Zesty and sweet – the stunning Schiit Gungnir Multibit DAC

schiit_gungnir_multibit_2

London, 1866. Sir George Seymour, Admiral of the Royal Navy fleet, brings news to Queen Victoria of an alternative to the lemon as the country’s scurvy-preventing fruit of choice:

SGS: Ma’am, if I may, this new fruit is called the lime. L-I-M-E.

QV: Very good. And what does this so called lime look like, Sir George? And, more to the point, what of its taste? Perhaps I might relish it also.

SGS: It’s small, green and I can assure you ma’am that it’s really quite delicious.

QV: My good man – as tasty as you may find it, dare not to presume that your tastes should align with my own. Your approval, as much it may satisfy your ego, ultimately communicates nothing of the lime’s appearance, in-hand feel or taste.

SGS: Well….err….please forgive me, ma’am, but I omitted to bring a sample to present to your royal highness this very day.

QV: [Sounding terse] Do not test my patience or give me cause to regret your appointment to Admiral of the Fleet or, come to think of it, your Knighthood.

SGS: Well.[Clears throat]…errmmm…allow me to describe the lime’s appearance: it’s green in colour; it has not the lemon’s tear-dropped ends; instead its shape is roughly spherical, like an orange but around 1/6th its size. The lime is, more often than not, smaller than your average lemon, the fruit currently supplied to the men on board to prevent scury, ma’am.

QV: Go on…

SGS: [Loosening his collar] …the lime’s skin is thinner than that of a lemon, its flesh not quite as pulpy. And whilst the lime shares the lemon’s pitted surface, its texture feels waxier, more oily to touch.

schiit_gungnir_multibit_6

QV: But what of its taste, man?!

SGS: Well, this is one of the key reasons to move the men from lemon to lime, ma’am – its juice is sweeter to taste and therefore not as sour a lemon. During our trials, the test sample of sailors were demonstrably appreciative of the lime’s comparative lack of tartness. It’s not quite as pleasurable to taste as an orange though.

QV: Good! We don’t want them getting too comfortable, do we?

SGS: Perhaps your highness would consider the lime’s sweetness level as splitting the difference between lemon and orange: not as sour as the former but not as sacchariferous as the latter.

QV: Oh, I can almost taste it! Good work, Georgie – your description affords me a much clearer understanding of what to expect from this so called “hybrid” fruit. Consider yourself redeemed for now. Good day to you.

SGS: [Bowing] Good day, ma’am.

This retelling is pure pulp fiction of course but hopefully illustrates the power of comparative triangulation, in this case saving Georgie’s bacon. After some pressure, he eventually relayed the texture and taste of a lime without Her Majesty needing to lay hands, eyes or tongue on the fruit itself.

No word of lie though is this: the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 specified a daily lime ration to all Royal and Merchant Navy sailors. It’s this very legislation that ultimately led to the English to be known as “limeys”, especially among Americans (aka “Seppos”). Talking of which…

California, 2015. Schiit Audio’s co-founder Mike Moffat introduces the second generation Gungnir DAC at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Moffat is tall, grey and not afraid of busting out the odd swear word or nine. As he talks about his new decoder’s genesis, Schiit’s ‘Number 2’ is alternatively gruff and charming. The headline in Denver was that the new multibit Gungnir enjoys trickle-down tech from the company’s statement Yggdrasil decoder.

schiit_gungnir_multibit_5

As its name clearly spells out, Gungnir Multibit (US$1249) brings Schiit’s proprietary multibit topology and a DSP-powered “closed-form filter” to a more affordable price point. Like Yggdrasil, Gungnir Multibit’s analogue output stage is powered by “discrete JFET buffers and summers”. On effective output resolution we subtract 2 bits from the Yggrasil’s 21 but on price we remove a full grand. Gungnir Multibit gives us only slightly less in specified performance but for considerably fewer dollars.

