Certain headphones need a good companion to really meet their true potential. Whether that companion is a DAC, Amp, or a hybrid of the two, you’re sure to enhance your listening experience in some way. The issue some might run into though is the steep pricing of some of these devices, and the more affordable models, might not provide much in the way of a significantly upgraded sound. This is where the MODI 3+ comes in. The MODI is a DAC from Schiit, and yes, that is really what they’re called, sounding exactly as it’s spelled. I have now tested the MODI 3+ with various amp and headphone combinations, so let’s find out if this $99 DAC is worth the praise.
What You Get
The Modi 3+ doesn’t offer a ton in the way of accessories and opts to play it as plain as the device itself. Extra items besides the main unit are limited to a single cable that uses USB-A to micro USB and a small power brick. I would have liked to see at least an RCA cable included since that’s probably where most of your connections are going to go through, but anything outside of the DAC you’ll need to buy separately.
What you get here is a small 5 x 3.5 x 1.25 chassis in a silver coating. The screws that keep everything together are visible, making it possible to open up the device and modify it if you’re into that sort of thing. Opening up the MODI will probably just reveal how simple the build of this thing truly is. I do appreciate the inclusion of rubber tips on the four corners of the device, as they make it easier to rest on your desk, or atop your separate amplifier. The build overall is sturdy enough and well put together for the price.
Ins and Outs
The front of the device houses a single LED light the will illuminate when the MODI is plugged into a source. The only other feature here is a switch where you can toggle between the inputs you’re using. The top is relegated to USB, middle to optical(Toslink), and bottom to coaxial. A clear-cut presentation. The rear of the device will feature your main ins and outs.
The first set of outputs are a pair of RCA connectors that you can use with an external amp, pre-amp, or receiver. I myself used this convention the most, connecting the MODI 3+ to an iFi ZEN CAN. Next up is a single digital coaxial input that can connect to any digital source, using an RCA cable with a preferred 75 Ohms. Then next to that is an optical digital input that can connect to an optical source by the use of Toslink. Then there’s a slot for your included micro-USB cable that’s used to transfer data to the MODI. Finally, there’s a 5V power input for optional external power.
As I’ve mentioned, you can easily take the MODI apart and take a good look at the motherboard yourself, but if you’re like me then just taking out the screws will give you a panic attack. The MODI uses an AKM AK4490 and uses an active filtering system with precision thin-film resistors. That’s pretty much the makeup of this device. The price point doesn’t in any way make it seem like this device is built on the cheap side. Instead, I think the MODI 3+ takes advantage of this simplicity, by delivering a plain DAC with a more than capable DAC chipset.
I’ve chosen three sets of headphones to test out with the MODI 3+, the Beyerdynamic DT1770, the Dan Clark AEON 2 Noire, and SIVGA 004. My last selection didn’t exactly need the boost in power, especially when combined with the juice the ZEN CAN can dish out, but I wanted to showcase at least one more affordable model to go in line with the more cost-effective nature of the MODI.
Each of these headphones shared similar timbral responses, but mostly each model expressed its own unique sonic qualities with the MODI. Some of those similarities include a smooth and solid tonality and a quick but mellowed output. The signal from the MODI 3+ keeps the music lively without reproducing a boated image quality. Instead, the DAC makes the music appear natural without sacrificing any color.
The sound signature of the Sivga 004 made a great fit for the MODI. Being that this was the only open-back I selected, the naturalistic timbre and soundstage presentation became even more enhanced with this DAC. The lows especially receive some grit, as the bottom end gains a more solid momentum. The natural timbre of the bass is lifted just enough to showcase a more defined tonality, with more growling textures.
One of the more recent headphones to release, I used the MODI to test tracks for the review. My main concern for the Noire was the mids. Originally I thought some of the fundamental frequencies were scooped out and made unclear. However, the MODI brings back a bit of that fidelity, making instruments sound more full on the Noire than they did previously. The treble was also greatly enhanced, making the brighter frequencies more relaxed without losing any significant fidelity. This made the Noire a lot more accessible for more potential listeners interested in the model.
I thought I would end my testing with a classic. In my opinion, with this headphone, there really isn’t much to improve in the first place, so the MODI had a much bigger challenge on its hand. While most of the bass and treble maintained their detail and depth, the midrange became a lot richer. They’re always clear on the DT1770, but with the MODI they appeared less cold and more fun. The highs also receive some of this richness as well, giving off some sparkly shine to some of the timbral quality.
If you’re in need of any standard DAC, but can’t chip in the cash for something high-end, then the MODI 3+ is a must-have. This DAC can be super crisp and natural when paired with a variety of headphones. For the $99 price point, there really are no better options that I can think of. It’s rare that a product like this comes around, so I wouldn’t wait around trying to decide. This is one of the safest bets you could make on a DAC.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Natural output, price, simple
The Schiit MODI 3+ is available from their website here.
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