REVIEW: Schiit Bifrost DAC

No - it’s not a mis-spelling - the company really is called SCHIIT

It was calculated and they play on it - but despite their apparent sense of humour, don’t go thinking they are in it for a joke - these guys are deadly serious about hi-fi!

They produce a very focussed line of high quality products, at a fair price, with some interesting design features - and they only sell direct (hence the fair price)

The Bifrost is their mid-line product, being surrounded by the Modi as their entry level DAC and the Gugnir, the top of the line model

I opted for the Bifrost model mainly because I had identified very specific requirements which the Bifrost matched completely, which were….
•24/192 on all inputs
•USB, toslink and s/pdif inputs
•Onboard Mains Power (none of these silly little external supplies)
•Amazing sound (OK - we all want that, but how good could possibly it be?)

The only problem with web-based outfit - who knows how good they are - there really is no possibility of a side-by-side audition.

I did a lot of reading and people seemed to be quite generous with their accolades, so I took the plunge and placed an order.

I opted for the Bifrost with the USB input ($100 extra) and the Uber analogue stage upgrade ($70 extra) for a grand total of $520

Since I’m in Canada I had to pay around $60 for the mid level postage and on arrival, another $70 Duty and $10 handling - Grand Total $660

I placed the order Friday afternoon - within an hour the unit had shipped! The following Tuesday, around Mid day I was signing for the parcel. - now that’s Service!

Once unpacked, I put the little sticky feet on and left the mains lead provided in the box where it belongs!

I found, by way of experimentation with my previous DAC that a good mains supply is paramount when delivering good performance. I had replaced it’s meagre Wal-Wart power supply with a DIY supply providing much more headroom than actually required.

With on-board power supplies the only thing you can hope to improve is the power cable and since I just happen to have a well broken in Furutech FP-314 Ag - a 15AWG α (Alpha) conductor power cable handy, I powered up the Bifrost. Yes, cables make a difference.

I first connected the Bifrost to my iMac via a DH Labs toslink (optical) cable, which I have found to be completely trouble free and very good at data transfer - rated at over 150 Mbps. The interconnects I use are Stager Silver Solids - i meter in length. Interconnects matter also.

I played through several of my favourite audition tracks and right out of the box the Bifrost had already exceeded my expectations.

Prior to ordering the Bifrost I had gone to local stores and auditioned several higher priced DACs, including:
•Wadia 121 decoding computer
•Mytek Stereo 192 DSD DAC
•Chord QuteHD DAC

Now I’m not going to say the Bifrost is better than these three, since they are many times its cost, but it comes very close to two of them and to these ears, was better than the other one.

What I found was that the guys at Schiit are deadly serious about producing high quality audio products
•The bass frequencies go very deep and are very well controlled - my favourite pipe-organ tracks now sound extremely realistic with those low notes that have the unmistakable rumble and the high notes are crystal clear and uncluttered and you can hear them breathing.
•The high frequencies are extremely well behaved - strings seem so much smoother, you can hear the air crossing the mouthpiece on flutes. Reproduction of sibilance is superb.
•Dynamic control across the board is extremely good and a vast improvement to my previous DAC
•The fine details that puts you into the recording venue are there and this is really highlighted on orchestral tracks and live music
•The stage is huge in width, very good in height and cavernous in depth - again pipe organ tracks project way beyond the back of the speakers - I was sitting in a Cathedral.

The musicality is another outstanding achievement by the guys at Schiit. The sound is much more analogue than digital and as the unit breaks in that attribute is just getting better. I have not yet found myself fatigued and I’ve put in several hours listening so far.

What about HD Digital you say?

The bulk of my collection is 16/44 with a few 24/96 tracks and a couple of 24/192, but the Bifrost handles HD tracks with amazing dexterity.

My previous DAC was an up sampling DAC, so everything got up-samlped to 192kHz - and it didn’t do a great job of that.

