The Modi 3 is a three-input (USB, and both TOSLINK and RCA S/PDIF inputs), USB/dual-powered compact desktop DAC, and is priced like Schiit’s former Modi 2 but with the features of the Modi 2 Uber - replacing both of them in the line-up.
Schiit were being super-efficient when they announced the Modi 3 on September 21st (a Friday); I asked for a loan unit to review when I became aware of the announcement, and they had a unit in my hands that same weekend.
I’ve spent the last week+ listening to the Modi 3, in various setups, and have consequently written up a full review of the unit, which if you’re interested you can read here.
Excellent review as usual. I found your discussion about synergies and the use of reference designs in low price point DACs particularly interesting. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of a Chinese ES9038Q2M desktop DAC for use with my LCD2C, as I’ve come to associate a detailed, slightly bright sound with Sabre and feel like this would synergize well with the LCD2C.
For fun, I was looking at the ES9038Q2M datasheet and noticed something very interesting. In addition to some built-in filter presets around the usual minimum vs linear phase and slow vs fast rolloff stuff, it also supports a programmable FIR filter. This spurred a few random thoughts:
How common is it for DACs to include programmable filters?
“Objectivists” firmly subscribe to the idea that all well-implemented DACs sound the same, whereas subjectivists hear differences in DACs, even sometimes different implementations of the same DAC. I wonder how much of this comes down to manufacturers taking advantage of built-in filters in the DAC itself or other customization (like bypassing the DACs filtering, which can be done with the ES9038Q2M as well)?
Given that at least some DACs are programmable, it would be nice to see more products take advantage of these features to allow for more user-customization like what one gets with an RME ADI-2. In theory this shouldn’t require a fancy physical interface but could be accomplished via USB and some software.
It’s more common with higher-end versions of a given converter series, but it’s not a ubiquitous feature. The other, major, variable where such a feature is included in a DAC IC or chipset, is how complex a custom filter can be. Most are limited to 256 or so filter “taps”, which is a long way short of ideal even for a basic 44.1 kHz FIR filter.
More common, at least in DAC ICs intended for audiophile use, is the ability to bypass the on-chip filtering and implement your own. This is more commonly seen on higher-end DAC solutions, even when present on relatively inexpensive DAC ICs themselves. Most budget/entry-level DACs don’t bother with this and just either make the onboard filters user-selectable (e.g. Topping D50, Pro-Ject Pre-Box S2 Digital, RME ADI-2 DAC) or pick the one the designer likes best and stick with it (e.g. Schiit Modi 3 etc.).
Given a competent interface implementation (regardless of whether it is USB or S/PDIF), then the closer to entry-level the DAC the more I think choice of filter/filter implementation is one of the two major factors in a given units apparent signature. The other being variances in components used/board layout, for a “reference” (i.e. data sheet design) implementation. Hard to say which is more impactful, of course - since there’s not usually a clean way to isolate them.
As you move up the price scale, there’s more room for engineering custom filters (either as a definition for an on-board customer filter, like in the ESS 903X series) or for an external filter implementation. Differentiation becomes greater (though, still, audible differences often remain very small).
By the time you’ve gotten to things like the Schiit Modi MB or the Chord Mojo, you’re dealing with 100% proprietary filter implementations, typically of MUCH greater complexity and processing capacity than those built-in DAC IC chipsets. For example, a typical built-in filter for a DAC IC might have a couple of hundred taps - the proprietary filter used by Schiit in their multi-bit devices has 18,000 taps, and Chord’s Mojo sports about 26,000 (from memory).
Though it’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily need a lot of taps for a frequency-response optimized filter - a few hundred can be enough. But when you’re going for a transient-aligned, or a hybrid/optimized approach, this becomes more important and filter length has to go up to allow approaching an ideal sinc function.
For pure-objectivists, filters do at least measure differently - both in terms of frequency response/linearity and impulse response (e.g. a minimum-phase filter looks obviously different to a linear-phase one). And for subjectivists, they sound different - even if it is sometimes only realized in terms of how long it takes for listening fatigue to set in.
For me, when available, I almost always prefer linear-phase, fast-roll-off filters. For the Topping D50 (and most other ESS 9038-based converters that expose the built-in filter options), for example, that’d be mode 5.
