Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up
Jul 25, 2016 at 7:50 AM Post #11,672 of 83,153

Trerit

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Hope everyone remains well. It may be useful to know that N95 rated face masks are available from Home Depot. I find them useful to reduce irritation when traveling to smokey areas(china/India).

I used to wear one in pink when i was working as a security guard along with a tight pink t-shirt. They work great! 
 
For those who wonder. The pink think makes big scary security men less intimidating to talk to for kids instead of the usual black attire.. and a lot easier to spot xD
 
Jul 25, 2016 at 10:58 AM Post #11,673 of 83,153
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2016 Chapter 10: Because We Can
 
Answering the question of "why a Modi Multibit?" seemed difficult at first. I mean, what other high-end audio company would introduce a significantly downmarket product—one using its flagship technology—only a year after that technology debuted?
 
It does sound a little crazy, doesn't it?
 
Then I realized...well, for us, it isn't crazy at all. It's what we do. Like some other high-end companies might charge more for a product "because that's what the market will bear,” or other audio companies refuse to "jeopardize their brand reputation with low-priced products,” period. That’s what they do.
 
This is a choice we make: to develop new technology (or at least new, unique platforms) and disseminate it as widely as possible.
 
We do this because we think that you shouldn't have to spend a ton of money to get great sound. We do this because we think that the more people who can enjoy great sound, the better. We do this because more people in the market benefits everyone.
 
(And yeah, I gotta admit: we also do it, at least in part, because it makes some organizations out there a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit unsettled. It makes them feel like the audiophile world is moving on, changing, and becoming something they never expected it to be. And, honestly, if you told me, back in 1992, that I'd one day be selling a true Multibit DAC with a closed-form digital filter on a powerful DSP engine for $145—the 1992 equivalent of $249—I would have told you that you're barking mad, it would never happen…so yeah, the world is changing.)
 
Or, to sum up, why do we do a Modi Multibit?
 
Because we can.
 
 
The Road to Modi Multibit
 
Now, this isn't to say that the process of multibitting the Modi was easy, straightforward, and fun. Unlike all of our other Multibit DACs, this one was a bit of a lark. We'd never designed the Modi expecting that we'd one day turn it into a Multibit DAC, so the conversation started as a joke.
 
"Now you just have to do a Modi Multibit, and the line is complete," I told Mike and Dave, shortly after they showed me the first working Bifrost Multibit board.
 
(And this was a total jest—I hadn't expected the fact that Mike planned for a Bifrost Multibit, so that one was already a bit of a shock. The idea that we could cram all the guts of a Bifrost Multibit into a box the size of a Modi was 100% blue sky.)
 
I expected our two digital maestros to respond with nervous laughter. Instead, they surprised me by exchanging knowing looks.
 
"Weeeeeelllll," Dave said.
 
"We've been thinking about that," Mike finished for him.
 
"What?" I said, mouth hanging open like someone who'd just been told cigarettes are full of vitamin C and prevent cancer.
 
"It might be possible," Mike said. "It depends on how good Dave's layout skills are."
 
"Wait a sec," I said. "Are you telling me we might be able to have a Modi Multibit?"
 
Mike nodded, giving me his signature Schiit-eating grin.
 
"As in, a real Multibit DAC?"
 
"Right."
 
"Not with the closed-form digital filter," I said. Because that was completely nuts. Totally impossible. Mike must be thinking about using a sample rate converter, like he'd talked about doing with Bifrost Multibit, early in the process.
 
"Yes, with the burrito filter," Mike said, using his verbal shorthand for our unique, closed-form digital filter.
 
"Though just a burrito, not a mega burrito," Dave added, meaning that the filter would be like the one in Bifrost Multibit, not the one in Gungnir Multibit or Yggdrasil.
 
"Wow," I said.
 
"It's not done yet," Mike reminded me. "But I think it's doable. It's just that all of the inputs take up a lot of space..."
 
"Wait a sec," I said. Until Mike mentioned "inputs," with an "s," I thought he was talking about something more like a super-Modi—a USB-input-only device, powered by USB. "Are you talking about taking a Modi 2 Uber and making it Multibit?"
 
