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At last! Schiit release multi-bit Yggdrasil DAC

  • Lust for life. Schiit Audio have had their statement DAC in the pipeline for as long as DAR has been covering this Californian company’s range of less costly, high value products. That’s three years at least. Maybe four. Each time I visit the Schiit booth at US trade shows I ask Jason Stoddard “When?”. Each time he replies “Soon” and grins.

    Proceedings took a huge leap forward at last October’s RMAF/CanJam. “Ask me about MY BIG DAC,” read co-founder Mike Moffat’s t-shirt, smuttily referring to Schiit’s soon-to-be-released top-flight decoder. An early production model was right there on the table for attendees to get their heads around in tandem with Schiit’s similarly full-sized Ragnarok headphone amplifier.

    Second and third board revisions were reportedly still to be completed but we had proof of life. Yggdrasil was coming “Real soon”, according to Stoddard. Moffat was more specific. “Q1 2015”, he boasted.

    According to Norse legend Yggdrasil means ‘world tree’ or ‘source of all things’. Having trouble wrapping your lips around those leading consonants? Don’t stress: Yggy (“Iggy”) will suffice. That’s how both Moffat and Stoddard refer to it.

    I chatted to Moffat about Yggdrasil’s design. In the wake of CanJam ’14 publication of details remained strictly verboten. Six months later, the specifics then committed to Evernote can now spill. The curtain has officially come up on Yggdrasil.

    First of all, it’s Moffat’s baby. The best DAC he knows how to build. You’d think that’d mean a multi-thou sticker but no, Yggdrasil will run you US$2299. That’s super keen in the world of high/er end models.

    As we saw last year with FPGA-centric decoders from PS Audio and Chord Electronics, doing different is one way to move sound quality forward in the D/A conversion world.

    Mike Moffat goes Benny Hill at RMAF/CanJam ’14.

    To wit, Schiit have gone for old-school multi-bit over the now more commonplace delta-sigma. Two 20-bit Analog Devices AD5791 DAC chips per channel point to Yggdrasil’s fully balanced/differential implementation. The resulting analogue signal outputs via XLR and single-ended RCA (“summed”) simultaneously.

    On output staging Moffat says, “It’s all discrete JFETs, transistors and film caps”.

    Decoding takes in PCM all the way up to 24bit/192kHz PCM. No DSD. If that news has you throwing your arms aloft in horror then you’re likely pulling from a vanishingly small digital audio library. Ask yourself: how many DSD releases do you own? Does your DSD playlist cower in the shadow cast by the many millions of PCM-encoded releases? Disdain for DSD barely concealed, the message from Stoddard and Moffat is, “Grab a Loki if you want DSD”. I didn’t review the Loki here.

    Another big influencer of sound quality is the digital filter for which, the Indiana Jones of digital audio that he is, Moffat journeyed back through Western Electric’s archives to 1917 for maths would ultimately beget a “unique closed-form digital filter”.


    Sitting on an Analog Devices SHARC DSP processor, Yggdrasil’s 18,000+-tap, digital filter runs at sampling rates of 352.8kHz or 384kHz and – here’s the kicker – places the newly calculated samples between the original samples that (Moffat is at pains to underscore) remain intact. This same grinning, grizzly fella also tells me that the parts cost of the filter alone sum to more than the entire Bifrost.

    Digital inputs are the usual array of USB, AES/EBU, BNC, coaxial, and optical but at CanJam Moffat could already be heard beating the drum for “Schiit’s best USB implementation to date”. A C-Media 6632 receiver chip with plug n’ play firmware plays host to the ones and zeroes travelling from the upstream computer. “…the all-new USB Gen 3 input receiver and Schiit’s proprietary Adapticlock™ system carefully manages clock regeneration for optimal performance,” says the press release.

    And as always with California’s Schiit Audio, this DAC is made entirely in the US of A.

    No doubt about it: Yggdrasil’s engineering differences and (relatively) affordable price point place are pretty much central to this website’s raison d’etre. By hook or by crook, I’ll get a review unit; even if I have to buy one to get the job done.

    In the meantime, I’d suggest Moffat have another t-shirt printed. One that reads “Yggy Pop”.

    Further information: Schiit Audio

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Sounds as if they’re playing it a bit cute with their “we don’t upsample” ethos?

    2. Good stuff John – no doubt you saw the explosion of wild enthusiasm at Head-Fi that greeted the long-awaited product page on the Schiit site. Really looking forward to your impressions, particularly comparisons with the much maligned sigma-delta DACs you’ve heard. There has been some chest beatng here and its not just the usual ‘this is the best DAC at its price point’ hype – this is allegedly one of the best DACs at *any* price point. Cant wait for those impressions from people who dont have to battle ambient noise at a meet.

