Schiit Yggdrasil DAC – Review
Schiit! I finally have one on my desk! I’ve been waiting for this moment for months now. Reading all about this DAC on headfi and changstar got me extremely excited about it, especially since I am in agreement with many statements that were made about the evolution of DACs in the past few years, the importance of DAC chips and the naturalness of R2R dacs when you compare them to Delta Sigma generally speaking.
Having heard a Theta DSPro Basic confirmed what I read on headfi about these old but very good R2R dacs. Considering that Schiit Yggdrasil’s designer is one of the original makers of Theta, I got even more excited, as I’ve approximated how yggy would sound based on Theta DsPro Basic.
Well…I must say that Yggy sounded unexpectedly different sound signature wise, but before getting into that, let’s go through some technical aspects of this DAC.
The first thing that caught my attention was that they didn’t use the usual dac chips you can find on the market. While I’ve heard lots of implementation of the usual chips in very good and expensive dacs, the ones that impressed me the most had custom DAC chips, old DAC chips or no chip at all (fpga logical implementation).
Lots of old dacs were based on R2R dac chips, but the problem is that they were a little expensive. When the Delta Sigma chips appeared on the market they were also cheaper. Also the manufacturers made 2 categories: for industrial use with great accuracy and of course for audio.
The ones for audio are considerably cheaper and not as accurate as the ones for industrial/military use, because why would audio need so much accuracy, right? I find this a little condescending from the manufacturer side, and I don’t know why so many audio companies bought this.
Ok, the DAC chips for audio are much cheaper (<50$ per chip in most cases), but when you are selling a > 2000$ DAC, I don’t see any problem to use chips of ~$100 value. Let’s say you buy a 8000$ DAC that uses 4 DACs of 25$. I wouldn’t be very happy with the cost cut.
Yes, the implementation around them are extremely important and you can find huge differences between 2 architectures around the dac chips. However, whatever you do, you will still reach those dacs and if they are not good, be limited by them.
So far, my experience with DACs confirmed my theory. Even if I’ve heard very good dacs with conventional chips, the most impressive from my perspective were the ones that used custom ones.
Well, schiit, didn’t go on the custom dac chip route, but they found industrial/military grade accuracy multibit dac chips, using two 20-bit Analog Devices AD5791 DAC chips per channel. Respect for that, and I hope more audio companies learn from them.
Before getting into the specifications I must say that Yggdrasil looks great. It has a thick metal case with nice polish, design and looks. I certainly is a pleasure looking at it, at least from my perspective.
Let’s get into more specs that you can also find on Schiit’s website.
Closed-Form Digital Filter Preserves Original Samples
Most DACs simply use the stock digital filters embedded in their D/A converters. But even the most sophisticated ones, using their own digital filter algorithms, don’t have what Yggdrasil has—a digital filter with a true closed-form solution. This means it retains all the original samples, performing a true interpolation. This digital filter gives you the best of both NOS (all original samples retained) and upsampling (easier filtering of out-of-band noise) designs—and it is only ava
21 Bits, No Guessing: Mission-Critical D/A Technology
When doctors are trying to diagnose whether you have gas or cancer from MRI results, or when the military is trying to ensure a missile hits an ammo dump and not a nunnery next door, they don’t use “24 bit” or “32 bit” delta-sigma D/A converters. Instead, they rely on precision, multibit ladder DACs, like the Analog Devices AD5791. This allows them the bit-perfect precision they need for critical applications, rather than the guesswork of a delta-sigma. We chose this same critical technology for Yggdrasil. Following these unique D/A converters are sophisticated discrete JFET buffers and summers.
Adapticlock and USB Gen 3: Advanced Input Optimization
Yggdrasil accepts up to 5 digital inputs and carefully manages them with our Adapticlock™ clock regeneration system. Adapticlock is the most sophisticated clock management system in the world. It assesses the quality of all inputs, measures their incoming center frequency and jitter, and automatically routes the input to the best clock regeneration system. Yggdrasil also features our all-new USB Gen 3 input module, for exceptional USB input performance.
