More Schiit — Modi and Magni

The Moocher had been mixing church service recordings using the DAC and amplifier built into his 2017 5k Retina display iMac. This sound is not bad but not the best. After a year of fatiguing sound and an inflating checking account, it was time to purchase something better for the desk. Having Gumby aboard for 9 months, what better choice than Schiit’s Modi and Magni. These two $99 products account for 1/2 the company’s revenue.

So, $200 gets you a complete personal audio system less speakers or headphones. How does Jason perform this magical feat? (The Moocher is pretty sure Jason has been to the Highway 51 Crossroads.) First, the design is minimalist, just the bits needed for brilliant musical reproduction are present, no less and no more in this music first design. Point of sale graphics, fancy cases, auto input selection logic, etc are all left out in favor of a sophisticated circuit topology, carefully selected components, and quality construction and testing. Second, they sell direct. No distributors or retailers adding vigorish. Third, they have low failure rates resulting from careful design, design testing, quality builds, and build testing. Everything runs for a day on the burn in rack to catch weak parts or assembly flaws.

References

  1. https://darko.audio/?s=modi John Darko reviews Modi and Magni.
  2. https://www.schiit.com/products/modi-1

Revision history

  1. Spell “Culcha Vulcha” correctly
  2. Add a playlist

Play List

In no particular order, the records I played to evaluate Modi and Magni with my Sennheiser HD555 headphones.

  • Trinity Session, Cowboy Junkies recorded this record on a shoestring in a chapel using an Ambisonic stereo microphone. The classical headphone record.
  • In My Life, Judy Collins Elektra debut an early stereo singer songwriter recording that shows off her great voice
  • Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall, The RCA audiophile classic. Listen for the trio behind Belafonte’s outrageous tenor. The clearer the small sounds from the guitar, the better the gear. Challenging to resolve distinctly. Gumby does it. Modi gets most of it.
  • Thile-Mehldau, The Mac Arthur genius and friend play mandolin-piano jazz. Captures Chris Thile’s genius at pulling small detail from his mandolin and keeps piano and mandolin distinct. Brad Mehldau’s vocal debut on the Scarlet Town track. The duet harmonies are Chris and Brad, not Chris and reverb.
  • Amir, Belgian singer-songwriter Tamino’s debut record. Man does his voice smoulder. Of Egyptian ancestry, he sings in quarter tones to haunting effect. Amazing technique.

Availability

Order directly from Schiit and Magni and Modi will appear within a week. Schiit offers a 2 week audition period within which the products may be returned no harm, no foul.

Unboxing

Packaging is strictly utilitarian as no point of sale enticements are needed. Packaging is also robustly designed for direct mail delivery. Packaging for the two are designed to ship Magni and Modi as a pair. If you tried to drop-kick the box (not recommended) you’d be more likely to hurt a toe than the product as robust cardboard is used with the two products packed in individual robust boxes that are packed in an outer box sized to take the two together.

Modi

Modi, in the smaller box, includes a micro-USB cable and a 5 watt USB power supply of decent quality. Alternately, you can use any decent (low noise like those from Allo, HiFiBerry, and Raspberry Pi Foundation or Apple iPad) 5 to 15 watt USB supply. Modi includes additional power supply filtering to clean up the USB source and make the needed voltages from the 5 volt bulk DC.

Magni

Magni comes in the larger of the two boxes which also includes a power transformer. Magni’s internal linear power supply develops the regulated voltages for the line stage, preamp output line driver, and the headphone amplifier. A short listen reveals why Jason went this route. The cans are dead quiet when nothing is playing.

If you order short RCA interconnects, Schiit will package them with Magni. There is a little extra space in the box for this purpose. A bit of protective foam and 5-mil poly packaging prevents scratching in shipment.

Setup

There’s not much setup but just enough that you should read the instruction leaflets with each product. Lets start with Modi.

We ran into a couple of things. First, the Moocher missed disabling the Mac internal speakers so was hearing them rather than the headphones for first playing. Second, you have to set the input on Modi and turn the level up on Magni. When the level is full left, the amp is dead quiet, dead dead quiet. The level control is active with both the line outs and the phone outs.

Modi

Setting up Modi is simple:

  • Connect Modi to a source.
  • Connect USB power if needed
  • Connect audio outputs to Magni’s inputs
  • Set the toggle switch to select USB, SPDIF, or TOSlink (optical SPDIF) input to service.
  • Turn the power switch on.
  • Select Schiit Modi 3 as MacOS audio output device.
  • Enable Schiit Modi 3 as a Roon output zone.

Modi has 2 USB inputs, one is a USB audio output device micro USB connector that can supply power. The second is a power-only micro USB connector. If your USB audio source complains about excessive load, connect the provided USB power adapter to the second micro USB connector. Modi will automatically disconnect the power supply from the signal plus power connector.

Magni

Magni has a small bit of setup also. There are 3 controls, a sensitivity switch, a power switch, and a volume control.

  • Connect Modi and Mangi using decent RCA connectors.
  • Connect the power transformer. This is best mounted where it can be supported or with a pig tail cord (cheap from Cable Matters). Gravity needs to be in your favor to keep it connected. It will likely come out of a vertical plug.
  • Set the gain switch to high for use with headphones or low for use with in ear monitors.
  • Optionally, connect the rear panel audio outs to a power amplifier.
  • Connect your unbalanced headphones on the front panel.
  • Set the volume control to 9 O’clock or so.
  • Disable computer internal speakers

The Sound

Magni and Modi have the Schiit house sound. They are naturally voiced with no apparent coloration and dead quiet. Silence separates the notes. The pair offer a rich and engaging musical experience for the cost of a handful of concert tickets.

The pair are a great way to audition the Schiit house sound before purchasing one of the larger DACs or power amps. If you like what you hear with these two, it is likely that you will give the more expensive products a friendly hearing.

The pair are small enough to set on an end table or night stand for evening listening.

Small Ensemble Reproduction

Modi and Magni resolve the small sounds in Chris Thile’s mandolin playing on the eponymous Thile-Mehldau recording while preserving the authority of Brad’s left hand on the piano. Right hand piano play dances in space behind the mandolin.

Tonal balance is what you’d expect hearing them live. On Scarlet Town, Brad’s voice is distinct from Chris’s voice on the duet parts. On other DAC’s the Scarlet Town vocals have sounded like Chris was accompanying himself multi-tracked. But not with Gumby or Modi.

Big Band Reproduction

Moving on to Snarky Puppy’s Culcha Vulcha record, Modi and Mangi easily deal with the complex play of this post bop jazz funk big band. Snarky Puppy play is beastly in its complexity yet masterfully tracked and mixed to put all the parts together in balance. Michael League’s bass gives each track a hefty funk bottom with percussion, horns, guitars, and synths on top. Mini-Moog and Hammond B3 are in the mix and Mark Letteri’s searing guitar tone is there in all its overdrive glory. These little guys bring this complex music with authority that belies their small size and small price. Tarova, Gemini, Grown Folks, Go, are fan favorites on this record.

Voice Reproduction

  • Chris Thile — well he still sounds like an “oboe going through puberty”, his description opening Live For Hear for the first time.
  • Tamino, well he smoulders gloriously.
  • Harry Belafonte’s complex tenor keeps its rich texture and overtone structure. The small stuff happening in the trio is almost as distinct as when rendered by Gumby. It’s there but the guitar is not quite as clear as when rendered by multi-bit Gumby.
  • Judy Collins on In My Life is just beautiful. I’ve been listening to this record for 50 years and her voice still amazes me on this beautifully tracked and mastered record.