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Schiit Audio Bifrost DAC

Posted

Pros: Excellent performance at the price

Cons: Does not outperform very high end DACs

REVIEW: Schiit Audio “Bifrost” DAC

 

Introduction

 

By now, Schiit probably needs no head-fi introduction, and so I will not be providing one.  I will also not be making any jokes about the name.  Sorry.  That was so last review biggrin.gif

 

I had asked to be sent a review loaner of the Bifrost when the announcement was made about its existence.  Schiit was nice enough to oblige – unfortunately it arrived at a very bad time for me at work, and I was able to spend a good amount of time casually listening to it, but not much time really evaluating it, or writing about it.  I have finally been able to do some of that, although this review isn’t going to be quite as complete as I had hoped.

 

For this review I fed the Bifrost either the toslink output of a Pure i20 digital iPod dock, or USB from my Sony Vaio.  The audio out from the Bifrost was in turn sent to either a Meier Corda Classic, a vintage Marantz 2285 receiver, or the Leben CS-300.  Headphones used were the Beyer T1, Audeze LCD-3, Hifiman HE-6, and Audio Technica W3000ANV.  The Marantz also drove B&W N805 speakers, and I spent quite a bit of time listening to the Bifrost via speakers.  I compared the Bifrost briefly to the MHDT Havana, the Audio by Van Alstine Vision Hybrid DAC, the Red Wine Audio Isabellina Pro DAC, and the HRT iStreamer.

 

There is not much to discuss in terms of the operation.  I’m glad the power supply is onboard; I hate wall warts.  Coax, toslink, and USB inputs; single pair analog outputs.  In the traditional Schiit chassis:

 

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The Sound

 

There have been some “robust” discussions lately about headphone FR, and what measurements of them mean in terms of what we hear.  In stark contrast to that is something like a DAC: Any well designed, modern DAC will measure completely flat in the audible domain, and as such, any differences we hear in sonics really cannot be directly attributed to measured frequency response, as the measured frequency response of a modern DAC is, in almost every case, going to look identical to any other DAC.

 

And yet, if you read this or any other audio site or magazine, people clearly hear differences in DACs.  I certainly do. But I cannot point to a frequency response chart and say “this is why it sounds this way”.  Outside of the frequency response, there are things like jitter rejection that can be measured and have an impact on things like transparency.

 

All that said, I do in fact find the Schiit to be very neutral in the frequency domain.  The Bifrost comes across as essentially uncolored.  Nothing jumps out as being out of balance, even over extended listening.  I would say this is what we should expect from a modern, solid state DAC, and the Bifrost delivers it.  I consider this high praise for a DAC. Certainly bass drum and guitar  from Dream Theater’s “On the Backs of Angels” were plenty full and deep, and very subtle percussion on Steely Dan’s “Aja” was easily discerned, so there is good presence at the frequency extremes.

 

The Bifrost does a very good job of detail retrieval – better than I expected, in terms of what I have heard from other DACs in this price range.  It is also very good in terms of being transparent and grain free, although it doesn’t set any benchmarks here versus higher end DACs (about which, more later).  On its own, it comes across as being pretty free from grain, and being very transparent.  I think it performs well for its price class in this regard, and even beat another more expensive but popular DAC in this regard. 

 

The soundstage thrown by the Bifrost was also good, especially in terms of image stability and specificity.  It was not as holographic as my higher end references, nor was it either as deep, or wide.  But again, taken on its own, it performed well.  The very holographic soundstage on the Porcupine Tree song “Stars Die” was very satisfying, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything via the Bifrost.  It was very well fleshed out, and Steven Wilson’s voice was well defined and centered, versus the much more spread out harmony vocals.

 

 

 

Comparisons

 

I did level-matched comparisons with three DACs, as mentioned above.

 

Let’s get two things out of the way with ease.  First, the Bifrost absolutely stomps the iStreamer.  The iStreamer seems grainy, veiled, threadbare, and thin sounding by comparison.  It’s not even close.  It’s funny, because taken on its own, I always thought the iStreamer was decent enough, but on the comparison to the Bifrost, if does not fare well.  Granted, it’s 40% of the cost of the Bifrost.

