Saga, Freya, Vidar: three fresh pieces of Schiit from RMAF 2016

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After six years kicking the headphone world in the seat of the pants, high-end audio’s equivalent of the Rebel Alliance are moving into two-channel territory.

At RMAF 2016, that meant two separate demo spaces: Mike Moffat fronted the company’s range of DACs and headphone amplifiers at Schiit’s now familiar CanJam spot.

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Meanwhile, Jason Stoddard could be found up in the tower on level 2 – the same floor as the affordable demo rooms. How appropriate. Stoddard formally describes the preview of his three new ‘two channel’ pieces as a logical extension of Schiit’s scope. From the straight face, a Schiit-eating grin emerges: one that knows what follows will shake things up among the Evil Empire.

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Saga is a US$349 remote controllable, single-ended pre-amplifier with 64-position stepped attenuator than can be run passively or with a 6SN7 tube buffer. That price again: US$349.

Got double the dough? Freya admits one to a balanced, remote controllable preamplifier world, this time with 128 steps of attenuation. The bigger unit can be run three ways: passive; with a JFET (solid state) buffer or via a quad of 6SN7. In case you didn’t catch it first time out, Freya will sell for US$699.

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These two preamps aren’t yet listed on Schiit’s website – shipping doesn’t begin until December.

That brings us to Vidar. A Class A/B power amplifier that nets 100wpc into 8 Ohms, 200wpc into 4 Ohms. Other technical smarts include “current feedback, dual mono to the transformer design and intelligent amplifier management”.

According to Stoddard, Vidar won’t go into safety shutdown when hooked up to measurement gear. He was also keen to point out the cooling tunnel that aerates the internals from top to bottom.

Buy two and connect them with balanced XLRs to a pre-amplifier for a pair of monos that’ll drive 400wpc into 8 Ohms. KEF LS50 and ELAC Debut B6 owners, are you paying attention?

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Vidar won’t be available until sometime in Q1 of next year but when it lands each unit will sell for US$699. Made in the USA. Five-year warranty. Such are the benefits of bypassing the traditional dealer network and selling direct to the customer. Everyone wins. Except for dealers.

That was RMAF….

…but five days later I visited Schiit’s headquarters in Valencia, CA. The obligatory factory tour coverage will follow in due course, as well an MQA-related ‘soliloquy’ from Moffat, but I also asked Stoddard about the company’s first incursion into a world where serious Class A/B grunt and multi-mode pre-amplifiers usually sell for way north of two grand.

Here’s how that most informative and entertaining segment of the day played out:

Further information: Schiit Audio

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Written by John H. Darko

John lives in Berlin, Germany. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also a very occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

41 Comments

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  1. A cool feature (I think) for them to consider for the preamp is the ability to switch heater voltages from 6.3V to 12.6V, so one could also roll with relatively cheaper 12SN7’s.. Elac users have new “matching” separates to look forward to.

  2. Again, Schiit seem to be giving great value for money.
    I hope you will be getting these in for review. Be interesting to know if they are as good as the $2 to $4K components.
    If those power amps are up to snuff, they are a real steal at that price.

    • I knew someone would ask this! 😉 Alas, impossible to make judgement calls given that one must listen through unfamiliar music, unfamiliar room and unfamiliar loudspeakers.

  3. I’m glad you found the good Schiit, John. I was impressed by the sound, given that it was under “show” conditions, and appreciate that Jason and Mike are committed to delivering great sound at a great price. I am looking forward to rebuilding my 2-channel system with a Freya and 2 Vidar’s.

  4. File under ranting:

    While I totally understand why a company like Schiit would choose infrared for remote control, it’s still a technological dinosaur in my opinion, from the time when one way communication was acceptable. Because of the inherent limitations of infrared, an automated home theater setup that handles multiple with a universal remote or something like that is nearly impossible to “just work”. One of the devices will eventually get out-of-sync with respect to the control device, requiring manual intervention.

      • Sure.

        I generally wouldn’t mind trigger in/out and rs232. Yes, those would probably add to the price (though not that much … ).

        I realize I’m in the minority, and again, that was primarily a rant 🙂

  5. I’ve been resisting the temptation to go back to separates, but the Freya pre may push me over the edge. I’ve been very happy with the two different Class-D amps that I currently own, so I would be interested to see what these guys could do with Class-D.

  6. I’m very interested in the Schiit components, but what’s the Roon Ready piece at the bottom of the Schiit component rack?

  7. Those passive preamps look good. IMO if one can do without the remote control, an even better bargain for a passive preamp is the one from Tisbury audio (a small UK based company) for £130 (approx. 190$). It has a high quality stepped attenuator just like the Schiits. I have it in my system for a few weeks now and the sound quality is excellent. An added benefit with the Tisbury is that it provides two variable outputs. This way I can drive a pair of active speakers and a pair of subs (which works really well despite the high cable length of the sub connection).
    And no, I am not affiliated with the company, just really happy with their product.

