With only a few weeks left in 2020, it feels appropriate to spill some additional ink on the Andover Audio Songbird streamer. We have plenty of reviews forthcoming on some exceptional equipment from Yamaha, Naim, HiFi Rose, Theory Audio Design, Rotel, and others – but I really want to focus on the Songbird, and a few other pieces of affordable equipment that have made the last weeks of 2020 a lot more normal. At least for me.
The year started with the unexpected passing of Neil Peart, before moving on to the global pandemic, an embarrassment of a national election, a diagnosis of cancer in the family, peace deals in the Middle East, more global pandemic, and is ending with the hope of a vaccine for all of us in 2021.
Anyone else really tired?
Music has been really cathartic this year. That’s probably a good word for it.
It hasn’t been as much fun listening with life turned on its head; there have been too many distractions in regard to working remotely, educating 3 children living in two different countries, shopping for relatives who are medically compromised, and just keeping all of the bills paid.
One almost feels guilty sitting down and listening critically to so many products and trying to convince people to spend a lot of money right now on stereo equipment.
So, when the $129 Andover Audio Songbird streamer arrived, there was a feeling of rejuvenation in my daily listening routine.
My mission in the final days of this miserable year would be to spread the word about a fascinating little black box that can deliver musical joy, not break the bank, and help rebuild the Jedi Order.
This is the way.
As I mentioned in the original review, the Songbird features both an analog stereo output (Andover supplies a 3.5mm splitter cable…I used my own), and a single optical Toslink digital output on the rear panel. A coaxial S/PDIF or USB digital output would have been better, but how many Songbird buyers are plugging this streamer into an expensive DAC?
Listeners are going to connect this to soundbars, integrated amplifiers, receivers, and even active loudspeakers.
I really like the sound quality of the Songbird out of its analog output into the NAD C 316BEE, Croft Phono Integrated, Cambridge Audio AXA35, and Naim NAIT 5si.
I like it even more when connected to the Schiit Audio Modi Multibit and Topping D50s DACs.
Neither combination will run you more than $380 which is borscht in today’s audio world.
The Topping D50s offers a lot more functionality than the Modi Multibit with its own volume control, support for 32-bit/768kHz PCM, DSD 512, MQA, Bluetooth 5.0, 7 selectable PCM filters, and a remote control.
The Schiit Modi Multibit DAC offers USB, optical, and coaxial digital inputs, supports up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM, but does not offer support for DSD or MQA.
We’ve discovered from a reader and update on the Andover website that the digital output does not support anything higher than 16-bit/44.1kHz. I still preferred its performance with the Schiit DAC but the analog output sounds excellent as well.
For those looking to assemble an affordable desktop headphone system, either combination will work with a variety of headphone amplifiers like the Schiit Audio Vali 2 or Topping A50s.
Like my father before me…
The Songbird isn’t a very forward sounding streamer which I think was a smart move on the part of the manufacturer. It gives you some wiggle room when it comes to selecting a DAC.
Listening to both DACs with the Songbird revealed that they sound nothing alike.
If you prefer a neutral sounding presentation that is laser focused and very spacious sounding – the Topping A50s will be a good option for you.
But only if the rest of your system is on the warm side; loudspeakers and amplifier.
It’s not the most colorful presentation and you will immediately notice that it doesn’t give as much weight to the human voice. I’m not sure if “detached” is being overly harsh, but it lacks a certain degree of midrange punch if the rest of your system is on the more neutral side.
On the plus side, the Topping has incredibly tight and extended low end performance; bass notes are clearly defined and articulate regardless of musical genre.
Detail retrieval is excellent. There is an airiness to the treble that will be fine for most systems but I would not use this DAC with overly neutral headphones or loudspeakers.
The Modi Multibit
The Schiit DAC offers a very different presentation; much warmer sounding in the midrange, smaller soundstage, and far more punch in the upper bass. Detail retrieval is not as abundant as with the Topping DAC, but the top end will work better with a wider range of loudspeakers. It doesn’t have the same degree of extension but it will never sound strident or hard.
The lack of support for DSD and MQA will matter to some; especially those who use Tidal as their primary high-res streaming platform and want to hear MQA Master versions of their music.
At the end of the day, the way that the Modi Multibit reproduces the human voice is the best reason to select it for the Andover Songbird; it adds just enough (but not too much) warmth without sacrificing resolution and transparency.
The Topping D50s is a very good DAC but the rest of your system needs to be darker sounding, or you’ll find the forward nature of the presentation too much.
I’m just a simple man making his way through the galaxy…
Having selected the Modi Multibit as a better match for the Songbird, I decided to connect the combination to the Acoustic Energy AE1 active loudspeakers that have been making gorgeous sounding music for the past few weeks in my office system.
Our review of the AE1 will be published later this month, and it’s been an experience trying them with different DACs, pre-amplifiers, and sources.
You could connect the Songbird/Modi Multibit directly to the AE1 loudspeakers and use its volume control (inconveniently placed on the rear panel of each loudspeaker), but that’s not the best method in this scenario.
For maximum flexibility and the best possible sound quality, you need to connect the streamer/DAC to a pre-amplifier, which doesn’t have to be really expensive.
The Acoustic Energy AE1 are very neutral sounding loudspeakers that are powered by two separate class AB amplifiers inside each enclosure. There is no DSP at all to contend with. Your choice of pre-amplifier, DAC, and sources will have a huge impact on the overall tonal balance and presentation of the loudspeaker.
With that in mind, I connected the Songbird/Modi Multibit combination to both a Schiit Magni 3+ headphone amplifier/line-stage, and Croft Acoustics Micro 25 pre-amplifier.
There’s a pretty substantial difference in price between the two pre-amplifiers ($99 vs $1,300), but they both illustrated that the Andover Audio Songbird streamer has a lot more potential beneath its hood when connected to a DAC like the Schiit Modi Multibit.
Everything about its performance improved in this scenario; transparency, resolution, midrange punch, top end purity, and low-end punch.
Electronic music sounded completely different through the AE1 (in comparison to the Q Acoustics 3050i used in the initial review); the spaciousness of the sound was enough to make me wander around my office to marvel at its off-axis performance.
Bass notes had far greater heft, articulation, and speed.
It’s not a stretch to say that the Andover Audio Songbird hi-res streamer is one of the biggest surprises of 2020.
To learn more or purchase: $129 at AndoverAudio.com