 

On the other hand, the Bifrost was noticeably outclassed by both the AVA Vision Hybrid and the RedWineAudio Isabellina Pro DACs.  In this case, the Bifrost is less than 25% of the cost of the either of these DACs, and it shows.  I found the AVA to be better to some degree in every single respect.  More transparent, less apparent edge and grain, better microdetail, better microdynamics, more natural ease in terms of musical flow, better bass slam and extension, and a smoother and more extended treble.  Midrange on the AVA is drop-dead, breathtakingly beautiful without being at all colored – on the Bifrost, the mids sound thin by comparison.  The Isabellina was pretty much the same story.  The Bifrost was a little closer to the performance of the RWA DAC than it was in the case of the AVA, but still, it was clearly not in the same performance league.

 

But again – that is only by direct comparison.  I don’t think of the Bifrost as grainy or thin.  It is just more that way than the higher-end (and at $2K somewhat expensive) AVA and RWA DACs.  It really isn’t a fair comparison, either, especially knowing Schiit has a much more advanced (and expensive) DAC in the works. 

 

 

The comparison to the MHDT Havana was more interesting.  The Havana is NOT neutral sounding.  It’s a NOS DAC with a tube output.  I like the sound, but the sound is, well, kind of “vintage” – warm and woolly.  And boy was this apparent when compared to the Bifrost.  The Schiit DAC sounds MUCH more neutral than the Havana.  And yes, compared to the very warm Havana, the Bifrost sounds thin.  But it also sounded more open and transparent, has better treble detail, and had more apparent midrange resolution.  Frankly, the Bifrost turned me off so much to the Havana that I sold it.  It’s just too colored, in the end.  Pretty sounding, but untruthful.  The Bifrost is more truthful, even if sometimes there is less beauty in the truth.

 

 

Summary

 

So where does that leave the Bifrost?  At its price, it is a very nice piece of kit, and a good value.  I don’t think it is setting any performance benchmarks in absolute terms, but it provides very solid performance at its price point, and I think Schiit has packed a lot of performance in this DAC at $450.  I regret that I no longer had my similarly priced Music Hall to compare it to, but I was not that impressed with the Music Hall (which is why I sold it).  The Bifrost isn’t going to slay a pile of $2K+ DACs anytime soon, but I don’t think that was Schiit’s goal for it.  For a DAC in the $500 price range, it gets the job done very nicely.  While I may have become “spoiled” by my reference DACs, Schiit should be commended for providing a high performance product at this price.  In the current world we live in, a DAC has become the focal point of the majority of music playback systems.  It’s THE source for most people.  Given that, having a good quality DAC like the Bifrost available at this price point is a very good thing. 

 

Posted

Pros: Bright and crisp sound, 3 different inputs to match your setup, Solid construction, Great and prompt customer support

Cons: USB addon is pricey, Bright input indicator LEDs on front (color mismatched to a Schiit Lyr)

ALAC lossless music > MBP > Optical > Schiit Bifrost (previously a Nuforce uDac) > Schiit Lyr > Audeze LCD2r2 (previously a Denon d2000)

 

Artists listened to:

Deadmau5

The Birthday Massacre

Dub Fx

Feed Me

Flux Pavilion

Skrillex

Teebs

 

The construction of the Bifrost is superb, with only minor quirks. The aluminum chassis is rigid and sturdy; there's no body flex or any loose components inside. The only downsides are that the input indication LEDs on the front are bright and not the same temperature of white as the Lyr.

 

The jump in sound quality from a simple entry-level DAC is definitely noticeable. Everything about my music improved, if only slightly. The soundstage has noticeably opened up, with the highs becoming more crisp and the lows having a more defined texture. At lower volumes, the Bifrost retains its clarity and resolution over the uDac, which gives a greater impression of dynamic range.

 

Overall, I would really recommend this to anyone looking to sate their latest temptations in the pursuit of greater sound. This is a great component to any setup and it feels like it will last a long, long time!

