Schiit Bifrost 2 DAC - Official Thread

The Bifrost 2 is the latest iteration of Schiit’s first DAC, the original Bifrost, and a significant departure from that model. Schiit themselves describe it as a complete re-think on what an affordable, upgradeable, DAC should be, and that’s definitely born out here.

Bifrost 2 boasts a series of new features and approaches, as well as performance upgrades over the original:

  • Balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) outputs.

  • Remote control (input select, phase invert and mute).

  • True Multibit DAC, with Schiit’s proprietary digital filter, and upgraded DAC ICs from the same family as Gungnir MB.

  • “Unison USB”, an all new, electronmagnet/electrostatically isolated, completely in-house, USB interface (no more off-the-shelf USB receivers/processors).

  • “Autonomy Architecture” - a new modular, easily user-upgradeable, architecture that permits field upgrades to the input board, DAC/analog board and firmware (via a microSD slot).

It’s also worth noting that while this is the same basic form-factor as the prior unit, it uses the newer chassis design adopted by Asgard 3, Lyr 3 and Jotunheim, so it looks more coherent when stacked with those units.

Oh, and it’s available as a standard option in both original Silver as well as Black!

I’ll talk a bit more about the significance of the changes in this model below … and this is the place to discuss Bifrost 2 in general.

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Man, I can’t wait to hear this, I want one! Lol

I’m hoping the new unison USB will help with some of my noise issues on my Audio chain computer, as I have a noisy USB somewhere…only noticeable on my tube amps, and not audible during playback, but irritating on silent sections and higher volume listening sessions.

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Looking forward to your impression on this thing @Torq.

The way Schiit talks about their Unison USB reminds me of their praise for the older Gen 5 USB technology. In fact, their website still describes the Gen 5 USB upgrade card as “USB, solved.” I’m curious just how much better Unison is compared to G5.

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Here’s some initial thoughts/comments on the changes at work here. It’s a bit difficult to know where to start with all these upgrades and changes … so don’t consider the following list as being in any kind of “order of importance”:

All-new DAC & Analog Stages

Bifrost 2 uses instrumentation DAC chips that belong to the same family as Gungnir MB and Yggdrasil. And they’re 18-bit converters (as with Gungnir MB) vs. the 16-bit units used in the original Bifrost.

And there’s a new analog stage to feed both the balanced and single-ended outputs, and they measure very closely.

Balanced (XLR) Output (and single-ended via RCA)

Anyone that’s spent any time in threads about either Bifrost or Jotunheim, or especially the big “Schiit Happened: The Story of the World’s Most Improbable Start-Up” thread, will have seen myriad requests for a balanced-output version of Bifrost. This has been a natural, and increasingly pent-up, desire ever since the launch of Jotunheim.

Now it’s a reality, and you can pair Bifrost 2 with Jotunheim and have a fully balanced chain from end-to-end, or run it in a form-factor matching stack with the other Schiit amps with the balanced option available as/if/when you need it.

Better yet, there’s virtually no difference* between XLR and RCA outputs, so you can use it in either configuration, now, or as the rest of your rig evolves, without penalty for switching how you connect it.

Unison USB

This is an all-new, completely in-house, USB implementation**. Gone are the CotS USB receivers and decoders. This runs custom code on a PIC32 microcontroller. And that provides many options for implementation and processing not available with off-the-shelf chipsets.

Oh, and it is electrostatically and electromagnetically isolated, which means far less potential for noisy USB-sources to cause downstream issues. No more need for things like “Eitr” (which is, probably not coincidentally, now in “end of life” status).

Upgradeability

The original Bifrost, which was Schiit’s first DAC, was also upgradeable. In fact it has had more upgrades offered for it over it’s lifetime than any other Schiit product:

Starting at launch, you could save some money by ordering a unit that didn’t have a USB input. And if you wanted one later on, it was an upgrade option. Later on an improved USB board was offered, “USB Gen 2”, and most recently “USB Gen 5”.

Upgrades to the DAC/analog board were also offered. First with the “Uber” card which offered a substantially improved analog stage, followed by the “4490” which was a new converter and analog stage, and finally the Multi-bit board which was my favorite of the iterations.

