Recently, I was jamming out to my Olina SEs on an Apple Dongle and wondering why I had so much expensive equipment on my desk when this sounded fine. Still, I didn’t want to give up my Custom Cans-modded HD6XX, my Atrium, or my Bottlehead Crack. But since I got the Crack, I’d been using my RebelAmp a lot less except as a Preamp for my cheapo speakers (I’m not able to use speakers much because of my living situation). I did have a Schiit Bifrost 2/64, but if the Apple Dongle sounded pretty good to me, did I really need something so expensive? Anyway, the 2/64 seemed to add a little bit too much, I don’t know, texture? Graininess? Something. Anyway, I also have a Schiit Modi+ in my closet and that sounded pretty good, but what if I replaced the Rebel and the Bifrost with a nice, compact little package that wouldn’t take up much space on my desk? What if I replaced them both with the inexpensive, feature-rich, and well-reviewed Fiio K7 Pro? Think of how much money and desk space I could recoup then! So I bought the K7, plugged it in, wired it up and… And it was terrible. Just glare-city, glassy, overbearing treble without much depth or detail. Keep in mind I’m listening to this with the HD6XX and the Atrium, and in both cases using the balanced out so getting the (theoretical) optimum experience. Likewise on my cheapo Edifier R1700BT speakers, there was a glare and treble that I’d never experienced with the Bifrost/Rebel setup. How does this thing have so many good reviews? I’ve even seen people on Discord say this is the default budget recommendation over the Modi/Magni stack. Is there something fundamentally different about my hearing from other peoples? Because this thing sounds unbearable to me, and it clearly doesn’t to a lot of people, I just don’t get it. But this isn’t the first time I had an experience like this. My first proper DAC/amp was the Zen DAC which I loved and paired with a Sundara. I then added the Zen Can to it and thought it was even better. But then the GoldenSound MQA video came up and one of the things he said there was that the Zen DAC applied MQA sound even when not using MQA (though I found out later this was apparently only if you applied a firmware update?) and in disgust I resolved to replace the Zen stack. I’d also started reading ‘Objectivist’ stuff online about how you only need something basic with low distortion and everything else was snake oil anyway, and so on that tip I replaced the Zen DAC/Can with a JDS Labs Atom stack. And… at first I tried to convince myself that I liked it but really I didn’t. At all. The Atom stack sounded harsh to me, some songs I couldn’t even listen to anymore, it was painful. In the end I had to face that I refuse to believe that an amp that made songs sound worse can be ‘better’, this was obviously wrong, I don’t care what the SINAD numbers looked like. The K7 was not as bad (at least from memory) as the Atom stack, less harsh and more glare-y and glassy. Still, this was not good. So I returned the K7. But I wasn’t done. I already had the Modi+ and knew I liked that, and I’d bought my father a Modi+/Magni+ stack for his HD6XX and I knew that sounded great. So why not downgrade to that? And so in comes the Magni+. And it sounds pretty good, definitely miles better than the K7. Maybe a little less resolving than the K7, it’s true, and much less smooth, detailed, rich, and deep than the Bifrost/Rebel stack, but good. Good enough? I definitely loved getting all that space back on my desk, I’d forgotten what it was like to actually have space there. But while the Modi+ didn’t have the texture problem of the 2/64, it did have a bit of the glare that the K7 did, and obviously not as much depth and detail as the 2/64. Around this time in came some new budget speakers I’d been meaning to buy for a while, an upgrade from the Edifiers but a small one: the Kanto 4” passives driven by a Parasound Zamp with the matching Kanto SUB6 subwoofer. And that sounded pretty great with the Modi+ and the Magni+ used as a preamp, certainly better than the Edifiers. A little harsh in the treble, sure, but a little EQ made that basically go away. Still the Modi+ just didn’t do what the Bifrost did, and after talking with people on the Sonic Visions Discord they suggested that maybe the Bifrost 2 OG would sound better to me than the 2/64. Now one of the most amazing things about the Bifrost 2 line is that it’s modular, meaning that if I wanted to try the the Bifrost 2 OG I didn’t have to buy a whole new DAC, I could just find a used 2 OG card (which run about $100) and stick it inside. So much less expensive than buying a whole new DAC. Props to Schiit, more companies should do this sort of thing. The only problem is that there’s apparently two versions of the Bifrost 2 OG card—the original one which has Nichicon capacitors, and the second one which has WE capacitors