"Exactly," Mike said, grinning.
 
For a long while, I couldn't say anything. A Modi Multibit with coax, toslink, and USB inputs and the closed-form filter would essentially be a mini Bifrost Multibit. Functionally, it would be 100% the same.
 
What would that do to Bifrost sales? I wondered.
 
"How much could this sell for?" I asked.
 
Mike looked up into the sky and made a show of counting on his fingers, muttering about the additional cost for the DSP, the D/A converter, the support ICs, etc. "Maybe two-fifty," he said, finally.
 
"Two hundred and fifty dollars?"
 
"Right."
 
"What about Bifrost?" Dave asked, echoing my own thoughts.
 
Mike shrugged. "Bifrost isn't disposable. Plus, power supply. Plus, general layout. Plus, modularity. Plus, this hasn't happened yet. Don't count the chickens."
 
Dave and I looked uncertainly at each other. I was OK with the basic idea. What Mike was saying made sense. Even if the Modi Multibit had all the same inputs as Bifrost Multibit, even if it had the same digital filter, it wasn't a future-looking device. It had no upgrade capability at all. When technology changed—a new USB input, a new Multibit D/A converter—well, if you wanted that, you threw away the Modi Multibit, but simply upgraded the Bifrost Multibit. Plus, the power supply in Bifrost Multibit was far and away better than the one in Modi, and always would be. (It's not possible to beat a custom transformer with multiple secondaries, plus many more stages of general and local regulation, plus the fact that the transformer alone was almost 3x the size.)
 
But...
 
But a lot of people would just look at the price. And $249 always beat $599. Period. End of story.
 
Was I okay with that idea? At the time, it made me a bit uneasy.
 
But, as Mike said, it wasn't a done deal. The Modi Multibit could end up stillborn, as many of our projects have been over the years.
 
So, we'll sit back and see, I told myself.
 
 
Modi Multibit Challenges
 
It actually didn't take long for Dave and Mike to show me a green prototype board for the Modi Multibit—and it was every bit as crazy as I expected it to be. Literally every square inch of surface—on both the top and bottom—was packed with parts. It was, by far, the most dense-looking board we've done.
 


Aside: dense-looking? Yes. Dave and Mike prefer to work with larger, more manageable surface-mount resistors and capacitors--in technical parlance, 0805 sized parts—unless a smaller size is dictated by the layout requirements of a fancy part that needs close-coupled bypassing. I tend to shrink the overall components to fit—Fulla, and another upcoming product, freely use 0402 and 0603 parts. 0402 parts are very, very small—but not as small as they could be. There are 0201 and 01005 parts. No thanks—those parts would easily pass through a salt shaker.

Aside aside: So why do Mike and Dave like the bigger parts, and I like the smaller parts? Mike and Dave still like to do a lot of their own prototyping work. When you start getting to 0402 part sizes, it's really, really hard to do any prototypes by hand. It's not impossible, but you quickly start wondering why you didn't just hand it to the assembly house and have them deal with it. 0805 is pretty easy to work by hand. But even Mike and Dave are changing...the proliferation of new parts that have unsolderable lands underneath them (for example, there's a great dual voltage regulator chip that has 14 pins—several of which are completely underneath the part—in a 3 x 3mm square. Yeah. That kind of thing you don't do by hand. You send it to the assembly house and have them use solder paste and a reflow oven. Our DSPs are also very little fun, with a buried power pad that also can't be done by hand. Times are changing, you have to change with them.)


 

At first, all I saw was this crazy dense board—no parts on it. Dave had to have the assembly house put the DSP chip on it, since he couldn't do it by hand, so he had to wait for that...and then do the rest of the assembly.
 
Eventually, Dave had something ready to show us.
 
It looked a lot like most of our prototype boards—covered with flux, with some parts stacked on each other, and some parts flying in the air. In fact, one entire regulator (and its support passives) was tacked to one of the clearer areas of the board, with wires trailing across the board to the place where it was needed.
 
"Regulator got too hot," Dave said. "We needed a second one."
 
