Schiit Modius DAC announced

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by JohnCarter17, Jun 2, 2020.

  1. JohnCarter17

    JohnCarter17 Facebook Friend

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    2020, Chapter 9
    The DAC You Need?

    Let’s get this out of the way: we have a new DAC, and it’s called Modius.

    Yes, Modius. As in, “Modius Maximus.” It was a pet name used in development, because, hey, you know, this is a bigger, better, badder-ass Modi, so hey, Modius Maximus. Which quickly got shortened to Modius.

    Which, er, stuck.

    “But Modius Maximus is clearly a Roman-influenced name,” the more pedantic will bleat. “That doesn’t exactly fit with your Norse-inspired naming scheme, bub!”

    Yes, sir, you are 100% correct. It’s a mess. It’s all mixed up.

    But this is also coming from:
    A company named “Schiit.”
    People who get most of their Norse mythology from comic books and Wikipedia.
    Guys who thought it would be funny to call their cables PYST and used Cthulhu as a pet name for an AC adapter.
    But it’s also a good descriptor. Modius is simply a bigger, better Modi.
    Instead of an AK4490 D/A converter, it uses an AK4493.
    Instead of being single-ended only, it has single-ended and balanced outputs.
    Instead of having 3 inputs, it has 4 (we added AES).
    Instead of C-Media’s USB input receiver, it has Schiit Unison USB™.
    Instead of fitting perfectly under a Magni or Vali, it fits perfectly under Asgard, Jotunheim, and Lyr.
    Like Modi, Modius can still run it off of a single USB input, or use a separate USB power in to get it to report as a 0mA device. And, like Modi, it’s super-high-value—this designed-and-built-in-California (or Utah) product is $199.

    “Huh. A new delta-sigma DAC, seems a bit boring,” some are saying.

    And yeah, I hear you. It’s so tempting to say, at this specific point in time, “this may not be the DAC you want, but it’s the DAC you need.”

    But that really under-sells Modius. Modius is a great DAC. It is packed with amazing technology, from a 200MHz, 32-bit microprocessor to the high-performance AK4493 DAC to the excellent TI LME49724 differential amplifier, with precision thin-film resistors and film capacitors. It has our exclusive Unison USB™ input, as well as optical and coaxial and AES. It runs off of USB power alone. It sounds very, very good. It is designed and made right here in California. And it’s $199.

    Stop. Go back. Read that again.

    A feature-packed, high-performance balanced DAC, made right here, for $199.

    And yeah, I know, some people don’t care where it’s made, and that’s perfectly fine too. But I’m proud of what we did with Modius, and I’m proud we’re doing it locally, just like all of our other products. It’s important to me. It’s important to the people who work for us. And it’s important to our suppliers, and the people who work for them. Hopefully this will also be important to some of you.

    But, bottom line: Modius really hits the sweet spot for affordable DACs…without compromising on how we make it.


    from:
    https://www.head-fi.org/threads/sch...bable-start-up.701900/page-3991#post-15651815

    ________________

    continued after pics, reproduced in whole to spare people from wading through HF.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2020
  2. JohnCarter17

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  3. JohnCarter17

    JohnCarter17 Facebook Friend

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    continued from:
    https://www.head-fi.org/threads/sch...bable-start-up.701900/page-3991#post-15651815


    Quest for Measurements


    “That’ great and all, but how does it measure?” some are asking. “Better than Modi 3?”

    Yes. Modius is our best-measuring DAC. We made sure of this.

    And that’s a story in itself.

    It’s December 2019. We’re getting ready to launch Modius in January. Everything is cool. We’re ready to roll. We just need to confirm one last thing—does this perform as we expect? So I have Dave drop by the latest version of the board, and run it on the AP.

    Looks good! Looks really good…

    ...except, wait…

    …oh hell…

    …except not as good as Modi 3.

    Yeah. Modius, the bigger better DAC using a better D/A converter and a more exotic output stage, couldn’t beat Modi 3.

    AAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    Mike and Dave and I had words. One point of view was, “Well, it sounds great, who cares?” I put my foot down and said, “If we cannot make it better than Modi 3, we failed.” There was additional discussion about how making the datasheet numbers was difficult with a switching supply, cost constraints, etc. But I stood my ground.

