Schiit Audio Yggdrasil - Reviews
Pros: True purest lifelike sound, hyper detail retrieval, plethora of inputs, solid build, stunning looks
Cons: To really bring out what makes it so notable, you have to leave it powered on continuously. Takes days to fully warm up.

This beautiful beast of a product is one that I was rather surprised to be humbled with an opportunity to review. You see, while trying to get some interest and vendors to attend or show interest in the audio meet I was putting together I reached out to Schiit on just a pure whim and hope. And my goodness am I glad I did for they were such an incredible pleasure to work with. The representative I spoke to was full of energy and had a very splendid attitude and sense of humor (quite befitting of a company called Schiit). Anywho’s, she mentioned that they would be glad to send us their Schiit Kit once it was finished with another audio meet being held just prior to mine and even offered to send us their flagship products with the Yggdrasil of course being the dac, what more is that they’ve just upgraded it to the newest specs (gen. 5 usb as Analog 2 board). So to say I was overjoyed and honored would be a vast understatement. But with the introductions aside, please allow me to now give my thoughts and impressions on the dac that has taken root in a many of totl end game setups.


A little about me

I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.

I'm a firefighter for both the civilian and military sector and the cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.

My interests/hobbies are powerlifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.

Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.

My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.

Equipment used at least some point during the review

-Amp.

-Schiit Ragnarok

-iFi iCAN Pro

-Headamp Blue Hawaii Special Edition

-Headphones

-Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000

-Sennheiser HD800 S

-Hifiman HE560

-Mr. Speakers Ether

-Fostex/Massdrop TH-X00

-Beyerdynamic

-T1 second gen.

-Amiron Home

-Stax SR-009

-Oppo PM-1

-Sources

-LG V20/HP Pavilion

-Playing Pandora, YouTube, and various format personal music

-Windows Pro Tablet

-Various other gear that may’ve been used at the Carolina CanFest 6 audio meet

Disclaimer

I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.

The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.



The Opening Experience


Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience

Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.

As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’

This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?


*Now, to disclaim, the box that I received was that of a plain box and was a loaner unit for the purposes of the Carolina CanFest 6 audio meet. A purchased unit may have some minute differences but from viewing pictures of others unboxing the product as well as reading through the forums, I believe the difference would be nil.*


It’s rare that I find myself really impressed by the unboxing of amps or dacs. More often than not they’re delivered in a fairly plain *insert color* box with nothing on it. Usually I like this setup for to me it tell the listener to just experience the product vs letting it brag what it claims it can do. Well, that’s where the buildup ends unfortunately. Once you open the box, there’s the Yggdrasil, inside of very protective foam and a power cord (at least they included a power cord with their products unlike a certain equally priced combi unit I purchased), a buyer would also get a user's manual and warranty guide but my loaner unit did not come with this. However a user manual can easily be found here.

So nothing to really write home about with its initial experience other than being just impressed by the sheer size and weight of the unit. But Schiit does take very good care in the delivery of their products to ensure they arrive in perfect condition to their customers and that is something most admirable. And honestly, though I wasn’t overly impressed with the unboxing, I can’t really think of a way to improve it because it’s not like imma be carrying it around in a carrying case.


Construction

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The build quality of the Schiit Yggdrasil is second to NONE. The entire thing is aluminum and solidly built in terms of both strudyness and weight. At the top of the unit you’ll find the Schiit logo and passive vent to let some of the heat the Yggy produces escape. Looking at the front of the behemoth of a dac you’ll find the (starting from the left) Phase Invert button and indicator light (I’ll explain what that is in the features section), Sample rate indicators and the multiple (44.1K, 48K. 1x, 2x, 4x, & 8x [will explain what these are in the features section]), Input selector button and indicator lights, then lastly the VCO/VCXO (or the “get better gear”) light.

Moving to the back you’ll find 2 sets of RCA outputs (unbalanced), a single set of XLR outputs (balanced). Sliding over a bit, you’ve the USB, Optical, Coax, BNC (here’s a link to what that is [I’ve never heard of it till the Yggy]) and the AES/EBU inputs. The lastly you’ve the power switch and port. So you’ve a plethera of input options for you so it shouldn’t matter if you’re a professional or enthusiast, connecting your equipment to the Yggdrasil shouldn’t be any issue.

There’s so much to the Schiit Yggdrasil that it’s no wonder this beast is so massive. And it’s accomplished something that I thought was all but gone in today’s market. They made this beautiful piece of art in AMERICA, and yes, I take personal pride in that. But my final thoughts on the Yggdrasil’s build is that I personally couldn’t have asked for any better. I have ZERO thoughts that those who are fortunate enough to be able to own one of these will be happy with in indefinitely. Rather it be mechanically or physically I don’t foresee any issues (other than general wear and tear) happening with the Yggdrasil. And heck, even if something does, if purchased through Schiit, you’ve a 5 year warranty as a nice backup.



Specification (Copied straight from the Schiit website)


Inputs: AES/EBU XLR, RCA SPDIF, BNC SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, USB

Input Capability: up to 24/192 for all inputs

Input Receiver, SPDIF: AKM AK4113

Input Receiver, USB: C-Media CM6631A


Clock Management: Bitperfect clock management at all native sample rates via Adapticlock analysis and VCXO/VCO regeneration, plus asynchronous USB Gen 5 module

Digital Filter: proprietary Schiit bitperfect closed-form digital filter implemented on Analog Devices SHARC DSP processor

D/A Conversion IC: Analog Devices AD5791BRUZ x 4 (2 per channel, hardware balanced configuration)

Analog Stage: Fully discrete, DC coupled Class A FET buffers optimized for high current output and fully discrete, Class A FET summing stages for single-ended output


Output: One pair XLR balanced and two pairs RCA single-ended

Output Impedance: 75 ohms


Frequency Response, Analog Stage: 20Hz-20Khz, +/-0.1dB, 0.5Hz-200KHz, -1dB

Maximum Output: 4.0V RMS (balanced), 2.0V RMS (single-ended)


THD: Less than 0.005%, 20Hz-20KHz, at full output

IMD: <0.005%, CCIF, at full output

SNR: > 119dB, referenced to 2V RMS


Power 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: 35W

Size: 16 x 12” x 3.875”

Weight: 25 lbs

Features

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The flagship dac of Schiit offers some pretty nice features. I’m not referring to something like bluetooth but instead features that are usually only seen in professional gear costing multiples more. The first is actually the various levels of inputs that range from traditional inputs all the way up to a BNC and AES connections that are mainly used for recording equipment. Will the mainstream user need these? Likely not, but what’s stopping you from it?

Next the Schiit includes a Phase Invert button that I admittedly had NO idea what it even did, so courtesy of Mike Moffet himself;


“The Phase inverter is an absolute phase switch. This means it inverts the phase of both channels simultaneously. This is of use primarily for non-headphone systems that are simple two mic stereo recordings (such as many classical ones). It is also of lesser use for more "engineered recordings". The stereo image will be enhanced when the correct absolute phase is selected. Another way of viewing the switch would be in a dc system, the speakers would blow or suck air, according to the position of the switch and the absolute phase of the original recording.”

