A friend of mine and I met up and compared 5 of our DACs:
Firestone Spitfire II (upgraded op amps) I sold it to him in 2011
Schiit Modi 2u (AKM)
Topping E30 (AKM)
Schiit Modious (AKM)
Schiit DAC card in an Asgard 3 (ESS)
This was pretty casual but the setup was using his amp and Kef speakers and a single track.
We listened to the first 4. It was clear the good old Firestone really did sound quite good. It was a warmer sound then the Modi. The E30 was quite cool sounding in comparison. The Modious was the
cleanest sounding of the stand alone group. We didn’t have a great way to fast switch so these difference had to be pretty large to hear then.
Then we wired the Modious into the Asgard 3’s analog in and got the same track playing on both dacs. Flipping between then it was very hard to hear any sort of difference. Certainly we would never be able to tell blind. They both sounded very similar. We did think there might have been a minor difference but we couldn’t find any words to clarify what that was.
So if you wonder in if the Modious AKM vs the ESS was going to be a big change with think probably not. We also think you are basically paying $100 for the external chassis and additional inputs if you choose to got with the Modious over one of Schiit’s ESS cards.
Given that the E30 and the Modious have the same DAC chips and we were testing with optical our thoughts are that the difference we are hearing are mostly the analog stages in these DAC’s. Unless you start listening for specific artifacts. So there is clearly a different sound but it is probably more the op amps or the output tuning.