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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.


    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.


    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



    DAR 580 x 290

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter


    1. Hi John, as an Antipodean living and working across SE Asia and China I just wanted to say that your blog is among the best in the industry … well done on this achievement.

      My only criticism is that you insist on using Vimeo for your video content. Can I suggest that you try a migration to Youtube HD as the performance of Vimeo leaves a lot to be desired. I suspect that they have limited their investment in international edge servers to stream their content … so once you get off the beaten network path … the quality of their streams suffer. I never experience this problem with Youtube … which for obvious reasons has made all the right investments to get their content seen!

      • Thanks for the kind words Alistair. Vimeo was chosen for its clean interface and an absence of extraneous ads. I don’t experience any performance issues in streaming and I’m on an Australian internet connection! 😉

    2. I love those guys.

      I wish the industry would spend half as much time and energy worrying about recording/mixing/mastering quality as they do on formats. Stop dynamically compressing the Schiit out of everything! It’s like they’re telling us they do such a horrible job on the front end, that there needs to be this massive investment on the back end just to salvage it.

    3. Ditto on liking the choice of Vimeo, I’ll take that any day over the ads.

      Gotta hand it to Schiit for being a bit different. And calling like they see it. So much BS in the audio industry now you need to take a shovel to the audio show. It’s becoming shadier that a car dealership. I’m not surprised in the least they are selling 1,000 Bifrost’s a month. Quality, warranty, service, value and really dorky names 😉

    4. Mike and Jason are, as usual, correct-o-mundo! As for people buying into new “formats” (e.g., MQA) or whathaveyou, I for one taking the opposite route of Agent Kay *.

      I’m not going to buy the “White Album” again. Oh…The video was fine. No presentation problems at all. Well done.

      *MIB (1997)

    5. Been getting up to speed on the latest and greatest in digital bits thanks to you John! Budding non-mobile audiophile interest building – based upon your reviews of delta-sigma vs NOS / multi-bit devices – would it be safe to say that red book quality the Schitt approach comes closest to maximizing SQ? I’m tossing between Chord and Schitt and I dunno where to turn. Thanks for clarification! Excellent site for all my digital needs!

      • You want detailed and spacious? Go the Chord. You want sweet, a little euphony and a meatier midrange? Go the Schiit.

    6. Those two are spot on about most everything.

      The problem I see with MQA is that they appear to spending 95% of their time licensing their MQA technology to hardware manufacturers so DACs can be sold as “MQA compatible” but are spending no time with BMI, Sony, Warner, Capitol, Def Jam etc… to license and convert music catalogs to MQA.

      The only music catalog that has thrown in its hat with MQA is a Scandinavian label with some of the most obscure stuff I have ever heard.
      Pretty pathetic showing in that regard so far. Especially when cross examined against the hype MQA is receiving in the audiophile press.

      If we get to a point where popular music is being streamed high resolution through a company like Tidal… I don’t think the container will be MQA locked down under proprietary restrictions with their demands on hardware requirements.

      I just don’t see companies like Sony with huge music catalogs and global hardware distribution being shoehorned in to using MQA by Meridian.

      I am more inclined to believe that any hi resolution streaming container that gains industry traction will likely come from a tech startup or Apple or the like… Maybe a short format war will follow…. But I seriously doubt that Meridian will be at the center of it… when or even if it ever happens.

    7. What a great company- I 100% agree with the wait and see philosophy, why sell your customers on a format that may very well not be revolutionary and they may very well just waste their money. In order for the recording industry to fully support a format it needs to be universal. Most people I know listen to Spotify or lower quality streaming through a patch cord or Bluetooth in the car or with a Bluetooth speaker. What is MQA going to offer the majority that they are asking for? This looks like another format that will only cater to audiophiles and offer the same titles as HD-Tracks and the Audiophile vinyl labels- I already own all the titles I want and get by just fine with Tidal for new music discovery and playing through my Marantz Consolette in the back yard.

    Transportable tubes from Woo Audio at CanJam SoCal 2016

    RIAA: Streaming now pulls in more dollars than downloads