Schiit Audio, yes it's pronounced just like you think, but that didn't stop Schiit from becoming a force to be reckoned with in the affordable audiophile gear marketplace. Most of their products are priced well under $1,000 and I've reviewed a lot of them but for one glaring exception, the Schiit Yggdrasil digital converter that debuted in 2014. It's the most expensive product in the Schiit line, but for one reason or another I never tried an Yggdrasil at home. Since it's recently been refreshed and rechristened the Yggdrasil Analog 2 it was about time I requested a review sample.
Yggdrasil may be Schiit's flagship, but it doesn't play extreme high-resolution PCM 384 Hz-24 bit PCM, MQA (Master Quality Authenticated), or DSD (Direct Stream Digital) files. No Schiit converter ever has, the company doesn't view them as viable, real world formats they want to spend time and money pursuing. Another thing Yggdrasil doesn't have is a remote control. On the other hand, the Yggdrasil is a fully modular design with a separate digital input board, USB input board, DSP engine board, and DAC/analog output boards.
Yggdrasil uses proprietary digital filter technology the company's website describes this way, "Most DACs simply use the stock digital filters embedded in their D/A converters. But even the most sophisticated ones, using their own digital filter algorithms, don't have what Yggdrasil has—a time- and frequency-domain optimized digital filter with a true closed-form solution. This means it retains all the original samples, performing a true interpolation." Yggdrasil uses two power transformers, one dedicated to digital power supplies, another one for the analog power supply.
The connectivity suite is unusually extensive, running to AES/EBU XLR, RCA SPDIF, BNC SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, USB digital inputs, and there are stereo RCA and XLR analog outputs. This component measures 16 x 12 x 3.8 inches (406x305x97mm) and it weighs a hefty 25 pounds (11.3kg).
With The Magic Circle: Music for Two Guitars CD that was recorded in St John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, MD I didn't just hear Julian Gray and Ronald Pearl's fast fingered fretwork, I heard the two classical guitarists music set in the gorgeous acoustics of the church they played in. There was no over hyped detail, not at all, the sound was very musical.
It's been ages since I reviewed a converter with an AES-EBU balanced digital audio input, and since the Yggdrasil has one I used a McIntosh MCT500 CD/SACD transport (review in the works) with AudioQuest Diamond digital audio cables for the AES-EBU and coax input comparison listening tests. At first I didn't hear much difference between them, I spent days listening without paying much attention to the differences.
Then when I started comparing the two inputs I found the difference in favor of the AES-EBU for its bigger tone, the coax input seems comparatively leaner and cooler, there was a bit more meat on the bones with the AES-EBU connection. Sadly most transports lack AES-EBU outputs, but if yours does try using it with an Yggdrasil.
In the midst of the Yggdrasil review I started playing a lot of my old Replacements CDs, starting with Let It Be and Pleased to Meet Me, and while they're hardly audiophile grade recordings it didn't matter, I was just having a lot of fun. The band's rawness, especially with Chris Mars drumming and Paul Westerberg and Bob Stinson's raunchy guitars, really got to me! There's a kind of wild abandon to the music that makes it sound like it might fall apart at any second, and that's what makes it so good.
I put the Yggdrasil aside and hooked up a HoloAudio Spring DAC "Kitsuné Tuned Edition" Level 3 ($2,499) converter, and was immediately drawn to its clear sound. The Yggdrasil sound was sweeter, rounder, more finely focused on Michael Hedges' wonderful solo guitar album Live on the Double Planet. I haven't listened to this 1987 recording in ages, but once I started playing it I couldn't stop. Hedges performance is so powerful, and when he hits the strings hard I could almost feel them. With the Spring there was more air, ambience, and more space, with Yggdrasil the sound was less hyped, but more natural, and less dare I say it, "digital".
Continuing with Clint Martinez' brilliant synth score for the period medical drama The Knick Season 2, the music is loaded with churning deep bass notes, and the Spring's firmer definition was apparent, but the Yggdrasil's low-end grip wasn't far behind. The two converters weren't hugely different, but in the end the Yggdrasil's sound pulled me in more. It wins by doing less, it is a slightly softer sound, but one that keeps me coming back.
Like all Schiit designs the Yggdrasil Analog 2 is made in the US, it sells for $2,399 in the US, £2,295 in the UK, and AU$3,849 in Australia, all with a 15 day return policy and a 5 year warranty. Owners of older Yggdrasils can upgrade to the latest version for $550 in the US, £520 in the UK, but the Australia upgrade price is unavailable.