Five Portable Hi-Res DACs Compared Schiit Fulla Amp/DAC
AT A GLANCE
Made in U.S.A.
A trifle brash
Channel imbalance in volume knob at bottom of range
This is among the least expensive decent headphone amp/DACs on the market, but be careful about headphone matching.
At $79, the Schitt Fulla—I’ll spare you the jokes—is the least expensive product in this roundup, one of the two smallest, and the only stick amp/DAC to include a volume knob.
Its 2.5-inch-long aluminum-wrapped steel chassis appears indestructible but is light as a feather. Pop it in your shirt pocket, and you won’t even feel it. Mini-USB and headphone jacks are at either end, and a supplied 4-inch cable prevents stress on your computer’s USB jack. There are no sampling-rate or other indicators, but do you really need them?
Fulla handles files up to 96 kHz and 24 bits. For Windows users, this makes driver installation automatic and trouble-free. In OS and playback software, the driver identifies itself as “I’m Fulla Schiit.” The device is powered directly by USB and requires no charging.
In addition to Windows, Mac, and Linux, Schiit says Fulla has been known to work with Chromebooks and PS4, though the company stops short of a guarantee. iPhones require iOS 7 or 8, Apple cable, and power source. Android phones require OS 4 or 5, software for 4, and power source.
Fulla’s handy volume dial understated the left channel near the vanishing end of its range, though not at moderate to high levels—in practice, no problem. “All small potentiometers have some nonlinearity in channel tracking at the lowest settings, so it is normal,” says the manufacturer. Sonic character was sometimes brash compared with the others, though this was highly headphone-dependent.
When the inexpensive Fulla meshed with the high-end Oppo planar headphone, my notes were full of praise for their “liquid, sweet, not edgy” treatment of Jorma Kaukonen, “precise low-level vocal imaging” of Fotheringay’s Sandy Denny, “depth!” in Dvořák, “precise reverb” in Marianne Faithfull (recorded in a church), “sweet, sassy strings” for the Bach Collegium Japan, and “vivid stage” on the Nataly Dawn track as it built up to its epic strings-and-rock-band crescendo.
However, with the Sennheiser headphone, which is more challenging to drive and more neutrally voiced, the lossy artifacts on the Ramones and Jorma tracks were more noticeable, and Sandy’s voice suddenly recessed. And the Donald Fagen track—“creamy, golden, and opulent” on the Oppo—became merely “lush and relaxed.”
Fulla rarely got along with the compulsively revealing Sony headphone—though to be fair, that headphone was often unflattering to other amp/DACs reviewed here. The Ramones were a “thin blare,” Sandy “ringy and austere,” Jorma “thread- bare,” Dvořák and Yes “schematic,” and Nataly “slightly fatiguing.” On the neutral to positive side, the Schiit/Sony combo emphasized Marianne’s vocal texture over the ambience in the church where she was recorded, and it was “sizzly—in a nice way” on Deep Purple. Its main coup was on the Fagen track, with “backing vocals beautifully high-lighted and separated.”
The Schiit Fulla is the budget champion it purports to be. But for consistent results, be sure to mate it with headphones that err on the thick, soft, rich side of things, as opposed to the bright, detailed, schematic side.
Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 1.2 x 2.5 x 0.45
Weight (Ounces): 1
Inputs: USB Mini-B (1)
Outputs: 1/8-inch stereo analog (1)
Output Power: 250 mW, 16 ohms; 200 mW, 32 ohms; 175 mW, 50 ohms; 40 mW, 300 ohms
Output Voltage: Up to 9.5 V p-p into 80-plus ohms
Output Impedance: Less than 0.4 ohms
Compatible Headphone Impedances: 16 to 300 ohms
Sampling Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96
DAC: AKM AK4396
Windows Drivers Installed: DS, WASAPI-event, WASAPI-push