There are, while I think about, various other differences in DAC IC features as one goes up the scale in a given line. And these can make as big, or an even bigger, difference, than filters and other minor changes in reference builds.
One example is the AKM4497 - which allows the implementer to individually provide up to five different power-supplies for various functions/stages of processing. You’re not forced to, but the converters that have done so are generally markedly better sounding than those that have not (e.g. the Katalyst implementation in Linn’s DS and Exakt line).
This is what I like about Dac’s, the filters and trying out the different modes. But like you say it’s often only implemented well on the higher end Dac’s. I have read that some companies spend far more time programming the Dac chipset features and this dhines through in the end result. It was whist I was researching the Topping D50 that I came across that particular discussion. Sorry I can’t seem to find the original source, as I have forgotten where I read it. It’s a shame really that more companies don’t invest a little more time in bringing out the best qualities and feature of a particular Dac. But then I suppose time is money and at the end of the day it’s a business.
For whatever reason I’m reminded of the difference between Apple’s phones vs say LG or Samsung’s. Apple puts out relatively few models, all of which are quite similar and all of which are optimized to a tee. However, a lot of other manufacturers seem to go for quantity over quality, churning out new models faster than new Android OS releases.
It seems to me that investing all your engineering effort in a small product line (say one DAC, one solid state amp and one tube amp), pricing it aggressively and going for volume seems like a good proposition. I guess in a way that’s what Schiit does, though they also throw in some expensive halo products to burnish their image.
I’m pretty new to the audiophile world. And I’m gradually but steadily getting my feet wet So far, I have the following in my rig: MD-Senn HD6xx, AudioTech M50x, LG V20, FX Audio DAC-X6 and Schiit Magni 3. I use iTunes on my Windows 10 PCs and PowerAmp on my Androids. The majority of my music files are in 192kbps or more mp3 format (just a handful of FLAC files). Questions:
Will I be able to connect my Android 8.0 LG V20 (and my spare Android 6.0.1 Alcatel Idol 3) to the Modi 3 WITHOUT NEEDING to install any apps/drivers on the phones?
If yes (i.e. simple plug-and-play as you mentioned in your review about Win 10 machines) what adapters will I need for the phone end of the USB cable? Please note V20 has USB Type C and Idol 3 has Micro USB ports respectively. So far I haven’t been able to figure out a way to connect the Android phones to the FX DAC-X6; I simply connect the phones to the Magni 3 using 3.5mm-to-RCA Y-cable. Needless to say music don’t sound as enjoyable when using the Idol 3 as source.
For PC use, would you say Modi 3 will be a significant upgrade to my current FX DAC-X6? I’m dropping $100 on Modi 3, y’know. I’d rather use that to build my FLAC library if the upgrade will not be SIGNIFICANT.
If they have proper UAC2 class drivers built-in, then you should be fine. In general Android “M” and later works okay. I cannot guarantee it, nor test it, however since I don’t have either phone and don’t run any Android devices.
Note that you might have to use a third-party music player, such as USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP), to make your devices work with an external DAC.
You’ll want an USB C to micro USB OTG cable for the V20 and micro USB to micro USB OTG cable for the Idol. The “OTG” part is important. And I’ve never tried any USB to USB OTG adapters, so can’t comment on if they work at all, so I would stick to straightforward OTG cables.
Since I have no way to know what you consider “significant”, it’s impossible for me to say.
I will say I’ll be very surprised if the Modi 3/Magni 3 combination isn’t easily distinguishable, from your FX DAC-X6, and I’d expect it to sound better but I’ve never heard that unit either so that’s just educated speculation - and is based on using lossless content not 192 kbps MP3.
There are differences in how the SDAC and the Modi 3 sound (and in how they measure). Both are extremely good, even ignoring their modest prices, though personally I have a slight preference for the Modi 3.
However, if you already have one of them then switching to the other doesn’t make a lot of sense, as the differences are not large at all and your preferences, signature wise, may not be the same as mine.
You asked the same questions that I’m looking to have answered. Have you tested out a Schiit stack with your V20 yet? I’ve got a LG G7 and a V20 that I’d like to be able to connect to a Modi and Magni setup.
Sounds amazing! And setup was easy plug-and-play (no drivers required, not even on my old Alcatel Idol 3 running Android 6; and no additional USB/power cable required either). I must mention that I use PowerAmp for music playback but the V20’s native music player also works just fine.