Cheapskates note: should you only be in need of the updated model’s broader connectivity options – coaxial, BNC, Toslink and asynchronous ‘2nd Gen’ USB plus balanced and 2 x unbalanced outputs – a further US$400 can be shaved from the dollar drop by opting for the delta-sigma version (known simply as Gungnir).

Present in both versions is Schiit’s “Adapticlock” welcome mat. Applied to all inputs, this jitter assessing border patrol has a micro-processor analyse the incoming signal for its jitter content before sending less troublesome datastreams to a VXCO and high jitter streams to a VCO for a more rigorous scrub down whilst letting the user know by illuminating a front panel LED that Schiit intend us to read as “buy better gear”. Thankfully, an AURALiC Aries, a Sonos Connect and a 2014 MacBook Air all pass muster (no light). Connected to this Schiit box, the Aries sounds the best of the three and the Connect the weakest (by quite some margin).

All inputs handle PCM up to and including 24bit/192kHz. DSD? Ask Mike Moffat for bitstream support and watch him spit feathers. To say that Schiit have no interest in a “stillborn format” (their words) is to understate Moffat and his business partner’s (Jason Stoddard) position.

Moffat is equally as vocal about the delta-sigma approach to D/A conversion. “It doesn’t ever close,” he grumbles. In attempting to better understand his biggest complaint about delta-sigma during our Denver conversation, I repeat it back to him in my own words: all the original samples are thrown away and then re-estimated by an ‘open form’, iterative process? “Precisely!” says Moffat.

schiit_gungnir_multibit_4

Recalling a little high school maths we know that an iterative function is a fancy form of estimation that forever inches towards a solution but, like Zeno’s Arrow, never quite gets there. “It never closes,” says the man from California.

Where Schiit’s multibit Gungnir establishes a further key point of difference is its digital filter, based on a near-century old algorithm from Western Electric, that keeps all original samples intact. Incoming 44.1kHz and 48kHz signals are up-sampled eight-fold with Moffat’s filter guessing only the in-betweeners. 88.2kHz and 96kHz datastreams see upsampling times four, where once again intermediate samples are guesstimated by the digital filter. 176.4kHz and 192kHz signals are waved on through but with two times up-sampling applied.

However, with DAC chip manufacturers having successfully hooked the audio industry on lower cost delta-sigma alternatives, most, if not all, multi-bit chips are now discontinued. Scant options for the modern day manufacturer looking to play it old school. Schiit haven’t unearthed new old stock from a long forgotten warehouse but have instead deployed an Analog Devices chip not specifically intended for audio.

Moffat elaborates: “In our case, we adapted weapons/medical-grade chips for a 20 bit x2 per channel on the Yggy (21 bit), 18 bit x2 per channel on the Gumby (19 bit) and 16 bit x1 per channel (16 bit) for the multibit Bifrost (Bumby? MoBeef? Bimbi?)”

“However, weapons/medical electronics have no I2S or other internal digital audio protocols so it becomes a fuck-ton of work to adapt them and then figure out how to keep them from glitching. That’s why it took so fuckin’ long.”

“Yggy and Gumby are both a complex multi-bit design, with two dacs, one a six bit and the other a 14 bit one (12 bit for Gumby) scaled to the 6 bit one. They are both R2R, driving one current switch per bit. Two per channel for both models. The Multibit Bifrost is similar, with the first a 4 bit and the second a 12 bit, one per channel.”

moffat_rmaf15
Mike Moffat works the Schiit table at CanJam/RMAF ’15.

Which begs the question: if these Schiit showers believe so strongly that multibit is the superior of the two approaches, why not abandon delta-sigma altogether?

“Strong point – probably hanging on to an old tradition for tradition’s sake only. The original idea was to offer a cheaper choice if you are cheap and dim. In other words, “Have it your way”. But I see how it really dilutes our strong multibit message. Time will tell, I know we cater to the cheap but I really don’t want to be considered as one who caters to the dim.”

Having covered a good amount of Schiit gear over the years, one theme holds true across all review coverage: Schiit give you more for less. The combined feature set and performance of the Bifrost (covered here) – later Bifrost Uber (review here) – still holds up even now and I don’t know of ANY manufacturer who offer a phono stage that’ll sound as competent as the Mani for US$129 (review here).

