May 20, 2015 at 11:11 AM
- Jul 7, 2013
- Reaction score
- Jul 7, 2013
2015, Chapter 9:
Hints, Teases, and Solicitations
Ready for something completely different? How about some info on what we’re working on (or at least thinking about)?
Wait. Relax. This won’t be a laundry list of what’s coming next, nor will it be all-inclusive. That would kinda defeat the whole purpose of me yelling, “Don’t talk about stuff until it’s done,” over and over again, wouldn’t it? Nor will it have estimated release dates, extensive and imaginary spec lists, or even any guarantees what I’m talking about here will ever be turned into a product.
Which is why this chapter is called, “Hints, Teases, and Solicitations.”
Note the “and solicitations.” If you have input on what we’re considering, or thoughts that go in another direction, we’d love to hear what you think.
But before we go into the “what-ifs, maybes, and pipe dreams,” let’s do two things first:
- Talk about where we are now.
- Talk about stuff we won’t be doing.
Where We Are Now
Schiit, today, has a wide range of headphone amp and DAC products, together with a single speaker amp, a phono preamp, a dongle DAC/amp, a simple passive preamp, and a kinda-unclassifiable weird USB decrapification device. Prices range from $49 to $2299. That’s a hell of a line, for a company that started only 5 years ago and has been entirely self-funded through operations.
Arguably, the line may be a little too big and sprawling. But it does break down pretty well into small, medium, large, and XL products (Magni 2/Modi 2, Asgard 2/Bifrost, Mjolnir/Gungnir, Ragnarok/Yggdrasil.) Each serves a niche, and each has showed increasing sales, even in the absence of serious updates to some of them.
It would be perfectly good to sit back, cross our arms, and say, “Well, there you go, let’s keep improving what we have, and call it good.”
- We have only a single speaker-capable amp.
- We don’t have any traditional stereo preamps.
- We have no multichannel products.
- We have no portable products.
- We have no wireless products.
- Hell, we don’t even have any remote frigging controls!
- And no, we don’t have any app-driven, internet-of-things, self-aware, Skynet-making stuff silently blinking on a dev desk…
And we have a pretty neat technology portfolio that includes:
- Extensible relay-switched stepped attenuation that has glitch muting and very robust code.
- Robust microprocessor-controlled “intelligent” amplifier management.
- Unique closed-form digital filter algorithms based on non-Parks-McClellan mathematics, implemented on a cost-effective DSP platform.
- Unique and proven interface between the digital filter algorithm above and multi-bit D/A converters.
- Most advanced adaptive clock regeneration system around, no buzzword bingo required (ask atomicbob for the jitter plots of Yggy after it’s warmed up if they’re not posted here).
- Extensive experience with cross-shunt push-pull (Circlotron) amplifier design, a true balanced, differential stage.
- A unique, dynamically adaptive output stage (from Lyr.)
- And a couple of things I can’t talk about yet… (there’s the tease).
If you look at our current technology portfolio, it might provide some roadsigns to where we’re going. Or not. Because for everything we’re “missing” in the line, we have to ask ourselves:
- Does it matter?
- If it matters, can we do it better/cheaper?
- Are we excited about working on it?
For example, we don’t have a traditional 2-channel line of separate power amps and preamps. And our technology portfolio—specifically, intelligent amp management and relay-switched stepped attenuators—perfectly supports the development of such a line.
But does it matter? Well, maybe. There are a lot of amps and preamps out there. How do we do it better and cheaper? Amps are a difficult proposition. Preamps less so…but I’m getting ahead of myself. And ignoring the most important question.
Because, believe it or not, #3 is more and more the arbiter of what we do.
What We Won’t Do
Okay, I’ve said this before, but for the sake of any new readers (and easy reference), there are a few things we have exactly zero interest in. Here they are:
- Transducers. Also known as headphones, speakers, and “them things that actually vibrate and produce sound.” We’re not experts in transducers, and we don’t see what value we can bring to the market without a long, extensive learning curve and mucho development time. And we’re not going to simply go to another manufacturer and say, “Can you slap a Schiit logo on this bad boy so we can sell ‘em as our own?” So, no headphones and no speakers.
- Surround/Multichannel Audio. Mike went there, and metaphorically got his leg gnawed off by a grizzly. Today, it’s an even more complex and ever-changing morass of proliferating standards (Dolby, DTS, Auro, blah blah) and connectivity (HDMI 2.0 at the moment, but who knows about the future?) So, no multichannel, no surround.
- DAPs. When you’re sitting on the subway or working in a noisy open-plan office, do you really need much more than a smartphone and a pair of efficient headphones? This is not a rhetorical question…I’m serious. Are $99-499 DAPs really that much better than phones in real-world use? Are there good reasons for carrying $1,000-$3,500 devices around in your backpack or briefcase? Are there use cases that I’m overlooking? I’m ready to listen, but at the moment, enthusiasm for a product like this is so low that I don’t think we’ll ever do one.