Something that I’ve seen posted in the forums, I can’t seen to find it again, is that people comment why it takes a little while for the Yggy to register when they switch inputs. And Jason, I believe it was, mention that, and I’m paraphrasing, there’s a lot more than just a simple switch going on inside the Yggdrasil. The Yggdrasil is reading the incoming signal and deciding on which dac function will reproduce it the best, so it takes a moment or two for the sound to continue. This is something I think is a very impressive addition that, at least myself, hasn’t been mentioned in other high end dacs. Rather than focusing on immediate playback Schiit takes a second to ensure the most accurate signal is being rendered to the listener.

The final feature that the Yggdrasil has, and admittedly it isn’t exclusive to the Yggy for other do something similar as well, is it indicates what the input signal is coming through. As admittedly straightforward as that sounds the only labels are “44K, 48K, (for sample rate) and 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x (for the multiple). When playing various formated music, 16/44, 24/48, 24/98, 24/192, and DSD 64 that vary from .flac to .wav, the indicator light, never once changed from the 48K with a 1x multiple. I even sprinkled in a few free MP3 formatted songs in addition to YouTube but to the same result. So I’m personally unsure what input signal rate it’s referring to but the response I got asking about it was;

“The sample rate multiplier lights illuminate according to the sample rate of the input signal - from the owner's manual:

3 Sample Rate Indicators.

These indicate what format is coming in to

Yggy—44.1K or 48K, plus the multiple

(1, 2, 4, or 8X.)”


I know I said the final feature was the input light but I also gotta mention the VCO/VCXO indicator light, or as Schiit calls it, the “buy better gear” light. And from the manual it means;

“Also known as the “buy better gear” light. If this is illuminated, the Yggdrasil’s input clock regeneration (Adapticlock) is in VCO mode. This means your source does not provide a good center frequency, or jitter is too high for the VCXO mode to operate.” From my entire time with it I tried to get this light to come on, and I played some HORRIBLE formated/recorded MP3’s (or so I thought). So for those of you worried about this light coming on, don’t. Because you have to have some ridiculously poor quality files that I strongly doubt those lucky enough to be able to have this dac will have a problem with.



Sound

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It seems like no matter what forum I search, what YouTube video, what review I read that doesn’t mention either have the Schiit Yggdrasil or in the very least mention it as being on of the best dacs one can have in their setup. And after having the honor of spending a couple weeks with the unit I can absolutely understand why it’s become a staple in the endgame TOTL setups.

When I first plugged in and turned on the Yggdrasil (being played through the Rag) I was quite impressed with how it sounded most certainly but I was admittedly not blown away, in fact, I was kinda disappointed. It sounded better than my PS Audio DL3 yeah but not by much, at all. So I went and read a few reviews and each one of them mentioned that for the Yggdrasil to really open up and perform it needs to be fully warmed up, which takes *pause for dramatic effect* days. So fast forward about 4 days of it being plugged in and turned on (2 days for the meet, then on shift and then able to listen to it again) I give it another serious listening spell and oh boy does this beast open up (at the time of writing this review it’s been plugged in and turned on continuously for over a week). The Yggdrasil just completely disappears in the setup and only leaves behind pure, unadulterated audio in its entirety. Any possible spec of detail that’s present in the audio data will be recreated and improved upon with the Yggdrasil. Even listening to music on YouTube I find myself hearing new nuances in songs that I’ve heard (not exaggerating) hundreds of times. And it’s not the headphones giving me this new detail either. My main headphone to review this setup has been my personal Sennheiser HD800 S that I’ve full understanding of its capabilities and sound and when new details are revealed to this headphone, you’ve definitely found yourself a system upgrade.

But getting back on track, the Yggdrasil presents the music completely true and uncolored, more so than I’ve ever heard before. I need not link any videos from YouTube because just listen to anything, at any format, on any amp. (preferably one of equal caliber to bring out the max effect). This is definitely a purist dac. I find it difficult to bring into words the realness of the music when played through this dac. I mentioned I am also using the Ragnarok dac but God gave me good fortune by allowing me to also have the iFi iCAN Pro at the same time as this unit which I’ve reviewed previously on a Bifrost 4490 dac, and I’ve also my personal HDVD800 using either it’s own or my personal PS Audio DL3 dac just so I can have many of references to compare my experience with. The Yggdrasil, appropriately so, beats out each dac used and made the iCAN Pro REALLY breath its musical sound into my, well, music.

A negative that I have found with the Schiit Yggdrasil, other than needing a few days to warm up, is that it narrows the soundstage. I first noticed this at the CanFest 6 meet when a friend of mine plugged his Blue Hawaii amp into it FROM his Schiit Mjolnir Gen. 1. There was an immediately apparent narrowing of the soundstage when we A/B’d both his Mjolnir and the Mimby unit Schiit sent me for the meet. Now, it’s not a drastic narrowing by any means but both of us as well as a couple other attendees noticed it. Now, Fast forward to just recently and he was able to stop by my place and we were able to A/B the Yggy (that’s been on for over a week now) and his Mjolnir on his Stax SR-009/Blue Hawaii setup. The narrowing of the soundstage remained the same BUT we both, or rather more impressively he (seeing it’s songs he’s most familiar with), was hearing the smallest and most minute details that has never been noticed before. I wish I would’ve taken note of the songs we listen to but one that I do remember (for I think it was one of the last we listened to) was “Stellar” by Incubus. Though I personally don’t enjoy this song for, to me, is sounds so darned cluttered and claustrophobic and being played on the Mjolnir was no difference, however, when we switched over to the Yggdrasil the level of separation it gave the music made it, tolerable (and my personal opinion for the song aside, that coming from me is a BIG upgrade). I know I listed the narrowing of the sound stage as a negative, and I will leave it there for I can’t prove/disprove my theory, but it may also be very well just making the soundstage sound more true to the original.

I guess I’ve made my opinion on the sound pretty clear but it’s phenomenal. Music passing through the Yggdrasil is sent straight through, the Yggy just completely disappears. I really find it hard to imagine music, or rather let me rephrase, audio, sounding more realistic and true than what the Schiit Yggdrasil accomplishes.



Conclusion

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I really, like, really enjoyed my time with the Schiit Yggdrasil. To me, it embodies what a flagship product should be. It’s built amazingly well, there’s inputs and outputs for whatever you’d likely need, it sexy to look at, and my goodness does it make your audio sound true to real life. For those lucky to be at a place where you can have this behemoth in your setup, rest assured that you’ve a true end game piece of equipment.






Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.

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Pros: Detail retrieval, timbre, separation, dynamic
Cons: Narrow soundstage width, warm-up time, might be too fatiguing for some

Background

My journey with DAC units has been rather tied to Schiit Audio. I started with the original Modi in 2013, my first DAC ever and one which I used with the Schiit Asgard 2. I used it all the way up to January 2016, when I upgraded to the Modi 2 Uber. A few months later, I grabbed a Delta-Sigma Gungnir – which I then upgraded in January of 2017 to a Gungnir Multibit. I’ve been quite happy with the price-to-performance ratio that I’ve attained at each step – but several demos with the Chord Dave at my local audio store gave me a sense of where there was left to go in terms of upgrades. Indeed, it was also my time listening to the Dave that originally convinced me to upgrade from the DS Gungnir to the Multibit version. It made it very apparent that the stock Gungnir had some treble hardness, a kind of “digital” nature to the presentation that was hard to overlook. The Dave, by comparison, laid out better detail while having a remarkably natural sound.

