The very first sentence on the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil web page says, "Forget everything you know about DACs." I concur in the most unequivocal way possible.
Members of the Audiophile Style community are well aware that I absolutely love the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC. I reviewed it back in November 2015 and said, "The Yggdrasil has a rare ability to reproduce acoustic music on a level with some of the best DACs I've heard." Of course the Yggy can faithfully reproduce electric music as well, else I wouldn't place it on the same level as DACs costing 5x and 10x its price.
Two weeks ago I received an email from Schiit with a hint that something was up with the Yggdrasil. A phone call was requested. We connected via telephone a couple days later and my trip to Schiit Audio's Newhall, CA retail location, dubbed The Schiitr, was set in motion. I was thrilled to receive an invite to participate in a double blind listening session involving three versions of the flagship Yggdrasil DAC. If anyone was in doubt about how much I love my job, please put that to rest now. As a 14 year old I biked four miles to the local country club, so I could carry someone's heavy golf bag around the course for four hours in 95 degree weather for $15 (including generous tip). I've also worked for Fortune 500 companies where we often spoke of management as the blind leading the sighted. I understand less than desirable jobs. My job now isn't one of them :~)
The DAC Details
Last week I flew to The Schiitr to participate in a double blind listening session of the three Yggdrasil DACs. Before getting into all the specifics of the listening session, let's cut right to the first part of the chase and let Schiit Audio describe the three models.
Yggdrasil Less Is More. Uses four (yes, 4) TI DAC8812 stereo 16-bit DACs and integrated differential amplification afterwards. Because it’s 16 bits, and because the DACs cost less than the other options, it is less expensive than any other version. It also measures a bit better than the Yggdrasil OG (!) despite being down 4 bits. This is the wonder and magic of dither. $2199
Yggdrasil More is Less. Middle priced. Uses four TI DAC11001 20-bit DACs and integrated differential amplification afterwards. These new DACs really push the limits of measured multibit performance. Although they are true 20-bit multibit architecture DACs, their integrated sample-and-hold provides measured performance near the top of today’s DACs. $2349
Yggdrasil OG. Also known as ... Yggdrasil Analog 2. Uses four Analog Devices 20-bit DACs and discrete analog buffering and summing afterwards. The only discrete Yggdrasil model, and the one that everyone has known and loved for the past few years. $2599
You read that right, if you actually read it at all. I know skimming for bold typeface and headlines is popular, but the descriptions above shouldn't be missed. What company releases new versions of its flagship product at lower prices? The same company that launched a retail store on April fools day. The new Schiit Yggdrasil DACs are cheaper than the original Yggdrasil, and all three models will be available for purchase.
This is the most consumer centric move in HiFi in recent memory. Schiit Audio developed new DACs for less money and will offer both new DACs and the original DAC to consumers. The company didn't decide which one consumers should like, or release only a more expensive model and say it's the best DAC Schiit knows how to make. Although I would've laughed if Schiit created a video and said, we started over, from a clean slate, to create the best Yggdrasil ever, and said it in a Jony Ive voice.
The listening sessions were in the main two channel listening room at The Schiitr. I asked for RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones as well, and Schiit happy obliged, given its Jotunheim R was the first direct drive amp capable of powering these headphones. Everything was setup before I arrived, so I neither saw anything nor heard anything that would make the listening not so blind.
The audio chain consisted of a Mac Mini running Roon, with individual USB cables connected to the three Yggdrasils, interconnects from the Yggdrasils to an XLR switch box, one pair of interconnects from the XLR switch box to the Schiit Ragnarok amplifier, and speaker cables out to Magnepan LRS speakers. The analog interconnects from the Yggdrasil DACs ran through a custom built tube that made it impossible to follow the cables from the DACs to the switch box, just incase someone wanted to accept that fools errand. The Yggdrasils had no differentiating SMT, or soft biometrics such as scars, marks, or tattoos as they say in the crime fighting world. In other words, nobody had any idea which Yggdrasil was which, or if the three were even different.
Identifying the DACs required looking at the serial numbers on the back and running that through a double secret decoder ring to which nobody had access. After all the listening was done, Schiit had to jump through some hoops to identify each DAC.
