A Non-Audiophile's Review of the Schiit Modi 2 and Magni 2
by Rex Ungericht
June 29, 2015
I am not an audiophile. I am not an electrical engineer. For most of my life I have listened to audio through
consumer-grade hardware (although at least sometimes through fairly decent consumer-grade equipment).
About twenty years ago (or more - I really don't want to think about it), a friend of mine was on a quest to buy a home theater/music system, and he asked me to accompany him. I think he wanted me to pull him back from the ledge if he started to become too enamoured with the really expensive equipment.
Long story short, the equipment auditions at various audio/video establishments showed me how much better my CDs and DVDs could sound. And even though I didn't have pocketfuls of large bills, I wound up with some Yamaha components and Definitive speakers. But for some reason, I never thought to seriously upgrade my headphones beyond buying a couple of new consumer-grade ones.
Flash forward many years later, and I finally purchased some Grado SR-80s. Then, jump forward another few years, and I had settled into a lifestyle where almost all of my audio listening and video watching took place at my desktop PC.
And that brings us to just a couple of years prior to the present.
I was quite happy with my computer setup. The audio and video was good enough, even if it couldn't hold a candle to the surround system in the family room. But there was one problem.
When I plugged my headphones into the jack on my PC (which uses a Realtek ALC892), sometimes I just couldn't get the volume I wanted. Particularly with a couple of rock tunes that seem to have been mastered at unusually low volume levels.
My first solution was to plug my headphones into my computer speakers (Creative Gigaworks T20s) and crank it up. But when I did that, underneath the audio was a distinct and disturbing
Oh, dear, what do I do now? Having no clue about what could be causing the hiss, I blamed the speakers and looked for an alternative. This led to the purchase of a FiiO E5 headphone amplifier. I connected my headphones to the amplifier, the amplifier to the PC, and...
Great, now what do I do? I didn't want to continue to throw money at the issue and continue to get hissed at, so I let it drop. But I figured that someday I would find a solution. And that brings us finally to the present.
Or actually, to just a couple months ago, where someone on a messageboard I read commented about the Schiit Magni and Modi. So I did some research.
What is Modi?
Modi is a DAC - a digital to analog converter. It takes the digital bits from your computer and turns them into the analog impulses that drive headphones and speakers. Inside your PC, there's a DAC that performs its digital to analog magic at every audio output port. However, not all DACs are created equal. Different DACs can use different techniques to create analog signals, and they can use higher or lower quality parts. Many PCs -- especially off-the-shelf PCs -- use inexpensive DACs that do a reasonably good job, but can be improved upon.
Modi 2 is wrapped in a small (5" x 3.5" x 1.5") metal box with a light on the front and ports on the back for USB and audio. The signal travels from your PC to Modi via a USB cable, and from Modi to your amplifier of choice via RCA audio cables. There's also an (e)xpert mode / (s)tandard mode switch. Expert mode supports higher resolution, but you have to install drivers to support it if you use Microsoft Windows as your PC operating system.
Modi is BYOC (bring your own cables). This wasn't an issue for me, since I've collected a wide variety of computer/audio/video cables over the years. A quick trip to the box under the bed, and I had everything I needed.
What is Magni?
Magni is an amplifier. It takes in analog signals and makes them loud enough to headbang in your headphones. Like Modi, Magni is wrapped in a small (5" x 3.5" x 1.5") metal box. The front has a headphone port and a volume knob. The back of my Magni 2 has a power port (for the included power supply), an on/off switch, a hi/lo gain switch, and audio ports.
Remember the first two sentences of this review? I am not an audiophile nor an electrical engineer. So I wasn't quite sure what the gain switch did. But, I do have a computer and considerable investigative skills, so I, uh, looked it up. Turning up the gain boosts the signal, but it may introduce distortion. So what I got from my research was: use lo gain. However, if you can crank the volume all the way up and still not get audio that's loud enough for you, try hi gain.