Schiit Modi 3E Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Mar 11, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    Ok, very quickly will summarize why there is a Modi 3E: AKM factory burned down. Schiit used up AKM4490 parts. ESS parts easily obtainable. Don't know if Modi 3E uses the 9018 or 9016. Will pop the hood to find out. Normally I start out with subjective impressions before measurements to avoid confirmation bias (because sometimes I think I hear things when I don't because of measurements). This time around, I'm going to pull off an ASR. :D

    AmirNAD is 114db

    Schiit Modi 3E
    AmirNAD being defined as SINAD with a steady-stage 1kHz tone at 0dbFS output using 20kHz bandwidth using an APx555 with the cheat-mode High Performance Sine Analyzer turned on.
    upload_2022-3-11_11-45-4.png

    SINAD of 114db is actually kind of disappointing these days. It would have been superb two years ago. However, the world has moved on and we all know that SINAD is a race where those at the top win. Let's take a look how far from the top the Modi 3E fares in this race:
    1. Topping D90SE 123db AmirNAD $899
    2. Gustard X16 121db AmirNAD $499
    3. SMSL M400 121db AmirNAD $859
    4. Matrix X-Sabre Pro 121db AmirNAD $1999
    5. Topping DX7Pro 119db AmirNAD $509
    The Schiit Modi 3E at 114db AmirNAD is a bit off the pace. In Formula 1, the Modi 3E would finish near the back of the pack. Therefore if you believe that AmirNAD is a primary determinant of sound quality and state of the art-ness, then I could only somewhat recommend the Modi 3E. Part of what limits the 3E is that the powerplant isn't as good. The 9018 (or 9016) isn't anywhere as good as the ESS9038 parts used at the top. However, some credit should go to Schiit as they've betterered the prior AKM4490 based Modi 3+'s AmirNAD by 3db or so!

    But then again, are we truly looking at this the right way objectively? The fact is, $500 is still a lot of money for most of us to spend, so let's take look at it from a value respective. At $129, the Schiit Modi 3E provides immense value! This seems to fit with Schiit's business model: they may not be the best, but they provide extreme value.

    AmirNAD (db) per US Dollar
    upload_2022-3-11_12-2-51.png

    The Modi 3E slaughters its competition when it comes to AmirNAD per USD. It's not even close. In fact, scientifically and objectively speaking, we cannot hear anything different when AmirNAD is better than 110db. This said by the man himself (not I). Therefore there is no reason to get any other DAC if you looking at this objectively and belong in the cult of AmirNAD.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 11, 2022
  2. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    Schiit Modi 3E
    Linearity (bandpass at 1kHz) x10 measurements overlaid
    upload_2022-3-11_12-14-59.png

    Schiit Modi 3E
    IMD Level Sweep (SMPTE 60Hz and 7kHz at 4:1 split)
    upload_2022-3-11_12-26-13.png

    Really no IMD hump as seen on many ESS based DACs. Maybe just the slightly hint. The results are super good. almost -60db IMD for -60dbFS output.
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    Schiit Modi 3E
    Jitter USB
    48kHz sampling rate
    x10 Average
    upload_2022-3-11_12-53-7.png

    A few low level tiny spurs. No sidebands. Excellent.

    Schiit Modi 3E
    Jitter Optical
    48kHz sampling rate
    x10 Average
    upload_2022-3-11_12-55-20.png

    Schiit Modi 3E
    Coax Optical
    48kHz sampling rate
    x10 Average
    upload_2022-3-11_12-57-45.png

    Amazing performance across all three inputs!
     
  4. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    Schiit Modi 3E
    White noise 44.1kHz
    upload_2022-3-11_13-2-0.png

    Schiit Modi 3E
    THD+N vs (dB) Output (dbFS) at various frequencies
    90kHz bandwidth
    upload_2022-3-11_13-10-19.png

    Schiit Modi 3E
    THD vs (dB) Output (dbFS) at various frequencies (note: THD only, not THD+N)
    90kHz bandwidt
    upload_2022-3-11_13-12-24.png
     
  5. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    Tonight for subjective impressions... It's not bad. Different from Modi 3+. I actually prefer it to the AKM based Modi 3+. However, others may not and I will explain.
     