Posted

Pros: Sound and build Quality

Cons: None

I own my Bifrost now for 2 months and it just keep getting better. Major improvement was also achieved by upgrading the power cable. Im not using it with headphones but to play music from Spotify via my iPad. I started my DAC quest via an Audioengine D1 to a Micromega MyDac which had issues with the Apple connection to finaly the Bifrost.

Posted

Pros: audio quality, ease of set-up, build quality, price

Cons: none yet

 

I'm really happy with my Bifrost.  I don't know if your experience will match mine but here goes:
 
I already have a DAC hooked up to my "good" system in my listening room.  But I have been waiting to find the best way to listen to the music in my downstairs family room served from an upstairs Drobo via Ethernet.  The Drobo is packed with all lossless audio, some of it ripped from CD, some high resolution, some needle drops.
 
So here's what I have:
Old iBook G4 running OS 10.5 and iTunes > ethernet > Drobo > ethernet > Airport Express optical out> Schiit Bifrost > decent Rotel preamp and amp > B&W ceiling speakers in family room.
 
Nothing special, right?  But with the Bifrost, I have never heard such excellent, natural sound from the system.  There is no wireless: it's all a wired ethernet connection to the optical out of the Airport Express into the Bifrost.
 
I control it wirelessly. Either using the Remote iOS app on my phone or iPad, or using Screen Sharing from a laptop downstairs sharing the upstairs iBook which has the iTunes library for the Drobo.  All of sounds just fantastic.  More surprising was how good Spotify sounds.  Here, I am just transmitting wirelessly to the Airport Express using Airfoil, with my (paid version) Spotify preferences set to the high quality stream (I think it's 320k). This is remarkably good sounding...I was trying to explain to my kids this morning how much like science fiction this has to feel to anyone in his or her early fifties who might have dreamed of the great jukebox in the sky, that it is actually here.... the sound is somewhere between better-than-acceptable and really-damned-good, depending on the source.  
 
Of course I might have achieved the same result using any number of inexpensive DACs but waited for something like Bifrost to come along that satisfies my various rational and irrational consumer urges.  I am definitely going to hook the Bifrost up at some point to my "good" system and expect it will do well in that context too.

 

Posted

Pros: Space, imaging, PRAT, micro detail, dogmatically vigilant sound

Cons: None at this price

Holy Schiit!

 

That's the first thing that came to mind when I connected the Bifrost Uber to my system and gave it a listen.  Here's a rundown of a few things.

 

Amp: Trafomatic Head One

Cans: Sennheiser HD600

Old DAC: V-DAC ii with V-PSU ii

Apple lossless -> iPod Classic -> Pure i20 dock -> coaxial connection

 

For a long time, I felt my rig was basically end game.  But, over time, I began to notice some weaknesses in my overall sound, which I started to attribute to the V-DAC.  Some of the hailed strengths started to be weaknesses to me.  For example, at times it was too smooth and polite.  It rounded some notes off.  Then, I began to realize a lot of the weaknesses, too.  It had some grain in the upper frequencies, even though the overall sound was smooth.  This just drew more attention to the grain because the mids and bass were silky smooth.  Despite the bass being smooth, it wasn't overly authoritative.  Also, the image got crowded at times and it struggled with micro details.  The V-DAC also lacked PRAT during some complex passages.

 

So, I began to look for a DAC upgrade.  My research lead me to the Bifrost Uber.

 

Specifically, here's what I noticed immediately when playing my reference tracks with the Bifrost Uber vs. the V-DAC.  Granted, differences between DACs are subtle, but I can hear them.  It's not my attempt to overstate things or use hyperbole to describe the sound.  But, I need to describe the differences somehow.  Below are the subtle differences I noticed immediately:

 

1) The sound is alive!  There's no better way to say that.  The sound has energy and is alive and real.  Not dull.  No veil.  No boring politeness. 

2) The background is absolutely black.  The blackest I've ever heard.

3) The bass is authoritative.  It's textured.  It runs deep and hits hard.

4) There's no grain in the upper frequencies.  It's smooth and life-like.

