Schiit Audio Bifrost Uber w/ Gen 2 USB DAC review


Flashback. Last year I reviewed the Schiit Bifrost DAC for TONEAudio magazine. That (previously .pdf only) coverage has since been archived here but I’ll provide a quick summary for those about to jump back with “TL;DR”: AKM4399 decoder chip, coaxial and optical S/PDIF inputs, (optional) asynchronous USB 2.0 input, no SRC / bitperfect, up to 24bit/192kHz PCM handling (but no 176.4kHz on USB), made in the USA, five year warranty, pricing starting at US$350. Its sonic personality spilled forth as smooth, a little warm, rarely harsh with complex material. The Marylin Monroe of budget digital audio conversion – attractiveness through voluptuousness.


A year later the Bifrost remains a terrific budget DAC choice – it’s up there with the very best in its price bracket. You can still purchase this superb decoder for US$350. However, eagle-eyed readers will readily pick the gotcha: its USB input didn’t quite offer the performance of its neighbouring S/PDIF. The Bifrost isn’t alone in this DAC anomaly, neither is it the worst offender – not by a long shot. The shortcoming of USB inputs remains an issue with nearly all budget D/A converters, especially from those manufacturers who drop in an off-the-shelf receiver chip running stock code. You can’t really blame them though. These budget models must turn a profit and accounts departments have no choice but to turn the thumb screws hard on component costs.

Thankfully, the Bifrost was designed by Schiit to be modular. That is, if manufacturer upgrades arise post-purchase you don’t need to toss your existing unit and buy the new model.

Since my review of the Bifrost #1, Schiit-heads Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have improved two of the boards: the output stage and – yerp – the USB input. The Uber Analogue and Gen 2 USB boards promise performance superior to the original. #obviously.

Owners of the original Bifrost can have Schiit install the Uber Analog board for US$100. Another US$150 will see ’em fit the second generation USB board too. I’d advise those living outside of the USA to go for a DIY upgrade to save on shipping the unit to and from the USA – an expensive business. Install them yourself and you can snaffle each board at a discount: US$70 for the Uber analogue and US$100 for the Gen 2 USB.


New buyers will see the standard (first generation, no USB) Bifrost still priced at US$349 – no mean feat in tough economic times – whilst US$519 nets you the full kit and kaboodle. The Bifrost + Uber analogue board + Gen 2 USB is precisely what’s under consideration here. On the outside it looks exactly like the #1 Bifrost. On the inside…

Uber? Say what now? From the Schiit website: “Order the Bifrost Uber option, and you get a discrete analog stage based on the more advanced Gungnir DAC, with a sophisticated topology that improves sonic and measured performance, and a DC servo to eliminate capacitors in the signal path.”

Gen 2 USB – wut? The second generation board deploys a CM6631A receiver chip (rather than the CM6631) which runs different firmware. There’s also additional regulation and filtering.

Knowing that he’d hitherto been unimpressed with USB as a reliable conduit for digital audio, I pressed Jason Stoddard for more info. He expanded: “The basic goal was a non-crap USB input. You’re are correct: until the Gen 2, we weren’t so hot on USB. The measurements were good and it certainly worked, but it was a bit too finicky about the USB source, cable, etc—which led to a small percentage of incompatibilities. The Gen 2 ironed out pretty much all of the incompatibilities, and measures/sounds even better than the first generation. “.


The second generation USB board plugs the 176.4kHz sample rate hole found underneath the covers of the previous USB implementation. Other than that, it’s still asynchronous, still bitperfect and there’s still no upsampling. No, it won’t do DSD. For that you’ll need to stump an additional $150 for the Schiit Loki. Again, Schiit’s mandate for the customer only paying for what they’re gonna use shines through.

If you don’t need USB you can opt out altogether…but I suggest you don’t. Schiit’s new card might be the first USB implementation in a budget DAC that doesn’t lag behind its S/PDIF coaxial input. Yes, it’s THAT good. My advice: spending the extra on the Gen 2 USB board means you’ll more-than-likely not need to reach for an after market USB-S/PDIF converter like the Audiophilleo or Wyred4Sound uLINK to get this DAC sounding its very best. Spending $150 to save $300-700 makes perfect sense.


Sound. I was pleased to discover that Schiit haven’t messed with the Bifrost recipe too much – the Uber-ed Gen 2 retains much of the essence of the Gen 1. The upgraded model exposes more detail than the original. It seems to do this by trading in a little humidity for more resolution, still delivered with (quoting from my original TONEAudio review) “pebbled smoothness”. I don’t think this DAC is quite as warm as its predecessor. The v2 Bifrost instead attracts descriptors such as ‘kind’ and ‘delicate’. It doesn’t even get close to glaring with wild eyes when handling the excitement of transients. Instead, this tricked-out Bifrost shows the competition that you don’t need to drop big dollars to get good sounding (read: finessed) digital playback; I really dug the Bifrost Uber’s more refined personality. It couldn’t quite match the Aqua Scala MK II for soundstage depth and textural grip but the Italian unit is almost three times the price.


Back under the glass ceiling of a grand, I compared the Bifrost Uber to a rival from Resonessence Labs – another company who knows how to get USB sounding every bit as good as its S/PDIF neighbour. Resonessence Labs’ Concero HD piles USB-S/PDIF conversion and DSD playback (if that’s your thing) onto its feature list, so in that sense it has the functional upper hand. Separating the two on sonics wasn’t easy. The Concero HD sound was more detailed, more ‘hifi’ than the Schiit but it wasn’t quite as natural/organic. Or creamy. Or fluent. The Canadian turns up sprinkled in sparkle and glitter, the Californian in more conservative attire. Do not confuse this with boring!