The Gungnir Multibit, which I’ll just refer to as Gumby from now on, introduced me to the R2R sound – slightly warm and euphonic while retaining great detail. Most importantly was its tonal property, it obliterated the treble hardness/harshness I had become accustomed to and replaced it with a natural and “organic” sound. This was no subtle change, as my previous reference of the Cavalli Liquid Carbon and DS Gungnir was preferable (due to the Carbon’s softening and warming of the sound) to the same amp with the Gumby. Suddenly, the pairing was overkill – the Gumby had a softer sound to it. It possessed more bloom as well, making the Liquid Carbon sound a bit stuffy on some headphones such as the LCD-2 or even the Focal Utopia I bought later. With upgrades to my amp section, specifically the likes of the IHA-1, I felt like I was set. The audio chain sounded incredible, but my earlier demos of the Yggdrasil at the London Headroom show in February 2017 and Can Jam London in July had left me with a sense of what to expect from the Schiit flagship – and it was a sound that I was finding my preferences shift towards as I grew to appreciate genres such as jazz.

Therefore, this review will contain a lot of references to the Gungnir Multibit. I would like to think this write-up is most useful for someone who is trying to choose between Schiit’s two highest-end DAC offerings. I apologize in advance if this format is hard to navigate and glean from for the reader.

Specifications (From the Schiit Website)

Inputs: AES/EBU XLR, RCA SPDIF, BNC SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, USB

Input Capability: up to 24/192 for all inputs

Input Receiver, SPDIF: AKM AK4113

Input Receiver, USB: C-Media CM6631A

Clock Management: Bitperfect clock management at all native sample rates via Adapticlock analysis and VCXO/VCO regeneration, plus asynchronous USB Gen 5 module

Digital Filter: proprietary Schiit bitperfect closed-form digital filter implemented on Analog Devices SHARC DSP processor

D/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 throughout

Output: One pair XLR balanced and two pairs RCA single-ended

Output Impedance: 75 ohms

Frequency Response, Analog Stage: 20Hz-20Khz, +/-0.1dB, 0.5Hz-200KHz, -1dB

Maximum Output: 4.0V RMS (balanced), 2.0V RMS (single-ended)

THD: Less than 0.006%, 20Hz-20KHz, at full output

IMD: <0.007%, CCIF, at full output

SNR: > 117dB, referenced to 2V RMS

Power 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: 35W

Size: 16 x 12” x 3.875”

Weight: 25 lbs

Build Quality & Features

The size of the Yggdrasil is one reason that I was hesitant to purchase it sooner. My previous belief that the Gungnir chassis was so large for a DAC was rendered silly by the scale of the Yggdrasil – which dwarves it. Indeed, the fellow I purchased the Schiit flagship from took one look at the Gumby and said “oh that’s cute, it’s so small.” Damn. The chassis itself is a big lump of aluminium and a hefty 25 lbs. Schiit do limited runs of a black powder coat finish of their gear too, if that’s more your thing. The front of the unit has several input selectors, but not on/off switch as that is located on the back – as is the case with all Schiit gear it seems. You won’t really be wanting to turn this off often anyway, but more on that below.

The inputs and outputs in the back are near-identical to the Gumby, with a noticeable addition being the AES input. I, sadly, have not been able to test this out as I lack anything that is compatible. Two RCA outputs along with a balanced XLR output round off the options.

One thing to take note of is this DAC’s inability to play DSD files unless they’re converted in the player. Schiit are quite dismissive of DSD in their site’s FAQ section, essentially saying that it isn’t a widespread enough format for them to design around:

Let's say Sony suddenly opens their vaults and offers 30,000 DSD albums with guaranteed direct-from-DSD provenance at $5.99 each, or if Apple and Spotify and Amazon start streaming only MQA for free (yes, we know, stop laughing) then hey, Yggy is fully upgradable.

That does seem to be a major selling point for the Schiit DACs besides the Modi 2 – they have upgrades released every now and then. The most recent of which, for the Gumby and Yggdrasil, was the USB version 5 upgrade. However, even if the audio formats took off further, I really doubt Schiit will release an upgrade. This may be a deal breaker for some, and another one might be when you turn it on for the first time.

Warm-Up Times

Full admission: I had heard of this aspect of the two higher-end Schiit multibit DACs for a while now, and had experienced it (albeit slightly) with the Gumby. If you want to draw the conclusion that this might have somehow biased me into fully believing it to be true, I can’t stop you but I can say that I am very sceptical by nature but like to retain a certain open mindedness – the combination of both of these aspects drives me in this hobby.

The case with the warm-up time is as follows: the Yggdrasil will sound quite horrible out of the box and will need a large amount of time to sound like it was designed to. This is what I’d been told and this is also what I’ve determined to be the case myself. The previous owner, however, didn’t give a thought to this and would turn it off every night. He sold the Yggdrasil to me saying that he found it too bright and harsh, and wanted to get the Metrum Pavane instead. He commented on the YouTube component of this review, saying that he didn’t regret the decision and that the Pavane sounded better to his ears.

I, personally, can’t imagine turning this off every night. My first night listening to it was a mix of me being impressed with me feeling sharp stabs of pain – especially using my Focal Utopia. The treble glare was somewhat intense, and the sound didn’t seem very cohesive overall. It was like the DS Gungnir that I had, except turned up to eleven in both treble harshness and detail retrieval. I was impressed, but ouch.

Dramatic descriptions aside, I can honestly say that you should not turn this off. By day five I was experiencing a more cohesive sound, not necessarily warmer but not so tilted towards grating treble. After a week, all seemed right in the world and I was able to compare it to my (already warmed) Gumby.

Sound

I would characterize the Yggdrasil as being a very revealing and focused DAC that pulls no punches. While not having a pitch black background on the level of the Chord Dave, it sounds a lot cleaner than its younger brother – the Gumby, which has a slight haziness to the sound that is especially noticeable when I compared the two. What this means is that the entrance and exit of sound is very dramatic – imagine something appearing and retreating into an abyss. The attack and decay of the Yggdrasil is the most dynamic I have had yet in my home audio chain. Listening to a mere recording of a drummer playing is enough to detail its advantage in this regard, as kick drums hit with a good amount of punch and do not linger when compared to the Gumby.

That lingering aspect of the Gumby is due to the bass on the Yggdrasil being both harder hitting (I would actually say that there is a little elevation in the bass region, a choice that I know isn’t to everyone’s taste) and fast in decay – especially compared to its younger brother. The Gumby’s bass, while quite full sounding, is softer and bloomier than the Yggdrasil’s powerful precision. Double-bass drum patterns are reproduced effortlessly, with no evident (to my ears) bleed between notes that would lag presentation. And although I do hear a bit of a bass boost in the Yggdrasil, it is nowhere near the level that Audio-GD chose to have in my NFB-28 ESS Sabre DAC. The tightness of the bass reproduction in the Yggdrasil, along with the above stated speed, makes the low end of music sound very precise. Luckily this trait doesn’t stop there.

The strength of the Gumby, compared to the Yggdrasil, is that it’s almost euphonicsounding. I can honestly see some preferring this, it has a softness and bloom that is very easy on the ears. I wonder if I would prefer it too, if I still had a Sennheiser HD800. The Yggdrasil is quite different in that, compared to the Gumby, it can even sound lean at times. I wouldn’t say that the midrange is too recessed, but there is a definite lack of warmth that many might construe to it sounding colder and thinner than the Gumby. In my early days of ownership, I wondered if I wouldn’t end up preferring the Gumby because I still preferred its tonal characteristics to the yet not fully warmed Yggdrasil – even though the detail retrieval of the flagship was addictive.

