I finally read this entire post - well done. My journey was to find a rig to drive the HD800 to my satisfaction. Not an easy task! The upgrade from Gungnir D/S to MB was one step and probably the most significant step, for me. The improvement in the bass was the most telling - with the D/S the bass was just thin. I've stayed with the Gungnir MB for several years now and am satisfied with the sound. I have heard the Yggy with the HD800, and the SQ was great, but that was also with the Woo Audio WA-5 amp. It was at a headphone meet here many years ago; Dan Clark had brought his rig from California. At that time, he was with Mr. Speakers and they'd just launched their Ether HPs. Now the company is known as Dan Clark Audio.OK, I promised this weeks ago, and here it finally is:
As a bit of a refresher, the story behind my Gungnir DACs is: I bought a Gungnir delta-sigma after enjoying my Bifrost I multi-bit simply to find out if climbing the Schiit ladder would bring any benefits which were meaningful to me. The Bifrost was my first foray into outboard DACs (after thirty-five years as an audio hobbyist), and it was a revelation. Up until Bifrost was delivered I’d been using the analog outputs of my DAPs to drive my Mjolnir I amp and HiFiMAN HE-500 head phones. I’d been frustrated with the lack of bass presence and had been looking for different head phones to scratch that itch. Along came Bifrost II, which made Bifrost I multi-bit affordable enough as a close-out I couldn’t resist trying it. That worked so well I wondered if Gungnir would be as big a step up, so I bought one.
Gungnir delta-sigma proved to be good enough I wanted to try the multi-bit version, so off it went to California for more bits. But, of course, I couldn’t do a proper comparison since I no longer had a delta-sigma. So, I bought another delta-sigma and here we are.
What I Listened to: My Gungnirs are in my living room system:
PC using JRiver Media Center -> Gungnir -> Sys -> Aegir.
The Aegir powers either my HiFiMAN HE-500 or Stax SRD-7/ SR Lambda head phones. I’ve had the former for ten years or so and the latter for a couple of years, so both are familiar, long-term references for me.
First impressions: My first impressions are the reason I decided to buy another Gungnir and write about this face-off. OK, sure, my Gungnir was gone for five weeks or so getting bitted-up, so once it came back, any comparisons I could do were from memory. Be that as it may, contrary to the majority of folk who have voiced their opinions, I wasn’t wowed by the Gungnir multi-bit. The vast majority of the music I was listening to: rock, pop and jazz with electric and electronic instruments, didn’t prove to be good vehicles for judging the differences between the units. I needed some concentrated listening to music played with acoustic instruments.
Soundstage: All of my time with my Gungnirs is spent with head phones. Sound staging is not something I’m good at judging when listening to head phones. I miss too many spatial cues.
I’ll dispense with most of the discussion about frequency response. Here are a couple of things I noticed:
- Cymbals rendered by the delta-sigma are a bit more artificial-sounding compared to the multi-bit card to my ear. It’s not that the top end is offensive or fatiguing, but more bits equals “more smoother”, more shimmer instead of more brassy metallic sound (and not in a good way).
- The delta-sigma is sharper in the mids, to me distractingly so. Unfortunately, there’s a peak which emphasized those notes in a biting way. It brought back memories of staying away from metal dome tweeters during the ‘90s because I didn’t like “hot treble”. In addition, the upper mids and highs were a bit shallower, more brittle sounding when reduced to one bit than when reproduced by a chorus of bits.
- Multi-bit bass was stronger and fuller than delta-sigma bass. The difference is, most of the time to me, subtle, but it’s there.
I found two albums quite telling while I was comparing these two DACs head-to-head. The first was Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert. Through the multi-bit version, Keith’s piano was more whole-sounding. I could hear the strike of the hammer, the initial fundamental and then, as the note decayed, I could hear the fundamental bloom into all the harmonics and overtones as well as blend with the resonance of the sound board. All this happening with a sense of left-to-right placement across the full width of the key board. With the delta-sigma variation, the notes simply weren’t as full or as detailed. The transient and decay were there, but much of the harmonic bloom and resonance were missing. In addition, with the stronger bass of the multi-bit version, Keith’s rhythm was easier to hear through the melody of his right-hand playing.
The second album was the soundtrack for Blade Runner: 2049. This album dispelled any doubt for me: Gungnir multi-bit has stronger, more nuanced, more detailed bass than Gungnir delta-sigma. I really think the multi-bit has bass up in level a bit compared to the delta-sigma. But more than that, there is more weight, more impact, more life at the music’s foundation.
Conclusion: In a nutshell: Gungnir multi-bit > Gungnir delta-sigma > Bifrost I multi-bit > Modi multi-bit. I’ve not heard a Modi delta-sigma, and I’ve said numerous times Gungnir has satisfied my curiosity and I am not interested in Yggdrasil anymore. Not that I think Yggdrasil is not an improvement over Gungnir, I’m sure it is. Even without hearing it, though, I am confident the extras brought by Yggdrasil would either be inaudible to me, or not important to me. Gungnir represents the highest I am willing to climb on the curve of diminishing returns.
Now that is out of the way, here is my reasoning. I’ve listened to my son’s Modi multi-bit from time to time and it’s great. My Bifrost I multi-bit is greater. There is a noticeable increase in dimensionality to the music, more nuance, more detail. Music is more complete, a bass-to-treble increase in detail and richness. Making the step up to Gungnir delta-sigma brought not so much detail as refinement. Gungnir’s treble is smoother than Bifrost’s (remember, Bifrost I...). Bifrost’s is extended, but a bit harsher, a bit more fatiguing. Similarly, bass isn’t as even, either in response or in timbre, from Bifrost as from Gungnir. To me, Bifrost I emphasized low bass over mid-bass which gives it the power I like so much. But Gungnir has more even bass level from the low midrange all the way down to subterranean rumble. Add to that the smoothness of the sound as well as more realized, fleshed-out notes, and Gungnir has more to offer. Gungnir multi-bit adds even a touch more of the latter to what the delta-sigma version brings. I think the Gungnir is a worthwhile upgrade over Bifrost I multi-bit. If I am “just listening”, Gungnir is smoother and is fatigue free. However, if I am listening more critically the extra details are there for me to hear.
Delta-sigma versus multi-bit for me is a harder question. Spoiler: I’m going to keep my multi-bit. But looking at it from a value perspective makes for a harder analysis. Gungnir delta-sigma is good enough that with a bit of time and “brain burn” I didn’t miss the multi-bit sound very much. And let’s face it, the cost of the extra bits is pretty steep compared to the delta-sigma version. Even more true now with the used prices of Gungnir delta-sigma.
I’ve been asked “the value question” directly in the here in this thread, so here it is: if you want the most detail available but cannot or do not want to afford an Yggdrasil, Gungnir multi-bit offers more than either Bifrost I multi-bit or Gungnir delta-sigma. To me, especially if you listen primarily to “small group” music, multi-bit shows its capabilities even more than if you prefer large ensembles. The more complex the arrangements got, the more the differences between the Gungnir multi-bit and delta-sigma got lost to me. For others, though, it may me exactly the opposite: the complexity of music played by dozens of instruments may be exactly when the greater detail of the multi-bit shines. Those are my two cents.
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Schiit Gungnir DAC
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