One of my acid tests for budget DACs is an album from a little-known Irish band called A House. They were mildly popular in NME/Select magazine circles in the very late eighties and early nineties. A House even supported the Go-Betweens on a US tour. Produced by then label-mate Edwyn Collins, this Dublin band’s magnum opus I Am The Greatest remains a terrifically fun/witty listen to this day. Via lesser capable DACs (e.g. the HRT microStreamer), this album’s core acoustic strum and twang, coupled to Dave Couse’s at times caustic vocal means its sound grates and then agitates. Not so with the souped-up Bifrost. Not at all! A rare feat for a budget converter.

Turning to the industrial tech-grind of Perc’s The Power and The Glory, I initially mistook the v2 Bifrost for being heavier in the bass than its rivals. More prolonged exposure saw this snap judgement morph into something far more concrete: this DAC’s tonal mass is top-to-bottom outstanding, bringing heft and forward momentum to Ali Well’s quasi-industrial compositions all topped of with an even-tempered lustre to maintain listener engagment.

Uber alles. If you like your inner detail delivered with a shade more laser-guided precision, go for the Resonessence, otherwise the upgraded Schiit is a one size fits all solution. Right now the Bifrost Uber w/ Gen 2 USB is without peer; it’s my goto recommendation for ANYONE seeking out a high quality decoder at five hundred clams. You’d probably* have to spend north of a grand to best it. An easy DAR-KO award conversion.


*to be continued…

Associated Equipment

  • Antipodes DS
  • Light Harmonic Lightspeed
  • Schiit Asgard 2
  • Mr Speakers Mad Dogs
  • V-Moda Crossfade M-100
  • REDGUM RGi60
  • Atohm GT1.0
  • Zu Soul MKII

Audition Music

  • A House – I Am The Greatest (1991)
  • Perc – The Power and the Glory (2014)
  • Beck – Morning Phase (2014)
  • Neil Young – On The Beach (1974)
  • Alva Noto – Univrs (2011)

Further information

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in the NOW + HERE = NOWHERE. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR


Leave a Reply
  1. Hi John,
    Now that we know how favorably the Bifrost Uber compares to the competition, it would be really interesting to see how it compares to Schiit’s balanced Gungnir DAC. Are you considering a future review of the Gungnir?

  2. All we need now is for some arse clown to stick a tube in this, increase the THD by a factor of 30, charge twice the price and claim superior sound.

      • ModWright and Grant Fidelity jump to mind but I’m sure there are others.

        Sorry, I had just ‘re-read’ the old “Pear ‘Dancing’ Cables” comedy which led me to Douglas Self’s “Science and Subjectivism in Audio” which led me further down the garden path. Hence I was in the mood for a gentle dig at some of your audio reviewing colleagues.

  3. If you still have possession of the Loki and Bifrost Uber, I think it would answer a lot of questions to compare PCM converted to DSD (via JRMC) through the Loki vs bit-perfect PCM through the Bifrost Uber.

    • Maybe I’ll get to that down the line but presently I don’t use JRiver for playback – I’m still ensconced in this Antipodes DS music server.

    • I was initially also interested in a Loki vs Uber comparison.
      However, 2L’s web site has test music as DXD (super-high-res PCM) files and then also converted to various DSD formats and PCM formats.
      I used Jriver MC to convert DSD to 176.4 in real-time, and the result was that the PCM->DSD->PCM conversion sound “better” in certain ways that correspond with some peoples’ descriptions of “why DSD sounds better”.
      My conclusion is that DSD has a “euphonic” quality in a similar way – for example – that boosting treble can help one to hear more detail (just another example of something that alters the sound but is subjectively “better”).
      After coming to this conclusion, I then read a post in a Forum, dated a year back, that also mentioned a subjective improvement when doing PCM->DSD->PCM.

  4. Your equipment isn’t worthy, apologies, to make such pronoucements. Maybe something more along the lines of ‘given the limitations of my equipment, the Schiit sounds DAR awesome’. Can you borrow something more sophisticated? Tubes, possibly? No offense intended–but you’re the one with the big claims. Now go to the big clams and get something more along the lines of what readers might own.

    • I’m sufficiently confidently the system(s) used to test these DACs offer more than sufficient transparency to pick these differences. More importantly, the associated gear is price commensurate.

      And although your comment reeks of snobbery, I’ll bite: what do you suggest? And why do you suggest tubes?

  5. Hi John,
    The other night I done a bit of an experiment with my uber Bifrost comparing my Sony phone played through the usb via an OTG cable vs my optimized laptop running Jplay and Jriver, aqvox usb power, Ifi ilink . I was able to play the same the same flac file on both and simultaneously and switch between the two. It was much closer than I thought but the laptop won out, just. The phone is great too as I can use it to stream internet radio and bandcamp straight into my system. FYI, the bifrost USB will play with Jriver but NOT Jplay, it doesn’t like the new driver which is a shame.

    • Thanks duva. Ya gotta be careful with fast draw source switching like that. It often doesn’t give up its secrets as easily as long term exposure does. How about living with one source for a week and THEN switching the other for a week? Just an idea. 🙂

  6. Have you still got the PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter? Wouldn’t it be more instructive to compare how various DACs sound against the direct analog out of the NuWave?

    • Not really – that which precedes the DAC (music server) and the NPC (turntable) are entirely different.

      • I’m suggesting all DACs you compare are used with the NPC and the ones that gets closest to the analog out are the best (at least within that set up)?

  7. I own a schiit bifrost uber w/ gen 2 upgrade connected to an el34 integrated amp. To really hear the true sound of this DAC, you need to burn-in at least 100-150 hrs to hear the improvement. I burned-in mine 300hrs continously (about 2weeks) and the sound noticeably went better.