Once the Yggdrasil came into its own, I learned that what I was hearing wasn’t a sort of strong recession in the midrange, or even a distinct lack of warmth (although it still is leaner than the Gumby), but rather the DAC’s ability to separate tracks in a manner that could be compared to well-oiled machinery – or an impressive display of division-of-labour. Sunday at the Village Vanguard by the Bill Evans Trio is an album I’d like to use to highlight what I mean here.

The live recording utilizes a lot of drum-work, what sounds like upright bass and piano playing. While I did not at all dislike how it sounded on the Gumby, the Yggdrasil was able to handle the separation between the drums and bass in a much cleaner manner – especially when the piano was joining them in the lower frequency of notes. The Gumby had a slight blending of tracks going on while the Yggdrasil was able to separate them quite well, leading to a feeling that each instrument was distinct and on its own island of importance without fear of foreign invasion. This separation prowess is especially needed due to the Yggdrasil having quite a narrow soundstage

The staging of the Yggdrasil is another aspect that I would probably consider to be a deal-breaker for some. It is decisively intimate, especially compared to the Gumby which has the advantage in width. I would say that the Yggdrasil has excellent depth, however, and would consider it the DAC equivalent of the Focal Utopia – a headphone with narrow stage width but stellar depth and separation. Both the Yggdrasil and Utopia make good use of the space afforded to them, and are both very resolving. Due to the separation and depth benefits of the Yggdrasil, I would like to use the analogy of it being a medium-sized painting of intricate brushwork – while the Gumby is a larger painting with less fine details.

The bloom of the Gumby definitely added a bit to it being perceived as a very organic and natural-sounding DAC, but the Yggdrasil manages to take a bit of a different approach to accurately-reproduced audio. Indeed, I found the lack of the Gumby’s slight smear on the Yggdrasil to serve it very well for instrument timbre. The best example I can state of this is a grand piano, which I believe to be quite a difficult instrument to reproduce accurately through audio gear.

My testing was done through the dual-inputs of my Dragon Inspire IHA-1 into my Focal Utopia – using Sylvania Bad Boy 6SN7s and a Philips Metal Base GZ34/5AR4. Switching from the Gumby to the Yggdrasil made piano work seem more alive, with more body without it sounding bloated. Most importantly, the notes were given adequate space to resonate properly – which is an aspect of the instrument that can sometimes be chopped off in gear that doesn’t cater to its needs. A grand piano’s decay should not be snipped, nor should it just linger forever (although I can’t say I’ve heard this happen in gear I’ve tried to date) and the Yggdrasil, somehow, manages to find the sweet spot.

However, I can definitely see the presentation of the Yggdrasil as being too steely or metallic for some. While it is natural, it is less veered towards a sweet vinyl sound and is more towards what I’d call an efficient digital sound. No, this isn’t suffering from the digititis in the treble that the DS Gungnir did, but it isn’t a mellow sound like the Chord Dave - which is sooner to remind you of analogue equipment than the Yggdrasil. Instruments indeed sound natural, but the presentation is so turned up to eleven that I could see a complaint people have being that it is a DAC that is trying too hard. The same people might be of the opinion that the Focal Utopia is simply too dynamic for their tastes, and they would prefer something along the likes of the Audeze LCD-4 instead. The Yggdrasil has very little room for a romantic sound, and is more focused with presenting clarity, detail and accurate timbre. It took me a while to get used to having all the tracks sharing equal priority in the mix due to how the DAC brought them out. Heck, I could see someone viewing how the Yggdrasil reproduces music as an accurately executed formula no matter what they’re listening to.

I am not one of those people. While I can hear and recognize that possible shortcoming, I am also someone who is really into a dynamic sound laden with detail retrieval these days. Simply put, the Yggdrasil is brighter than the Gumby and does away with the smooth organic tone that some might prefer in its younger brother. I don’t find it fatiguing myself but, as stated above, it’s very much to taste. It’s also a bit unforgiving with poor recordings, exposing flaws as trite as the production team not fading out a track properly (the clipping is quite noticeable).

Brief Comparison to the Chord Dave

Chord and Schiit seem to have very different philosophies when it comes to their flagship DACs – also vastly different price points. The Dave seems to be trying to bridge a vinyl sound to a digital presentation - without skimping on detail retrieval or introducing any haziness to the mix. It took me a while to understand this about the Dave, while I understood the strength of the Yggdrasil immediately on first listen.

The Chord Dave has a wide soundstage, on par with the Gumby at least, and a mellower tone than the Yggdrasil. It also has a blacker background, which isn’t a strong suit with either Schiit flagship DAC. While it doesn’t hit as hard as the Yggdrasil, it is less frantic in presentation and this well appeal to those whom I spoke of above who will argue that such traits lead to an ultimate organic and natural sound.

Why I prefer the Yggdrasil, especially for the price, is due to it being so high-energy compared to the Dave. The Dave also has a slight dampening on guitar distortion, leading to there being less bite and more warmth to metal music.

I’d like to add that these impressions of the Dave are not utilizing its own ¼ output, which I find to be quite dull. It’s better used as a pure DAC into a capable amplifier, in my opinion.

Conclusion

I hope that the framing of this review as a comparison to the Schiit Gungnir Multibit/Gumby aids anyone looking to choose between the two. The Gumby is still my favourite DAC that I’ve tried which is under the price of a Yggdrasil – with there being over a thousand dollars difference between the two. I am now not surprised that Jason Stoddard from Schiit Audio prefers using a Gumby to the Yggdrasil – the flagship does not coddle the listener. I, personally, think that I prefer a DAC such as this and then being able to fine-tune sound with a tube amplifier further down the chain.

For anyone looking for a supremely resolving and focused experience, the Schiit Yggdrasil has that in spades.

Pros: Outstanding sound quality. Outstanding value. Modular design allows parts upgrades.
Cons: Input selection is slow. Can't be used with devices that short unused inputs. USB input not as potentially good as the others.
A funny thing had happened the last time I visited Schiit Audio's offices and factory/warehouse. When we entered, what had previously been a storage or dumping room -- I don't remember, had become Mike Moffat's office of sorts. Jason was still upstairs in his office, but it almost looked as if Mike had been shoved into a corner. Of course this wasn't the case at all, but it added to the oddball nature of the whole experience of the visit, which was full of surprises. They had fairly recently taken over additional space, including punching a large hole in the wall between the two parts of the building that they now rented, both dominated by numerous racks ranging from pallets of parts to completed components being tested or boxed for shipping. The whole place was organised, but at the same time looked like it might burst into chaos at any minute, such is the sheer quantity of gear being manufactured there, far surpassing what either Mike or Jason had anticipated at the start of their venture back in 2010.


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Mike in his office at the time.


Mike was happy. He had every reason to be, having just completed his Magnum Opus of DACs, the Yggdrasil. Manufacturers often make a statement product, then from that cheaper products sharing the same "look", imitating the top component, to entice the consumer with a hint of the device they cannot afford, suggesting instead that some of the magic can be had cheaper. Schiit Audio on the other hand, house the Yggdrasil in much the same style inexpensive aluminium case as their cheapest, $99 components, albeit larger, thicker and in more pieces. What they offer is not enticement, but a lack of ********. Instead, Mike took an expensive precision DAC used for military and medical purposes which Analog Designs said was unsuitable for audio reproduction, and made a series of DACs that hark back to the old idea of musical multi-bit ladder resistor DACs. In the process he stuck up a big middle finger to basically everything else out there that is Sigma Delta or DSD, in much the same way that Jason stuck up a big middle finger to the idea of having stuff made in China to keep it cheap.