The XLR switch box was labeled X, Y, and Z. One letter for each Yggdrasil is what I assumed, but I guess Schiit could've messed with me and had a single unit go to all three letters or something similar. Fortunately that wasn't the case.
Changing the audio from one Yggy to another involved walking up to the switch box and turning the dial. It was simple. If someone else turned the dial for the listener, that someone else also had no clue which DAC was playing either. At the end, we fund out that X, Y, and Z didn't even correspond to the placement of the DACs on the ground. X wasn't on the left and Z wasn't on the right.
Note: Other speakers from Salk Sound were used as well, but given there are 23 models of Salk floor standing speakers and I didn't take a photo of them, I'll have to follow up with the specific model number.
Tell us what you think. That's it. That's all Schiit said. Of course, it was fun to take things even further by trying to identify each DAC based on what I knew about the models, but Schiit never put such a requirement forward. There was no pressure to identify the best measuring DAC by ear or anything similar. It was about relaxing, or I guess jumping up and down going ape Schiit if one wanted to, listening to whatever music one wanted, and giving an opinion. There were no wrong answers.
At about 11:30AM Schiit turned over the listening room to us and said have at it. We could all listen together, individually, or any which way we desired. Listening with others, and being not quite in the perfect center spot can be a little challenging, but I listened to several tracks this way and to good results. After a while I stepped out, but went back in the room when I could listen by myself.
I took 7.1 pages of notes with an ink pen on a legal pad. I say 7.1 because the last page says SAME THING diagonally across the entire page in large letters. At the end of the session, the more I listened, the more I heard the exact same differences that I heard in the first 30 seconds. The DACs didn't sound the same, but I wasn't going to find anything new by listening longer and taking another page of notes. In total, I probably spent 2.5 hours listening. I brought a USB stick with plenty of Japanese jazz from the Three Blind Mice record label, among other albums including folk, classical, and rock.
My notes consist of labels X, Y, and Z, with a specific track name above the letters. I played a track, then switched between X, Y, and Z as I listened. Sometimes I started the track over each time I switch to a different DAC. I wanted to give each DAC a shot at reproducing the exact same music.
Let's cut to the final chase scene before going over the nuances of listening to each DAC. By far, my favorite version is Yggdrasil Less Is More. That's right, the least expensive model, with the least number of bits (16 bit DAC chips, 17 bits total), sounded the best. It wasn't even close. The second place DAC was Yggdrasil OG, the original Yggy that I've listened to for years in my system. My least favorite DAC was Yggdrasil More is Less. You read that right, the best measuring multi bit DAC ever, sounded the worst to me. This conclusion wasn't a close call.
- Yggdrasil Less Is More ($2,199)
- Yggdrasil OG ($2,599)
- Yggdrasil More is Less ($2,349)
My notes about each DAC range from high praise to describing one as a "jumbled mess." Here are some specifics about what I listened to and what I heard.
My top pick, Yggdrasil Less Is More, was better in every sense of the word. Listening to Jack Johnson's track Flake (16 bit / 48 kHz remaster by Bernie Grundman), the steel drum was really clear at low volume and had great separation between mallet strikes. The Yggdrasil OG was also good, but not as good. Through Yggdrasil More is Less, cymbals sounded harsh, and drums sounded as if they were recorded in a box. Keep in mind that this is all relative. Each DAC in isolation is probably fantastic. But, compared to each other with the flick of a switch, these differences are very easy to spot and stick out like a sore thumb.
Listening to Midnight Sugar by the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio game me more of the same information about each DAC.
Yggdrasil Less Is More ($2,199) - The sound was 100% appropriate, in that it can be sharp or mellow and everything in between. This DAC didn't editorialize. When the piano started on this track, I leaned back and said "Yes." The sound put me at ease, relaxed me, and was absolutely right. The DAC has great bass extension with articulation and solidity. The piano hammer strikes at roughly 2:20 into the track sounded fantastic. It's hard to want more from a DAC than this Yggy can give.
Yggdrasil OG ($2,599) - The original Yggdrasil was good on this track, but not at the same level as the Less is More DAC. Bass was a touch boomy, but not loose. I heard the slightest touch of a synthetic sound in the mid to low frequencies of the piano compared to my favorite version of the Yggy. None of this is audible when listening in isolation and I've never heard this on my own system. But, under direct comparison, it was there for one's ears to hear.
