This Is the California Company Making Desktop Hi-Fi Affordable
From Issue Seven of Gear Patrol Magazine.
Let’s get any confusion around its name out of the way. Schiit Audio is pronounced just like it reads — “shit.” That was intentional. “One of the reasons that we ended up with the company name was my wife,” says Jason Stoddard, cofounder of the California-based audio brand. “When I was going into the garage every night saying ‘I’ve got way too much shit to do,’ or ‘I can’t deal with this shit,’ she finally got exasperated and said, ‘Why don’t you just call the fucking company ‘shit’ because that’s all you ever do.'” He just went with it.
Stoddard started Schiit Audio with Mike Moffat in 2010. Both men came from hi-fi backgrounds. Stoddard had been a lead engineer at Sumo, a now-defunct company known for its high-end amplifiers, and Moffat helped design really expensive digital-to-analog converters for Theta Digital. The two men became friends in the early ’90s — their respective companies at the time shared a parking lot — and the idea of making high-end desktop audio components brought them back together. But they didn’t just want to make good components, they also wanted to make them cheap. Real cheap.
It was Moffat who came up with the idea to sell digital-to-analog converters (DACs) two years later for $99. Stoddard followed suit with a similarly priced headphone amp. Those two components, along with a quality pair of headphones, are really all most people need to improve the sound of their desktop setups — the problem back then was that they weren’t at all affordable. Since Schiit’s inception, the two owners have been trying to “out-cheap” each other, explained Moffat. Today, the company has a line of audio components that all start with entry-level prices, usually around $99.
Schiit Audio’s first break came in 2010 in the form of good press. The guys at Head-Fi, a well-respected desktop audio forum, reached out to Stoddard and Moffat about reviewing one of their affordable headphone amps. At the time, the pair was still working out of Stoddard’s garage. “There was nothing,” he says. “Heck, we did a million dollars in sales in the garage.”
Now nearing its eighth year as a company, Schiit Audio is doing just fine. The company has over 20 employees and, by Stoddard’s estimations, saw 30 percent growth in each of the last three years. Schitt also moved its operations into a 15,000-square-foot factory in Valencia, California.
The company’s bread and butter remains good-but-cheap hi-fi components, although Schiit Audio occasionally flexes its muscles with more sophisticated DACs and amplifiers that push the limits of the definition of “cheap” audio. And despite its burgeoning audiophile-grade reputation, Schiit Audio continues to have a playful, tongue-in-cheek attitude to pretty much everything.
Take the names of its products — Asgard, Valhalla, Bifrost, Loki, Magni and Modi — all references to Norse mythology. But neither Stoddard or Moffat has any real ties to Norway; nor do they particularly like Norse mythology. They just like that there are a lot of gods, and thus, a lot of good names. “People do make fun of us for some of our very strange names,” Stoddard says. “They always ask me, ‘How the hell do you pronounce this?’ And I’m like, ‘We don’t know, we’re dumb Americans.'”
If going after the low end of the audio market was Schiit Audio’s first “odd business decision,” as Stoddard put it, the second was to make everything in the States. Schiit Audio likes to keep manufacturing as close to home as possible. “Our board manufacturers are about twenty miles away; our metal guys — we have two of them — are seven to twenty miles away; our transformers are from up in NorCal, and our knobs are done in Detroit,” Stoddard says. “The thing is that the stuff is actually made here. We’re not trying to do a dance.”
The problem with making everything in the States, predictably, is that it’s expensive. Schiit Audio countered that issue, in part, by selling everything directly from its site, cutting costs nearly in half. Stoddard and Moffat also decided to house their audio products in aluminum sheet metal, which is cheap and practical. The aluminum chassis in all their products acts as a natural heat sink. And the simple designs allowed them to make the amps and DACs efficiently. “We use the same perf pattern and the same basic design tropes on every product,” Stoddard explains. “We try to keep it very clean, very simple and very minimal. And it’s held up. We’re eight years in and it doesn’t look particularly dated.”
Most people won’t spend a couple hundred dollars on a DAC and amp. Stoddard and Moffat know that. The $99 price point of their entry-level products is designed to break down any psychological barrier that may exist. They want people to know that there’s an easy and affordable way to upgrade their desktop audio setup. And if it looks cool, all the better.
“I was conditioned with [the belief] that it’s got to be expensive to be good,” Stoddard says about audio gear. “And I thought, ‘Could I even do a headphone amp for $99?’ Sure enough, we found out that not only can you do it, but you can do it well.”
Fulla 2 Headphone DAC/Amp
If you’re just looking to spend $99 and no more, the Fulla 2 is what you want. It’s both a headphone amp and a DAC, and it’s super easy to set up: just plug it directly into your laptop or desktop. It’s a great starting point for anybody looking to improve their desktop’s audio situation.
Magni (Headphone Amp), Modi 2 (DAC) Stack
The Magni is the headphone amp and preamp. The Modi is the DAC. And the “stack” — you’re supposed to stack the two components on top of each other — is basically the upgrade option to the Fulla 2. If you have higher-end headphones or if you just want a setup that’s a little nicer, the Magni and Modi stack is what you want. “You’re done on the desktop with [this stack],” Stoddard says, “You don’t really need anything else.” |
Schiit Loki Equalizer
The Loki is the next addition to the Magni and Modi stack. The four-band equalizer is the same size and style as the other components, so they’ll all looked nice and neat when stacked on top of each other. The Loki gives you the ability to tweak the tone of the audio. You can make it sound flatter, more equalized or boost the punch of the bass. If your headphones or desktop speakers sound too bright or too dark, this tunes out those imperfections.
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