One might not call the Yggdrasil cheap at $2399, but considering Mike Moffat made the first separate DAC ever sold (reputedly anyhow) and has been researching digital filters for three or so decades, most all the money goes into manufacture and almost none into marketing, expensive casework or a customer service department, you are getting a lot of bang-for-you-buck (and curt replies to emails consequently). Even the RCA jacks are the same basic board-mounted fare that are used on all their other components. I could well imagine the local hi-fi store here, run by a decades-experienced man who readily tweaks brand new Acoustic Masterpiece SET amps to get even more magic out of them, readily tweaking an Yggdrasil with better bits and bobs. However the focus of what you get with the Yggdrasil is Mike's mastery of digital filters and his bloody minded determination to make the possible out of the impossible, and make it available to as many people as he can, with the music they already own and not questionable and impractical formats in which only a small percentage of music is available.



Once the heavy box arrives, I eagerly carry it upstairs and proceed to release the beast. As simple as the casework is, it still has an imposing profile, reminding me of the designs of Star Trek space ships to a degree, with the industrial-looking font embossed on the cut-out front panel. I am quick to get it plugged in, as it has a reputation for needing a week to run-in initially, after which Mike has recommended not switching it off at all so that the DA chips can remain thermally stable for the best sonic results. As a connected input is selected, it clicks away, locking onto the signal, then again with a click it locks in the clocking circuits upon playback and after that, another click for sample rate changes, necessitating my selecting a delay in Audirvana Plus for them so I don't lose the beginning of the music. Whenever I wanted to change quickly through inputs to switch between transports, the Yggdrasil refused to let me, insisting that I go slower, which is a small annoyance.



Those inputs include the usual optical, BNC, coax and AES/EBU and Schiit's latest Generation 3 USB board, which is handily upgradable, should they make a newer version. The rest of the DAC is upgradable as well, if upgrades are ever designed and offered. I don't imagine anything fancy like tube output stages will ever be made, but if newer technology comes about which Mike can design, then upgrades will be possible without having to buy a completely new DAC. These upgrades have already trickled down to even the lowly Bifrost, which is now available as a multi-bit DAC.

The last time I auditioned the Yggdrasil was at CanJam SoCal 2015. I distinctly remember my impressions of its depth of audio retrieval on the Sunday afternoon after a new production unit had been run in continuously since the Friday afternoon before. The process during run-in is rather like listening to a version of Ravel's Bolero, but spread over a week. I had set up the Yggdrasil and Chord's Mojo (my Hugo has moved into the lounge room to do music duty there) using the same source, a Soundaware D100PRO music server, plugged the outputs into my Studio Six and level matched them using pink noise. Initially I had trouble telling the two DACs apart in my system, but after a few days the Yggy started to pull ahead, most noticeably with orchestral music.

The Yggdrasil hints of its greatness from the beginning, but it isn't for a couple of days that the magic really begins to shine through. From then it becomes apparent that this DAC, with well-recorded music, is capable of a delivery that eclipses simply being described as having greater detail retrieval. My feeling of the music from a regular DAC compared to the feeling from the Yggdrasil is akin to the difference in watching a high-res movie about a city versus the feeling of being there. It is not just that you can hear the shifting of a performers clothes as they play, but almost as if you can feel the air between the notes -- the very substance of the environment being played in. It is rather like the first time you watch a HD broadcast on a 50"+ screen and can see the detail of the skin on the presenters face, and suddenly nothing more is hidden.


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One annoying facet of this performance is that Yggdrasil ideally needs to be left on continuously for the full monty of its performance to come through. If I switch on my system in the morning some of the magic just isn't there. Thus I've taken to leaving one section of my Power Plant Premier locked on and the Yggdrasil plugged into that.

Another problem that came up is that, with multiple devices hooked up, I was having trouble listening without distortion. It turned out that one of my amps shorts unused inputs to prevent interference. While this is common in high-end components, it causes problems with the Yggdrasil's output stage.

Back to the comparisons, Eiji Oue's Bolero! Orchestral Fireworks proved a good test. The Mojo, like other Chord digital products, does a fantastic job reproducing instruments in a natural-sounding way. Even without speakers, the Yggdrasil delivered the album with more space, yet at the same time, more body to bass as well as a better extended treble with more clear delineation and substance of instruments, without sounding distant or disconnected. Both were equally delightful to listen with, the Yggy that much more so than the Mojo, the Yggy clearly having the advantage of not having to be portable, or drive headphones. This has me eager to try them on a speaker rig. When I have the chance to do so, I shall update this review. So far, I've only been able to use my ADAM ARTist 3s in near-field plugged directly in or via an Audio-gd NFB-1AMP.

The arrival of David Chesky's latest creation, Dazzling Blue, featuring Alexis Cole, was apt. Before I moved it to my living room system I had gotten fantastic results from the Chord Hugo using the Soundaware transport, so I thought I'd give it another go against the Yggdrasil via the Studio Six using the new album. Volume matched with the same RCA cables and only the digital cable being different (the Yggdrasil was being fed by AES, which didn't make any significant difference in my experience). This was a much closer call than with the Mojo in this set-up (and might be greater if I was using USB straight from a computer), especially given that the Yggdrasil was being run from its SE output and may not have been able to use its full potential. The Yggdrasil still had a bit more air around instruments with the Hugo a bit more "one note" at times, losing some of the most subtle detail to notes.


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The usual comment about hearing things in recording that you weren't aware of before applies here. Where it was some noise in the background that hadn't come through before, or an aspect of how an instrument was played being revealed for the first time, my experience was similar to the first time I heard one of my favourite albums on a proper hi-fi system as opposed to out of the radio. Except this time, instead of shock at the raw sound, it was shock at how far into the music it was possible to hear and how much had been missing previously. In the middle of Suspended Circles (Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, John Abercrombie) one of the players begins to whistle and hum. In the past my mental image of this was that it was distinctly in the background, but through the Yggdrasil its own more distinct, delineated presence, fully separate from other instruments in a way I didn't feel it had before. Instead of being objects in something of a 2-dimensional spread, each instrument or sound comes through with a multi-dimentionality that feel like it spans not only a 3D space, but a 4D one. You don't just have a picture of the playback in your mind when listening, but a jump up like you'd get watching a video of the same performance for the first time.

What is most fascinatingly fantastic about the Yggdrasil is its ability to reproduce bass. We talk about the bass performance of transducers a lot, much of our perception influenced by the strength of it in the frequency response. The Yggdrasil reproduced bass very strongly, but it was at an elevated level of precision that I had last experienced listening to a high-end horn system, where drums feel like they are reaching into you with each hit. The difference is rather like seeing a picture of a piece of wood, then seeing a picture of the same wood from a top-of-the-line camera, where the grain of the wood is even clearly apparent at a distance. The Yggdrasil so brutally outclasses every other DAC I've owned in bass delivery it's disturbing.