The Bifrost processes the sample rate it’s given, so whatever you throw at it, that is what gets converted - no up-sampling! The net result is there is no interpolation going on to fill in missing samples and that seems to result a “crisper” presentation. There seems to be more snap in the drums, more whispery textures in the vocals, but strangely, strings seems smoother and not brighter - go figure.

SIDBAR: I use an iMac to stream HD, and the iMac has a silly setting that also up-samples. To avoid this you would need to install BitPerfect - a small program that passes the data at the sample rate recorded - it’s only $9.99 from the Apple Store.

One last item to test - the USB and s/pdif inputs - yep - they work! and they sound no different from the toslink to these ears - so I left the DH Labs USB cable in place.

For the s/pdif input test, I connected my DVD player. To my surprise playing a disk sounded the same as the same track streamed from the iMac.

I could go on about the dynamics of “this track” and the delicate textures of “that track”, but then you would have to know those tracks intimately to understand my rantings.

I will go on record as saying this is an exceptional value for money - and I mean EXCEPTIONAL!

It is very close performance wise to the other units I auditioned and to be quite honest, I think that if I was to hear them side by side and budget was no object, I’d still select a Schiit - maybe the Gungnir instead of the Bifrost, but with the Uber upgrade I think it would also be a very close call.

If you need balanced outputs then the Gungnir would be the model to go for.

So I now have a piece of Schiit on my hi-fi stand and my wife didn’t give me any because it was much less than the competition.

To sum up - The Bifrost is a no-nonsense, no-frills, basic inputs, no remote, get off your backside and select the damn input yourself kinda DAC

If you want frills - go somewhere else - but ya ain’t gonna get an audio experience as honest as this one unless you spend 2, 3, or 4 times the money!

Yes - it’s that damn good!
My apologies to Schiit and also any Gungnir owners, since I didn't mean to "infer" that the only difference between the Bifrost and the Gungnir was the balanced outputs in my review above. Far from it!

The Gungnir is a completely "balanced design", with a seperate power supply and audio stage for each channel - for more info please visit "The Gungnir"for full technical details

Since I have never heard the Gungnir I cannot comment on it's performance, but I can speculate based on the Bifrost.

It too will kick some serious butt - as long as you don't mind getting off of yours to change sources :-)
Hey thanks for the information. I've been looking for a fully balanced USB DAC for a while. The Gungnir looks like it might be the ticket. They have a 15 day trial period so why not. I'll be comparing the sound to an Oppo 105. I need two dacs for an active crossover, bi-amp configuration.
Mr. Wonka, what are you using for playback software on your Mac Mini? I'd be interested to see if Audirvana 1.5.2 in integer mode on your Mac would still sound the same as your DVD transport as the source.
Just using iTunes on my iMac that has BitPerfect loaded.

Using a USB cable to bridge to Bifrost.

No plans to use anything else - sound is amazing as is.
It's always nice to see someone happy with a purchase choice. Let's revisit this thread in a year and see how everything shakes out. Enjoy.
Chayro - know what you mean - you must have read my review of the Raysonic SP120 :-)

I still liked the sound - just fed up heating the house every time I listened to music - extremely happy with the Naim - after 2+ years

I'm much more selective these days - been looking at the Schiit stuff for a couple of months now - so far it's panning out very nicely

Keep your eyes tuned to this space this time next year :-)
UPDATE: still loving the Bifrost...

However, Dan (drubin) brought something to my attention I thought it was very much worth sharing.

I was reading his post regarding BitPerfect, which I then loaded and found it to be much better at playback than just iTunes

Dan also advised that I might find that Audirvana might provide even better performance.

I looked into it and found that ...
Audirvana Plus 1.4, completely bypasses CoreAudio, even its low-level layer, and thus reenables the buried Integer Mode, in addition to offer even increased sound quality

VERDICT: A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! - it cleaned up everything across the board

It provides a much more dynamic presentation - any percussive/picking sounds are so much crisper than before.

Strings have lost a little bit of their edge and as a result sound a little smoother.

