It all comes rolling back. Every time I listen to a new Schiit Multibit DAC I am reminded that Mike Moffat is one of the, if not the, greatest minds in digital audio, and has been for over 30 years, pretty much since the beginning, when he pioneered one of the first true audiophile DACs. And the Schiit Bifrost 2 True Multibit™ DAC is no exception, putting a bit of polish on 30 years of development to produce something that is a little better than its predecessors at a fraction of the cost of the original. Of course, due credit should also be leveled at Jason Stoddard for his analog genius because as I tirelessly reiterate, the most important part of any DAC is the analog section.
Having reviewed the bottom of the line and the top of the line it was gratifying to finally get a chance to review the model most accessible to the majority of Personal Audio enthusiast. I can here you say, but wouldn’t that be the Modi Multibit? And the answer is no, while brilliant for an entry level DAC, the majority of those who are in this passion for the long haul are going to need a balanced DAC. Even if you are running single ended at the final output stage, the added noise floor of a balanced signal path is critical.
The Schiit Bifrost 2:
So what makes the Schiit Bifrost 2 different? Well other than the brains behind it which have already been covered:
- True Multibit; Bifrost 2 uses completely unique D/A converters implementing two AD5781 converters
- Proprietary time- and frequency-domain optimized digital filter; implemented on an Analog Devices SHARC DSP.
- Balanced output; a balanced interconnect reduces the noise floor in three ways; 1. Proper shielding grounded at both ends and isolated from signal (IE: the shielding is not used to transmit signal), 2. Waveform cancelation, the push/pull of balanced connections cancel inducted noise much in the same way a feedback loop cancels noise, 3. Twice the signal strength; a balanced connection has a positive signal and a negative signal, as opposed to single-ended which only has a positive signal, meaning the signal is simply stronger than inducted noise.
- Remote Control with Phase-Reversal Control; Phase-Reversal is a must-have feature that every DAC should have but don’t (We are talking about absolute phase vs. channel phase which is a completely different issue). Unlike analog recordings, digital recordings are either In-Phase or Out-of-Phase, this effect is so pronounced that Andy Partridge of XTC, rereleased In-Phase versions of several of the XTC albums when he discovered that the original CDs were Out-of-Phase. Those who don’t believe in the “Wood” effect have only to listen to a Leslie (a sort of mechanical phase shifter known for making that warble effect produced by electric organs) or a phase shifter to hear it.
- Unison USB™ based on a general-purpose PIC32 microprocessor, using precision local clocks and complete electromagnetic and electrostatic isolation. This unique, UAC2-compliant input provides higher performance and lower power draw than most of the shelf USB options.
- 8 stages of power supply regulation, including separate supplies for critical digital and analog sections.
- Autonomy™ Architecture; The Bifrost 2 DAC is completely modular. Not only that, the modules are designed to slide in from the back of the chassis, meaning do it yourself upgrades.
- Built-in external MicroSD card slot for Firmware updates.
- Designed and assembled in the USA; The vast majority of the total production; chassis, boards, transformers, assembly, etc is performed in the US. The chassis are made locally and PCBs are done locally or in Northern California. The transformers are also made in California.
- 5 Year P&L Warranty; while in my book, solid-state hardware should last decades, it is telling that most manufacturers only offer 1 Year Warranties.
In appearance, the Bifrost 2 looks like a Schiit. That is to say, that all Schiit products share a simple elegant aesthetic of rolled 1/8” aluminum over a folded metal chassis, only the size changes. The front panel is adorned with a single input-select button (compared to the remote’s extravagant four buttons), four LEDs (USB, Optical, Coaxal, and a separate Phase-Reversal opposite the remote eye), and the remote eye.
The back panel has a bit more to say for itself with one set of balanced XLR Outputs, one set of single-ended RCA Outputs, the MicroSD card slot for Firmware updates, a Coaxial Digital Input, an Optical Digital Input, a USB Digital input, a toggle power switch, and the power cord receptacle.
For accessories they provide the afore mentioned remote control (a small slab of aluminum with four buttons for input select, mute, and phase-reversal), a power cord, and the owner’s manual.
For those who don’t know or haven’t read my previous reviews, PCM is a multi-bit format, be it 4, 8, 16, 18, 20, 24, or 32 those bits represent a single point (or sample) on a continuously variable sine-wave that represents sound. The more bits, the greater the dynamic range and the finer that point can be plotted, but that is irrelevant to this conversation. Most of today’s DACs are Sigma/Delta or single bit DACs, meaning they look at each bit as a separate sample and by a sort of fuzzy logic approach of add a bit subtract a bit are able to approximate that data point. A Multibit DAC looks at those multi-bit samples as a single item, creating a single plot on the sine-wave, making it inherently more accurate. Whether these differences seem significant or not, the result is clearly audible, creating a sharper more detailed image of the recording.
Living with the Schiit Bifrost 2:
Connecting the Schiit Bifrost 2 is pretty straight forward, no drivers are needed for Schiit’s Unison USB as they have eschewed pre-10 Windows, figuring four years is ancient history in computer years and plenty of time for users to have updated their systems and escaped less than stellar USB protocols (being an old fuddy-duddy, I’ll be performing my USB tests using Linux).
Burn-in, few products, especially solid-state products, sound perfect out of the box, for whatever reason, they need a little time of electrons in a musical context passing through them to sound their best. That being said, the sound I heard through the Bifrost 2 as I was setting it up was amazing, musical and compelling, never-the-less, I went ahead and burned it in using my FiiO X7mkII via the coax out as source.