5) The imaging is exquisite.  I have to retrain my brain to imagine where the instruments are on stage because it's filling is spaces that weren't previously there.  I'll be spending many late nights re-listening to my music collection.  The sound isn't the "three blob" image we hear about from time to time.  It's more 3D and complete.  Great width and depth.  Height is pretty good, too.

6) The attack and decay are dogmatically vigilant. The DAC attacks the music and throws it at you with enthusiasm.

7) The midrange is superb.  Guitars have texture I'm not used to hearing.

8) Space.  There is space between instruments and voices that simply wasn't there with the V-DAC.

9) Micro detail.  The detail retrieval is much better than the V-DAC using the same source files.  I'm hearing sounds I've never heard before.  Unfortunately, I'm hearing flaws in some recordings that the V-DAC's politeness masked.

10) PRAT monster. 

 

In my mind, there's no comparison between the V-DAC and the Bifrost Uber.  Sure, differences between DACs are subtle  But, the collection of these subtle differences put a huge gap between the V-DAC and Bifrost Uber.

 

I'm not trying to cut the V-DAC down.  When I first bought it, it was was a major upgrade to my CD player and I was super excited to have it.  But, time has passed it over and the Bifrost Uber is the better piece of equipment at this time.  And, but a pretty large margin.  Well, if you add up all the small differences, it becomes a large margin.

Posted

Pros: Great DAC for the price

Cons: slightly awkward placing of power switch

I bought the Bifrost to complete my home audio system. This started with me listening to my portable player at home, followed by open headphones, then headphone amp and finally HDD based music and the DAC.

 

The more home listening I did the more I needed something to link my HDD full of high resolution music to my lovely LCD2 headphones. As I'd been using a Lyr amp for some time, the Bifrost was the obvious solution. Fortunately, computer has optical audio output so I could get away with the basic bifrost without the USB option, so for me the USB as optional is a money saver rather than a cost.

 

I can't compare the sound with any other DAC, but the quality of playback is far better than when I connected my PC to the Lyr via standard audio connectors. The gain over IBasso DX-100 to Lyr via its line out is greater in convenience terms than in audio terms and certainly less of a leap than the gain from PC to Lyr direct.

 

My only minor quibble is the power switch is not easy to use, being placed right at the back, so I tend to leave mine on for more time than I would like.

 

In short, I now have easy access to my 250 GB of mostly high resolution music straight from desktop to ears and the Bifrost is a great, cost effective, neat link in my digital music chain. I would happily recommend this DAC to anyone.

Posted

Pros: highly capable, doesn't have any quirky sound issues

Cons: construed as a bit boring?

Before getting this DAC, I ran my Asgard thru a Pacific Valve NOS DAC. I also compared this in my main home system to a Audio-GD Reference 1 DAC.

When I first received it, it went into my home system for the comparison against my Audio-GD. Its not really a fair competition, but I found the Bifrost held up a lot better to rock/metal fast type of music. It was very clinical and detailed compared to my Audio-GD. I didn't find myself wanting for anything, but when I plugged in my Audio-GD I found that the music gained more life, thickness, and personality. So that let me to believe that this was a highly capable, if boring, DAC.

I then brought it into work and replaced my PV NOS DAC and found myself thinking the same thing. Compared to the Pacific Valve, it was a lot more detailed and "cleaner" sounding. I am still using the Bifrost and I don't think its bad at all, but I am glad i have other DACs I can listen to to gain new insights as well. The Bifrost is like the Nerd who gets everything pretty much right and makes few (if any) mistakes, but sometimes you need to experience something a bit more personable smily_headphones1.gif

I'm not particularly high end, but I like to try things and compare.

Headphone-wise I used it with a variety of cheaper units:
Panasonic RP-HTTF600, Monoprice 8323, Beyerdynamic (DT770 250 ohm, DT880 250 ohm, DT990 600 ohm), Grado SR80i, AKG271 MKII, Bowers & Wilkins P5, Sennheiser HD-280.

