Schiit Bifrost Digital-to-Analog Converter

What’s the Schiit?
Schiit’s co-founders Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat are committed to developing high quality audio products and selling them at “near-Chinese” prices, but manufacturing their Schiit in the U.S.A.. They claim the Bifrost is “The world’s most affordable fully upgradable DAC.”

Old geezers like myself may remember Jason Stoddard from his days at Sumo, where he designed a slew of amps like the Polaris, Andromeda, Ulysses, The Ten, The Five, as well as preamplifiers including Athena, Diana, and Artemis, and Sumo’s first digital products. I met Mike Moffat when he started Theta Digital in the 1980s. I owned a Theta Pro DAC because it was the first one to make digital an audiophile experience for me.

The Bifrost DAC conforms to the Schiit headphone amps’ design aesthetic, and I think they look pretty snazzy side by side or stacked. Measuring a scant 9 x 6.75 x 2.25 inches the Bifrost doesn't hog much desktop space. The all-metal chassis looks and feels like a genuine high-end component, there’s nothing budget or entry-level about the look. Oh, there’s one thing that bugs me about their Schiit, the components don’t have proper “feet,” just stick-on rubber things which always come off.

The Bifrost has an AKM4399 32 bit DAC, fully discrete (chip-free) JFET differential analog topology, and a USB 2.0 receiver that offers 24-bit /192-kHz playback from Windows and Mac computers, and a Toslink optical receiver that is also 24-bit/192-kHz capable. So is the RCA coaxial input. The front panel button toggles through the three inputs, and there’s a power switch on the rear end.

Schiit_Bifrost_Photo_board

The Bifrost’s innards are modular, so if Schiit ever develops a better sounding converter, they will offer it (or new analog or USB boards) as drop-in cards. The $349 Bifrost just comes Toslink and coax inputs, but for an extra $100 you get the asynchronous USB 2.0 input board (you can buy it that way or add the USB after you buy the Bifrost). I used USB and Toslink with my old Mac Mini computer, and they sounded about the same. But my new Mac Mini with USB sounds better/sweeter/nicer as a source than the old computer.

I asked Stoddard to provide some sort of estimate what those Bifrost upgrades might cost, and he hopes they’ll be $100 to $150 each. Thinking about the future, the Bifrost comes with a five-year, limited parts and labor warranty! That's pretty amazing, what other budget-priced electronics have you bought with that level of coverage? The DAC is sold with a 15-Day Satisfaction Guarantee, so if you don’t love it send that bad boy back for a refund, minus a 5 percent transaction fee.

COMPANY INFO
Schiit
(323) 230-0079
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COMMENTS
The Monkey's picture
Steve, What's your reference DAC, generally speaking? Thanks!
grokit's picture

Thanks for the impressions on the Bifrost, it pretty much jives with what I have read but now it seems more "official" for some reason. Are you planning a full review of that Halide HD you mentioned?

Roy G Biv's picture

Why would the new Mac Mini sound different from the old? With same files, I thought that shouldn't be the case.

hydrocarbon's picture

Here's why:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

In reality, a bit is a bit. You are absolutely correct in saying that it doesn't matter where it came from. Stating otherwise just demonstrates digital illiteracy.

Roy G Biv's picture

Oh, I figured that's the general belief, but I bet there must be some factors within the chain of the original source that would have effect. Consider, a man's snark nags as the puppy's bark.

Respect.

ultrabike's picture

I'm not sure how Apple computers handle things, but consider a 24-bit FLAC master file. One complain about Sansa Clip+ (which I really like btw), was that it could only handle up to 16-bit FLAC:

http://forums.sandisk.com/t5/Clip-Zip/FLAC-wont-work/td-p/254440

So in order to keep things running, it seems the rockbox FW brings things down to 16-bit (don't know if they truncate the LSBs or if the symmetrically round to zero or infinity or what), but the point is that there you just introduced some amount of quantization noise.

How that non-linear effect is going to be perceived depends on the recording... did they use the full dynamic range? what are the dynamics of the recording?...

Old minis might not handle all bits from a lossless recording, or maybe the software running stuff doesn't... The point is, there are ways to mess things up at the bit level.

