Buy this DAC*. Spot on tonality, perfect timbre, perfect rendition of every freaking detail you could ever want, speed, resolution, I’ve never heard anything like it. *unless your name is Darryl
I’d like to preface this review with two caveats:
1. The version of the DAC I demoed was a preproduction unit version.96. The current version (qualified by Schiit a few days ago) is .99. The final unit will be 1.0. There are some minor changes, mainly improved chokes (larger) and revised buffer circuitry that should yield 2 benefits:
2. I’m an HD800 nut. It was my first real flagship purchase and remains my favorite to this day. Hearing CEE TEE’s PWD MK2 > Balancing Act > HD800s at a meet caused me to sell my KGSSHV and SR-007 MK1.
- Incremental sound improvements
- The DAC will be MUCH quicker to warm up (takes ~6 hours on this unit)
A few weeks back, Marv recommended we have two Changstar mini meets for the holidays: one in Southern California at his place on the 20th and one up in Northern California a week later at mine. The 20th came and went and the highlight everyone was raving about was the Yggdrasil. I’ve been looking for a DAC in the sub $15k range for a while and, based on the comments from a few of the folks who attended the meet, the Yggy really competed favorably (and possibly bested) pretty much everything in that price range.
I’ve demoed the MSB Analog and a few others in my home setup, to understand what DACs in that price range offered. I’ve found really good DACs, but nothing that stood so far above the crowd that I could absolutely commit. Hearing the feedback from Marv and crew, I was naturally curious. I’ve been planning on purchasing the Yggdrasil at the various price points discussed for my second setup at work. Given the feedback, I found myself seriously reconsidering if it could find a place as “the DAC” for my main system. Although I had sold my Eddie Current 2A3 MKIV, I was planning on picking up another amp from Craig to pair with the HD800s and so I needed something resolving as heck to pair with it.
After a bit of back and forth with Schiit, Marv confirmed that he could bring a loaner Yggdrasil and Ragnarok up for the meet. The only issue was, this being a preproduction unit, it required being powered on for 6 hours to warm up. Using this as an excuse, I asked if Marv wanted to drop the DAC off the night before the mini meet so I could warm it up and he obliged. As soon as he left, I ran upstairs and plugged it and the Ragnarok into my rack. After a couple of hours of family stuff, I finally got to take a listen.
My first impressions were that it was overly harsh. Detailed and awesome, but really hard to listen to. Initially disappointed, I paused for four hours until everyone was asleep and came back, bringing me to the full 6 hour warm up time recommended by Marv. HOLY CRAP. Fast forward 8 hours, I was bleary eyed and looking at maybe a good 2 hours of sleep before I had to wake up for the meet.
Marv graciously allowed me to keep the unit the following night, giving me a full 48 hours with the DAC in my house. With that much time, I took a look at the equipment left over at my house and decided to put it up against the PWD MK2 (1>2 conversion) that CEE TEE left at my place. I pulled out a stack of my favorite CDs, queued up the redbook and SACD rips from my server,
and created an “ULTIMATE TEST PLAYLIST” in JRiver.
DACs used in this comparison:
- Intel NUC i3 (fanless case, 19.5V linear power supply); Windows 8.1 + JRiver MC20 (kernel streaming when available)
- Mid 2013 Macbook Pro 15.6" Retina
- SONOS Connect via coax
- Sony XA-5400es
- Schiit Yggdrasil version .96 (Dec 26th evening -28th)
- PWD MKII (1>2 upgrade) (Dec 27th evening - 28th)
The PWD was graciously loaned by CEE TEE post meet. I had a full night and half a day to test against the Yggy. Amps tested:
- Schiit Ragnarok (Dec 26th evening -28th)
- Eddie Current Balancing Act (Dec 27th evening - 28th)
- SWA Krell Klone
- Brief listens: Schiit Magni 2 Uber, Leckerton UHA-6s MKII, Triad L3 Lion
Given I only had two days, most listening was done with the Ragnarok, Balancing Act, and Klone.Headphones tested:
Speakers (brief testing):
- Mostly HD800 (both with rug line halfway through)
- Abyss (modded)
- Code-X, HP1k (modded)
Recordings used in comparison (in no particular order):
- Sunfire CRM-2
- Accuracy Audio Monitors
- Triad Silver Sats
- Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra - Mahler: Symphony No. 1
- Muddy Waters - Folk Singer (MFSL, SACD rip, and HDTracks releases)
- Tupac - All Eyez on Me (2005 remaster)
- Martha Argerich - 1965 Legendary Chopin Recording (Japanese SACD rip and redbook rip)
- Gil Shaham - Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No.1 & 2
- Argerich & Rabinovitch - Rachmaninov: Suites for Piano Nos. 1 & 2 Opp 5 &17 / Symphonic Dances Op.45, l
- Fairfield Four - I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray
- Rodrigo y Gabriela - Live in Japan
- Tedeschi Trucks Band - Everybody’s Talkin’
- Bill Evans- Conversations with Myself
- Queyras - Bach Cello Suites
- Robert Rich -trances and dances
- Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - back to new orleans
- Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
I tried to listen to full albums as time permitted, switching between tracks and level matching whenever possible.DAC-Off:Yggdrasil:
You have R2R DACs that claim to be 24 or even 32 bits. None of them are monotonic to that point. Even the MSB DACs that claim 24 “true” bits aren’t truly bit perfect. MSB’s bold claims that their 80-bit digital filter completely eliminates round off errors may or may not be technically true, but it is still doing this by continually running a series of approximations (very very good approximations) at a very high resolution. “Effective” bits are not the same as true bits of resolution.