It’s not just reviewers like yours truly who are clued into the impressive value for money quotient of many a Schiit piece. The two weeks between announcing the Vali 2 tube headphone amplifier (US$169) and New Year’s Eve, DAR readers made a news article on the same one of the most clicked in 2015.

And yet, even at eight times the Vali 2’s sticker, the multibit Gungnir could be Schiit’s sharpest value proposition to date. In the context of its sub-US$2K positioning, this DAC’s sound quality is like nothing else I’ve heard to date.

The Gungnir’s talents with spaciousness echo a visit to a Planetarium. With imaging thrown wide and deep and with (seemingly) endless detail, music is drawn as a fresh new universe, ready for the listener to explore. The Schiit decoder is one of those products that’ll have you rediscovering your digital audio library anew for months, years even. This is especially true when sat behind a good pair of a headphones; HiFiMAN’s HE-1000 driven by Schiit’s Mjolnir 2 headphone amplifier – incidentally one of DAR’s favourite bits of 2015 – were used for this review’s listening sessions. In the two-channel space, a pair of KEF LS50 and Vinnie Rossi’s LIO (review here, here and here).

schiit_gungnir_multibit_7

No crazy rush of blood to the head, my enthusiasm for this decoder didn’t arrive at the first push of play. Besides, clichés such as “I was immediately struck by a sense of…” aren’t this writer’s style. My comprehension of this D/A converter’s expertise ramped up steadily over five weeks of listening to Surgeon, David Bowie, The The, Kristen Hersh, Plaid and Nils Frahm (among others). Not every audio reviewer subsists on a diet of classical, jazz and Jones/Krall niceness. I often get my kicks from music’s brutality, its effervescence and dynamic thrust. The Schiit DAC is especially good in communicating the alternating shove and tickle of Autechre’s Chiastic Slide or the glassy iciness of Thin White Rope’s swansong The Ruby Sea. Its kinder to poorer source material than it is a punisher.

However, personal enthusiasm and qualities described in absolute (rather than relative) terms isn’t sufficient for the reviewer intending to communicate a DAC’s core strengths. After all, how deep is deep? How detailed is detailed? Comparisons help us triangulate its true position.

From here, the reader is asked to assume the role of a testy Queen Victoria and I’ll play Sir George Seymour. Fruity relativity comes from two of 2014/15’s most impressive players. The role of zesty lemon is filled by the Chord Electronics’ Hugo (review here) and playing the citrus world’s all-rounder – the orange – is the Aqua La Voce S2 (review here).

Readers that follow will likely be across the Chord Hugo’s ability to dig deep into the mix so that music’s finer nuances are reproduced with care and delicacy. Its high pixel count and bone-marrow-deep resolution doesn’t imbue proceedings with sterility. On this front, the Gungnir Multibit plays in a similar league. And if there is a shortfall vis a vis the Chord’s ability to excavate, it’s more than compensated by the Schiit’s ability to ape (but not quite equal) the Aqua’s La Voce’s kindness to all manner of source material. Something that the warts n all Hugo doesn’t handle as effortlessly.

schiit_gungnir_multibit_1

Of the three decoders tango-ing for triangulation, the Hugo plays it thinnest with tonal mass. whereas the Gungnir comes within a whisker of the Italian DAC’s considerably meatier presentation. On smoothness and attendant ease of long-term listening our trio rank as follows: 1. La Voce; 2. Gungnir multibit; 3. Hugo. A large delta exists between 2 and 3 than 2 and 1.

Dynamics? Between Gungnir and Hugo’s takes on Brian Eno’s “This” we see the Chord palmpilot take it by a nose in a photo finish. The La Voce S2 pulls up in third place. On frequency extension the Gungnir sits closest to the Hugo’s superior bi-directional reach.

