Review: Schiit Bifrost Multibit DAC

Is it possible to write a review of a product from Schiit Audio without making one Schiit pun? I aim to but let me just say—people love Schiit.

And for good reason. Schiit makes good to great products and charges a reasonable amount of money for them. What’s not to love?

Here’s the Schiit DAC lineup:

Modi $99
Bifrost $399 / Multibit $599
Gungnir $849
Yggdrasil $2399

How do they do it? They sell direct and my guess is they price things in order to sell quantity instead of pricing things to sell as if you’re paying a lot for quality. Stick the Bifrost in a larger and fancier chassis, sell it through dealers, and charge $5,000. Ipso facto. But that’s not the way Schiit rolls.

The Bifrost Multibit DAC uses the Analog Devices AD5547CRUZ digital to analog converter to convert D to A, they’re the only ones to use this chip for audio, while employing their “proprietary closed-form, time- and frequency-domain optimized DSP-based digital filter” in an Analog Devices SHARC DSP processor and “our Gen 5 USB features full galvanic isolation via transformers, self-power for low-noise and reclocking sections, and high-quality local clocks for both 44.1 and 48k multiples.” And…Schiit products are covered by a 5-year warranty. Booya!

The Bifrost offers USB and 2x S/PDIF (Coax and Optical) inputs and a pair of single-ended RCA outputs. The Bifrost can play PCM resolutions up to 24/192, end of story. That means no alphabet soup formats need apply which is fine by me seeing as Roon, my player of choice, handles making everything PCM-friendly. The unit is wrapped in a U-shaped piece of aluminum which covers the bottom, front, and top while the sides and back are a darker gray metal. The front panel houses the input selector button and a white LED indicating power status and the Schiit logo. Think understated and handsome.

Now, some people will read those tech points and begin to argue or cry foul based on ideas & theories so I asked Mike Moffat at Schiit 2 questions and here they are along with Mike’s answers.

1. What is a Multibit DAC?

A DAC is a device that changes a digital value to an analog signal level. A multibit DAC is a DAC which has one bit input per bit length, and one analog/output switch or circuit per bit. In other words, a 20 bit DAC has twenty input pins, and 20 weighted outputs. One advantage of such a DAC is that it inherently is a DC device. Another way of expressing this is it can go all the way down through the treble, midrange, bass, sub-bass, all the way down to DC. This is what gives rise to their sonic presence/in you face/dynamics. Now, rock concerts for metalheads through deadheads through Lindsey Stirling, through jazz festival music through classical orchestral stuff requires balls for proper reproduction. If you are looking for a reproduction of an original event – I have to have multibit. Original music is dynamic. I used to stay up late as a Mormon Kid on Christmas eve and sneak into St. Anthony’s Church at midnight just to hear their three choirs, 5 soloists, and 40 piece orchestra just slam out a High Christmas Mass that really sounded good. Not only did it have enough slam and in your face presence to give me goosebumps it was subtle as well, which could clearly be heard in the quieter portions after the shock of the presence fades.

Non multibit dacs may be preferred by those who are looking for a certain sort of flavor or sound for their music which is presented in the context of no reproduction, only local creation. There are always those searching for wider or deeper sound stage, tinkly highs, bass-slammin’ lows, smoother vocals, etc. I have no doubts those who seek that experience can find what they are looking for, hopefully in just one DAC. If you seek sound like some original was created, IMHO Multi-bit is only path to take.

2. Is this outdated technology? If not, why not?

Yup, no doubt and outdated for the same reason that tubes and discrete circuits are; They are fucking expensive and hard to work with. Newer, cheaper technologies play music within the reach of many more potential users. Emerging markets require cheaper and easier to design audio gear.

Multibit is a technology which is condemned to eventually die only because it is too damn expensive for audio. As people my age and older die off the manufacture of such devices becomes forgotten technology for audio. The last multibit applications will be MRI machines, radiation treatment scanners, and weapons radars, where extreme precision is required. Audio as a technology is not taken seriously by chipmakers who slouch to delta sigma technology.

The Schiit Bifrost is one bitchin’ DAC. By bitchin’ I mean it has plenty of bite, plenty of body, and plenty of drive. Bitchin’. A hard drivin’ DAC. I’ve been on a Swans jag of late, nearly listening through  their entire catalog which, as luck would have it, suits the Bifrost to a T. Kick drums kick you in the chest, bass growls snarls and rumbles, and crunchy distorting overdriven guitar sounds like angels pulling damned souls from the pit. If that sounds overly dramatic that’s exactly what I’m talking about. The Swans are just that to good effect if those feelings move ya. The Schiit Bifrost makes lesser DACs sound waif.

My friend Herb Reichert has said that digital often lacks the body of analog and after spending real time with the Bifrost Multibit I can see why he loves and uses the Schiit Yggdrasil. I’m guessing it has even more body and bite. The recently reviewed and much loved BorderPatrol DAC SE, by comparison, sounds more ethereal, more airy, and more tonally saturated. Heaven to the Schiit’s Hell? Of course Hell hath negative connotations for some but in this context I’m referring to earthly delights not flames and a boogie man. To put it another way, the Bifrost is an earthy sounding DAC. Which DAC is correct? The one you prefer.

More in line with the Bifrost Multibit’s price tag is the Chord Mojo at $539 which makes for a very interesting comparison. As I mentioned in the BorderPatrol review, I’d place the Mojo in the neutral category where I’d also place the Bifrost. However the Mojo is more delicate and nuanced, the Bifrost more forceful and punchy. The Mojo imbues the sound image with more space and air while the Bifrost presents music as a big muscular ball of energy. There’s less separation of the various elements within the overall sound image as compared to the Mojo so if you’re the kind of listener who likes to lean in and pick things apart with great precision, you may prefer the Chord’s way with music. If, on the other hand, you like to sit back and get hit with music’s rhythm stick, hard, the Bifrost is calling.

Don’t get me wrong, the Bifrost can do delicate, it’s just not as delicate and nuanced as some other DACs like the Chord Mojo. The other DACs I have in mind cost much more than the Bifrost and this a point to takeaway—overall, the Schiit Bifrost is one steal of deal considering how well it connects the listener to their music. Sure, you can get more nuance (Mojo), more air and color (BorderPatrol), and more of everything (totaldac). As the Grease Rat pointed out in the original Mad Max, “Speed’s just a question of money. How fast you wanna go?”

It’s worth noting that these three DACs—Bifrost, Mojo, BorderPatrol—are all appealing music makers, each in its own way. I see my job as a reviewer to get to know the sound of every component that comes through the barn and communicate its voice to the best of my abilities. I do not see it as my job to impose my set of sonic values on every component that comes through the barn and judge. If anything, that’s your job when shopping for a DAC and of course the people who actually make these things that make music need to have a rock solid understanding of their sonic goals. Reviewers sit in the middle and, ideally, report.

To my ears and experience, the Schiit Bifrost Multibit DAC is a little marvel. A muscular wonder of a DAC that presents music with all of its physical prowess in tact. If you like your music to move you, this Schiit is for you.


Schiit Bifrost Multibit DAC

Price: $599
Specifications

Schiit Audio
22508 Market Street
Newhall, CA 91321

General questions: info@schiit.com