Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up
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golfbravobravo

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It was in the fine print of the surrender agreement at Yorktown. 😜
It must be something to do with being a prison colony. The Aussies also took Rugby and corrupted it into something different :wink:
 
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Audiophonics in France makes the ready to use RaspTouch devices with different DAC's or you can buy a DIY kit for € 115,00
RaspTouch info and a video about the product. Youtube RaspTouch video
 
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Pietro Cozzi Tinin

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@Jason Stoddard I have a question for your Wednesday Schiitr meet.

With the availability of certain tube types decreasing every year and becoming more costly, what do you see for the future of tube amplifiers?
All types used by Schiit are available newly made.
 
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With the help of a penguin I suspect.
I thought we agreed a few dozen posts ago that they had all been eaten by Polar Bears......
 
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I can't tell if you're serious or just joking.
I built one myself and I don't see how it would be a problem.
But then I know what I'm doing, so there is that…

JJ
Twas a (bad) joke...
 
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Roon would do everyone, including themselves, a big favor by releasing a Progressive Web App client. A PWA client could work well enough if properly developed. It would most likely mean having a lightweight web server option bundled with Roon Core, but that's not exactly rocket science these days.

I don't run Windows or MacOS either (but do use an Android phone).
A web interface would be nice, one thing I loved about Volumio was that I were able to control it from my laptop via a web browser.
 
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2020, Chapter 12:
It’s Never That SImple


Okay, time for another business-focused chapter.

Or, if you’re being grandiose, maybe you can extend this to being a general life-philosophy-big-picture-theory-of-everything kind of deal, but I ain’t the kind of dood who gets paid millions to tell you how easy things really are, how you can make bank working like 4 minutes a day or whatever.

Aside: and the word “simple” is a great example of what I’m talking about. I lost my notes for this chapter, so I spent a while re-creating them with a title of “It’s Never That Easy.” But as I typed, I felt less and less comfortable. Because “easy” wasn’t what I was shooting at. I almost scrapped the whole chapter before I found the original note, with the correct title of “It’s Never That Simple.” Then everything fell into place. One word difference…one word that many people would say is equivalent to the other…but no, it wasn’t right.

Or, repeat after me: It’s never that simple.

So what am I on about? Lots of things.

If you’ve been involved in a business, you may already know what I’m talking about. A customer saying, “Just change this one thing, how hard can it be?” A 15-minute video shoot that somehow becomes three hours. Moving one hole in a sheetmetal design, then discovering you moved it in the wrong direction—at the exact moment when you receive the parts as the new run of boards come in…thereby screwing you out of finished goods for a good 6-8 weeks as the parts have to be re-done. Deciding it’s time to incorporate that one firmware change…which fixes the problem and then causes a bunch of other stuff to break.

Again, repeat after me, with, like, periods for emphasis: It’s. Never. That. Simple.

It’s funny. Sometimes I read forums about products other than audio, and the posters will ask a manufacturer—a big manufacturer, say, a car manufacturer—to make a “small” change in their new product. Because it’s sooooooo easy. Because it’s soooooooooooo simple. Because anyone could have anticipated their request…
…and I have to hold back my instinctive response.

So, here’s a product they spent billions of dollars on. Design long done. Tooling done. Line spooled up. Firmware complete. Bugs largely stamped out. There’s a huge sense of relief in the company that this new product is finally coming off the line…

…and you want changes?

Are you kidding me?

Do you know how much work this was?

Do you know how many late nights?

Do you know what we had to overcome?


And yes, I know, it may be a perfectly reasonable request. It may even be so obvious that the engineer slaps themselves on the head and says, “What, why didn’t I think of that.” But getting a product to production is a ton of work, requires clearing a lot of hurdles, and engenders a lot of pride in the team involved.

In short, it’s their baby. And you’re saying their baby is ugly.

“So you’re saying we should never ask for any changes, huh?” someone says.

No. Not at all. It’s just, you don’t know what path led them there. Or what constraints they were under.

Again, again: it’s never that simple.

“Well, I can’t see the benefit to a rational business from saying ‘it’s never that simple,” someone says. “Sounds defeatist. Nothing would ever happen if everyone thought that way!”

Absolutely right.

“So what’s the point of this chapter?” that same someone asks.

I grin.

Because I didn’t add the corollary in the title. Let’s do that now:

It’s never that simple. But it’s almost always worth doing.

Better?

Cool. Let’s turn it up a bit more.

It’s never that simple, but it’s almost always worth doing. The challenge is to balance both sides of this statement. And the challenge changes depending on how old your company is.

"Changes with age?" you might ask. "What are you on about, Stoddard? I don't know of anything that changes with age. I feel exactly the same as I did when I was 16!"

Yeah. Uh-huh. Moving on...


