For anyone following along – we have been blind testing (double blind in some cases) a variety of products from different categories at Schiit Audio’s retail space in Newhall, CA. These monthly meetups take place with the help of some of the company’s staff, who hide which products we are listening to (hence “blind”) and carefully and quickly switch between options so the audience that gathers can get a better sense of the nuanced sonic differences.
In some cases the candidates for “best of” number around 4, like our pre shootout – which would technically be a blind A/B/C/D. For our tube comparison, it was a total of 8. While more is usually more entertaining in the long run, I find a single comparision to be the quickest and usually most comprehensive number to conduct these type of battles, which is why when Schiit announced that they were pitting the Modi 3 against their own Modi Multibit in a dukeout, I found the idea most inviting. Having first-hand experience at this sort of thing with the previous generation of products, I was eager to see how things would shake out with a little more bake in the old R&D oven.
Schiit Modi 3 Vs. Multibit
The Modi 3 is a $99 DAC with unbalanced outputs and 3 digital inputs, optical, coaxial and USB. At the center of the decoding is a Delta Sigma AKM AK4490 chipset. The latest version of the Modi Multibit runs $249 with the same I/O configuration, but at its core is a multibit ladder technology based around an Analog Devices AD5547chipset. For our little experiment a pair of Salk Song 3 loudspeakers were paired with Schiit’s Freya S preamplifier, connected via single ended outputs to an Aegier power amp. Music was chosen from Qobuz via a Macbook Air to both devices.
In a nod to the audiophile classics, we started critical listening as a group with the show favorite Keith Don’t Go by Nils Lofgren, but quickly moved on to Good Times Roll by the Cars, Hate by Cat Power and Muddy Waters’ My Home Is In The Delta.
The transfer from A to B was fairly quick and differences were (to my ears) a bit easier to identify than either our cartridge shootout or even the tube comparison. But that was just my experience. At the end of the show one attendee announced a slight preference to one option, but admitted to his ears that they were both very similar. Considering the price shift from the $99 to 2.5x more I think that statement alone speaks very highly for the Modi 3. My notes for each unit under blind conditions were as follows, in progression from song to song.
A – Modi Multibit
Collectively the Multibit stood out under an umbrella of “slightly more expanded” across the spectrum. This took root in many forms, but most noticeable was an enhanced sense of dynamics, overall resolve and technically proficient, friendlier soundstage with more depth. Later, one listener would describe the feeling as “smoother” while listening to strings portrayed in classical music, also supported by at least one other individual who witness the occurrence.
B – Modi 3
At first there appeared to be less overall treble energy by default, but after things set in a bit this question appeared in my mind: Was what I was hearing in the treble a result of a lack of focus, or the presentation of less focus disguised as a deeper midrange? For Hate this translated to a more “boxy” texture while the Multibit pushed vocals to a more intimate place.
While on paper (screen?) this may seem like a standard-issue rundown from two competing DACs of similar background on the price ladder, but my prior experience with earlier incarnations of both options tells a slightly longer tale. Compared to both the Modi 2 and launch day Multibit executions, improvements appeared to abound. When I asked founder Jason Stoddard for any differences, he said while the Modi 3 has undergone some parts physical transformation over the 2, the MB has actually seen a firmware upgrade in that time as well. While not all hype is worth the type, the rave reviews around the Modi 3 seem to hold up, especially when considering the sacred ground of the Benjamin pricepoint that the DAC resides within.
Putting aside a power amplification stage for the time being, is it better than the output from straight from your laptop? I would have to gander a guess and say yes with confidence, it is. Now, is the Modi Multibit worth $150 more? That may depend on how easily you spend $150, but to my ears, in this experiment it was superior. But (and this could be a big BUT) the vote tally in the end was not unanimous to my decision. What started as perhaps an open-and-shut case writeup really grows to an existential exploration of our individual perception – in the form of audio at least. Why? Because the final tally for the Modi 3 won over the hearts and minds of three participants, while the Multibit managed only four. And of those four, one was the previously mentioned “could go either way” with only slight leanings to the MB. Had he swung in the inverse direction just a tick, the scales would have surprisingly pulled on the Modi 3 as the declared winner.
Final Thoughts On The Blind A/B Comparison
For those questioning golden ear capabilities within the group as a variable, it is true that none of the participants had their hearing tested as part of a requirement to join. However, everyone was there of their own volition and noone was simply pulled off the street to join us. All were enthusiasts of the hobby with some (if not extensive) experience with critical listening.
Even this surprising outcome inadvertently helps support the idea that the Modi 3 has come a long way. It’s not just the chipset that influences the sound quality, but power supply, analog stage, USB hardware and programming all cast a hue into the final equation. Things progressed, but the $99 cost remained intact. Its a solid value…but I would still take the Multibit given the option – but that’s just me.