13mh13's picture

Oh my phucking dog!

Is this SAME Schiit-for-brains audio that came up with the Asgard amp featuring a massive DC pwr thump?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCZ-AJQOiDg

Tyll Hertsens's picture
If you're talking about this problem, you'll notice the post was on 7/14/11. By five days later, Jason Stoddard posted he had developed a fix, was building product with it installed, and offered to retrofit free to Asgard customers. I'd say that was extraordinarily responsive.

Everybody, including manufacturers, is imperfect. How well we work towards bettering ourselves is a very important characteristic. If you bring up a problem a manufacturer had without putting it in context you are doing a disservice to InnerFidelity readers. There's a couple folks on the verge of being banned here because they disrupt the ability for this site to be a clear resource of quality information.

Light a match like that without delivering the full story again and you're gone.

donunus's picture

Right on Tyll. I really hate it when I people spread this kind of damaging information especially when the problem has been fixed. I could only see it as useful when the post is in question form without being malicious and damaging to the manufacturer for no worthy reason.

Anyways back on topic, is the Bifrost much better than a cambridge dacmagic (if you've listened to one) so far as transparency/honesty to the source material is concerned? Or are the differences more about a different sound signature than it is technical?

Willakan's picture

I'll agree that the final solution on Schiit's part was good, but IMHO it is likewise a little misleading to portray it as an exemplary response from the company.

For a start, they claimed to have measured the amplifier's DC offset at first (2nd Schiit post) which seems somewhat unlikely, as the transient wasn't exactly "blind and you miss it."

The later postings appear to imply that only simulations/maths regarding the transient size were ever performed. This seems very likely, as I find it very unlikely that such a large transient could have escaped their notice if they had conducted such measurements of the turn-on/off thump - these are hardly their first designs! As you say, every company makes mistakes, but this was an easily avoidable one.

More concerning was their response claiming that they omitted relays from the original design for sound quality reasons. OK, fine, they made a small mistake. As you say, they also offered a good resolution relatively promptly.

But trying to make out the mistake was made in the interests of better sound quality? Not quite so reasonable: I would go so far to call it disingenuous.

This is hardly "OMG SCHIIT BLEW UP TEH HEADPHONES," but it's not really exemplary either.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
... just wanted some context around an otherwise inflammatory statement. Thanks for your comment.
Shike's picture

Well, since I'm the one that had the initial problem and made the video I think it's worth speaking on.

Here's the general order of events of what transpired:

I brought it up with Schiit directly, showing the video, Jason said it was normal and would cause no harm. The only positive I can give Jason here is he offered a refund even though it was B-Stock. Still, I wanted a good amp and if people agreed it wasn't an issue at HF I'd keep it . . .

People in the forum were concerned too saying that there's likely some serious DC on it, Jason said they measured it and there was no such thing.

I use a volt-meter which didn't even get the peaks, AKG says the amp is dangerous and don't touch it with a 10' pole even with the smaller amount I caught.

kwkarth iirc finally checks it with a fluke, huge DC offset recorded.

Jason now tests it, and admits there's an issue after the fact and his previous statements. Suggests an on/off cycle that will prevent the thump. He gets frustrated over potentially using relays (even though his Lyr used one, which iirc was implemented after two high dollar Ultrasone's were killed). This leaves me rather unimpressed.

See complaints about lost power and the system not failing safe with a power loss.

Fluke person earlier screams for people to use a battery backup.

Jason caves with a remark on how people basically should already know how to plug and unplug audiophile gear to protect against DC, even though his method is the exact opposite of standard and doesn't fail safe (the other method I know is for gear outputting DC into amps, not amps doing DC output themselves). Finally says he'll add relays after people say they won't touch an Asgard with the issue for obvious reasons.

I'm guessing relays are added now since someone mentioned buying one that "clicks", I didn't see it added to the Asgard page. In fact, I don't see any notice of an issue on the Asgard page or on Schiit - if someone spots one by all means let me know. I can only hope that Jason emailed past purchasers regarding the issue so there isn't a ton of defective (and that's what I'm calling it) Asgards on shelves.

