Headed by two industry veterans, Schiit is a company which have taken the world of high-end personal audio by storm with their focus on value and commitment to developing game-stopping products.
The pinnacle of their expertise has culminated in the Yggdrasil DAC and Ragnarok amp, a flagship set-up which have been Schiit’s finest creations to date. Although unusual in their naming philosophy, the Yggdrasil is seen to represent a legendary ash-tree in Norse mythology whereas the Ragnarok illustrates a series of apocalyptic events that were to determine the end of the world and its subsequent revival. This type of nomenclature has been a clever implementation on Schiit’s behalf to truly make the company’s products memorable and unique to the marketplace.
What is also distinctive about the flourishing audio company is their individualistic sense of humor and laidback approach which offers a somewhat refreshing approach in the face of their boutique competition. Schiit’s products are anything but comical, however, and feature impressive design topologies built exclusively in the US.
At a price of $1699 and $2299 respectively, the Ragnarok and Yggdrasil have adopted a modular arrangement where components can be exchanged inside to maintain their end-game status. This has allowed the Yggdrasil to be the world’s first and only upgradable balanced multi-bit DAC in a closed format. The Ragnarok has also achieved a world exclusive being the first amplifier to power sensitive IEMs right through to loudspeakers. This feat of engineering is a reason why the audio brand have established a strong foothold within their market and one which has certainly allowed to them to bask in critical acclaim. So without further ado then, let the review commence.
Box and design
The Schiit products come well packaged in a large cardboard box. As with all Schiit products, the white cardboard features minimal packaging which exudes class and sophistication. The stack comes with each of their respective power cords (UK, US, Australian or Euro) and a user manual.
Those unfamiliar with Schiit may be a little thrown by their colloquialisms and subversive FAQ section but this has played an inherent part of the company’s charm and appeal. A departure from their nonchalant style however is the design of the Schiit stack which follows an industrial look featuring a brushed aluminum chassis. Perhaps the only critique here would be that the appearance of the Yggdrasil/Ragnarok is a little less elegant compared to the Gungnir/Mjolnir 2 though this is primarily due to the former’s size and dimensions.
The build quality is solid and very durable; a real testament to Schiit’s craftsmanship. At 57 pounds, the pair is on the heftier side but would sit proud and tall on virtually any surface albeit taking up a moderate amount of desk space.
As highlighted above, the Yggdrasil is the world’s first and only closed-form multibit DAC with 21 bits of resolution. This places it in stark contrast to the 24 and 32-bit delta-sigma DACs often found within the audiophile marketplace. Schiit have made no compromises, however, by applying a unique digital filter optimised in not only the time but also the frequency domain to retain all the original samples and perform a true interpolation. As if this sophisticated closed-form solution were not enough, Schiit have even gone to the lengths of introducing a quad AD5791BRUZ DAC which is typically seen in MRI applications and military-grade equipment. This, coupled with the new Adapticlock VCXO/VCO regeneration system, has allowed the Yggdrasil to revel in precise technologies and algorithms to make it a tour-de-force offering in the world of DACs.
One constraint though, is that the Yggdrasil does not offer DSD support. This may be a deal-breaker for those whose collections consist a majority of these files. However, Mike Moffat who runs the digital side of Schiit, has reasonably argued that DSD makes up less than 0.01% of recorded music and thus would essentially be redundant if incorporated. This is a sensible decision, in my opinion, as a DAC designed around a negligent file format is indeed impractical and costly. One designed to support the majority of formats in music today, however, is a much better solution practically-speaking.
Build & Features
On the far left of the front panel is a phase invert button along with its own LED indicator; this is helpful for recordings which do not maintain an absolute phase. Adjacent to this are sample rate indicators which highlight what input is coming in. Right now the Yggdrasil only accepts up to 24/192 files so the 8x multiple will never be lit. However, since the product is upgradeable, the future may allow this to happen. The input select button can be found at the center of the product which allows users to cycle through various means of input including USB, AES/EBU, BNC, Coax & Toslink. Finally, the VCO/VCXO indicator is situated on the far right of the device. This LED is also known as the “buy better gear light” which means exactly what it says on the tin. That is, if the source input in the Yggdrasil has not got a good center frequency or if jitter levels are too high for the VCXO to operate then Schiit recommends to buy a better source. The good news is that this really only applies to very old devices and thus is rarely illuminated.
On the rear of the Yggdrasil, there are 2 sets of single-ended outputs which are said to retain much of the same prowess as the balanced portion of the DAC. Adjacent to this, are the balanced outputs which can be connected to other sources with XLR cables. The USB, AES/EBU, BNC & Toslink inputs together with the switch and power input can be found on the right half of the DAC.
