Design and user-experience.
The Bifrost and Modius are very-much desktop-sized devices, each taking up about as much space as a hardback novel, the Bifrost-equivalent version having about one-third more pages versus the slimmer tome that is the Modius. Their footprint is exactly the same, and they’re each stackable with Schiit’s Asgard, Lyr, or Valhalla amplifiers if you’re thinking about putting together a headphone system, or the Saga pre-amp if two-channel audio is more of your thing. Build-quality is run-of-the-mill Schiit: simple, minimal, tough. The Bifrost is noticeably heftier than the Modius, tipping the scales at 2.2 kg versus the 900-odd grams of the Modius.
In the hand, the Modius’ family connection to the entry-level Modi is more conspicuous, being made of a thinner stamped aluminium compared to the solid milled top plate that the Bifrost shares with the Asgard 3. It has more of a toy-like feel to it and sounds a little tinnier when you tap the roof of it. The Bifrost feels like the more expensive, serious piece of hi-fi gear that it is. Both the Bifrost and Modius are available in the classic Schiit silver and matte-black finishes. Your preference will largely depend on the colour of other devices that you might have on hand, but for me, it’s silver all the way. I can’t help but think that the silver input switch on the black Modius looks a little comical.
This input switch on each device rotates between each DAC’s digital input sources: three (USB, coaxial, optical) in the case of the Bifrost and four in the case of the Modius, which gains an AES input. I’ve never come across a piece of source gear that made use of an AES input, but it might be handy for you. Personally, I’d appreciate an extra optical source to hook-up a TV or Xbox in addition to using my Nakamichi CD player as a digital transport. The buttons themselves are a little wobbly and janky (more so on the Modius) and make a plasticky clicking noise, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
“Look Mum, no hands!”
I thought that the remote on the Bifrost, despite being a nice touch, was potentially a little useless given that the Bifrost is a pretty simple, straight-up DAC. It’s a weighty, high-quality little brushed aluminium device, and, as it turns out – it’s magnetic! Very magnetic, in fact. Keep it away from storage devices.
I found myself using the Bifrost’s remote all the time to switch between sources, especially when sitting a little back from my desk when switching between Roon via USB and Xbox via optical. The remote allows you to go ‘forwards’ as well as ‘backwards’, which is nice. The mute feature is handy, but I can’t say that I ever wished for a Phase-inversion switch on a DAC. After some research, it seems that seems that some examples of digital recordings are ‘out-of-phase’, and can throw-out your listening experience. I played around with this feature for a while but seeing as I never stressed-out about phase issues during my listening in the past, I’m not about to now. This feature might be the bee’s knees for you, however, so I won’t pass judgement.
The Bifrost is switched on and off via a familiar Schiit-style toggle switch on the rear of the unit. Powering-up the Bifrost causes the input lights on the front to toggle around in a festive display for around fifteen seconds before being ready to ‘go’. Hit play on your source and the Bifrost will respond with an audible ‘click’. The Bifrost will click every time it senses a change in sample rate, so if you’re going through a playlist that features tracks of varying resolution or file-types, don’t be alarmed. The Bifrost has an inbuilt power supply and now features a larger, improved transformer over the original Bifrost. Mains power is sent to the Bifrost courtesy of your garden-variety IEC power cable.
Things are a little different on the Modius when it comes to powering it up. It is a little strange to have a full-sized DAC without a wall-wart or wall-plug, but hook-up it up to your USB source via a USB-micro cable, and sure enough – it lights-up. It seems incomprehensible at first, but the Modius will also happily work when paired with and powered by an Android/iOS device via an OTG cable. Naturally, you’ll need to consider the incremental battery-drain on your device if you choose to do so.
I fully anticipated the Modius to perform ‘less well’ while receiving bus power only via USB-micro, due to USB being a less than noise-free standard – especially out of my Macbook Pro’s less-than-optimal USB connection. I was pleasantly surprised to find no detectable noise nor degradation in sound quality when switching between bus-power only and mains power on the Modius. Admittedly, I’m no scientist but it seems that the team at Schiit Audio has done a great job of implementing the ‘Unison’ USB interface on the Modius.
One small quibble I had with regards to everyday use with the Modius is that you can’t really switch it off while it’s plugged into your computer. As long as it’s seeing a USB connection, it’ll stay on, and the USB signal light on the front will continue to stay lit. You’re going to need to yank that USB-micro cable out if you want to fully turn it off. Speaking of USB-micro, that’s probably my only other mild complaint about the Modius. With the industry inexorably shifting towards USB-C as a standard protocol, it’s a bit of a hangover and it does mean that you’ll blindly struggle with upside-side cables at the back of the unit from time to time. My once vast supply of USB-micro cables is also slowly beginning to dwindle. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, I can phase it out completely at some point in the 2030s.
The Bifrost and Modius are both pretty simple units in terms of form-factor and user experience, and they’re generally pretty easy to live with. I had no problems with any of my devices recognising them, and they both perform the task of stationary digital-to-analogue decoding and source-switching as intended. The fact that they both have balanced XLR and single-ended RCA-out is extremely welcome when it comes to creating a balanced audio system, and the fact that it’s available on a DAC the price of the Modius would have been frankly inconceivable a few years back. The Bifrost’s remote gives it a small edge in terms of ease of use, but I did also find myself appreciative of the fact that the Modius didn’t rob me of a valuable power-point behind my desk when in use.
The review continues over the jump on page 3.