  8. Truly you are the master of scatological wordplay, Mister Darko, and this particular brand gives you seemingly endless creative opportunities. I Schiit ye nay!

  9. Usually, new Schiit is rolled out to great fanfare. I would think that doubly true for a new venture in non-headphone components. That didn’t happen this time, but perhaps it’s still early. Nevertheless, it was right there at RMAF. Anyway, thank you for giving this new development and components their due.

  10. Good interview. Glad to hear that their preamps will have a remote. I’ll be rebuilding my system next year and look forward to reading more about their offerings. As an aside, did you happen know what recording they were playing?

  11. Just more proof that these guys are the real deal. A true American manufacturing success story that everyone should be paying attention to! These will be tempting.

  12. After six years kicking the headphone world in the seat of the pants, high-end audio’s equivalent of the Rebel Alliance are moving into two-channel territory.

    OK – I’ve spent enough time in transit lounges and hotel rooms to know that a keyboard can be a difficult beast, particularly when I left a bar at 3am that morning. That said, I’d like to see that changed to ‘moving into the speaker universe’. Of course, the Ragnarok has speaker taps and technically many of their DACs could be used a preamp, but this is their first foray into dedicated pre/power speaker amps. From where I’m sitting, the only Schiit product which is NOT two-channel is the Vidar in mono configuration. None of these appear on Schiit’s product pages yet – thanks for the preview.

    • Just as headphone related products are strictly two channel, pre-amps don’t drive speakers. Semantics then. 🙂

      • I agree that it’s semantics, and I accept that I’ve probably been pickier than I needed to be, but surely the headphone is the very definition of ‘two-channel’ ? A power amp can be configured for a subwoofer signal – or used in a multichannel setup as seen in many high-end AV systems – but (with the exception of a very small percentage of current headphone offerings) headphones are almost always designed for a 2-channel system. Pick a speaker – any speaker you’ve covered in these pages – and it could be deployed in a mono or multichannel configuration (bookshelves often make surprisingly good centre speakers), but obviously you cant do that with a pair of headphones. Tyll ran a piece a while back on the amount of money – and effort – needed to produce a believable ‘surround sound’ effect in a pair of headphones and it went well beyond what most of us could hope to afford. I’ve used HD800s for gaming — great positional cues – but Tyll’s article pointed to some major hurdles that have to be overcome when we strap drivers to each side of our head.

        I enjoy your writing and I appreciate the effort you go to in covering affordable gear all over the world, but I respectfully have to disagree with your choice of words in this instance. With the exception of its very earliest products (the Asgard, from memory), Schiit have released products which could easily slot into a speaker system and there is nothing to stop people using one of the new preamps with their favorite headphone amp, even if that isnt an optimal solution. Peace out.

    • What’s interesting to me is conundrum the Saga and Freya present to users who are interested in 2-channel speaker sound, but also want to use headphones from time to time (e.g. late night listening). This presents the following challenges:

      1. The Saga and Freya don’t have built-in headphone jacks. Okay, fair enough, use one of Schiit’s many headphone amps.

      2. But (from what I’ve seen) neither the Saga or Freya have a fixed pre-out amongst the output choices, which means that hooking up a headphone amp to one of the variable outputs means stacking two variable outputs on top of each other (preamp + headphone amp). Hmmm, not generally advised to do…

      3. And then what to do to quiet the speakers? Seems like the only option would be to power down the power amp. Which works, but definitely less convenient than a muting relay.

  13. Hi John, ears pricked up at the mention of the LS50’s – they suggest (on their fact sheet) an amp requirement of 20-100W, wouldn’t 400W per speaker be massive overkill? Or just good headroom because they’re relatively inefficient?

    • Not at all. I find the LS50 to be hungry little suckers. Besides, an amplifier’s ability to deliver current when called for is perhaps more critical here than its nominal power rating. I guess the only way to know for sure is to try it out. But that also highlights one advantage of the active version: the ‘which amplifier?’ guessing game goes out the window.

      • I’m powering my pair through a (conservatively rated) 80wpc NADC356BEE integrated amp. Does the job and then some in a one-bedroom apartment, although I would love to see what they’re capable of stretching their legs some. I bought them not even a week before the powered variant was announced which does leave me wondering “what if”…

  14. John thanks for the great coverage. I’ve been looking for a higher power amplifier than my EAR V20 for those times I want to rock my M3s. I do have a question, is Vidar a balanced component? I’d like to output my Yggdrasil directly to it/them

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