OK, first of all, I'm not going to make any jokes about the name. Almost every review or forum post you see somehow works "Schiit" in there.
"New Schiit on the way"
"This Schiit is awesome"
"A piece of Schiit"
"I just Schiit my pants"
I'm not going to say any of that. It's getting old. What is not getting old, is how much I love this DAC. In fact, it has ended my quest to try new DACs for the time being; it is my favourite DAC to date. I'm not going to say "the best" DAC, because best is very subjective. Saying it is my favourite is subjective as well, but it's only subjective to me, and my experiences.
In the last few years, I have had the fortune to try out quite a few digital front ends. Bryston BDA-1, Audiolab 8200CD, Rega DAC, NAD M51, Audiolab M-DAC, Wyred 4 Sound DAC-1.
This is my favourite thus far, and less for the price of admission of the likes of Bryston BDA-1 and NAD M51. Like half....
Schiit Audio are a relatively new, relatively small outfit hailing from Valencia, California. They may be a new company, but the guys behind this quirky enterprise are not new to the audio game. It is the brainchild of two audio biz veterans Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat. Stoddard formerly worked for Sumo and Moffat of Theta. Between them they probably have a lifetime of audio design and manufacturing between them.
Now onto the review at hand; the Gungnir. This is currently Schiit's flagship DAC (but not for long .. more on this later on AudioReview.ca). It is described as a "Fully Upgradeable Adapticlock Balanced DAC". The one that I ordered was upgraded with the USB input (a 100 dollar option). Not that I use the USB, but it's nice to have for flexibility, or future resale value.
In keeping with Schiit's theme of naming their products after Norse mythology, "Gungnir" in Odin's spear, which apparently never misses it's mark. Not to sound cliché, but this DAC never misses it's mark either. Maybe that was their point?
So I think I've probably gone into enough background on Schiit, and the Gungnir itself. What do I like about this DAC? Well, pretty much everything. In some ways, this is a bare bones DAC. It does not have any fancy filters or processing. Cool. It does not have a built-in pre-amp. That's OK, I already have a pre-amp. And unless the digital volume control in a DAC is done properly, I don't want a pre-amp in my DAC.
The most important thing about any audio review, of course, is how does it sound?
The Gungnir I would describe as "natural", "smooth", "organic" and "warm". In fact, when I was breaking it in, my wife came down into the dedicated music room and said ... "that sounds really good!". Which means it sounded natural, smooth, organic and warm. And musical, of course. The main input used was optical, but I did try the USB as well, and it was actually hard to tell the difference. To me that indicates a very well implemented USB architecture.
You seriously can't go wrong with this DAC. It sounds better than DACs costing 2 to 2.5 times as much.
Here are the obligatory specs:
Inputs: Coaxial RCA SPDIF, BNC SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, USB (optional)
Input Capability: up to 24/192 for all inputs
Input Receiver, SPDIF: Crystal Semiconductor CS8416
Input Receiver, USB: C-Media CM6631A
D/A Conversion IC: AKM4399 x 2
Analog Stages: All fully discrete, JFET-input topology, DC coupled, summed for single-ended output
Output: One pair XLR balanced and two pairs RCA single-ended
Output Impedance: 75 ohms
Frequency Response, Analog Stage: 20Hz-20Khz, +/-0.1dB, 1Hz-100KHz, -1dB
Maximum Output: 4.0V RMS (balanced), 2.0V RMS (single-ended)
THD: Less than 0.002%, 20Hz-20KHz, at full output
IMD: <0.002%, CCIR
SNR: > 112dB, referenced to 2V RMS
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