2022, Chapter 12
Progress Without Penury
Let’s just jump right into this:
As of today, there’s a new Yggdrasil+.
It’s sleeker, has remote control, more features, and makes it super easy to upgrade in the future. And it starts at the same price as the Yggdrasil we introduced in 2014.
Yes, 8 years of inflation, wayyyy better product, same price.
Already have an Yggdrasil? You can upgrade to Yggdrasil+ starting at $499. Or, if you don’t want the remote and NOS mode and easy-to-upgrade chassis, you can happily ignore this changeover. But if you decide to take us up on it, the upgrade reactivates your warranty for 2 years.
Sounds pretty cool, right? Sounds pretty fair, don’t you think?
’m sure there will be people who remind us, “You said there’d never be anything above Yggy! You said there would never be an Yggdrasil 2! You said it would be the one DAC, now and forever!”
Well, except for that last bit, yes, we said that.
And we still mean all that.
Yes, Yggdrasil+ looks different. It has different capabilities. It opens the doors to future possibilities. And it’s wayyyyyyyyy easier to swap in cards when you’re upgrading (literally 4 screws rather than 39). But it uses pretty much all of the same cards.
So there’s a clear upgrade path: a chassis upgrade.
Deep breath. Because yeah, I get it. It sounds nuts. But it really is the only path forward that preserves the continuity of your Yggdrasil, without abandoning it and going to a whole new architecture. A path to much easier upgradability and much higher future versatility.
Welcome to a whole new world.
The Rock and the Hard Place
Here’s the deal: for every upgradable product, there are limits.
There’s simply no way to predict every future permutation of something, so eventually you end up stuck. You’ll always find a new interface, a new connector, a new standard, a new DAC, a new DSP, something that breaks your model in terms of how much power it uses, or how much space it needs, or what kind of holes it needs in the chassis.
And sometimes the limits to upgradability aren’t physical at all. Our upgrade queueing system, which seemed so brilliant in 2014, turned out to be a pain point for many customers who wanted their DAC upgraded and they wanted it right now,
so they just went and bought a new one.
And the Yggdrasil chassis, which I thought was really neat way back a decade or so ago when it was designed, rapidly evolved to giving me slight unease shortly after we started shipping, to physical pain when upgrades began in earnest.
Why unease? Why pain?
When we shipped Yggdrasil, I looked at the back panel and thought, “What if we change the USB connector?” That would be super painful. Because the back panel wasn’t just
the back panel. It was the entire inner chassis. Which was very expensive to make. So if we wanted to change it, that meant the entire inner chassis would have to be swapped.
But…the metal was in-house, and we were shipping it, and I figured that most people would send their DACs back to us for upgrade, and if we had to make a change, we would manage it.
Aside: if you ever think, “we can manage it,” you should stop, back up, and ask yourself if you can change the design right the **** now, so you don’t have to manage it in the future. Because it will always be worse than you expect.
Aside to the aside: if you can’t seem to ever ship a product because you keep thinking of new stuff to manage, and the product has become so protean and undefined that even you don’t know what it will be anymore, you should also stop, back up, and commit to something, because—again—you can’t make an infinitely changeable, perpetually upgradable product. Ever. Period. Commit to something and ship it. Just try to catch the bonehead stuff that you can.
And why the pain when the upgrades started? Because that super-cool chassis was also super-complex. It was almost as hard to take apart as it was to put together. Getting an Yggdrasil apart requires separating the inner chassis from the two outer chassis pieces, as well as separating the two outer chassis pieces. That’s something like 39 screws. 39 opportunities to lose one, or strip one, or cross-thread one, as many owners have found out. For an upgradable product, that’s a giant pain in the ass.
So upgrades were slow. And customers who tried it themselves had problems. And we had bad timing in a couple of upgrades, which made it really clear how many upgrades our customers would tolerate, at what timing, and how painful they considered it.
All of this got me to thinking: how can we fix this?
I mean, if it was a conventional product, like Ragnarok, we just go to Ragnarok 2, and say, “You want the new one, you buy the new one.”
