Schiit Audio Yggdrasil D/A processor

Right now, I swear, Schiit Audio's Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard are sitting there in California, smugly smirking at me and John Atkinson. While JA was struggling to properly measure Schiit's Ragnarok (Fate of the Gods) integrated amplifier for my review in the May 2016 issue, I sent Moffat an e-mail: "Are you smiling?"

"Yup," he replied. He'd known in advance that the Ragnarok wouldn't look good on standard tests. But he hadn't warned us: The Ragnarok's output-stage bias program responds to music sources, not signal generators.

Not to mention: What sort of people name their company Schiit? Smirking, smart-alecky iconoclasts, that's who.

I asked Moffat how he could make a $139 phono stage—the Schiit Mani—in the US. "Why not?" he said. "It's just a little board in a box. First I get a bunch of little boxes . . . it costs the same to stuff a board in California as it does in China." Not only is Schiit stuff made in the US—so are most of their parts.

These guys aren't just snickering—they're not doing a lot of things other high-end companies feel they must. No MQA, DSD, or class-D. No menus or OLED displays. No remotes. No legible lettering. Their primary advertising campaign is Stoddard's Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up—nearly 800 pages' worth of humorous stories that explain why and how each Schiit model came into being.

Moffat and Stoddard don't care about the high-end audio scene. They appear at audio shows, put a few of their silver boxes on the table, then jabber all day to tattooed young'uns on skateboards and fixies (footnote 1), none of whom read Stereophile or visit audio dealers. (Schiit sells only direct, online.) Moffat and Stoddard have become smirking smart-alecks because they've been around so many blocks of high-end audio that the only things they can still take seriously—the only things they actually still enjoy doing—are making modest, inexpensive hi-fi components that outperform glitzy, expensive hi-fi . . . and stealing reviewers' Scooby Snacks.

Can you imagine any company but Schiit making an all-out "statement" DAC that costs only $2299? I can't. Nevertheless, I'm here to tell you about just such a thing: Schiit's heavyweight, big-box, flagship DAC, the Yggdrasil.

Can you think of a DAC with a better name? Yggdrasil (pronounced IG-druh-sill) is an ash tree that, in Norse cosmology, grows out of the Well of Urd at the center of the spiritual cosmos. Some describe Yggdrasil as the World Tree—the source of all things.

Description
From Schiit's website: "Yggdrasil is the world's only closed-form multibit DAC, delivering 21 bits of resolution with no guessing anywhere in the digital or analog path. We've thrown out delta-sigma D/As and traditional digital filters to preserve the original samples all the way through from input to output."

According to Jason Stoddard, "Schiit DACs are the only multibit DACs built on a modern platform, using medical/military-grade D/A converters and our own closed-form digital filter running on an Analog Devices DSP chip. Most digital filters destroy the original samples in the process of upsampling. They're just like sample-rate converters or delta-sigma DACs. We're all about the original samples, so we created a digital filter with a true closed-form solution, which means it retains all the original samples. This is a major difference between Schiit multibit DACs like Yggdrasil and every other DAC in the world."

In audio, power supplies are the source of nearly everything, good or bad. According to its owner's manual, the Yggdrasil's supply has "two transformers (one for digital supplies, one for analog supplies) plus one input choke for discrete, dual-mono, shunt-regulated analog ±24V, plus 12 separate local regulated supplies for DACs and digital sections, including high-precision, low-noise LM723 regulation in critical areas."

The Yggdrasil's front panel is understated Scandinavian elegance—the exact opposite of Mytek's Brooklyn DAC ($1995), which looks sculpted and businesslike, with its busy display. The Yggdrasil is heavy (25 lbs), and big enough to fit four Brooklyns inside it. The front panel has two buttons: one, just left of center, is for inverting the phase, with an indicator light to its right. This button is proof that Stoddard and Moffat are indeed smirking: "An absolute phase switch is of little to no value in a non-time-domain-optimized, stochastic-time-replay system. It makes a huge difference with an Yggy (which is not stochastic)."

Farther to the right is a row of six tiny lights: the sample-rate indicators. Currently, the Yggdrasil accepts input signals of resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz, but one sample-rate indicator is left unused, for a future upgrade. Then comes a bigger button, for selecting one of five inputs, the selection confirmed by one of the row of five lights to its right. Above each of these lights is a funny little symbol that I'd need a USB microscope to read.

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On the Schiit's rear panel are one pair of balanced (XLR) and two pairs of single-ended (RCA) analog outputs; AES/EBU (XLR), S/PDIF (RCA), S/PDIF (BNC and optical), and USB digital inputs; a simple, old-school, on/off toggle switch; an IEC socket; and some little white letters spelling out "MADE IN USA." Schiit recommends leaving the Yggdrasil on continuously "for best performance."