Equally apparent were any flaws in a recording. It was apparent in Be Here Now by Ray LaMontagne that the recording of the backing piano was run through some or other kind of plug-in to give it something of an echo-y quality. With various pop recordings where the vocals have survived the mastering process without distortion, it's funny to so clearly hear that the singer was in a foam-lined booth when the recording was made and so easily to visualise its size from the echo decay.


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ALO Audio Continental V5, APEX Audio Sangaku and Soundaware M1 stacked on the left. Schiit Audio Vali 2 atop the Studio Six above the Yggdrasil on the right.

I was also curious whether or not I had gotten the most out of it via USB. My usual reaction to in-built USB implementations on DACs has been to hook in my Audiophilleo 1 (with Pure Power) USB to S/PDIF converter and compare it. Lately though, that transport has been beaten by a review unit of Soundaware's D100PRO music server. I wanted to see if it would also beat Schiit Audio's Gen 3 USB, which I can definitely say it does. Playing the same tracks through my computer or the D100PRO, out of my computer they sounded flatter and less real, whereas out of the D100PRO there was a distinct improvement in how natural music sounded. The Yggdrasil was even resolving enough that I felt I could detect very subtle differences between using a proper 75Ohm BNC cable, and a 75 Ohm RCA-terminated interconnect (Van Den Hul The First Ultimate Metal Screen). The differences were getting pretty tiny at that level, below any threshold on which I'd consider myself reliable.

After reading many good reports about iFi Audio's iUSB3.0 I bought one and decided to see if I could match the Soundaware's capabilities. It's a purely selfish goal, as I want something good enough as it when I am due to send it back to the manufacturer. Frustratingly once again, the Soundaware was just that bit better, most apparent listening to a variety of Chopin works from Hamelin to Argerich and Ashkenazy. Recently I had been to a piano store where I had been playing around with the Steinways, hitting a single note and listening to the flow of the tones through the adjacent strings. That gave me a useful reference for this evaluation, the Soundaware improving the output such that the piano seemed more real, distinct and detailed with it as the source, and the notes having a slightly harder-sounding edge through the iUSB 3.0 feeding the in-built USB.

Upping the ante to using my Audiophilleo 1 (with Pure Power) fed by the iUSB 3.0 through the coax input, I could almost match the D100PRO, but the latter had more weight and clarity to the subtle tones of the piano notes to the point I felt I could feel the heft of the hammer hitting the string like it had when I had listened to a real one.

What ended up taking the proverbial cake was the new F1 XMOS XU208 USB to S/PDIF converter board powered by the iUSB3.0 which jumped slightly ahead of even the D100PRO in what it could get from the Yggdrasil -- notes sounding more natural and real. This ultimately has lead me to the conclusion that the Yggdrasil definitely benefits from a good S/PDIF transport, and that their USB implementation has yet to match the capabilities of one. Thankfully it is upgradable, should Schiit Audio make a newer, better design.


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That really drove home how good this DAC is for me. Short of testing it on a high-end system, the experience with the Yggdrasil and the Studio Six has been utterly amazing. I'm not a fan of covers and listening in the car the Alexis Cole album didn't particularly amaze me . It was when I got home and could get the full experience of the three-dimensional feeling of the recording -- drums echoing all around the hall, the instruments deliciously distinct and Alexis' amazing control of each note, delivering precisely the feeling required -- and truly appreciate the album.


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The ultimate experience ended up being a chance to borrow a pair of Focal Utopias, which lifted things to another level. Everything I have described above was elevated to yet another level, the Yggdrasil and Utopias revealing layer upon layer in music I had not been able to hear before. I could make out the movement of a note played across the soundstage on regular two-channel recordings.

What is delightful to me is just how wonderful it is to have great people like Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat are keen to manufacturer high-quality gear, as well as develop new technology at reasonable costs, without the usual huge markups that accompany the retailing of luxury items. Whereas before I was always wondering how I could compromise the least in my system to get a high-end sound without breaking the bank, both in my home and portable rig, I no longer have to worry about either.

Attachments

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LarryMagoo
LarryMagoo
Great review....My Yggy is less than 72 hours old and so far loving every minute ....it keeps getting sweeter.
 
I run mine from the USB port of my i7 2.7 GHz Mac mini with SSD.   I'm not using any type of converter box yet...but looking at that Singer SU-1.  It uses the part of the last combo you tried ?
 
Thanks for all the effort you put into your review!
 
Cheers,
Larry  
earnmyturns
earnmyturns
"In the middle of Suspended Circles (Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, John Abercrombie) one of the players begins to whistle and hum. In the past my mental image of this was that it was distinctly in the background, but through the Yggdrasil its own more distinct, delineated presence, fully separate from other instruments in a way I didn't feel it had before." That's Assad. I heard them live in Philly when they toured before the CD came out and I remember very well her position on the stage and her surprising vocal contributions. Maybe because of that I can place them in space even in my headphone system, which has a Bimby rather than the Yggy (which graces the 2-channel system in the living room). Sad that this amazing trio won't be reassembled, with Larry Coryell's recent passing (and John Abercrombie's serious illness). 
Pros: A taste of high-end performance at a price point within reach for many
Cons: Continuous power recommended for optimum performance, No DSD support, Generally available in only one color - Silver. Black is available on occasion.
Introduction

In February 2011, I joined Head-Fi where I was re-introduced to the world of headphones. Prior to joining, I had a passing familiarity with various offerings from STAX, but my primary interest was in analog two-channel speaker based systems. Jumping into the deep end of the Head-Fi pool, I came to learn about the world of computer audio, digital audio files, and signal formats and, of course, DACs. Since then I've owned DACs from PSAudio, Wyred for Sound, and Benchmark. But I've always dreamed of owning a high-end DACs from manufacturers like Berkeley Audio Design, MSB, dCS, TotalDAC, Light Harmonic, and others. Ultra high-end DACs, unfortunately, came with hefty five-figure price tags that were mostly out of reach for not only myself, but also a large percentage of the audio enthusiast community.

However, in April 2015, Schiit Audio launched a new DAC, the Yggdrasil, designed by legendary designer Mike Moffat founder of Theta Digital. This new entry to the DAC market stands to shatter the high-end cost barrier and make high-end DACs more affordable to a wider audience.  Over the past month, I had the opportunity to compare the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil to the Benchmark Media Systems DAC1 PRE (Note, the Benchmark model in this comparison is no longer in production and was replaced by a newer model as noted in the equipment list following this review).

In this review, I will touch on a few differences I noted between the Yggdrasil  (Yggy) and the DAC1 PRE (Benchmark) in the areas of overall perspective, soundstage, tonality, and detail. Then I'll conclude with an explanation of why I'm keeping the Yggdrasil (that's right, for me the Yggy is a keeper).


Test Setup
 
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To facilitate the A/B comparison in this review, I relied heavily on the preamp function of the Benchmark DAC1 PRE.  With the Benchmark, I was able to switch directly between the Yggy and the Benchmark both connected via USB from my desktop Windows 7 computer. The Benchmark, however, had the added benefit of being connected to the computer via an Audiophilleo 2 USB converter. Even with the preamp function of the Benchmark, switching between the two DAC was not instantaneous. There was additional delay due to also having switch USB devices in JRiver.  Nevertheless, I mastered the entire switching process that eventually only took a matter of seconds to complete. Identical single-ended DIY RCA interconnects were used for DAC, preamp and amp connections, and to the extent possible, output levels were matched between the DACs.

