There is plenty to love about Schiit audio. The budget-friendly brand has found their niche and dug in deep. Loyalty to the made-in-the-USA company abounds from all corners of the hobby and even though their initial public offerings were swarmed against a $250 price point, they have since broadened their range to include higher end amps, DACs, analog, solid state everything in-between. In recent days, they have even gone so far as to launch a line of old school 2-channel gear. And while the company’s recent developments into multi-bit ladder DACs culminated with the release of the Yggdrasil flagship ($2,299) the line today is still mostly constructed of products that cost less than $400. The breakdown we have here to discuss revolves around the trickle down version of same Yggy technology, pushed up close to a delta sigma AKM chipset in the form of their entry level Modi 2 Uber ($149) vs. the Modi Multibit ($249).
The Modi 2 DAC line starts as a bare bones single USB-in, RCA-out device that hits the streets at a mere $99. The low cost does limit the device somewhat, and those looking for a little more can grab quite a bit for the extra $50 upwards to the Modi 2 Uber. Amazingly, the Uber slots the trifecta of standard digital inputs on the minimalist back panel. Both the Uber and the Multi handle optical, coaxial and USB which feels pretty generous against a $250 backdrop, much less a $150 one. The SE outputs fill in the remaining space in the rear and a single 3 way input selector graces the front with a trio of indicator lights. The top down view is barely bigger than a pack of cigarettes which makes a ton of sense for the limited space next to a computer and holds true to Schiit’s external design with a rounded front corner and silver-on-grey simplicity. Four visible screws hold the top on securely, but Schiit is clear in their intent. Even though some of the California-based company’s products are modular or can be upgraded a bold “No user serviceable parts inside” underneath the SE outputs lets owners know those upgrades take place back at the Valencia HQ and not on a basement workbench. There is some online chatter as to the reported “looseness” of the selector button, but both units used in the review felt amply supported, clicky and operated without issue. The only decorative difference between the two models is the addition of a M logo on the top of the Multibit, everything else very similar. This includes the power supply, which has switched over to a more controlled, quiet wall wart option over the USB-supplied design of the Modi 2 (non-uber). But, as with the resulting output, there are significant changes to the conversion duties of the two competing chip architectures.
All things being equal, the opportunity to compare delta sigma to a ladder DAC probably doesn’t get closer than these two convertors side-by-side. The externals are the same and so are many parts of the internal components. Schiit didn’t break the mold too far when they decided to introduce their multi-bit technology to a new price point. More things are the same than different, which makes for an interesting A/B comparison. That being said, the current state of multi-bit DAC technology requires custom digital filters for the Analog Devices AD5547 chipset of the M, which Schiit created a la carte. The Uber utilizes the default off-the-shelf AKM filter. There are a few small noticeable differences. The Multi takes a few seconds to “boot up” on powering. Upon illumination, the device then assumes a slightly warmer average temperature than its delta sigma brother. Neither device runs hot, the Modi 2U is actually quite a cool operator under use.
One of personal audio’s dirty little secrets is that occasionally cheaply priced DACs make little to no difference when compared to the output on a typical mobile phone. The Galaxy 3 employed Wolfson silicone and while often lacking the shove for bigger cans, moderately efficient headphones and IEMs did fairly well on their own. The same cannot be said for most in-house computer headphone jacks however. Often plagued by overcrowded, high-noise components, output straight from the internal jack on my Macbook Air is smeared to an awful state. Enter the Modi 2U. A true fixer-upper for $149, paired with an off board amp (Schiit also makes a matching headphone amp called the Magni 2 for $99) it’s a noticeable jump up in quality. Less congestion, more dimensionality, and of course, more definition in, around, and all over the music. Just think of it as a quick window cleaning for your house. Colors look more vibrant and music seems less conflicted, freed from fighting against itself in a small, slightly hazy environment. So for those looking for a jumping off point into audio to see what all the fuss is about, here is your new price point. Easy to swallow for most anyone who wants to take a carefully mediated risk and less than a good night out on the town. But it also begs the question, what’s the deal with the Multi for $99 more? Perhaps one could parlay two nights out for even more entertainment back at home.
Right off the bat the two display a significant shift in presentation. There is a perceived fatness to the sound of the Multi that sticks out in no short order. Mids feel richer and transparency goes up a notch. The difference is such that anyone who cares to listen would be able to pick it out, and to such a degree that occasionally it would appear that the Multi ran a bit more gain through the wire. Even still, the frequency response is not identical between the two. Things like guitar strums, pick noise and applause landed in different places across the two DACs. The Multi favoring a luscious, fleshy mid section with smooth highs, where the 2U pulls information in a very judicious way in the treble and pivots that to an crisp, focused middle. In the bass the Multi walked away with a bit more depth and roundness, but anybody taking a step up from default headphone jacks would appreciate the improved response and tightness of both DACs in this region.
The opening guitar strum of the HDTracks 24/96 version of Paramore’s Looking Up starts off with a wall of guitar sound. While the layers of distortion added in production don’t provide great indicators to definition, they do give insight into other factors where the Modi Multi could be held up to the light. In this case, it was a noticeable ratcheting of engagement. A vivid, vibrating tapestry of sound that felt as though you might receive a shock if you reached out and touched with your finger. Once the curtains part, the pop artist’s vocals break through with plenty of air and presence, leaving no detail behind in the steady march towards your ears.
While this ample body of the Multi may seem like an attribute that leans towards the preference factor of audio (akin to bass loving or vinyl junkies) in this case, its not. It is the better sounding DAC of the two Modis and yes, worth the extra $99. The ladder DAC upgrade manages to capture some the elusive meat between notes whose absence forever plagues the digital side of audio reproduction.
For those looking into the field of low cost DACs, some options do appear. Some of the more successful models take the form of small USB sticks with a single 3.5mm output. The new Modis set themselves apart in this regard with a full range of digital inputs and the more elegant RCA line level output for an approach that more precisely mirrors high end separates ready for an amplifier. Perhaps unheard of at this pricepoint, the application of the Schhit Magni 2U gets separates on the desktop for headphones at a $250 price tag ($200 if you opt for the older Modi). The emulation here has its appeal. Isolation has its benefits. The pluses stack up in fine order next to a cost that doesn’t stack very high at all. The step up to the ladder DAC version is worth the spare change for the upgrade and gives a unique perspective into some aspects of the high end that don’t often grace these parts. Both DACs have their appeal in the market, much to the delight of bargain seekers and first timers. That’s a thumbs up for Modi, and a even bigger thumb for the Modi Multibit.
More info: http://schiit.com/products/modi-2