Mike and I nodded. That wasn't surprising. The DSP and the industrial-strength D/A converter use more power than the consumer-grade chips they replaced.
 
But Dave still didn't look happy.
 
"It also needs an output mute," he said.
 
Mike and I groaned. This wasn't surprising, given the fact that we weren't using a made-for-audio D/A chip that had nice little functions like soft mute. But it was a pain in the ass. Because an output mute meant a relay, and relays were big. And the board had precious little real estate.
 
"Use one of the NEC relays, a UB2, that's minimum footprint," I told Dave.
 
Dave hadn't used those relays before, so I got him a couple to play with. But even then, looking at the board, it didn't look like he was going to be able to make it fit.
 
"I was thinking," Dave said. "What if we got rid of the microprocessor?"
 
Dave was referring to the Microchip microcontroller we used to manage the input, output, digital filter, and D/A converter in the Bifrost Multibit. It was a relatively large part—over 1/2" on a side.
 
"And replace it with what?" I asked.
 
"The DSP," Mike and Dave said in unison.
 
"Ah, gotcha," I said, realizing that yes, we already had a microprocessor in there--it just happened to be a super-fast digital signal processor (DSP) more commonly used for mathematical operations (like our digital filter). It could also be used for some housekeeping functions, without compromising the digital filter in the slightest.
 
And hey—if Dave thought it could be done, then it was probably doable. He'd have to do the code, in any case.
 
And so, the Modi Multibit board disappeared for a while. And, once again, I had to wonder, So what happens to Bifrost Multibit if this works?
 
Modi Multibit for Real
 
When Mike and Dave came back to me with a Modi Multibit that had only a couple of extra parts hanging off of it, it was very early in 2016. As in, very early. Think February. Sales were still going strong after the holidays--and, inexplicably, even picking up strongly over last year's sales, despite the lack of any new product launches.
 
And, in February, Bifrost Multibit was only 4 months old.
 
Four months isn't a lot. It's longer than a quarter, yes, so some corporate CEOs may sniff and ask, "What have you done for me in this reporting period?" but in the overall scheme of Bifrost, it was only about 1/12 of its total lifetime on the planet.
 
So, the question was: when did we schedule the intro of the Modi Multibit?
 
Or did we do it at all?
 
From the beginning, I figured we'd do it. The question was, when? With a working product in February, we could launch in May at the earliest (factoring in the lead times for metal, boards, parts, scheduling at the assembly house, maybe one minor metal screwup, maybe one minor production glitch, etc...). But of course there was always the chance that one or more parts would be hard (or impossible) to get, and, of course, the chance of a large metal screwup, or a much larger production glitch.
 
"June," Mike said finally, after thinking about it for a bit. "Shoot for June. July, maybe, if it slips."
 
That sounded logical to me. The only thing that was left was to do all of the busywork—the product description, the press release, the product photos, the FAQs, etc, etc...all the usual stuff that's part of a typical product intro, the stuff that nobody thinks about.
 
That's my job.
 
And I like that job—hell, sometimes I write product descriptions and FAQs before the prototypes are even laid out. This is my way of testing the logic of the product. Does it sound compelling enough to buy? Does it make sense? Does it fit with the line? If there are any problems answering these questions, they'll show up when you go to do the copy.
 
I wondered what kind of problems I'd run into with Modi Multibit.
 
It turns out, I shouldn't have worried. Modi Multibit makes total sense—if you look at it from the Schiit perspective. We're not here to toe the line, or to sell things for more 'because that’s what everyone’s doing,' or to fit neatly into a reviewer's box, or (to be blunt) make our competitors feel warm and fuzzy. We started by shaking things up on the desktop, we continued by shaking things up with upgradable DACs, we continued by shaking things up with new ideas like LISST and intelligent amps, continued by shaking things up with Multibit DACs, and so why shouldn't we continue doing exactly the same thing now, by introducing by far the most advanced affordable Multibit DAC?
 


