It’s a not untypical tale. Two veteran engineers, Jason Stoddard, who had extensive experience in product design, development, manufacturing, and marketing (footnote 1), and Mike Moffat, who had an impressive track record designing hi-fi products (footnote 2), got together in June 2010 to start an audio company. What wasn’t typical was the new company’s brand name: Schiit Audio. What also wasn’t typical was the company’s business strategy. Instead of introducing a small number of very expensive products, an approach that’s increasingly common in hi-fi (footnote 3), Schiit products would be affordably priced. What’s more, affordability would not be due to subcontracting manufacturing to a Chinese company: Schiit products would be made in America. Schiit products would not be available from traditional audio dealers; instead they would be sold direct, with a 15-day money-back guarantee after purchase. (Schiit recently opened a retail store, the Schiitr; see the Specifications sidebar.)
Stereophile has reviewed several Schiit products since the company appeared on the scene. Some have been idiosyncratic, but all have been well-reviewed and offered generally excellent measured performance. One such was the Aegir two-channel power amplifier, which Herb Reichert reviewed in October 2019. According to the specifications, it offers up to 20Wpc into 8 ohmsI measured the maximum power as 28Wpc into 8 ohmsand cost just $799. The Aegir’s output stage features a constant-transconductance topology called “Continuity,” which was based on a concept developed by Robert Cordell (footnote 4) and John Broskie. According to Jason Stoddard in an email he sent Herb Reichert, “Continuity is an interesting way to get around the problems of transconductance droop and the mismatch between NPN and PNP output devices. … [It] extends the benefits of class-A (linear transconductance) far past the class-A bias region [and] allows us to run more efficiently than class-A.”
I’ve never reviewed a Schiit product in my system, but when I learned that Schiit was introducing a much more powerful amplifier, the monoblock Tyr ($3198/pair), which also has a Continuity output stage, I asked for review samples.
In terms of appearance, the Tyr resembles the Aegir, with a one-piece aluminum top and a front panel interrupted by a recessed gray subpanel at the base and black heatsinks on the sides of the chassis. However, it is almost twice as wide16″ vs 9″and has a grille at the center rear of the top panel through which a pair of orange LEDs can be seen. It is also much heavier than the Aegir at 55lb per channel, vs 19.6lb for the smaller stereo amplifier.
The front-panel recess has a central button, used to switch the amplifier between standby and operation; the button is flanked by two white LEDs to indicate Standby (left LED) or On (right LED). The back panel features a central IEC AC inlet with an adjacent power switch, flanked by two widely spaced speaker binding posts. Balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) input jacks are positioned beneath the AC input, with a switch to select the one in use. The Tyr is specified as being able to deliver 200W into 8 ohms (23dBW) and 350W into 4 ohms (22.43dBW). As well as the Continuity output stage, which uses 24 bipolar devices sourced from Toshiba, this balanced, differential amplifier features a discrete, current-feedback voltage gain-stage topology that Schiit calls Nexus. There are no coupling capacitors or DC servos in the signal path.
The Tyr’s power supply is unusual for a solid state design in that rather than use high-value paralleled electrolytic capacitors after the rectifiers to smooth the DC and store energy, it echoes historical tube amplifiers in using a “choke”a series inductorto perform these duties. The advantage is said (by Schiit) to be better regulation of the DC voltages, ie, less ripple. The disadvantage is that the inductor has to be physically largeSchiit says that the Tyr’s 12lb choke is the same size as the amplifier’s 600VA power transformerand has to have sufficiently low coil resistance to handle the amplifier’s maximum output current. The choke-filtered supply feeds the Tyr’s output stage; an additional regulated supply is used for the input, voltage gain, and driver stages.
Schiit says that a “microprocessor running custom firmware monitors all operational parameters, from bias to temperature to DC, and protects the amplifier in case of any fault, for near-bulletproof reliability.” The standby light on the front panel flashes during the self-check when the amplifier is first turned on as well as when the microprocessor detects a fault.
According to Schiit’s website, “Tyr is our most insane amplifier ever, designed for driving difficult speakers without breaking a sweat.” To determine how much sweat I could coax from the review samples, I primarily used a Roon Ready MBL N31 D/A processor to audition the pair of Tyrs, connecting its balanced outputs to the amplifiers’ balanced inputs with 3m AudioQuest Wild Blue interconnects. Speaker cables were 3m AudioQuest Robin Hoods. Because the amplifier’s binding posts were too widely spaced for the cable’s banana plugs to be plugged simultaneously into both, I used a short jumper cable for each channel.
Playback levels were controlled with Roon, and I compared the Tyrs with a Benchmark AHB2 stereo amplifier and a pair of Parasound Halo JC 1+ monoblocks. Speakers were my KEF LS50s, a loaner pair of GoldenEar BRXes, and the Mobile Fidelity SourcePoint 10 standmounts, in for review.
Starting with the KEFs, I was surprised how much of a sense of drive these small speakers produced, driven by the Tyr monoblocks. The pulsating percussion figure on “Song of the Stars” from Dead Can Dance’s Spiritchaser (16/44.1 FLAC, 4AD/Tidal) propelled the song along to a greater extent than I had been expecting. Similarly, as long as I didn’t play it too loud<90dB(C), slow ballisticsthe KEFs effectively punched the air with Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” (AIFF 24/192 needle drop, from a 12″ 45rpm single, ABC ABE 12002).
Footnote 1: See Jason Stoddard’s Schiit Happened: The Story of the World’s Most Improbable Start-Up. Stoddard worked for Magnavox and Sumo, and was responsible for the design of Theta’s affordable Cobalt 307 D/A processor.
Footnote 2: Mike designed well-regarded audio products for Theta Digital and Angstrom; see stereophile.com/content/mike-moffat-re-creating-musical-event.
Footnote 3: See my discussion of why this is the lowest-risk business strategy for small companies.
Footnote 4: See my review of Bob Cordell’s Designing Audio Power Amplifiers, Second Edition here.