Yggdrasil is covered by a limited warranty that covers parts and labor for five years. That’s 5 years. Yes. FIVE. Which is up to 5X that of our competition, if you weren’t so hot at math. Note the marketing weasel-wording “up to.”
Inputs: AES/EBU XLR, RCA SPDIF, BNC SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, USBInput Capability: up to 24/192 for all inputsInput Receiver, SPDIF: AKM AK4313Input Receiver, USB: C-Media CM6632Clock Management: Bitperfect clock management at all native sample rates via Adapticlock analysis and VCXO/VCO regeneration, plus asynchronous USB Gen 3 moduleDigital Filter: proprietary Schiit bitperfect closed-form digital filter implemented on Analog Devices SHARC DSP processorD/A Conversion IC: Analog Devices AD5791BRUZ x 4 (2 per channel, hardware balanced configuration)Analog Stages: Fully discrete JFET buffers for balanced output and discrete JFET summing stages for single-ended output, direct coupled throughoutOutput: One pair XLR balanced and two pairs RCA single-endedOutput Impedance: 75 ohmsFrequency Response, Analog Stage: 20Hz-20Khz, +/-0.1dB, 0.5Hz-200KHz, -1dBMaximum Output: 4.0V RMS (balanced), 2.0V RMS (single-ended)THD: Less than 0.006%, 20Hz-20KHz, at full outputIMD: <0.007%, CCIF, at full outputSNR: > 117dB, referenced to 2V RMSPower Supply: two transformers (one for digital supplies, one for analog supplies) plus one input choke for discrete, dual mono, shunt-regulated analog +/-24V supply, plus 12 separate local regulated supplies for DACs and digital sections, including high-precision, low-noise LM723 regulation in critical areas.Upgradability: Fully modular architecture. Separate digital input board, USB input board, DSP engine board, and DAC/analog output boards.Power Consumption: 35WSize: 16 x 12” x 3.875”Weight: 25 lbs
Listening impressions and tests
The tests were performed with MSB Analog DAC with quad usb, Schiit Yggdrasil, AG500 Power Regenerator, Audio Gd Master 10, Xindak A600 Integrated Amplifier , Piega Premium 5.2 Speakers, Audio Gd Master 9 Headphone Amplifier, Sennheiser HD800, HiFiMAN He-560, Schiit Wyrd & Sotm TX-USBexp , Neotech Pure OCC Silver XLR interconnects, Kimber Kable Silvear Streak RCA interconnects, Audiobyte Hydra-Z + ZPM.
First of all, I must say that using both Schiit Wyrd and Sotm Tx-UesbExp improved the quality of the sound in a consistent manner. I basically got a blacker background, better focus, clearer leading edges, better transients in both attack and decay but also an improvement in the details section and imaging.
Testing the single ended output vs the balanced output, I reached the conclusion that the balanced output is the way to go with Yggy as it gains more details, better focus and transients, clearer background and better imaging. While the improvement was obvious, the single ended output is not far away and performs very good as well.
I also had the luck of getting a fully burned in unit and I didn’t have to go through the famous burn in process of yggy, which is said to be working much better after 7 days it was turned on. I did notice improvements after a few days, but I think that after it went through the burn in process, the differences are not as night and day as describer by other users, but still exist indeed.
Ah the natural r2r sound… Yes yggy has it. Every note flows with ease, in a natural, flowing manner but also with energy, impact and tickling details. The plucks were full of vibration, body, energy and detailed extension. I was quite surprised of the sound signature, as I’ve read on many occasion that Yggy is a neutrality king. Well, I think that it actually resides on the warmer side, but the good side, natural and energetic kind, not the wet and lazy one.
