Rediscovering Vinyl with Schiit Audio SYS and PYST Snake Oil

The Schiit Stack enhances the music experience, bringing back cherished memories.

I thoroughly enjoy the listening experience from my Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy. I noticed that the "Schiit Stack" sound is better and more enjoyable than my Mac’s 3.5mm headphone jack or the iPhone 11 Pro over Bluetooth headphones or via the pigtail adapter.

I want to sit in a chair, my eyes closed, and imagine Dad is with me, both of us quietly enjoying the moment. Dad had a large vinyl collection. I have none. Correct, I had none. Let’s back up a bit.

I felt nostalgic for the final weeks of my last year (1986) of school. It was June and Carnival time in St. Vincent, and Kingstown was excitedly buzzing. Carnival attracts thousands of tourists and is a colourful and vibrant celebration of music, dance and Vincentian heritage. Towns nationwide come alive with street parties, calypso and steelpan performances, costume parades and much more.

I had just completed my A-levels, and my brother Shane, our close friend Andre, and I were excited about Carnival. We encouraged David, our exchange student from Los Angeles, to come along. David didn’t know what he was in for.

Carnival starts in the middle of June, culminating on two special days, a Monday and Tuesday, at the start of July. The Monday is called J’Ouvert, a contraction of the French term Jour Overt, meaning "early morning". A fete1 runs from midnight to dawn. A large band then takes to the streets of Kingstown, waking the residents to enjoy the penultimate day of the carnival. J’Ouvert is followed by Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). In Vincy Mas, a band of the year competition is followed by a final parade of the mass bands to signal the end of the festival.

That last J’Ouvert morning in St. Vincent, we got up early, around 4 AM, piled into Andre’s Peugeot, and headed into town to meet the band. Andre parked the car at Barclays Bank, and we joined the celebration.

The street is filled with human beings, jam-packed like sardines in a tin. A large truck with enough speakers to sink a boat moves slowly through the street, inching forward at one mile/hour. The dancing, writhing crowd surrounds the truck, the truck and people moving in perfect harmony. The air is filled with the sound of the year's calypso anthem, "I want soca". The music is infectious. The DJ is playing this seven-minute song on a continuous loop. The party never stops, and neither do we.

Oh, man! I miss it.

audio-technica AT-LP60X
audio-technica AT-LP60X · Monday 28 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

Unfortunately, most of the calypso music from my youth, including Alston "Beckett" Cyrus’s hit, I Want Soca, never transitioned to digital. I spent hours searching Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, SoundCloud, Tidal and others. If I wanted to listen to the calypso of my youth, I would have to get vinyl pressings.

A quick Google search and I discovered multiple vinyl copies of the single on discogs. I bought a few other recordings. But I didn’t have a record player. The sleeved black disks sat on my desk while I dreamed of turntables, phono cartridges, pre-amplifiers, amplifiers, and speakers.

Schiit Audio claims their products are "designed and built in California". When they say "designed and built in California," they mean that most of the production costs for their products—including the chassis, boards, and assembly—are allocated to U.S. companies that manufacture within the United States. The chassis and PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) are manufactured nearby or in Northern California. In essence, Schiit Audio is a product company deeply rooted in local production.

About a year after I bought the [Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy] while searching for more vinyl, I walked into Princeton Record Exchange. I was looking for records. I walked out with an Audio Technica AT-LP60X.

Audio Technica AT-LP60X
Type Belt drive turntable, fully automatic.
Motor DC servo-controlled
Drive Method Belt-drive
Speeds 33-1/3 RPM, 45 RPM
Turntable Platter Aluminium
Wow and Flutter Less than 0.25% (WTD) @ 3 kHz
Signal-to-Noise Ratio >50 dB (DIN-B)
Output Level Pre-amp “PHONO”: 2.5 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec Pre-amp “LINE” 150 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Phono Pre-Amp Gain 36 dB nominal, RIAA equalised.
Accessories Included Dust cover, Felt mat, Platter (with drive belt), 45 RPM adapter, RCA audio cable (approx. 1.2 m. (3.9')), AC adapter (approx. 1.5 m (4.9'))

The AT-LP60X is a basic turntable. While the Wirecutter and others will recommend a [starter combo] with "an affordable turntable" and powered speakers costing over $600, the AT-LP60X was just $149. I had no speakers. I remembered that Shiit Audio offered a product called SYS.

Schiit PYST by Snake Oil
Schiit PYST by Snake Oil · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

Schiit Audio often markets their products humorous and irreverently, but the company is serious about audio quality. SYS, which Schiit Audio says is short for "Switch Your Stuff", is a 2-way switch and a potentiometer. The SYS allows me to switch between two audio sources or control the volume for a single audio output without adding active components to the signal path. Being a passive preamplifier means it doesn't require power and won't amplify the signal. This is often seen as beneficial for audio purists who want to maintain the audio signal's integrity without introducing additional noise or distortion that active electronic components could bring.

Schiit Audio Stack, Schiit Audio Modi 3+, Schiit Audio SYS, Schiit Audio Magni Heresey
Schiit Audio Stack · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

I bought some RCA PYST Snake Oil branded cables with the SYS passive switch. Snake Oil is a start-up from California. The name PYST is a playful acronym for "Put Your Schiit Together". These cables connect various audio components, e.g. [Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy]. However, they can also be used in other configurations. The PYST cables are typically well-received for being high-quality interconnects that provide reliable performance, although, like any other brand, user experiences may vary.

Schiit Audio SYS
Number of inputs 2 (stereo RCA)
Number of outputs 1 (stereo RCA)
Input impedance 10k ohms
Output Impedance 5k ohms maximum
Size 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”
Weight 1 lb

I easily switch between the Schiit Audio Modi 3+ DAC or AT-LP60X, feeding into the Shiit Audio Magni Heresy headphone amplifier and using the potentiometer to adjust the volume in my Grado SR-60s headphones. Listening on my Grado SR-60s, I easily switch between the AT-LP60X for vinyl and the Schiit Audio Modi 3+ for Apple Music streaming. The total cost of the SYS and PYST was $69. This kit is not the vintage system I had imagined, but the system's compact size and minimalism are better suited for my small home listening room space. This solution works for me.

Schiit Audio Stack, Schiit Audio Modi 3+, Schiit Audio SYS, Schiit Audio Magni Heresey
Schiit Audio Stack · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

At some point, I would like to get some powered speakers. Schiit Audio makes powerful amplifiers, but they are not budget-friendly (at least not for my budget). The Magni Heresy has an RCA output that can connect to the input of powered book-shelf-size speakers (aka monitors) from JBL or Klipsch. My "Plan B" is to connect some used Bose 901 speakers to an old Sony AV amplifier I found in the basement. I’m not sure which way to go.

I'm thinking of grabbing some powered speakers at some point. Schiit Audio has some pretty awesome amplifiers, but they're a bit too pricey for me. The Magni Heresy has an RCA output that could hook up to some compact powered speakers, like the ones from JBL or Klipsch. My other plan is to get some old Bose 901 speakers and the Sony AV amp collecting dust in the basement.

  1. Fete is a word of French origin meaning a celebration or festival. But in the English-speaking Caribbean islands, a fete means a Carnival party.