Schiit Bifrost DAC Review

No - it’s not a mis-spelling - the company really is called SCHIIT

The name was calculated and they play on it - but despite their apparent sense of humour, don’t go thinking they are in it for a joke - these guys are deadly serious about hi-fi!

They produce a very focussed line of high quality products, at a fair price, with some interesting design features - and they only sell direct (hence the fair price)

The Bifrost is their mid-line product, being surrounded by the Modi as their entry level DAC and the Gungnir, the top of the line model

I opted for the Bifrost model mainly because I had identified very specific requirements which the Bifrost matched completely, which were….
  • 24/192 on all inputs
  • USB, toslink and s/pdif inputs
  • Onboard Mains Power (none of these silly little external supplies)
  • Amazing sound (OK - we all want that, but how good could possibly it be?)

I also opted to forgo the “Balance Design” of the Gungnir in order to save on cost. Hmm, maybe I should have splurged, but then, there is chatter about a new completely “tricked out” model in the development stages Winking

The only problem with Schiit being a direct-sale outfit - there really is no possibility of a side-by-side audition. But apparently, you can opt to return the DAC within 15 days if it fails to impress at audition time - i.e. for a 5% restock fee + shipping
(please contact Schiit for full details).

I did a lot of reading and people seemed to be quite generous with their accolades, so I took the plunge and placed an order.

I opted for the Bifrost with the USB input ($100 extra) and the Uber analogue stage upgrade ($70 extra) for a grand total of $520

Since I’m in Canada I elected to pay around $60 for the mid level (expedited) postage + tracking and on arrival, another $70 Duty and $10 handling - Grand Total $660

I placed the order Friday afternoon - within an hour the unit had shipped! The following Tuesday, around Mid day I was signing for the parcel. - now that’s Service!

Once unpacked, I put the little sticky feet on and left the mains lead provided in the box where it belongs!

I found, by way of experimentation with my previous DAC that a good mains supply is paramount when delivering good performance. I had replaced it’s meagre Wal-Wart power supply with a DIY supply providing much more headroom than actually required.

With on-board power supplies the only thing you can hope to improve is the power cable and since I just happen to have a well broken-in Furutech
FP-314 Ag - a 15AWG α (Alpha) conductor power cable handy, I powered up the Bifrost. Yes, cables make a difference - please see Why Good Power Cords Make A Difference

I first connected the Bifrost to my iMac via a DH Labs toslink (optical) cable, which I have found to be completely trouble free and very good at data transfer - rated at over 150 Mbps. The interconnects I use are Stager Silver Solids - 1 meter in length. Interconnects matter also - see
Wires Explained (1)

I played through several of my favourite audition tracks and right out of the box the Bifrost had already exceeded my expectations.

Prior to ordering the Bifrost I had gone to local stores and auditioned several higher priced DACs, including:
  • Wadia 121 decoding computer
  • Mytek Stereo 192 DSD DAC
  • Chord QuteHD DAC

Now I’m not going to say the Bifrost is better than these three, since they are many times its cost, but it comes very close to two of them and to these ears, was better than the other one.

What I found was that the guys at Schiit are deadly serious about producing high quality audio products
  • The bass frequencies go very deep and are very well controlled - my favourite pipe-organ tracks now sound extremely realistic with those low notes that have the unmistakable rumble and the high notes are crystal clear and uncluttered and you can hear them breathing.
  • The high frequencies are extremely well behaved - strings seem so much smoother, you can hear the air crossing the mouthpiece on flutes. Reproduction of sibilance is superb.
  • Dynamic control across the board is extremely good and a vast improvement to my previous DAC
  • The fine details that puts you into the recording venue are there and this is really highlighted on orchestral tracks and live music
  • The stage is huge in width, very good in height and cavernous in depth - again pipe organ tracks project way beyond the back of the speakers - I was sitting in a Cathedral.

The musicality is another outstanding achievement by the guys at Schiit. The sound is much more analogue than digital and as the unit breaks in that attribute is just getting better. I have not yet found myself fatigued and I’ve put in several hours listening so far.

Streaming internet radio has also taken on a new quality and I can even listen to the classical and jazz stations for longer periods with the Bifrost in place.