This is a song where I just loved the old Theta DSPro Basic. The attack, punch of the bass was just ridiculously good, and I’ve never heard something like that before. Yggy is no slouch either, but as I told you in the beginning, it turns out that Yggy didn’t take quite the same path and surprised me with its sound signature. It also has a marvelous punch but not as strong and vibrating as the theta. However, it has better bass extension and it still has good energy and impact. This song was clearly addictive on yggy as well with the wonderful bass punch and extension as well with the sounds coming out of nowhere with strength and impact.
The body of the cellos were wonderfully extended with vibration, energy and impact. The instruments were very well separated showing good imaging and layering as you can easily pick one in space and concentrate on it. I also must say that even though the sound was a little warm, I loved how natural every instrument sounded. Even if the imaging and layering were very good, I felt that the soundstage was a little intimate, but natural nevertheless.
The bass at the beginning hits strongly and with great depth. All the instruments are well textured, detailed and flowing in a musical and energetic manner throughout the whole song. I was really impressed when the buzzing instrument appeared in the song. It swirled with energy and incredible texture and I almost felt it near me.
The guitars from the beginning were amazing. They managed to sound sparkly and extended giving a very enjoyable tickling sensation. When the voice started, I was immediately seduced by the very emotional and extended manner it was presented like. The voice also had a body attached to it, making it more natural. Also the texture and extension of the voice were very detailed and pleasant to the ears. While I’ve heard clearer voices, Yggy attached a smoky but very romantic character to them.
Leonard’s voice had incredible weight and presence with its hoarse characteristic reproduced in a visceral, detailed and textured manner. The voices had the same smoky & romantic quality I described above. While Leonard’s voice was just wonderful, I would have wanted a little more clear / focused female voices.
The guitars were again wonderful with an energetic vibration and plucking attack. Mercedes’s voice was well extended and very nicely textured. The voices in the chorus were emotional as well. I feel like the male voices take more advantage of the smoky and weighty coloration that yggy gives to them, when the female voices would benefit a little more from more clarity and focus. However, the song was very enjoyable and emotional.
While I thought that Yggy’s bass would be similar to the one in Theta, but technically better, I found out that the bass was different and yes overall better. First of all, Yggy didn’t have the same punch as theta, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have a very good one, just that Theta was something exceptional that I’ve never heard in a dac before. Besides that, Yggy did have better extension and detail. I think that Yggy has a very good bass section indeed, but Theta can still teach it a lesson or two here.
The mids are full bodied, rich and detailed and they are one of the strongest points of this DAC. The instruments are voices are very textured and natural to the ears.
The treble is good but didn’t impress me as much as the rest of the frequencies. However I still found it to be detailed, extended and sparkly.
Yggy indeed has great details. I’ve often heard subtle sounds hidden in the songs often showing some recordings / mastering errors, but also some sounds that actually belonged to the scene that brought the listening experience closer to reality. These being said, I’ve read that Yggy is a detail monster. While I think that it has very good details, I can’t quite call it a detail monster myself. Maybe a small monster?
The voices are very pleasant and have soul with Yggy. They have the singer’s bodies attached to them, giving them more weight, more naturalness, detailed textures and emotional extensions. They also have a smoky characteristic which makes them more romantic. While both male and female voices sound great on Yggy, I feel that male voices benefit more from Yggys sound signature, while the female voices would sound a little better if they had better clarity and focus. However, overall the voices are a very strong point of this DAC.
The soundstage on yggy is very natural and holographic, but I feel that it is a little intimate.
Imaging and Layering
The instruments are quite well separated from one another as you can easily concentrate on one instruments in the orchestra for example and pinpointing it in space, also showing good layering. While listening to a choir, the voices in the back give you a natural sensation of positioning and space for example.
The transients begin with a strong attack, even if not as strong as with Theta, followed by natural and a little slower decay which gives natural but less focused sound signature.
Natural / Analog Sound Presentation
Another strong point of this DAC is its natural way of presenting the sound. It does it in a flowing and cursive manner that makes it easy for you to lay down and just enjoy the music.