Note that you can still buy the “USB Gen 5”, “4490” and Multi-bit upgrades for the original Bifrost if you so desire.

Of course the question arises - if Bifrost was upgradeable, why come out with an all-new iteration and not just upgrade the old one?

Two major reasons I see for this, speaking as a former owner of the original:

  1. The new features go beyond what would have been possible with the older model. For example, there’s nowhere to squeeze in XLR outputs, nor do remote control, without having a completely new chassis.

  2. The original was something of a pain in the arse to upgrade.

If you braved the self-install, which most people didn’t, it was a lot of screws and a fiddly reassembly process (the LEDs were always a joy to get realigned with the holes in the front panel). And if you sent it in to have Schiit do it, you were without your DAC for some period and it was more expensive to do. Oh, and firmware updates, which were required for the multi-bit upgrade, HAD to be done at the factory.

The new upgradeable architecture is called “Autonomy” … because you can do all of the upgrades yourself - quickly and easily. No more shipping the thing off to Schiit.

Here, firmware is updated via microSD card slot on the rear of the unit. You can download updated firmware, copy it to a card, and do this yourself easily. And for “needed” updates (or the technologically ham-fisted) Schiit can even send you a card with the image already there to make it even easier.

And swapping either the USB card, or the DAC/analog card, now requires nothing more than undoing a couple of screws, sliding the old one out, slide the new one it, put the two screws back and bingo!

Remote Control

This is another thing that’s been asked for a lot, particularly from people not using this as a desktop-only unit. You can still switch inputs from the front-panel, but now you can do it remotely too. And you also gain phase-inversion, which is useful for some recordings, and was previously only available on Yggdrasil (in Schiit’s line-up). There’s a handy mute-function too … again probably more useful from those not sitting and listening at a desk.


You can find more details and rationale for all of these changes in the Bifrost 2 FAQ.


Proper impressions and so on, as well as a review, will follow as I get to spend some proper time listening to the new unit. I’ve only had this in my hands for about 2/3rds of a day so far!


*Based on the measurements posted. I have not yet had the unit long enough to compare outputs from a listening perspective.
**Unison USB upgrades will also become available for some other Schiit upgradeable DACs.

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You can … tomorrow … :wink:

If it’s only noticeable using your tube amps, it’s probably not down to what the USB input on your DAC is doing. That doesn’t mean it’s not a USB problem, nor that it can’t be the USB input, but if it’s only the tube amps then I’d look at either radiated noise, grounding or some other connection issue as more likely culprits.

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When “USB Gen 5” and the standalone DDC version of it, “Eitr”, were first released, they were a very useful step forward. When I tested them in my own system, vs. Yggdrasil’s original “USB Gen 3”, they were an obvious improvement and in that system were as good as any of the more complicated, and more expensive, DDC/streamer options I’d tried (mostly outputting via either AES or USB).

Other people, in different systems and with different sources had different experiences of course, but generally they were still a very useful improvement over the prior USB interface.

That’s going to be pretty tricky to evaluate - comparatively at least.

There is no “USB Gen 5” option for Bifrost 2. So an apples-to-apples comparison is not possible here. Thus there’s no way to know what aspects of difference/improvement in sound are down to other aspects of Bifrost 2 (new DACs, new output stage, new PSU etc.) vs. the Unison interface itself.

I can compare it to the S/PDIF inputs on Bifrost 2, of course. And I can tell you what I think of the overall solution in the context of Bifrost 2. But that’ll say nothing about how it compares to “USB Gen 5”.

An actual, direct, “USB Gen 5” vs. “Unison USB” comparison would be something I’d need to do in a DAC that can use both boards (I think the next existing DAC to get the “Unison USB” option will be Yggdrasil).

Now … there are, presumably, people out there that participated in helping test “Unison USB”. I would expect that had to be done using existing modular Schiit DACs - since Unison has been in development for a couple of years. So they’d be able to compare the two implementations today - but for me, I’ll have to wait a bit to do that.

