Schiit Bifrost with USB & Uber upgrades

Category: Digital

Schiit produces 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 Gungnir, 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

I also opted to forgo the “Balance Design” of the Gungnir in order to save on cost. Hmm, maybe I should have splurged, but then, there is chatter about a new completely “tricked out” model in the development stages

The only problem with Schiit being a direct-sale outfit - there really is no possibility of a side-by-side audition. But apparently, you can opt to return the DAC within 15 days if it fails to impress at audition time - i.e. for a 5% restock fee + shipping (please contact Schiit for full details)

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

Since I’m in Canada I elected to pay around $60 for the mid level (expedited) postage + tracking 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.

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 Furutech handy I powered it up.

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 - 1 meter in length.

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 in the months since its delivery.

Streaming internet radio has also taken on a new quality and I can even listen to the classical and jazz stations for longer periods with the Bifrost in place.

What about High Def. Digital Audio you say?

The bulk of my collection is 16/44-48 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, probably due to the Uber upgrade.

SIDEBAR: I use an iMac to stream music files, and the iMac has program code that “messes” with the digital file for up sampling and volume control, ultimately colouring the audio output . To avoid this I installed a program called Audirvana Plus - a program that bypasses the internal iMac sound processing code and passes the data at the sample rate recorded. A nice feature of Audirvana Plus is that you can elect to have it integrate with iTunes or operate as a stand alone player. I choose to integrate it with iTunes to allow for remote control using my “Droid” tablet via an app called Retune.

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 CD track 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 based on the performance of the Bifrost with the Uber upgrade - I think it too would also be a very close call.

If you need balanced outputs then the Gungnir would be the model to go for. For the extra $300 - you actually get a completely balanced design with dual transformer power supply and analogue sections, This should elevate it’s performance to the “next level”.

How much better? - that’s the $64M question.

Oh - I almost forgot - this little puppy is also upgradable, so as newer circuitry gets developed you can upgrade - e.g. the Uber Analogue upgrade is an example of this feature - if you don’t have the funds for the Uber right away - you can upgrade later - same goes with the USB input circuitry.

A base model Bifrost starts at $350 - AMAZING!

So I now have a piece of Schiit on my hi-fi stand and my wife didn’t give me any (shit) because it was much less than my original selections

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 3, 4, or 5 times the money!

Yes - it’s that damn good!

My most recent upgrade was to the Stager Silver Solids interconnect cables by adding Eichman Silver Bullet RCA connectors which allowed the Bifrost to demonstrate just how good it really is - a well worthwhile upgrade - more space, improved dynamics etc..
Well it's been a few months since I purchased the Bifrost and in that time I've completed a few upgrades.

The most recent being its power cable and the RCA plugs on it's silver cabled interconnect. The RCA plugs installed are the Copper Harmony from Keith Louis Eichman Innovations.

With those two upgrades the Bifrost is displaying just how good it really is.

The details, dynamics and spatial imaging are are superb - definately in a class way above its price point.

The power cable upgrade alone demonstrates how good the design of the circuit board is, being more than adequate at transfering power to the digital and analogue components, allowing them to operate to their optimum abilities and bring the performance to a very realistic rendition.

Exactly what am I hearing...
- cavernous 3D image
- amazing seperation of instruments and pinpoint placement
- detailed control across the entire frequency range
- whispery texture on voices and superb sibilance cotrol
- very fast and precise initial attack with a nicely extended decay on cymbals with a much richer and complete tone.
- very crisp dynamics - drums and trumpets have much more snap
- much deeper and very well controlled bass
- a much "warmer" presentation - it just sounds more complete

If you have a Bifrost in your hi-fi, do yourself a favour, get a very good power cable and interconnect. The Bifrost will take care of the rest.

The nice thing is you don't have to break the bank - Signal Cable offers the Silver Resolution series of cables that will allow the Bifrost to strut its stuff

And if you don't have the UBER analogue upgrade - try to put one in your budget if possible - it really is worth the extra.

Can you advise the changes or differences between the Eichmann bullets and the Copper Harmony plugs please?


Drew - the changes where quite noticeable and include...

- a larger image, mainly deeper and a little wider

- on some tracks the image now envelopes the listener, but the artist and
instruments are not forward - it's as though the venue acoustics project
further forward than before.

- micro details have improved the most noticeable is sibilance, which is
silky smooth and cymbals and triangles are much clearer and their decay is
longer, and let's not forget those really high violin notes that can come
across like nails on a chalkboard - they're very smooth now.

