My book of Niagara Falls images from 2011 is now published and available from Blurb

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Schiit Bifrost vs Teradak Chameleon DACs

Well tonight I put my first DAC, the Teradak 3.1D on Ebay (now sold), having recently acquired a Schiit Bifrost, based on a couple of reviews ( http://www.audiostream.com/content/schiit-audio-bifrost-dac and  http://www.tonepublications.com/review/the-schiit-bifrost-dac/ ) as well as numerous  recommendations around the web. I am keeping my Teradak Chameleon for the time being as I have two rooms where music is often heard  and I am not ready to replace it.

Today I did an informal comparison between the two DACs using my main system which I have blogged about previously ( http://ozpaul-ozblog.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/my-new-ascension-speakers.html ).  I used the NAD 541 as the digital coaxial input and selected a range of music. Both DACs cost around the same amount so if you are reading this, you may be in the market for one or the other.

First let me say that both sound musical to me and with a similar, reasonably wide sound stage. Both have have good detail with a smooth upper end which makes for less fatiguing listening compared with the DAC in the now aging NDA c541. Both I think have a reasonable reach into the lower registers but this is also where the greatest difference lies. The Chameleon kind of bobs along like a fairy dancer (struggling a bit here for an analogy) while the Bifrost has vigour and attack. In short, it brings excitement to the music. The Bifrost has been described as warm sounding but this is not exactly a soupy resonance but an apparent accentuation of those mid to lower registers with a lot of detail. Vocals are more engaging and the rhythmic thrust of the music is more dynamic. I have not measured the output so I can't say what the frequency power spectrum looks like, but it would be interesting. At first the sound stage may have sounded more cluttered than with the Chameleon, but overall I found it more convincing and more involving. Certainly more exciting!

On the practical side things are not so clear cut. The Bifrost has convenient input switching on the front, but the labelling is inadequate... too small, in fact minute. The Bifrost also has a very annoying delay switch mechanism which audibly clicks when there is a change of  input. "It’s just the muting relay, operating normally. We chose a relay rather than relying on the D/A chip’s soft mute, since it’s safer and less sonically invasive." This was horrible when I paused the CD player. Clickedy click clickedy click on and on. Otherwise just annoying, but I guess I will live with it. I haven't noticed it with the Chameleon though.

So in this shoot out, the clear winner sound-wise for me is the Bifrost over the un-modified Chameleon. [Not that the Chameleon is bad ( http://www.digitalaudioreview.net/2010/09/teradak-chameleon-16-x-tda1543-dac/) and I rather like it on my second system ( described here, but now using a Sonos network source http://ozpaul-ozblog.blogspot.com.au/2010/04/my-what-lovely-speakers-you-have.html) where it sounds quite musical. The system has a warmer sound and sits in a somewhat noisy living area where a greater emphasis of the mid to lower registers seems to add to the ambient noise level.] Now, how much more would I need to spend to improve on this???? Uh oh!

Ha!  As of May 2013 the answer is US$70 plus postage for the so called 'Uber upgrade" for the Bifrost! And as of 13th May I have it, so another comparison is probably warranted....

Update: I have now had the Uber upgrade for a fortnight and last night I did a short comparison with the Chameleon. I think my previous impressions of what the upgrade has brought to the Bifrost  are essentially confirmed and the differences between it and  the Chameleon are further accentuated.... The Chameleon remains a lovely clean and fluid sounding musical unit. The Bifrost simply has more vigour and attack. The bass has more punch and there may be more detail accross the board, but I will be going back for another session to focus on that.. I would say that the differences were more apparent when listening through my speakers than with my old AKG 240 headphones, which I was forced to retreat to because of the late hour.... to be continued.
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