    3. Schiit are making some big claims about their new DAC. Either it’s the mother of all giant killers, or it’s merely a respectable DAC at a fair price. I am curious to see what you (and others) think about it. Perhaps this is the model that takes Schiit beyond the headphone world. Will Berkeley, Boulder, Bricasti, Burmester, Esoteric, Light Harmonic, TotalDAC, MSB, dCS, various makers of Swiss audio jewelry, and others be scared? Time will tell. I hope so!

    4. Aaah! Benny Hill and the little bald bloke who was always getting the top of his head slapped!
      Then there was Dick Emery (my old man’s favourite), Mike and Bernie Winters (and Schnorbitz, the dog), Bernard Manning, Larry Grayson, the Shunters and Wheel-tappers Social Club and a host of others who’d never get within ‘cooee’ of a commissioning editor’s office nowadays… *sigh*
      Sorry, Darko, where were we…?

        • Yes, Darko; having grown up under the shadow of the Cold War, in that strange transient decade of the 1950’s, I am reaching a certain maturity…like a fine wine (I hope)…so shouldn’t I be enjoying an unquestioning respect and gratitude for all my addled opinions and trenchant prejudices as I was taught to show my elders…?

    5. Another reason to not worry about the lack of DSD is that the Yggdrasil is fully upgradeable. They have stated that if DSD does become viable then they can always develop a module to upgrade the Yggdrasil to decode DSD. Conceivably this is also true for the Bifrost and Gungnir.

    6. The technological concept here is intriguing.

      It will be really interesting to find out if this DAC is really a great value/giant killer or just another good DAC for approx. $2500.

      I have about 10% of my collection in DSD – and some of my favorite recordings. But I could see getting a PCM only DAC if it was truly outstanding. Can always convert the DSD to 24/176. My experience is that conversion only causes a small degradation in SQ, and that might be compensated for by outstanding PCM reproduction

    7. Agreed on all the bit-depth hoopla and DSD.

      Curious to know more about the digital filter (where it kicks in, what effect it has on >20kHz information and so on). And if there is an analogue filter – and if so, where does it act on the sound?

      The comparisons I’m keen to see are with NOS DACs, such as those from Audio Note, AN Kits or Metrum. Claims about leaving the musical signal unmolested, all the way up into inaudibility, are the ones which I’d be interested in exploring. Let the (reviewing) games begin.

    8. After all the anticipation and hype over at HF I’m just hoping this won’t be another FOTM wet firecracker.
      John – I’ve got a couple of grand burning a hole in my pocket. You need to review this one ASAP

    9. Can’t wait to read your review. The Iggy was my original plan last autumn, but I ran out of patience waiting on it. I ended up with the latest iteration of the Eastern Electric DAC and even after upgrading the tube and op amps, I’m just not in love with it. I think it’s back to plan A!

    10. Schiit absolutely pulled out all of the stops on this thing. The “in” thing to do right now with DACs is shove a couple of Sabres in there with a bag full of opamps, stick it in a box, and plaster DXD/DSD!!! all over your marketing materials. The higher the sampling numbers, the better! Never mind that 32/384 and DSD256 recordings DON’T EXIST.

      If you’re up for a laugh, ask Mike what he thinks of the Sabre. They like AKM chips, but for their statement DAC, it was obvious that it was going to be R2R or nothing, the only question was how to get there, and apparently that turned out to be a military spec AD chip that nobody else has touched because it’s far too difficult to work with. I mean why bother, when ESS has a “32-bit” DAC that you can slap in a box, with all the filtering and upsampling work already done for you? Easy peasy right? I give enormous credit to the guys at Schiit for purposefully going the hard way rather than making yet another DAC with $10 Delta Sigmas in it.

      R2Rs are now a bit back in vogue, but Metrum’s new flagship is over 4,000 Euros, and the TotalDAC is a lot more than that, as is MSB’s Analog and many of the PCM1704 based DACs. An R2R DAC that’s not based on the low rent TDA1543 at this sort of price is unheard of. And for what it’s worth, Mike’s last DAC at Theta, the Gen V, sold for over $5,000 when it was new, and that was a long time ago.

      From what I’ve been hearing from folks with beta samples, this thing is a monster. Not a monster for its price, but a monster full stop. The kind of DAC that could become a legend, up there with what are considered some of the best DACs of all time like the Spectral SDR-2000 Pro and Mark Levinson No.30.6. Yes that good. These same folks have also said that the USB input sounds better than the Empirical Off-Ramp 5 feeding it via AES, which would indicate that Schiit’s new Gen 3 board is VERY good. It would have to be to outperform one of the very best USB converters on the market.

