The $99 Schiit Modi USB DAC, a Preview

I'm usually not a fan of the review preview which often times strikes me as simply a means of generating more page views (I'm also not a fan of splitting up reviews into multiple pages when one would suffice) but I will put aside my crusty perspective and say that I just received the Schiit Modi DAC which costs all of $99, hooked it up last night, and am listening to it right now. And I'm breaking my no preview rule mainly to say after seeing and handling the very nicely built Modi—how'd they do that for $99?

The asynchronous USB bus-powered Modi offers up to 24/96 playback through its sole USB input so no drivers are necessary regardless of ones denomination. The Modi employs the C-Media CM6631 USB 2.0 asynchronous input receiver, the same receiver that's in their more expensive (smile) Schiit Bifrost DAC ($449 w/USB input), and the 24-bit AKM4396 DAC.

I'm also not a fan of drawing sonic conclusions after just a few minutes of listening time but again putting aside my cranky ways, I'd say the Modi sounds like music. At first, last night, there was a hardness to the sound but the Modi was still literally cold from its trip. This morning things are opening up and sounding much more promising—smooth yet resolute if a tad light weight. But I expect things to change with more time and will report in full some time after my return from Sin City when I've had more quiet time with the made in the USA (!) $99 Modi.

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COMMENTS
GarkM's picture

>regardless of ones denomination

Unless you worship at the house of Linux.

I've got a Modi (my first foray into computer audio) which I'm using with an older HP Pavillion DV6 laptop with Windows 7, Belkin USB cable and Foobar200, Fidelizer and the trial version of JPlay.  As I've tweaked settings and it has burned-in the sound has improved but still is not as relaxing, not as get lost in the music, as my practically free Sony Playstation 1 cd player.  Any inexpensive tips on what I can do to turn this from just OK to aaahh.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

My advice, as a PS1 owner, is time. I don't know how many hours you have on your Modi but it could take several weeks to 'relax'.

And speaking of heretical beliefs, you could try experimenting with different inexpensive USB cables.

jaywillin's picture

Thanks for the preview Michael !!

I'm looking to upgrade from my Fiio e10, and my budget is under $300 cables and all. I've been considering HRT, Audioengine,and the Dragonfly to use with my A2's.. I then learned of the Modi, and quickly added it to the short list. 

Ahhhh, decisions, decisions

tubefan9's picture

how do your first impressions compare to the dragonfly?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'll have my first and second impressions...

deckeda's picture

I admire the challenges and decisions these kinds of inexpensive things pose.

On the one hand, if it sounds great you wonder why don't streamer boxes don't incorporate an equivelent-sounding DAC in the box "for even less". On the the other hand, you wonder if this would sound better with that iFi USB power supply and if so how would the package compare with a more expensive DAC. On the other other hand ...

earwaxxer's picture

I have the Gungnir - If this little baby has the same 'house sound' it should not disappoint. The Gungnir has a very 'mature' rich sound. Hits higher than its asking price.

Rob McCance's picture

I'm no marketing guru but products like this are odd to me.

Seems the target is not "real" audiophiles..no serious audiophile would buy something this low end and make it any part of their system. Or that Dragonfly thing, or any of the HRT Streamers, etc., etc.

So that leaves non-audiophiles. But do non-audiophiles really care enough to spend $100, and figure out how to hook this up (and be bound by it all with the wires and setup)? Non audiophiles think $100 is a lot of money...and would a non audiophile even find this product?

Perhaps it's for the newby-pseudo-audiophiles. Ones that still think the prices are outrageous (having not yet been desensitized to prices), and want to get in and take those first baby steps.

 

I remember that first DAC baby step for me, the V-DAC II. That was a good one because it also taught me real quick about the unnatural sound of oversampling. Made the next succession of decisions a lot clearer.

Maybe I just figured it all out. So glad I could type it out. Ha ha.

DACless people can buy this, play with it for a month, then upgrade. Welcome to the game.

 

 

 

 

 

hotsoup's picture

I hope that was tongue-in-cheek.. Price tags do not an Audiophile make.

Rob McCance's picture

Keep hoping...

I'm not plugging a $100 DAC into a $3500 Preamp.

I know that making such decisions does not make one an "audiophile" but there are enough audiophiles out there that are exactly like this, so it applies. Even if unfortunate.

Sometimes reality is not ideal my friend.

