Do DAC Makers Need A “Plan B” For Their Chipsets?
The supply chain for audio chips that do most of the computing for high resolution decoding have been backlogged for a while. Depending on your off-the-shelf brand, be it ESS SABRE, AKM and others, some orders have taken longer to fill over the past few years or simply been unavailable for purchase. The AKM fire didn’t help things either.
While this seems like something that would easily accompany the rest of the supply chain issues that followed the pandemic, many audiophile chip buyers are still saying there are issues buying and receiving a stable supply of DAC chips across the board. This may seem slightly problematic on paper, but increases its disturbance when engineers have to completely redesign the internal structure to accommodate a new signal path and programming. This issue has already delayed several product launches and can wreak serious havoc on a product’s profitability if a run is limited to hundreds instead of thousands of units.
I was recently invited to Schiit Audio’s SchiitR retail location in Newhall, CA to hear a new chip design that is more of a fully customized solution of a FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array). It appears that the budget-friendly DAC maker is not waiting around to find out what happens with the supply. The listening test was the latest in an effort to separate the brand from supply chain anxiety with a more bespoke option found only on products from a few manufacturers in the hifi space (and usually the high end). Why? The cost and labor involved is much higher than many of the ready-made options.
The event at the SchiitR space was dubbed “The Singularity” and I was joined by a few of the local fans of the company to check out what Schiit Audio was cooking up in the absence of ESS and AKM (both of which the brand has used to fill in the gaps over the past two years). The sounds were good, although the usual A/B comparison wasn’t set up for direct comparisons. Other attendees had comments like “sweet treble” “solid textures” and complements to both realism and focus – two cornerstones for digital evaluations.
Where this new DAC brain might end up in Schiit Audio’s lineup is likely somewhere in the middle from their budget Modi to the $2,600 Yggdrasil OG. It isn’t a replacement for the Analog Devices multibit options, and will likely be too expensive for some of the bare bones entry level DACs, but in the case of Schiit Audio, it will keep the train going down the tracks. Other manufactures might follow suit, as some have already made big changes to jump from chipset to chipset. Or perhaps things might catch up and settle down… along with the housing market and car market – maybe. In any case, the distribution disruption to digital audio is likely just par for the course, and things continue to evolve in this arena of audio the most, the quickest and with the greatest velocity. So this type of quick pivot could be seen with greater abundance, if not at least this type of preparedness for futuristic speed bumps.
More info: Schiit Audio