It may have been a few months since Schiit Audio has done one of their unusually fun blind A/B shootouts, but this week’s IRL gettogether at their retail space in Newhall, CA was just as memorable as any in recent history. The subject? Comparisons between a traditional 5.1 surround system and Schiit’s brand new surround simulator called Syn.
In a nutshell, Syn basically takes two channels of audio, and converts it to 5.1 channels of single ended audio. Along the processing path (which is entirely analog) it implements several surround augmenting options which allow for fine tuning to one’s taste. It completely side steps the digital matrix of normal HDMI processors in favor of a more hands on, customizable approach.
For the blind A/B experiment, a Visio TV was utilized with Apple TV as the source. The output was routed digitally to both the Syn and a Denon receiver. The Syn signal (now in analog form) is directed through an external Schiit power amplifier and then to a switching board were it meets up with the other amplified signal from the Denon.
A handy dandy custom switch allows for easy and quick A/B comparison, and a single switching green LED lets you know if you are listening to one signal path or the other. Participants did not know if “green light on” was the Syn or the Denon, hence the “blind” part of the comparison. Listeners were asked what they thought after a critical listening session, and included a winner or preference based on the experience.
Schiit Syn Impressions
The responses, like many (or some might say ALL) of these Schiit A/B meets is mixed, with surprisingly little consensus in terms of overall preference. With the Syn in this execution, the first call out in terms of observations was usually something in the range of increased dynamics, punch and bass extension. Several participants also used words to describe varying takes on intimacy, clarity or an up-close presence to vocals and mid-centric sounds where Syn was the victor. There was less consistency when it came to a perceived reverb effect and exactly how and where instruments sat in the virtual surround soundscape.
Denon 5.1 Surround Impressions
Some referred to the vocals (and assumed center channel effect) as “pleasant” with gunshots in movie trailers being a little more holistically integrated into the sound field. Occasionally this would present itself as “diminished” in the sense that individual sounds were not separated enough during busy passages. Whether it was the processing itself or another factor, many seemed to think the acoustic texture of things through the Denon was slightly less appealing during samples in playback.
So where does that leave us in the final tally? Syn did manage to pull ahead as the winner in terms of preference, but as these A/Bs have shown over time, it is hard to pull out a unanimous win. Several participants did side with the Denon. A few citied comments like “not as loud” which might correlate with the dynamics observations of others, but might then also relate back to personal preference once again. Loud, dynamic gunshots may not be to the liking of all, even if improved transitions from loud to soft are thought of as a positive attribute.
The reality might lie in a few separate locations. From my experience, individual mixes can make the overall surround effect change quite a bit. Consistency seems to be just a tad more elusive in the surround arena than you might find in your typical two channel setup. What the Schiit Syn does offer is a fully analog path to the translation with several adjustments available for fine tuning. Perhaps this deviation to analog for a few bonus steps contributes to the overall perceived texture benefits? Analog purists would certainly want to believe so.
What is clear is that Schiit isn’t afraid to tackle plenty of audiophile “discussions” head on. It seems they aren’t even afraid of pushing the boundaries of hifi traditionalism with surround sound (in an hobby clearly dominated by 2 channel systems). But in reality the Syn system fits in nicely with the rest of the Schiit ecosystem and one could argue that it is capable of fulfilling a need within both desktop gaming and larger TV systems. While Schiit continues to refresh the headphone core of its base, the expansion clearly seems to be pointing into the loudspeaker direction for the CA and now Texas-based company.
More info: Schiit Syn