Get your Schiit together with the Jotunheim DAC/amplifier (that isn’t)

What’s wrong with amplifiers that host a DAC inside the same chassis? If you’re Jason Stoddard of California’s Schiit Audio, it’s the low cloud of impending obsolescence. No sooner have you bought the device than DAC technology has moved on. We only have to look at Schiit’s own recent (and deep) foray into multibit D/A converters to see how swiftly the digital audio world can move.

Then there’s the issue of two devices, DAC and amplifier, sharing the same power feed. Radiating electrical noise from the amplifier has the potential to disturb the DAC’s more sensitive circuitry.

But what if the DAC board could made one-sided and sit upright with its components facing away from the amplifier’s circuit? And what if said DAC board could be made available as an optional module, swappable (at the factory) once a newer, better board became available?

Wonder no more.

schiit-jotunheim_4
Photo: Lee Shelly

Debuting at the second annual Schiit Show in Marina Del Rey, CA this weekend comes the company’s latest product stone cold bargain: a DAC/amplifier called Jotunheim (“Yo-tun-hame”).

The deal is this: balanced in and out, single ended in and out for a pair of active loudspeakers, a power amplifier or a pair of headphones. There’s reportedly enough power on tap to drive HiFiMAN’s stubborn-as-buggery HE-6 and a low enough noise floor for the most sensitive of IEMs, even FitEar‘s MH334 according to Jude Mansilla over at Head-Fi.org.

From the press release: “The amp is our unique, fully discrete, differential current-feedback “Pivot Point” topology, delivering up to 5000mW into 32 ohms, yet also offering a vanishingly low noise floor.”

schiit-jotunheim_2
Photo: Lee Shelly

The Jotumheim reportedly came about not just as a work of altruism but a way to clear an overstock of balanced volume pots. At US$399 and made wholly in the USA, who’s complaining?

With (surely) a heavy nod to Vinnie Rossi’s LIO, the Jotunheim’s factory-fitted DAC is modular; it adds US$100 to the sticker price. “The DAC uses two top-tier AK4490 DACs in a hardware-balanced, passively filtered configuration,” says Stoddard via press release. Yes, it’s delta-sigma; Multibit diehards will still need to reach for one of Schiit’s outboard models…for now.

But wait, there’s more…

schiit-jotunheim_3
Photo: Lee Shelly

Spin vinyl and prefer an MM phono stage instead of DAC module? Schiit are offering the same for the same (US$100).

Stoddard’s presser continues: “The phono card uses precision film capacitors and resistors in a fully passive RIAA section with 44dB of gain and a massive 53mV overload point. It also features DC coupling via a DC servo.” 

MC cartridge runners will either need a step-up transformer or feed the Jotumheim’s single-ended input with their super-affordable Mani.

And no, I’m not in Marina Del Rey for the Schiit Show this weekend – a 12 hour flight is too much for a single day – but I shall be visiting the Schiit Schoppe soon after RMAF in October.

In the meantime, Jotunheim is schiipping now. Bye bye future obsolescence.

Further information: Schiit Audio

Full credit for the headline wordplay goes to reader BradleyP. :=)

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in Berlin, Germany. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also a very occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
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30 Comments

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    • Larry, have you read any of Mike or Jason’s thoughts on DSD ? It’s not a stance they’ve taken idly – they’ve both been burnt by Sony before – and if the trickle of genuine DSD releases is anything to go by, I’d say they’ve been proven right thus far.

      • Yeah, I’ve read their sarcasm many times. In this product they’re using a sigma-delta DAC chip that’s capable of playing DSD. They spin that into “that’s okay we never said we wouldn’t” So just enable it to play DSD? There’s plenty of SACDs that can be ripped to playback. DSD converted to PCM sounds like crap. DSD done right sound better than PCM.

          • I’ve said the same about MQA already. And DSD. VERY few titles available for either, ironically and inversely correlated without the amount of column inches commanded elsewhere. Feeling the squeeze in the middle is poor old Redbook. Redbook is where the music lives!