Young, Dumb, and Full of...er, Confidence

Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about businesses here. When a business is new, nothing is impossible. Or at least it is if the business has a chance of succeeding.

Seriously, guys—if you think something is too hard to do, or impossible, when you start up, don’t even bother.

No. Seriously. If you don’t have infinite confidence, you aren’t in right business. This isn’t a silly “passion” thing. This is just common sense. If you’re excited about something, everything’s going to seem possible.

And when you’re young, dumb, and full of confidence, everything can seem simple, because you’re looking at it through fresh and un-jaded eyes. The fact that nothing is ever that simple hasn’t sank in yet.

And that’s your superpower.

That is, if you can just master one thing: delivery.

As in, if you say you’re gonna do the impossible, you damn well better deliver it.

If you say you’re gonna deliver their new brochure layout tomorrow, it better damn well be tomorrow…and not at 11:59PM, because they’ve given up on you by then. Better in the morning, before the corporate grind has worn them down. Heck, they may need to pick up the kids at 3PM, so even if you’re counting on the end of the corporate day, you might be boned if they light out early.

If you say you’re gonna have 1000 pairs of cables for them by March 15, it better be March 15, or better, 14th or 13th or even earlier, because on the 16th the beancounters come out and roast you alive, and that’s the end of orders for you, forever.

If you say you have an amazing new design for a DAC for them, you’d better deliver what you’re promising, and expect to back it up with tweaks to address any problems in the design before it goes to market—no disappearing on vacation after you’ve made a deal for production.

If you say you’ve been in contact with actual real Venusians and they have given you a space/time ship full of solid gold bricks piloted by Leonardo da Vinci, you better be able to hand out 70-lb lumps of gold as samples and have Leonardo show up for crappy sushi at a tech bros dinner.

Hyperbole?

No. I’ve lived it.

I went to Sumo with almost no knowledge of audio—and doubled the size of their line, at higher quality, in new markets, in less than 24 months. I did this by promising the impossible…then working the hundred-hour weeks (sometimes at the same time as our speaker company) needed to make it happen.

I started Centric with no knowledge of marketing and advertising, and built the largest marketing agency in our area that lasted 20 years (that’s like 385 in dog years) and did a whole lot of first-in-class stuff, including tons of internet, social, and virtual projects, by promising the impossible and working really really really hard—the first years were harder than Sumo by far.

And, I started Schiit from a garage…and you know the rest of that story.

In every case, we were young dumb and full of confidence. We promised what most people considered impossible…and then delivered on it.

And a lot of what we promised, we figured was pretty simple.

I mean, how hard could a new low-power amp be for Sumo (well, hard enough it completely changed the way we designed amps). I mean, how hard could doing an ad or two be (well, very hard in an industry in transition from the old ways to completely digital workflow), or a website or two (very hard in 1994, thank you), or the world’s first online leasing site for Compaq or social media for Batman or a virtual experience for HP, I mean how hard could they be?

Well, it turned out that every single one of those was very, very complex. The antithesis of simple. And yet we made them happen. Because they were all a ton of fun. We loved doing them.

But, as Centric (the ad agency) learned more, and as the business matured, we got more cautious.

Stuff we used to tell the account managers would be dead easy started getting caveated. As in, “Well, yeah, but it’s not that simple.” Clients would want what they considered to be simple changes, and we’d have to confer with programming staff, and there would be dark mutterings.

I know it used to drive our account management staff insane. “Why does it have to be this complicated?” they’d cry. “Why can’t we just do this?”

And then we (the creative and programming side) would have to try to explain what kind of cascading broken insanity might be caused by such a “simple” change, staring down the well of code and creative possibilities, and knowing another “simple” change (or several) might be coming down the line. This explanation would have to include (for the 75th time) many of the baseline assumptions of technical and creative development, stuff you think the accounts people would have already assimilated over the years of their careers.

And that’s when the business started to become less exciting.

What was always true—that it’s never that simple—became painful.

We were no longer young dumb and full of confidence. We could see the whole picture. And the whole picture was big. And messy. And maybe, well, not worth doing.
And that’s why I don’t do marketing anymore.

But let me tell you…if you find a business you really love, one where nothing seems impossible, one where you’re willing to work as hard and long as necessary to deliver on your promises…nothing can be more exciting than that. It’s well-worth doing. It may be the best thing you ever do.

But, if you’re in a young business, remember one thing: deliver on your promises…even if they are far more complex than you ever imagined.

Do so, and you’re on the path to success.


Old, Wise, and Straight Outta Gumption

As a company ages, you get more perspective. And, by “perspective,” I mean, you’ve had many “learning experiences.” Or, in plain-speak, you’ve been boned.