Instrument position within the image has also improved slightly. One track I have has two sax players doing battle at the same time - at times their focus was a little blurry in that they appeared to move slightly - NOT ANY MORE!

And that's just the 16/44 tracks - the 24/96 and 24/192 tracks I have sound so much more life-like and extremely detailed.

This DAC combined with Audirvana provides a very compelling musical presentation.

Just for "fun" I went to a local store today to audition the Mytek 192 DSD dac, just to se how it compares - and even though it sounds very good - I must say the Schiit Bifrost has nothing to be ashamed of - it's definitely right up there with Chord QuteHD, and Mytek 192 DSD.

Definitely no regrets with this purchase :-)

Special thanks to Dan for the pointer
One thing I forgot to mention in the above post - Audirvana seems to integrate nicely with iTunes, which in turn works nicely with my droid app Retune, which I use for remote control.

Finally this streaming thing seems to be coming together :-)
Does Audirvana read the song into ram and stream from there or is it played right off the hard drive?

I am seriously considering a computer rig to replace my cdp now.
Photonman - Yes it loads into ram - there is also an indicator on the interface that shows how the retrieval from the hard disk is progressing and where in the retrieved data the current point of playback is situated.

With 16/44 it retrieves the track very quickly and that indicator disappears once it is loaded, but it's more noticeable with hd tracks since they take longer to load into ram.
And then it all came together :-)

So I've had the Bifrost in the system for 9 days and it's been powered on 24/7.

Yesterday, I played some classical and immediately became very aware of the spatial details this unit is now producing.

Their placement from a depth perspective seems to have become much more precise. It was always very good across the sound stage but now they are more isolated front to back. The whole 3D image is now very detailed and spacious.

These new details also bring a smoothness to violins' particularly soloists that I believed was only possible on vinyl. So I switched to vinyl and listened and there was the same spacious detailing every time.

I went back and forth a few times just to make sure it wasn't a fluke, or an anomaly of the track I was playing, but I was hearing correctly - there is a very analogue feel to the reproduction the Bifrost is capable of

For a long time I've purchased classical only on vinyl just because of that smoothness and spacial detailing it reproduces, often leaving CD recordings that I wanted to try on the rack.

I have downloaded a few classical HD tracks in the hope that I would find a digital format that might get close to analogue reproduction. But even those had me switching back to vinyl - until now.

I never thought for one moment that 16/44 would ever come close to analogue, but the Bfrost has delivered a quality that I had not thought possible.

The quality is very dependent on how the content of the file is transferred to the DAC. I started with just iTunes, then installed BitPerfect and have finally settled on Audirvana. The difference between all three were quite noticeable.

I am also using a high throughput USB cable from DH Labs and Stager Silver Solids interconnects. The power cord is DIY using Furutech 15 gauge cable with floating shield and Vanguard gold-on-copper connectors.

I'm a big believer in good wires - they make or break a units perormance.

I'm not saying this little $520 DAC is as good as vinyl, but if you want a vinyl-ish performance from your digital collection, you might want to give the Bifrost a try.

I've also been in contact with Schiit, asking how the Gungnir (next model up) performs in relation to the Bifrost. Apart from the technical aspects of its design, the bottom line seemed to be that the Gungnir is more natural sounding. For only $300 more it might be advantageous to explore this model instead (kinda wished I had now).

As with all electronics, a burn-in period is crucial in order to attain the best performance - this one appears to take around 200+ hours. This makes the 15 day money back offer by Schiit a bit tight, but then, you might just be keeping it once you've heard it really perform :-)

Back to the music :-)
My friend and I did a blind test using headphones on the same setup. The Arcam rDac came up better 100% of the time on several tracks we tested with. We both took turns on the blind test and both our findings were 100% conclusive after several rounds. The Arcam just sounded more alive while the Schitt seems dull, slow and flat. My friend was visibly filled with buyer's remorse with his Schitt. Unfortunately no 24/192 recording was used though.
Shsohis - some questions

1. Did the Bifrost have the Uber analogue upgrade?
2. Did you use the standard power cable or an upgraded one?
3. Do you recall what interconnects were you using?
4. Had both units gone through an adequate burn-in process?

