Schiit Audio Yggdrasil D/A processor Page 2

When I ask my wiser, more audio-worldly friends which DACs they use, they usually reply with one of these names: Ayre Acoustics, Bricasti, dCS, MSB, TotalDAC, etc.

Audio sages know that DACs can sound as different from each other as do phono cartridges. They also know that the average DACs owned by most people sound broken, brittle, or defective, compared to even the lowest-priced phono cartridges.

Living mostly on handouts, the recycling of plastic bottles, and Scooby Snacks, I couldn't afford a dCS or MSB DAC. So for years I enjoyed my digital via a hand-me-down Halide DAC HD ($500, now discontinued). When I borrowed a Schiit Bifrost DAC ($399) with Multibit upgrade ($250), my musical life took a major step upward. I no longer felt less privileged than friends who did have a dCS or MSB. The Bifrost made my music sound richer, stronger, more whole and authentically toned—less sliced'n'diced. Moffat and Stoddard's Bifrost Multibit showed me a new version of what digital is capable of. Now I have the Yggdrasil . . .

And the Yggdrasil plays the living, human-formed rhythmic hell out of an AIFF file ripped from Jolie Blonde, by Luderin Darbone's Hackberry Ramblers (CD, Arhoolie 399). This music plucks and picks and fiddles and strums more sincerely than any other music I know. It saws and hollers its way right into your heart, but only from ancient 78rpm discs—or when the DAC is good. And as I've said before, I've never heard a band with an accordion that I didn't love. Well, no digital device I know has honored Darbone's fiddle sawing and Edwin Duhon's accordion squeezing better than the Yggdrasil. Both instruments were tangibly physical in a way that digital rarely permits.

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Ever since the Yggy arrived, I've been bathing in the shimmering tonal colors of harmonicas—especially when their blossoming sound is set against a backdrop of guitar strumming, as it is in "J'ai Passe," recorded very simply in Darbone's home in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1963. Cajun fiddle sawing is the ultimate test of an audio system's ability to dance and swing. The Yggdrasil let me not only feel or sense the machines Arhoolie used to digitally remaster these Hackberry Ramblers tunes, it let every tune move with a storm-like urgency that I found so completely engaging that, when a song ended, I felt sad, rejected, let down in an almost physical way. Only an exceptional level of musical continuity factor can generate that kind of engagement.

Yggdrasil vs Brooklyn vs Velvets
The worst art of postwar America trafficked in irony, dissociation, and tongue-in-cheekiness. So did the best. My favorite art always parlayed the unexpected and the introspective into the marvelous. No period of 20th-century art combined those qualities more or better than the 1960s, and few artists mixed these qualities better than German composer, actor, model, and singer-songwriter Christa Päffgen, aka Nico. Every time I've heard her plaintive voice—from my first exposure to it, on the Velvet Underground's first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, until today, when I played her The Classic Years (CD, Chronicles 314 565 185-2)—I've been reminded why I became an artist. Today, I realized just how much her songs have contributed to my aesthetic viewpoint. As I listened to this 19-track compilation, I wondered if the Schiit Yggdrasil was reproducing Nico's voice more probingly or melodically than does the Mytek Brooklyn. Which DAC would show me the most of Nico?

The Yggdrasil and the Brooklyn have been the most significant digital upgrades I've made to my Bed Stuy Bunker audio system. The sound of the versatile Mytek is the definition of probing—it digs deep and opens wide, showing me new things I've never heard in every recording I play. It reveals the hidden and the unexpected better than any DAC costing under $5000 that I've experienced. Meanwhile, the Yggdrasil exposed melodic lines, instrumental textures, and human voices—also better than any DAC I've heard costing less than five grand.

When my system is good, it forces me to appreciate artists and songs I'd never noticed before. This happened today, with Nico's recordings of two early Jackson Browne songs, "The Fairest of the Seasons" and "These Days," both from her solo debut, Chelsea Girl (1967). I've always worshipped Nico, but neither song had ever fully entered my consciousness—until now, via the Mytek Brooklyn. I was seduced by her pure vocal tones and visions of her faraway, fake-lashed eyes. I was hypnotized by tremendous space and depth of field. Piano tone was weighty and distinct. The Brooklyn's clarity put me very close to my favorite modern chanteuse. The unexpected was emphasized. The hidden was uncovered. My love was increased.