For playback, I used my reference amplifiers two Questyle Audio CMA 800R Current Mode Amplifiers in full balanced mono mode and my reference headphone the MrSpeakers ETHER C Flow 1.1 Planar Magnetic Headphones.
As I see it the real test of a DAC is how it handles 16/44.1kHz so I cued up “Glad” by Traffic from their “Smiling Phases” album on the FiiO. The counterpoint of piano and organ backed by horns and percussion was crisp and detailed with an incredible tightness to the sound, set in a large studio soundstage. Musicality was much improved over previous models as even in the presence of the plethora of bells and cymbals, with stridency of the honkytonk piano and the saxophone close mic’d there was no harshness. The sonic complexity of the piece was laid bare as the multiple piano tracks were folded over each other with one track in a large empty hall fading in and out, despite the depth of the harmonic overtones the sound of the individual notes never became blurred.
At this point, I booted up DeaDBeeF and did a comparison of the 16/44.1kHz digital and 24/96kHz vinyl rip versions of Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite” (Stravinsky: The Firebird; Borodin: Music from Prince Igor). Despite the distractions of vinyl noise, the chill inducingness of the higher resolution recording came through clearly, but both were rendered with epic musicality and dynamics. Instrument placement was laser-sharp without drift or blur and the sense of space put one in mind of those huge German cathedrals. Every tap of the tympani came through solidly during the crescendos and the xylophones and woodblocks had real snap. The triangle stood out against the cacophony as if in silence. The dynamic range was able to communicate the full emotion of the piece as if one were in the audience. As to the timbre, it was completely natural, rich and full.
Knowing both Mike and Jason to be hardcore rockers I put on “Renegade” by Steppenwolf (“Steppenwolf 7” – 24/192kHz) and was not disappointed. It had that intimacy and expansiveness that is only achievable in a studio recording and the dyamics were heart stopping adding an excitement to the piece.
To take full advantage of the increased resolution I switched over to the MrSpeakers ETHER2 Orthodynamic Headphones and selected Sarah Brightman’s unmatched rendition of “Think Of Me” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom Of The Opera (Original Cast Recording)” (16/44.1kHz). It was like being in a box seat in the theatre, dynamic and heart rending.
Conclusions on the Schiit Bifrost 2:
When I agreed to review the Schiit Bifrost 2, I came to it with pretty high expectations and a pretty good idea of what I would say. Color me surprised, the Bifrost 2 fully exceeded what I believed it to be capable of. In terms of resolution and detail, it is every bit a Schiit Multibit processor and gave me all that I have come to expect from this, but in terms of musicality it went beyond the pale and delivered greater returns than it has any right to, especially in its price class. To say that the Bifrost 2 is a sensational bargain is simply an understatement. The Bifrost 2 is a DAC that any audiophile or music lover could happily live with, regardless the price of the rest of their system.
Is the Bifrost 2 perfect? Well no, for one (at least in my case) the totally logical eschewing of older Windows systems is an issue. Also, in my case, Schiit’s totally understandable discount of DSD is a problem, while I fully understand their logic, DSD has a very limited catalog, mostly limited to old analog recordings and eclectic audiophile labels, and is not likely to be widely adopted given its resistance to digital manipulation. This is further exasperated by the recording industry’s willingness to offer upconverted PCM as DSD without providing any notification as to this being the case. That being said, I have about 8TB of DSD and don’t consider conversion to PCM an option. On the other hand, the designers at Schiit would be quick to point out that DSD decoding would require a completely separate specialized DAC to decode anyway. Lastly, there is the limitation to a sample rate of 192kHz, but the Bifrost 2’s modular design, makes this more an inconvenience than a true handicap. If they decide that there is enough software available to make the upgrade viable, that can always be added later.
But, when it comes to PCM, the Bifrost 2 is unmatched by any other DAC I have listened to, especially with 44.1kHz, which face it, is 99% of the music out there and almost 100% of the new music produced in the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s (ok, there is about a 50/50 split between 44.1kHz and 48kHz, but the point is still valid). So, all of you budding audiophiles, save your money, spend a couple hundred dollars on a dedicated digital audio only Win10 computer (if you’re not already a Mac user) and buy a Schiit Bifrost 2, after
Manufacturer’s Website: https://www.schiit.com/products/bifrost-1
Price: $699 USD
Conversion Type: Schiit True Multibit™
D/A Conversion IC: Analog Devices AD5781ARUZ x 2
Digital Filter: proprietary Schiit time- and frequency-domain optimized digital filter implemented on Analog Devices SHARC DSP processor, running 8X oversampling
Analog Stage: Differential, based on LME49724 for both balanced and single-ended output, direct coupled throughout
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz, +/-0.1dB, 2Hz-100KHz, -1dB
Maximum Output: 2.0V RMS single-ended and 4.0V RMS balanced
THD: <0.003%, 20Hz-20KHz, at max output
IMD: <0.004%, CCIR
S/N: >114dB, referenced to 2V RMS
Inputs: Coaxial SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, USB
Input Capability: up to 24/192 for all inputs
Input Receiver, SPDIF: AK4113, USB: Schiit Unison™ USB, based on Microchip PIC32 microprocessor
Output: RCA (single-ended) and XLR (balanced)
Output Impedance: 75 ohms for both
Power supply: 24VA transformer, 8 stages of regulation, including separate supplies for critical digital and analog sections
Upgradability: Autonomy™ architecture with externally replaceable DAC/Analog Card and USB Input Card, plus MicroSD card slot for firmware updates
Remote control: included, controls source selection, phase invert, and mute.
Power Consumption: 12W
Size: 9 x 6.75 x 2”
Weight: 5 lbs