Schiit Audio Saga S Preamp & Aegir Power Amplifier Review
James Michael Hughes auditions an impressive pint-sized preamplifier and power amplifier combination….
Saga S Pre / Aegir Power
£350 / £1,000 RRP
Since its formation in 2010, California-based Schiit Audio has become well-known for great US-built audio products at very affordable prices. The Saga S is an active/passive line-level preamp, while the Aegir is a stereo/mono power amp delivering a claimed 20W output into 8 ohms or 40W into 4 ohms.
The Saga S has five analogue line inputs. At 230x150x50mm, it's a compact little unit that draws 15W of power and runs cool. It offers users a choice of passive operation or active with a J-FET output stage. There's also a Saga Plus version at £400 with a tube output stage. Whether active or passive, the Saga S produces unity gain. You can compare active and passive modes while the music plays. The volume control uses relay-switched thin-film resistors in 64 separate 1dB steps. Maximum output is 5V, and a nice remote control is included.
The Aegir mono/stereo power amp offers a choice of unbalanced stereo operation or balanced mono operation in bridged mode. Claimed power output is just 20W at 8 ohms, but this doubles to 40W with 4 ohm speakers and jumps to 80W into 8 ohms when the amp is bridged. While 20W doesn't seem much, subjectively, the Aegir sounds surprisingly gutsy and dynamic. Of course, my using 102dB sensitive Klipsch Cornwall IV speakers helps enormously here, but if your speakers are less than 90dB efficient, and/or you have a big room and listen at highish volume levels, it might not be your best choice. Schiit's similarly-priced 100W Vidar 2 would be a better bet in this situation.
The Aegir is a quasi-Class A, DC-coupled wide-bandwidth design with no capacitors in the signal path. To lower heat and reduce current draw over a pure Class A design, it runs in Class A for the first 10W. Even so, it still gets quite warm, typically between 35C and 50C. It usually takes an hour or more before temperatures over 35C are reached. Left idling, it seems to settle around 37C. Large heatsinks on both sides of the housing ensure this is adequately dissipated. Maximum power consumption is said to be 450W, but during average/normal use I measured just 75W. Schiit says that its proprietary Continuity circuit eliminates transconductance-droop, extending the sonic benefits of Class A operation beyond this 10W boundary.
Claimed frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz within 0.1dB, or 3Hz to 500kHz -3dB. A large 600VA transformer is used, with seven separate windings for individual circuits within the amplifier. A gain of 22dB is claimed. Case size is 230x330x100mm, and the amp weighs 10kg.
Both the Saga S and Aegir look and feel very well-made and are very quiet electronically and physically. With an ear close to the Aegir, I could just about detect a faint, barely-audible transformer buzz. With my ear right by the speaker drivers I heard nothing. So, effectively, the amps are silent.
The volume control on the Saga S makes a slightly mechanical clicking sound as the relays switch in and out. Volume levels can be adjusted using the supplied remote. Despite using sensitive speakers, I found myself playing with the volume knob set high at around the two o'clock mark. Amplifiers that use a conventional potentiometer for volume feature a logarithmic resistive track to suit the ear's non-linear response to loudness levels. But the Saga S' volume control has a linear response in fixed 1dB increments and so behaves differently.
While the Aegir is up and running within seconds of switch-on, the Saga S has a built-in delay of about one minute before it can be used. Although there's a passive option, the Saga S cannot function without power. This is because relays are used for the output and volume control. While I felt the passive option was probably a shade more neutral, active added a little warmth, which I preferred. However, it wasn't a night and day difference.
I mostly used the active setting, but the two were close and often it wasn't easy to tell one from the other. I used a short 0.5m cable between the pre and power amp. Possibly if you used significantly longer cable runs – say four or five metres – there might be more difference between active and passive, because the former should be better at driving long runs of cable.