Through the Yggdrasil DAC, these same tracks sounded softer; the leading and trailing edges of tones seemed slightly attenuated. But Nico herself felt more comely and feminine. With the Yggy, my attention was drawn to the music's movement and momentum—and Browne, the composer, was more present.

Compared to the Mytek's master-tape–like grainlessness, the Schiit's sound was slightly textured, and dynamic contrasts were less evident. Nevertheless, with the Schiit, I noticed more Nico and fewer recording artifacts. Nico's signature detachment and introspection were emphasized.

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One thing was weird, and a bit perplexing: Through the Yggdrasil, the lowest and highest frequencies seemed less pure and well defined than through the Brooklyn—but with the Schiit, those same octaves seemed more realistic and tangible, less hi-fi sounding. The contrast reminded me of studio monitors and home audio loudspeakers.

I've played The Classic Years a lot—the songs are high-level poetry—but was always annoyed with its sound. Until now. Together and separately, the Yggdrasil and Brooklyn showed me more of Nico's beauty than I'd previously heard via any form of digital.

Nico as Kriemhild
In Nico's song "Nibelungen," the ash tree at the center of Norse mythology collides with Nico and Fritz Lang (footnote 2) to generate a haunted forest and a pure Nordic sky show of fantastic sound and poignant vocal expression. Imagine her lonely voice emerging from a dark abyss of reverberating air:

Since the first of you and me asleep In a Nibelungen land
Titanic curses trap me in
A banishment of stay
Symbols vanish from my senses
Stem and stave the view appears

With Nico's "Nibelungen," the Yggdrasil showed me everything it had to offer. It showed me, in a most attractive manner, the exact measure of artificial reverb added to Nico's unaccompanied voice. It showed me the poetically formed, vibrating core of her vocalization. It showed me Nico as a solitary artist, alone near her studio microphone. All with surprising verity and focused expression. Most of all, the Yggdrasil let me experience the brooding intimacy of Nico's art.

The Fate of Yggdrasil in the Era of Ragnarok
For me, understanding what makes one DAC sound different from another is fraught with anxiety and intellectual difficulties. I like the convenience of digital, but I don't appreciate high-resolution files and computer audio as much as do my friends Michael Lavorgna and David Chesky. I've seen systems with five digital boxes all strung together with wires and antennas, connecting a laptop or iPad to the line-level input of a preamp. I don't fully understand why this is necessary. I'm concerned about what appears to be the growing complexity of "high-quality" digital playback. I still remember the dizziness I experienced when I first looked at the block diagram of a digital converter. Error correction? Upsampling? MQA? DSD? SACD? Why must digital be so tedious, pedantic, and boring? Why must digital—even at its very expensive best—sound less real, direct, and tangible than a 7" 45rpm or a 10" 78rpm?

You tell me. Which sounds best: CDs? SACDs? Hi-rez downloads? I am a lifelong gearhead audiophile, and by 1992 I had embraced CDs and collected them with childlike enthusiasm. Now, all I desire is a simple audio system that plays real music, via headphones or loudspeakers, with conspicuous palpability, precise temporality, and poetic insight. The Schiit Yggdrasil DAC does all that. I think it would do a magnificent job of anchoring a giant-killing budget system.

I believe this so strongly that I recommend a simple, high-value, music system that I know I could live with forever: the Schiit Yggdrasil DAC ($2299), feeding a Schiit Ragnarok integrated amplifier ($1699) driving a pair of KEF LS50 speakers ($1499). For a total cost of $5497, this system will play headphones and speakers with equal perspicacity. Cross my heart, it will deliver sky-high musicality as well as oceans of myth and Norse magic. I've listened to this exact setup for almost a year, and if I weren't an audio reporter, I'd keep it and use it until the Fate of the Gods is nigh.



Footnote 2: In 1924, the Vienna-born Fritz Lang directed The Nibelungs: Siegfried and The Nibelungs: Kriemhild's Revenge, two silent films based on the Nibelungenlied, or Song of the Nibelungs, an epic Norse poem.
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

Woah:

" ...coded narrative simulacrum .."
" ...pulsing wavefront."
" ..haphazardly disrupts..."
" ....hyperfragile .."

