My son's increased homework load and need for more quiet time is requiring more headphone listening for me. I don't particularly like listening to headphones... not sure why, maybe it's growing up in a "Big Fat Greek Wedding" family, where everyone was social, like it or not. Naturally, I have a modest headphone setup for a reviewer—AKG 701 and Schiit's Vali 2 headphone amplifier. I bought the AKGs five years ago after several hours of trying out headphones at a headphone meet up. Whereas sound quality is paramount to me with a speaker based setup, I see no point to great sounding headphones I can't wear comfortably. So my day of trying out headphones looked like getting fit for a pair of shoes, uncomfortable? Forget it. Comfortable? Ok, what do they feel like/sound like?
The AKGs are a no-nonsense headphone and not a spectacular or "beautiful" sounding headphone. Nor are they a headphone for bass heads. They're clean sounding but not distinctly colorful, which has its advantages. Their signature probably lies somewhere between neutral and a bit "gray." In short, they're "workmanlike." There are other headphones I prefer but not enough for me to spring for them, either. At least at this stage of my enforced headphone usage. But, the AKG's are headphones I can wear comfortably for awhile and despite my criticism here, they remain a decent choice. That's intended to be context for you, the reader.
The analog output from my computer to the Vali was a passable sound, not inspiring, but also considerably better than straight out of the computer. The Vali provided a more robust sound with better bottom end and a bit more clarity and a lower noise floor. This, of course, was with an analog interconnect that was part of... maybe a Canon video camera I bought years ago, rather than an audiophile cable. Great? Hardly, but the sound was better and a step up from right out of my computer. The mix of the Vali's cool factor (small footprint, nice visual presentation and... a tube!) with the perceived improvement in sound made my purchase both fun and good.
As the time on my computer listening to music has been extended, the thought of a DAC to couple with the Vali came to mind. I retired my Twisted Pear Audio Buffalo 32S DAC after purchasing LampizatOr's Euforia DAC. I thought about buying a USB input and adding that to the Buffalo but I'd have to figure out how to install that and or add a coaxial card to my computer. Long story short, time and money put the kibosh on that. For $150 I could buy a PC card or buy an inexpensive DAC and retain some of my disappearing free time.
This led me back to Schiit. The entry level Modi, without a USB input ran $99. Upgrade to Modi 2 with USB input and at $149, I'm in. I rested on this spot waiting to get caught up at work—that never happened—thinking the Modi 2 was a good choice. Then, low and behold, I saw Schiit was now offering the Modi with a Multibit option ($249). The winds of the web seem to think Schiit's multibit is a worthy upgrade and the Titans of Schiit have priced multibit upgrades to their products that indicate Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat think it's an upgrade, too.
The question resting on my shoulders was... Modi Multibit at $249 or the Bifrost, sans multibit at $399 or the Bifrost Multibit at $600? The Bifrost allows for upgrades, whereas the Modi is... terminal. And, then there is Chord's Mojo, which I really liked as well. So, the deep audiophile thoughts percolating in my head... were entirely practical. I'd rather listen to my speakers than headphones eight days out of seven. So, taking the leap to a $400 DAC or even a $600 DAC was out of the question. If the Modi isn't a worthy upgrade to analog out from my computer, then I'd return the Vali 2 alone and call it a day.
I am not returning the Modi Multibit. The uptick in performance is both noticeable and welcome. There is more color in the presentation, even with a plain wrap computer USB cable. Detail is more easily discerned, elegantly presented and more musical to boot. With a fancy Oyaide USB Continental 5 USB cable, the performance is again a step up. Upgrading from a "patchcord" interconnect between the Vali and the Modi to Silver Audio Silver Bullet 4.0 was another step up. I am delighted. I'm enjoying my headphones more often and for longer periods of time. Now listening stops when homework is done or it's dinner time.
I am not going hold forth and distinguish the Modi Multibit from anything else as I have literally nothing else in house to compare it to, and too little such experience to try to recall for comparison purposes. I'm in the early stages of headphone experiences and unsure whether I want to "invest" further or hold where I am. I like the sound of the Modi Multibit. When I want a "high-end" experience, I naturally go to my $20,000+ speaker based system. That's fine by me.
While modest in cost, I enjoy my headphone setup enough to say "stop" for now. I experienced something similar with my Amazon Model 2 turntable. I know there are better turntables; I have some lust for them (TW Acustic, Willi Bauer's DPS and Dr. Feickert's Blackbird in particular—dang! They're all German. It's my wife's fault*), but I let them walk by allowing my breathing to become more rapid, and then walking on. I have not gotten to waving dollar bills at a dealer nor at another headphone amp or DAC. Sure, I've heard the Yggdrasil and liked it. I'm curious what the Gungnir sounds like. But time pressures remain. And, frankly, I would revisit my headphones before looking at a new and different headphone amp or DAC. Maybe that's wrong, but that's where my head is at.
For now I'm in for Schiit, the Modi Multibit that is. It's a worthy addition to my headphone setup. Don't let its modest cost mis-lead you. And, with the tiny footprint, it's hard to beat.
* She's German, too.
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