Been a while since I heard some dacs. I'm looking to step things up a little as well as branch out from the cheaper mobile-chip based ESS options. I also want to get a more 'brand name' frame of reference to judge the China-direct companies like SMSL and Sabaj, who I believe make very good budget gear. So I have a couple different dacs I'll audition. First is a Schiit Modi Multibit. I don't see any reviews here for it so figured I'd share my thoughts.
The Modi Multibit is an R2R type dac that goes for $250-280, depending if you buy direct or Amazon. It's the cheapest R2R/ladder resistor type DAC you can buy. It's tiny, basic in appearance and is more or less plug and play with a PC. No driver install required (which has some downsides I'll mention later). The last R2R Dac I listened to was my diy Soekris, which is now packed away in storage, so it's been a while. I forgot about the initial quirks. The Modi has gotten really high marks in certain corners so my expectations were high.
First off, I was not a fan of the ModiMB out of the box. Using the usb input I found it splashy in the highs, hard and peaky in the mids and bass was non-existent through both my Sennheiser 599s and 58x headphones with JLH-based Class A headamp. Really no better than a $25 Fiio D3. Granted, I kind of like the D3 - I've used a modded one for the past 6 months. But I was expecting the smoother, more analog sounds of a R2R. The Modi was definitely not that. But I know the R2R dacs need an inordinate amount of time to break-in. So I gave it an hour: a little better, more detail and resolution in the extremes, some fleshing out of tone and timbre. 2 hours: a little better, strings and electric guitar have dimensional texture, some micro-detail coming through. But them dang peaky mids. I switched to coaxial input and that was a much needed step up from the usb. The USB was reminding me of dacs from 10 years ago.
Then it hit me: this DAC is like a full range speaker. The same kind of engaging coherence and organic core presentation, but with the damn peaky mids that will stab your ears if you're sensitive to it. And the break-in. Good lord, the it-takes-5000 hours break in time before things smooth out, the mids kind of settle, and the bass starts to fill in. My Soekris was hooked up to speakers and although needed warming up, the change was not as drastic over the speakers. Over my headphones, the Modi break-in is tough to bear. So I left it on overnight. Pretty much made up my mind it was a pass, but it wouldn't be fair to not let it have a couple days.
Good thing I let it cook overnight. The Modi has indeed settled substantially and it now sounds very good. Texture and detail is impressive. Plucked strings, fingers on frets, ambience, all organic and well-defined. Natural decay on cymbals. Still on the lean side but the bass is filling in nicely.
Downsides: Not as low a noise floor as the ESS Sabaj Dacs and as such I'm not really getting much space between instruments when things get busy. So great for acoustic, small ensemble/strings/horns etc. Not so much for rocking to Heart. The midrange peakiness remains to a degree and I don't think that's going to change much. It's just part of the sonic signature. Again, that full range speaker analogy seems about right. The driver install was automatically done by Windows. Unfortunately I could not get it working with Jplay, which I consider essential for getting the best out of a dac on my PC.
I get the feeling the Modi would aquit itself better through a good speaker setup and with a more conventional non-PC source. Since my speakers are no longer accessible for DAC demoing, I have to go by headphone synergy. I will give it another day and see what happens. The Modi is a definite worthwhile listen, though. It might make a die-hard fan out of you just like full range speakers do for others.