I'm back home in cool Minneapolis, after spending a couple days in Austin at the Schiit Texas Audio Roundup. It was really nice to see everyone again, spend time listening to music, and talking about geeky audio gear with friends. In typical Schiit style, two new products were announced the morning of the show, and we had full access to listen to both of them all day long.
Minutes before the opening bell, Jason Stoddard sent out an email, containing the following information.
Okay, cool. Here's what we got:
- Bifrost 2/64. The first upgrade to Bifrost 2 brings an all-new analog section that throws 64 bits of DACness at each channel to bring hardware-balanced performance to our most affordable upgradable DAC. And it adds an NOS mode. And everyone who owns a Bifrost 2 can upgrade without the DAC coming back to us, thanks to a slide-in analog module and SDcard based firmware. Oh, and this $799, not $7999. Upgrades are $300. And it's available now.
- Lyr+. Introducing the first tube hybrid amp that ends tube nervosa, forever. Use it with a tube...or pull the tube out and it'll happily switch over to internal depletion-mode MOSFETs--while preserving the same Coherence topology, the same high voltage tube rails, the same output distortion profile. Our all-new Fusion Architecture means Lyr+ is equally capable...with or without tube! Oh yeah, and it has remote control and relay ladder volume. We estimate Lyr+ will ship in 4 weeks, for $599 without a tube, or $699 with a selected premium 6SN7.
If you're familiar with Schiit's digital wizard Mike Moffat, you likely saw something in that first paragraph that has you looking out the window for flying pigs. Yes, Schiit has enabled a non-oversampling mode for the first time in one of its DACs. Schiit is famous for its one of a kind digital filter, and now it's enabling listeners to bypass that filter. According to Jason Stoddard, it's about choice and a number of customers who want to use external upsampling in an application such as HQPlayer. Perhaps one day, we'll also get to illuminate that 8x light on the Yggdrasil :~)
One thing to consider with the NOS mode is that the inputs of the Bifrost 2/64 are limited to 4X (176.4 or 192 kHz), while the internal proprietary Schiit time and frequency domain optimized digital filter, implemented on Analog Devices SHARC DSP processor, oversamples at 8X. Given that I haven't had a chance to use HQPlayer with the Bifrost 2/64, I can't say if external upsamplers have one hand tied behind their backs, or if this is just like pixel-peeping specs, and the real story will be told via listening.
I spent some time listening to the Bifrost 2/64 with Joe Whip on the first day of the show. I was listening through the new Lyr+ headphone amp and a pair of Sennheiser HD800S headphones. In NOS mode, without any external upsampling, the sound wasn't for me. But, I'm sure some people will love it. As used car salesmen say, there's an ass for every seat. I can't wait to use some serious external upsample on this one, to see if it comes close to Mike Moffat's digital filter wizardry.
One of my mottos with respect to high end audio is, live and let listen. I've come to the realization that measurements should be used in a laboratory, to make sure nothing is incredibly wrong with a product before its design is concluded. By "wrong," I mean not as designed. This brings me to the Schiit Audio Folkvanger, a limited-production, 10-tube OTL/OCL tube headphone amp.
The Folkvanger is far from a class-leading measurement bench queen, but I absolutely enjoyed every minute I spent listening through it. In fact, my favorite system at the entire show was the Folkvanger with Sennheiser HD800S headphones. I spent a good 30-45 minutes with this combo, using my iPhone as a source, outputting to a Schiit DAC via lightning to USB converter. The VOX iOS app came in really handy as well because it gave me had access to my albums that are unavailable via streaming (think Japanese jazz from Three Blind Mice records).
I played the Impex releases of Misty (Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio IMP8309), Midnight Sugar (Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio IMP8308), and Blow Up (Isao Suziku Trio IMP8307), through the Folkvanger and was immediately "sold." This amp has that certain "something" that pulls the listener into the music and doesn't let go. I seriously could've listened for much longer, but I started to feel like an amp hog. After a while, people started to line up for access to this limited edition amp, and I had to call it a day. Word on the street is that the Folkvanger is close to sold out. I have a feeling that once it's gone, it's gone. It very well might turn into a cult product that "everyone" wishes they'd have purchased "back in the day."
Schiit Audio was my main draw for the Texas Audio Roundup, but it was also nice to see Wendell from Magnepan at the show, along with a few other manufacturers like Grado, Dan Clark, Nitsch, and the entire team from Emotiva. It's the Emotiva team that I spent time with at dinner and in an after hours watching / listening session, the evening before the start of the show. I really enjoyed talking to them and to see them work in their home theater room. They are all major geeks when it comes to audio and video. Troubleshooting a standard setup issue, was both comical and educational. The guys get along very well, and are sure to make fun of each other at every turn. I enjoy people in this industry who don't take themselves as serious as a heart attack, but still know their stuff.
That's a wrap for the Texas Audio Roundup. I'm happy Schiit took the bull by the horns, and created its own audio show in Texas. The smaller event was a breeze to cover, and gave me time to really soak-in all the rooms and talk to everyone involved. In addition, the rooms all had a low ambient noise level, making auditions of audio components very simple. In a way, the Schiit Texas Audio Roundup was the equivalent of seeing one's favorite artist in a small club, versus a stadium. Much more personal and enjoyable for all involved.