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Schiit Modi and Magni combination -- Finally, a desktop/portable headphone solution I can live with!

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Posted on March 29, 2013 at 17:37:03
willkayakforfood
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Given the choice between speakers and headphones, I'll always choose speakers. There are times however--travel, or even late nights at home, for that matter--when headphones are the only practical option. For those moments, I wanted something that would both sound good and wouldn't cost too much. After a couple of interesting, yet ultimately disappointing attempts at doing justice to both music and my Sennheiser HD600 headphones (Audioengine D1 and HiFiMan EF2A), I've found the solution...

Schiit Modi DAC, along with Schiit Magni headphone amp!

I've been a happy Schiit Bifrost user at home for quite a while now (I have two of them), and a couple months ago, in looking for something to send to a friend for a "taste of DAC", I tried a Modi. I was favorably enough impressed with the Modi that I did send it to my friend, and he's currently very happy with it.

Ever since my short and happy audition of that Modi, I decided that my next attempt at a portable headphone kit would likely be the Modi/Magni combination. Jason Stoddard at Schiit has always been helpfully forthright in answering my questions, and when I asked him if he felt the Modi/Magni combination would play nicely with my HD600 phones, he gave me a resounding "yes". And so I ordered the pair earlier this week, and they arrived today (along with a pair of Schiit's "PYST" interconnects). The USB cable I'm using for this connection is an Audioquest "Forest", 1.5m.

I couldn't be happier! :)

Both the Audioengine D1 and HiFiMan EF2A retail for $170 (not including shipping). For the EF2A "tube upgrade", I paid an extra $45 for a matched pair of NOS Raytheon 6AK5 tubes, so that particular experiment cost me $215 (again, not counting shipping). The Modi/Magni/PYST combination, before shipping, cost me $218 ($235.55, USPS Priority shipping included).

For just about the same as I paid for the EF2A w/tube upgrade, and for just a bit more than the Audioengine D1, the Schiit combination leaves them both in the dust (at least in terms of sound quality with my HD600 phones).

The Audioengine D1 has the edge in "portable size", and even the EF2A, with its extra bulk (plus bulky wall wart) may be just a bit smaller than the Modi/Magni combination (Magni comes with a small wall wart, while Modi is USB powered), but none of that matters to me as much as the quality of sound I was after. Even with Magni's small wall wart, and the "two component" package, it's still quite a small kit, and perfectly portable.

Schiit makes some fancier--and no doubt, "better"--headphone amps, but for someone like me, whose use of headphones is minimal, the small and inexpensive Modi/Magni combination is, in fact, much better than "good enough". It's actually quite good, regardless of comparisons to other systems. In the "$200 range", it's the best I've heard.

Once again, the guys at Schiit have proven that "really good" doesn't have to come with an absurd price tag.

 

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Comparing just the ModI USB DAC with the AudioEngine D1..., posted on March 29, 2013 at 18:25:16
Ivan303
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using the same headphone amp, how do the compare?

Thanks.




 

The Audioengine D1 is a DAC/amp combined - so it's a bit of apples and oranges. Though I will say this..., posted on March 29, 2013 at 19:06:49
willkayakforfood
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Since the Audioengine D1 can't have its DAC and amp sections separated, there's no way to directly compare just the DAC part of it vs. the Modi DAC, using a common "headphone amp".

At the same time, it's interesting to note that both the Audioengine D1 and the Modi DAC use the same D/A chip: AKM4396. That said, given their different implementations, they do sound different, and my preference is clearly in favor of the Modi sound.

It should also be noted that for whatever reason(s) (perhaps something to do with the fact that the D1 is entirely USB powered--for both DAC and amp?), the D1 just didn't seem quite up to the task of adequately driving my HD600 headphones. The Modi/Magni combination suffers no such limitation. I suppose this alone could play a major role in determining one's perception of overall "quality of sound", but I'm sure there's also more to it than just that.

