Schiit Audio is the brainchild of two high-end audio veterans: Jason Stoddard, former design chief of Sumo Electronics, and Mike Moffat, founder of Theta Digital.
As you might expect from their company’s unorthodox name (which is pronounced exactly the way you might think), both men share a cheeky and decidedly iconoclastic sense of humour that stands in direct opposition to the sometimes-grandiose pretentions that are so often part of today’s high-end audio world.
Stoddard and Moffat are no-nonsense engineers who believe that offering great value for money is not just a smart idea but also the right thing to do, and that the main objective is to build components that offer pure, blindingly great sound quality and rock-solid technical performance at fair prices. Neither Stoddard nor Moffat has much use for ‘boutique’ components, gratuitously expensive cosmetic treatments, or flashy ad campaigns making dubious claims of ‘magic’ technologies within. At the end of the day, Stoddard and Moffat are down-to-earth designers (and very clever marketers) who, at the end of the day, rely primarily upon good, old-fashioned creative engineering and technical ingenuity—not techno-mysticism or smoke and mirrors, to achieve their goals. As a result, Schiit Audio components tend to evince a certain purposeful, ‘beauty is as beauty does’ vibe that many will find refreshing in a world overly full of hype and unfulfilled promises.
All of which brings us to the subjects of this review: Schiit Audio’s flagship Yggdrasil DAC (£1,980) and matching Ragnarok fully balanced headphone/integrated amplifier (£1,550), which are the finest components of their types that Schiit Audio knows how to build. What’s up with the names? Schiit explains that, “In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the world tree: the source of all things.” In short, Yggdrasil (or “Yggy”, as designer Mike Moffat prefers to call it) is intended as the digital source to top all sources. In turn, designer Jason Stoddard adds that, “In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is the end of the world,” which by extension means that the Ragnarok aims to provide ‘the living end’ in terms of top-tier headphone/integrated amplifier performance.
Schiit Audio says the, “Yggdrasil is the world’s only upgradable closed form balanced multi-bit DAC”—a DAC that, on a conceptual level, is different as can be to the traditional ‘24-bit’ or ’32-bit’ delta-sigma DACs commonly encountered in the marketplace. Moffat emphasizes that the Yggdrasil uses a bit-perfect “digital filter with a true closed-form solution,” which means it “retains all the original samples, performing a true interpolation.” The upshot is a digital filter said to provide, “the best of NOS (all original samples retained) and upsampling (easier filtering of out of band noise) designs.” Yggdrasil’s sophisticated bit-perfect, closed-form digital filter is implemented via a powerful Analog Devices SHARC DSP processor. The Yggdrasil is a fully balanced design that uses a total of four Analog Devices AD5791BRUZ DAC devices—two per channel, with the DAC outputs followed by, “fully discrete JFET buffers for balanced output and discrete JFET summing stages for single-ended output, direct coupled throughout.”
To ensure timing accuracy, Yggdrasil incorporates an ingenious Adapticlock system that, “assesses the quality of all inputs, measures their incoming centre frequency and jitter, and automatically routes the input” to one of two clock regeneration systems. Yggdrasil’s VCXO clock regenerator provides the best performance for good sources, while for lower quality sources the DAC also offers a more jitter-tolerant VCO regenerator. Yggdrasil even provides a so-called ‘buy better gear’ warning light that illuminates should a low quality digital source force the VCO clock regenerator to be brought into play. No matter how good or how limited your digital sources might be, Yggdrasil will improve their timing accuracy.