Compared to Msb Analog Dac
I have noticed many times that Yggy was compared to Msb Analog Dac on both headfi and changstar where some members said that it beats Analog Dac by a significant difference.
As you may know, I do own a Msb Analog Dac and I had many occasions to listen to higher models up in the range like Signature DAC IV and Diamond DAC IV which I found to be the best Dacs I have ever listened to.
A few months back I managed to purchase the new Quad USB Input which made a huge leap in sound quality compared to the old one. Also, MSB had released a few firmware updates that I found to significantly improve the sound quality. I even dare to say that Analog Dac with the new Quad Usb input closed in very much on the sound quality of the more expensive Signature DAC IV.
Considering the prices MSB have, even though I do own their cheapest but still very expensive DAC, after reading those reviews, I got my hopes up and thought that maybe I can get the quality of the higher priced MSB models at a fraction of the price.
I also read something that got my attention again about Msbs not beeing detailed enough. I really don’t know where this came from as I consider them to be quite analytical but in a natural and non disturbing manner. They don’t bring details in a artificial manner in front, but Msbs are from my perspective very detailed.
One thing that I have to point out before the comparison is that Analog Dac also sounds considerably better if you leave it continuously on. Actually, it also takes 2-3 days before it stabilizes and sounds at its best. Another annoying thing about it is that if you unplug the usb cable and interconnects it also looses from the sound quality as it becomes flatter and less visceral. You have to wait for another ~2 hours after you plug them back in. Don’t get me wrong, Analog Dac still sounds very good even when cold, but not at its full potential.
Well, let’s see how Yggy stands compared to the Analog Dac.
Bare in mind that Analog Dac was used in these tests with the stock power supply.
While Yggy has more bass heft and more body, Analog Dac has considerably better control / focus, control and a swifter punch. Technically speaking, Analog Dac is easily better in this section from my perspective. This also helps in making Analog Dac considerably more neutral than Yggy.
The mids on analog DAC have better clarity, detail and more presence because of the better focus.
The treble on Analog Dac is incredibly extended, clean, sparkly and detailed. While this quality shows recording flaws like sibilance better than yggy, I find the treble to be more enjoyable than on Yggy.
Even if Yggy has more body attached to the voices than MSB, Analog DAC presents them in a clearer, more focused, more extended and detailed manner and also with incredible textures as well.
Dynamic Range and Dynamics
Analog DAC’s dynamic range is incredible. It can go up from very low notes into incredible hights in a fraction of a second, considerably better than Yggy can. It’s the same story when it comes to dynamics and micro dynamics.
The transients are faster and have more impact on Analog Dac. While the attack is strong on Yggy, Msb has a swifter one and a faster but still natural decay.
Transparency / Clarity
This is another section where Analog Dac wins with ease. Everything is crystal clear and the background is incredible clean / black. Comparing it to Analog Dac, yggy has a more grayish background.
Some said that yggy is a detail monster. While I do consider it to stand very good in this category, Analog Dac could be considered analytical compared to it. On Msb details sprung all around you from a pitch black background.
I also consider Analog Dac to be more engaging with better PRAT than Yggy, which sounds a little dull at first after listening to Analog Dac.
The soundstage on Analog Dac is considerably bigger in all directions than the one on Yggy. This is actually the first thing I noticed. Yggy’s soundstage is quite intimate when compared to the immersive soundstage Analog Dac has.
Instrument Separation / Imaging & Layering
Analog Dac puts more space between instruments but also has better focus and clearer leading edges. You can pinpoint the sounds significantly easier on msb in space, as even the layers are deeper and better separated from each other.
Compared to Analog Dac with Quad Usb, Yggy is on the warm side and I’ve reached this conclusion on both headphones and speakers.
Yggy is overall “nicer” sounding than Analog Dac, meaning that the latter doesn’t hide any flaw the recording has. If there is sibilance for example on the song, Analog Dac would surely show that more than Yggy will.
