Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC

By Any Other Name

Equipment report
Categories:
Digital-to-analog converters
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Products:
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC

Listening
Although Moffatt warned me that the Yggy wouldn’t sound good right out of the box, I gave it a quick listen anyway after an hour of warm-up. He was right; the Yggy was hard, bright, forward, and flat. I checked in with it a couple of times over the next week and heard it improving somewhat, but it was still disappointing. I decided to let it sit in my rack, powered up, for a full month before revisiting it.

When I returned to the Yggy I discovered a DAC that wasn’t superb. It wasn’t even good. And it certainly wasn’t “good for the money.” What I discovered, to my amazement, was a DAC that was stunningly great, period. Price aside, the Yggy turned out to be a world-class contender in the same league as cost-no-object digital-to-analog converters—and I’ve heard some good ones. How could this be?

I can’t tell you how Moffatt did it, but I can describe how the Yggy sounds, and why its one of the three best DACs I’ve heard regardless of price. (The other two are the $19,500 Berkeley Alpha Reference and the $35,000 dCS Vivaldi. I suspect that the MSB Select is outstanding, after hearing it many times at shows, but I haven’t evaluated it in my own system.)

For starters, the Yggy has a bold, assertive, vibrant, even vivid presentation. You’d never mistake the Yggy for a tube DAC. In this characteristic, and others, it reminded me of the Theta processors of 25 years ago, but taken to another level. The Yggy also sounded different from other DACs I’ve heard; it was as if nearly all those other DACs were merely variations with a common character, cut, if you will, from the same sonic cloth.

One of the qualities that makes the Yggy special is its ability to reveal, with startling clarity, individual musical lines within complex arrangements. Every instrument, voice, and sound is spatially and timbrally distinct. This had the effect of revealing each musical line with great precision, and with that precision comes a fuller, richer, and more complex presentation of the composition and arrangement, as well as the intent of each musician. The Yggy is the antithesis of congealed, homogenized, flat, confused, or thick. Many years ago I described the soundstage of a Theta DAC as “sculpted.” That description applies to the Yggy as well, but in the Yggy the three-dimensionality and vividness that allow resolution of each musical line are rendered with greater naturalness and ease. The Theta processors could sound a bit artificial and overly “Technicolored” in this regard, but the Yggy presents this tremendous clarity and dimensionality in a completely organic and musically natural way.

Frankly, I was shocked to hear musical relationships between instruments or sections as though for the first time in recordings I’ve been listening to for years through some of the world’s best DACs and disc players. This information was no longer buried, uncovered only through focused concentration, but rather brought to the fore with a life and vibrancy that were startling. These qualities were musically rewarding whether the music was densely layered or spare. The multiple horn parts on the track “The Jazz Police” by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band were unwoven with a clarity that fostered a deeper appreciation of the arrangement and the musicianship. Conversely, Duke Ellington’s understated and tasteful comping behind Joe Pass’ swinging solos on Duke’s Big Four [JVC XRCD] was revealed to me in a new way; the piano accompaniment’s greater clarity and sonic “separateness” amplified the sense of swing that makes this album (with Ray Brown on bass and Louis Bellson on drums) such a classic. Yet the Yggy’s resolution was never etched, analytical, or overbearing. Rather, the Yggy had that sense of effortless resolution you hear from live music—you don’t have to strain to shift focus from one instrument to another.

Of course, some listeners may not enjoy such an incisive rendering. The Yggy is at the opposite end of the spectrum from, say, the tube-powered Aesthetix Romulus CD player. While I greatly enjoy the voluptuousness, expansive soundstage, and relaxed musicality that tube-based players deliver, the ways in which the Yggy musically engage the listener couldn’t be more different. The Yggy has a closer perspective, is drier with less bloom around image outlines, and is more upbeat and visceral.

Another way in which the Yggy is outstanding, and very much like the sound of Theta DACs, is its rock-solid bass. The bottom end has a “center-of-the-earth” solidity and power, giving music a physicality and verve that I sensed in my body as much as in my mind. The bass not only goes low with authority but the midbass is weighty, muscular, and densely textured. Pitch definition is absolutely superb; the combination of articulation and weight is particularly satisfying. Acoustic bass in jazz is rendered with richness and body; a Fender Precision Bass has a wonderful “purring” quality; and the string bass section of an orchestra provides the music with a strong tonal underpinning.

The Yggy is different from other DACs in its reproduction of music’s dynamics, particularly transients. Transient attacks, from a hard-hit snare drum to the most delicate tap on a cymbal, are startlingly fast, defined, and vivid. On the track “Never the Same Way” from Gary Burton’s album Common Ground, drummer Antonio Sanchez plays very subtly behind Scott Colley’s beautiful and extended bass solo. Although I’ve heard this album many times, through the Yggy, Sanchez’s delicate cymbal work, fine brush strokes, and gentle rim shots came to the fore in a way that gave me a renewed appreciation of his artistry. The Yggy’s reproduction of large-scale transients was just as impressive. The dynamic pop and steep attack of snare drum were extremely well portrayed, contributing to the Yggy’s powerful rhythmic drive.

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