Review of Schiit Audio FULLA usb dongle DAC/amp w/pics!!!
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twister6

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This is a review of Schiit Audio FULLA usb dongle DAC/amp.  http://schiit.com/products/fulla
 
Before I start my review, I would like to Thank Schiit Audio for providing me with a review unit in exchange for my honest opinion.  You guys are da schiit!!!

 
You gotta have a lot of confidence and one heck of a sense of humor to name your company "Schiit Audio".  Anybody who is frequent to Head-fi will recognize this name and probably be familiar with Jason Stoddard (one of the SA co-founders) who indeed has a great sense of humor.  I can't speak from a personal experience about all of their products, though well aware about their main focus being on desktop DACs and AMPs.  Plus, I’ve read a number of positive reviews and impressions with everybody raving about their build quality, minimalistic looks, and excellent audio performance at a very reasonable price.  Since my selection of audio hardware is focused around portable use, I typically don't have a need for desktop equipment.  The only exception is when I use my laptop with headphones connected to HO (headphone output) port, something I always regret because of a poor sound quality of integrated audio chip.  I do have some portable DAC/amps and DAPs that can function as USB DACs, but I'm not a big fan of "jack of all trades" and prefer a "master of one" which is what FULLA supposed to be.  Here is what I found.
 
There are many unique things about FULLA, including a “box” it arrived in.  This was definitely not a traditional packaging, made out of a carton sleeve and a folded cardboard piece with a cutout for DAC/amp and included accessories - very original!  This packaging is certainly not intended for continuous storage use, and it wasn't the easiest thing to slide out (since I didn't want to cut it open), but I certainly do appreciate the recyclable nature of it.  Beside FULLA itself, accessories included a short 4" usb to mini-usb cable, a small draw string velvet storage pouch, and a quick start manual.
 
Unboxing and accessories.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I gotta be honest that it wasn't a love at first sight.  I do appreciate a small footprint (ridiculously compact 2.5" x 1.2" x 0.5") and a super light weight (3 oz) of FULLA - you can't take that away from a wow factor when you first take FULLA out and hold it in your hand.  But after a quick brush of my fingers across the surface, I discovered rather sharp edges of the aluminum sheet metal wrapped around a steel enclosure box.  It's not a show stopper since you can easily remove this aluminum piece (2 philips screws holding it together) and file the edges, but I was expecting to see a product with a more friendly to the touch finish.
 
Another thing that bothered me was a small volume knob, not easy to grab and a bit slippery.  I do have to give Schiit Audio a credit for using an actual analog pot, just wish it would be bigger and with a more noticeable position marker.  Also, I found a decision to use outdated mini-usb connector instead of a more common micro-usb connector to be a bit odd.  Connector selection is not a showstopper either since you don’t need to charge FULLA thus can’t take advantage of common smartphone charger.  All you need is a short usb patch cable to connect it to your laptop/PC, but still, a mini-usb connector is a thing of the past plus I bit of a challenge for OTG solution if you want to pair it up with a smartphone.  Also, there were no other controls (gain switch or bass boost) or ports (line out, etc.) beside a volume knob and data connection port.
 
Design details.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I already mentioned that aluminum sheet metal shell is easy to take off if you need to file the sharp edges or just curious to look inside.  All it takes is a careful removal of two Philips screws, and you can easily slide if off - just watch out for those edges!  At the same time such metal lightweight enclosure makes a perfect protection cage, and also great for heat dissipation.
 
Inside FULLA
 

 

 

 
When it comes to setup and operation of FULLA, it’s literally plug’n’play – no need to install or configure anything.  It’s that simple and robust, just connect it to your usb port, plug in your headphones and you're done!  On my Windows 7 the system did remember the last volume adjustment from laptop, and every time I connected FULLA it was setting system volume to that level.  If you are using the same set of headphones, this makes it very convenient to set the volume knob on FULLA and laptop volume to a desired combination, and use it as is.  But if you often switch from IEMs to full size headphones with different impedance and sensitivity level, perhaps make it a habit to turn down the volume pot before hitting Play to avoid "blowing your ears" surprise.
 