What about High Def. Digital Audio you say?

The bulk of my collection is 16/44-48 with a few 24/96 tracks and a couple of 24/192, but the Bifrost handles HD tracks with amazing dexterity.

My previous DAC was an up sampling DAC, so everything got up-samlped to 192kHz - and it didn’t do a great job of that.

The Bifrost processes the sample rate it’s given, so whatever you throw at it, that is what gets converted - no up-sampling! The net result is there is no interpolation going on to fill in missing samples and that seems to result a “crisper” presentation. There seems to be more snap in the drums, more whispery textures in the vocals, but strangely, strings seems smoother and not brighter - go figure.

SIDEBAR: I use an iMac to stream music files, and the iMac has program code that “messes” with the digital file for up sampling and volume control, ultimately colouring the audio output . To avoid this I installed a program called Audirvana Plus - a program that bypasses the internal iMac sound processing code and passes the data at the sample rate recorded. A nice feature of Audirvana Plus is that you can elect to have it integrate with iTunes or operate as a stand alone player. I choose to integrate it with iTunes to allow for remote control using my “Droid” tablet via an app called Retune.

One last item to test - the USB and s/pdif inputs - yep - they work! and they sound no different from the toslink to these ears - so I left the DH Labs USB cable in place.

For the s/pdif input test, I connected my DVD player. To my surprise playing a CD track sounded the same as the same track streamed from the iMac.

I could go on about the dynamics of
“this track” and the delicate textures of “that track”, but then you would have to know those tracks intimately to understand my rantings.

I will go on record as saying this is an exceptional value for money - and I mean

It is very close, performance wise, to the other units I auditioned and to be quite honest, I think that if I was to hear them side by side and budget was no object, I’d still select a Schiit - maybe the Gungnir instead of the Bifrost, but based on the performance of the Bifrost with the Uber upgrade - I think it too would also be a very close call.

If you need balanced outputs then the Gungnir would be the model to go for. For the extra $300 - you actually get a completely balanced design with dual transformer power supply and analogue sections, This should elevate it’s performance to the “next level”.

How much better? - that’s the $64M question.

Oh - I almost forgot - this little puppy is also upgradable, so as newer circuitry gets developed you can upgrade - e.g. the Uber Analogue upgrade is an example of this feature - if you don’t have the funds for the Uber right away - you can upgrade later - same goes with the USB input circuitry.

A base model Bifrost starts at $350 - AMAZING!

So I now have a piece of Schiit on my hi-fi stand and my wife didn’t give me any (shit) because it was much less than my original selections Happy

To sum up - The Bifrost is a no-nonsense, no-frills, basic inputs, no remote, get off your backside and select the damn input yourself kinda DAC!

If you want frills - go somewhere else - but ya ain’t gonna get an audio experience as honest as this one unless you spend 3, 4, or 5 times the money!

Yes - it’s that damn good!

page6_blog_entry40-two-thumbs-up A highly recommended product!


Well, it's been over a year since receiving this surprising little DAC and it just keeps giving.

In that time I have upgraded the power cords and installed KLEI gZero6 interconnect cables

Then, just when you think you’ve squeezed just about every ounce of performance out of it - Schiit announces the USB Gen 2 upgrade.

The improvements were immediately noticeable, with improved image focus and spatial imaging, much improved detailing across the board, improved dynamics and better low-end control and detailing.

The bass reproduction is very controlled and very deep - pipe organ music bass notes carry a superb texture that my old dac fell far short of and some of the R&B music I have now sounds totally different due to that precise control.

It's performance is very articulate across the entire frequency range with very competent dynamics, particularly with drums, and brass has an edge where necessary, which was very refreshing to hear.

High frequencies also are very well controlled with a smoothness that I attribute to the dac being very adept at reconstructing a high frequency audio signal.

Cymbals linger much longer, triangles and chimes are brighter and sibilance displays a control and depth.

Lastly, the spatial image is cavernous on those recording with fastidious sound engineers. This aspect was perhaps the most surprising aspect of this $520 DAC.

I have several pipe organ tracks and merely by closing my eyes, there I am, right there in church or cathedral where it was recorded - completely enveloped in the performance - it's just downright eerie.