But we had told people that Yggdrasil was upgradable. That it was our top DAC. That we would work to protect their investment. And we wanted to keep all of those things true.
Aside: and not by offering $1500 off a new $3500 Yggdrasil model, ha ha.
At first, we did everything we could to improve the experience:
- We limited upgrades to one per year, max. We’re well under that number.
- We committed to ensuring that any upgrades we offered didn’t have to be done by us. Since we said that, nothing has to come back to us, at least for Yggdrasil.
That helped. Of course, #2 still meant dealing with all those screws, but it was still an improvement.
But there’s a limit to what you can do with policy.
That was really pointed, because I was also designing the new Ragnarok 2 at the time, and I was doing a much more sophisticated chassis, one that was far easier to build, far easier to service, and far easier to change. Which got me thinking about what we could do with Yggdrasil.
Aside: Yes, the Yggdrasil+ chassis design dates back to before Ragnarok 2 was even released. We’ve been thinking about this one for a loooong time.
And I realized we could do quite a bit:
- Add a removable rear panel, so if we changed the type or location of the input connectors, all you’d have to do is swap an inexpensive flat piece of metal, rather than the whole inner chassis assembly.
- Go to the L-bend chassis that we were slowly working all our products thru at the time. The U-bend never really worked at Yggdrasil/Ragnarok size anyway; it was, at best, a “J+I” chassis, with a main J-shaped part and a flat extension. And this was always a compromise—it was super expensive due to thickness and the mating milling between the parts, and it never really did look all that great at the huge size. Hell, we never really accomplished a U-bend even on Mjolnir- and Gungnir-sized products. They still had a joggle and seams. And the joggle design, while less expensive, cut into the space under the board, which reduced the margin under the board for bypass capacitors and other parts.
- Change the front panel control board to work like Ragnarok 2—that is, make it perpendicular to the front of the unit, which would allow us to much better manage the buttons and indicator lights, with existing parts like our standard light pipes and buttons. Yggdrasil front panel fitment had always been a pain in the ass. This fixed it.
- While reworking the front panel, add remote control.
- See if we could do a “fastener-less” chassis. This was not as trivial as it sounds, because all our fastener-less chassis, to date, used the potentiometer shaft to hold the top on. Yggdrasil didn’t have a convenient potentiometer. Getting it to stay together involved adding another subchassis part—a front subchassis—that connected to the front panel part of the top chassis with blind PEMs. This subchassis then would allow us to hold everything together with screws underneath the product. It would also allow us to reduce the number of screws a customer needed to remove in order to do upgrades to just 4!
- Make the chassis sleeker. Yggdrasil never really needed the full height of its original chassis; it kept the form factor of Ragnarok largely out of inertia. Chopping a full inch out of the chassis may not have changed the footprint, but it certainly made Yggdrasil+ look quite a bit better, at least in my opinion.
This was a big change. So we proceeded with caution—and still ended up being caught out in the end. More on that later.
What do I mean by “caution?” I mean, we 3D printed the entire chassis—yes, that entire giant thing—to verify fit before going to any metal tooling. That was a good thing, because it’s easy to miss things, even if you’re working on 3D CAD assemblies. This early 3D printed chassis allowed us to drop in a set of boards and see if they fit.
Aside: and yet we still missed some things. Heck, we missed things almost up to production. Again, more later.
When we were satisfied with the fit, we went ahead and had the metal chassis quoted. This was a huge departure in itself, in that it is fully tooled, rather than being CNC. Tooling may seem silly for a relatively low production chassis, but it actually made sense financially. It also allowed us to eliminate the pressed-in PEM standoffs, which had always been a gigantic pain to manage on the Yggdrasil board.
The first tooled parts were close; a couple of tweaks on the back panel insert set things right. I also added PEM inserts on the bottom 4 front holes, so the chassis could be disassembled many times without risking a formed screw hole in the chassis blowing out. Dave did a new control board layout, we bolted it all together, and everything worked fine.
Not so fast. The first production parts came in, and they were fine. Boards dropped in. Everything was happy. We were set to release!