  6. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    OK, NO MORE MEASUREMENT BULLSHIT. HOW DOES IT SOUND:

    It's impossible to discuss how the Modi 3E sounds without referring to the Modi 3+ or other ESS DACs. I had an opportunity to pass around the Modi 3E to other folks. One person couldn't distinguish between the 3E and the 3+ from each other, or at least felt they were close enough. I guess this depends how much we want to pick apart gear, but there is some truth to this. Modern DACs, especially delta-sigma DACs, are going to sound closer to each other than not. And really most regular people are not going to care or notice a difference.

    The first question is does the Modi 3E sound like the hot itchy scratchy lean ESS garbage typical of many Chi-Fi brands or does it belong in the rare latter group of ESS DACs designed by the ESS whisperers, e.g. LH Labs (let us not dwell on this), MOTU, etc. Well, I'm happy to say that the Modi 3E belongs in the latter group. (I had my doubts, for one second. Because the folks at Schiit design their stuff by ear, from tweaking the distortion parameters of the ESS DACs, choosing the right sounding opamps, implementing their own USB, doing fancy switcher or voltage pump power supplies, etc. I bet they could have squeezed out 1-2db better AmirNAD if they wanted to, but they didn't.)

    In fact, the Modi 3E reminds a lot of the output of the MOTU Ultralite. The presentation has inner warmth throughout. Think vintage audio gear warmth, not not to be confused with an outright warmpoo organic sound (often associated with the typical 300B tube sound). The interesting thing is that there is nothing in the measurements above that would indicate this.

    Clarity, blackground, and microdetail are very good. There's a bit of mellowness in the upper mids like with the MOTU Ultralite too, but with transients which are bit more incisive - which is a good thing because the Ultralite was maybe a bit too mellow. The 3E improves upon the Ultralite with more slam and increased microdetail. In other words, it sounds like a better MOTU Utlralite rather than like the LH GOV2 (which took the organic sounding approach with the soft rolloff filter).

    Of course how does it sound compared to the 3+? I did a level matched blind test with the Modi 3+ and this is what I've concluded: I know that many folks on SBAF have given AKM's VELVET SOUND, particularly of the 4490 and 4493 AKM chips a hard time, e.g. hits like wet noodle, phat bloomy lows, hot top octave, mids thrown into a blender, etc. The awesome thing about blind tests is that they often give us a new perspective. The AKM4490 based Modi 3+ ain't that bad. To borrow someone else's phrase, it's a nice "happy sound". There's a certain seductiveness to the VELVET sound. The extra air in the top octave gives us a sense of space, openness, and detail. The bloom in the lows is affirming. The fact is, when I switch to the Modi 3E, things sound kind of boring, unexciting, pedestrian. BTW, it's not hard for me to tell which DAC is which in a blind test, having the 3 and 3+ here or there for years now.

    However, it's only after extended listening where the 3+'s VELVET SOUND grates on me. It too much of a good thing if that makes any sense. It's like the Freya+ tube mode. I know the Freya+ sells like hotcakes because people love that bloomy sounding implementation. My preference with the Freya+ has always been with it's buffer mode (because it sounds the least like anything). The thing is that I hate the Freya+ tube mode. It's both too different and not enough different from the original signal. The Modi 3+ is like this. Although happier, it's like the always happy person that gets on my nerves after extended exposure. So this is why I prefer the Modi 3E over it. Other listeners, particularly aspiring new audiophiles, may feel differently.

    Now is that to say that the 3E is betterer in every way? There's still that hint of ESS itchiness. Even the MOTU had a hint of this. The only ESS DAC that didn't have any hint of this was LH Labs GOV2, but the GOV2 was tuned to out of the ordinary to be super warm with an early slow rolloff filter. Does it bother me? Not really and the fact is, I don't really notice it if I've been listening to smooth sounding R2R DACs exclusively for a period of time. Also, the 3+ could arguably be said to induce more digititus because of its emphasis in the top octave. Secondly, due to this behavior, and by extension the recessed mids, the 3+ does impart a more distant and diffuse, albeit somewhat diffuse headstage and soundstage than the 3E. The headstage is only somewhat closer on the 3E, but the stage itself is very flat, but imaging is precise left to right. This is typical with many ESS DACs, even with very expensive very high AmirNAD DACs such as the Topping 90SE. Finally, while the 3E's bass is more sturdy and doesn't have the 3+'s phat limpdick bass, the bass pitch articulation isn't very good. This last bit seems to be the case with the lower end ESS chips or many delta-sigma implementations for that matter. For some reason, R2R always wins here, well at least good non-warmpoo implementations. So yeah, there are other reasons for folks to still prefer the AKM4490 AKM 3+.