I also have some select jazz tracks, the best of which is La Habana Joban by Xiomara Laugart - a very spacious presentation with outstanding texture in the vocal reproduction.

Do I wish I'd purchased the Gungnir? - not any more - this little unit is superb

Is it as good as my analogue rig? At $520 how could it be? - well, it’s extremely close with this USB upgrade, especially if you ensure the cables are high quality!

How good should the cables be? - well lets just say the better the cable are (both power and interconnect) the better the performance - and it just kept improving as I upgraded.

Interconnects: 1 meter KLE Innovations gZero6 Interconnects

Power cable: my own DIY design + Sonar Quest silver plated copper mains connectors

Now you may be thinking that using cables that cost as much as the DAC would bring out a superb performance in any DAC in this price range - and you may be right.

But - what I enjoy most about the Schiit Bifrost is it neutrality, smoothness and it's precision, and from that perspective I find it to be one of the most "analogue sounding" DACs I have ever listened too - bar none!

I can listen to it for hours at a time without fatigue and at no time do I find myself wishing - "if only I had that track on vinyl"

Am I a digital convert? - getting there!

Because now I purchase those albums that are CD only and look forward to hearing them

Best DAC in the world? - I’m not buying another one
Best DAC under $1000 - except for the Gungnir, - and especially when treated to good cables!

Remember also that the $520 includes both the new USB Gen 2 upgrade and Uber analogue upgrade, the starting price is $350 and the upgrades mentioned above can always be purchased later.

The Right Stuff

The challenge we have as consumers of hi-fi is selecting the right components to achieve the best sound possible - and for most of us, within a budget

In the last few years I’ve been pretty fortunate with my component selection and a couple of times a component has grabbed my attention to the point where it seems to cry out “BUY ME” and those choices have worked out quite nicely, but they were based solely on how they sounded, Fact is I got lucky.

Early on I was not quite so fortunate and my selections were largely based on the recommendation of sales people. Unfortunately their agenda is not the same as their customers.

The audio industry has come a long way - adopting technical standards so that the electrical inputs and outputs are a closer match. But there is still so many other technical aspects of a hi-fi system, that as consumers we should consider.

One issue many people are not aware of is the impact cables (i.e. power, interconnect and speaker) can have on the sound and performance of their hi-fi components.

There is no simple solution to this issue since each individual component in your system may respond differently to various cable brands and types.

Some examples of the types of problems that may arise are
  • the capacitance of a speaker cable interferes with the operation of the amplifier causing it to sound less than optimum.
  • Interconnects can affect the sound if their capacitance is too high, the resulting sound becomes too bright
  • It is well documented that high capacitance phono leads can have a detrimental impact on the performance of phono cartridges.

Yet most manufacturers seldom provide a technical specification of what type of cabling should be used with their components.

Fortunately, some audio stores will provide cables for in-nome auditions, so you can listen to your components response at your leisure.

You also have to factor in whether a new component will work in harmony with the components it is attached to. Reviewers often observe that some components display a certain “SYNERGY” in their system, whereas other products provide a more mediocre performance.

What do they mean by SYNERGY? the dictionary says:
  • The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements

Another term that is also used more often these days is RESOLUTION, which is used to refer to the level of detail a component is capable of conveying.
e.g. the very fine reverberations of the recording venue, or the breathing of the woodwind instrumentalist or the background humming of a jazz bass player.

A more well defined use of this word is in the world of digital photography and pertains to the number of pixels on the sensor - more pixels = higher resolution

Unfortunately, at present there is no method to quantify audio resolution in such a concise manner, so identifying whether two components are well matched from a resolution perspective based on their technical specification is impossible
e.g. it would be nice to have a rating on a box saying this component is capable of resolving to 110 RES - we could then elect to surround it with like components of 110 RES or close to 110 RES.

The point at which we tend to discover a “synergy” between components is often when we introduce a new component and the resulting improvement exceeds our expectations - we tend to announce that it has great synergy with the rest of the components.