Aside: As I wrote, it struck me just how far Modi Multibit is in advance of other affordable Multibit DACs. Yes, there may be inexpensive offerings out there, but every single one of them either uses obsolete 16-bit "pull" audio DACs and audio digital filters (or are non-over sampling, or NOS). Modi Multibit is the only Multibit DAC that's built on a modern platform, using medical/military grade D/A converters and our own closed-form digital filter running on an Analog Devices DSP chip—and it is, by far, the most advanced thing anywhere near its price, from any company, from any country of origin.

 

And that is why Modi Multibit fits seamlessly into the Modi line, and why it fits seamlessly into our philosophy. Now, you can experience a significant percentage of what makes our Multibit DACs special, for less than the price of some fancy USB decrapifiers. Hell, less than the cost of some USB cables, for that matter.
 
Not a huge believer in Multibit? That's no problem for the Modi line, either. Save $100 and get a Modi 2 Uber, with the same AK4490 D/A converter that's used in products 10-20x it's price. Everybody wins.
 


Aside: Yes, we made a running change from the AK4396 (a great-sounding D/A converter) to the AK4490 (an even better-sounding DAC, in our opinion) in the Modi 2 Uber.
 


Aside aside: And yes, it is Modi Multibit, not Modi 2 Multibit. We decided the names were getting a bit long and unwieldy, so we dropped the "2" from Modi Multibit. Yes, we know that technically means that Modi 2 Uber should be Modi Uber. But that would be confusing. Deal with it. We aren't perfect.

 

 
Hitches, Glitches, and Other Absences
 
Astute readers who are familiar with our past may be asking, "Hey, wait a minute, are you leaving something out? It seems that the development of the Modi Multibit went surprisingly smooth...there were no big screw ups, or panics, or last-minute production showstoppers!"
 
Right. I'm not leaving anything out—there simply weren't any of the usual big hitches or glitches. There were a few parts that took longer than expected to come in, but that's about it. Really boring, when you get right down to it.
 
But that's how you want a production rollout to be: as boring as possible. Exciting production rollouts are very much not good. Because the excitement is never of the positive variety, I'm afraid.
 
Other astute readers may have noticed that boring production rollouts have become pretty typical around here. That's 100% intentional—and that's 100% a good thing. The less strife we have getting things into production, the better we are at bringing things out in a timely, orderly, and non-disruptive fashion. Which means we can concentrate on more products, or improving current products, rather than trying to patch up a bad launch.
 
And yes, I know. Boring launches don't exactly make for exciting stories. However, I hope you're excited about the result—the new Modi Multibit—and I hope you're excited to have us keep shaking things up in the future.
 
Because...well, as game-changing as Modi Multibit is…well, it’s just the beginning this year.
 
Schiit Audio Stay updated on Schiit Audio at their sponsor profile on Head-Fi.
 
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Jul 25, 2016 at 11:18 AM Post #11,676 of 83,153

Netrum

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And i just orderd a bifrost multibit not even a week ago. :p
But i am not sending it back because the bifrost fits better with my asgard.

Love your blog Jason.
Looking forward to the other product reveals :D
 
Jul 25, 2016 at 11:26 AM Post #11,679 of 83,153

DarknightDK

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Great stuff. Looking forward to Schiit's 2 channel releases this year! 
 
Jul 25, 2016 at 11:34 AM Post #11,681 of 83,153

AviP

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I'm going to guess Modi 2 Multibit

I was right!
Oh and I just ordered one 
smile_phones.gif

 
Jul 25, 2016 at 11:58 AM Post #11,682 of 83,153

disastermouse

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You sunzabeeches! As an owner of a Bifrost MB, I don't even care. Kinda psyched that entry level head-fiers will get to hear what I hear.
 
Jul 25, 2016 at 12:04 PM Post #11,684 of 83,153

jfoxvol

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Excellent news.  I've got several budding audiophiles who have heard the multibit gear I own and they are all excited to be able to jump into the hobby that is multibit.  I doubt there will be too much in the way of cannibalizing Bimby, but so much more of people who are in the modi/magni price range who can step up a notch without breaking the bank.  Plus, I'm gonna probably get one for my office.  Space is a concern and the fulla I use may now take a back seat since I can drop my vali on top of this bad boy.
 

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