Maybe it’s Schiit’s non-audio multibit DAC chip hack, maybe it’s the closed form filter that doesn’t trash incoming samples, maybe it’s their Adapticlock jitter remediation, maybe it’s the fully discrete output stage or maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever the reason, what we get out of the Schiit Gungnir Multibit are large chunks of what makes the Chord and Aqua converters such class leaders…but for at least half the asking of either. That’s twice the knockout. I’d double DAR-KO award this piece of Schiit if I could – it’s that good.

Go listen for yourself though. Schiit manufacture their entire product line in the USA where Moffat and Stoddard sell factory-direct from their California HQ. Customers can avail themselves of a 15-day home trial for a 5% transaction fee if returned. Those doing it old school through Schiit’s international distribution network will find the Gungnir Multibit waiting for them at the corner of Awe and Wonder.

DAR-KO_Award_2015

Further information: Schiit Audio

schiit_gungnir_multibit_3

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in Sydney, Australia where he derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also an occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: dar__ko
Instagram: dar__ko
Facebook: DAR

61 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. It’d be amazing if the Audio-gd DAC19 got reviewed. That’s one of Gumby’s strongest competitors :)

    • In short, no. I won’t speculate on a DAC manufacturer’s intentions with MQA unless they have implemented it or explicitly stated that it’s their road map.

  2. Thank God you finally wrote this, and I can’t imagine the effort required. It would only be better if you were listening to Highway 61 Revisited.

  3. Hi John,
    It would be great if you also tested the new Bifrost 4490. Now you have tested the old Bifrost Uber, therefore it might be nice to hear about the new 4490 is worth the money.
    Greetings from Denmark.

  4. Awesome wordsmithery, John. Umm! I can almost taste the good Schiit. I love ‘gritas! “Another refill, your Majesty?” Another toy to pine for, oh boy! Cheers!

  5. Entertaining review! With most of the press talking about the Y & B it is nice to see something about the middle child.

  6. Have to say you have derailed completely. it’s all about you and your particular style of writing, wich I find quite egocentrical and rather tedious. There’s not much substance on the product your reviewing apart from pressrelease style info and some quotes. Anyway I’m sure some might like it, I don’t and I am here by removing you from my feed. Shame since I enjoyed your site a while back.

    • Damn straight it’s all about my style of writing but where in this review do I go overboard on the me? I got to great lengths to retell my experiences but without leaning to heavily on first person singular. This is a multi-layered review that covers not only the product, whose performance is *fully* detailed as compared to two other reasonably well known products, but also introduces the whys and wherefores. Do you honestly believe such an approach and the subsequent analysis was sourced from a press release? If so, that’d surely make it into other reviews, no? The quotes were sourced from own conversations with Mike Moffat, both in person and via email. Again, no press release. Heck, I even blasted through the tech specs to get to said discussion and the results of my review – which it seems like you missed ’em first time through (?). They start with an invitation for the reader to assume the role of Queen Vic. Would you prefer I instead wrote about how “this DAC allowed me to hear deeper into the mix such that I felt Nick Cave was in the room with me”? Come on now, Krisitan, that kind of verbiage is as old (and as tired) a phrase as them thar hills.

      Agreed – this is not your usual run of the mill hifi review – e.g. ‘competes with products 2 or 3 times the price’ – and I am not your run of the mill hifi reviewer? I’m trying cover audio gear *differently* and the ever expanding DAR readership proves there’s a thirst for what I do and the way I do it. I concede that my style might not always translate properly to those for whom English is a second language as indeed your spelling and grammar (and name) suggest.

      I sense you might perhaps be better served by a more traditional approach, one that might not go to the lengths I went to in this piece to fully triangulate the Gungnir’s SQ performance. One that might sign off with zero comparisons under its belt. What I’m saying (more explicitly in this comment) is that the assessment of audio gear shouldn’t only rest on a reviewer’s personal taste – which in fact tells the reader very little – but instead requires substantiation via comparative data points. Just look at how many readers asked how this DAC placed the DAC Index before I got ’round to doing it – people rightly wanna know of how A compares to B and C and less of what I think in absolute terms. Ain’t that just the exact opposite of egocentrism.