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I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts on that. Reading through forum threads on other Schiit DACs (Gungnir/Yggy), a common theme is that S/PDIF is the way to go. Curious if Unison helps make up that gap, or even leads it to surpass it.

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When I go analog no USB input the tubes are silent(well as silent as tubes can be), if that helps with troubleshooting ideas… so far I just live with the mild hum/thrum, it is similar noise as when I forget to turn off the RGB lighting on my custom keyboard.

I’m very much so looking forward to tomorrow! Just need to coordinate visits with family and timing of my departure and return. =)

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First, Very High-Level, Impressions (Sound) …

While I’ve been running the Bifrost 2 solidly since it arrived, I’ve only gotten to spend a couple of hours with it paired with an amplifier I’m familiar with, so I do mean “very high level” impressions here:

Bifrost 2’s signature is very similar to Gungnir MB “A1” and Yggdrasil Analog 2 (think more low-end slam/impact and presence - along with markedly improved bass quality/texture, a bit “moister” overall, less-in-your-face/forthright treble, though perhaps a hair darker than either).

In terms of technicalities, it performs on par, maybe even ahead of, Gungnir MB “A2”, at least on a USB connection (haven’t tried it via S/PDIF yet), and is surprisingly close to Yggdrasil Analog 2.

The single-ended outputs are no longer second-class either, which was a factor with both Gungnir and Yggdrasil. They might measure differently, but as of right now I’m not hearing a difference.

I can see why people are referring to this as a “mini Yggdrasil Analog 2”. The “mini” part is important, both in terms of physical stature and sound; Yggdrasil still has sonic-technicality advantages - but it’s tonally very similar and a lot closer technically than I’d have dared speculate; better in some aspects in fact.

The original Bifrost MB struggled, at times, to distinguish itself from the much-cheaper Modi MB. There’s none of that here. This is clearly better than either, across the board.

Now, whether this is all more attributable to the DAC/analog stage changes, or the “Unison” USB interface, I can’t say (at least not at the moment). It doesn’t really matter, I guess, as you can’t get one without the other … and it’s overall performance that counts.

I’d say that the qualitative difference here vs. the original Bifrost MB is perhaps bigger (or at least more noticable) than the delta between the original Yggdrasil/USB Gen 3 to the Analog 2/USB Gen 5 version. Pretty impressive when you consider that this whole DAC is only $50 more than just the Analog 2 upgrade for Yggdrasil.

Lots more listening to do, and comparisons to make, in much more detail … but first impressions are definitively, and strongly, positive.

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Discount for Prior Bifrost Purchasers/Upgraders:

I totally forgot to mention this earlier … but for anyone that has ever bought a Bifrost, or an upgrade for a Bifrost, from Schiit … they’re offering a $100 discount on the purchase of a Bifrost 2 (through 03/31/2020).

In their words:

If you bought a Bifrost from us or an authorized reseller, or if you purchased a Bifrost upgrade from us—basically, if you’ve given us any money at all towards a Bifrost at any time—you get Bifrost 2 for $599, not $699.

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I keep looking at the space between the Mac Mini that runs ROON, and my STAX headphone amp. I keep having to grab the iFi xDSD if I want to connect up. Is it worth $699 to fill that spot with a Bifrost 2? Maybe. The STAX amp has balanced input available. Maybe I can live with first unfold of MQA only in exchange for a better DAC.

“Decisions decisions decisions flooding the mind of the concerned young adult today.“

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You could try one in your own system and do a proper comparison there - since Schiit have a 15 day trial (5% restocking fee … so $35 if you don’t like it, plus shipping).

There’s no additional musical information after the first unfold. Just upsampling and MQA filter specifications.

There aren’t many mid-tier options for MQA-capable DACs, especially if you want balanced output. I may be missing some options, but I think only the upcoming SMSL M500 has both - at $399 - after which you’re staring down things like the Matrix X-SABRE Pro (MQA) at $1,999.

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The actual quote is “Questions, questions, questions” but then again at 6.5 decades, I’m not sure I legitimately qualify as a concerned young adult anyway. At least I’m concerned. And a dolt.