Schiit's quest for accuracy led them to finding DAC chips suitable for military and medical use where extreme accuracy is required. I was initially skeptical of this approach, even after reading Mike’s posts in the big thread on Head-Fi. What would extreme exactness gain? I work in the consumer electronics and software space and our tolerances, while very tight, are still never completely exact, even on the most popular of devices and it’s effectively impossible to notice in most cases.
Well, after my time with the Yggdrasil, it became clear that this complete dedication to exactness across every part of the signal path in the DAC really paid off.
The first thing I noticed with the Yggy, even before my comparison to the PWD, was a significantly higher noise floor in some recordings than I enjoy; it really made old recordings initially difficult to listen to compared to the PWD. A coworker of mine worked at a music conservancy in another lifetime and sold me her collection of rare and out of print classical CDs (around 500) and a lot of my favorite recordings are recorded and mastered mediocrely at best.
Thankfully, with the PWD to compare against, I confirmed that, although there was often a lot more noise and grit, there were also a lot more little details coming out. Feet tapping, little intakes of breath, the space between notes was easier to make out, and instruments really sounded more instrument-ey. If miked okay and not edited, I can actually get a sense of space inside the orchestra depending on how the recording was made.
All of this detail was super noticeable in complex passages with a lot of instruments playing simultaneously. As music get dense, it’s super easy to pick individual instruments and how they fit in with the whole. This is the first DAC I’ve ever heard that continually had my system fading away. Not only did noises surface that made me look around thinking they were in the room with me, but really complex music passages were rendered perfectly. One area where I’ve found pretty much every other DAC I’ve used falls short is fading to the background during complicated or busy sections of classical recordings. With the Yggdrasil, it was the closest I’ve come to sitting in the audience in Benaroya or Davies Symphony Hall with headphones.
Although the detail was not super “in your face” as some DACs I’ve heard, issues in recordings and degraded analog tape with pops, noise, etc sounded really obvious. Bad tape sounded bad on the Yggy. Not all recordings were a problem, but some that sat around for 30 years prior to master (Argerich) were noticeably noisier, especially on the Ragnarok. HOWEVER, this did not degrade my enjoyment. At no point does the Yggdrasil sound clinical and neutered. It's tonally rich and full bodied. If anything, for me, additional detail makes bad recordings and masters sound more enjoyable.
The second major item that became very apparent was that the HD800s sound rather harsh at the high volumes I use for gear evaluation. It was unlistenable at these loud testing volumes (a habit I picked up from Marv and Mike at a meet) with the Yggdrasil (and every other DAC) through the BA, Klone and Ragnarok. It was fine through speakers or with other headphones, but the sound, while detailed, was way too hot up top. I eventually modded my HD800s with rug liner right at the start of my second evening with the Yggdrasil. This improved the overall tonal balance of my system of all three amps and enabled me to critically listen. I previously used much thicker rug liner and I wasn’t a fan, but the exact rug liner mentioned by Marv in the Anax 2.0/Rabid Dawg mod thread is great.
In terms of background, the Yggdrasil really has a crazy super duper black background. Music and sound feels like it’s lifting out of a perfectly still space which really makes the little details shine. It also adds to realism of the listening experience. The PWD was really good in this area, better than any of my other sources, but it still didn’t compare.
Interestingly, despite the detailed nature of the DAC, the tonal balance skews a little toward the warm side and the Yggdrasil has a lot more bass weight, slam, and definition than the PWD. Voices sound a lot more natural and both well recorded male and female vocals are fucking sublime. It absolutely kills with groups like the Fairfield Four.
Additionally, the combination of the Yggdrasil and Ragnarok, while producing the best sound I’ve heard out of the Abyss, really shows how much more resolving the HD800 is than anything I have on hand. The UERM, Abyss, and HP1k were le
As far as observations from different albums, here are some specific things I noticed on some of the recordings I used in the comparison:
- On Tupac - All Eyez on Me, I was really shocked to be able to discern where a few tracks were stitched together. There’s also a little mic noise in some places. I thought I was going nuts, but the DAC really makes the inconsistency in mastering quality on the album apparent.