I've spent an inordinate amount of time comparing the Yggdrasil with the Benchmark to ensure my findings were repeatable, and my views on the two DACs would not change over time. Regarding issues around 1) the initial out-of-the-box sound, and 2) allowing sufficient time to burn-in/warm-up, etc., my experience has been similar to what others have expressed on Head-Fi, so I won't belabor those points here.  All of the impressions expressed in this review were drawn after allowing the Yggdrasil to "burn-in" with music for over 14 days, which I suspect is more than enough time to sufficiently exercise/stabilize the unit.


Overall Perspective
 
I begin most equipment evaluations by trying to get a sense of overall perspective. This describes the perceived distance (i.e. how near or far), the sound of a performance is from the listener. The perspective differences described here apply primarily to speakers. I find that the sound field differences between speakers and headphones make this subjective measurement less applicable to headphones.
 
Relative to the Benchmark, the presentation of the Yggy is slightly recessed, but not excessively so. The Yggy places performers at a comfortable distance from the listener. The forward presentation of the Benchmark can be a bit edgy and aggressive, and fatiguing on some recordings. Vocals are placed a few feet farther back with the Yggy. On a properly set up speaker system, this effect can be clearly heard with Enya's vocals on May it Be from the Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring (CD,
Reprise)​
. I found the recessed sound of the Yggy to be more relaxed and pleasingly natural. In addition to sounding more natural with many recordings, the listening experience was also more immersive - more on this later.
 
 
Soundstage

The Yggy excels at extracting reverberation from recordings. On recording after recording, if natural hall reverberation or artificial electronic reverberation is present on the recording, the Yggy would easily best the Benchmark in extracting the most of this quality from each recording.  On some recordings, the added reverberation allowed the soundstage to extend beyond the outside edges of the KEF LS50s in my near-field desktop setup. This spacious presentation provided an addictively immersive experience. Listening to Shpongle Falls from Shpongle's Are You Shpongled? (CD, Twisted Music) is a good example. When listening to this recording I feel like I'm submerged in an ocean of sound where I'm weightlessly drifting through an immense space enveloped by sound coming at me from many directions. Quite a remarkable feat, given I was listening to speakers, rather than headphones.

On an another old favorite, Acoustic Alchemy's Jamaica Heartbeat on Back On The Case (CD, GRP), the mid-bass of the kick drum is more focused with the Yggy, and the overall reverb is more pronounced giving the impression of a larger soundstage or space. The Benchmark presents a narrower center focused soundstage that ultimately proved less involving.

The Yggy's ability to extract the last bits of reverberation and preserve decay from recordings leaves you with a greater sense of the size of the soundstage and the volume of the venue.


Tonality

Beginning with bass, the reproduction of this region is a clear strength for the Yggy over the Benchmark. Against the Yggy, the bass of the Benchmark sounds leaner and drier. The Yggy's ability to produce tight subterranean bass from 20 Hz to 40 Hz is communicated effortlessly by the JL Audio Fathom f113 subwoofer. This advantage, although audible, is viscerally less noticeable with headphones. Organ works are a good test for low-frequency reproduction, and one of my favorites is Liszt - Prelude on Bach-Organ by Felix Hell (24/96, FLAC, Reference Recordings). When bass is present, the Yggy reaches to the lowest depths and reproduces each note with a solid tonal richness that the Benchmark cannot match. With electronic music, the synthetic heartbeat-like bass line in the first few minutes of the previously mentioned Shpongle Falls track is produced with authority and weight that reinforces the illusion of a larger space. Although bass is still present with the Benchmark, it's much lighter, giving the music less impact and reducing the overall sense of space.

It's interesting to note that on some recordings, the Benchmark can give the impression of having greater impact. In the opening of The Eagles' Hotel California on Hell Freezes Over (CD, Geffen), both DACs generate the bongo's low frequencies with impact, however the higher frequency initial attack of the bongo slaps have a tighter more immediate sound with the Benchmark. This is likely because the Benchmark's reduced low end and shorter decay draws your attention to the higher frequency slaps. I suspect some may even prefer this sound. This effect is noticeable with both headphones and speakers.

In summary, the bass region performance of the Yggy produces slightly more output across the lower and mid bass regions and the bass produced is fast and tight. The presentation is more visceral, and longer decay times evoke a larger sense of space when compared to the Benchmark.

Moving on to higher frequencies, a good piece for highlighting several sonic qualities is Diana Krall’s The News on Heartdrops: Vince Benedetti Meets Diana Krall (CD, TCB - The Montreux Jazz Label).  On this recording, a half a minute into the song, the sibilance in Diana Krall’s voice can be heard. With the Yggy, this sibilance is much softer than with the Benchmark. If a recording is sibilant, you will hear it. However, it won’t be as harsh as it can be with other DACs. Other qualities that can be heard in this track include fuller lower mids of the trombone (without sounding too thick), string vibrations from the double-bass are more distinct, and the cymbals on this track have an extended metallic trailing edge that sounds closer to a live performance.

Across the entire audible spectrum, the uncolored tonal reproduction of the Yggy helps to bring you one step closer to the performance. All instruments, brass, woodwinds, and strings have a more vivid presentation and, on many recordings, better separation between instruments.  Female vocals are rendered with a natural, airy sweetness that draws you into the music, and percussive instruments like tambourines, cymbals, chimes, etc. have a more natural delicate metallic ring. In the time that I've spent with the Yggy, I found little to fault with tonally from top to bottom.


Detail

When I first heard a Yggy prototype at a local mini-meet, I was very impressed by the amount of detail it was able to retrieve. But as most experienced Head-Fi'ers will attest, it's difficult to draw completely accurate conclusions under even the best of meet conditions. This proved to be true with the Yggy. After directly comparing the Benchmark and Yggy under more controlled conditions, I was surprised to discover how well both DACs performed at retrieving detail. I found both to be almost equally good. However, when it comes to low-level detail, the Yggy proved to be superior at retrieving a bit more air and detail.

With acoustic instruments, piano, bass, and drums, this additional detail brings you closer to the music which translates to a more believable you-are-there listening experience. On the Lake on So Real (CD, DMP) by Warren Bernhardt (a wonderfully well-recorded album), provides many examples of this detail. On this recording, you can almost hear the mechanical sound of the piano hammers before they strike each wire. With each pluck of the bass strings, you hear and feel each note resonate through the wooden body of the double-bass. The delicate trailing edge of cymbals naturally lingers as it should. Even light taps of the cymbals take on a silky gong-like quality. When wire brushes are drawn across the skin of a snare you hear the distinct sound of the tightly tuned skin.

On Sinfonia in D, Adagio by Johan Helmich Roman, the Yggy beautifully captures the delicate sound of the harpsichord, the sweetness of the strings, and the detail of the church hall reverberation which gives way to a noticeably more open the soundstage, a larger sense of space, and a sweeter more relaxed sound. The Benchmark reproduces most of this detail but with a cooler, drier, more antiseptic sound. With the Benchmark, you hear more instruments and less hall with this recording. The Benchmark is a good DAC that functions well as a preamp and although very clean and very detailed, is less emotionally involving; not completely dry or sterile, but slightly less satisfying when compared directly to the musically seductive Yggy.