Well, we were…until Elvis came back from the assembly area and told me, “We have a problem with the front panel board.”
Oh crap. “What?”
“It hits one of the studs in the front panel.”
I frowned. “Let me see.”
Elvis was right. The new front panel board hit one of the PEM studs that was right at the edge. And this was a showstopper. It wasn’t like we could cut the PEM stud off. It also wasn’t like we could grind into the board and make it fit.
But still…How could we miss that?
A look at the prototype board quickly revealed the answer. Dave had extended the board a bit to make the programming port more accessible. Boom. Interference. The irony was that it didn’t matter really where the programming port was—it was an internal part that was only accessible by us from the factory, and, as an added bonus, also needed a specific programmer. So nobody would ever have to get to it. Only us. Dave was trying to make it easier on us, but ended up borking the whole thing.
Sometimes the old saying is absolutely true—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Still, not a giant deal. This wasn’t the only time we’ve ever thrown away boards. At least the run wasn’t done. This was just at first article. So, Dave changed the board, we reordered them, and then we waited.
A few weeks later, with new boards, freshly stuffed, we did it again.
Elvis quickly came back to me, looking sheepish.
“You gotta be kidding me,” I told him.
“The board fits, it fits just fine,” he said. “But the front panel button doesn’t.”
And he was right. Again. The front panel button, the same large button we’ve used in Yggdrasil since Day 1, just slid around the outside of the hole, refusing to drop in.
“Balls,” I said. “They screwed up the metal!”
I figured they’d made the hole slightly undersize, or the powder coat had choked it down to a size just a tiny bit smaller than it should be. But it seemed to be really, really, really undersized when compared to the button.
That made no sense. It was the same ¾” button we’d used forever. How could it be wrong?
I pulled out the calipers to measure the hole…
…and it was .755, exactly to spec.
“What the crap?” I swore.
I grabbed the button and put the calipers to it…
…and it measured 0.795.
My stomach fell. Craaaaaaaaaap. The buttons were designed for a 0.8” hole, not 0.75”.
There was never
any standard Schiit 0.75” button. There was
a standard 0.8” button.
I confirmed on the drawing, though I knew it was right. Somehow I got it stuck in my head that our standard “large” button was 0.75”, when it was actually 0.8”.
Worse, the metal was already done for 0.75”.
Worse worse, the metal also sat inside an 0.8” well in the top, which meant we couldn’t simply change the front subpanel. If we wanted to change it, we needed to change the top also.
And that’s why Schiit now has a 0.75” standard large button. It’s officially named the 01-324 Jason Is An Idiot Large Friggin Button. Maybe we’ll change the metal to use up the 0.8” buttons we still have tons of time in the future, but for now you can enjoy the new, slightly smaller, very stupid, 0.75” button.
Yeesh. Sometimes it seems like products don’t want to be finished.
And that’s fine. Sometimes it’s easy. You win and you lose. And it works out.
“Well, that’s cool and all,” someone says, looking bored. “But why does it matter? Who actually wants this product? Why would I want to upgrade at all?”
Here’s the deal: from today, all new Yggdrasils shipped will be Yggdrasil+. This means:
- It’s in the new, sleeker, easier-to-take-apart chassis.
- It has remote control.
- It has NOS mode.
- It costs $100 more.
- But, other than that, it’s an Yggdrasil. MIL, LIM, or OG. Your choice.
$2299 for an Yggdrasil+ LIM is also the same price as the original Yggdrasil, introduced in 2014, but with better performance, more features, remote control, and a sleek new chassis. That’s progress without putting you in penury! If you don’t already have an Yggdrasil, this is why you want it—because we are delivering more, at a lower absolute cost
(remember 8 years of inflation!), in a true flagship DAC with sound quality that has stood the test of time, and gets you into a truly modular chassis that’s ready for the future.
If you already have an Yggdrasil, you can choose:
- To upgrade to Yggdrasil+. This means sending your Yggy in to us. We won’t be sending these chassis upgrades out, sorry. Though if you want the old chassis back, we’ll be happy to send it to you if you pay the shipping. It’s yours if you want it.