          • I’ve bought CD’s of my favorite artists. This one time a friend gave my a memory stick of some MP3’s (early Napster dsys) they were in 320 kbps and they sounded superior than the CD’s i had. Now, the CD’s were pressed in Australia. So i ordered the same titles from Amazon and they were superb recordings far superior than the aussie ones i had.
            Obviously it’s all about the authoring process. But they ‘should’ all be the same one would think.

            So is redbook really where it’s at? I mean if some studios don’t care about quality control then what’s the point. You buy a CD thinking it’s superior to ‘compressed’ formsts. But not from my experience.
            I know there are some great pressings out there. But I’m talking about run-of-the-mill local store pressings.

            I’d love data CD releases of MQA so i can store them on my NAS and Pioneer XDP-100

          • Yup – I have the same experience with Aussie and UK CD copies of Radiohead’s The Bends. That said, LP masters differed from country to country. We can get as granular as we like but such anecdotes are anomalies to my larger point: Almost EVERY SINGLE ALBUM released right now gets pressed to CD or is available as a 16/44 download. What percentage of those land at 24/48 or higher? DSD? MQA? I’d wager less than one tenth of a percent. And yet look at the ink spilt on hi-res, DSD and MQA compared to that spent on simply championing lossless audio i.e. 16/44. Alas, CDs are slowly going away and unless lossless streaming continues as a dead cert, one might reasonably accuse audiophiles of fiddling while Rome burns.

          • I couldn’t agree more. But in saying that. How about us high end supporters, we should have a company that specializes in high res files. I love HDTracks but the geo-blocking annoys me. A prepaid US visa card and a VPN help with that. But for me, it’s the best and pretty much only option for music in high res and of popular artists.

            I see more and more hardware that is supporting DSD and MQA, but if there is no content then why market it and promote it ? Wouldn’t FLAC and MP3 be enough for them?

            I still have a few pre-recorded DAT and Minidisc albums that get a play (but my old DCC deck has played it’s last tape) My Sony SCD-1 still gets a play almost every day. But when I’ve had a long week of work, I crack a beer and sit and listen to my DSD/FLAC collection (via Roon)

            Weekends tend to be my vinyl days. LOVE the artwork, so glad it’s back.

            I don’t want to ‘stream’ my high res music or pay that premium (for now) and I don’t like Tidal. I’ve been a Spotify subscriber for years and we are on the family plan and it’s perfect (but no Icehouse boo)

            So, for me. I want to be able to go into my listening room and play close to bit perfect recordings on my system and enjoy it. After all it’s all about the music and not the technology right? 😉

            On that note, Lullaby by the Cure sounds superb on CD and in FLAC 😀

          • DSD can still exist in small numbers. We’re in the age of instant digital distribution, cheap silicon, DSP etc., where diversity should be the norm. We’re not locked to one format such as redbook anymore. But MQA and everyone else seems to be trying to change that.

  1. though I’ve never owned any Schitt products, I’ve always respected the company for having value, quality, as well as for being innovative and trustworthy….in today’s competitive marketplace you can’t underestimate the importance of those. maybe in the future I’ll check them out.

    • Their Schiit together – that’s GOOD! So good in fact that I’m changing this post’s headline. Credit goes your way in the footer.

  2. Read about this on Head-Fi a couple of days ago. For me, this announcement couldn’t be better timed.

    Been using in-ears exclusively for the past year or so, but I’ve been wanting to get an open back headphone (the ATH-R70x is currently on my list) now that my lifestyle allows for a desktop rig once again. Watched Jude’s video last night, and I’m glad he tested it with his FitEar customs. If his claim about the Jotunheim having a low enough noise floor to accommodate his MH334 holds true, then it’s pretty much guaranteed to be problem free with any BA driven in-ear, which would make it the perfect one-DAC-amp-fits-all for driving my 335DW and other less sensitive in-ears, along with the incoming 470 ohms Audio Technica full-size..

