Here is a review of a new DAC I just picked up a few weeks ago.
I looked at a lot of DAC’s. I wanted performance at a level comparable to the Cambridge Audio 840c. The original DacMagic was an obvious contender but its presentation while good, is still one notch below the 840c. Another was the Furutech GT40. Along with the recently updated DacMagic Plus, these both looked to be solid contenders. However, many of the features included with both fulfilled no use in my system. I would be spending money for stuff that I would never use. I also looked at the other usual suspects in the under $700 range offered by such recognizable companies like PeachTree, HRT, Music Hall & Music Fidelity. Without having the opportunity to audition I narrowed my selection by focusing on some basic requirements. I wanted a DAC only, no other bells or whistles. I did not want to be paying for things I do not need or want. And I surely did Not want up-sampling. Up-sampling is like letting someone else mess with your tone controls. You never get the actual data from the original recording. It is processed, adulterated with added data of events that did not occur. It is not ‘better’. It is different. An audible equivalent to journalistic Photoshoping. It is not the true music that was recorded. If you want something more than the truth, there are many out there who are willing to oblige you. And profit handsomely from it in the process.
Time and again, I was drawn back to the Bifrost for many reasons. It does all the things I want it to, and none that I do not. It will play my HiRez files up to 24/192. It does not up-sample. It has a built-in power supply. I like that. The last thing I need is another wall wart that would eventually be replaced by a worthy PS anyway. Then there is the pedigree. The company is run by Jason Stoddard, who was with Sumo, and Mike Moffat, who could be considered the Father of the stand-alone DAC. And then there is the fact that all of their products are designed and built in the USA. One of the other things that impressed me was the business plan and ‘no BS’ mission statement. Then add the fact that these guys have a real sense of humor. Funny that during my life I have found that those I have met who possessed a true, authentic sense of humor have always been the most intelligent people I ever met. Add the fact that during the email conversations I have had with Jason, his reply time never exceeded 20 minutes. Even on a Saturday. Now throw in that the Bifrost is upgradable. Should Jason and Matt decide to offer improvements to the circuit, it is a simple matter of swapping out the digital board. Additionally, should I decide for some reason to add USB 2.0 input to the DAC, that option is available with a modular USB board that plugs in to the unit with a few minutes tinkering for $100. The USB option can also be ordered with the unit. After I added everything up, it became a no-brainer.
Installation was a straightforward, except for an IT challenged dork like this old fart. I am using the SPDIF output via a laboratory grade glass toslink cable to the Bifrost. I did not purchase the USB 2.0 option simply because after much research I felt I could obtain better sound quality via optical while avoiding the expense of a high end (read expen$ive) USB cable.
Here is the full Chain:
SeeDee W/ FLAC Conversion via dBpoweramp & Imported HiRes files > NAS File Storage > Foobar File Management & Control > SoundBlaster Audigy 2 XS Sound Card ASIO4all > SPDIF Silflex Glass Optical > Bifrost DAC > Cat Cables- Kingcats RCA I/C's > Carver C-19 Pre-amp > Kingcats RCA I/C's > Rotel RB-1090 > Mapleshade Double Helix speaker cable > NatP 65 litre MTM Towers
First up was a well recorded, quiet, live session of a performance here in Pittsburgh by Billy Taylor & Gerry Mulligan at the Manchester Craftsman Guild . It is a venue I have been to many times. Great care was taken with the design of the hall to accommodate live performances and state-of-the-art recording technology.
Compared to my Cambridge Audio 640c v2 CDP which incorporates a dual differential configuration of Wolfsan chips the Bifrost presents a much cleaner, detailed sense with the micro-dynamics. There is an air in the music that reflects the hall that is V familiar to me. It is unmistakable. The high end is visceral, but smooth at the same time. The sense that this is a live recording is evident to the point that I feel I am a part of it.
It is not blowing the 640 out of the water, but at the moment, it just sounds better…..more real.
There is much listening to be done, and this first impression, while pleasing, will be followed by many hours more of evaluation by many sets of ears. But for the time being, this Schiit don’t stink.
After the 100 hour mark, it has definitely smoothed out some. I notice it most in the high and mid range. What has not changed is the speed and detail. The overall balance may be the slightest bit light in low mid & V bottom range, however the accuracy and clean, snappy kick in percussive detail is absolutely amazing. String bass, Congo, bass drum and synthesized bass is extremely musical and alive with enough raw power to maintain the overall natural essence. With acoustic material, the bottom truly shines. I have no desire what so ever to tweak any extra bass via the tone knob. I will take musicality, tonality and timing over ‘big boom’ every time.
The highs are silky, but still V sharp and crisp. Exquisite detail with no grain, no ‘edge’ typically associated with digital. This is the area where digital can induce listening fatigue. Not so with this DAC.
The mid range started out great, now it is true as life. Voices ring clear and true. Brass and woodwinds shimmer and shine. Strings are full of percussive quality, as they should be.
Regarding depth, nothing has changed. My system has always had a V deep sense, attributed to the pre-amp and speakers. Same with stage width. And focus may actually be bettered. If it is on the source material, it is in my room. And if the source material is sub-par, the result will be displayed in spades. I noticed it right away with my ‘Trombone Shorty’ rip. Brick-Walled mixing will hit you like a……well, like running into brick wall. Bifrost will not hide any flaw. In other words, the Bifrost is adding nothing. Nor is it demanding tithe in return for tonality or musicality. It is totally transparent in my system.
If I were to condense my overall opinion into one word (that would be a first) I would have say ‘detail’. The Bifrost is delivering an amazing sense of life, truth and realness that is unexpected at this price.