"Purity Far Beyond My Expectations" – Steve Guttenberg
Fully Upgradable Modular Design 24/192 DAC with USB
Bifrost from Shiit Audio is an affordable fully upgradable DAC, featuring 32-bit D/A conversion, a fully discrete analog section, and a sophisticated bit-perfect clock management system. It has SPDIF coaxial and optical inputs, all with 24-bit, 192 kHz capability. The USB version of the Bifrost has one of the most advanced asynchronous USB 2.0 input sections available.
"The purity of the sound was far beyond my expectations for what this kind of money could buy," raves Steve Guttenberg in his February 27, 2012 review for InnerFidelity.
"The Bifrost delivers. It thus plays outside what its spartan appearance or low price might predict," reports Srajan Ebaen in 6moons.com for February 2012.
"The outstanding difference was that the Bifrost reliably made the soundstage larger in each dimension," notes Roy Furchgott in the September 12, 2012 issue of The New York Times.
"Changing the Level of Entry Level"
"We're changing the level of entry-level," said Mike Moffat, Co-Founder of Schiit Audio. "Low cost shouldn't be an excuse for a throwaway product. In fact, entry-level products are where you want upgradability the most. It lets someone get in and get a taste for what high-end audio can do, and then can grow with their needs."
"Progress is a Wonderful Thing"
"Bifrost offers much higher performance than the last DAC Mike and I collaborated on (the Cobalt 307), has more features and more inputs, and costs only about half as much as the Cobalt," said Jason Stoddard, talking about an iconic DAC that he co-developed with Mike during his Theta Digital days. "And the Cobalt didn't have discrete analog, and wasn't upgradable. Progress is a wonderful thing."
The Future-Proof DAC
Concerned about future advances in D/A conversion? Bifrost's modular design uses a separate DAC/analog card and USB input cards (available with the USB version only). When meaningful upgrades to D/A converters come out, you can add a new DAC/analog card. The cards are snap-in replaceable.
Worried about rapidly-changing USB input technology? If you're opting for the USB version of the Bifrost, when USB technology changes, you can simply add a new, better USB input Card.
The result of this modular approach? A virtually future-proof DAC that won't end up in the dumpster.
AKM4399 DAC and Discrete Analog Section
Even without considering upgradability, Bifrost offers incredible value. A case in point is its AKM4399 32 bit D/A converter, used in DACs costing many times more than Bifrost. The analog section is a fully discrete, low noise JFET design, just like multi-thousand-dollar 'statement' DACs.
Advanced Bitperfect Clock Management
According to Schiit Audio, the ugly truth about most DACs in this price range is that they sacrifice your original music samples to get their magic '192 kHz' spec. Every input is routed through a sample rate converter and upsampled to 24/192. Bifrost dispenses with the sample rate converter and uses a sophisticated master clock management system to deliver bit-perfect data to the DAC, preserving all the original music samples – whether it's 16/44.1 or 24/192.
Want USB? You Can Get It.
The standard version of the Bifrost offers coaxial and optical SPDIF inputs. The slightly more expensive USB version adds a high-speed USB 2.0 interface (not 1.1) and asynchronous data transfer to 24/192, based on the C-Media CM6631 USB receiver. No drivers are required for Macs, and Windows drivers are downloadable for Windows 7, Vista, and XP.
"Schiit’s Bifrost concisely reveals there’s more than one route to happiness on the budget DAC trail. Additional applause goes to Stoddard and Moffat for making it all happen at a USA-based manufacturing facility. Excellent work, chaps."
- John Darko, ToneAudio magazine
"The crowd favorite, it has something rarely found in a $350 DAC: a 32-bit analog processing chip. That helps the converter reconstruct those sound waves better. The Bifrost can also be upgraded, so if USB or processor technology changes, Schiit can install an update."
"The outstanding difference was that the Bifrost reliably made the soundstage larger in each dimension. Ed Dorsey, co-owner of Soundscape, said that switching from the DAC while listening to a CD of 'All Right Now,' a classic rock song by Free, 'was like going from stereo to mono.'"