Now, this boning may have been nobody’s fault but your own—over-promising will get you there in a big hurry. Or it could be something completely beyond your control—new versions of mobile software or browsers have a tendency to break things. Or it could be a combination.

But, over the years, you have learned: it’s never that simple.

As your company ages, you’re now much more apt to give a knowing, sidewise glance to someone who asserts that a project is “a piece of cake.” You’re quicker with the snarky, cutting remarks when things start going awry. You’re waiting for the hammer to drop, for the walls of the universe to fall away and reveal unimaginable complexity, so you can shake your head and think sadly to yourself, It’s never ever ever ever ever that simple.

And that’s when things get dangerous.

Because, in your age and wisdom, it’s easy to decide that if it’s never going to be easy, it’s probably not worth doing.

Better to stay the course. Better to keep doing what’s working. Better to make just small changes, to minimize the chances of something going awry. Hell, maybe better to have someone else work on it. Maybe better to simply stop doing anything, period. Sell the business and be done.

And that’s 100% the wrong conclusion.

That’s the conclusion that gets us to the place where the vast majority of big companies are—mediocre, boring, benchmarked in lockstep to a gray and utterly uninteresting future, helmed by people who only get hard at the thought of big quarterly numbers, blinding the most visionary employees in a haze of paranoia and paperwork.

A grim depiction? Maybe.

But, to me, when companies usually use all of their competitors products as comparisons when they come up with some new gadget, I think it’s accurate. Everyone is nervously eyeing everyone else, and nobody is looking at the future.

And that’s the end result of realizing it’s never that simple.

In realizing it’s never that simple, these gray, zombie companies have lost sight of the corollary: but it’s almost always worth doing.

It’s never that simple, yes. You may not end up where you expected, absolutely. You may even find yourself (metaphorically) out in the middle of the swamp with a sinking rental car and an iPhone with zero bars.

But in the process, what have you discovered?

Everything that Schiit has done, including the most pointed of “it’s never that simple” projects (like the first Asgard, Ragnarok 1, Unison USB, and Sol) have led to new vistas. New ideas. Better products.

More importantly, it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

And, even more importantly, it’s getting even more entertaining. Schiit engineering has more to do than ever before—but it’s out of choice, rather than out of necessity. As of today, we have 23 active projects on the board, some slated for production, some complete and ready for production (but not all may make it there), some in development, and some wild butt-hairs that may or may not end up higher on the board.

“Sounds pretty frenetic,” someone says, using a nice big 50-cent word (or, with inflation, maybe more like a $10 word these days.)

Sounds like it, but isn’t, I reply.

The number of projects ensures we always have something to work on, and the no-pressure aspect of the development means we’re free to abandon them, table them, pursue something else, or add to the list. Hell, I just pulled back into development a project that was 4 years old to get it to completion, because we finally figured out how to make it work (in the process of working on a lot of other projects.) Many projects get started, and then sit for 6-12 months on the shelf, waiting for inspiration. Some are abandoned and never make it. Some charge straight to fruition (I’m working on something, for example, that is less than a week old, and may be in production in early 2021—but of course this is based on something else that took all year to get squared away.)

Aside: and ya gotta remember, there are 4 people in engineering here…me, Ivana, Mike, and Dave. I put Ivana first this time because she does a lot of the heavy lifting, the actual algorithms and implementation into code. Dave does a lot of everything, from implementation to firmware to analog. Mike is the digital systems guy. He needs Ivana and Dave to help. I am the lone analog guy, but analog is something easier to deal with on a crazy-lone-inventor basis (and a lot of the stuff I do doesn’t work, so there you go.) The important thing is that we all have freedom to pick from a wide variety of projects, we meet regularly, and we abandon about as much as we put into production. It’s a great balance. And it keeps us on the “but it’s almost always worth it,” frequency.

“Almost always worth it,” someone says. “What about the ‘almost?’ Be specific.”

Okay, fine. I’ll share a specific anecdote. This is another project that was a rocketship. It went from idea to board to finished prototype to APx555 in about a week. And there it died.

What project? The Magni Heresy+, of course.

What’s a Magni Heresy+? Well, if you know Magnius, you know we’re using the TPA6120A2 as its output stage in a compound amplifier topology, and it works well. And, one TPA6120A2 with four feedback resistors is a whole lot simpler than 8 OPA1688s and 16 summing resistors.

So, the thought was, “Cool, let’s see if we can do a Magni Heresy like that.”

Simple.

The board layout took maybe an hour. Stuffing the board took about the same, because it had so few parts on it.

Running it on the APx…yeah, cool, the steady-state 1V measurements were better than Heresy. Maybe we could do a Heresy+ that was even less expensive than Heresy!
Except…

Whah-wuh. Sad trombone on the power output. The Heresy+ with TPA6120A2 had only about half the power output of Magni Heresy.