What We’re Playing With, Thinking About, or Otherwise Dreaming Of
Okay, now that I’ve dashed the hopes of anyone wishing for Schiit headphones, speakers, surround processors, AVRs, or DAPs, take heart! Because there’s a ton of stuff we still keep glancing at and wondering, “Hmm, should we do something here?”
Let’s talk about some of them, starting with our traditional headphone market. Our line here is pretty solid, with some notable exceptions.
- Portable amp or DAC/amp. Hmm. This is one I spent a lot of time on last year and ended up abandoning, mainly because I couldn’t answer Question #2 well enough—that is, how do we do it better or cheaper? This is something I could still get behind, though, if we figure out a way to make it unique enough. And we have some ideas…but those ideas point towards a relatively large device with very high power output and some unique takes on power supply and topology (discrete.) So we’ll keep playing. Which is where I’d ask…would you be interested in a larger-than-normal portable amp/DAC that provides truly stellar performance? I’d assume that iOS and Android connectivity (self-powered USB input) would be a must, but let me know what you think.
- DAC upgrades. Mike already said that customers who’ve purchased our upgradable DACs will be rewarded with technology from Yggdrasil at some point in the future. As will new purchasers, of course. I can’t set a timetable for these product/upgrade introductions, nor can I set prices…but I can say that Yggy isn’t the last superburrito product you’ll see from us.
- Combined desktop DAC/amp. We still get asked about this all the time. We actually have tons of DAC/amps. They’re called Magni 2/Modi 2, Asgard 2/Bifrost, etc, etc. This separation of DAC and amp allow you to choose a combination that best fits your needs, to avoid the obsolescence of an embedded DAC inside an amp. If we come up with a solution that sidesteps the obsolescence problem and doesn’t have problems with digital noise in the analog amp section, sure, maybe there’s something there. What do you think?
Now, let’s look at the “2 channel” world. In other words, speaker stuff. This may seem like the most likely thing we’d get into. But it isn’t. Why? Because we’re not super excited about it. One of the biggest things keeping us out of 2-channel is deciding what we want to do with speaker amps (if anything). Because, like it or not, they’re the foundation of a 2-channel system. Or does it matter? Could we just do preamps and call it a day? You tell me.
- Speaker amps. The hardest thing here is doing something meaningful…for a non-eye-bleeding price. Do we shoot above Emotiva (in price) with big, heavy, impressive boxes filled nifty circlotron designs and intelligent amp management? Or do we try to go head-to-head with this behemoth price-wise, but with smaller and more efficient amplifier designs (think small Class AB, not D, think fan)? Neither approach is particularly appealing. Above Emotiva, there’s about ten billion small manufacturers, all with their own spin…and some with very compelling products. At Emotiva, well, there’s Emotiva. Would something that doesn’t look big and impressive sell well against their iron? I don’t know. If you have thoughts, I’ll be glad to listen.
- Preamps. Okay, now we’re talking. I can see opportunities for remote-controlled, relay-switched stepped attenuator preamps—passive, active, tube, etc. There’s a shortage of good affordable products at this price point, and I think we can really make some cool stuff here. But do they fly without amps? Is the remote a BLE module and smartphone app, or old-skool proprietary RF? (No thanks on IR, not huge fans here.) Still a lot of stuff to work out, but there’s something here. What would you like to see?
- Music server. Argh. Yeah, I know, some of you want a non-computer-style server that still takes USB drives and SD cards and Wifi audio and stuff. But do you know what you call that? A computer. No matter how you slice it, a modern music server is a computer. It may have a lot of computer-y stuff hidden, but it’s still either an embedded Linux or Windows box. This means software development, support, maintenance releases, software/firmware upgrades, etc. That’s a big undertaking to do it right. We’re currently glancing in the direction of these things, but that’s about it. Would it be better to simply do a super-uber-mega-USB-reformatter that “perfects” the USB packets and timing (which vary significantly from platform to platform, and even computer to computer) that could be used with any computer?
- Wireless audio. Bluetooth, nope. Not until it’s capable of uncompressed streaming. WiFi, hmm…but we’d need RFID to allow easy pairing…lots of questions here. Let’s just say we’re playing at the moment. But is it really so hard running some cables?
And, a wildcard.
Should we be looking at an analog-to-digital converter using the same megaburrito filter as Yggdrasil? Mike did it once, for insane prices (see Mobile Fidelity’s GAIN system (not GAIN 2). Yes, there are actually a bunch of GAIN CDs out there that were mastered with a complementary algorithm to Yggdrasil. They’re, um, pretty insane. Should we do that again? But again, that gets us into an entirely different market…the pro market…which we know very little about.
And A Final Question
Running down the same old tracks and trying to keep up with the Joneses will get us nowhere fast. There’s a ton of stuff I’m missing (and a couple of imminent things I can’t talk about). But, to help us try to figure out what we’re missing, can I ask you one question?
What’s the one thing you dislike most about your current audio system?
If you have a few moments, indulge me. I’d appreciate it!