Schiit Gungnir Multibit Review
January 7, 2018 Luckbad 1
The Schiit Gungnir Multibit has been around for a couple of years now. It is often recommended as the DAC to get in the $1000 price range. I’ve heard it a few times in unfamiliar setups and found it to be quite good in those situations, but I’ve long awaited the opportunity to try it out in my own system.
That day finally arrived! I’m a huge fan of R-2R/multibit DACs and really wanted to get one of these in my chain for a proper evaluation. I’m just going to note a few observations as I listen, as there are numerous well-articulated reviews of this DAC out there already.
Schiit Gungnir Multibit Specifications
- D/A Conversion IC: Analog Devices AD5781BRUZ x 4 (2 per channel, hardware balanced configuration)
- Digital Filter: proprietary Schiit bitperfect closed-form digital filter implemented on Analog Devices SHARC DSP processor
- Analog Stages: Fully discrete JFET buffers for balanced output and discrete JFET summing stages for single-ended output, direct coupled throughout
- Frequency Response, Analog Stage: 20Hz-20Khz, +/-0.1dB, 1Hz-200KHz, -1dB
- Maximum Output: 4.0V RMS (balanced), 2.0V RMS (single-ended)
- THD: Less than 0.005%, 20Hz-20KHz, at full output
- IMD: <0.004%, CCIR
- SNR: > 115dB, referenced to 2V RMS
- Inputs: Coaxial RCA SPDIF, BNC SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, USB
- Input Capability: up to 24/192 for all inputs
- Input Receiver, SPDIF: AKM 4113
- Input Receiver, USB: C-Media CM6631A
- Output: One pair XLR balanced and two pairs RCA single-ended
- Output Impedance: 75 ohms
- Clock Management: Bitperfect clock management at all native sample rates via Adapticlock analysis and VCXO/VCO regeneration, plus asynchronous USB Gen 2 module
- Power supply: two transformers (one for digital supplies, one for analog supplies) with 8 stages of regulation, including separate local supplies for critical digital and analog sections.
- Upgradability: Separate, modular USB Input Card and DAC/Analog Cards are snap-in replaceable.
- Power Consumption: 20W
- Size: 16 x 8.75” x 2.25”
- Weight: 11 lbs
To provide context for my review, here is the gear I currently have to compare:
- Source: Lynx AES16e
- DACs: Schiit Gungnir Multibit (not the latest rev, uses Gen 2 USB), Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 MKII SE+, MHDT Labs Orchid, Schiit Bifrost Multibit
- Amps: Cavalli Audio Liquid Crimson, Eddie Current Super 7
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD650, JVC HA-DX2000
In addition the listed gear, I’ve owned dozens of headphones, amplifiers, digital-to-analog converters, and S/PDIF converters.
I was cautioned upon obtaining the loaner from a local friend that the Gungnir Multibit–henceforth additionally referred to as the “Gumby”–needs at least 48-72 hours of on time before it will sound its best. That sounded quite absurd to me. How could it take that long to heat everything up and stabilize the clocks? An hour or two, sure, but multiple days? Sounds crazy. Luckily, this is a fully burned-in unit so it should achieve maximum performance sooner than a fresh-off-the-line Gumby.
The Cavalli Liquid Crimson is outstanding for comparing DACs. It is exceedingly transparent and has a switch on the front to instantly swap between inputs with no delay, clicking, dropouts, etc. I’ll be basing my impressions of the Gungnir Multibit on my history with digital converters, but more importantly with my Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 MKII SE+. I’m very familiar with its sound and it has been powered on for several days (and will remain so while testing the Gumby) to provide myself with a consistent baseline for comparison.
Additionally, the Lynx AES16e is being used for the majority of critical listening to eliminate differences in digital implementation.
Schiit Gungnir Multibit Impressions
In the first hour or so after powering up, the Gumby sounded a bit indistinct, slightly brittle, a touch muddy, maybe a little strained and shouty. Disappointed, I kept it powered on and returned to the Sonic Frontiers DAC for the rest of the night’s listening.
24 hours after initial power on, I gave it another listen. Color me surprised. Somewhere in the intervening hours, the Gungnir Multibit came to life. Natural, organic, detailed, clean, much smoother and with more substantial bass slam. It really was a sea change in the sonic characteristics presented by the Gumby warm vs. cold. The differences were far more obvious and significant than I anticipated. A day and change after initial power on and I was ready to buy myself a Gumby.
