Schiit Modi and Magni compared to Bifrost and Asgard
I have had my Bifrost and Asgard for a bit over a year, using them primarily with my LCD-2s at work. Since my work laptop has no SPDIF I only use the Bifrost through USB so that is what I used for this comparison as well. I have always felt that the Bifrost is a bit of overkill to only use through USB, so when the M&M were announced I decided it would be an excellent opportunity to compare them and see if I would be happy with a cheaper setup for work.
First, some pictures:
Next to each other, the M&M are so small and, dare I say it, cute.
Mix-and-match, I'll be updating this with these impressions in the next few days.
The new stack.
The elevation 'problem' with the PYST cables (nice cables and surprisingly flexible, but even so they still do this).
My simple solution.
Test setup, laptop is to the right with both plugged in through USB.
Cables and such.
Straight out of the box I didn't really care for the M&M, even with the LCD-2s I found they had exaggerated and harsh treble. But I intended to keep them for at least a few weeks and give them some time regardless, so instead of worrying I just looped some test tracks and went to watch TV.
As an aside, I don't know if Schiit burns in these new ones the way they do all their higher-end amps and DACs. I never heard a big change with the Asgard or Bifrost, but something had changed noticeably with the M&M when I went back to listen a few hours later. Initially there was a big treble difference between the two stacks, but after a few hours I was no longer confident I'd be able to tell them apart.
Please keep in mind that I have been using the Bifrost and Asgard almost daily for the past year so anything different from their sound signature is likely to sound a little off to me at first even if it is objectively better (and if it's something I'd actually prefer in the long run).
Bass and Mids
At anywhere near normal listening levels and even a good bit beyond I can hear no difference in the bass and mids between the two stacks. They both hit incredibly hard with the LCD-2s when called for, and don't when it's not in the music.
As indicated above, treble started out as an issue with the M&M but has since settled down (just went to have another listen and maybe it's just brain burn-in, but it sounds like it might have gotten a bit better still). In short, there is a slight bit more treble with the M&M stack over the B&A. It started out overly exaggerated and harsh and has now settled down to the point that without having them side by side it's unlikely I'd ever notice the difference. The B&A treble is a little smoother, very minorly quieter, and fits slightly better within the music to my taste (although again, I'm used to the B&A's treble).
However, at this point the M&M treble has settled to the point that I'm actually not sure which stack is more accurate. If there was a way to hear truly perfectly neutral then maybe I could answer that, but as it is all I can say is that the M&M has slightly more treble than the B&A. Whether the B&A has slightly less treble than neutral or the M&M has slightly exaggerated treble I couldn't say.
The M&M has (slightly) more sibilance than the B&A, but neither make the LCD-2 sibilance-prone. I have a very sibilant song I typically test with and yeah, it's sibilant with both, but no dramatic differences.
Soundstage and Detail Retrieval
Subjectively I think the B&A might have a slightly better sense of space and soundstage. When listening to specific details I haven't managed to find anything faint or otherwise that I could hear on one that I couldn't on the other, so it's hard to say what might be causing that impression. It may also be possible that harmonic distortion or crosstalk is responsible for the sense of space in the B&A and the cleaner signal from the M&M makes it seem less spacious, but that's just speculation on my part. Without having them side by side I doubt anyone would think they are different, and after blind tests I'm not sure they even are; but this is the subjective part :)
For pure detail retrieval I think it might actually be the opposite; the M&M currently sounds just a little bit crisper and more detailed. Of course, with the treble difference this shouldn't be a surprise; unfortunately, as with the treble itself, when comparing the two they are close enough that I can't really say if the M&M's detail is a bit of exaggerated fake treble detail or if the B&A is slightly muffled. Still, as stated above, while listening I haven't managed to find any details, faint or otherwise, that I was only able to hear on one of the stacks.
The Blind A/B Test
I had my wife help me with this, our methodology was as follows:
She would pick a song from my test tracks and play it on one of the two stacks (unplugging and plugging in the headphones each time regardless of whether she switched them on me). She then would switch (or not) the stack that it was plugged in to four or five times, playing the same section of music each time. I recorded which I thought I was hearing and she kept track of what she had it hooked up to. I was in the same room but facing away, and the amps were volume matched using pink noise and a sound recorder I have that has a decibel indicator.
Song name and link.
Thoughts and notes.
right / total
OC Remix - We Can See No.373 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVmmdE6pYyk
I thought the M&M sounded a bit harsh and the B&A sounded smoother on the percussion (synths still a bit harsh at times though). Joke's on me though, since both the times I thought were harsher and the smoother ones were both the B&A, and the times it was switched to M&M I thought it was the B&A instead.