The Aegir has RCA phono and XLR inputs, but the latter is for balanced operation with the amp in bridged mode. Adding a second Aegir and using a pair bridged will increase output power, but you'll need a preamp with balanced XLR outputs like Schiit's Freya S or Freya Plus.
First impressions were of a bright, crisp, forward, sound, but after an hour or so it eased up and became sweeter and more relaxed. When fully up to temperature, this combo is impactful, has excellent clarity, a tight powerful bottom end, a smooth liquid midrange, and a clear, airy treble. While the tonal balance isn't exactly euphonic, nor is it thin, dry or hard. The Aegir sounds perfectly fine when first switched on, but improves as the optimum temperature is reached. The sound becomes fuller and more evenly balanced.
Switching between the preamp's active and passive options, the former is a tad richer and sweeter – a shade more full-bodied, if you like. Subjectively, there's perhaps a slight increase in level with active engaged – maybe 0.25dB? It's exceedingly small but just audible if you listen carefully.
I found the Saga S and Aegir to be very involving to listen to. Results were engaging and informative, and there's a nice freshness to the sound that is very appealing. The music sounds crisp, clean and well balanced; it's fast and lively, with good pace and plenty of impact and immediacy.
Frequency response extends well into the sub-sonic regions. For those with a good sub or speakers capable of reproducing the lowest frequencies, this helps impart an impressive sense of richness, weight and depth to the sound. Indeed, I was mildly shocked when a deep floor-shaking organ pedal suddenly entered – seemingly from nowhere – during the hushed close of Strauss's Alpine Symphony with Andriss Nelsons on Deutsche Grammophon. Such massive weight and authority were completely unexpected!
While this sort of thing is noticeable on blockbuster recordings with deep, powerful bass, it is also apparent on regular recordings. The presence of these very low frequencies gives the highs more tonal sheen and helps to create a more holographic, three-dimensional soundstage. Playing Antonio Forcione's album Touch Wood, the reproduction had impressive pace and bite, with lots of twangy attack from guitars and percussion. When guitar strings were being struck hard, you could really sense the aforementioned lustre.
Yet the Saga S and Aegir are about more than just delivering fast leading edges and explosive dynamics. The combination sounds quite refined, too. Results were very clean, being free from edge and harshness, despite being crisp and immediate. There's an attractive purity about the sound. You sense signal paths are short and clean, without unnecessary components introducing smearing or colouration. An impression of immediacy and impact is the hallmark of responsive circuitry that's not getting in the way of the music.
This became clear while playing an ECM New Series CD; Elegie by Jorg Widmann. The main work – Messe for large orchestra – sounded impressively dynamic and powerful. The room was filled with sound, and the various wind and string instruments projected strongly and purposefully. Yet I was surprised when I checked sound pressure levels using a meter. Subjectively, what had seemed loud was only averaging about 55dB with occasional peaks up to 60dB. Based on what I was hearing, I'd have guessed the sound was maybe 6dB to 10dB louder; later in the piece, some peaks reached 70dB. But the Aegir did not sound strained; these heavier climaxes expanded very naturally, with ease and grace. Tonally, the orchestral sound had a nice rich sheen to the upper frequencies, plus a realistic palpable sense of depth.
Finally, I had to try Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues for Piano with Alexander Melnikov on Harmonia Mundi. Specifically, the 14th Prelude with its explosive trills impressed me so much when I listened via Lavardin's ISx Reference amplifier. Going on memory, the £1.3k Schiit pre/power produced similar impact to the £4k Lavardin. Possibly, the Schiit was a tad harder and more forceful, while the Lavardin sounded equally dynamic but just a tad sweeter. I was left very impressed.
Schiit Audio's Saga S and Aegir is a great sounding pre/power combo that offers outstanding performance and superb value for money. You'd have to spend a huge amount more to get something that performs significantly better. Build quality and finish – while maybe not quite the ultimate in luxurious elegance – compare favourably with products costing more. But it's the sound that counts, and providing you stay within its power compass, this compact combination delivers cracking results.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!
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