Pros for Yggdrasil compared to Msb:
- big price difference advantage for yggy
- “nicer” sounding => easier to find system match
- lots of inputs options in the price
- for some the bass heft yggy has would be a pro
Pros for Msb Analog Dac
- better bass control and swifter punch
- neutral sound signature
- more detailed and clearer midrange
- better extended with more sparkling treble
- analog dac could be considered the detail monster
- considerably bigger soundstage
- clearer and better textured voices
- better instrument separation and layering
- faster transients with more impact
- better energy and prat
- better dynamic range and dynamics
Conclusions on comparison
While yggy is an excellent dac and has very good price performance ratio, I found Analog Dac with Quad Usb to beat Yggdrasil (usb input) in all categories from a technical perspective. Unfortunately yggy didn’t manage to better the msb and I found the gap between the two not to be small at all.
Although the MSB is natively single ended and Yggy balanced, the MSB scored a clear win with both MSB SE vs Yggy SE, but also MSB Balanced vs Yggy Balanced. Yes as I said Yggy does sound better on the balanced outputs, but the gap is not closing sufficiently much to matter.
Indeed, the price difference is also big, and Msb doesn’t come with all the inputs by default like Yggy. Does the technical difference justify the price difference? Well, that is up to each and every one of you, but if budgeting allows, the Msb would be my recommendation.
As I told you before, I have the new Quad Usb input which made a huge leap in sound quality, but if memory serves me well, I would say that Yggy ( on usb input) doesn’t beat Analog Dac with the old usb input, even-though the gap between the two would be smaller.
I also managed to test Yggdrasil with the Hydra-Z USB Interface (+ ZPM LPS ) on both spdif / aes outputs and the results were surprisingly nice. The first thing that I noticed was that background was cleaner and the sound became more visceral but in a more vibrant and energetic way.
The leading edges were clearer, leaving more space between the instruments and a cleaner soundstage . Another thing that I loved was that the attack was stronger leading to more energetic transients and a wonderful bass punch bringing it really close to what I’ve heard on Theta . The voices showed better clarity and focus and due to the blacker background more details were noticeable.
Yggy scaled nicely with Hydra-Z and it managed to make the gap towards Analog Dac with Quad USB smaller. If my memory serves me right, Yggy with Hydra-Z (+ZPM) got very close to Analog Dac with the old usb in some respects, and that is a major achievement!
I also tried Hydra-Z without any external LPS and while it did improve the sounds in some respects like blacker backgrounds, slightly clearer leading edges, it was debatable if it was better than the usb input from Yggy as the latter seemed to have a larger soundstage, better instrument extensions and textures. However, adding the ZPM completely changed the game as described above.
Letting the comparison to Msb Analog Dac aside, Schiit Yggdrasil is a great dac with excellent price / performance ratio. If you want good and technical R2R sound, I am not sure you can find another DAC at that price to fit the bill.
I also must punctuate that Yggy is surely an excellent step in the right direction from a DAC evolution point of view, maybe one of the most important ones in the last years, so I do hope that more companies learn from them. You can get even more performance out of this DAC with a good external USB Interface / transport.
It offers a natural, well textured, detailed and very enjoyable sound that is generally hard to find in Delta Sigma DACs today and I must congratulate Schiit Audio for that!
- Good bass with great punch and body
- Rich and detailed midrange
- Good, well extended, natural treble
- Very good, well textured and present voices
- Good imaging, instrument separation and layering
- Very good details
- Good transients with strong attack
- Natural, flowing and cursive sound
- Excellent build quality and looks
- Excellent price performance ratio
- I would have enjoyed more energy/prat like Theta has
- It sounds more on the warm side of neutrality
- Would have been great if it had more focus and clearer leading edges
- I wish the dynamic range and macro -dynamics in general were a little bit better
- Usb input is not on par with a good usb interface and you can get rid most of the cons with a better external usb interface/transport