 
I’m sure some of you are probably thinking this review started on a high note and went downhill a bit.  Well, you are in for a big surprise because once I plugged FULLA into my laptop and connected my currently favorite ATH-MSR7 cans – I ended up having one of those “Susan Boyle” moments with a very pleasant surprise!
 
When you visit Schiit website, you can get a lot of info about their selection of high quality C-Media USB receiver, a supposedly top notch AKM DAC, and a high current TI amplifier.  These are all great devices, but to me it’s all a black box where I only care about sound quality.  The first impression when you start listening is a relatively wide soundstage with an open/airy sound.  The imaging and positioning was really good and felt on 3D level.  This also contributes to a great separation and layering of sounds.
 
I found an overall sound signature to be very clean, balanced, with a high level of transparency, and maybe just a slight boost in low end.  The high power output made sound more dynamic, bass texture came alive with more rumble, mids are clear and detailed, and treble is crisp and extended (no added sibilance).  Also, I didn’t sense too much hissing with some of my sensitive IEMs, and overall found FULLA to have black background – a good indication of proper isolation and filtering of power supply from laptop connection.
 
Obviously, when it comes to DAC/amp sound quality, the best way to appreciate it is by comparing to other similar devices, where I find FiiO E10k to be a very appropriate comparison.  In terms of features, E10k has an edge with LO/Coax, L/H gain, bass boost, micro-usb, and clearly marked analog pot with led power light.  But that's all on outside.  When you do a direct a/b comparison of a sound, E10k is less dynamic, soundstage is narrower, sound is more congested, and imaging/position and separation are definitely inferior.  Next to FULLA, you’ll find E18 to be warmer, more colored, not as wide, and a bit more congested.  Also, A200p can't match the open/airy soundstage of FULLA.
 
Next to E10k
 

 

 
I was also hopping to get it to work with my Galaxy Note 4, but that didn't happen.  I'm well aware that FULLA is power hungry and OTG USB connection won't provide enough current to support it.  So I used a combination of OTG USB adapter and USB y-splitter cable with mini-usb and a separate leg connected to external battery.  Not sure if I was missing another piece of that puzzle, but it made me think that it makes no sense to have a bulk of an external DAC/amp, a separate external battery, and different adapters and cables just to get an improved sound out of your phone.  Besides, there are other dedicated solutions with OTG USB dac/amp.  At this point, I was happy for FULLA to be a master of one trade.
 
Overall, I found FULLA to be a great piece of audio equipment based on its one main functionality of being USB DAC/amp dongle.  It's definitely not perfect in terms of some "rough edges" and limitation of being a master of only one trade, but it does that one task with flying colors!!!  I know there are other dedicated USB dac/amp dongles which I haven’t had a chance to test yet, but based on what I heard so far – this has the best sound quality and the most compact design!  You just have to figure out your priorities and to decide if FULLA is right for you.  If you are constantly switching between different headphones, or use external amp, or like to tweak a volume knob, E10k has more flexibility.  But if you want to squeeze out the best audio performance – FULLA is the way to go!  As a matter of fact, it will be my exclusive audio interface for laptop, and I will use it as a reference in my upcoming reviews and comparisons to other similar devices.  So in summary, these guys are NOT FULLA SCHIIT, but rather know exactly what they are doing!!!  Just can’t wait for the next product name if they decide to make a fully portable USB OTG dac/amp, perhaps DINGLEBERRY?

 
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bearFNF

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So you say it is master of one trade, which 'one' would that be? DAC or Amp...
 I think it does well in both of those "trades"...

 
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  So you say it is master of one trade, which 'one' would that be? DAC or Amp...
 I think it does well in both of those "trades"...

DAC/amp is the only "trade" of this little stinker

 
I meant that I have a number of DAPs that have USB DAC/amp functionality, but i never use my DAPs as external "soundcard" for my laptop.  The same with other portable DAC/amps like E18 or A200p that work with your USB OTG smartphone as well as USB dac/amp with laptop.  Not crazy switching back'n'forth.  Those are examples of "jacks of all trades" where stuff is combined.  I always valued E10k just for one purpose of using as external "soundcard" with my laptop.  But, FULLA is a step up in audio quality, thus my new reference.
 
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Oh snap, that's right, cause it cant be either of those by itself, duh.  My bad.  Listening to mine right now.