I have heard from a couple of sources that the Uber upgrade provides a significant improvement in performance - more life like. I have not heard the standard Bifrost in my system, so I cannot state what improvements might be attained, but the Uber upgrade sounds excellent to me.

Although I was very happy using the Bifrost right out of the box - after 200+ hours of use it really started to strut its stuff.

The capacitance of interconnects can effect a components performance - the interconnects I have tried are in the area of 35-60 pf/meter and both worked very well

As I stated in my review - I am using a Furutech power cable from a dedicated line outlet to the Bifrost- this improves the dynamics and spacial details a lot

I am also using solid silver interconnects - this improves the micro details such as room acoustics.

When I've been faced with less than expected performance from a component I first start with power supply and interconnects before I give up on it.

The Bifrost for me was a leap of faith - one which, to these ears, has exceeded my expectations - maybe it's my ears? - who knows.

All I can say for sure is that there is nothing flat in what I am hearing at present, but Arcam is also very good gear and without hearing one in my system I cannot assess it's performance as you did.

I hope your fried gives the Bifrost a second chance by trying a different power cable and interconnect.

Back to the music
Shsohis - one other thing I found with the Bifrost is that it presented better dynamics when the data sent to it was at the sample rate of the recording
i.e. it was not up-sampled.

This appeared to be the case for 16/44 and 24/96 recordings from what I could tell

I use an iMac to deliver digital content and did try various settings to confirm this

I have found that Audirvana configured not to up-sample allowed the Bifrost to deliver its best performance to date.

Maybe it would be worthwhile for your friend to take a look at this also

Hope it all works out Ok
Hi, I'm not sure but everything seems to be stock - same for the Arcam. In fact, my Arcam was fresh out of the box - never used before. Anyway, my friend is still with the Schitt and I have since sold away the Arcam which has been idling for a long time.
Shsohis - I would have expected your friend to sell his Schiit and you stay with Arcam. I think you were just defending your purchase by trying to belittle your friend's DAC - and you got rid of yours fast!

Well it's been a couple of months since receiving this surprising little DAC and it just keeps giving.

In that time I have upgraded the power cords and converted the Stager Silver Sonic interconnect with Eichmann Silver Bullets RCA connectors on the dac end and silver plated DIN connectors on the amp end.

I think I've squeezed just about every ounce of performance out of it :-)

What I am hearing is a very neutral sounding DAC that conveys a level of detail that impresses me very much.

The bass reproduction is very controlled and very deep - pipe organ music bass notes carry a superb texture that my old dac fell far short of and some of the R&B music I have now sounds totally different due to that precise control

It's performance is very articulate across the entire frequency range with very competent dynamics, particularly with drums, and brass has an edge where necessary, which was very refreshing to hear.

High frequencies also are very well controlled with a smoothness that I attribute to the dac being very adept at reconstructing a high frequency audio signal.

Cymbals linger much longer, triangles and chimes are brighter and sibilance displays a control and depth.

Lastly, the spatial image is cavernous on those recording with fastidious sound engineers. This aspect was perhaps the most surprising aspect of this $520 DAC.

I have several pipe organ tracks and merely by closing my eyes, there I am, right there in church or cathedral where it was recorded - completely enveloped in the performance - it's just downright eerie.

I also have some select jazz tracks, the best of which is La Habana Joban by Xiomara Laugart - a very spacious presentation with outstanding texture in the vocal reproduction.

Do I wish I'd purchased the Gungnir? - if I had, it probably would have been my last dac (from my wife's perspective). This way I might get to upgrade when Schiit release their next model

As it is, I am very happy with a product that goes a long way to levelling the playing field between digital and analogue and no longer have pangs of "digital envy" when visiting audio stores.

Is it as good as my analogue rig? At $520 how could it be - but it does quite an amazing job, especially if you ensure the cables are high quality!