The Yggy is easily upgradable—its entirely modular architecture comprises separate circuit boards for the digital input, the USB input, the DSP engine, and the DAC and analog output.

Listening
Live music may be viewed as a continuously pulsating wavefront. If you hold your hand up, you can almost feel it. Recorded music is a coded narrative simulacrum of that pulsing wavefront. If anything in the recording or playback chain interrupts, bends, truncates, or haphazardly disrupts the original (live) continuity—all the world's smart guys can never restore its hyperfragile relationships of time, frequency, and amplitude. Love, music, and poetry live only in the undamaged continuity of those relationships. (Unlike the stock market or election polling, music is not a stochastic process.)

In home stereo, accurate tonal characters and lifelike rhythms are the surest indicators of an unmolested musical narrative. If we look at audio historically, it's pretty obvious that digital has been (mostly) hammer-and-tongs rough on this sacred continuity. Whether in the recording studio or at home, digital's punch-press aggressiveness can be recognized by the (usually) hard, mechanical nature of its playback. In contrast to the digital norm, the Yggdrasil's sound felt distinctly nonaggressive, nonartificial. Even before it was broken in, I could sense the Yggy's gentle touch and hear the music's relatively unmolested continuity.

When my analog-fanatic, LP-clinger friends carry on about how much better than digital their LPs sound, I always ask them what cartridge they're using. Most say Miyajima, Miyabi, or Koetsu. I then smugly ask which DAC they're using. Most say, "Bits is bits," or "All DACs sound the same—bad!" LP clingers rarely buy high-quality, musical-sounding DACs.



Footnote 1: A fixie is a single-speed bicycle with fixed (not coasting) rear axles.
COMPANY INFO
Schiit Audio
24900 Anza Drive, Unit A
Valencia, CA 91355
(323) 230-0079
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
mink70's picture

This is straight-up poetry:

"Live music may be viewed as a continuously pulsating wavefront. If you hold your hand up, you can almost feel it. Recorded music is a coded narrative simulacrum of that pulsing wavefront. If anything in the recording or playback chain interrupts, bends, truncates, or haphazardly disrupts the original (live) continuity—all the world's smart guys can never restore its hyperfragile relationships of time, frequency, and amplitude. Love, music, and poetry live only in the undamaged continuity of those relationships. (Unlike the stock market or election polling, music is not a stochastic process.)"

allhifi's picture

Hi Kal: This review was indeed informative --two DAC's of opposite ends of the sonic spectrum was my take.
However, from one disc, music file or song to the next, which of the two will resolve each one distinctively --revealing the huge distinctions in recording quality/tonality known to exist within the music itself ?

That, to me, would make my decision (to purchase) much easier.

pj

tonykaz's picture

I've been in Audio since the 1950s, my numerous Schiit pieces of headphone gear are the amongst the best performing Audio Electronics I've ever encountered annnnnnd they're cheap by comparison but not cheaply made or appearing.

Now Schiit is immigrating to the Audiophile world with a range of Preamps and Amps. This will be a breath of fresh air for all of us gripers about the Stratospheric Cost of High-End Audio stuff ( $100,000 Mono Amps, for gods sake ).

Designing is an Art Form, Mr. Stoddard is an Artist. I think he designs the entire product, a global type of designer, he does A Level work.

So, Audiophile World, Brace yourself, your about to get traditional Audio Research levels of performance at NAD 3020 price points! PHEW!

Well Done Schiit, just what we've been waiting for.

Tony in Michigan

ps. I'm a Schiit owner, not affiliated in any way with the Schiit Company, other than being a bit of a Critic

rt66indierock's picture

Forgot the DAC you reviewed. Harmonics wipe a big chunk of high end audio. A banjo gets most of the rest as Art Dudley reported his Capital Audiofest coverage last year. And finally fiddle sawing in Cajun music gets almost everything leftover. It is now pretty easy to choose from what little is left.

You must tell me sometime how you got the last paragraph of the review past the editors. Whatever you did keep doing it.

USAudio's picture

Mike Moffat, the digital designer at Schiit and an innovator in the field, has been doing this a long time. Perhaps JA could reach out to the guys at Schiit for details on why they made the design decisions they did, in particular the use of the 20-bit D/A converters and DSP?

USAudio's picture

Also, I don't see anywhere in the Yggdrasil measurements a mention of its measured resolution like we usually do with digital processors?
Per Schiit's website: "Yggdrasil is the world’s only closed-form multibit DAC, delivering 21 bits of resolution with no guessing anywhere in the digital or analog path." - http://schiit.com/products/yggdrasil
Did JA indeed find the Yggdrasil's resolution to be 21 bits?
Thanks!