" ..undamaged continuity of those relationships."

It's straight-up alright, and perhaps even poetically-challenged !

pj

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! ;-)

allhifi's picture

RE: " "Not Schitt" It's spelled "Schiit", but I guess that is based on your perspective!"

Seriously? Who gives a shit.

pj

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

scottbuzby's picture

JA,

Schiit Audio has made significant changes to Yggdrasil. Please re-measure a current production unit. I think you will find it measures much better than the original release.

Thanks,
Scott

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

hollowman's picture

I was just looking thru two early-90s Stereophile issues (Dec. 1992; Mar. 1993) ... not a single analog/phono review or article (tho' I did see an Acoustic Sounds ad with LPs and equip.). Some tube gear. And MANY multibit DACs or CDPs -- reviews, articles, ads, classifieds.
I have a late-1980s aftermarket-modified Philips CDP, with the classic TDA1541A and SAA7220 (4x DF). And it's better sounding than all more-modern DACs in my collection (that feature delta-sigma).
Indeed, those early-90s Stereophiles were full of glowing reviews of Arcams and MSBs and Naims ... all using that classic Philips platform.

My suggestion for JA and other Stereophile reviewers is to go into their attic or basement storage ... and dig out these gems. And use THEM as a basis of comparisons against Chord, Border Patrol, Benchmark, etc.

Oh ... JA ... please webify that 1995 Fabio article. He had VERY high-end $$$ system based on a Krell CDP. No phono, no tubes.

allhifi's picture

Herb's: Hmmm. Very odd, you start the review by saying:

" .. From the start, I enjoyed playing CDs. But compared to LPs, digital sounded deficient in contrast and conspicuously artificial, in a plastic-bottles-in-the-ocean kind of way. It felt distant and mechanical." (Sure did)

"Nonetheless, my brain readily adapted to its shortcomings."

Is that a joke? Of course not, so it's therefore most telling; Your 'brain' adapted to its short-comings ? WTF. Those "shortcomings" (back in the 1980's) were so severe/nasty that no normal "brain" could adapt to is shortcomings.

Yet, your comments become even more ridiculous, when you say (35-years later):

" My original Yggdrasil made music in a fun, highly articulate way, but its empty spaces were filled with a fine, vibrating, subliminal grain. That vibrating haze might have originated in my CD transport, my computer, or my brain—but with the Analog 2 upgrade, it was now completely gone. Was the cause the Gen 5 USB upgrade? No matter. Through the Yggdrasil Analog 2, backgrounds were now more transparent and "black" than before. Which, to my delight, allowed new sonic delicacies to emerge."

OMG, LOL; In other words, 35-years prior to Schiit's DAC/Yggy, you were happier than a swine in dung (your "brain" adapted to 1982's horrific CD sound), and then, near 40-years later you're taken/impressed by the second Generation of a $2K DAC because you can now:

" to my delight, allowed new sonic delicacies to emerge."

AND (the best part), you now have the "sensitivities" to identify and enjoy :

A)".Analog 2, backgrounds were now more transparent and "black" than before."

B) " ...Which, to my delight, allowed new sonic delicacies to emerge."

C) " ... I'm mesmerized by the tiniest subtleties of the master's touch. My mind follows and sees the butterfly-like tactility of every keystroke."

D) "The Analog 2 upgrade retained all of the original Yggdrasil's virtues, especially its force and drive, but with a new spiderweb delicacy, more lower-octave density, and, most important, a more complete transparency.

I'm near ready to throw-up:

" ..spider-web delicacy ...low octave density ...complete transparency"

Yet, back in 1982, again, using your words:

" ..FROM THE START, I enjoyed playing CDs ..."

An oxymoron if there ever was one; if one loves/understands/feels music, there is not a lobotomy in hell that could have fixed our brains to make sense of that atrocity of a (SQ) technology called the Compact Disc, back in 1982.

In fact, Herby, that was pretty much the status quo "sound" for the next 20 (CD) years as well -SHIT.

But, here you are, extolling the (rightfully) intricate details, subtleties (virtues) of digital replay NEARLY 40-YEARS after you admittedly enjoyed back in 82' !

A fake, and fraud.

peter jasz

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