      • That would have to be a stupendous USB implementation to out perform an Off-Ramp 5. So far, I haven’t found a DAC that it didn’t improve, but such is the march of progress. I do get a little ill thinking that the USB in a $2500 DAC might now be superior to a USB converter system in which I’ve invested around $5k.

    11. Just for accuracy’s sake: there are a few DSD 256 and DXD recordings on the market – less than 100, I think. Basically all in classical music. That catalog will continue to grow, and probably a little European Jazz will be added in. So for classical music fans their is a market.
      There are also people with DSD DACs who say the best sound they get with ANY material is when it is upsampled to DSD 128 or 256 before playback. That includes PCM files and non-classical music.

      I think as with a lot of things in high end audio, the small worldwide market for classical and high end dovetails to a big enough segment to justify continued recording in DSD and in production of super hi-res DACs.

    12. With all due respect to Danny. Around 100 DSD256 and DXD albums? Let’s say that works out to 1000 tracks. I’m trying to think of a word that will convey just how insignificant that is compared to the, what is it, 5 million available on Tidal, how many more millions on iTunes. How about ultra-insignificant. Femto-insignificant…;-)

      • Max. I wasn’t trying to say quad DSD and DXD are significant. Merely trying to correct Dave, who wrote that they don’t exist in the marketplace. I still stand by my statement that they will become significant to classical music lovers. There are several classical labels recording in these formats and the numbers are going up. One hundred releases may not seem like much, but 18 months ago there really weren’t any. So before too long, a classical music lover will be able to build a pretty significant classical collection in these formats.
        And there is a significant number of audiophiles buying DACs from several companies that play these formats – enough to keep the manufacturing going and expanding into more models. As I mentioned, some audiophiles listen to all music upsampled to 2X or 4X DSD or to DXD. For them, they say it represents an improvement in SQ, apparently as a result of the non-destructive filtering available for those formats. So for them, it doesn’t even matter whether there are releases in these formats or not – they still want a DAC capable of playing them.

        • That’s an interesting point that I often overlook: the demand for DSD compatibility in DACs is partially driven by upsampling listeners.

      • Max-
        Wasn’t trying to say the number was significant, I was responding to the post claiming that 256 DSD and DXD recordings don’t exist. But 100 albums is significant relative to zero 18 months ago. Look, classical music is about 2% of the market. But the people who buy it also buy lots of equipment, including expensive HW. The classical market for super hi-res is growing – several labels are recording in it, and before too long a classical lover will be able to get a pretty good collection just in these formats.
        And, as I mentioned more and more companies are making DACs that support 4X DSD and DXD- even inexpensive ones.
        There is a market – the classical listeners and also the audiophiles who’ve determined that upsampling all their music playback -even popular music in Redbook- to these formats sounds best. Together these groups are enough to support the market for this stuff. No one is claiming it will go mainstream.

    13. I just wish it had volume control, which they surely could have implemented in the FPGA (which comes before the DAC chips).

    14. Agisthos: The FPGA-driven volume control is an interesting point of contention. The most credible argument I’ve read thus far (on whether such schemes are truly non-lossy or not) came from Chord who said that it’s not the math per se which gets lossy if properly implemented; but that the low-level linearity of standard DAC chips is compromised if what hits them is a weaker than full-blast signal. Incidentally, this would seem mirrored by the new tech in the Metrum Pavane DAC which upshifts the lower-bit register, processes it like the most significant bits, then addresses the resultant gain error in the analog domain.

      With Schiit’s fearless stance against incorporating DSD just because it’s fashionable; and in favor of classic R2R… it seems merely logical that they’d look at digital-domain volume just as critically -:)

      • Does this mean bit destruction can be avoided with the right kind of FPGA-hosted maths? That would certainly fit with what I’ve heard from Ted Smith re. the volume handling in the PSAudio DS.

    15. I’m no engineer of any stripes, much less a digital one. I’m limited to asking people who know their stuff, then triangulate between what I’m told and keep asking more people still. Eventually there’s a certain amount of overlap and consensus.

      That said, Sabre clearly explain that the way they process DSD is to increase word length from one bit to 32 bits before they apply their on-chip attenuator and custom filters. Is 32-bit DSD still DSD? I think the same question applies to the Ted Smith DAC. It certainly applies to all Sabre-fitted DACs doing DSD.

      • It does – and I’ve yet to fully understand it myself. Smith’s (email) responses were a bit beyond my ken.

    16. @ Dave
      Mhdt Labs have 5 R2R multi bit DACs in their lineup. I believe they’re all below the 2K mark.
      True bargains or have corners been cut in their implementation is another question. dac families.htm

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