Yet more Schiit Audio has come to Dismal Manor. Jason Stoddard has designed a little integrated circuit phono preamp that is an incredibly musical and flexible device. Oh, and Schiit Audio sells Mani for the princely sum of $129. And it works. And its dead quiet. Not a hint of hum. That’s insane! It was in impulse purchase.
Schiit Audio Magnius back panel photo courtesy of Schiit Audio. The larger 3 pin sockets are the AES balanced input and output connectors.
As with other topics in audio, balanced audio connections are shrouded in myth and mystery. This article introduces some of the basics in a non-technical way. Reference  from Benchmark Media takes a more detailed look at pro verses home differential connections and some of the myths surrounding differential mode connections and amplifiers. Reference  also from Benchmark Media talks about differential headphone amplifiers.
Read Carefully and Be Careful What You Read
This is engineering, not politics. Alternative facts don’t exist, but fried equipment does. Miss-wiring an amplifier’s output stages can activate the protection or destroy the output stages. Transistors have a disconcerting ability to protect the output fuses of classic amplifiers. Modern amplifiers like Schiit Audio’s Vidar use electronic protection of the output stages. Be sure to follow amplifier user guide wiring instructions.
I’ve listed all of the references I used to create this article. I encourage you to at least read the Benchmark Media articles from their knowledge base. Benchmark’s audience is pro recording and mastering studios and the creatives who own and run them. Benchmark is all about getting its clients to put their money where it matters to build a high value mastering system that is clear and transparent until it needs to be colored to make judgements about how a mix will sound over typical audience playback systems.
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 image courtesy of Schitt Audio.
A new camper arrived at Camp Dismal (our summer name) a few weeks ago. As you may suspect, Dismal Wizard has some more audio stuff. This time it is a Schiit Audio Modius DAC. Modius is a new “low end” DAC conceived after Jason and Mike had made yet another visit to The Highway 51 Crossroads to find a new DAC and some new output parts. After the break, some impressions of Modius.
Magnaplanar LRS Stock image courtesy of Magnepan.
The CARES Act, in an effort to keep US residents whole during the early days of the SARS-COV2 pandemic, gives each tax payer and social security recipient $650 to spend as they will. Not needing it to make ends meet, I decided to direct my stimulus grant to a US company that makes things here in the US and was able to continue operating during the state’s shelter in place order.
Vidar photo is a stock image kindly provided by Schiit Audio.
FedEx beat its delivery promise to bring Vidar to Camp Dismal 2 days early. So we had an unboxing and installation, both fairly trivial and got to have a first listen playing the Thile-Mehldau eponymous duet record and Judy Collins In My Life record. The Judy Collins record features her beautiful voice singing Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and other songs with an electric backing. Vidar pairs nicely with my Dhalquist DQ-10s and has been a perfect gentleman since arrival.
Last week my beloved Great American Sound Ampzilla amplifier overheated. The lounge began to smell of hot linen. At first, I thought my sense of smell had gone wonky again. My sinus allergies can cause strange smells from time to time. So I took some antihistamine and started the air-con fan to filter out any particulate that might be about. A half hour later, the smell was still about unabated so I started checking for overheated electrical things in the lounge. I found Ampzilla with a high case temperature and no air flow up the chimney. Very odd since the fan is a Rotron Boxer powered off the line. What to do, have Ampzilla refurbished or purchase a modern replacement? More after the break.
I started this piece in response to an inquiry from younger friend Matt who is considering purchase of a nice audio system. Said friend is a professional software engineer currently at FaceBook, moves with some frequency, who has varied musical interests having played trumpet in high school bands, and guitar and bass off and on, and has fairly eclectic musical interests.
I don’t know if he will trade equipment as frequently as he trades jobs. I’m guessing simplicity is important, durability to withstand moves, durability to withstand loud playback, and non-fatiguing reproduction of the various metal genres. This may mean rolling off the high end in playback processing to loose some of the distortion harmonics.
My financial advisor is also interested, initially as a headphones listener but maybe as a speaker listener. He has a largish home and could probably find a room to use as a listening space. He’s currently an iPhone streaming user who has outgrown ear buds and would like to move up to headphones. He’s married with children so spousal acceptance and resistance to acts of children are factors. The children are at an age where they can be introduced to music listening.
Read on to learn more about building a high performance audio system able to play a broad spectrum of musical genre and styles. The material after the break reflects my experience from 50 years in the hobby, my evolving taste as a music fan, and directions in the modern component audio system industry.
Those of you who saw the John Darko interview of Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat filmed at the 2018 RMAF know that both have a passion for Schitty puns. During this interview, Mike teased a “Schiit Pi” concept. Mike’s idea was to embed an ARM processor in products to pick up additional digital signal processing tasks beyond the abilities of the Burr-Brown parts he had been using.
Jason is adamant that Schiit will not become a “software company”, that is offer IOS and Android apps or make devices having a significant user interface say like Roon Controller or Volumio remote. The ongoing maintenance of these products is simply too costly for the Schiit minimalist value first design esthetic.
A Minimalist Streaming Player
So can we make a minimalist streamer using a hatless Raspberry Pi? If we did, how would it sound? This product is as basic as a Roon Player can get. It turns out to be a very good one. Will Jason put it in the catalog? Probably not. Volumio got there first with more software integrated.
Those not wanting to tinker with hardware and software will find Volumio Primo a good alternative that provides a SBC and DAC supporting AirPlay, Rune, Roon, Spotify, and others but excludes the headphone amplifier. John Darko’s review is excellent and he likes the sound of Primo and the value offered. Primo is comparable, maybe not quite as sweet as the Allo Digi+ Signature. However, the ALLO devices requires you to bring your own DAC.
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.