"'Wow,' he added."
- Roy Furchgott, The New York Times, September 12, 2012
"The Bifrost sounded swell with my Schiit Valhalla amp driving Hifiman HE-300 headphones. The purity of the sound was far beyond my expectations for what this kind of money could buy. I also spent a lot of time listening to, or should I say through the Bifrost with my Emotiva airmotiv 4 desktop speakers, via the Toslink optical input. Those two together would run $748, and the sheer transparency of the sound was phenomenal."
"So the Bifrost isn’t the ultimate DAC, but the basic model runs just $349, and for that kind of money, it really is hot Schiit!"
- Steve Guttenberg, InnerFidelity, February 27, 2012
"Consider Schiit's sticker. That's really quite the trick. It means that what they're not charging you for is the very necessary experience – isn't time money? – that was required to pull it off. Years worth in fact. This of course gels with my prior findings about their headfi amps. Given that the Bifrost had to tough it out in my big system rather than via headphones, I was simply more surprised than I perhaps should have been. After all, class A bias, no feedback, discrete FET-based outputs - these are suggestive items with in the right hands predictive outcomes. The Bifrost delivers. It thus plays outside what its spartan appearance or low price might predict. So it's simply another high-value proposition? You bet. From Schiit. It happens..."
- Srajan Ebaen, 6moons.com, February 2012
Schiit Audio is definitely a company with attitude, and they've written one of the most entertaining FAQs about a product that we've ever read. So without any comments or changes on our end, here's the complete, unexpurgated, wildly fun, and informative FAQ from Schiit on the Bifrost DAC.
So, what the heck is a DAC and why do I need one?
Man, if you’re asking this question, you may be in the wrong place. But to keep it simple: if you trust your music to be faithfully reproduced by a $2 floor-sweeping D/A IC that the overworked laptop designer threw in as an afterthought on a motherboard swimming in gigahertz noise, more power to you.
So, what’s so special about your DAC?
It’s upgradable, which means it’s virtually future-proof, and it’s cheap, which means you don’t need a second mortgage to buy it.
So what about these here upgrades you’re talking about?
We’ll announce selected upgrades when there have been meaningful changes in the capability of the USB Input Card or the DAC/Analog Card. Translation: we ain’t gonna be offering every flavor of the month D/A converter that comes along, with 12 changes in the next year. We’re proud of Bifrost’s current performance, and we’ll be very selective about how we upgrade it.
How do I get an upgrade?
We’ll announce upgrades on the site and via our mailing list. If you’re interested, you’ll then be able to send your Bifrost in to us to swap the cards, or you may be able to do it yourself, if you’re a DIYer or comfortable with electronic assembly and hand-tools.
Why aren’t there any balanced outputs?
Have you seen any balanced inputs on our current amplifiers? Seriously, though, at this price point, balanced lost to upgradability. If you want balanced outputs, we’ll have two more DACs coming that will meet that need.
I heard about this fancy new upsampling stuff, where they take 16/44.1 and magically make it into 24/192. Does your DAC do that?
Not just no but hell no. None of our DACs will ever do sample rate conversion. Our goal is to perfectly reproduce the original music samples, not to throw them away and turn everything into a mystery-meat soufflé. Sample rate conversion destroys all the original samples. What goes in isn’t what comes out. We worked hard on a microprocessor-controlled, bit-perfect clock management system to ensure that all the original music samples going into Bifrost are delivered to the D/A converter, whether you’re running 16/44.1 or 24/192, rather than cheaping out and throwing in a sample-rate converter so we could use a single clock.
Well, hey, you may be delivering bit-perfect data to your delta-sigma D/A converter, but the D/A converter itself doesn’t necessarily reproduce the original samples, but rather a mathematical guess, which is why they call them “successive approximation” D/A converters, what about that?