Whaaaaaa?

Aside: it’s never that simple. He he.

You see, the OPA1688s are happy to do what they call ‘rail to rail’ output just fine, all the time. Meaninfg they can swing very near their power supply on the output. And they are +/-18V parts. So we run them at almost 17V and they do really, really well.

But the TPA6120A2 is a +/-15V part. And it’s not rail to rail. So, all in all, you’re losing not just the 6V of swing between 36V and 30V, but more like 11V, because it’s not rail to rail.

11V is huge.

Giant.


Hence half the power output.

Hence, that’s a product that died right there. Maybe only a week of dev, and dead. Because I’m not going to bring out a Magni Heresy with half the power of the old one, even if I could shave ten bucks off of it. It’s already the best value in measurement amps, and it does it without having to have it made in low-wage countries. So it stays, unchanged.

Aside: even if it had worked, it might have gone on the shelf for a good long time. It’s probably too early to do a new Magni Heresy, and who knows what might happen in a year?

So, if you’re worried about us descending into gray mediocrity, where Immortan Joe will not lead us personally to Valhalla, fret not: we’re gonna continue trying wacky new stuff, and deploying it when it makes sense.

I mean, consider literally everything we’ve done:

Multibit DACs: the smart money would have been Sabre at the time. Nope.
Ragnarok 1: an intelligent person would have done a simple power amp, rather than trying to reinvent the whole genre. Yeah, well, cool.
Unison USB™: come on, why not use XMOS?
Discrete: obsolete, like affordable prices, tubes, made in USA, and pride of manufacture. Yep.
Nexus™: why not just slap a differential op-amp in there? Yeah, you crazy.
Sol: are you kidding me, why even bother with such a thing?

And on and on and on. We’re still noodling on Gadget tech, we’re still playing with crazy equalizers, we have a half-dozen probably really stupid ideas…
…and some will come to fruition.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, will be simple. Ever.

Because it’s never that simple.


So What Does This Mean To Me?

Well, whether or not you’re going to start a business, realizing it’s never that simple can help you in many ways.

If you’re young and full of, er, enthusiasm, it can be a good reminder that you may not be seeing the whole picture, and that, even if you think it is dead-easy, there may be hidden gotchas that will trip you up.

Or, if you’re straight outta gumption, the corollary: that it’s almost always worth doing, can be a reminder of why you got into this, and that you may discover many interesting things along the way.

Or it may be a rallying cry to start your own business.

In which case, it’s never that simple, but it’s almost always worth doing can be useful at all stages of the company’s growth.

When you’re a young company, and everything seems simple, your danger is simply hanging your ass out too far over the void. If you overpromise and underdeliver too many times, you’re done. So maybe it isn’t the worst idea to have someone older and more broken…er, I mean, wise—give you some input before you hang yourself. Or not. They may be too cynical. Trust your gut. You’ve been warned.

And when you’re an old company, running the risk of becoming hidebound and zombified, maybe you need a younger perspective. Don’t be afraid of young people. There are a fair number that are smarter than you are. Yes. Seriously. Yes, in this millennial age. Or maybe you just need to get the team together in a non-work environment, where they are comfortable and relaxed, to get the real insight you need.

Aside: Hel and Fulla 3, for example, came about largely due to gatherings at a local brewery. Yes. Seriously. Open your mind and your ass will follow, as Eddie says.

And yeah, I know, easier said than done on going to a brewery in this COVID age. But sanity will return, opportunities will present themselves, and maybe you’ll want to start your own audio company. And then, just remember: it’s never that simple…

…but it’s almost always worth doing.
 
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All types used by Schiit are available newly made.
I've had such bad luck with vintage tubes (they become noisy in less than a year) that I'm sticking with current production tubes this time around.
 
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@Jason Stoddard I have a question for your Wednesday Schiitr meet.

With the availability of certain tube types decreasing every year and becoming more costly, what do you see for the future of tube amplifiers?
That's a great question. Please send it to denise@schiit.com or bring it up live if the time is convenient to you.
 
Schiit Audio Stay updated on Schiit Audio at their sponsor profile on Head-Fi.
 
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Jason,

Are you saying that its not simple to make the Ragnarok RCA cards fit in Asgard and other modular amps? If I begged you offline and promised not to tell anyone could I take my luck with it? Its literally the perfect solution to my setup.
 
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Great chapter, and right on the money. Literally. For the last 40 years of my life whenever a client/manager/CEO says, "Yea but, why not add X, Y or Z?" or "Wonderful, now can it be green?" my reply has been a quick seat-of-pants estimate of how much more time, manpower and money that might cost. If the checkbook comes out then BOOM, off we go in the new direction. If not, then sign, seal, deliver and what's next?
 

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