- dynamics have improved across the board, but I have noticed snare
drums, rim shots and tamborines are now very very crisp.

- there is a fullness or warmth to the overall sound which was lacking

- venue acoustics are much more noticeable, which for me makes the
music much more engaging

That is after about 100 hours burn in. The first hour was less impressive.

I notice different things with almost every track I listen to - like the details
of the guitar strings against a bottleneck in some delta blues slide guitar
tracks I have and the whispery texture of many female singers.

Orchestral pieces have a cavernous image and pipe organ music has
wonderfully textured bass notes that rattle the windows.

Now I hasten to add that this is on my system, which I believe to have very
good interconnects (solid silver single core teflon insulation) and I've
recently upgraded my power cables, which I found allowed many of the
more subtle details to be more easily heard.

Just to see if it was brain wanting me to think they were better - I
connected the DAC to the interconnects from the phono stage, which are
identical, but has the Silver Bullets on the source end - let's just say the
music sound thin and lifeless by comparison.

My previous RCA's were the original Eichman Silver Bullets - which I had
previously thought were pretty darn good.

The Copper Harmony is just better at everything - which took me
completely by surprise, so they are my new reference :-)

I will be writing a complete review on my blog next week - if you want the
link let me know

But pretty much you've got the "Coles Notes" version above

BTW the Copper Harmony retails at $60AUSSIE for a set of 4 and are now
silver coated.

Hope you find this useful :-)
Well I've just finished burning in the Silver Harmony RCA plugs on my
Stager Silver Solids that connect the DAC to the amp

Improvements include
- much finer detail resolution
- faster dynamics
- Larger image more prominent 3D image
- deeper bass lines
- improved upper frequencies and associated details
- silky smooth sibilance
- amazing venue acoutics detailing and space

The RCA's just allowed this little DAC's exceptional performance to get to
the amp - superb!!!

I also upgraded the power cable, which I believe allowed it to raise it's
performance level significantly

One of the best components I have ever purchased !

Giant killer? - you bet :-)

Hello Willie:

I loved your review especially since I own the Bifrost Uber+USB. Your point on power cords got me curious. I live in India and I may have to order one from abroad. What cable would you recommend for 220V, 50 Hz supply ?

Thanks and regards

Koth - I thought I had posted a response and noticed this morning that it was not there - must have pressed the wrong button - sorry about that.

Well, I have found that devices that operate at a higher voltage, in your case 220v, tend to experience less benefit than those that operate at lower voltages such as 120v

Not to say that you will not hear any benefit, but you may require a significantly better quality cable.

First a couple of questions
1. what mains plug do you use?
- 15 amp round pin
- 13 amp square pin
- Schuko
2. what do you want to spend for this cable? (in $ please)

Some people may think I am crazy when they learn that my cables (power + Interconnect) cost as much as the Bifrost itself - fact is, the Bifrost is capable of so much more than it's modest price tag would suggest - it just needs to be set free :-)

If you are at all handy and can attach plugs/connectors to a piece of wire, then the DIY route will get you the best "bang for the buck" - let me know and I'll send you the details. As an example - I just made a power cable for about $35 that performed almost as good as cables 10 times the price.

Let me know your preference

Well - in the last few months I've packed a few upgrades around the Bifrost

1. Upgraded the power cable to a DIY Spiral design
2. upgraded the interconnect to a DIY spiral design
3. upgraded the USB to the cable below

Power supply and USB cable separate audio signal cable

This USB cable is nicely made and performs better than my DH Labs USB cable - even when plugging both data and power leads into my iMac.

For details on the DIY spiral design cables see the "System" link below

The new USB cable provided significant improvements of the very fine details and image, but the source of the USB power is crucial.

Power sources I have tried include
1. plugging power and signal into my iMac
2. plugging into a no-name USB power adapter
3. plugging into an Enercell or ASUS USB power adapter
4. plugging into a USB rechargeable battery

1 was not too bad but 3 & 4 were better
2 was the worst
3 and 4 were the best and equal in performance

This USB cable would enhance any DAC that utilizes USB power like the Bifrost does.

Schiit also has a "Decrappifier" which costs $100 and you'll need a second quality USB cable. No idea how good it is, so can make no comment, but this two lead USB cable eliminates the need for yet another component.

I had always wondered why Schiit chose to use USB power
- now it is quite clear, yet another product for them to sell to you.

if you want an even better USB power supply, take a look at the Teradak line of products - they appear well made and are reasonably priced.