The Yggdrasil uses one transformer for the digital power supply and one for the analogue power supply. It is also said to carry “12 separate local regulated supplies for DACs and digital sections”. The total power consumption of the DAC is 35W.
Now for the most important part, the sound. The Yggdrasil’s tonality is quite outstanding. It takes the basic characteristics of the Gungnir Multibit (Gumby) and adds a finer layer of resolution, richer visceral bass and extends the treble. Contrary to many other DACs in this category which sound overly-analytical and shrill in nature, the Yggdrasil tastefully infuses detail with a natural organic-like quality that is evocative of vinyl. However, unlike a vinyl set-up, the Yggdrasil offers greater levels of detail and resolution that masterfully portray subtle auditory cues and nuances to give a complete and more involving experience. Next to the Yggdrasil, the Gungnir Multibit illuminates a lesser fraction of these micro-details at the expense of a warmer and more liquid-esque tone.
Although there are differences between the two Schiit models, there is certainly no ocean of quality between them. In fact, the slightly warmer and rounder character of the Gungnir Multibit (review can be found here) may even be more appreciated by some in the context of recreational listening. Both are very natural sounding though, and lack the digital glare that often trouble DACs aiming for an ultra-resolving sound. In addition to this, the Yggdrasil imparts very little color, if any, to music and allows the source to shine for what it is. The tonal character can best be described as neutral but without compromising on emotion. Micro- and macro-dynamics, for example, are exceptional with not only tiny gradations in music being highlighted but also a deep and impactful bass that avoids unnecessary distortions and bloat.
With regards to imaging, sonic cues are projected both wide and deep exposing an open and natural soundstage. As a result, music is revealed in a holographic fashion where multiple layers of sound are forged to create an immersive soundscape. This is something of an achievement as notes ebb and flow gracefully in the Yggdrasil compared with the Resonessence Invicta’s rather forced transients. The Auralic Vega on the other hand, bests the Yggdrasil on the macro-dynamic front with more warmth, bass impact and depth. Whereas the Auralic Vega has a slightly longer decay to its low frequencies, however, the Yggdrasil manages to produce the same notes with better articulacy and tautness.
In Wolfie’s “Outta Earth”, sub-bass extends low with heft, texture and great control. Similarly, Craig David’s “Got It Good” delivers punch with its bass kicks that rapidly decay without bleeding into the higher frequency ranges. By way of comparison, Mark Wilkinson’s voice shines with natural reverberation and realistic tonality in “The Best Thing”, while Barry White’s gritty soulful vocals are preserved in “Just The Way You Are” without being smoothened or overly emphasised. Finally, guitar riffs in Alex Hutching’s “And Then She Was Gone” transcend with realism, air and detail to showcase the Yggdrasil’s adept treble capabilities.
On a closing note, an important point to comment upon is that like the Schiit Gungnir Multibit, the Yggdrasil sounds best after 24 to 48 hours of burn-in once the components have reached their thermal equilibrium. Mike Moffat also recommends leaving the unit on 24/7 to achieve the best sound, although a cold start is still proficient.
The Ragnarok is a powerful integrated amp which not only has the ability to drive loudspeakers but also the finesse to run sensitive in-ear monitors. This sort of versatility has enabled the Ragnarok to shine as an all-in-one solution for just about any audiophile’s needs. Some may be concerned that a do-it-all machine would cut corners and benefit only a subset of equipment but Schiit have tactfully avoided this issue through the implementation of a 64-level relay-switched stepped attenuator. The result being a smooth volume operation through multiple gain levels and “perfect channel tracking down to very low levels”.
Unlike single-ended amplifiers, Schiit have utilised a Circlotron circuit that delivers relatively high voltage levels to high capacitance loads. The main advantage of such topologies being the linear frequency response and handling of fast transient gradients. These come at the cost of a higher level of power consumption, however, and while certainly not the hottest amp around, can dissipate a fair amount of heat in the process. Nevertheless, the able-bodied Ragnarok comes complete with a microprocessor which “oversees every aspect of the amp’s operation – from quiescent bias, to DC offset and finally fault protection”.
While there is no option for tubes at the moment, the modular nature of the Ragnarok means that Schiit can potentially employ a hybrid-tube design in the future. With that said, the headphone side of the solid-state amplifier essentially runs as a Class A device and the speaker side as a Class AB device. This ultimately allows higher sensitivity equipment to be played with lower levels of distortion while enabling power-hungry devices to be played with higher levels of efficiency.