 
I get where you are coming from. I have a few devices I that do what you are talking about. They try to throw too many bells an whistles in and screw up what could have been great...just got to know when to stop.
 
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I found an overall sound signature to be very clean, balanced, with a high level of transparency, and maybe just a slight boost in low end.  The high power output made sound more dynamic, bass texture came alive with more rumble, mids are clear and detailed, and treble is crisp and extended (no added sibilance).  Also, I didn’t sense too much hissing with some of my sensitive IEMs, and overall found FULLA to have black background – a good indication of proper isolation and filtering of power supply from laptop connection.
 
Obviously, when it comes to DAC/amp sound quality, the best way to appreciate it is by comparing to other similar devices, where I find FiiO E10k to be a very appropriate comparison.  In terms of features, E10k has an edge with LO/Coax, L/H gain, bass boost, micro-usb, and clearly marked analog pot with led power light.  But that's all on outside.  When you do a direct a/b comparison of a sound, E10k is less dynamic, soundstage is narrower, sound is more congested, and imaging/position and separation are definitely inferior.  Next to FULLA, you’ll find E18 to be warmer, more colored, not as wide, and a bit more congested.  Also, A200p can't match the open/airy soundstage of FULLA.
 

 
Nice review! Has been waiting for this one 

 
So overall, it sounds closer to Audioquest Dragonfly?
 
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So overall, it sounds closer to Audioquest Dragonfly?
 
Sorry, don't have Dragonfly to compare, but I wouldn't be surprised if FULLA takes it down :)
 
I was a bit critical about FULLA when I got it out of the box, doing my usual analysis because listening to it.  But once I connected headphones (and it really brings MSR7 to life!!!) - I was very pleasantly surprised.  Didn't expect it will sound that good.  Now, I really hope @Jason Stoddard and the team will come up with integrated OTG USB version of FULLA.  I know you can't use the same dac/amp due to power restriction of otg usb, but hopefully they can come up with some compromise.
 
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Sorry, don't have Dragonfly to compare, but I wouldn't be surprised if FULLA takes it down :)
 
I was a bit critical about FULLA when I got it out of the box, doing my usual analysis because listening to it.  But once I connected headphones (and it really brings MSR7 to life!!!) - I was very pleasantly surprised.  Didn't expect it will sound that good.  Now, I really hope @Jason Stoddard and the team will come up with integrated OTG USB version of FULLA.  I know you can't use the same dac/amp due to power restriction of otg usb, but hopefully they can come up with some compromise.
 
Interesting! I heard the FULLA had some hickups in its early production. I probably wait for FULLA 2 or FULLA 2 Uber before pulling the trigger.
 
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I was a bit critical about FULLA when I got it out of the box, doing my usual analysis because listening to it.  But once I connected headphones (and it really brings MSR7 to life!!!) - I was very pleasantly surprised.  Didn't expect it will sound that good.
 
I agree with your initial impressions. I was not expecting much from the Fulla, but was very taken by the sound. I had been using the Dragonfly with my HD650 headphones. This definitely takes the sound to another level.
 
I was actually expecting to hear the best sound from the Meridian Explorer (first gen), which was lowered in price at the same time and was delivered the same weekend. So I was able to compare the three on the same day. I still much prefer the Fulla sound with the HD650.
 
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I agree with your initial impressions. I was not expecting much from the Fulla, but was very taken by the sound. I had been using the Dragonfly with my HD650 headphones. This definitely takes the sound to another level.
 
I was actually expecting to hear the best sound from the Meridian Explorer (first gen), which was lowered in price at the same time and was delivered the same weekend. So I was able to compare the three on the same day. I still much prefer the Fulla sound with the HD650.
I am not disrespecting you whatsoever, but do you not find the HD650 veiled, dull and a little too dark sounding. I tried them with numerous low-mid range DACs - MDAC, Benchmark DAC1 to name a few and none of them could get enough out of the 650 for me. That said I never tried them with the Explorer. This much be pushing the explorer but you seem happy so it must be a good combo?
 
I am now waiting for a pair of HD800 as i've bought an astell & kern ak240, I have heard the 240 with the IE800 and for me it was a match made in heaven, however there are moments when I enjoy over ear headphones, hence the purchase of the HD800 which were bought second hand. I have heard on the grapevine that the HD800 work very well with the AK240 (time will tell). 
 