IMO I'm going to have to say, no - this wasn't an extraordinarily responsive, I call it "damage control". Extraordinary would have been examining my claim after the video in the very beginning, immediately notifying everyone that had an Asgard, and offering the repair/refund option. Not waiting till he was caught by someone with a Fluke meter would have changed my opinion 100%, there's something to be said about when a company is proactive regarding potential defects or poor device behavior.

That's my experience as the one that stumbled on it. If others have a differing view fine, but I lost a lot of respect for Jason and Schiit in the whole process of things and don't trust their products. Yes, manufacturers and people learn, but the handling of it left a sour taste in my mouth that will not go away.

That's about all the context of the situation from my perspective, and will of course be inherently biased because it's based on my view of the events that transpired. People can view the thread and develop their own opinions on the situation though.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks for providing your experience and comprehensive post.
ultrabike's picture

Hi Tyll,

I've read many of your reviews and find them very informative and fun. I was looking for an IEM, and it is difficult to audition them before buying for several reasons, and reviews/measurements like yours provided very valuable information. I bought the Audeos which are extremely detailed but lack a bit of bass. BTW do you have a recommendation for a ~$100 +/- 20% IEM with more bass and without sacrificing too much detail (compared to my Audeos)?

Anyhow, I bought the Sansa player for my Audeos based on other reviews Amazion, CNET, several forums, and nwavguy (which was at the center of the Schiit controversy). Do you guys have a take on the Sansa players? I know you sometimes provide reviews for lower end headphone models and seem to have found a few pleasant surprises... Is the Clip+/Fuze/Zip one of those surprises?

-ultrabike

Tyll Hertsens's picture
You might want to try the green filters on them for more bass.

Or maybe the Spider Realvoice.

I haven't heard them, but have seen tons of very favorable comments on the Sansa stuff.

ultrabike's picture

Thanks for the advice Tyll. Don't get me wrong, the grey/black filters are outstanding, and I'm very happy with my Audeo cute tips... just wanted another more forgiving option to poorly recorded music...

On well recorded music the Audeos shine (even LMFAO sounds great). The Audeos don't bring up huge bass, but it is definitively there, and it is fun, tight, and can have a lot of impact. But the Audeos can also obscenely leave poor recordings in the cold street naked... I want that misery covered up, specially if I'm working out. A bit more bass, at the expense of accuracy, sometimes gets the job done :)

Steve Guttenberg's picture
Check out the Thinksound ts02, it's real nice for under $100.
ultrabike's picture

Thanks Steve! I'll check them out!

Steve Guttenberg's picture
For those who wonder, I use a PS Audio PerfectWave, and a dCS Debussy in my "big rig" system.
The Monkey's picture
Thanks, Steve, I also have the PerfectWave. As for the dCS, maybe someday... Regardless, I find it helpful and interesting to know what reviewers are using in their own rigs, so the info is appreciated.
Roy G Biv's picture

I enjoy your site a lot, Tyll. I'd love to hear more in-depth thoughts on the Emotiva 4.

Merck's picture

This is the DAC I plan on owning one day. I'm not in the market for one yet but when I am, I think the Bifrost, Lyr, and some Beyer DT 990 250 ohm headphones will make a nice step up compared to my current low end rig.

br777's picture

I've been using my bifrost daily for months now. I love it but i do have a few niggles about it. I use it exclusively via optical out from my onboard computer card. I use foobar w/ wasapi and easy-q, to a O2 amp to LCD-2 rev'2s and westone es5 customs.

1. every time sound starts or stops, the dacs optical relay clicks. at first this did not bother me as the sound does not come through the headphones, but over time i have grown to find it annoying, especially if some sound on my computer causes it to click over and over again. Sometimes if i am not listening to music i have to shut the dac off to stop it from clicking over and over.

2. every once in a while some kind of interference comes through my headphones.. its hard to describe.. like a series of blips. its not often, and not very loud, but none the less the fact that something like that is getting through makes me wonder why and how.
EDIT - NO DAC, STILL HAPPENS - WASNT THE DAC AFTER ALL - PRETTY SURE ITS CELL PHONE RELATED

otherwise, i enjoy this dac a lot. For the price, its stellar. I only wish someone like NwAvGuy could do some through spec tests on it.

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