I had to delete Mike Moffat’s response, because even given our name and flippant attitude, it wasn’t appropriate for public consumption. But, here’s the gist: just because you have to cook your turkey in the microwave doesn’t mean you have to run it through a food processor first.
But what about Advanced Segment, Super Voodoo, WowieMatic 24/32 bit converters out there?
They’re still delta-sigma. And they’re all lying about 24 bits anyway. A true 24 bit converter would have a -144dB noise floor. The best of the delta-sigma D/A converters are missing at least a couple of bits. Yes, even the “32 bit” ones like ours.
I’d rather have a (insert popular, fully buzzword-compliant D/A converter IC name here) than AKM, will you make a special board for me?
Do you see a sign that says, “Burger King?” This ain’t “Have it your way.” Nope, sorry, at this price point, there ain’t no custom.
Well then, how about your USB? Is it fully buzzword compliant? 24/192? Async?
It is absolutely buzzword compliant! Not only is it USB async, but it’s USB 2.0 async that’ll do up to 24 bits/192 kHz sampling rates. Yes. USB 2.0. Not antique 1.1. It works without drivers on Mac and we’ll provide drivers here on the site for Windows 7, Vista, and XP. It’s a good-sounding, reliable, solid implementation of USB. But that’s like saying, “Well, its a very nice meal, given that the chef could only work with McDonald’s hamburgers.”*
Wait. Are you saying USB is crap?
We’re saying we put a ton of time into our USB implementation, but, to our ears, USB still doesn’t quite offer the performance of SPDIF. And we can even get into shades of gray on SPDIF too: consider Mike Moffat’s AT&T ST-optical interfaces and Sumo’s Axiom/Theorem transport and D/A, which had a separate low-jitter master clock connection from the transport.
So how do I get some of this SPDIF stuff?
If you have a Windows desktop, most decent sound cards and many motherboards have SPDIF coax or optical. If you have a Mac, almost all of them have SPDIF optical output buried in the headphone jack. If you have a PC laptop, well, hey, then things can get a lot more complicated. That’s why we included a USB option.
Please recommend the ultimate super-duper bestest ever SPDIF interface soundcard for my PC!
Um, no. There are so many different configurations of PCs, OSes, software, hardware, etc, etc, on the planet, we ain’t gonna tell you to go out and buy something that may not work in your system. Because, then, you know, we end up being your tech support. Know how you can’t figure out why your grandparent’s computer doesn’t work, even though it’s the same as yours? It’s like that.
What are your credentials when it comes to digital products?
Well, other than having one of the “fathers of the DAC,” Mike Moffat, formerly of Theta Digital, as a company partner, who created the first standalone digital preamp, made the first DACs with custom digital filters running on Motorola DSPs, was one of the first to measure and minimize jitter, and introduced the first DTS surround processor, well, not much.
*What’s with all the food references?
Hell, we don’t know. Maybe we were hungry. This is one of the ways you know you’re dealing with real humans here, rather than faceless corporate drones who’d have to have this copy destroyed by a dozen lawyers.
|Product Reviews Click here to review this item|
|Bifrost Is Awesome|
I sit in front of my computer for hours every day enjoying videos and music. I have been feeding my Yamaha S700 amp from the computers line out jack and thought I was getting pretty good sound out of my Vienna Acoustics Haydn speakers until I broke down and sprung for the Bifrost. Fortunately my pc has a SPDIF out jack so I was able to go with the non usb model. I made it a point to listen to some high rez FLAC files before connecting the Bifrost for the first time. Then I played the same files after installing the Bifrost and Boy Oh Boy what a difference a Bifrost makes. The same files now sound so much better, it is hard to put into words other than to say the Bifrost is the best upgrade I have done in years. If you are considering a DAC for your pc do not hesitate. I will never go back to computer sound cards again, an external DAC if the way to go!!! The Bifrost is the most economical choice for a DAC that plays native 192/24 files without relying on conversion so you are getting the unaltered real thing which is as close to perfect as you can get!
