Review: Schiit Modi 3+ Vs. Multibit
This Schiit Modi 3+ review and Modi 3+ vs Multibit comparison comes in the tailwind of a large swarm of interest around the previous $99 DAC from the CA-based company, the Modi 3. We have listened to the line of the evolving digital decoders for a single Benjamin since its creation and the progression has successfully proven itself to be a steady climb upwards towards better sound.
Schiit Modi 3+ Review
Most of the outward appearance and functionality remains unchanged from the Modi 3. The big difference with the “+” for this product is the incorporation of Schiit’s “Unison” USB technology, previously only available on its more expensive DAC options. Like its predecessors, the 5 x 3.5 inch box takes up very little space on a desktop and is a favorite base layer for the popular “Schiit Stack” comprised of a matching $99 “separates” headphone amplifier and/or the newest version of Schiit’s complementary 4 band EQ unit, the Loki Mini+.
The bigger question for many of the growing legions of Schiit fans is how it compares to similar product called the Modi Multibit. That unit features designer Mike Moffat‘s take on multibit decoding along with custom digital filters, whereas the Schiit Modi 3+ we received for review includes an AKM AK4490 brain – utilizing what is sometimes referred to as a more common delta-sigma tech. A Schiit Modi 3+ vs Multibit comparison first popped up for us in one of our IRL get togethers with Schiit at a local meet. At that event we got the privilege of comparing the two in a blind A/B comparison, with feedback from a group of audiophiles. From that experience and other more personal reviews, its is clear that the Schiit Modi 3+ vs Multibit does not sound exactly the same. Occasionally in reviews (and more often in digital products in the budget range) it is possible to find audio products that sound very strikingly similar. Perhaps this due to similar parts usage and off the shelf programming & filters. But as anyone who has been following digital audio in the past few years, things have been evolving quicker than ever before. This has led to better and better sound at cheaper costs to the consumer, thankfully.
The relevance here of course, is that either from the filters or the Multibit tech itself, the contrast between the Schiit Modi 3+ vs Multibit should be visible to most personal audio lovers, and through even moderately priced audiophile headphones. This only tightens the demand for observations online. It is important to point out, that even with audible differences it is possible that individual preference could still play a big role in determining “which is better” for you. Quite often as a reviewer, it becomes easy to assume that your position or stance on a particular sound is the best for every listener. Given my experience with this series of DACs in a group setting, the split of “favorite” or “preference” is rarely unanimous, even when people agree the sound is clearly not the same. Keeping this knowledge in mind, the Multibit does cost 2.5x the price tag of the Modi 3+. So determining if the value is there becomes an equal part of the game.
When it comes down to sound quality, we’re dealing with two DACs that are hard to fault. Both are simply great sounding DACs, especially for the money. In the past very small DACs like this might sound obviously constrained in the bass or soundstage – details which won’t show up as much on headphones but quickly show themselves on speakers. This is no longer the case, whether listening on headphones or speakers, neither of these choices left me feeling as if I was missing anything.
I make this distinction when comparing Modi 3+ vs Multibit specifically because I want to point out that the differences we’re talking about here might still appear subtle in some scenarios. Most DACs should have a measurably flat frequency response, and standard 2V output from the RCA outs. What one hears from DACs is less obvious sonic qualities of frequency response extension and linearity, and the less tangible elements such as dynamics, resolution and spatial accuracy or the perception thereof. These are the previous inches by which DACs prove their worth.
In this case, we previously found the Modi Multibit really brought something special to the table. I was curious to see how much the changes from the previous Modi 3 had made – a DAC that at this point is somewhat long in the tooth. In this case the Modi Multibit hasn’t changed at all, and for those unfamiliar with the sound I’d definitely recommend checking out some of the writing that’s already been done on the sound of this unit.
The Modi 3+ in my system still had that smooth, distinctively AKM sound, but this time things were quicker, more detailed and more sharply resolved. In contrast to my memories of the Modi 3, there’s definitely less personality and more linearity going on here. The presentation is more spacious, more open and more spatially resolving. Things seem well placed in the soundstage, and with none of the claustrophobic soundstage issue I’ve heard with small, inexpensive DACs.
On the first switch over to the Multibit, the characteristics of the 3+ became even more apparent. Things were lively, punchy and with that special organic, spatial quality that Schiit’s multibit tech brings. The Modi 3+ by contrast was a bit dry, quick, and accurate but a little less lively and punchy. Bass was noticeable on the Modi 3+ in that it was tight, and textured. Bass on the Multibit by contrast as hard to notice and had a natural quality to it that just seemed to fill the room with more directionality and sense of pressure to the sound.
Modi 3+ also seemed to give the vocals a somewhat more damped and drier presentation on vocals. Things were prosaic, like an image out of an architectural magazine, all angles squared away and level to the ground, razor sharp colors with the slight matte contrast to them that tell you you’re not looking at an oversaturated instagram photos. The Multibit on the other hand was a Time Magazine cover, or a cookbook photos. Equally high resolution, but a little more expressive, a touch more saturation, slight angles and imperfections of the subject adding interest and naturalness so that the whole image is truthful but never staid.
In the past, my recollection was that the Modi Multibit soundly trounced the Modi 3, not so with the 3+. I definitely still feel the Multibit brings something to the table that I prefer, a kind of spatial definition and microdetail, as well as a punchiness in the bass that is rather addictive. However, the 3+ is a stronger contender, and I can see someone preferring the slightly drier, more upfront presentation. It catches the ear as a little more immediately resolving and clear, and those sensitive to ‘grain’ may find the background a little darker with the 3+ than the multibit. Myself, I don’t mind things like vinyl, tubes and the like, so the Multibit suits me just fine.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this Schiit Modi 3+ review, these are both great dacs, and the competition between the two is closer than ever before, with both being a great choice. For my tastes, the Multibit still earns its extra keep, though for many listeners I can see saving the $150 and getting the $99 option. I wouldn’t be unhappy with either one.
More info: Schiit Audio | On Amazon
If you would like to hear more directly from Mike Moffat (the designer of The Schiit Modi 3+ and Multibit) check out The Occasional Podcast’s recent interview (also embedded below). His interview starts around the 24:30 mark. Mike gives a breakdown of his journey with audio and discusses multiple audio topics including digital design and manufacturing.