The unfortunate truth is the component being replaced was either-
  • not capable of resolving the audio signal to the same level of detail as the other components in the system, in which case replacement is required, or
  • not working to its optimum abilities (e.g. due to poor cables), in which case you might not need to replace it, or
  • not working in harmony with the rest of the components in the audio pathway, replacement is definitely required due to it’s negative impact on the rest of the system.

Each component can in fact impact the performance of components either side of it - e.g. a technically adept pre-amp can negatively impact both the upstream source components operation and the downstream power amplifier it is connected to. However, when connected to different components it sounds quite amazing.

Another factor to take into account when attempting to assemble a hi-fi system are the power cables used. A good quality power cable will allow a component to perform to it’s absolute optimum ability - in most cases much better than with the power cord provided by the component manufacturer.

And finally - the same applies to the interconnect and speaker cables - they too can affect the overall sound and the way in which the connected components perform. High capacitance interconnect cables can impact the performance of components they are attached to, over and above the effect the capacitance has on the actual audio signal i.e. it acts as a filter and often results in a brighter or thinner sound. Speaker cables can actually make some amplifiers sound quite harsh if the capacitance is too high.

So, matching components can be quite a complicated process, but if you know your existing components and have good quality power cords and interconnects you can reduce the risk of making a selection that is less than optimum.

The only real solution to this problem is to audition new components in your system and make sure you have quality “cables” on hand to allow it to really - “strut it’s stuff”.

My own personal strategy has been to use the best power cables I can afford, together with low capacitance interconnect and speaker cables. That way I know that any performance limitations of a new component is due to it’s design and construction and not to the existing “infrastructure”.

An example of this strategy presented itself recently when I installed a new tonearm on my turntable. The performance improvement was not as good as expected, since the quality of the tonearm and tonearm wiring should have provided a much higher quality performance. I subsequently upgraded the phono stage and to my delight the benefits I had expected from the tone-arm were finally realized.

The real issue here was that my old phono stage did not have a sufficient resolution capability to transfer the micro details now being retrieved by the tone-arm and cartridge, to the amplifier - the new phono stage has much more resolution capability and in tandem with the tone-arm the resulting performance exceeded my expectations.

So, should you choose components that provide the same resolution? - good luck with that!

  • Any brand new component you purchase today will probably have a higher resolution capability than components in the same “snack bracket” purchased 5, 10, 15 years ago, because the quality just keeps getting better with time.
  • If you purchase a component and it does not perform significantly better, then it may be one of the other audio components in the audio pathway
  • there may come a time when the rest of your system is performing to it’s optimum, but not as good as the new component - in that case, several components may require upgrading

Does my new phono stage have the same resolving capability as the tone-arm? - Probably not, but right now It does reveal a certain “SYNERGY” Happy
Can my other components (i.e. amp and speakers) continue to reveal micro-details that new source components expose - I hope so (my wife says it does)

Resolution used to be directly proportional to price - higher price = better resolution - and to some extent that is still the case - but sometimes components come along that perform way above their modest pricing.

These components are not so rare, but may require an additional investment in the better power supply or power cables. I did own two Cambridge Audio components whose performance was elevated to the level of components costing many times their price by simply replacing their power supply

So, research your purchases before you buy and peruse the many forums for “users feedback” and remember, any assessment you read are the findings relative to the person making the assessment and the components they have - what you achieve may be very different.

Audiomods "Classic" Tonearm Review

If you own a Rega turntable you are probably aware of the many third party items that can be purchased to replace stock parts on your turntable in order to enhance its performance.

There are platters and sub-platters, kits to rewire the tonearm, counter balance weights, motors, speed controllers and a whole variety of tonearm upgrades.

If you read through this blog you will also discover a few that I have installed with great success. This one however, is definitely my most expensive turntable specific component to date (please see the
Audiomods Web Site for pricing alternatives)


Audiomods is a company from the UK who’s specialties include tonearm upgrade kits for the Rega style tonearms, to entire tonearm assemblies, which is the option I chose.

They offer two tonearms, the “Classic” (an enhanced version of the Series 3, their original offering) and the “Series 5”, their most recent addition. Both use Rega Arm tubes in their assembly and that’s where any similarity to their Rega brethren ends. The bearing assemblies and counter weight were designed and engineered by
Jeff Spall the man behind Audiomods.

