Schiit’s latest Yggdrasil Incarnation
By George Graves
Schiit’s premier Digital to Analog Converter (DAC), the Yggdrasil (Yggy), has been in their lineup since 2017. In that time, it has undergone a number of revisions, but has not had a facelift. In fact without a serial number reference, it is simply not possible to tell which revision you have by looking at the unit. This latest model is no exception.
This latest Yggy includes several upgrades which purports to improve performance significantly over earlier incarnations of this DAC.
Concurrent with these improvements is a slight price increase of US$50 over the former $2399 price, and is now $2449.
The two biggest improvements to the latest Yggdrasil, are the new class “A” audio section and the new USB input circuitry. This latest USB interface, dubbed “Unison USB” by it’s designer, Mike Moffat, is based on the PIC32 µprocessor which uses precision local clocks which for the first time, provide complete electromagnetic and electrostatic isolation. This new UAC2-compliant input provides the highest performance, lowest power consumption USB of any USB input that the company has ever offered.
The only way to tell whether you have the latest Yggy with both the new Class “A” analog board and the UAC2-compliant USB input is that the presence of the new Analog 2 board is designated by a serial number which starts with the letter “B”. The new Unison USB circuit is denoted with a sticker applied to the case near the USB input jack.
UAC2 USB Compatibility
Newer Windows 10 operating systems should automatically install the correct UAC2 drivers, but not always. The best procedure is to simply connect the Yggy to your PC and see if the computer recognizes it. This might take a few minutes. If the computer sees the DAC, you’re good to go. If not, you can download the proper driver from the Schiit website under Yggdrasil/Downloads and install the download manually. Be advised that the latest Yggdrasil does not support any Windows release below Windows 10. The Windows drivers on Schiit’s website are for pre-UAC2 Schiit DACs (such as the older Yggdrasils). Recent Distributions of Linux such as Ubuntu 18 and later should also be UAC2 compliant But be advised that Schiit does not directly support Linux.
Any Mac computer running MacOS 10.10.X (Yosemite or above) should be also compliant with UAC2. Unfortunately, however, if you are using and older OS (Mavericks or lower) and cannot upgrade your Mac to a higher OS, USB on the latest Yggdrasil cannot be used. (there are hacks available that will allow Macs made from 2008 through 2011 to be upgraded all the way to the current OS, 10.15.X, Catalina. The newest OS, Big Sur, has not been released as of this writing and therefore cannot be guaranteed. For information about Mac OS upgrade “hacks” please go to:
...for more info and instructions. Otherwise these older Mac OS’s are not compatible with the new, UAC2 compliant Yggdrasil (Bad Apple for not having a solution, and bad Schiit for not having any “workaround” other than “Perhaps it’s time for a new computer...”.
Physical Layout and Description.
Since the layout and form factor of the Yggy hasn’t changed since its introduction, we are going to skip going over the physical dimensions, weight, front and rear apron layout of this unit. If you aren’t familiar with what a Schiit Yggdrasil looks like, there are plenty of descriptions to be found from a myriad of online sites and magazine articles.
What I will say, is that the latest models suffer from the same shortcomings, feature-wise as do previous iterations of this fine performing DAC. Chief among these is Schiit Co-Founder Jason Stoddard’s somewhat inexplicable personal disdain for legible, readable labels. The Yggy still has tiny icons on the front panel to indicate which input is being selected (by the large round button near the center of the front panel). To the right of the large selector bottom, and from left to right, these are a tiny rectangle to indicate a type “A” USB connector (but the actual connector on the rear of the unit is a type “B” connector), a square with a Toslink-shaped connector inside of it to designate that the optical S/PDIF input has been selected, two concentric circles to designate that the coax 75Ω S/PDIF input is selected, two concentric circles with two “ears” on the outer circle to indicate the 75Ω BNC input has been chosen, and finally, three dots forming a triangle to indicate an XLR connector for the AES/EBU interface is being used. To the extreme right of the selector button, find an incomprehensible (to this writer, anyway) icon to indicate that the Yggy’s clock regenerator has switched into the VCO mode indicating that one’s source either has excessive jitter, or has too vague a center frequency for the VCXO mode to lock-in. Schiit humorously calls this the “Buy Better Gear” indicator. When the associated LED is lit, the Yggy is not operating at it’s optimum from the chosen source. All of these cryptic icons have a white LED associated with them.