Yggdrasil More is Less ($2,349) - OK, I'll say it, what a disappointment for me. I hear blur in the midrange, extra crispy high frequencies, and harsh hammer strikes. Despite this DAC's measurement bonafides, I'm not a fan of its sound. It offered no redeeming qualities for me. This wasn't the case for others listening, but at this level of performance it's really about taste.
Listening to Shelby Lynne's track Like a Fool provided more of the same information.
Yggdrasil Less Is More ($2,199) - The acoustic guitar was natural, sounded great, and real. Everything on this track sounded right.
Yggdrasil OG ($2,599) - Shelby's vocal was good and the drums had good air / space around them. One thing I noticed with this track through the Yggy OG was it sounded a bit slow. That's a tough one to articulate better, but it just lacked the pace I expected.
Yggdrasil More is Less ($2,349) - The measuring champ sounded "better on this track than the other tracks," according to my notes, but one key aspect that I noted was a lack of balance. Instruments seemed to pop out unnaturally as if I was listening to the sonic equivalent of an HDR photo that may be neat at first but nothin like the real event it was supposed to document.
Putting some classical through the Yggdrasils was no different. This is where I wrote "jumbled mess" for the Yggdrasil More is Less ($2,349). It just sounded congested to me, as if the details were lost. I could hear everything through Yggdrasil Less Is More ($2,199), and in typical Yggy OG fashion I heard tons string texture through this DAC. Keep in mind that I had no cue which DAC was which while listening and taking these notes.
After listening for 2.5 hours, some of us, including those who designed the DACs, sat around and chatted about what we heard. Opinions were already written in permanent ink, so there was no hedging on what we heard. This is where I took a guess trying to identify each DAC as X, Y, or Z. I knew the sound of Yggdrasil OG and wrote that it absolutely had to be DAC Z. Fortunately I was right, when all was revealed.
What I mixed up was identifying the new Yggdrasil DACs. After so many years of having measurements beat into my head, I assumed the DAC I absolutely loved would be the best measuring Yggy and the DAC that was a "jumbled mess" to me, would be the least expensive 17 bit Yggy. When it was revealed that the $2,199 Yggdrasil Less is More was easily my favorite DAC, my mind was a bit blown. How could this be? It's "only" 17 bits? It measures better than the original Yggy, but not as good as the the more expensive Yggdrasil More is Less.
These question lead to a wonderful discussion with Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard as we sat around The Schiitr. I walked away from this experience more disillusioned with traditional measurements than I've ever been. Yes, measurements are great when designing products, but they are one data point among many others. Each of these three Yggdrasil DACs measures really good, but one is the best measuring multi bit DAC ever made. What does that even mean beyond the fact that it's the best measuring multi bit DAC ever made? In my opinion, it means nothing beyond the statement alone.
The double blind listening session at The Schiitr and the discussion that followed with Mike and Jason of Schiit, was an absolute blast. I'm sure there's a Ph.D. of double blind tests reading this shaking his head, but I really don't care. I reached my conclusions without identifying the hardware to which I was listening. My conclusions, especially the part about the DAC that made me sit back in the chair and feel at ease, were nearly identical with someone else who knows a thing or two about each of the DACs. When he described this immediate relaxed feeling to me, I looked at my notes and my eyes got as large as dinner plates. It's like he was reading my notes, even though he was too busy talking outside the room during the entire time I was listening and writing.
I applaud Schiit Audio for creating two new Yggdrasil DACs that are less expensive than the original, and offering all three for purchase. Options are always a good thing, and spending less money for more is as well. I've requested the $2,199 Yggdrasil Less is More for review because it was clearly the best sounding DAC at The Schiitr that day. My words may seem like objective statements of fact, but in reality being the "best sounding" can only be subjective. I'm sure others will find much more enjoyment in one or both of the other Yggdrasils, but that's the beauty of having options. At this level of performance, it really is about personal preference.
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil Less is More $2,199
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil More is Less $2,349
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil OG $2,599
Yggdrasil Product Page (link)
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