How good should the cables be? - well lets just say the better the cable are (both power and interconnect) the better the performance - and it just kept improving as I upgraded.

Interconnects: Stager Silver Solids + Eichmann Silver Bullets + Neutrik silver plated DIN

Power cable: Furutech 10 gauge shielded + Vanguard gold/copper mains connectors

Now you may be thinking that using cables that cost as much as the DAC would bring out a superb performance in any DAC in this price range - and you would be right.

But - what enjoy most about the Schiit Bifrost is it neutrality, smoothness and it's precision, and from that perspective I find it to be one of the most "analogue sounding" DACs I have ever listened too - bar none!

I can listen to it for hours at a time without fatigue and at no time do I find myself wishing - "if only I had that track on vinyl"

Am I a digital convert? - no!

But now I purchase those albums that are CD only and look forward to hearing them

Best DAC in the world? - no
Best DAC under $900 - let's just say it's a very competent performer - when treated to good cables

Remember the $520 includes both the USB and Uber analogue upgrade, the starting price is $350 and the upgrades mentioned above can always be purchased later

Back to digital :-)
Just a question regarding BitPerfect, does the sound improvement remain just local, or will my music files receive the benefit via an Apple TV server & iPhone 4s? Cheers
Bitperfect plays your audio files only - it sounds better because it bypasses tha apple routines - it does not improve the quality of digital files

Well a couple of posts ago I stated that I thought I'd squeezed about every ounce of performance out of this excellent DAC


Since that post I've again upgrade IC's, SC's and PC's and this little DAC stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park.

If anyone had told just how good this DAC could be I would have bought it sooner.

Crystal clear details, amazing spatial properties, a bass that goes way down to clearly visible sub-sonics and dynamics that amaze.
Of course, to get all this you have to have the right cables. But the perfomance is there waiting to be unleashed.

And for those or you wanting that analogue sound - this DAC puts out.

As good as my analogue rig? - not quite, but it's as close as I've got and at only $550 + cables :-)

Truly a remarkable product for the price

Anyone out there compared the Bifrost uber to the Wyred 4 Sound Dac-1?
Mauidj - I think the DAC-1 may be the next level up in terms of sonic performance.

The Schiit product that may be comparable is the Gungnir. Even so, the Gungnir is a pretty "basic" design in terms of functionality, but an excellent performer from an audio perspective

From what I have read they have very similar sample rate abilities, but at $850, the Gungnir is more affordable.

So it really depends what your priorities are
- the Bifrost is great value
- the Gungnir is a great performer
- the DAC-1 may just have the edge, with what looks like more features and perhaps it may also have marginally better imaging. It has what looks like a very substantial power supply which I find generally translates into better imaging/dynamics.

The only true test is hearing them in your system.

Personally - I was considering an upgrade to the Gungnir some time in the future, but looking at the DAC-1 features led me to the DAC-2, which has definately peeked my interest :-)

These were my thoughts too Willie.
Just wanted some other opinions.
I don't need any bells just great sound for my dollar.
Bummed because there was a used one here 2 days ago at a nice price.
Oh well...snoozers lose I guess ;-)
Maudji - which one did you miss - Bifrost, Gugnnir or DAC-1?

I guess which one you prefer depends on how much you are prepared to spend to get close to reality.

Up until recently I had thought my $550 Bifrost was pretty darn close to my $1500 Moon LP5.3 phono stage.

Then I upgraded the RCA's on my turntable and my Moon now has a significantly better image - very engaging and lifelike.

Since the DAC-2 is around the same price point as the Moon I would assume it would provide a similar level of performance - I could be wrong

But there's that little nagging voice in my head that favours the Gugnir.

Being in Canada, it makes it more difficult to take advantage of the Gungnir 15 day return policy(delays at the border).