With just the $30 difference in cost of the basics (Audioengine D1 vs. Modi/Magni combination), it's a crystal clear "no brainer" in favor of the Modi/Magni combination -- certainly at least with my HD600 headphones.

With just my headphones as the common component in the comparison, the Audioengine D1 is two dimensional, rather lifeless, dynamically challenged, and congested/confused in "busy/complex" passages. Now imagine the opposite of that rather unhappy list, and you've got an idea of how the Modi/Magni combination compares. :)

 

The AudioEngine is just a DAC same as the Modi if you go from the D1 RCA jacks to your Magni headphone amp..., posted on March 29, 2013 at 19:33:23
Ivan303
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Location: Cadiere d'azur FRANCE - San Francisco
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Which sounds better going from the respective DAC RCA jack to the Magni to play the HD600s?

I went with the ByerDynamic DT-770 32 Ohm because the USB powered headphone amp section in D1 clearly isn't happy trying to drive the HD600's.

Just wondering how the two DACs compare with used with the better (Magni) headphone amp.



 

Okay, I see what you mean. I'll give it a try when I have some time - probably tomorrow..., posted on March 29, 2013 at 19:48:10
willkayakforfood
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...and I'll get back to you on that particular comparison.

 

Result (Audioengine D1 *DAC only* with Schiit Magni amp: Much better, but Schiit Modi DAC still preferred, posted on March 30, 2013 at 11:30:34
willkayakforfood
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I performed the experiment, using the Audioengine D1 as just the DAC, and while the overall sound--and HD600 headphone handling--is indeed much better using the Schiit Magni amp, I still prefer the sound using the Schiit Modi DAC as well.

In addition to preferring the particular timbres and detail provided by the Modi DAC, the Audioengine DAC still gives me a feeling of "claustrophobia" -- like the sound is being "piped directly into my brain" as a two dimensional "wall of sound" rather than sound naturally occurring in an acoustic space, which is something the Modi DAC has provided as a very distinct and pleasant surprise (surprising to me anyway, as my usual experience with headphones has been disappointing in this regard). Using the Magni amp with the Audioengine DAC has helped some in this regard, but hasn't entirely eliminated the "problem", as I hear it.

My "quick and dirty" conclusion...

If you want to improve the overall sound and feeling of the Audioengine D1, the Schiit Magni amp does a nice job, though this brings the total cost up to $270 (plus an additional interconnect), yet still doesn't quite equal the overall quality of the Modi/Magni combination. I will say however, that the Audioengine D1 DAC section alone is less of a problem than the "headphone amp" section of the D1.

Additionally, perhaps with different headphones, that amp section may be less of a problem (in one or more ways), but I'd have to actually hear it to make up my mind. I do have a pair of tiny Sennheiser "in ear monitors", and while the Audioengine D1 does have a much easier time driving those than it does with my HD600, it's not exactly a fair comparison, and I still get that "wall of sound" feeling as opposed to the more natural "spaciousness" I feel with the Modi/Magni combination.

 

Agree completely regards the Senn HD600 driven directly from the D1..., posted on March 30, 2013 at 15:54:26
Ivan303
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Posts: 31245
Location: Cadiere d'azur FRANCE - San Francisco
Joined: February 26, 2001
I took a bit different approach to solving the problem..

Low impedance cans designed for the meager output of the D1.

Seems to have worked, at least for me.

Thanks for the report.





 

RE: Agree completely regards the Senn HD600 driven directly from the D1..., posted on April 6, 2013 at 06:31:52
silver disc


 
I also prefer speaker listening over any headphone gear I've heard (but have not heard the Smyth Realizer yet). The Shiite products I've heard I liked and cost/performance puts Shiite in the lead pack. For my HD600 I opted for the Meridian Explorer because I wanted my headphone/notebook setup to be truly
portable for easy movement/travel. I like it, but is it as good as some dedicated headphone amps setups? No, but more than good enough and better to my ears than previous Dragonfly, and the Dragonfly was pretty darn good itself.

 

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