Build & Features
On the front of the Ragnarok is a 5 input switch with LED indicator, gain switch (1, 5 & 20 settings), potentiometer, single-ended and balanced headphone output. The potentiometer is very tactile and smooth to the touch. It implements the aforementioned relay-switched attenuator which results in normal clicking when the volume is turned up. The process is surprisingly satisfying to use and is reminiscent of a typewriter in action.
An important point Schiit have drawn attention to is that care must be taken when using the balanced headphones. This is because the Ragnarok is a powerful amp and can deliver its full output power when using such configurations.
The rear of the Ragnarok hosts a wealth of options for the user. Examples of this include the 2 sets of balanced inputs, singled-ended inputs, a single & balanced preamp output, speaker outputs and a power switch.
Incorporating a unique circlotron topology, the Schiit Ragnarok uses a 400VA transformer for its power supply which makes up a bulk of the amp’s weight. This amp also includes a 56VA separate transformer in use of high voltage rails. In idle circumstances, the Ragnarok gives out 75W of power while delivering 500W at full capacity.
Jason Stoddard who runs the analogue side of Schiit has gone to far lengths to create a world-class integrated amp. With single and balanced inputs, speaker outputs and a generous abundance of versatility, the amp is a sure welcomed addition to any audiophile’s inventory.
At the low gain-setting, the Ragnarok drives the Ultimate Ear’s Reference Monitor with poise, definition and a perceptively low noise floor. The same rings true for the 16 Ohm U12 IEM from 64 Audio which coupled with the low noise and distortions make the Ragnarok superb in matchability.
With regards to tonality, the Ragnarok synergises very well with the Yggdrasil. Both share a sense of transparency and neutrality which permits recordings to play unperturbed and as originally intended. Where the Ragnarok really excels though, is its ability to render fast-based transients amidst a tight and clean sound. Some have likened this to have possessing tube-like qualities and to a degree the sense of space and pleasant character substantiates this claim. However, unlike tube-based set-ups, the Ragnarok does not really impart the euphonic warm distortions that tubes are generally known for. An example of this is the MicroZOTL2.0 amp which instils more warmth and musicality into the mix than Schiit’s flagship amp. The Ragnarok, though, is very faithful and accurate to music without being disengaging or dry.
Compared to ALO’s Continental Dual Mono DAC/amp combo, the Ragnarok/Yggdrasil trades harmonic distortions in a favour of a more resolving and holographic sound. Both share large soundstages, however, with ALO’s CDM possessing slightly more treble energy and bite. What is particularly interesting is how the multibit architecture has allowed Schiit listeners to bask in more dimensionality and layers to their music – perhaps one of its greatest features.
The headphones used in this portion of the listening evaluation were HiFiMAN’s HE-400S, Edition X, Sennheiser’s HD800/S and the Fostex TH500RP. All of which were easily able to be driven with plenty of headroom to spare.
The Schiit Ragnarok performs optimally when the balanced modality is used so it is preferable to use this to get the best out of your headphones. The overall sound becomes a bit more spacious with better detailing and separation of elements. That is not to say that the single end output is substantially worse, however, as it still somewhat of a subtle difference. Both the balanced and single outputs can be run at the same time which is useful for comparing notes with others and to directly A/B headphones for more accurate evaluations. As mentioned before, the Ragnarok is capable of delivering its full output to balanced headphones and so sounds can get loud very easily. Thus, it is recommended that users set the gain switch to the 1 and turn the sound all the way down before plugging a headphone in. Different cables do alter the sound of headphones slightly and so this must also be taken into consideration if you are hoping to use the balanced XLR option.
Overall then, the Yggdrasil and Ragnarok are Schiit’s greatest achievements to date and this shows with its thorough design and beautiful sound. Just as the Yggdrasil effortlessly reveals music in all its natural glory and detail so too does the Ragnarok illustrate music with transparency and neutrality. At $2299 and $1699, however, the stack do not come cheap and still represent a significant investment for anyone potentially interested in its offering. While I also do not think that the pair are as high in its price-performance ratio compared to the Gungnir Multibit/Mjolnir 2, I still believe they are easily able to compete and even best more expensive models. In addition, the versatility of the Ragnarok is an invaluable option for those with large and diverse collections of audio equipment looking for that all-in-one solution. Together with their durable two-piece aluminum chassis and generous 5 year warranty, the Schiit Yggdrasil and Ragnarok are a highly recommended end-game purchase that will serve you for many years to come.