Featured image courtesy of Schiit Audio for use in this commentary.
Some weeks ago, I wrote about the addition of Modius to the Dismal Manor’s Dismal HiFi. Modius is a digital to analog converter. In my system his primary duties are to make YouTube audio from the TV listenable and to play WHRV-FM streamed audio from a HiFiBerry Digi+ stream receiver. Modius does those jobs brilliantly. Neither is a high definition source so don’t merit a Gugnir channel. Multibit Gugnir (Gumby) is my primary music reproduction converter used for CD, Qobuz, and TIDAL playback.
Modius provides a significant improvement in TV sound and WHRV-FM sound over using the premap’s internal converter. American Public Media Live from Here rebroadcasts via Modius match Gumby in sound quality. Modius is consistently beating the WHRV-FM on air sound in spite of the low 128 kbps MP3 used.
Schiit Audio has done it again with a new $200 amplifier called Magnius that continues the value proposition in headphone amplifiers. This is an ideal amp for an office system or armchair listening position in the lounge. Modius and Magnius are intended to be a high value personal audio system. Magnius provides outputs for both balanced and single ended headphones at this price and has both balanced and single ended inputs. Modius can send a single ended signal to the HiFi and a balanced signal to a Magnius at chair side for individual listening in a shared listening space.
More after the break.
Modius Role at Camp Dismal
Modius takes over the TV and Internet Radio converter tasks from the P5. The P5 converter is a Burr Brown data sheet exercise that sounded good when it first came. Modius sound is a significant step up from the P5 internal converter. HiFi is like that. What came before trains the ears to what should be next.
Modius is also a significant step up from the Schiit Audio Modi DAC. The difference is not dramatic as it is with the P5 internal DAC. Modi and Modius have a similar Schiit Audio house sound shared with Gumby. Modius is a little more focused than Modi. Transient attack is better and percussive sounds are a bit clearer comparing Modi and Modius.
Spectrally, Modius equals Gumby with rich extended highs up to 15 kHz or so and bass down to 50 Hz or so as measured by an audio spectrum analyzer at my listening position.
What Modius does not do is to reproduce sounds with the time coherence of the Schiit Audio R-2R multi-bit converters. This shows up in the percussive instruments. In click track tickety-tickety-tick-tock drumming common in recent jazz, Chris Thile plucked mandolin and those scratching strums he likes to play, and Cory Wong funk strums are a bit fuzzy in comparison to Gumby but brilliant compared to the typical $400 external DAC. It’s not that Modius sounds bad, it is damned good and the percussive sounds are nicely articulated but slightly out of focus. Gumby brings them into focus with a Chris is in the lounge crispness and clarity.
No, not all DACS sound the same
DACs matter. I had this drummed into my head with Gregory Dudzienski’s Beautiful Moments CD came out. It wouldn’t rip correctly the first couple of tries with XLD so I used the Cambridge DVD player to play it. The sound was so much less than my expectations that I abandoned the playback, tinkered with XLD a bit to make a new FLAC rip, imported it, and played via Gumby rather than the movie player. Lets just leave it at Cambridge/Oppo Digital used a well regarded DAC from a well regarded source but it is sadly dated after 10 years.
Greg Dude’s Beautiful Moments record is worth a listen if you are a jazz listener. Greg’s composing and arranging continues to improve as he gains experience as a jazz artist following his Navy Music years.
How Schiit Does It
Modius uses the new AKM4493 converter in a Jason and Mike value oriented design. Ten years on Schiit Audio has a kit of DAC subsystems developed for previous designs that can be redeployed in new products. With the engineering costs covered and all of the production engineering challenges met, Jason can build up the low end products from the subsystems he and Mike have developed for their less cost sensitive products. Reuse of proven in-house designs lowers the development cost of the new products while moving the sound quality up a step. Taking advantage of new products from proven suppliers also allows advanced performance at the $200 price point.
Modius uses the new AKM 4493 converter and its new onboard processing to good effect. Modius reuses the Unison USB receiver design developed for updates of the high end products. The line stage may be a reuse of an earlier differential design. Mike does not give credit.
Schiit Audio gear is designed for easy manufacture using surface mounted bits mostly but through-hole parts where nothing else will do. And Modius is designed to be powered by its USB input or by a separate Micro-USB power connection and provided power supply. A simple phone charger will power Modius.
As you can see, the board is simple and can be assembled using automatic insertion of the through hole parts, a wave solder pass, automatic placement of the surface mount parts, and a bake to reflow the surface mount part solder. The layout is roomy and simple with no AC supply in the case. Using USB power lets the design avoid a transformer in the case and AC in the case. A switching regulator convert 5 volts to the +/- voltages needed for the audio output.
Another place Schiit Audio has saved cost is in the output stage which is mostly operational amplifiers followed by single ended and differential line drivers. Modius is unusual to have differential outputs at this price. The advantage of balanced outputs is that they let a Modius in the equipment rack drive a Magnius headphone amplifier at chair side using the balanced outputs. This arrangement is ideal for personal listening in a shared listening space. Balanced inputs and outputs travel hundreds of feet in pro audio installations in churches and theaters. Twenty feet from rack to lounge chair around the room is easily achieved.