2 / 5
nervous_testpilot - Schism : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOA0JgktOks
First listen I thought was nice and clear so it must be the B&A, which it wasn't. I then thought the next couple listens sounded the same but they weren't. Then I thought I heard some harshness in some of the background noises so figured it was the M&M (nope).
2 / 5
Caravan Palace - Clash : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yebo5ILBMC0
Thought the M&M had a bit more treble and actually correctly identified the stacks the first 3 times. Then things fell apart and I got it wrong the next 3 times.
3 / 6
Sakamichi no Apollon OST - Kaoru & Sentaro Duo in BUNKASAI Medley : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BNRENSEV0g
I was confident on this one; B&A had a larger soundstage and M&M had slightly harsher drums. I got the first two listens right and then the wife left it on the B&A and I got it wrong both times :(
2 / 4
OC Remix - Blackout Tower : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUP1ZBwK2S0
A recent favorite OCRemix of mine for it's high energy and good bit of treble presence, and apparently an excellent way to prove that these two stacks are hard to tell apart. Started off with the M&M which sounded good and clean and was misidentified as the B&A. I then correctly identified it the second time but thought it had more treble than the same M&M stack less than a minute ago. After that I spent 3 more listens identifying the M&M as the B&A and the other way around.
1 / 5
Braid OST - Downstream : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiWXrVXOMAU
First listen I correctly identified the M&M, second listen (still M&M) I thought it had a better soundstage so it was the B&A. I then correctly identified the B&A twice and then thought she had changed it on me when she hadn't. And at the end had a lucky guess and correctly guessed M&M to end.
4 / 6
End result, I only got it right 14 out of 31 times. Since straight guessing says I should get it right half of the time, I'd say this is fairly conclusive that if I can't see what I'm listening to that they sound pretty much the same.
The Asgard has a better volume knob, it has more usable range and better channel balance at low volumes. At my listening levels the Magni's volume control is about worthless, and with my more sensitive cans as soon as I get out of the channel imbalance zone on the M&M I'm already louder than I'd like to be. Fortunately, if you're using it with the Modi in 24 bit mode and you have 16 bit music files (effectively everything I listen to) then you can use your computer's volume control with no loss of sound quality. If that bothers you or you have lots of 24 bit music then perhaps this isn't the setup for you, but personally I have no problem setting Windows to 25% volume and having a good usable range on Magni.
The Bifrost clicks (through the headphones, not the relay) when you stop playing a track through USB, the Modi does not. It's a small click/pop, certainly not anything that would damage headphones (so it's not a problem or anything), but it was a pleasant little surprise that the Modi didn't do the same.
The Magni's gain is just silly. Initially I was joking about wanting to try an HE-6 or K1000 with it at the upcoming Charlotte meet, but now I'm really looking forward to it. This thing has way more clean power than anyone should be able to produce from such a small setup.
If you're only going to be using it through USB I can hear no reason why you would choose the B&A over the M&M using the LCD-2s. Unless you like the larger look. Or brushed aluminum. Or want to be able to cook something on your amp. The Bifrost and Asgard are both very good, but for an office USB setup the M&M are hard to beat even without taking into account the price difference.
While I'm definitely going to live with these for the next few weeks and spend more time comparing before making any final decisions; tentatively I think the B&A might be for sale here soon.
Real Conclusion (1/10/13)
I have been using the M&M at work exclusively for about the past week (just left the B&A at home) and just today brought the B&A back in for a last comparison before I put one of these up for sale. My impressions after getting more used to the M&M stack is very similar to the initial impressions, they really sound amazingly close to the B&A through USB and I highly recommend them.
But (and I'm sure some people guessed this was coming), ultimately I've decided to sell the M&M stack. I'm still finding the slight treble etch distracting, to me it makes the M&M sound less coherent and musical. It seems to emphasize the differences between the instruments, making each stand out separately instead of flowing together as one coherent whole. As a photographer this seems similar to excessive sharpening being applied; the result is the same picture with the same overall amount of detail, just exaggerated. Also, when listening at low levels this actually seems more pronounced; the M&M seems to sound better at higher volumes whereas the B&A sounds pleasant even at lower levels.
I still fully maintain that the M&M is quite good, especially for the price, and if I didn't already have the B&A I'm sure I would be quite happy with them. However, given the choice between the two I'll be sticking with my B&A, I just find that I enjoy my music more with them.
Edited by Defiant00 - 1/10/13 at 10:15am