|- David F, FL|
|All that and Upgradable Too!!|
So far I have ordered an integrated amp, a CD player, a DVD player - all Cambridge Audio, various/numerous interconnects and power cords, a line conditioner, an audio rack, numerous tweaks & cleaners, and two DACs from Audio Advisor, this DAC being the newest item ordered. It is awesome! At about 48 hours of break-in this DAC really took off and left my old DAC in the dust although the V-DAC also sounded very, very musical. It took my system up to a whole new level. As usual shipping was fast, secure and the item well packed. Finally, this DAC being upgradeable, I look forward to it being in my system a long time. With a sound like what I am hearing that will be fine with me, and any upgrades could only increase my enjoyment. Thans, AA.
|- Larry C, MD|
|My Intro to DAC World|
I saw enough reviews of enough products to figure the beauty of an external DAC is truly in the ear of the beholder. So I chose the USB-less Bifrost more or less as a gamble, swayed by its simplicity, build, and price point. I also made it a point to amass upgraded cabling all around. I neither own a high-fi computer system nor consider myself an audiophile, what with my certifiable ears of tin...but I now hear more, smoother and cleaner notes from the same tracks through an old and semi-cheap pair of speakers. I believe an Asgard is in my future.
|- John F, NJ|
This is a quick review. Normally Id wait a decent burn-in interval, perhaps till Audio Advisors 30 day evalation period had passed, but my conclusion is already clear: You want one of these, and you cant have my unit, its not going back. This is the best sound Ive ever been able to produce at home. On to building DIY speakers to match... I eased into DACs with a few Audioengine D2s to go with their A2 powered speakers at each of my computer desks get the A5 speakers instead if you have the money and the room, then an HRT Music Streamer II+ to go between a Mac mini and my main stereo system. This is HRTs best unit for this purpose, but it has USB in, audio out, period. It draws power from the USB bus, and sounds distinctly better when run through a powered USB hub, to draw on a separate 2.5 amp wall wart. So I was thinking about this and staring at the mess of digital components connected to my stereo Apple Airport Express via Toslink to Audioengine D1 DAC, Mac mini via USB to USB Hub to HRT Music Streamer, and the other shoe dropped. Or, one could say, the Schiit hit the fan. For this same money, one can get a single DAC that plugs into AC power, selects sources, uses the newest digital chips, and has a remarkable analog section. I considered the Peachtree DAC-iT, the Schiit Bifrost, and a few other units. The Schiit Bifrost won. Its USB inputs support 44.1, 88.2, 96, and 192 not 176.2 sampling rates, while the DAC-iT only supports 44.1 and 96; no one supports 176.2 on USB yet. The 88.2 rate is critical if one wants to try x2 oversampling in software from CD rips; same for 192 if one wants to try upsampling to the maximum possible rate in software. The Schiit, like the Peachtree but not the HRT Music Streamer, is galvanicly isolated. The Schiit has an AC cord powering an internal power supply feeding a fully discrete, JFET differential topology analog output stage. That sort of analog circuit doesnt fit in any of my smaller DACs, and needs power. Real power. Dont forget the A in DAC, a DAC is your bridge from digital to analog, and the analog section matters, big time. This was all obvious in hindsight. You knew this too, Im just reminding you. Digital isnt a magic bullet, one needs to respect analog principles that have been understood for decades. In fact, weve been suffering through a decade-long digital dark ages, like the dot matrix printer era, when convenience trumped sound quality. Now were in a period of rapid change, where your computer can finally sound better than your best decade-old CD player. Now is the time to rethink your stereo system from scratch. For a 2-channel home audio system, a typical contemporary solution is a Mac mini to DAC to attenuator to power amp to speakers. Yes, many of us are leaving preamps out of the chain, for a purer sound. Tone control can be accomplished better in software, if one wants. Lots of functions are moving to software; the transition has only just begun. There are strong, independent reviews of the Bifrost on the web, by reviewers who can compare to much more expensive equipment. Believe them.
|- Dave B, NY|