  7. So this would place in the 2nd division then?

    Holly schiit!

    Also, which configuration did you use for the Mjolnir 2? (Tubes, lisst)

  8. I like the triangualtion comparison. Good way of letting the reader know where it stands. I assume then it will go into the “Division 2” Darko Dac index?, as products are placed by their capability not with a capability / price ratio. My question would be, how far up would the big brother, the Schiit Yggdrasil, fit on the Darko Dac index?

    • Added to the DDI just now but please read the intro para on how they are assessed and the all important one guy’s opinion qualification.

  9. Very nice review. I have been eyeing this one for some time now. Where does the Gumby fit your DAC Index?

  10. Terrific comparison between DACs. Sounds like one could/should be satisfied with any of the three. Question: have you heard the Yggy and, if so, would you qualify how much difference there is between the Yggy and the Gumby?

    Thanks, -dB

    • Sorry David, not heard the Yggy here. When sorting reviews, I set my sights on the middle of the multibitters.

  11. So I can get from yank to tank, and from tank to septic tank. But for the life of me I can’t figure out septic tank to seppo.

  12. Hi John-

    I’m glad to hear that the Gungnir Multi-bit was so well received! I’ve had my eye on this since the announcement of their Multi-bit DAC upgrades and I am curious as to your opinion of where it might fall on your Darko DAC Index in relation to the other DACs you’ve reviewed.

    Best,
    C.J.

  13. Hey John,
    If the Gumby MB (hate that appelation, Yggy, Bimby, Gumby, WTF…anyhow…) is 100% what % would the original Minimax be?
    In other words – do you think moving up from the Minimax would be a worthwhile upgrade?

    • More than likely yes – the Minimax is a keen resolver of detail but perhaps now seen/heard as a presentation tinged by Star Wars light sabres compared to the multibit Schiit.

  14. Hey John,

    Balanced connections? I’ve read others report a difference with the connection type used. USB connection with Mac and Aries? Sonos connection used?

    Thanks

  15. Thanks for the great review! It would be interesting to compare Gungnir to Yggdrasil playing 16 bit vs 24 bit files. I would assume there may be difference in sound for 24 bit files but not so much for 16 bit files due to Gungnir’s 19 bit vs Yggdrasil’s 21 bit resolution…

  16. John, don’t let the haters get you down, and thanks for being a reviewer who actually “gets it”. You’re spot on as to what sets you apart from so many others. Keep doing you because 99.9% of us absolutely love it.

  17. Hi John,
    Messrs Moffat and Stoddard seem to have the same disdain for MQA as they do for DSD. Given the stellar performance and value of the Gungnir Multibit, do you consider the issue of no MQA support to be somewhat moot?
    Also, why is 3rd Gen USB, which is included in the Yggdrasil, not offered as an upgrade option for the Gungnir Multibit? Is it a technical issue, or more of a marketing strategy to maintain a performance gap between the two DACs?

    • Per the Gungnir FAQ on Schiit’s website:

      “What about USB Gen 3?
      USB Gen 3 is not available on Gungnir, only on Yggdrasil.”

      So yes – it’s likely a differentiator.

      And an absence of MQA support won’t faze me until Tidal flip the switch on MQA streaming and it proves itself. Anyone not buying a DAC on the basis of ‘no MQA’ is doomed to follow in the footsteps of those who believed that DSD would be huge from the get go. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. My advice? Buy an MQA DAC on the basis of real content availability and not on a promise.

  18. John-

    Thanks for the review. I’ll be honest and say I’m not always a fan of your writing style, but I think this was a very good and informative review. The idea of “triangulating” is a good one and enables the reader to get a good idea of what the DAC sounds like. Many reveiewers don’t like to compare devices, but I think comparisons are one of the best ways communicate the sound to readers and also to clue them in on what they should be interested in auditioning/buying.