I also plugged in my JH Audio JH-5 IEMs, and it also sounded good, in fact these pulled the most detail out of everything I tried.

I listen primarily to 24/96 vinyl rips that I make on my home system (Clearaudio TT, Grado Reference cart, E-mu 1212m ADC, after a thorough vacuum clean of the vinyl - i am pretty anal about it). I listen to a variety of genres, and find myself enjoying this amp for rock/pop type of music. Like most of the Schiit offerings, it doesn't have qualities that (to me) favor certain types of music - very neutral sounding.

After living with the Asgard amp for awhile, I swapped it out for the Valhalla, and felt the Bifrost held its own with that amp as well. I was hoping the Valhalla would warm up the sound more and breathe some personality into the Bifrost, but I found it really did not. (not that I am disappointed - just something to keep in mind).

Hate to sound like my review is hating on the DAC because I actually like it a lot. I use it over my Pacific Valve DAC exclusively now. Makes the NOS sound a bit muddy when doing direct comparison. Just wish I could have Bifrost clarity with a bit more thickness and lushness. I will have to look into the Gungnir smily_headphones1.gifsmily_headphones1.gifsmily_headphones1.gif

One annoying thing for those that use it hooked up to a computer. It has a relay that clicks on/off after a little pause. So if you are leaving the DAC turned on while you are doing doing computer stuff with no music playing... you will get an annoying click. i.e.: if you empty the trash on your computer you get CLICK! -empty trash sound- CLICK! as the DAC "turns on" and then "turns off" - and there's no way to get around this except to leave music playing all the time. It took me awhile (longer than I hoped) to get past this, but I now ignore it.

I used it exclusively with the TOSLINK optical port. I may eventually get a M2TECH HiFace for my computer and go coaxial. If I notice any difference I will update this review again.

Posted

Pros: Outstanding Performance for price,desigN, Clearity, Sound Stage

Cons: Non so Far

  I just got these two days ago. I am running these with my Bellari HA540 and Grado GS1000i

 

GS1000i already has quite big sound stage (about head size for left, right, back, and top), a with Bellari

 

HA540 and by Adding Bifrost, they become even bigger by half head size. I can clearly feel where are the

 

sounds coming from. Bifrost adds more resolution in to your music it is crystal clear.

 

I would recommend this to everyone who are looking for DAC under 700 USD.

Schiit Audio Bifrost DAC
By:
Description:

Bifrost is the world's most affordable fully upgradable DAC, featuring 32-bit D/A conversion, a fully discrete analog section, and a sophisticated bit-perfect clock management system, together with one of the most advanced asynchronous USB 2.0 inputs available (optional), as well as SPDIF coaxial and optical inputs, all with 24/192 capability. Fully Upgradable: The Future-Proof DAC
 Worried about rapidly-changing USB input technology? Concerned about future advances in D/A conversion? Bifrost's modular design uses separate, USB Input and DAC/Analog cards. The result? A virtually future-proof DAC that won't end up in the dumpster. AKM4399 D/A Converter and Discrete Analog Section
 Even without considering upgradability, Bifrost offers incredible value. Consider its AKM4399 32 bit D/A converter, one of the highest performance DACs in the world. Also consider that Bifrost uses a fully discrete, low noise JFET analog section-just like multi-thousand-dollar DACs. Advanced Bitperfect Clock Management
 Most DACs in this price range is sacrifice every single one of your original music samples to get their 192kHz spec. Every input is routed through a sample rate converter and upsampled to 24/192. Bifrost dispenses with the sample rate converter and uses a sophisticated master clock management system to deliver bit-perfect data to the DAC, preserving all the original samples--whether it's 16/44.1 or 24/192. Specifications* Inputs: Coaxial SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, USB (optional) 
Input Capability: up to 24/192 for all inputs
Input Receiver, SPDIF: Crystal Semiconductor CS8416
 Input Receiver, USB: C-Media CM6631A D/A Conversion IC: AKM4399 
Analog Summing, Filtering: Fully Discrete, JFET differential topology Output: RCA (single-ended) 
Output Impedance: 75 ohms

Details:
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