Monday, August 9, 2010

Vibe Class GH Hybrid Four Channel Car Amplifier Review

If you have not heard, Vibe is a car stereo manufacturer from England. When I saw their booth at CES, they had some high quality products that really interested me. When I was given the chance to review their Space CBR Evo 12 loaded subwoofer enclosure, I jumped on the opportunity. I was very impressed with what I heard.

When I had the opportunity to review their LiteBox Stereo 4, I was equally excited. The LiteBox Stereo 4 is a hybrid type amp. Class D digital amps are becoming popular in a big way, and Vibe is taking it a step further. Class AB amplifiers are a clean sounding high output design. The downside to the Class AB amp design is they are not as efficient. Class D amps are a digital design that is more efficient, but not quite as clean sounding as an AB design. Vibe uses a Class GH hybrid design that claims to deliver the power and sound quality of the AB design, with the efficiency of the Class D design.

All of this comes in a small clean looking package of the LiteBox Stereo 4. The amp has a $479 selling price, and is a natural unpainted aluminum box measuring 11.6” x 5.3” x 2”inches. It is a 4 channel amp rated at 90 watts to each channel at 4 ohm, and 125 watts x 4 at 2 ohms, and 1000 watts max power. The frequency response is 20Hz - 20kHz, with a s/n ratio of 109 dB. There is a built-in Linkwitz-Riley -24dB/oct. crossover with HP/LP/Flat options with a range of 55-550Hz. And according to the manual, THD is at 0.01% and channel separation is rated at 74 dB, and a bass boost at 45Hz of up to 15 dB to the rear channels. There are 2 external fuses rated 30A each. The LiteBox Stereo 4 is also microprocessor controlled for protection from short circuit, reverse polarity, over and under voltage, overheating, and also controls the fan speed.

One potential downside is the location of the adjustments. All of these are located on the bottom of the amp. These include gain control for each channel, input level, Auto Sense, crossover settings and frequency adjustment, and bass boost control. As long as you do your fine tuning, mount your amp and you’re done, everything is fine. The amp looks really clean installed with all the adjustments out of site. But if you want to make any adjustments later, you’ll need to get at the bottom of the amp. More than likely if this is a negative, it is only a small one.

Input level is for high and low inputs. This lets you use low level signal inputs from RCA cables, or high level speaker wire inputs from your receiver. Auto Sense will automatically sense when a signal is received without using the remote turn-on, if connected it the speaker outputs of a factory head unit. When the Auto Sense feature is used, the remote turn-on lead then turns into a switched 12 volt output than can be used to turn on other components such as equalizers. I was surprised to see gains for each channel. Usually there is either just a single gain control, or one for the left channels and one for the right channels, or one for the front channels and one for rear channels. The bottom also shows the location of an internal fan that brings air in, and out thru vents on both ends. The amp is also light as to not add weight to performance vehicles.

The LiteBox Stereo 4 has some great features. Great features however don’t mean a whole lot if the end result isn’t great sound. So how does it sound? It’s now time to find out.

I turned to some music that I liked that was also popular and would test the performance and sound quality of the amp. No Doubt: Hella Good sounded really clean. There was a lot of instrumentation going on, and the excellent channel separation really brought them out. The bass was punchy and well controlled. Justin Timberlake: SexyBack also had nice bass extension that wasn’t muddy. The snaps were very dynamic, and the vocals were great. In Eric Bibb & Rory Block’s: Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag You Down, the pitch definition in the vocals was very nice. The resolution was excellent! The snares were crisp, as was the acoustic guitar.

Last but not least I turned to The Brunson Brothers: Fleece Movae. These boys can really wail! The acoustic guitar was crisp and very detailed. But the real jewels of this piece were the trumpets that were so amazingly clean and not overly extended. The resolution and level of detail and sound quality was amazing and just, WOW! It gave me goose bumps!

I had a difficult time on the listening portion of the review. The amp gave such ear candy I had to continue reminding myself to pay attention. I kept finding myself enjoying the music and just listening, rather than paying attention to the details to write on. And I think that is one of the best compliments to give a stereo component. Overall the amp was very detailed with a high level of resolution. The sound was really clean with extremely low inaudible noise. You could tell it had an excellent signal to noise ratio. The Class GH design seemed to really come thru.

I was hoping for great things with the amp when I heard about the Class GH design. But when I pulled the amp out of the box and hefted it, I had my doubts. The amp, for an amp, is actually fairly light. While it did not take anything away from the sound quality of the amp, it will be an added benefit as the amp is part of their supercar series where the light weight will be a benefit. The packaging was also great, from the printed box to the foam inserts to protect the amp, and the black microfiber bag the amp was in. You can tell the level of detail that is given, especially with pieces like the small round rubber spacers that would go between the screw and the amplifier, to protect the natural finish.

I know I have said it before, and I will say it again. The Brits at Vibe in England know audio. They have another winner on their hands. So much so, that the LiteBox Stereo 4 amp from Vibe has won our Editor’s Choice award. Congrats! Based on its price, features, and sound quality, Vibe has a winning combination. If you are in the market for a 4 channel amp, the Vibe LiteBox Stereo 4 should be on your short list. Reference gear used was Kenwood Excelon KDC-X991 receiver, Kenwood Excelon XR-S17P front speakers and Rockford Fosgate Fanatic HPC-1206U. For more information and complete specs, check out their website at: