DACs come in multiple flavors. We have often talked about DAC/Amp combos as well as standalone DACs. But when it comes to standalone DACs, there are actually additional variants that also produce different kinds of sound signatures. One of these is the Multibit DAC.
Multibit DACs aren’t very common in today’s market. They used to be the standard but have slowly faded away in favor of single-bit DACs.
Most modern devices such as DAC/Amps, standalone DACs, and DAPs with AKM DAC chips and Sabre DAC chips do not have Multibit DACs. However, Multibit DACs are getting a lot of attention and are commanding higher price points.
In this article, we will be going over the history of Multibit DACs, how different they are from regular DACs, and we will also determine whether or not they are worth buying.
What is a DAC
Before we talk more about Multibit DACs, let us first discuss what a DAC is. Any system that can play sound has a DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter). The term DAC refers to a device that converts a digital signal to an analog signal. The sounds we hear from our devices are analog signals that have been transformed.
DACs installed in our devices do not have the same quality as the ones on outboard DACs. These external Digital-to-Analog Converters produce better sound quality which gives emphasis on the details, and they also have a better sound stage and dynamics. Music producers and audiophiles will benefit from these kinds of DACs.
When it comes to audiophile-grade DACs, there are several options. The standalone DAC and the DAC/Amp combo are the most common ones. Dongles and portable DACs (type-c and lightning) are DACs that we can carry and use outside our computer setups.
What is a Multibit DAC?
A Multibit DAC is a DAC that has one pair of input pins and an output/analog switch per bit. A 20 bit DAC, for example, will have 20 and 20 weighted output pins. This gives them their more dynamic and musical sound that fits well with complex music with lots of busy passages.
However, the technology that Multibit DACs use is actually outdated. Multibit technology was very common with older music players. However, manufacturers eventually stopped using them because they were costly and became irrelevant with the rise of high-resolution audio.
Older multibit DACs were more limited and only supported 16 bit 48 kHz conversion. Some were capable of higher-bitrate conversion, but due to the limited capacity of the DAC chip, a separate chip was needed.
This wasn’t an issue in the past but became one once high-resolution audio became popular. These days, most DACs use single bit/sigma-delta conversion for high-resolution music.
Why Buy Multibit DACs?
If Multibit DACs are technically outdated hardware, then why would you consider buying one? The answer is simply because of their unique sound. Most modern DACs are capable of reproducing accurate and lifelike audio.
However, some users may find them to be too accurate and, as a result, less exciting. This has led to a revived interest in the analog sound that Multibit DACs produce.
Most audiophiles describe the sound of Multibit DACs as dynamic. They may not be the most accurate sounding, but they present a listening experience that is fun and enjoyable to listen to.
A good analogy is with Schiit’s Magni headphone amplifier. It doesn’t color the sound and has plenty of power for most headphones. However, compared to bigger and more powerful headphone amplifiers, the Magni lacks in dynamics and lacks the distinct character of its higher-end siblings. The same analogy applies to Multibit DACs.
Also, in a way, Multibit DACs are very similar to tube headphone amplifiers. Neither produces the most accurate sound. However, they provide a unique experience that cannot be replicated by modern gear.
However, like all audiophile equipment, Multibit DACs must synergize well with your gear. Some headphones may greatly benefit from Multibit DACs, while others may not sound too different. This is why it is important to test Multibit DACs with your setup first before making your purchase.
Examples Multibit DACs
One manufacturer that is well known for producing Multibit DACs is Schiit Audio. The Schiit Modi Multibit is the multi-bit version of the highly acclaimed Schiit Modi entry-level DAC. It costs almost double the price of the Modi and has lower bitrate conversion in exchange for its unique sound.
The Modi Multibit is mostly the same as the regular Modi. And in the Multibit DAC market, it is one of the lowest options you can purchase.
Schiit Audio also has other Multibit DACs, such as the Bifrost 2. It presents a step up from the value-oriented Modi and Modi Multibit and has true Multibit performance with Unison USB input.
Schiit Audio has more products, and you can learn more about this on their official website.
Is it Worth Buying a Multibit DAC?
Answering whether or not purchasing Multibit DACs is a bit tricky. Just like tube headphone amplifiers, the sound that Multibit DACs produce will be very subjective. Some users might like them, while others might need more accurate sounding and measuring DACs.
And since most manufacturers do not produce Multibit DACs, these DACs are sort of a niche product. Additionally, you have to consider that Multibit DACs significantly cost more than regular DACs.
As we mentioned earlier, the Multibit version of the Schiit Modi is almost twice the price of the regular version. And this is considering that you may potentially be getting a technically inferior unit to the non Multibit version.
If you already have a setup that you are happy with, try to audition if Multibit DACs play well with the rest of your gear. And if you are interested in the rest of the features of the Multibit DAC, then we highly suggest going for it. However, if you have not yet truly built the rest of your setup, then we highly recommend focusing more on upgrading your headphones or your headphone amplifier.