    As I said in the prior post, and I think @schiit may have said: it's different.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 12, 2022
  7. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    I spy ESS9018, LM4562 as IV, and OPA1656 as output. Warmer sound parts, more sense than OPA1612 with ESS. Race to the topping of the charts, or make it sound good? Different approaches. Dedicated crystals for multiples of 44.1kHz and 48kHz. Given excellent jitter performance, I have to laugh back ten years when when we audiophiles were so dumb and bought into the various boutique nuclearium clocks that cost twenty of these DACs, when really what it comes down to is implementation.

    PXL_20220312_045005418.jpg
     
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  8. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    A few more measurements. At lower levels (-60dbFS and below), looks like even harmonics more into play. At -30dbFS, we see the 5th start to stick up.

    Schiit Modi 3E
    -30dbFS
    upload_2022-3-11_23-8-49.png

    Schiit Modi 3E
    -60dbFS
    upload_2022-3-11_23-8-19.png

    Schiit Modi 3E
    -90dbFS
    upload_2022-3-11_23-8-4.png

    Schiit Modi 3E
    44.1kHz sampling rate
    Ultrasonics to 1Mhz
    upload_2022-3-11_23-11-24.png

    Looks like ultrasonics are controlled very well. No big spikes associated with switchers, everything under -110dbFS

    Will keep this next one for future reference. Kind of curious what kinds of dithering or noise shaping is used. 44.1kHz sampling rate.
    upload_2022-3-11_23-13-43.png
     
  9. señorhifi

    señorhifi Friend

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    Finally a review of this thing. Thanks purr1n for putting it together! I'd be curious to know how it compares to the ESS card that you can get for your Jotunheim and Asgard amp.
     
  10. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 Rando

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    I'm loving the 3E. It's giving my beloved Modi multibit a run for the money. I definitely prefer it over my Modi 3+ and Modius.
     
  11. Chicagorob

    Chicagorob Rando

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    Is it more forward-sounding than the MM? Any glare or hardness in the upper mids?
     
  12. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    I would say that it's more mellow sounding than the MM! No glare or hardness at all. Just a tiny bit tickly in the mid-treble. Surprising for an ESS. I know.
     
  13. Chicagorob

    Chicagorob Rando

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    Thanks for the reply. Looks like my Multibit will be getting a new friend.
     
  14. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 Rando

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    It's as smooth as silk. I had a Topping D50s and sold it after two weeks. The 3E is not harsh at all to my ears. It has great, tight bass that doesn't get in the way of the mids, the treble is clear but not clinical or cold. I love my Modi Multibit but I've turned it off for the first time in a very long time. The Modi Multibit has had my Modi 3+ and Modius sitting idle and now my Modi Multibit is taking a rest.
     
  15. Chicagorob

    Chicagorob Rando

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    Thank you for the feedback. I just ordered the 3E from Schiit. I’m going to let it duke it out with my Multibit. If there is more detail and the soundstage is deep, the Multibit goes up on eBay.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2022
  16. Chicagorob

    Chicagorob Rando

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    I received my 3E and burned it in for 72 hours. My observations are based on Tidal HiFi lossless CD quality playback through a Yamaha A-S1200 integrated and B&W Matrix 805 monitors, which were recapped with Jantzen capacitors.

    The 3E is clean, smooth, well-balanced, with good dynamics. Bass response is bold and punchy. Mids are accurately portrayed, and the highs integrate well with the mids. I prefer the sound of the 3E over several D/S DACs, including two SMSLs, the E30 and JDS Labs DAC +. My main nitpick is the micro USB, which shouldn’t be in a product like this.

    For reference, I compared the 3E to my MM. The biggest difference is in the soundstage. It’s bigger and deeper on the MM. It begins at the speaker plane and recedes behind it. The 3E presentation begins in front of the speaker plane and does not have as much front-to-back depth. I also think the MM has a more enveloping, immersive sound, better hall and ambience retrieval, and less grain in the highs.

    Overall, I’m very impressed with the 3E. It’s the best delta/ sigma DAC I’ve had in my system. For me, its standout qualities are clean delivery, robust bass response, and good tonal balance.
     
  17. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 Rando

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    Well said.
     
  18. androxylo

    androxylo Acquaintance

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    But, but Modius should destroy it, right? Right?
     

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