    My recently obtained Dragonfly-Red, which I still like, will thus be relegated to serving the iPad or tucked into the laptop bag for business trips. Still searching for that perfect mobile rig – good DAPs are either heinously overpriced or too powerful for my FitEars, and anything that requires Apple’s clumsy CCK is automatically disqualified – but for now, my desktop and bedside setups are shaping up nicely, and by the looks of it I’ll still have money left for food. ZOMG!!

    As for future obsolescence – well, I agree with Schiit on MQA. Sure, the evil suits might lobby everyone and win out in the end, using their fancy new DRM container to hold the streaming industry and consumers by the balls, but that apocalypse will still be a few years away, me thinks. Enough time for me to save up and for Schiit to make a new DAC module if they choose to do so.

  3. I really wish they’d waited till they had the multibit version of the modular DAC ready – Mike has made it very clear that he believes that sigma-delta is fundamentally broken and that fixing it requires a Berkeley-sized investment. I’m happy with my Dragonfly Black, but if Schiit are going to hang their hat on the rack marked ‘Multibit’, I think they need to be consistent.

    • A balanced multibit board would be quite expensive – if it would even fit – and so might not make sense pricewise. I suspect Schiit would say don’t buy the DAC board and plug whichever of their 4 multibit DACs into the back. Which… I am considering… $400US for a full balanced amp is quite sharp pricing… I wish they would provide a lower gain option though.

    • FYI/FWIW this link confirms there will be no multibit DAC squozed into Jotunheim:

      http://www.head-fi.org/t/818323/schiit-jotunheim-review-preview-head-fi-tv/465#post_12835563

      “1. Can’t fit multibit balanced in Bimby, (much less a Jodie) without resorting to pony trick balance in analog domain only sizzle. Nope.

      2. Can’t fit SE MB even in Jodie without … Not likely, …”

      (Apologies if links and quotes from other sites are not allowed here. I thought it relevant to the comments/discussion.)

  4. When you going to review the Matrix Mini-i Pro ?? It’s a GREAT pre-amp/DAC Does DSD and everything

    It will do until I get my Mytek Brooklyn 🙂

  5. Probably a great product at a great price.

    I’m thinking it would be great not just for desktop audio, but would also make a great centerpiece for a beginning hi-end stereo system. I could definitely see someone buying this to connect to a power amp or an integrated with a remote volume control in a non-desktop setup.

    You could always upgrade it afterwards – and knowing Schiit, it would probably cost you a lot to get a DAC/Pre or Phono/Pre better than this.

  6. Schiit makes the schiit. I’m still trying to grasp the new schiit, but my Valhalla 2 with upgraded tubes is just so amazing with Sennheiser HD650. The Valhalla 2 with better tubes lights the HD650s like there is no tomorrow. It is so good, I’m not quite sure where to go. It is an amazing combination for me. I like it so much that I haven’t been ready to spend more money.

  7. “the second annual Schiit Show in Marina Del Rey, CA”

    I am only amazed it wasn’t called SchiitStorm 16.

  8. Attended and enjoyed it. A mellow event in a nice hotel with plenty of great food. Listened to the Jotunheim on Massdrop Fostex TH-X00 Mahogany, Ether Flow and Flow C, HD800, HD800S, LCD3, and Focal Utopias 🙂 Also listened to the phono stage on Flows. Don’t remember the turntable nor the cartridge. They had two turntable stations and the other was the orbit, but I didn’t listen to that. Every headphone sounded smooth and well balanced on the amp. Volume knob was a good size and sturdy. If I were buying an entry level balanced headphone amp this is obviously what I would get.

  9. Thoughts on how the Jotunheim would pair with a Red Dragon S500? I don’t have a good understanding of what can make or break a preamp/amp combo.

    I’m looking for a new budget friendly setup for my Spatial M4 Turbo S speakers. I know Clayton likes the red dragons. Currently using a PS Audio Sprout. Thinking of doing the phono module and a Bifrost multibit or slap a HAT dac on my raspberry pi.

  10. Now I pair my HD600 with Modi2 and Asgard2. Is it worth to upgrade to Jotunheim? If not which one? In medium term I will be adding an Ether Flow, so need new DAC/Amp to match both. Thanks