By Dan Browdy
“Finally, folks, the mighty GOON-YEER! Arcane knowledge gleaned from Yggdrasil, the ancient Tree of Life, has granted Gungnir the power of second sight! Listen and marvel as it reveals details you’ve never heard. Are your headphones resolving enough for its stygian noise floor?”
The final new product is the Gungnir Multibit DAC. It’s been hinted at for months and finally it’s here. This DAC uses trickle-down technology from Schiit’s flagship DAC, the Yggdrasil. The $2299 “Yggy” has been lauded as a DAC that performs better than DAC’s many times its price. It’s a modern implementation of the classic R-2R multibit DAC topology. Schiit claims that it’s the first true 21-bit DAC ever made.
Many people believe that R-2R is strictly better than the alternative (known as Delta-Sigma or D-S). D-S was developed as a way to get DAC chips very small and very cheap. They enabled the wide variety of portable personal audio gear we use today and are quite ubiquitous. Unfortunately, they’re generally rather bad at accurately reproducing the original analog sound in the recording. Even worse, many of us are so accustomed to the weaknesses inherent in D-S that we don’t even realize what we’re missing. Increasing the accuracy of a D-S chip is possible, but it increases the cost of the necessary components significantly. And if you’re paying a lot for a DAC chip, R-2R becomes a viable option once again.
Schiit decided that the time had come to bring R-2R back, but unfortunately, there were no more mass-produced audio-grade DAC chips using the R-2R topology. This led to an eight-year project to adapt a modern R-2R chip used in aerospace for use in audio instead. The tolerances of the aerospace chip are much tighter than audio chips and this led to a very high precision level (the 21 bits mentioned earlier). For reference, CD quality music is encoded using 16 bits.
The last piece of the puzzle is the digital filter. Every DAC has one, some better than others. The proprietary one that Schiit developed for the Yggy is much better than others. The job of the filter is to take the many little pieces of digital information and help convert them into a continuous analog sound. Conventional filters perform so many calculations on the original samples that the samples are eventually lost and replaced by something that’s presumably better. That’s great in theory, but in practice, it ends up being more like someone who has had too much plastic surgery: while each change may have been good on its own, the final result is not much like the original.
The filter for Yggdrasil is a “closed-form” filter that never loses the original samples. It performs calculations and decides what to stick in between the original samples, but the original always remains intact. In practice, this makes for a sound that’s much more true to the original source. Here’s an analogy: my cousin got a nose job that was so subtle that nobody would ever know, she just looked better. She did not end up looking like Joan Rivers. ‘Nuff said.
The Yggdrasil is an undeniable achievement in great sound, but it comes with a rather hefty price tag. To many people, the Yggy is simply unattainable; no matter how good it sounds, it will be out of reach financially. With the new Gungnir Multibit, Schiit’s hard work is finally available to a much broader audience. The Gungnir Multibit (I call it the GMB for short) costs $1249, more than $1000 less than the Yggdrasil. It uses a lower grade version of the DAC chips in the Yggy, the AD5781BRUZ rather than Yggy’s AD5971BRUZ, but otherwise the topology is very similar. This gives it 18 bits of precision instead of 21, but it’s still 2 more bits than CD quality so for many people the difference might not even be audible. It also has the same closed-form digital filter (modified slightly to work with the new chips) as the Yggy. The result is a DAC that sounds very close to the Yggy for a fraction of the price. And yes, it does sound very close to the Yggdrasil. Based off my short time with it, I can tell you that it’s unusually resolving and detailed. You will really want some good headphones to take advantage of everything this DAC has to offer. I’m looking forward to getting more time with this unit to get a better idea of its capabilities. But for anyone just looking for that Yggy sound on the cheap, you will not be disappointed.
As a nice bonus, the existing Gungnir units are upgradeable to the new multibit version. The upgrade costs $500 plus the cost of shipping it back to Schiit. Unfortunately, the upgrade requires a software update as well as a hardware update so it has to be sent back. Fortunately, Schiit has a nice queueing system where you don’t have to send your unit in until they’re ready to work on it. For those wondering, the new Gungnir does not have the USB 3.0 upgrade that’s in the Yggy. Also the Gungnir will no longer be available without USB. It seems the vast majority of people want the USB so they decided to just include that option by default to make life easier for everyone.
One last note: the Yggy is somewhat infamous for its recommend 48-hour warm-up time to get the best sound out of it. The GMB has a recommended warm-up time of 12 hours. Now that the Yggy has been in the field for some time, Schiit has confirmed that the warm-up time needed will decrease as the unit burns in over time.
“The Show is over but the magic remains. Go home and remember the wonders you’ve seen today! Perhaps one day, you might have some wonders of your own!”
Schiit Audio really did bring some wonderful new products that weekend. The Mjolnir 2: SE and balanced, tube and SS! The LISST: solid state options for your hybrid tube amps! The Gungnir Multibit: modern R-2R at an attainable price! The excitement was justified and the wonders are available for purchase right now.
More info: http://schiit.com