Schiit Gungnir: review (part 1 of 2)

Schiit Gungnir with blue lamp

This is the first of a two-part review of the Schiit Gungnir. I will test what modularity can do for a DAC. Delta Sigma vs. Multibit: here we go

Why two parts? I review gear with an eye to sustainability. As a luxury commodity hi-fi will never really be sustainable, but maybe we can find ways to take hi-fi closer to sustainability.

Going green on audio is akin to the difference between buying plastic water bottles on the go vs. buying one reusable bottle that we keep. Sometimes we (think we) need a cheap plasticky DAC from some Asian sweatshop until we can afford a ‘real’ DAC – and sometimes that might even be true – just as necessity sometimes forces us to buy water in a single-use plastic bottle.

But with a minimum of planning and effort we can bring water with us. It’s cheaper by far and much better for the environment. – And with a bit of patience and forward thinking maybe we can hold off on the cheapish DAC and wait until we can afford the DAC we really want, and therefore DAC we will keep.

– Or, the horror! we can settle in with the DAC we can afford and stop trying to find the (next and the next) Holy Grail of hardware and enjoy the music instead. Changing our perception of obsolescence in hi-fi is the most effective way of going green – and, luckily, of saving a ton of cash.

But there’s another way to take us closer to sustainability while still having an evolving system. What if we invested in a product that might never become obsolete?

Schiit Gungnir and Modularity

American company, Schiit, is one of a growing number of brands that make products that can be hardware upgraded: they are modular. You buy a DAC with a specific DAC module. When there’s an upgrade available you don’t change the DAC, you keep the DAC and change the module. This speaks to the fact that a DAC is more than its chip. Why change the power supply, the analog output, the entire circuit design, just because there’s a new chip in town? And why change the chassis? Why not just send the DAC back to the manufacturer in the same box you received it in, and get it back shortly after with a new chip/module?

Like firmware updates, this is one of the ways we reduce obsolescence in hi-fi.

A note: Schiit have recently introduced their autonomy architecture. To my knowledge it is currently available in the lower priced Bifrost but will likely expand to Schiit’s full line of modular designs: DACs, headphone/pre-amps, and integrated amps. As the name suggests the autonomy architecture allows the users to upgrade their module themselves in their own home. You don’t have to ship your DAC or your amp to Schiit. That means you don’t have to go without music while you product is being upgraded. It also means that Schiit don’t have to use labor to install the module. If we’re lucky that means even better gear for less money. That’s good for you; it’s certainly good for Schiit; and it’s good for the environment: shipping a module one way is much better than shipping the whole DAC/amp both ways.

Hands on

Just before Christmas I bought a used Schiit Gungnir. It’s the Delta Sigma version and it’s from 2015.

Why? I want to put my money where my mouth is, quite literally. I want to test what modularity can do for a DAC. Do these ideas about modularity as a portal to sustainability have actual merit?

The Gungnir is presently playing along in my system with a Bluesound Node2i streaming Tidal.

The last part of this article will review how this Delta Sigma module sounds compared to the upgraded Multibit module.

Aural Memory

A further note: How do you remember how a DAC used to sound? Two weeks ago, and in relation to your new DAC? The fact is you can’t. Or, I can’t, at least. Aural memory is only to be trusted in the broadest of terms. How a DAC compares to another is a different proposition. It’s a game of nuances. So, how will I know the difference between the Schiit Gungnir Delta Sigma and Multibit modules? By a two-part comparison to the gear I have at my disposal. How does the Delta Sigma compare to the DAC I have at my disposal? And, when it arrives, how does the Multibit Gungnir compare to that same component?

Short of having both iterations of the Schiit Gungnir here side by side that is the only way I know how to make a comparison.

Catch you on the flip side…

MMK

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