Interesting thoughts on the Fulla. 
 
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I am not disrespecting you whatsoever, but do you not find the HD650 veiled, dull and a little too dark sounding. I tried them with numerous low-mid range DACs - MDAC, Benchmark DAC1 to name a few and none of them could get enough out of the 650 for me. That said I never tried them with the Explorer. This much be pushing the explorer but you seem happy so it must be a good combo?
 
No disrespect, because I personally find them to be very tricky - much more so than my other headphones and much more than I would have expected given the generally positive comments I've read here and elsewhere regarding the HD650. When people use the HD650, and only the HD650, as their baseline, I have my doubts.
 
I bought the HD650 back in 2003 and soon after bought the HeadRoom Home (generation II) to pair with. But regardless of what source I used, I was quite unhappy. So the HD650 gathered dust. My interest in headphones was rekindled last year, basically due to having my general headphone collection get too old. Sometime late last year, I decided to try the HD650 with DragonFly v1.2. It was better, to my ears, than was the HeadRoom Home. The Schiit Fulla was pretty much an impulse buy at $79, but my "gem" was supposed to be my Meridian Explorer, which had dropped in price to $150. The Meridian Explorer was not as sweet with the HD650 as the Schiit Fulla.
 
I'm starting to get off topic when I say that the Meridian Explorer brought back to life my Beyerdynamic DT-831 headphones. Those phones have never sounded so sweet as when paired with both generations of the Meridian Explorer. However those phones also did not sound as good with the Schiit Fulla or the Schiit Valhalla. Per my ears, the Sennheiser HD650 just mates well with the Schiit amps. One last headphone example, my Grado SR60i sound okay on both of the Schiit amps. But I prefer its sound back on the original HeadRoom Home 

 
As far as the HD800, I heard it at an expo, but I cannot make any comments on their pairing characteristics. I listened to them at the Moon Audio booth, and would pretty much trust their input. The AK240 is supposed to be pretty sweet, so good luck!
 
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I bought a Fulla Schiit late December last year that has broken down. Now it is barely able to keep a signal for longer than 5 minutes. 
 
When it first arrived it was extremely touchy, even the smallest pressure on its outer shell would cause the USB signal to drop. Now it just drops even when I'm not touching it. It is so bad it is barely useable.
At first I thought this was just how they're supposed to be. But 3 months later, I have a feeling I actually had a faulty device. Is it too late for me to send it back? Living in Australia, the postage really kills so I didn't bother at first.
 
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  I bought a Fulla Schiit late December last year that has broken down. Now it is barely able to keep a signal for longer than 5 minutes. 
 
When it first arrived it was extremely touchy, even the smallest pressure on its outer shell would cause the USB signal to drop. Now it just drops even when I'm not touching it. It is so bad it is barely useable.
At first I thought this was just how they're supposed to be. But 3 months later, I have a feeling I actually had a faulty device. Is it too late for me to send it back? Living in Australia, the postage really kills so I didn't bother at first.

There is a one year warranty if that is what you are asking.  They have a help and support page on their site. http://schiit.com/contact/help-support
 
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  I bought a Fulla Schiit late December last year that has broken down. Now it is barely able to keep a signal for longer than 5 minutes. 
 
When it first arrived it was extremely touchy, even the smallest pressure on its outer shell would cause the USB signal to drop. Now it just drops even when I'm not touching it. It is so bad it is barely useable.
At first I thought this was just how they're supposed to be. But 3 months later, I have a feeling I actually had a faulty device. Is it too late for me to send it back? Living in Australia, the postage really kills so I didn't bother at first.
 
I would contact them and explain what happened.  The unit is covered by 1 year warranty, so you are well within limit.  Don't make assumptions about shipping cost, a lot of manufacturers have different policies and you might be surprised with their "kindness" :wink:  Plus, Schiit Audio has a great reputation in Head-fi community. 
 
What you're describing sounds like an issue with a loose mini-usb connector, assuming you tried another usb to mini-usb cable and still have the same issue?
 
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  Nice review! Has been waiting for this one 

 
So overall, it sounds closer to Audioquest Dragonfly?
 
Will be getting Dragonfly for review soon, so expect a comparison :wink:
 
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