Vidar Invades Camp Dismal

Vidar photo is a stock image kindly provided by Schiit Audio.

FedEx beat its delivery promise to bring Vidar to Camp Dismal 2 days early. So we had an unboxing and installation, both fairly trivial and got to have a first listen playing the Thile-Mehldau eponymous duet record and Judy Collins In My Life record. The Judy Collins record features her beautiful voice singing Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and other songs with an electric backing. Vidar pairs nicely with my Dhalquist DQ-10s and has been a perfect gentleman since arrival.

Revisions

It wouldn’t be a Camp Dismal Dispatch without some revisions. I like to note them for my audience.

  • 21 May 2020: Revise description of the house sound to talk a bit about a sense of depth and also the way room resonances can present as depth.
  • Add Thile-Mehldau Scarlet Town video link from Brad Mehldau’s artist site. This video shows how the FOH engineer miked the duet.
  • Make miking description consistent with what the video shows.

Bravo Zulu Jason Stoddard and Schiit Audio

Jason Stoddard has designed a great product in Vidar. He does it all, circuit topology, board layout, prototyping, case design, manual writing.

An LA board shop builds the boards. An area sheet metal shop builds the chassis, and Schiit puts them together in house. Schiit builds larger products like Vidar and Gumby on order to ensure that you receive fresh product running current firmware.

Jason and Mike have a couple of programmers who do the micro-controller and DSP programming for them. The DSP programmer specializes in audio signal processing.

Vidar is protected

Yes, a micro-controller sets output stage bias and provides offset and over-current protection. A white indicator lamp blinks on power up and becomes steady when Vidar is ready to play. If the amp overheats or goes out of its safe operating area, the controller mutes Vidar and flashes the indicator lamp.

We had an unplanned test of Vidar’s micro-processor based output protection during installation. The first power up was with the right channel speaker disconnected. Rocky had decked the right speaker breaking the cable banana plugs. Replaced with Blue Jeans Cable spade lugs, the cable was dangling with lugs touching. Vidar recognized the condition and went into protection. I disconnected the output and the condition cleared. So I checked the cable and installed it correctly. Vidar came up hot straight and normal.

Listening Impressions

Vidar sounds like Schiit, that is, neutral with laser focus and clean, natural articulation. Vidar makes good sources sing sweetly yet will show up mediocre recordings and front end components. Vidar couples well to cone loudspeakers and will keep a big acoustic suspension woofer in hand. Bass is taunt and articulate. The amplifier has the power and damping characteristics and extended high end to pair nicely with my Dhalquist DQ-10s.

The big surprise is that Vidar does depth where the original recording can convey a sense of it. In my lounge, depth appears to reach forward into the room and not all recordings do it. It seems to be frequency dependent in my room so maybe part of what I’m hearing is room resonance asserting itself.

My lounge is 12 feet by 20 feet but part of a larger 20 by 20 space that includes the kitchen and dining area. The room modes have not been determined but they appear to be in the third and fourth octaves by US reckoning. Europeans count from zero so C-2 and C-3 based octaves for my EU/UK readers.

The records played did not hit the room resonances which make several notes in the C-3 to C-4 region of the scale bloom artificially. They’re down near C-3 so most affect base guitar and concert bass. So the low piano play decayed like it should. The treble piano play was liquid gold, pure of tone and nicely articulated. Brad Mehldau is a wizard at pulling this sound out of a stage Steinway.

How Scarlet Town presents in my lounge

https://www.bradmehldau.com/chris-thile-and-brad-mehldau-1/

Image is a system phenomenon that is the emergent result of

  • Recording phase coherency
  • Amplifier phase linearity
  • Speaker phase linearity
  • Room resonances

In my lounge, a lot of the apparent depth results from room resonance making a note appear to fill the space or bloom forward into the space. This typically happens with bass playing down around C-3 and notes appear to sustain rather than decaying off naturally. This unexpected sustain is the tip off that the phenomenon is a resonance.

Depth in the recording layers instruments like they were arranged in the recording space and is a much more subtle thing. Vidar and the Dhalquists appear to present a sense of depth consistent with the performer arrangement on stage when reproducing the Thile-Mehldau record. Chris is forward and to the right of the hammers. When singing in duet, Brad and Chris are together, a choice of the mix engineer as both are close miked.

If you have seen the Nonesuch Thile-Mehldau live performance video of Scarlet Town, you know they normally set up with Chris before the piano at the belly of the case curve and a bit down stage of the keyboard.

The video clearly shows the front of house engineer’s preferred miking of the duet. Chris and his mandolin are close miked. Brad has a vocal mike and the piano is miked internal to the body, probably with ribbons on the frame members as mike stands are not visible. The typical miking is about a foot above and on the string side of the hammer bank where the strings are crossing internally (Shure recommended placement). What ever they have done, this piano is beautifully represented in the recording.

The mix engineers have adjusted the pan pots to place the two instruments in the acoustic image in locations consistent with their visual location. The effect is quite natural and stable from track to track as if mixed in a single session by a single mix team.

With Ampzilla, Chris was to the right but a bit diffuse. Vidar puts his mandolin right at the apex tightly focused and dancing about a bit when Chris is grooving. There is a clear sense that the mandolin is down stage of the piano (toward the audience).

Chris is often half-body to the audience and half-body to Brad so the two can exchange visual cues to coordinate improvisation and codas. When playing like this, there is a since of movement to the mandolin play. This probably results from the mandolin moving relative to its mike varying the level a bit.

The piano is liquid up top and authoritative down low. The piano notes dance to the left of Chris where the hammer bank would be as if you were on stage listening to the near field sound of the duet. That’s the ambience mikes at work.

Have you ever played a mandolin groove? Chris has.

Chris, in his recent work, is a genius at mandolin groove play. It can be a strum that sounds like a scratch or it can be non-resonant plucked individual strings. It is always muted. Vidar renders this play precisely placed, crisp, and clear.

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall

I played a little of the Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall record. I was listening to the opening. I’ve heard Arial 9 speakers and Wilson Watt Puppies render this record. Both exaggerate the applause as overly crisp as if it were close miked. With Vidar, it is blended together as it would be at a hall ambience mike position. You can hear it move across the audience as it swells but that exaggerated overly crisp clap is not there.

Vidar sounded a bit off at first

I brought Vidar up with the pre-amp gain left where it was when I’d last listened to headphones off the pre-amp headphone output. Vidar was sounding a bit raspy. After a track it dawned on me that perhaps I should lower the level a bit. Vidar cleaned right up.

With a new amp or speakers, it is best to turn volume to minimum before power up, start a source playing, and bring the level up to your normal listening level. For me, that is about 85 db which requires 1 watt average level for DQ-10s in my lounge. So I have a good 20 db of headroom which is about what you need for a modern jazz or orchestral record.

Vidar does not have output indicators or clip indicators. So it was up to my ears to realize I was being a bit heavy on the level. Note that about 3 db more output would probably be clipping the amp on peaks. With 8 ohm DQ-10s, Vidar can deliver 100 watts RMS per channel with both channels driven. So very dynamic recordings can drive Vidar into clipping from a 2 watt average level.