So, if there is anyone out there that has tried either the DAC-1 or DAC-2 and the Gungnir - your feedback would be most welcome

Cheers :-)
Have the Dac 1 and recently had it upgraded. Wyred has a much better power supply driving superior parts for better sound.
Magnum - what power cable and interconnects do you use on the Dac-1?

Figured I resurrect this thread with an update, since so many have viewed it over it's life.

I've just installed the newly released USB Gen 2 from Schiit

For details see this thread...

Schiit USB Gen 2 Upgrade for Bifrost & Gungnir

A worthwhile upgrade
One last update - since this DAC came from the minds of "digital experts", I believed it could perform much better.

To that end I purchased a Musical Fidelity v-link192 USB/spdif converter

Turns out the v-link has a far superior USB implementation.

But it did prove that this very affordable little DAC was capable of so much more!

The sound is nothing short of amazing, but SQ does depend greatly on the cables used - to that end I'm using KLEI gZero3D spdif and KLEI gZero20 interconnects.

You might think this is a little overkill, but the sound is amazing.

If these cables are a little rich for your wallet, try the KLEI gZero2D and the KLEI gZero2 IC's - another superb combination

But back to the main topic - the Gen 2 USB upgrade falls far short of the v-link 192 - and the v-link is a few dollars less.

The combination is very analogue in nature and a real pleasure to listen to.

UPDATE:The 4490 board arrived this morning and has been up and
running for around 2 hours.

My old Bifrost environment was
- Uber Analogue Upgrade option
- V-Link192 in place of the Schiit USB port
- excellent power cables, USB, IC's and SPDIF cables

I have always liked the Bifrost for it's "spirited"
and detailed abilities, but the 4490 has now upped the anti in
a very good way...

- The dynamics are a little more punchy
- The image is very cohesive - the best I've ever heard it
- the mid-upper frequency details and clarity has improved
- The high end has much more body - not quite so shrill
>>> upper register of violins is much smoother
- Micro details have improved
>>> excellent venue acoustics reproduction
>>> significantly improved decay of cymbals
>>> more whispery textures on vocals

The upgrade from the Uber Analogue to the $70 4490 was well
worth it, so I would imagine upgrading from a stock Bifrost to
the 4490 would appear even better.

I was not impressed with the USB Gen 2 upgrades, since its
performance was trounced by the v-Link192.

But the 4490 upgrade shows that the Bifrost Team can pull off
a very worthwhile upgrade for a very affordable price.

This is as close to analogue as I've ever heard it!

It should be really nice - once it's burned in :-)

Well, after 11 days continuous burn-in the 4490 has provided an exceptional improvement in SQ and is providing the most cohesive reproduction I've ever experienced on my system.

All aspects of fidelity, i.e. timing, image, spatial accuracy, dynamics, clarity, and details have exceeded my expectations for a $70 upgrade. Only leaves me wondering what the Multibit is capable of.

Comparing the Uber Upgrade board to the 4490 reveals a remarkable similarity in the components used and their placement - I would guestimate 90% the same - which leads me to believe that the Uber Upgrade is also included.

If you are considering 4490 upgrade I can highly recommend it :-)

Im curious why you didn't go with the multibit... $? I have a bifrost uber as well and was going to go multibit because I didn't think the 4490 was much better than the uber...
B_limo - I'm in Canada and subject to conversion rate and maybe even duty.

I priced the multibit and took into account the time taken the ship the unit there and back, plus the price of the upgrade and shipping cost to and fro and possibly duty. It started to get expensive by comparison to going the 4490 route.

The 4490 was a much simpler upgrade process and significantly cheaper. No duty either.

Turns out the improvement in SQ was far greater than I had thought would be possible, which was a bonus

In my mind, if I were to go with multibit, I would also upgrade to the Gungnir because of its superior design.

I'm not really considering the yggdrasil at this point in time - to $$$

The Bifrost 4490 is a very capable DAC with the right cables and when used with a USB-SPDIF converter like the v-link192.

Unfortunately, I did not find the Schiit USB Gen 2 upgrade to be in the same league as the v-link USB interface.

That's about it :-)