I’m not going to go into the technical aspects of this arm since its all available on
their web site, but they specialize in arms for Rega turntables as well as adapting them to fit the Technics SL1200, which comes with a custom mounting plate specific to this turntable

When placing an order for this arm, Jeff will request details about the turntable the arm is to be placed on and the cartridge used, since he treats every order as a custom fabrication.

The counter weight is configured to your specific cartridge, the arm may be engineered specifically to shave of a little more weight if needed and if necessary head-shell weights will be supplied to increase effective mass. Even the type of RCA connector can be selected from a couple of options, or you can provide your own for installation.

Again I refer you to their web site, because there are a few other options, like finish, to choose before the order is complete

Once complete, the order generally takes 3-4 weeks to build and then another couple of weeks to go through the mail system, but it is worth the wait. Mine actually arrived a little earlier than anticipated, which is NOT the norm in today’s world.

The arm is shipped in a wooden presentation box with your name and arm details. Inside the arm is securely held in place by the mounting hardware and the various parts like counter weight and anti-skating assembly are tightly packed and held in place with foam packing blocks.

Mounting and setting the arm up was a breeze, thanks to great installation notes that are provided and a little cylindrical spacer that allows for precise setup of the VTA.

You will see from the many photos on their web site that this arm has a very “engineered” appearance, due to the fact that the arm tube is the only part not fabricated from stock material and their finish is superb.

I elected to go with the matte bead-blast finish, but on the “Classic” there is also a polished finish available. I also chose the polished brass counterweight, just to warm up the starkness of the silver and the micrometer VTA adjuster for extremely precise control, which nudged the price to just over $1000 and then there was some import handling charges and duty to be paid upon receipt, bringing the total to a tad over $1100.


My cartridge is the Denon DL 103 moving coil with a brass shim epoxied to it, increasing the total weight to 14 grams. For this, Jeff supplied the heavier counter weight. He also provided a spacer to raise the arm 6 mm should it be required.

So, how did it perform?

Well, even though it replaced a Rega RB250 with a similar mass, everything about this arm just seems smoother and lighter, not to mention that it looks so much better than any Rega offering.

Audible differences however were not immediately apparent, but crept up on me as I selected different albums.

OK, I can hear some of you now asking:
how come a component in this price range not yield more noticeable improvements?

Well, to start with, my original RB250 already had the Cardas rewire upgrade, which in itself brought a significant increase in details. The Silver Litz wire should have improved on this and it did to some extent. There were improvements in the audio image, improvements to the upper frequency range and pretty good control in the lower frequencies.

So, was this arm a red herring? Not so fast!

Any component inserted into a sound system with other components that do not match or exceed its own resolution capabilities, will only perform up to the abilities of those components in the audio path.

Now, even before the arm arrived I had been contemplating the replacement of my trusty Cambridge Audio 640p phono stage with its replacement, the 651p and now seemed like a good time to proceed, so I popped down to my local store and purchased one.

Some may question my sanity in selecting the Cambridge Audio 651p for use with an arm of this calibre, but in my defence, I use it with a custom power supply that elevates the performance of this $250 phono stage to units costing many times more.

Well, the improvements now being appreciated are indicative of some extremely exquisite engineering in a tone arm of premium quality.

First, the soundstage is enormous -
Is This Love on Bob Marley’s Legend album exceeds the boundaries of my listening room by a considerable margin. This is also apparent on many of the classical recordings I own. Also the individual instrument placement is amazingly precise.

Next, the smoothness of instruments, especially strings, brings an almost tube-like quality to the music that make them sound so much more enjoyable. The fine details that are now more noticeable, allows the natural timber of each instrument to be clearly heard. An excellent album to showcase this is the classic from
Deutsche Grammaphon, Cello Concertos of Vivaldi, Tartini and Boccherini, featuring Mstislav Rostropovich, where his cello seems to breath as he plays.

There is also an extension to the upper frequencies with a level of control that provides excellent reproduction of sibilance. Diana Krall has never sounded so silky smooth on her album
All For You, a tribute to the (Nat) King Cole Trio

And down at the bottom end is a new depth never before appreciated on my system.
Tocata Terza In A as recorded on the Das Mikrofon album by Tacet has some earth moving lows that can easily rattle windows, even when played at modest levels. The bass control is simply superb.