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Well I know what would happen. I’d consider pairing it with that Lyr 3 when it wasn’t pushing the STAX SMR-T1S, so it would never go back.

But you’re right - except for iFi’s mid range (with no balanced output) and the SMSL, there is a big price jump.

I don’t know if you have your Lyr 3 and your STAX rig in different places, but if not then the Bifrost 2 could drive both of them, without needing to swap connections. XLR to your SRM-T1S and RCA to your Lyr 3.

Yes, I thought about that, but they are, for now, in different rooms. But I would expect a Bifrost 2 to Lyr 3 to make a nice combination. If I have to work from home, or if I had a writing project, it would be done. Especially if I had a review to do here. I like to sit at the computer and use several combinations, along with ROON and Tidal when I write. I know that ROON is a player, but it’s database of information about artists and releases is worth just as much to me as its ability to play across devices.

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Well, I caved and bought a Bifrost 2. I wish I had done a bit more research on the new Bifrost model last month when I bought a Jotunheim, because I went ahead and spent the extra $200 on the Multibit DAC card for it. I guess I can swap it out with a phono input, or just leave it for future flexibility. I’m assuming I’ll be able to easily detect the upgrade from the Multibit card in the Jot to the Bifrost (balanced connection) based on the information I’ve seen here and elsewhere.

Wondering also if it matters so much anymore (with the Unison USB) that one use a higher end USB cable from the source (PC in my case). Though I haven’t done proper tests to be sure I hear a difference, I am an optimizer who likes to use AQ Carbons for USB applications. I’m going to give the Schiit PYST cable a try with this rig.

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As long as the USB cable meets spec reliably*, then it’s not worth worrying about.

Speciality USB cables (which doesn’t necessarily mean “audiophile ones”) can be useful in some specific circumstances, usually when dealing with lengths close to the spec limits while operating in unusually electrically noisy environments and/or with unusual routing/bending requirements.

Typically such cases tend to be of the “works” vs. “doesn’t” work (or at least significantly and measurably reduced bandwidth/transfer speed) with standard cables. Same thing happens with HDMI cables … sometimes the standard ones just don’t work reliably/at all over long runs and cables of higher spec (usually higher internal gauge and better shielding) do.

Beyond that, the issues that do crop up with USB audio aren’t fixed with cables and require electrical isolation at the DAC input to address (which Unison USB addresses, among other changes vs. conventional USB interfaces).

Of course, electrical isolation is something that you can do with simply using an optical connection instead, provided you don’t need more than 24/192 kHz support.

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Having gotten a solid handle on the nature of the Jotunheim R over the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent a good portion of the last week feeding it exclusively with the Bifrost 2.

This is particularly interesting, to me at least, due to the extremely revealing nature of the SR1a headphones.

If you’ve experience with the original, or “post October 2018”, Bifrost multi-bit, then Bifrost 2 marks a meaningful and worthwhile upgrade, in my opinion. It is not often that DACs in similar tiers are easily distinguishable, audibly. But here it is pretty clear.

Bifrost 2 is blacker, cleaner, more resolving, has more low-end impact and greater overall clarity than its predecessor, and exhibits some traits that even beat out the currently shipping Gungnir MB and Yggdrasil A2.

Paired with the Jotunheim R and the SR1a it adds enough extra low-end oomph that one might be able to forego the “studio neutral” designation I give to the SR1a and just plain call them “neutral”.

It’s also the first sub-$1,000 DAC I’ve heard that I find more enjoyable than the RME ADI-2 DAC fs.

And you can feed it directly over USB without concern. The raw output from a MacBook Pro, via a USB-C to USB-B cable, gave up nothing to a dedicated S/PDIF transport that costs more than 10x the sticker on Bifrost 2. Whatever Mike and Co are doing with Unison USB, seems to be working.

The full review for this one is going to be a lot of fun. And I can only imagine what will transpire with Gungnir MB and Yggdrasil when they get the Unison USB treatment (and any other magic that Mike may have worked on Bifrost 2).

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Very exciting how well the unison usb is working! For very selfish reasons I’m hoping for a Yggdrasil update soon!

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