John Atkinson's picture
USAudio wrote:
I don't see anywhere in the Yggdrasil measurements a mention of its measured resolution like we usually do with digital processors?

I didn't offer that judgment because the Yggdrqasil is not like conventional D/A processors that use 24-bit DC chips. With the latter, the resolution will be limited by the thermal noise of the overall DAC+analog circuitry, which produces a random noisefloor. With the Schiit, however, while the analog noise is very low, as I mentioned in the review, the noisefloor will rise with 24-bit audio due to what appears to be the truncation of the LSBs. As the noisefloor will therefore be related to the encoded signal, my usual estimate of the DAC resolution will be misleading.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

USAudio's picture

Thanks for the clarification John!

rom661's picture

Prior experience with an earlier product line of his makes me apprehensive.

USAudio's picture

I think you'll find with a little web searching and on head-fi.org that Schiit customer support is very well regarded. Anecdotally, and this isn't probably typical, but I once sent a question to Schiit technical support on a Sunday afternoon and got a response within the hour! Mike Moffat's partner, Jason Stoddard, is heavily involved in communicating with the audio community, particularly through head-fi.org.

rom661's picture

As I said, this was a different company. Hope your experience is good.

USAudio's picture

"As I said, this was a different company."
Exactly.

"Not Schitt"
It's spelled "Schiit", but I guess that is based on your perspective! ;-)

SteveG's picture

As JA knows, the Schiit employs a 20 or 21-bit DAC. While the DAC may be able to accept a 24-bit signal, it cannot know what to do with the LSB of a 24-bit signal. Thus, his tests reveal neither that the hardware is defective nor that there is something amiss in the software.

John Atkinson's picture
SteveG wrote:
As JA knows, the Schiit employs a 20 or 21-bit DAC. While the DAC may be able to accept a 24-bit signal, it cannot know what to do with the LSB of a 24-bit signal.

My comments were not odd. When you have 24-bit data but 20-bit DACs, you need to dither those data to match the DAC. Otherwise, simply chopping off the 4 LSBs, called "truncation," reintroduces quantizing distortion. Schiit's Jason Stoddard has subsequently said that the Yggdrasil "rounds" 24-bit data but my measurements suggest that the LSBs of 24-bit data are simply truncated.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

gevorg's picture

>>When you have 24-bit data but 20-bit DACs...

Aren't most, if not all, DACs cannot truly resolve beyond 20-21 bits anyway, including those on Stereophile Class A list? So what difference would "rounding" or "truncation" make with the last ~4 bits of thermal noise/etc? Why should this matter for the audiophile, mastering engineer, critical listener, etc?

John Atkinson's picture
gevorg wrote:
Aren't most, if not all, DACs cannot truly resolve beyond 20-21 bits anyway, including those on Stereophile Class A list? So what difference would "rounding" or "truncation" make with the last ~4 bits of thermal noise/etc?

As I said but you appeared to ignore, truncation of the LSBs in 24-bit data reintroduces quantization noise/distortion. Research by people like Bob Katz has shown that this will be audible even with real-world DACs.

gevorg wrote:
Why should this matter for the audiophile, mastering engineer, critical listener, etc?

Now you could say that you prefer the sound of truncation against that of redithering and I have no argument with that opinion. But if it costs the engineer nothing other than a little bit more silicon real estate to do it right, why not? The end result is reduced–bit-depth data presented to the DAC that will never have audible consequences whereas simply truncating the data will produce artifacts that will be audible, perhaps not with every recording but definitely with some.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

LarryMagoo's picture

John,

It's a shame you cannot judge the Yggy with your ears as well. Because if you did, it would not have ended up in the Class B....its really that simple!

All any of has to "sell" is credibility. You just lost yours!

Larry

allhifi's picture

Wonderful comparison; Mytek "Brooklyn" and "Yggdrasil":

A wonderful contrast of two DAC's. A modern take on A Tale of Two ...." !

It's clear the "Brooklyn" incorportaes the latest understanding and technology of modern DAC design. I suppose the "Yggy" appeals to those who cannot break the bond of analog desires.

The superiority of Brooklyn's resolution shupld be commended --as is their MQA adoption. I envision a superior linear P/S on the Mytek wold elevate into the super-DAC territory (or perhaps the Manhatten 2) ?

But back to the $2K price-point, if Schitt can offer a decent linear P/S, how is it that Mytek cannot do the same for the "Brookyln" ?

Hmmm, my vote would be the Brooklyn". Let's move forward ...

pj