- To ignore this upgrade until there’s another upgrade you’re interested in, like some future analog card or USB deal or who knows what? Note: this is not a hint that there’s anything else coming.
- To ignore this upgrade forever and enjoy your original Yggdrasil (of whatever flavor). There’s no need to upgrade. None. No pressure.
Okay, so now I know you’re confused, and you have a ton of questions. Let’s tackle some of them.
How much does it cost to upgrade an Yggdrasil to Yggdrasil+?
$499, plus shipping, for black, and $599, plus shipping, for silver. This price is for the color you’re upgrading to. We don’t care what color your Yggdrasil started as, so here’s your chance to switch. This includes us swapping over all your current boards, adding a new front panel board, full testing, and reactivation of any expired warranties for 2 years. You can also choose to have us ship back your old chassis, if you want it for some reason. It’ll cost extra—$50 for the box, plus whatever actual shipping cost is. If you don’t want it back, we’ll recycle it (and not by making more Yggdrasils, LOL—all new Yggdrasils are Yggdrasil+.)
Can I get NOS mode for my regular Yggdrasil without updating the chassis, like you did with Bifrost 2?
Alas, it ain’t so easy with Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil requires changing both the DSP ROM and the front panel firmware. That means it has to come back to us. That means its gonna be a ton of money in shipping and labor. You really don’t want to do this, do you?
I can still choose MIL, LIM, and OG? How’s the supply of DAC chips for those models?
MIL is probably gonna go bye-bye soon due to slow sales. So if you want one, now’s the time. OG we have enough Analog Devices chips for another run, but expect the price to bump up next time. Those used to be $64. Now they’re $108. And there’s 4 of them. LIM is fine for now.
Any other analog or other upgrades we should be waiting for?
We’re always working on something, but remember—the one-upgrade-per-year promise. Even with an easier-to-change chassis, we need to be careful about not killing you with options.
What about a digi card with a USB-C connector?
You know that’s just a connector, right? No additional capabilities, no special powers, no magical properties, just a jack. But yeah, we hear you. Most of our stuff is heading for USB-C. So when that happens, you’ll be able to buy an affordable board and rear-panel-insert upgrade for the new chassis. But still, it’s just a connector! How about a 2-USB input option? Just teasing…for now.
So what happens if I skip this upgrade and stick with the old chassis? What upgrades can I get?
You’ll be able to do all DAC/analog upgrades. Any DSP card changes are fine, too. Digital input card changes will be limited to ones that work with the old chassis (no new connectors). So you still have a fully upgradable DAC. You just won’t be getting NOS mode or remote control, or anything that changes up the back panel.
What the heck is gonna happen to Gungnir? Something like this, or something like Bifrost?
Gungnir is currently going on hiatus after the current stock is sold, due to our lack of DSPs. Which leaves us with three very unpalatable options when DSPs come back, or when we get everything switched over to TI:
- Leave it dead. However, this leaves a biiiiiigggg leap between Bifrost and Yggdrasil in our DAC pantheon. Not great. Even further not great because people love stuff that’s the same size. Gungnir is the same footprint as Freya, Loki Max, and Urd.
- Bifrost 2-ify it. Resurrect it as a completely new model with Autonomy. This makes the most sense, but this a big disconnect from where Gungnir came from. Again, not a 100% wonderful situation.
- Yggdrasil+-ify it. But this is insanely painful. Even with a new chassis, you need a new motherboard, or you’re stuck with the same old individual LEDs that are difficult to align, plus analog cards that don’t slide in and out…oh brother.
So, right now, we don’t know what’s happening to Gungnir. Let me know what you think. We’ll be considering our options as we get nearer to DSPs being available.
Big pause. What a crazy thing to do, right?
All new Yggdrasil are now Yggdrasil+. They add a remote control and NOS mode in a sleeker, easier to upgrade chassis, and they cost $100 more. You can upgrade to the new chassis if you want for about $500. Or not. No judgement.
Whichever version you have, we hope you enjoy your Yggdrasil!