To the left of the selector button, the Yggy has a series of six more white LEDs to indicate (again from left to right) 44.1 KHz, 48KHz, and then a series of multipliers indicating one (1), two (2), four (4) or eight (8) times the two primary sample rates. You can’t read those legends from more than a couple of inches away, either (and that’s with the help of a magnifying glass!)
The final flaw in the Schiit Yggdrasil, is the lack of a remote control. The remote needs controls to switch digital inputs, and change the phase polarity. It would be nice if the remote also had LEDs on it to to repeat the input selected, +/- phase and the sample rate at which the unit is operating. This writer uses a walking cane as a “remote control” wand to change inputs from across the room. I have also applied a strip of white plastic tape across the front panel, with the inputs and sample rates written on it so that they can be read from my listening chair without my resorting to a pair 10 X 50 binoculars!
Performance Compared to My Personal (Older) Yggdrasil
Since I use an older Mac (MacBook Pro, 2008 with a 2.3 GHz Core 2 Duo Processor running El Kapitan) as a music server for Tidal and Qobuz (via Audirvana), I cannot use the latest Yggy USB in my main system without going through a Terminal (line code) hack to disable the Mac “App Nap” power saving feature. To accomplish this, open the Terminal app and, at the Unix prompt, enter:
‘defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAppSleep Disabled – bool YES’(without the quotes, though) and hit enter.
You will have to either restart the computer (a good idea anyway) or quit and restart any running applications.
Once done, the Schiit Unison USB works perfectly and, in fact, this is the first time that I have found USB audio to actually sound good! It is much better than my older Yggy, but we must take into account that the audio stage in the new DAC is also improved over my personal Yggy, and there is really no way to judge the improvement of the USB performance without also gaining the improvement of the other.
In fact, this brings us to the point that it is extremely difficult to compare the two Yggy’s directly. We are, after all, comparing more than one difference between the two DACs. Everything must be exactly the same between the two Yggdrasils for a direct comparison, and that’s essentially impossible, especially with regard to USB.
What I ended-up doing was to listen to each DAC separately with each connected in parallel through two line-level inputs of the same amplifier. I would swap the same 1.5m AudioQuest Diamond USB A-B cable coming from the laptop between the two DACs
What I found was that the newest Yggy had an overall much smoother sound with less grain, especially in the upper midrange and treble region. A bit more surprising was the bottom end, which seemed to exhibit more punch and bass which seemed to go deeper and have much less hangover than did the earlier unit. Imaging was also improved using the proprietary USB interface but seemed a wash when Toslink or coax S/PDIF was used as a source input.
One of the most natural, and realistic recordings that I have is our own Mario Martinez’ recording on his PlayClassics label “Angel Cabrera Plays Debussy”. This album is a perfectly recorded solo grand piano. I’ve always thought that this recording sounded more like an actual grand piano playing in my living room than any other that I have ever heard. But the new Yggy breaks through that wall of recording artificiality and actually, uncannily, brings already great sounding piano right into the room. All sense of listening to a recording is gone. It’s quite incredible!
My own recording of a local jazz quintet playing in a restaurant (sort of a mini “Jazz at the Pawnshop”) with my single-point stereo Avantone CK-40 (modern FET “copy” of the legendary (and very valuable) Telefunken ELA-M-270 (the CK-40 is better!)from the 1950’s has the most incredible imaging. I thought that my older Yggy was the epitome of this kind of presentation. Boy was I wrong. With the new Yggy, the image specificity is such, that every instrument is pinpointed in space exactly where it was physically located in relation to the microphone! This recording also has more delineated upper midrange detail than the older DAC as well. The trumpet is really up close and personal. I imagined that if you get too close to the speaker, the player’s spittle will spray from bell of the horn and get all over you! Very impressive.
Since the Schiit Yggdrasil was first introduced, Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat have worked tirelessly to improve the performance of this reasonably priced high-performance DAC. With constant filter, power supply and analog-stage improvements, the Yggdrasil has kept it’s place as the go-to DAC for those who demand first rate digital to analog conversion without having to pay a king’s ransom for the opportunity.
The only Way to tell whether you have the latest Yggdrasil in by the Serial Number. The latest analog section units are so designated by a SN that starts with the letter “B”. The presence of the latest USB upgrade is indicated by the above sticker over the USB input port.
The recording setup for the true stereo jazz recording referred to in the text. The microphone to the right is for the vocalist and is not used in the recording.
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil - $2,499
Product Page - link
User Manual - yggdrasil_manual_2_2.pdf