    Dave and I reconvened. Was the balanced LME47924 a problem? The datasheet never showed an output stage like ours. We built their recommended output stage. No dice. Was it noise from the switching power supply? I added a bunch of filtering. The power rails got cleaner, but the measurements didn’t. Was it compensation? Nope. Output filtering? Again nope. We literally tore the dang DAC apart, and found nothing.

    Until I noticed that Dave and I had different datasheets for the part, and the later datasheets had some specific recommendations that hadn’t appeared in the (yes, manufacturer-supplied, supposedly good-to-go datasheet).

    Double AAAAAAARRRGGHHHHHHHHHHH.

    So yeah, the January DAC became more like an April DAC, which is the time it would take us to do a new prototype and make sure it worked. Long story short, we did a new prototype, using the additional information from the later datasheet (and a couple of secret-sauce tricks) and it worked as expected. Whew.

    And then COVID hit.

    So the April DAC became the maybe-never DAC, until we made all the changes we needed to make in order to operate in a world where states were busy shutting down the scourge of domestic manufacturing, while direct-ship-from-China companies were allowed to operate freely. But I digress.

    Another long story short, we made the changes, and the April DAC is now a May/June DAC, and hopefully you will like it a lot.

    “Well, that’s cool, but…why didn’t you use the AKM AK4499 instead of the AK4493?” someone asks.

    “You try to convince Mike to use a $50 delta-sigma DAC,” I’m tempted to say, flippantly.

    But, to be frank, using the AK4499 would mean that Modius was a much higher priced product. Like, a LOT higher. Modius is intended to hit the sweet spot of DACs in the $199 price range. It’s not 100% about measurements or the latest must-have chip. If that isn’t for you, that’s totally cool. There are plenty of other options out there. Though, hmm, none made in USA.

    “So why not two AK4493?” someone else might ask.

    “Because it didn’t really make any difference,” we say. Yep, the measurements might be a bit better, but in the end, it’s the unique output stage that probably makes the most difference.

    So let’s talk about that.

    As far as I know, Modius is the only DAC that has two separate output stages, one for balanced and one for SE. The balanced output stage is built specifically to the strengths of balanced—it uses the very good-sounding LME47924 balanced, differential op-amp, plus film caps and 0.5% precision thin-film resistors, and is DC-coupled. The AK4493 is inherently balanced output, so it’s balanced from start to finish.

    Now, most of the time, you’d take the output of this balanced stage and sum it to create the single-ended output. Makes total sense. That’s what everyone does. Hell, it’s what we did, in some early versions of Modius.

    But…Dave had a really interesting idea: There’s no reason the AK4493 can’t drive BOTH a balanced and single-ended output stage. So that’s what he did—he added a completely separate, parallel single-ended stage, based on the OPA1662, so that single-ended is as fully well-served as balanced.

    The result? A DAC you can use the single-ended OR balanced outputs from…with NO nervosa. Both are fully optimized. Neither passes through a conversion stage. That’s one reason that Modius is a really good-sounding DAC.

    Now, of course, there are other reasons as well, including our own Unison USB input (cue the barfing from the pure objectivist audience, but hey, we can believe in UFOs and Bigfoot and Elvis sightings just like we can believe we have a better USB interface, so there you go) and lots of other little tweaks and stuff that doesn’t show up on an APx, but that we believe is important. Again, maybe we are insane. You can be Scully. We’ll be Mulder. It’s fine.

    Or, well, maybe we should talk about that a bit more.


    Unison USB™ for Everyone

    Modius is also important because it’s the platform that makes Unison USB affordable. This means you get the same unique, super-high-performance UAC2 USB input we’ve been shipping in Bifrost 2, Gungnir, and Yggdrasil for a while now—in a $199 DAC.

    What’s more, it broadens how we use Unison USB—the same 200MHz, 32-bit microprocessor runs the whole show in Modius. That kind of efficiency is key to keeping the price down, while providing very high performance.

    “So you’ve done your own USB input, we get it,” someone says. “So what?”