Conclusions

For me, it's all about presentation and musicality. What I find you get with the Yggdrasil is natural sounding music reproduced in an enveloping believable three-dimensionally acoustic space. What I mean by that is not only do you hear the performers presented on a realistically sized soundstage, but beyond that, you also get a sense of the size of the venue, and acoustics of the space.  Visually, this would be similar to what one would notice when a theater's house lights are turned on at the end of a performance. At that moment, you become immediately aware of the size, dimensions and materials of the venue whether it be an intimate jazz club or the 5,000 plus seat Royal Albert Hall. The Yggdrasil has the ability to shine a light on the music that allows you to hear more than just the performers and instruments. You also become aware of and immersed in the physical space in which the recording was made. This is what I enjoy most about the Yggdrasil over other DACs I've heard, and this is the primary reason why I intend make the Yggdrasil a permanent fixture in my system for some time to come. I feel the Yggy has given me more than a reasonable glimpse into the world of high-end DACs.

It should be noted that many of the differences described between the units under review can be very subtle. Some of these qualities could be easily missed if a playback system is not sufficiently resolving. It's my view that the sonic characteristics of the Yggy and other comparable high-end DACs, are best appreciated when matched with the best transducers available be they headphones or speakers. If your system meets this requirement and you are in the market for a highly resolving and musical DAC, the Yggy should be high on your list of DACs to audition.

The bottom line is I'm sufficiently satisfied with the level of performance produced by the Yggy, to the point where I concede I've reached a point of diminishing returns with respect to DACs. While I recognize there may very well be other stratospherically priced DACs (with which I've had no experience) that can better the Yggdrasil in some respects, I have little interest in spending what would likely require significantly larger sums of money to achieve increasingly smaller levels of improvement. For now, I'm quite happy with the music I hear from, what I now consider to be, my new reference DAC.
 
 
Addendum (09/2016): Focusrite RedNet 3 Update
 
I've updated my PC to Yggy connection with a Focusrite RedNet 3. You can read my review here.
 
 
Addendum (09/2015): USB REGEN Update

Given all the recent praise bestowed on this new device, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my USB REGEN from UpTone Audio. I placed my order for the REGEN at the end of June and received it last month. After adding it to my Yggdrasil, I immediately noticed improvements in three areas - bass reproduction, soundstage size, and overall presentation. In this brief update, I'll describe how the REGEN performed in each of these areas, then conclude with a recommendation.

I enjoy solid, fast subterranean bass which is why I've always matched all of my speaker systems with a subwoofer. I found this is one area where the REGEN can produce immediately noticeable results as long as the right recording is used. On Solar Sailor from the Tron soundtrack, the track contains fundamentals that go down to 20Hz with additional strong peaks around 45Hz. With the REGEN, the bass on this track is produced with notably more weight giving the impression of a larger sense of space. Without the REGEN, the bass has less authority resulting in a less immersive experience.

What also became apparent, was the REGEN's ability to extend the decay of music with natural or artificial reverberation. The amount of additional reverberation added ranged from audibly subtle to immediately noticeable depending on the recording. When present, this allows you to hear (and almost see) more deeply into the recording. The REGEN also provides a greater sense of space around instruments and imaging became more precise. The result of added reverberation and improved imaging is a larger, more open and spacious soundstage.

Lastly, and what I found most enjoyable, the overall presentation of the music became more relaxed. The REGEN added a certain richness to the sound. As a result, recordings of horns, strings, vocals or cymbals that normally sound hot or edgy, were soften such that I could listen at higher than normal levels and still enjoy the music. Initially, I thought the REGEN was softening the attack of instruments and vocals. But as I spent more time with the REGEN, I discovered the REGEN produced a richer, much more fuller sound that balanced (rather than diminished) the sound of the attack. It was this balance that gave the illusion of softening, or smoothing, the sound. For example, without the REGEN, the leading edge of cymbals have a thinner metallic sound that, although is realistic, is ultimately not as satisfying as the relaxed, richer sound provided with the REGEN.

It's also important to mention that all of the differences previously noted, especially those concerning soundstage and imaging, were easily more apparent when listening to speakers than with headphones.

Summary

After having spent several weeks listening to the REGEN/Yggy combination with a wide variety of music on both headphones and speakers (but mostly with speakers), I've come to the conclusion that the incremental improvements provided by the REGEN are worth the relatively modest price of admission. You may draw a difference conclusion based on whether you spend the majority of time listening to headphones or speakers.

If you are looking to improve the performance of your Yggy, I would strongly suggest spending some time with a REGEN to see if you enjoy the results. You might find the REGEN gives the Yggy (or even other DACs) a reasonable boost in performance at a modest cost.
 
 
Addendum (08/2015):
Received an UpTone Audio USB REGEN today.  Will post impressions after I've had a chance to spend some time with the REGEN and the Yggdrasil.
 

Evaluation Music (on Tidal)
  1. Enya: May it Be from the Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring (CD, Reprise)
  2. Shpongle: Shpongle Falls on Shpongle's Are You Shpongled? (CD, Twisted Music)
  3. Acoustic Alchemy: Jamaica Heartbeat on Back On The Case (CD, GRP)

Other evaluation music on Tidal
  1. Demo Music playlist (16/44 FLAC) on TIDAL (subscription required to view/play the complete list)

Evaluation Music
  1. Felix Hell: Liszt - Prelude on Bach-Organ 30th Anniversary Album - RR 908 HDCD (24/96, FLAC, Reference Recordings)
  2. The Eagles: Hotel California on Hell Freezes Over (CD, Geffen)
  3. Diana Krall: The News on Heartdrops: Vince Benedetti Meets Diana Krall (CD, TCB - The Montreux Jazz Label)
  4. Warren Bernhardt: On the Lake on So Real (CD, DMP)
  5. Johan Helmich Roman: Sinfonia in D, Adagio on
    3 Violin Concertos - 3 Sinfonias​
    (CD, BIS)

Associated Equipment
  1. Windows 7 Desktop Computer (FLAC Source: ripped CDs/Tidal)
  2. Benchmark Media DAC1 PRE (This model has been superseded by the newer Benchmark DAC2 HGC)
  3. Audiophilleo 2 (Async USB to S/PDIF converter) connected via ifi Micro iUSB Power w/ifi Gemini cable
  4. Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC
  5. Sanders Magtech Amp
  6. KEF LS50 Speakers w/JL Audio Fathom f113 subwoofer (and MiniDSP 2x4 digital x-over)
  7. HiFiMAN HE-6 (modded)
  8. DIY Interconnects (Mogami Neglex 2534 Quad)
  9. UpTone Audio USB REGEN ($175 Retail)

Software
  1. J.River Media Center 20 (16/44 to 24/192 FLAC)
  2. Tidal Hi-Fi (16/44 FLAC)
  3. VB-Audio ASIO Bridge
wavelet
wavelet
Comparing with DAC2 would be more up to date and closer to the same price point. Yggy is 2.5x the price of DAC1.
jazzfan
jazzfan
@wavelet - Thank you for your comments. While I mostly agree with your statements, it's important to note I'm an audio enthusiast and not a professional reviewer. All of the equipment in my review are products I've personally purchased, and are units with which I've had considerable listening experience. Manufacturers do not provide me with free review samples. So while I would have preferred to have included Benchmark's latest flagship in this comparison, it was beyond my means to do so.
 
One last point, the retail price of Benchmark DAC1 Pre was $1595 v.s. $2299 for the Schiit Yggdrasil, so the price differential you indicated is somewhat overstated.
Light - Man
Light - Man
A very informative and helpful review!!!
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