Each time I listen, the subtleties the “Classic” is able to extract from vinyl has me stopping dead in my tracks just to listen.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have looked up from reading while I listen, to find my foot bobbing up and down in time to the music, as though it has a mind of its own. Who knew I had feet that appreciated music.

For those with older recordings in their collections, like the mono recordings I own, circa 1958-1964, this arm treats them with a “respect” I thought only possible with a mono cartridge setup. But the really surprising aspect of the mono recordings I’ve listened to so far is the depth to the soundstage, which took me very much by surprise, since up to now they had sounded flat.

So, some might ask — is it the arm that sounds so good or the phono stage?

Well, without the superb engineering in this arm I believe the resulting audio would be far less engaging, after all the phono stage can only amplify the signal provided.

The signal, as provided by the cartridge, is totally dependent on stability of the arm, since in a perfect world the cartridge would perform at its best if the body were to remain stationary and perfectly aligned directly over the groove.

Hey, guess what the “Classic” does?

A signal this dynamic, detailed and controlled is due to the stability, precision and ultra smooth operation of the Audiomods “Classic” Tonearm.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the “Classic” is an upgrade for a Rega tonearm.
This isn’t an upgrade, the “Classic” is a tonearm, just like SME, Ortofon or Clearaudio tonearms
Yes - it uses the Rega arm tube, but that is the lone similarity.

There are some very interesting tonearm designs out there and some appear to be very complex or exotic.

The “Classic” however, is all about simplicity of operation and relies on great design, superb engineering and extremely high quality components to get the job done.

As for longevity - It’s engineered to last and will probably be the last tonearm I buy, since it will accommodate any future cartridges I purchase due to the flexible counterweight configuration design.

On my modest system, this arm has elevated my audio experience to a whole new level of listening pleasure, but I am certain that this arm is capable of achieving significantly more on systems with finer resolution capabilities.

I also think it looks pretty “majestic” on my red turntable Happy

Read the reviews on the Audiomods Web Site and you’ll see that most reviewers put the “Classic” in the same league as arms many times its price!

It can be mounted on many different turntables and if you have some special requirement I’m sure Jeff will endeavour to accommodate them

WARNING: Just make sure the rest of your components are as competent performers as the Audiomods “Classic” Tonearm!

Components used in the audio path…
  • Denon DL 103 with attached brass headshell
  • Audiomods “Classic” tonearm with 0.9 meter Silver Litz harness and Nakamichi RCA’s
  • Cambridge Audio 651p phono stage with 2 amp high capacity toroid power supply
  • Stager Silver Solids interconnect phono stage to amp
  • NAIM 5i Integrated amp
  • Vand Den Hul D-352 10 gauge silver coated Speaker Cable
  • Gershman Acoustics Sonogram speakers
  • All powered components use Furutech power cables

My journey continues…

Two Thumbs-up A highly recommended product!


Since writing the review above I have made a couple of upgrades...

I have replaced the Cambridge Audio Phono Stage with a Simaudio MOON LP5.3 RS phono stage...
  • in short - you get what you pay for, but with the MOON goes further than it’s very reasonable price
  • This is a superb phono stage whose performance can easily be augmented with a quality power cable.
  • And adding a pair of KLE Innovations gZero20 interconnects certainly elevated the resolution capability of this component and cable combination to levels I thought only possible from a much more expensive analogue rig.

I haver also replaced the Nakamichi RCA’s on the one piece silver litz loom with Absolute Harmony RCA’s also from KLE Innovations...
  • the improvements here were across the board - faster dynamics, wider and deeper image, extension of both upper and lower frequency ranges, deeper and better controlled bass register.
  • But the outstanding attribute of these RCA’s was the level of clarity they bring to the performance

Granted the RCA and the phono stage upgrades are not the only contributing factor - the incredibly well-engineered Audiomods tone-arm itself is responsible for many of the improvements now being observed.

This is an exceptional tone-arm, whose true capabilities probably extend way beyond the resolution capabilities of my modestly priced audio system!