest of the range is doing its job on the midrange. I very much want to describe the midrange as ‘sweet’ but that might imply an added distortion and it’s actually fairly neutral. I think I am just hearing an organic quality in the midrange such as I get with the reference-grade tube amps I normally listen to.
Next up are some JBL L200 horn-based speakers, my friend Chris Sommovigo has. Chris always has a good system setup that is musical and I also was keen on seeing his new place. Normally Chris drives these with an eight watt Concert Fidelity integrated amplifier so I was able to bring over the Schiit Saga preamp and combine that with the Aegir for less than in total outlay. Now a comparison to the much more expensive Concert Fidelity would be completely unfair but how would we do playing records with our more humble gear and older JBL horns?
Quite good as it turned out. The Aegir mated beautifully with the JBLs and having a Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge on a Fern Roby Tredegar turntable certainly provided a much better than average source. I cued up my Bob Ludwig pressing of ZZ Top’s DeGuello [Warner]. The crunchy guitar on the opening of ‘Thank You’ was vibrant. Drums were punchy. Chris was in Japan so long he became an even bigger fan of horn speakers. I start to understand the attraction!
The new Tone Poet pressing of Money Jungle with Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach was up next. Not exactly an audiophile records per se, but my God what a performance! The Aegir-JBL combo was spot-on with the instruments.
We finished on a spectacular note with a lacquer of Nima Ben David playing the viola de gamba on the album Resonance from MA Recordings made with Black Cat Cables on mic cable and going from recorder to the amplifier driving the cutting amp. One of the benefits of a strain gauge type cartridge is that there is no pressure on the groove so lacquers last quite long versus typically a few plays with a traditional cartridge. But this was something special. The viola de gamba had lifelike presence. The midrange here was a clear 10/10. The space around the instrument was delivered by Todd’s recording work and by the Aegir and JBL pairing so nicely. Of course, the humble Schiit Saga was letting all the music through as was the brass solidity of the Tredegar table.
It’s really quite an amazing amplifier. The Schiit Aegir is solidly built but delivers, probably the best sound of any Schiit component I have heard. The midrange and highs have a purity that is beguiling. Bass is deep and rich. Imaging is well done and the spaciousness of a great recording is presented accurately. Dynamics are top notch. Timbre of the instruments is accurate.
How Jason and Mike at Schiit Audio get this done for £800 is beyond me. Just find a good pair of efficient speakers, hook it up with a decent preamp and source and you will be moved by the music in no time. The Schiit brand promise of great sound for very affordable money gathers additional speed with this effort!
Two channel power amplifier
- Inputs: L/R RCA jacks for stereo input, single XLR for mono input
- Power Output:
- Stereo, 8 Ohms: 20W RMS per channel
- Stereo, 4 Ohms: 40W RMS per channel
- Mono, 8 ohms: 80W RMS
- Frequency Response: 20Hz–20Khz, -0.1db, 3Hz–500KHz, -3dB
- THD: < 0.01%, 20Hz-20KHz, at 20W RMS into 8 ohms
- IMD: < 0.01%, CCIR, at 20W RMS into 8 ohms
- SNR: >114db, A-weighted, referenced to full output
- Dimensions (W×D×H): 22.86 × 33.02 × 9.84 cm
- Price: £800
Manufactured by: Schiit Audio
Distributed by: Schiit Audio UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1494 956558