48 hours into power on, it was time to get back in there and listen to some songs. Yet more detail emerged from the music. But, at this point, the listening fatigue I often to feel when using oversampling DACs started to rear its ugly head. Part of the reason I usually use non-oversampling DACs is that I experience headaches when I listen to oversampling DACs for an extended period of time. This is very uncommon for people, so don’t get put off by my inability to listen to most oversampling digital-to-analog converters. The Gumby sounds fantastic!
72 hours in and it’s time for some more listening. Frankly, I can’t be sure I hear anything different from the previous day. It still sounds pretty incredible, but it also starts to cause me listening fatigue pretty quickly (within 30 minutes). Detail is on point, timbre is excellent, dynamics and separation are top notch.
96 hours later… Sounds the same to me. No further comments needed based on warm-up.
Okay, the warm-up period is officially over in my book. If it improves beyond 100 hours, then I apologize to Gumby fans everywhere for not giving it long enough to warm up and attain nirvana. It’s time for some conclusions based on several days of listening.
Compared to the Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 MKII SE+: Crisper, a little less bottom end, a bit more forward sounding, less smeared. It’s almost a more modern, higher fidelity take on the old SFD. It sacrifices some musicality to get there and has a grayer background, but it does outpace the SFD-1 in overall detail retrieval and delineation.
Compared to the Schiit Bifrost Multibit: More bottom end, more cohesive, a little brighter to my ears, more of all the good stuff. The Bimby is actually a lot better than I remember when I first had one, possibly because the source is better. But, the Gumby outdoes it in almost every way by a small margin.
Compared to the MHDT Labs Orchid: More of most good stuff, clearly more treble. The Orchid is more romantic and less fatiguing and is in a similar playing field, but you pay the NOS price with the Orchid: a bit of treble roll-off, some soundstage depth sacrificed, detail is a little less apparent.
The Schiit Gungnir Multibit is one of the best DACs I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to. It has excellent detail, timbre, dynamics, and cohesiveness. It’s as if Schiit could have achieved perfect neutrality, clarity, separation, and overall detail, but decided to take it in a slightly more musical direction. It’s not dry, it’s not wet, it’s not boring, it’s not quite romantic. It is a great overall digital to analog converter.
The Holy Grail of digital is to sound distinctly unlike digital, and the Gumby does an excellent job at evading the weaknesses inherent in most modern digital. It sounds organic, lacks digital hash, and gets you tapping your toes to the music.
I think of it a little like a muscle car. While top tier 90s DACs like the Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 MKII flow through music with a relaxed ease, the Gumby takes hold of the music and delivers with more authority. It’s more demanding of your attention than a good non-oversampling DAC while less incisive and bright than almost any delta-sigma DAC I’ve ever heard.
I also hate almost all USB implementations, but having heard the Schiit Eitr and Gen 5 on the Bifrost Multibit (the Gungnir Multibit I had was still using Gen 2), Schiit has an outstanding USB implementation on their hands with Gen 5. Unlike virtually every other DAC out there, it is not necessary to recommend a good S/PDIF source for the Gumby. Its current Gen 5 USB implementation is better than anything short of a Lynx or Focusrite Rednet, so there is no reason to waste your money on cleaner sources.
One weakness is a higher-than-expected noise floor from the single-ended outputs. I was unable to test the balanced outs, but I assume the noise floor is lower. With no music playing, I can turn the volume dial on the Liquid Crimson notably higher with both the Sonic Frontiers DAC as well as the Bimby before hearing any noise. This won’t necessarily manifest itself in normal listening, but blackgruond is not a strong suit for the Gungnir Multibit.
For anyone looking in the $1000 range, this is a DAC I would wholeheartedly recommend. There is little competition in the price range, and the Gungnir Multibit deserves an audition to see if it’s to your taste.
For me, if its sound froze in time at about 24 hours, I’d certainly have bought one already. It was a little more smeared at that time than the next day, but it also didn’t cause me any fatigue.
1 Week Later
I returned the Gungnir Multibit to its rightful owner (thanks, BillOhio). As those familiar with my buying/selling habits are well aware, I am best able to evaluate how much I like a piece of audio gear after I sell it (or, in this case, give the loaner back). Yeah, it’s silly and a waste of money, but it works.
I find myself missing the Gumby. I keep thinking maybe I could change the tube in my amp to something a little more forgiving. Maybe I could get a transformer to convert balanced to single-ended and take advantage of the potentially-superior balanced outputs. Maybe I should just get one…
Long story short, if I find a black Gungnir Multibit on the Schiit site, it’s unlikely that I’ll resist buying one.