Schiit Audio Bifrost DAC
Input: Coax S/PDIF, Optical S/PDIF, USB Audio Class 2.0 (Optional)
Output: RCA (single-ended)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 2.25” x 9 x 6.75
Weight: 5 lbs
Availability: online Direct
Price: $349.00, USB Input adds $100
The Schiit Bifrost DAC has garnered a lot of buzz for its price/performance ratio. And I mean a lot of buzz from reviewers and forum posters alike. And when a product delivers performance well beyond its price, especially if that price is perceived to be low, that component may as well be sainted or knighted (depending on your point of view). Saint Denon 103, Sir Touch of Squeezebox, and today's specimen under scrutiny, Sir Bifrost of Schiit.
The Bifrost under review was delivered with the $100 optional USB input at my request and I think its safe to say that Schiit is not a huge fan of USB. From the Schiit website's Bifrost FAQ page:
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.”It's certainly relevant and worthwhile to point out that Schiit Audio is Jason Stoddard of Sumo fame and Mike Moffat from Theta Digital. In other words, two guys that know more than a thing or two about designing a DAC.
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.
This fast food hamburger of a USB input is based on the C-Media CM6631 USB receiver and is capable of handling up to 24/192 with the exception of 24/176.4 which is not supported so any 24/176.4 data will get downsampled by your Media Player prior to playback or it won't play at all. After that, the signal is passed to the AKM4399 32 bit D/A converter and signals other than 24/176.4 are passed bit-perfect with no up or over sampling performed. From the Schiit website, "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."
The Bifrost is a modular design meaning its parts can be easily upgraded if/when a better solution becomes available. This holds for USB as well as the S/PDIF card which uses the Crystal Semiconductor CS8416 input receiver, and the aforementioned AKM4399 32 bit D/A converter. Updates are announced on the website as well as through the Schiit email distribution list (I'm not touching the shortened form of that one) so current owners can send in their DACs for an optional upgrade if they so desire. Everything about the Bifrost DAC screams practical performance-based sense and a sensibility geared toward no-nonsense. Even if we judge this DAC by its cover, you're getting a heck of a nice package for $349.
It Ain't Chopped Liver
I can hear why people are so excited by the Schiit Bifrost. It does the resolution thing really well and there's a spotlit quality to the sound without being harsh or fatiguing and something like well-recorded vocals are presented with that in-room, sometimes startling in-your-face kinda presence. This overall sense of super-clarity also does a nice job of delineating the various elements of a recording in space. Overall I'd call the Bifrost a very clean-sounding DAC with a nice sense of timing in that the sound is not weighed down by anything bloated or lumpy.
I used the Musical Fidelity V-Link192's coax output into the Bifrost and this added more body (and $249.00) to an otherwise somewhat thin-sounding presentation. With the USB input, solo piano, for example, lacked visceral resonance robbing the sound of all of its potential dramatic impact. That sense of clean I mentioned is for my taste a tad too clean via USB. With the V-Link192 in the loop, the midrange filled out while still leaning toward the lean-sounding side of things. This kind of sound certainly has its fans and I can and did enjoy the Bifrost so I'm not talking about putting a big check in its minus column. That said, I have heard similarly-priced DACs like the Halide DAC HD offer up a meatier more full-bodied sound. Yes, even via USB.
Toslink from my MacPro's dual-purpose headphone output is itself limited to 24/96 but in terms of sound quality I found the Bifrost's Toslink input also provided a more full-bodied sound as compared to USB. It was, to speak plainly, more fun to listen to. There was more groove in the pocket, music was simply more engaging. Another side effect of the USB input's lighter weight is upper registers can sometimes sound a tad metallic. This glare fades with both S/PDIF inputs.
Schiit v Schiit
If I was to pick a preferred method of connecting to the Bifrost, I'd go with either Coax or Toslink. Through either S/PDIF input, music was generally more meaty, more full-bodied and harmonically developed. More resolved. USB was a tad too lean for my tastes making it less engaging.
All things considered, the Schiit Bifrost at $349 is an absolute lovely deal of a DAC. I'd say skip the USB, have yourself a party, cook up some lovely tunes, and leave the burgers for the grill.
Also on hand and in use during the Bifrost review: AudioQuest Dragonfly, Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC, Resonnessece Labs CONCERO, iFi iDAC, Asus Xonar Essence One, Musical Fidelity V-Link192