    So it allows us to concentrate on just one thing: handling PCM digital audio. Which makes it a very, very good USB input, built for universal standards that will be current long, long after the latest unicorn formats die out. It also makes us one of just a handful of companies that have the expertise to do this in-house, and maybe only one of literally two or three that are doing it for USB Audio Class 2, rather than the slower UAC1 standard. It means we don’t buy our USB receiver from another company, which allows us total control over how it works.

    In addition, for a UAC2 input, it’s very low-power. This allows us to run the whole DAC off of USB.

    Yes, that’s right. Modius is just like Modi. It’s USB-powered.

    Yes. Just plug it into your computer, and you’re off and running. Or, use an external USB wall-wart and cable (included) to power it for your SPDIF sources. When it’s run with external power, it reports as a 0mA device, just like Modi, so it's easier to use with phones and tablets.

    All of this flexibility is now built into the Unison USB receiver for Modius. That’s a really neat accomplishment, and we’re very proud of it.

    “Though you’re still using micro-USBs!” someone yells. “What a pain in the ass.”

    And yeah, we hear you. It’s getting close to the point where we’ll start introducing products with USB-C, but for right now, they’re still a bit dear for a product at the Modius’ price point. We’re really, really, really trying to deliver huge value here.

    Again, all this tech philosophy may not matter to some of you. Or you may want the latest unicorn format. That’s perfectly fine, and there’s tons of great gear out there for you. This is something we believe in—something we spent two person-years developing—so it’s important to us. Hopefully some of you will find it important, too.

    And…to have some fun with this…you can now compare Unison USB to AES on a DAC that costs less than 1/10 of an Yggdrasil!


    Back to Stacks

    When we introduced Jotunheim, we introduced the concept of a modular amplifier that could take a USB DAC or phono input as an option. I loved the idea, because I like single-box solutions; they’re simpler and neater.

    A lot of people loved this, too, so we extended it across the line, to Lyr and Asgard. Now we have a line of modular desktop headamps/preamps.

    But a lot of people hated this, too.

    Because there’s only so much you can fit in a Jotunheim-sized chassis. More than one DAC input? Nope. Different cards for different DAC inputs (like optical) are also a no-go, because we didn’t want to have 12,423 different product variations. If you wanted phono, you couldn’t get a DAC. If you wanted a DAC, you couldn’t get phono. And so on.

    So now there’s Modius. It’s exactly the same footprint as any Asgard, Valhalla, Jotunheim, or Lyr. It also matches any Saga. Stack any of those on top of Modius, and you keep your desk space…and gain 4 digital inputs. Stick a phono in the any of the modular products, and you have analog and digital inputs.

    So now, if you want flexibility, you’ve got it…for $1 less than the single-input True Multibit™ card, and $500 less than Bifrost 2 (which is a great DAC, but can make for some pricey stacks!)

    (And yeah, of course you don’t need to use it with only our products…it’s a great DAC for any system, balanced or single-ended.)

    So, welcome back to the Schiit Stack…now jumbo-sized!


    The DAC You Want vs The DAC You Need

    Like I said, it’s unfair to say, “this may not be the DAC you want, but it’s the DAC you need,” when it comes to Modius. It’s a really excellent-sounding, great-measuring, super-affordable DAC, period.

    So let’s change it up. Here we go:

    “Modius: may not be the DAC you expected, but might be the DAC you love…”

    Enjoy!
     
  4. bboris77

    bboris77 Friend

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    This is what I was hoping for for except:
    1. No built in power supply - relies on the switching power supply
    2. It is using micro-usb connectors
    3. It is half thick, so it only kind of matches the Asgard/Jotunheim
    4. Still no discrete output stage

    Positives:
    1. Unison
    2. Properly engineered (I assume) delta-sigma option made in USA
    3. Balanced (even though I don't use it, it is basically 2 active outputs)

    Overall, it is looking good.I can't wait for Marv to get his hands on one and compare it to the Modi 3.
    I have a sneaking suspicion that if you do not need the balanced output, the Modi 3 will still be the best value.

    I am a bit confused by the measurement report because it appears that the SE output measures better than the balanced. Any insights on why this appears to be the case?

    EDIT: Sorry, I was not fair to the value proposition that the Modius presents compared to the Modi 3 - It has built-in galvanic isolation which is worth at least $100 in itself. Eitr used to sell for double that and Intona is even more expensive. The Modius actually represents crazy value.