But the Enercell or ASUS USB power adapter performs as well as battery power and they are much cheaper than the Teradak.

That's about it - this source is now complete and sounding fantastic.

Will there be better DACs? - probably, but this one is staying in my system for the foreseeable future.

Happy Listening :-)
One last update...

I have just found out that the ripping software can make a considerable difference in the performance this cracking little DAC is capable of.

I ripped a few of my best CD's using dbPoweramp and WOW! - what a difference.

It really revealed the true resolving power of this amazing DAC.

Just google dbpoweramp - their web site allows you to download a free full function 21 day eval version to try out.

Give it a whirl - even if you have some other DAC - it will make a world of difference

OK - second last update...

If you a looking at getting a USB port for your Bifrost or Gungnir then get the v-Link192 instead.

It's $15 cheaper as well, but you'd better hurry - Musical Fidelity have discontinued them - but they are on eBay

It is a significantly better USB implementation than even the Schiit USB Gen 2 - and I mean significantly.

I just upgraded and was extremely impressed with its performance.

It really allows the Bifrost to show just how good of a DAC it really is.

I would love to hear it with the Gungnir :-)

Thanks for the heads up. I went ahead and bought one before they sell out. At that price... it sounds like a great upgrade.
Zman - what DAC do you have?

Can you post your findings when you get the v-link please - always interesting to find out how others made out.

Since you make your own cables - here's something I tried just on a whim...
- I didn't really have a great S/PDIF wire of my own
- I figured CAT6 works on a LAN, why not as a S/PDIF
- just used a 1/2 meter length of CAT6
- selected one twisted pair of conductors and cut the others back 10mm
- soldered KLEI Pure Harmony RCA'a onto the twisted pair - voila !

As I said - on a whim - I was not expecting it to work at all.

Turns out - it works extremely well with the v-link/Bifrost combo - better than an expensive S/PDIF I borrowed and much better than a Van den Hul spdif I own. Takes a couple of days to really break in

I've tested it up 24/192 and it is very detailed.

Give it a try and see what you think :-)

I don't know if you have to use the KLEI RCA's, as opposed to impedance matched RCA, but they sure do work very well - incredible details.

If you do go the KLEI route you can probably get away with the Silver Harmony for digital. I just had one pair of Pure Harmony lying around waiting for a wire

I have tried stripping a twisted pair out of the CAT6 cable and inserting it in a screen, but it was not quite as detailed - but still better than the VDH and the borrowed s/pdif.

Cheers :-)
I have a Bifrost with all the upgrades. I don't even have a computer yet.
I'm using a Sony DVD player as a transport with Optic cables.
I'm liking what I'm hearing, but I'm working on a PC system.
Once I get the PC and NAS HD, I'll be ready for the V-Line 192.
It'll be awhile, but at the price I paid for the USB/SPIDF converter... I can't get hurt.
Zman - I think you'll like the improvement the computer/v-link combo will provide.

If you have any questions ask away :-)

The latest updates to the digital side of my system include...

- The new Schiit Gen 2 USB upgrade
- Incorporation of the v-Link192 USB/SPDIF converter

The Digital to analogue conversion circuits and the UBER Analogue circuits of the Bifrost are superb. Schiit really know their stuff in these two areas

But Musical Fidelity really knows how to implement an exceptional USB interface.

Combining the two was truly a magical moment

A match made in heaven

Hi,,,,please explain specifically about the Enercell?

what exactly is it...thank you Otto

But the Enercell or ASUS USB power adapter performs as well as battery power and they are much cheaper than the Teradak.
I might be able to help since I bought one after discussion with Willie. Enercell was a RadioShack brand name, I believe. This specific device was just a USB port equipped 5 volt/1 amp AC power converter. Very inexpensive. Don't know about noise contribution of other brands but you could also use a USB-equipped cell phone charger. This info is provided in the context of using it with a split (aka, "2 headed") USB cable; one leg for power, one leg for carrying signal. Google Enercell 5V AC converter and you will find pictures. Mine was black and came in green packing. Hope this helps.
GH - thanks for that - spot on.

Ottoa63 - I have tried several different power adapters and also a USB rechargeable battery.

I could not tell any difference in performance between the Enercell or ASUS power adapters, even compared to a high power USB rechargeable battery.

This is an indication that both these adapters offer a very stable 5V supply, free of the noise normally found in many switching power adapters.

Hope that clarifies things