 

 

 

 

whell's picture

...and no one should EVER consider using such an absurd piece of software like Linux.  True audiophiles should automatically turn up their noses at connecting something to their insanely expensive systems that's .... Gasp! .... Free!

Elcapito's picture

Being of such a sophisticated nature, I find it hard to grasp the fact that you, Sir, do not understand that this sweet little thing is for my macandspeakers, not your $3500 pre-stage!

If your wallet at any time obstructs your vision, lower it, and enjoy a good view of the real world!

Rob McCance's picture

There's a big difference between talking about a product, market segments, etc., and attacking a person.

Trust me brother, I'm in the real world with (apparently) you!

I can't tell you the journey of garbage I went through proir to the crazy multi-part trade-ins and some cash that finally resulted in my ARC SP17.

Not technically a "pre-stage" whatever that is. And I WISH my wallet was blocking my vision.

Even prior to the SP17, I would not of bought this $100 DAC and pluged it into my home-made resistor network attenuator I was using at the time.

And I do use a MAC, and PureMusic. And a Audiphilleo device.

See how RICH I am?

BTW, I just went to the Schiit website and I see that they have switced gears and targeted low-end now. Their most expensive DAC is now $849.

I wonder if this $99 one is 8.49x less the of a performer..

BTW, whether you approve or not, there IS a component heiarchy. Normally, (and it's not just me) you don't drive high end no compromise components with $99 components that are compromised in every way.

Why does any of this need explaining? Seriously.

 

 

Rob McCance's picture

I applaud Schiit for not gouging the crap out of everyone, like every other vendor!

These guys are selling a boat load of technology that no doubt performs at a much higher multiple of price.

Not sure if the $99 one does, but regardless..

Good to see and I for one appreciate it. I remember back when the Gungir was in development and I figured they would enter the at least $1.5k+ market with this DAC.

Got to appreciate that company.

 

 

Elcapito's picture

You do understand the purpose of this product! Suggestion: Buy it! Use it to its full capacity and write about it here!

Getting "honey" from your MAC is a complex undertaking! Getting it from a $3500 "preamp"....not so much!

I have a product in the same category, the Hegel HD2, and I love it!

Have a nice day!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

These kinds of products are geared toward people who are looking for better sound quality within this price range.

deckeda's picture

A $99 DAC is for anyone who:

1) only has $99 to spend

2) only needs/wants to spend $99

Take your pick of reasons but they are both "valid" from where I sit.

And don't forget, in his Stereophile review of the Dragonfly, AD said it sounded as good as his $900 DAC or words to that effect (different company, same designer).

Rob McCance's picture

Good points.

But I didn't say anything was invalid. I was just wondering out loud who would find and buy this DAC.

You know, who their target audience was and why.

Let's face it, this is not this company's best DAC, not in any way shape or form. So do they intend to seed more upgrade people with this thing. Or are they trying to make a new name for themsemves as a now-mediocre DAC company..

 

 

 

jaywillin's picture

i offer an opinion from a "recovering audiophile".

I had a basic, i suppose entry level two channel system, c-j tubes, threshold pre, cobalt 307 dac, alon 1, most bought used, demo, etc. life happens, things change.

now, my income has changed, but i still love music. my system is my computer, plus some audioengine A2's. i'm looking for a new dac to replace the fiio i use now. i'm looking at under $300. the lower the better. i'll listen to several in the class and make a decision with my ears.

i have a modi and an audioengine on the way now, with a few others on the list.

maybe i'm part of the target audience. at any rate, i'll have some fun, and hopefully improve my "system" .

Martin Osborne's picture

Given you can spend close to a million on a system, I doubt the 'credentials' of 99.9999999999% of people who call themselves audiophiles (joke)

I figure anyone who invests - be it $99 or $9,999 - in a component offering better sound reproduction than your generic micro/lifestyle system is an audiophile by definition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jmcgowan's picture

Schiit was probably thinking multiple things when lauching this product, all of which are how do we make more money.

1. Seems like they want to make a great product, that sounds good at a fair price, capturing that best bang for the buck market.

2. Offer an entry level product to get people hooked and want to upgrade. I just spent $99 and dang that sounded pretty good, what can i get for $300?

3. More and more people sit in front of their computer all day working from home and they want to enjoy music while they work, but stereo system is in another room. My little brother a graphic designer asked me the other day if there was any good sounding computer speakers he could buy to hook to his MAC, so I directed him here. 99.9% sure he is going to buy a set of the PSB Alpha PS1 powered speakers and a MODI and he will be more than satisfied and he will text all his friends about it.