which was used apparently beginning in the pandemic due to supply chain issues. So I did the obvious thing for someone with an audio addiction and more money than sense, I bought one of each. And I liked the Bifrost 2 OG WE cap edition I got first I think better than the 2/64, it was a bit mellower and less etched in the treble, but the OG OG Bifrost 2 card was the one I liked best. Except, that might not even be true. Another thing that came out of the Sonic Visions conversation was the consensus was that the Bifrost 2 DAC should never be turned off, and that it only really shines after it’s been on for about 10 days. I’d been turning the DAC off every night along with the rest of my electronics. So I left the newly minted 2 OG OG on. And after about a week all the problems I’d had with the BF2 line seemed to disappear. So do I really like the OG OG better or is it just because I finally left it on? The only way to know would be to put the 2/64 and/or OG WE Edition back in for another 10 days and see, but right now I’m enjoying this thing too much to do it. (I am going on vacation next week and I’ll turn my power strip off then, so maybe I’ll stick the 2/64 card back in before I turn it back on.) But… well, now I’d put the BF2 back but the Magni+ just wasn’t cutting it. Yes I still used the Crack a lot, but sometimes I wanted to use my ETA Mini S or an IEM or something and also there were the speakers, and while it sounded good… my memory of what the Rebel sounded like haunted me. So I got the Rebel back out and hooked it up. And holy God the smoothness… like I didn’t need to EQ the Kantos anymore. They just sounded good now, the Rebel smoothed all the harshness clean away. And paired with the newly amazing sounding Bifrost… did I like the Rebel better than the Crack now? Sometimes, with the right music, maybe. Like with stuff that has more atmosphere and space to the sound, like TV on the Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain, the Crack was still king, just heavenly. But with more straightforward music with less reverb and harder-edged instruments, like Rush’s Moving Pictures or Daft Punk’s Discovery the Rebel could really deliver something satisfying. Part of the strangeness of this for me was that the guys on Sonic Visions don’t seem to like the Rebel. They call it “dull” and “flat”. And while the soundstage doesn’t have a lot of depth (though plenty of width) on the Rebel, it sounds anything but dull to me. Like the way there’s just no grain or edge to music on the Rebel at all is addictive and what I’m looking for. Maybe that’s what they think it dull? But it doesn’t seem like it even rounds things off to me or anything, you’re still getting lots of detail, there’s no grain. And it sounds like it has plenty of dynamics and “oomf” to me, especially paired with my particular headphones. It’s another situation like with K7 where it feels like I’m just hearing something that other people aren’t. Of course, plenty of reviewers and non-reviewers love the Rebel too, so this might just be a quirk of the particular people who hang out at Sonic Visions, but like it makes me question my hearing and what they’re hearing that I’m not. Maybe I need to hear more solid state amps or something; I made the mistake of bringing the ETA Mini S to the last CanJam because they’re so portable and have better noise isolation than my open-backs, but they just don’t scale, they sound basically the same kind of great on everything. Next CanJam I’m planning on bringing my HD6XX and give the amps there a workout (and I can use the Atriums in the ZMF room a try with different amps there too). Of course, the problem there is that since they’re on different DACs than mine, you necessarily know what’s the amp making something sound a certain way and what’s the DAC. And of course CanJam isn’t the best listening environment. But I don’t really want the cost and hassle of buying expensive amps and returning or reselling them right now. (And for financial reasons, I’m off buying expensive gear for a while now anyway.) In any case, for now I have a system that sounds amazing that I love to listen to, and if I had any brains I’d probably just quit while I’m ahead. My downgrade failed, it’s true, but I discovered the OG BF2 and leaving my DAC on, so that’s something, and I also gained a renewed appreciation for the strengths of the ol’ Rebel. (This isn’t the first time I tried to replace it with something smaller either. I previously got the Magni Piety intending to replace it with that, and then it seems like I’m the only person in the world who didn’t like the Piety at all. It just sounded fuzzy and grainy to me. Maybe I’m more sensitive to grain than other people, i don’t know.) Do any of you all have experiences where it feels like you’re just hearing things in a way other people don’t seem to be? I’d be curious to know.