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Talking Schiit about MQA, DSD at CanJam SoCal 2016

  • Schiit Audio was founded in mid 2010 by Mike Moffat (designer of the very first outboard DAC at Theta Digital) and Jason Stoddard (ex-Sumo, marketing guru, published sci-fi writer). The intervening half-decade has seen the pair establish themselves as one seriously high watermark when it comes to sharp value audio products. In that time the company HQ has relocated twice and expanded once. Another workshop expansion is slated for October 2016.

    The Californian company’s wheelhouse remains DACs and headphone amplifiers but also offer a terrific entry-level phono stage (covered here) and a USB re-clocker (covered here). Schiit’s statement amplifier – Ragnarok – can drive loudspeakers.

    No single product in the Schiit product range sells for more than US$2.5K with the majority of skews heading out the factory door, direct to the customer, for under $1K. An entry-level Schiit stack can be had for upwards of a $200 whilst a handful of the company’s deluxe DAC offerings are upgradeable – no need to sell your old model to get the latest/greatest version. The most recent revisions accommodate Moffat’s multibit vision. Read my review of the Gungnir multibit here.

    Moffat’s t-shirt slogan makes his true feelings clear before he even opens his mouth: ‘Delta Sigma: for when sound doesn’t matter’. Every company needs to clearly define itself. Schiit’s stance on certain issues is firmer than most and not without sound reasoning – we’ll get to that shortly. As if the company name isn’t differentiator enough!

    At CanJam SoCal in Costa Mesa, Moffat and Stoddard’s reputation as the go to guys for doing high/er-end D/A conversion and headphone power on a budget precedes them. Their table row is packed with listeners all weekend long — in spite of the absence of fresh meat.

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    New to this commentator at this show was the availability of LISST devices for the Lyr 2. Introduced via a reworked Mjolnir, the second generation Lyr amplifier can run with the glow of glass and gas or as a solid state device. Win win.

    Headlining the Schiit display: “Proudly not buzzword compliant”. This kind of BS-free chest-beating coupled to a wait-n-see approach on incoming technologies underpins the company’s image. “Made for the music you have. Not the music you have to buy.” runs the copy for one of Schiit Audio’s pun-free banner ad campaigns. These guys don’t suffer fools. Or “unicorn formats”.

    Schiit Audio’s modus operandi is to build “the best for less” but without compromising on having everything they sell made in the USA and backed by a five year warranty. Talk about faith in the future. But therein lies the irony. Despite the loud talk of those who would try to convince us of the next big thing, the future remains an unknown until it arrives.

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    Audiophiles who live for the bleeding edge can unwittingly infect those around them to such an extent that interest in a new technology propagates and peaks before it a) has chance to show off its worth and b) the broader market’s interest/uptake has been gauged. Some have gone from 0 – 60 on MQA without having heard a note. Bob Stuart’s end-to-end process promises much but should we not hang tight and see what unfurls from A/B comparisons and catalogue availability before demanding our next DAC must ‘do MQA’?

    One might reasonably ask at the end of Q1 2016 if the buzz surrounding MQA has simply usurped the buzz surrounding DSD? Moffat is the first to remind us that SACD, DVD-Audio and HDCD all ultimately failed to gain traction in the physical format marketplace. Are we now seeing the same rise and fall stories occur in the file format arena? Is it not now more important than ever for audiophiles to be talking up the value of good ole Redbook?

    Nowadays, streaming has pushed downloads out of bounds for many listeners. DSD’s filesize prohibits streaming. MQA to the rescue? Perhaps.

    I sat down with Moffat and Stoddard at CanJam for a chat about the pitfalls of believing the hype. I hope you find their candid pragmatism as refreshing as I but please be aware that the very occasional profanity makes this interview very much NSFW.

    Mike Moffat sits on the left, Jason Stoddard on the right:

    Further information: Schiit Audio

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    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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