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Review and Measurements of Schiit BiFrost DAC

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Schiit BiFrost audio DAC. The unit is on kind loan from a member. The one I have doesn't have USB input so not sure if that is an older version or current??? Schiit website shows USB input as standard but then again there is some wording regarding optional USB module. Regardless, as best as I can figure out, the cost for BiFrost is USD $399 plus shipping.

Note that I had previously measured the Schiit BiFrost Multibit. This is the non-multibit version which is based on AKM DAC chip.

Not sure what is to say about the look of Schiit other than if you have seen one, you have seen them all:

Schiit BiFrost DAC Audio Review.jpg

Since there is no USB input, the momentary switch toggles between Toslink and S/PDIF. I used the latter for all of my testing.

The back panel has nothing exciting other than showing that this is a mains operated unit without an external supply:

Schiit BiFrost DAC Back Panel Audio Review.jpg

I see a random "CE" mark where the serial number sticker is on the left. Please excuse me if I don't put much weight behind this unit having been through safety and emissions regulatory testing. I checked the case grounding and it is NOT grounded. Same problems as I found with other mains operated Schiit audio products. See: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...otunheim-headphone-amplifier.3733/#post-89406

It is always a confident builder when you unpack an audio product and it rattles like it has half a dozen marbles in it. Such was the case with this Schiit BiFrost. Needless to say, before I could test it, I had to open and investigate. As soon as I took the screws off and tried to open the unit, heatsinks fell out of it one by one. Here are three of them:
Schiit BiFrost DAC Heatsinks Loose.jpg


There was a forth one that fell out a bit later. Looking inside, it was clear that they were supposed to be mounted on the four power supply regulators. I inserted them as such:

Schiit BiFrost DAC Heatsinks Loose regulators.jpg


But they were completely loose and hence the reason they fell out. They have made out of some of the thinnest gauge you can imagine so the spring tension is not remotely enough to keep them put. Fortunately they have screw holes and I put four in there to keep them there for good:
Schiit BiFrost DAC Heatsinks Loose regulators screwed.jpg


The two on the left took all the dexterity I could muster as the capacitors were in the way. Now I know why they choose to not screw them down. Tiny bit of planning in having the two caps a few millimeters to the left would have made the job easy.

It seems it is not a Schiit product without such issues. :(

Measurements
With no output options or dials, we are left with our single dashboard view of the BiFrost DAC:

Schiit BiFrost DAC Audio Measurements.png


Output is nicely above 2 volts nominal we like to see. Likewise, one channel meets spec at 0.003% THD+N. Unusually so, the other channel is far better to the tune of an extra 10 dB in SINAD! A few dB difference is common but 10 dB? Why couldn't we have both channels this good? Averaging the two channels this is where the Schiit BiFrost lands:
Schiit BiFrost DAC SINAD Audio Measurements.png


Squarely lin tier 3. Not good. But not a disaster either like its multibit sister.

Dynamic Range is decent and spec compliant:
Schiit BiFrost DAC Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


Jitter and noise test shows lack of attention to cross contamination of clock or reference voltage:
Schiit BiFrost DAC jitter Audio Measurements.png


In addition to those series of jitter spikes, the noise level is quite high too. State-of-the-art DACs have noise floors that fall below the "audiosciencereview.com" label.

Linearity is a huge step up above Schiit BiFrost multibit which could not do much better than 10 or so bits:
Schiit BiFrost DAC Linearity Audio Measurements.png


Mind you, at $400, I expect to see perfection here, not just beating the poor/broken performance of the multibit version.

Our 32-tone test at 192 kHz sampling clearly visualizes the distortion and noise products:
Schiit BiFrost DAC Multibit Audio Measurements.png


There is nothing musical about a ton of junk created between our signal tones. This is some of the highest amount of distortion I have seen in DACs tested.

Distortion and noise versus frequency with wide bandwidth of 90 khz shows elevated floor and severely rising level in one channel:

Schiit BiFrost DAC THD vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


Dissecting the spectrum of a 1 kHz tone, we see part of that problem is ultrasonic noise between 45 and 50 kHz:

Schiit BiFrost DAC 1 kHz Tone Spectrum Audio Measurements.png


Conclusions
The "good news" is that by using an off-the-shelf delta-sigma chip, Schiit escapes the horrors of the multibit version of their DACs. The bad news is that this design is simply not performant, or competitive. There are DACs such as the SMSL SU-8 which run circles around it for half the price. That's both on performance and features such as volume control, balanced output, USB input, etc.

In the era of no measurements or "friendly measurements" that showed problems but said otherwise, I could see people buying DACs like this. But I hope informed customers stay away and send a message to Schiit that they need to up their game. Obscurity of data is no longer an option.

And oh, please Schiit, take care of your customers with better manufacturing and safety standards. What is "Made in USA" supposed to mean if it is neither one of these? I am having to keep fixing these units before sending them back to their customers. Don't pay lip service. Reach out to customers, pay for shipping, and fix things like grounding, especially when you have metal heatsinks that come loose and can easily create an electrical short!

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

They say that money does not grow on tree. I think if you fertilize said tree enough, it might. I need some money to buy fertilizer then:
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or
upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 

suttondesign

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#5
I am struggling to understand why manufacturers are remaking the wheel with amps and dacs. Seems to me that a vetted design ought to serve everyone well, with differentiation being the input and output options. For example, Benchmark essentially sells core competence with a bunch of configuration options. Makes sense to me.
 

amirm

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#6
Seems they changed some things along the way:
They did but there is still a regulator at the bottom left with the same type of heatsink in the one I tested and still no screw to hold it tight! That thing could come loose and land on the rear power switch with its highly exposed terminals and it will be all over....
 

gvl

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#7
They did but there is still a regulator at the bottom left with the same type of heatsink in the one I tested and still no screw to hold it tight! That thing could come loose and land on the rear power switch with its highly exposed terminals and it will be all over....
True. The whole approach of not using the screws where good thermal contact is important is, well, schiity.
 