    EDIT 2: It is possible that the Modius DOES NOT have galvanic isolation. I am still waiting for a response from Schiit on this.

    EDIT 3: Confirmed, no electromagnetic isolation. :(
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2020
  5. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    I bet all the recent Topping buyers out there are going to be Schiiting themselves and regretting their purchase over this one. Great measurements, made in USA, $199, and the thing looks so well built and frickin sleek as well.

    Bet it sounds way better too.
     
  6. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    Well then..wonder the AKM sound signature is still very prevalent on here.
     
  7. EagleWings

    EagleWings Friend

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    Based on my experience with AKM based devices, I feel the implementation matters as much as the chip. Anyways, I was in desperate need of a proper desktop DAC, so impulse-bought the Modius. I hope it has a full-bodied sound like my N8 and not lean-ish like the RME ADI2.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2020
    Jerry, rlow, Poleepkwa and 1 other person like this.
  8. Ash1412

    Ash1412 Friend

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    Holy crap. Im sure it'll sound fine and probably smack a lot of the "off-the-datasheet" designs up to 2x the price but that motherboard shot really brings home how much of a normal DS DAC is just the one itty bitty black rectangle of a chip.
     
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  9. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    I have a feeling the SE and balanced sound signature will differ a bit and most people will prefer the balanced :)
     
  10. dncnexus

    dncnexus Almost "Made"

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    This could not have come at a better time. I was in the market for a new DAC and was looking at either the Modi or the Bifrost, but was having a hard time justifying the Bifrost 2 price tag. Once this goes on sale I will be picking one of these up and posting a review on it.

    Really impressive and can't wait to get one!

    Edit: It is already on sale, picking one up now!
     
  11. wbass

    wbass Facebook Friend

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    I didn't mind the flat-ish/neutral-ish sound of the RME when I auditioned it, so if the Modius comes close to ADI2, it might be worth a try for me.
     
  12. msommers

    msommers High on Epipens

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    Nice cheap option for the Balanced Nazis.
     
  13. neogeosnk

    neogeosnk Friend

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    This should kill off all Topping and RME Dac sales. Should be better than all of them from what we saw with the remaster of the Bifrost.
     
  14. bboris77

    bboris77 Friend

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    I just double-checked the Modius page and there is no mention of galvanic isolation. Does anyone know for sure whether it does have it? Jason seemed to imply it when he said that the Modius has the same USB Unison input as the Bifrost 2.
     
  15. m17xr2b

    m17xr2b Friend

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    It makes perfect sense for Schiit to pursue the low end from a business/profit perspective and is admirable. I'd rather they push the limits of what is possible and give a rival to the Wavedream. Stupid simpletons and their measurement idiocy.
     
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  16. Bill-P

    Bill-P Level 42 Mad Wizard

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    I don't think people get it yet so I'll summarize:
    Unison USB, no extra power needed, balanced, $199.

    Purchased.
     
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  17. bboris77

    bboris77 Friend

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    I tend to agree. I don't like this trend of companies trying to be all things to everyone. I would rather buy JDS Labs or even Topping gear when I want things that measure amazingly well and go for Schiit gear when I want unique engineering and sound. To me, the Magni 3+ and the Asgard 3 were moves in the right direction. I was really really hoping that they would continue the legacy of the old D/S Bifrost by having a discrete output stage and built-in linear power supply. Even if they measured worse but sounded different than all the other LME49720 solutions.

    I am going to have to pass for now, unless people report that the Modius sounds absolutely phenomenal...then I will get one, because that is the only thing that matters ultimately.
     
  18. RedFuneral

    RedFuneral Facebook Friend

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    Is that an Ethernet jack or a coil ion the left there?

    This DAC comes at just the right time for me as I've just offloaded my Chi-Fi mistake. Here's hoping this one escapes from the velvet sound of your average AKM DAC.
     
  19. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    @schiit : Does Unison automatically mean "galvanic" isolation?
     
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  20. bboris77

    bboris77 Friend

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    I thought it did, but apparently it may not. Still waiting on Schiit to officially comment on this.
     

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