- With Rodrigo y Gabriela - Live in Japan, the spatial imaging of the audience noises was bonkers. I swear I could hear someone fart if they were in the first 3 rows. Gabriela was doing something weird to keep pace during a couple of the tracks, I am unsure if she’s tapping or what, but it’s different than the percussive stuff she does and was actually really cool to notice for the first time.
- On Everybody’s Talkin’ the localization of the performers on stage is easier to pick out. I can tell when I’m hearing someone through another person’s mic. Also, the recording sounds more like a really good concert than a recording.
- With Queyras, the recording sounds great, but slightly neutered. Not over-exaggerated stage (the sense of space seems to be more exaggerated on this recording with PWD for some reason). This CD actually confused me, because I preferred it on the PWD, despite strings sounding overall better on the Yggdrasil.
PWD MKII (1>2):
- Back to New Orleans was one of the albums with just absolutely mediocre to terrible mastering. However, I’ve never heard this album sound so good. Despite the flaws coming through, the recording sound a lot more natural. I really love old blues so this was a good confirmation for me.
I covered a lot of my observations in the previous section, but I’ll add some more here.
The first is that the PWD I tested had crap for a USB implementation. Coax from the SONOS and SACD player were leagues better.
Surprisingly, the unit was really solid in tone compared to Yggdrasil, and seemed slightly less warm. I preferred the Yggdrasil, but it was closer than I expected in terms of tone.
The treble was definitely a little funny and the Schiit sounds a lot more natural in the treble region with cymbals, the higher sopranos, and instruments like the flute sounding way more realistic.
I was actually a secret plankton disbeliever before this review. However, hearing the PWD against the other DACs I had on hand showed off a lot of little details I never noticed. Switching to the Yggdrasil, it was even more dramatic with the PWD having a lower noise floor on old recordings and little details more blurry.
In terms of mids, they are actually quite good on the PWD, especially with the Balancing Act, but still don’t sound as pristinely rendered as on the Yggdrasil. It’s controlled but sounds a little lifeless when moving back and forth between setups, especially with vocals north of middle C. I actually really enjoy the upper mids, on the PWD, finding the transition between mids and treble to sound really coherent.
With regard to bass, the PWD has great bass clarity, but it’s lacking slam compared to the Yggdrasil, with tracks with sub-bass lacking that kick you in the chest feeling you get with the Yggy.
My final thought on the PWD MK2 is that bad recordings, while bad sounding, don't seem so far away from the best of the best. The BEST recordings don't seem to reach the same level of realism as they do on the Yggdrasil so a 320kbps stream of a brickwalled album that was mastered and recorded like shit doesn't seem as bad. The slightly less aggressive, in your face presentation combined with just a bit less detail in poorly rec
orded/mastered material makes it still a phenomenal choice for those of you who aren’t interested in hearing every little bit of a recording. I don't know who you are, though, because, as I mentioned in the HF thread on the Yggy, "You can hear more of the crap with bad recordings, but it also exposes more detail which I actually find makes poor recordings more interesting and involving. Some of my favorites are really poorly mastered old blues albums like OOP sonny terry and brownie mcghee albums...."Conclusion:
I have found the end to my own personal DAC search.
I firmly believe Schiit’s claim that the Yggdrasil “resets the bar for DACs” to be accurate. Without DSD support, without nose-shaping, the Yggdrasil shames every DAC I’ve had the pleasure of auditioning. Forget high res files, I don’t think I’ve ever truly heard 16 perfect bits before.
The Yggdrasil really kicks ass: gobs of detail, from the particular character of tizzy noise of the tape in a Tom Petty recording (yes you could hear it), to the quick little breaths (not the big ones) Gil Shaham takes as he’s getting into something extremely complicated, it’s all there. Perfect tonality, with bass hitting hard and deep, Isaac 'Dickie' Freeman’s voice really comes alive when listening. The sense of space is ridiculous; I can pick out where the audience members are cheering from in Live in Japan.
I think exploring my experiences with my system now that the Yggdrasil is gone from my rack is the best way to understand how phenomenal a DAC the Yggy really is. All of my music feels a little lifeless and I can't find myself enjoying the same recordings that I listened to during my extended audition. Details are just missing (I'm straining to find them and coming up short) and that sense of cohesiveness and realism I got with the Yggdrasil is just gone. A week and a half after it's gone and I'm a ruined man.
The PWD is a great DAC, the Geek Pulse and Geek Out SE + LPS are great DACs, hell, the MSB Analog I spent a week with in my system was a really great DAC, but the Yggdrasil is in a completely different league. This DAC is a day one purchase for me.