4. Marketing tactics by offering 3 products (Small, Medium and Large) companies increase sales of the middle/medium product. Peoples thought process is hmm small medium large, or good, better, best.  I want a cheeseburger but the triple is probably too much and if i get the single i'll still be hungry, better get the double. Wendys lost sales of their double burger by taking the triple off the menu for a while, they promplty put it back and sales of the double increased. Look at how many companies offer 3 products in a category (iphone 16gb, 32gb, 64gb).

Thats my two cents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

earwaxxer's picture

I think, being a Schiit owner, I understand them. They are a rebelious, very knowledgeable and talented few from the 'high end' audio world. They know how to make stuff that sounds great, and make it for cheap. I do believe their product is directed at the audiphile. Its an impulse buy for the audiophile. We philes love gear. The more the better. Any self respecting phile MUST HAVE at least one piece of Schiit gear! It doesnt matter what piece that is. It doesnt have to be the best DAC or whatever you own. We just like to hear different kit.

rolf_17's picture

I have worked in electronics for many years as an electronic engineering technician on systems and circuit boards. When I see the inside of some of these products, then look up IC chip prices used in the design, estimate how much design time to layout circuit board and optimize, price of other cheap components like surface mount ceramic capacitors, resistors... well lets just say there is alot of profit built in to many of these amps / dacs. I think it is great that Mike is reviewing many of the lower cost options that hopefully will offer bang for the buck in our quest to improve the sound of our systems without going broke in the process.   

jaywillin's picture

i've been so obsessed with a certain product, or that flavor of the month before. it was when i had the"big rig"(for me anyway), and i would obsess  and want for pieces of equipment i could never afford. Music ceased being fun, relaxing.

computer audio, and the great sounding, affordable gear has given me the fun back. aint that what its all about ??

jaywillin's picture

my modi is still cold too, and i have the same question michael had "how'd they do this for $99 !!! "

jaywillin's picture

the hardness, brightness that i noticed on the modi initially, is softening , when i've switched back to the d1, it sounds slightly veiled, congested, where the modi is spacious, clear,better control of the bass. while i like the d1, love the volume control, i very much prefer the sound of the modi,
i believe its the keeper, i'm still gonna hang on to it a couple more days, while i investigate a headphone amp, and believe me, the magni is at the top of the list !

johndarko's picture

Don't feel bad for splitting your review coverage Michael. Sometimes a reviewer's own enthusiasm forces his hand. Sometimes the impatience of readers forces it further.

GarkM's picture

My Modi is much improved with a lot of burn-in and a new  Audioquest Forest ($28.75) USB cable.  I also ordered a direct connect adapter that John Kenny recommends ($3.12).  I just listened to Townes Van Zandt Live At The Old Quarter on the computer and enjoyed it very much.  I am trying the Korg Audiogate free (twitterware) player which I like so far.

jaywillin's picture

there is a vast improvement in the modi from the first day, to now, a week later.

i also use forest usb and rca cables, not familiar with the direct connect adapter, i looked it up on amazon, looks like there could be some damage done if you weren't very careful

TheBatCave's picture
I am relatively new to the world of hifi and a few weeks ago I purchased my first hifi "system", cables and all. For folks like me, I am a college student with limited space and a budget, it is quite excellent. The Modi with my Audioengine A5s and a Polk subwoofer sounds damn good compared to pretty much every system I've listened to at my uni. My monitors without the DAC sound flat. The Modi, while not amazing, is necessary. I haven't burned in that much so I'm hoping it might open up more, or it could just be placebo effect as my ears adjust. One day I will upgrade, but for the next few years or so I think this is far superior than nothing. After some research I found out why Schiit has a very reasonable price. They sell the product direct, without a usb cable, and with hardly any drapings of a marketing company. It is so plain and basic. To me, they might be guys who just want to share a better listening experience because it actually means something to them. People with money shouldn't be the only ones with access to hifi. I also compared the Modi to both the Dragonfly and D1. The Modi is slightly ahead of the D1 (I felt the Dragonfly barely did anything beneficial). The D1 is $70 more, so I saved some cash. I think it's neat to start off with something basic, learn, and then as time goes by to explore new kits with more funding. Regardless, my gear sounds solid. Also, I experimented with JPLAY and the ASIOBridge. It lifts the music up a bit, but I don't know if it's worth the price (unless you have an unrestrained budget... go for it). I use Win 8.1 btw, which works best with JPLAY.

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