Vibe LiteBox S2 Two Channel Amplifier
Vibe Car Audio
Model: LiteBox S2
Compact ‘power density’ amplifiers are cool because they offer people with limited space in their cars a great way to enhance their sound system. Vibe’s $829RRP litebox S2 is one of the latest compact – yet powerful – full range amplifiers on the market, offering two channels and plenty of power in a tiny sized chassis.
- Friday 25th June, 2010
Lots of well devised and useful features, probably the most compact genuinely powerful amplifier on the market, ample grunt for full range duties.
Not really for subwoofer duties, pricey compared to rivals and considering its Chinese origins.
You can sense that Vibe are proud of their products when you open the litebox S2’s packaging to find the amplifier housed in a gorgeous black draw string bag with the Vibe logo stenciled onto it. This little bit of fanfare is a lovely touch, especially when you factor in the $829RRP for what on surface value seems quite a small package. In fact I can’t think of another amplifier on the market today that is this compact.
The litebox S2 is a simple little slab of an amplifier, housed in a plain silver rectangular heat sink devoid of cooling fins and with insert style terminal strips at either end for connections along with on pair of RCA for signal inputs. The lads at Vibe are clearly a very patriotic lot given the ‘British Audio’ slogans, British Lion crests, and “designed and engineering in England, UK” emblazoned clearly on the packaging. It also says “Engineered in USA” on the amplifier itself, somewhat curiously. All the patriotic imagery is great but the simple fact is that the litebox S2 is manufactured in China. So, for $829 it needs to be pretty bloody special in my view regardless of where the designing or engineering took place.
The litebox S2 offers a footprint smaller than a DVD case and is only 55mm tall, and yet this diminutive little device is rated to produce a very respectable 90WRMS x 2 or 250WRMS x 1 into 4ohm loads. These ratings are stated for when the amplifier is supplied with 13.8V while producing no more than 0.01% THD within the music signal. Given this, you can probably expect a neat 100WRMS per channel of usable power with more common distortion levels that people will happily withstand for dynamic bursts. For normal 4ohm stereo full range speakers 100WRMS is oodles of grunt, which is commendable when you factor in how truly tiny the litebox S2 really is.
The litebox S2 can offer this type of excellent size versus power output thanks to using Class G/H circuit topology, which is a circuit design we’re beginning to see more and more companies adopt given full range Class D amplifiers have a reputation for being noisy and, therefore, not ideal for sound quality. Class G/H claims to offer the power efficiency of Class D but the sound quality of Class A/B – the best of both worlds then.
Thumbing through the well written owner’s manual also reveals that the litebox S2 offers 111dB of signal to noise ratio, which is a stellar measurement and ensures an absolutely silent behavior between music passages. Given that a S/N ratio of 100dB is considered a great measurement this spec suggests that the litebox S2 is more well over twice as ‘quiet’ as most other amplifiers you’ll come across – if you get my drift.
The overall build quality is generally very neat and tidy, and space is primarily saved by using hundreds of tiny surface mount components throughout the board. Notably, Vibe’s engineers (English or American we can’t be sure) decided to place the main system controls onto two daughter boards mounted back to back and placed at right angles to the main PCB. This means that the controls are all located on the underside of the chassis instead of at one end, so you’ll need to set these properly prior to securing the amplifier during the installation. I can’t decide whether it’s a genius idea or a pain in the butt, though I suppose it depends on your installation.
There are a couple of very handy features pertaining to the litebox S2’s input stage. First of all the RCA inputs double as speaker level inputs for when adding the amplifier to an OEM system, and Vibe provides a pair of exposed wire to RCA leads for this purpose. This function combines with Vibe’s ‘Auto Sense’ signal sensing circuit that allows the amplifier to turn on and off by sensing the power IC used in most head units. It can sense this through the power speaker wires and Vibe states that this offers a far more reliable and stable on/off cycling of the amplifier – thus avoiding the amp turning itself of between tracks for instance.
The amplifier’s 12V trigger terminal then conveniently switches to offer a triggered output to connect to additional amplifiers or signal processors in the system. This is a great feature that many will find very useful.
Conditioning the signal prior to amplification can be done via the selectable high or low pass filter which offers variable cut off frequencies between 55Hz and 550Hz, though Vibe neglect to mention the filter slope in their literature. I did appreciate, however, that they’ve marked the frequency dial with various frequencies around its range of adjustment to assist with setting the cut off frequency accurately. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many brands only show the lowest and highest frequencies – making setting the crossovers difficult for novice users.
They’ve also added variable bass boost of up to 15dB centered at 45Hz if you decide to use the litebox S2 for subwoofer duties, though given the nature and power potential of this amplifier we think it will be mostly confined to full range duties.
Another neat feature offered by the litebox S2 is the indicator LED status system that uses multi-coloured flashing LEDs to denote various problem that may have occurred. The manual states that the LED illuminates in blue to denote normal operation, while changing to red and/or green flashes in different sequences to warn of thermal, over volt or speaker shorting conditions. I’ve never seen this feature before and it will be a blessing for anyone who needs assistance with diagnosing problems during installation, though when I powered the litebox S2 up I simply got a green LED but had no faults.
Talking installation, as expected the task of wiring up the litebox S2 couldn’t really be any simpler. Usually you get allen head style grub screws with most amplifiers, but the litebox S2 features philips head grub screws, which I personally find easier to work with. For some strange reason every Chinese manufactured amplifier I come across seems to feature philips head screws. Maybe some enterprising cove with show then the wonders of the hexagonal male/female system one day…
Anyway, with everything wired I flipped the litebox S2 over (careful not to pull the freshly inserted wires out of their sockets) and did the basic input level and crossover settings, noting that there are individual level settings potentiometers for left and right channels. This is a rare occurrence these days, and for the most part not much assistance, but it’s offered nonetheless. You’ll need an array of small flat head and philips head screwdrivers for this task as each control seems to require a slightly different tool.
For my listening auditions this time around I connect the litebox S2 to a pair of DLS RS6A Reference series components mounted into the rear doors of my test vehicle then disconnected the front amplifier so that I could audition from the rear seat. Via an IR remote I listened to a number of tracks from select albums that I feel can provide a good representation of the dynamic nature of an amplifier’s output.
So how did the litebox S2 sound? Well, it sounded exactly the same as every other quality amplifier I’ve heard, which was clean and clear with no audible noises, hisses, pops or thumps. Dynamically I have no reason to disbelieve Vibe’s power claims, and while there is a definite ceiling to the sheer volume I could apply before power compression became evident the little monster certainly has enough guts to allow a decent pair of medium efficiency speakers to sing nice and loudly. As a pure amplification device I give it the two thumbs up.
From an all around perspective the Vibe litebox S2 is a well equipped, well built and great sounding amplifier. That it does so while being incredibly compact and easy to install (bottom panel mounted controls notwithstanding) is highly commendable. Delve even deeper into things and you’ll find this amplifier offers excellent signal processing and input options that set it apart from its rivals. That’s a good job too because at $829RRP the litebox S2 is priced higher than any of its compact 2-channel full range amplifier rivals from the likes of Digital Designs, Alpine, JVC, Rockford Fosgate and others – most all of which are also more powerful. Still, none of them are actually this small in stature, so if space requirement are extremely restrictive maybe the Vibe litebox S2 is the answer you’ve been looking for.
Vibe Audio is distributed in Australia by:
Phone: (02) 4647 0219
Fax: (02) 4733 8936