Ben

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#8
This looks like Schiit's first generation Bifrost based on AKM4399
 chip where USB was an optional $100 upgrade to a $349 DAC. Back then, they claimed that USB<SPDIF so if this had the dreaded "Cmedia USB Gen2", the measurements would probably been even worse. Since then, they upgraded USB board, DAC chip, and probably a bunch of silent upgrades that they like to do across their product line. Hence, this sample is not representative of the Biforst that you can buy today.

https://web.archive.org/web/20130911230307/https://schiit.com/products/bifrost
 

Veri

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#9
Hence, this sample is not representative of the Biforst that you can buy today.

https://web.archive.org/web/20130911230307/https://schiit.com/products/bifrost
Heck with those silent upgrades what is representative -.-'

I saw Schiit already offered multibit firmware upgrade for the truly insistent at a (heavy) price. Pretty lame on the transparency, a changelog would be really nice. On top of the non transferrable warranty, fake CE logo and more often than not non- or badly grounded case Schiit really is shit.
 

Jimster480

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#10
Not surprised on the outcome of the review but this is an older unit as some other people have said.
I wonder what the new one measures like? Especially now that they have the Modi 3 which actually measures decently.
 

james

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#13
The lack of screws on the heatsinks reminds me of how the transformer on my Asgard 2 broke clean off in shipment. No screws on that either--just held on by the solder joints--and you can see it in all the photos.
 

restorer-john

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#15
The cavalier attitude Schiit clearly has for electrical safety, has been demonstrated time and again in the ASR reviews of these devices showing the internal construction.

We have a litany of sins from this outfit:

Transformers not secured except via solder pins (several instances), including transformers ripping off PCBs. This was obvious it would happen.
Inadequate spacing/insulation under PCBs to chassis.
Un-insulated live fuses/switches with metal toggles and
No effective safety earth on metal cased mains powered products.
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...ga-grounding-and-hum-issues.4737/#post-104653

And now 'slide on, fall off' T0-220 heatsinks, where they have saved a few cents by bending the heatsink to hopefully hold on, rather than screw, washer and nut.
And the blatantly deceptive, fake CE logo.

Does it take an electrocution and a lawsuit before this is taken seriously?
 

Newk Yuler

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#16
Being an early Bifrost have you determined which one? The Uber would have come from the factory with a holographic Uber sticker on back, or if user upgraded would have been supplied for the owner to apply.

I used a Bifrost Uber for years in an ambient music system and it never gave me trouble. I questioned their support about an issue with the Uber board not lining up properly for the stand offs to screw down properly. (They shrugged.) Ended up leaving it rigged or half finished when I closed it. I always fed it by S/PDIF with a decent USB-to-S/PDIF setup. It came with their gen 2 USB installed but I never used it because it didn't perform as well (subjectively) as my outboard stuff.

It's disheartening to keep seeing poor ASR tests coming off their DAC products. I thought about upgrades when the 4490 and multibit options became available but I was happy enough to leave it with the Uber module. Now I'm glad I did. Honestly, I wouldn't be afraid to use it again if I had a use for it. It's a decent enough sounding DAC.

Has Schiit had anything to say in response to any of the poor tests? I've seen pissy Schiit owners forum posts elsewhere claiming Amir is biased against them for an oddly inconceivable reason.
 

Shaman

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#17
This is my unit, I bought it on the cheap from e-bay so I don't know how old it is, but it is one of the early versions.

It tested better than I thought it would for a Schiit...

This is interesting to compare to the bifrost multibit that was tested some time back. They spent a lot of time and effort to make their product worse.

Anyways, thanks for the screws Amirm.
 

graz_lag

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#18

agjell

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#19
That is a FAKE "CE" mark! See: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/beware-the-fake-ce-mark.6315/

Which begs the question: Did Schiit knowingly put the FAKE one on it? Or is this unit actually made in China?
Yup! That mark was the first thing I noticed when I opened this review :)

Your second question needs to be addressed first, as it is based on a common misunderstanding when it comes to CE marking. The marking is not linked to manufacturing location. The majority of electronics are manufactured in China, and a lot of them have valid CE labels. CE marking is simply a declaration from the manufacturer that a product meets EU regulatory requirements, no matter where it is made, so that it can be sold from an EU-based store. It is not mandatory to mark products sold outside the EU, that are not intended to be sold within the EU. EU citizens are still free to import these unmarked products for their own private use. The Schiit Bifrost that @amirm tested is a 115V-product, so it's definitely not made to be sold in the EU. As such no CE-compliance is required. However, since Schiit products are sold in Europe as well I assume all their 220V-products, and the ones using external transformers, are CE-compliant and have a valid CE mark (at least this Schiit Modi Multibit does).

Your primary question is certainly worthy of debate, though. The "China Export" logo is obviously made to confuse people into thinking a product is CE-compliant. In reality it tells people nothing. As I see it we are left with three possibilities:
  1. The product is wrongly labeled on purpose
  2. Pure ignorance from Schiit
  3. The product is not genuine
I noticed the Bifrost missing the FCC-label as well, but I don't the regulatory requirements for that.

Edit: corrected based on the reply from @KSTR
 
Last edited:

KSTR

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#20
CE is not a certification. CE is a declaration of the mfgr. that the product will comply to EMC and safety standards in case someone dares to question or measure it when there has been an incident. If someone gets injured or a plane crashes the investigators will want to see the paperworks issued by a certified lab. Without an incident nothing is ever checked by anybody, you have to rely on the sincerity of the mfgr that they know how to correctly design and build a product.
 

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