    I’m very impressed that the Gungnir MB made it into the second division of your index. It’s above some quite good DACs, and sitting there with some that cost 2-4 times its price. I’ve been thinking about making the Yggy my next upgrade, and the other DACs on my audition list cost at least twice as much as the Yggy. This review certainly pushes me in the direction of trying the Yggy, as pretty much everyone who’s compared them said the Yggy is even better than this DAC – for another $grand.

  19. Hi John. Superb review in every way! I wanted to send a comment out about the Mjolnir 2 on your earlier post but time slipped by. It’s a better head phone amp in single ended with stock tubes or LISST than my Icon Audio HP8 MKii with PSVANE tubes for way less money, though they both play in the same league. In balanced mode it’s not even a contest! So I put it in my main rig for a spin in place of my Krell KAV280P since I’m down to phono and balanced for my Yggy. With the stock tubes it was the winner. With LISST it would have been a winner too except the sound stage was more forward but lacked depth behind the speakers (however this seems to be a great quality when listening to cans and they’re great also in the Lyr) Then I ordered a pair of Telefunken 6922’s…..that turned out to be a holy Schiit moment because it stomps the Krell. It passes the “you have to hear this” wife test with flying colors! No remote? Don’t care! Thanks again for the review and helping keep this a fun hobby.

  20. Great review, John. I for one, really enjoyed the first part “conversation” between Queen Victoria and the Admiral from the Royal Navy. Nice photos too. MBG now has a firm spot on my short list.

  21. I enjoy your writing style and the emphasis you play on DAC reviews. I am a long tIme Theta fan and purchased multiple TLCs and DACs. I bought an early Bifrost and thought it was missing the lower bass and high end compared to my Theta Pro Basic IIIA. It was only when I moved to computer audio using an iMac glass toslink out to Assemblage D2D-1 to Bifrsost via Atlas Mavros Digital cable BNC connectors did I fully appreciate the Bifrost mid range clarity. I upgraded the Bifrost to Uber and now MB. It was the best $250 I have ever spent. The MB did improve soundstage and made the images more solid and 3D. I thought you were going to compare the MB Gungnir with the MB Bifrost?

  22. Hey John,
    I have a couple of LH Labs Pulse Infinity units. Have you any experience with them? I am wondering how the Gungnir Multibit compares to them and whether I should consider selling one of them to pick up a Gungnir Multibit. Any input or thoughts would be appreciated.

    • Hey Andy – no direct experience with the Pulse I’m afraid. The decision to sell one or not falls squarely on your shoulders.

  23. I like your writing! If you start covering sports or politics I’ll read that too. Don’t you think that if MQA gets to be a real world thing someone will invent a standalone MQA converter, sort of like my Bugle2 phono pre-?

  24. Thanks for the great review, John. Would the new Mytek’s Brooklyn play in the same league as the Gungnir?.

  25. John, FWIW, great response to Kristian! You kept your Schiit together: cool, calm and collected. Thanks for the review of the Gungnir MB. I’m hoping to save up by summer for it or the Yggdrasil, as your and a couple of others’ descriptors and comparisons have me convinced of the MB approach. I kind of like the names, at least there’s a theme, though how it relates to Schiit I haven’t figured out. Awww Schiit, that reminds me, it’s been a few days since I picked up after my canine in the backyard – great fun when there’s a couple of feet of snow on the ground…

  26. FWIW I read on another forum that someone had sold off the Yggy in favor of the Aqua La Voce. Too bad Yggy is not included in the DDI.

  27. Hey! Why this? Why you can not write a normal review like others do?
    This is the best review I’ve read about an audio equipment so far. You have proven once again that you’re good in what you’re doing. Thank you.
    I have been looking at this Schiit since it came out, but it’s still luxurious stuff for me. I am happy now, that I have saved money for Mojo, which is also good for the money, isn’t it?
    And now I am starting to save money on this SCHIIT!
    Cheers

  28. Nice review! I am about to enter the world of NOS DACs and was tossing up between the now discounted Metrum Hex and it’s replacement – the Menuet. I am looking for something smoother and more laid back than my Vega for long term listening. How would you compare the sonic attributes of the Hex and the Gungnir?