Schiit Fulla 2 ($99)
Chip: AKM AK4490
What We Like: Simple to use, good range of connections, solid sound.
What We Don’t: Build quality concerns.
See the Schiit Fulla 2
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. We solemnly swear that in this review, and in all future reviews, we will not make any jokes, puns, bon mots or witty jibes at Schiit Audio’s name. Because if you’re bold enough to call your company that, you’ve not only heard all the jokes, you were probably the first one to make them. The Fulla 2 is, and remains, one of the best products Schiit has ever made. In this review, we break down the Fulla 2’s sound, design, packaging and accessories, specs and more. To see how it stacks up, see our list of the best DACs.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the folks at Schiit are perhaps taking the piss, to use that wonderful British expression, when they named one of their products Fulla. Fulla is an Old Norse goddess, a healer. And given the company’s propensity for naming their products after Norse mythology (see: Yggdrasil, Bifrost, Asgard, Valhalla, etcetera, etcetera) one can almost imagine them exchanging looks of startled glee when they discovered that there was a Norse goddess named Fulla. When you connect the Schiit Fulla 2 to your computer, the sound option that appears for you to select is...I’m Fulla Schiit.
The Fulla 2 is a complete desktop audio solution. Plug a PC, laptop or tablet into one end, plug headphones into the other, and you’re done. What comes out will be clean, clear audio that is a nice jump from what your computer’s soundcard can do. That’s because the Fulla 2 is a combination DAC and amplifier. It not only converts your digital audio files to audible signals, but it also amplifies them and sharpens them (you can read more about what DACs do here). The company makes several amps, DACs and combinations thereof, and this is their cheapest one. It’s important to place this in context: it has to be viewed not just as a standalone amp
Schiit is a company known for producing world-defining amps and DACs like the Bifrost, and expecting the Fulla 2 to match those would leave you disappointed. While it’s true that the sound quality doesn’t match up to its bigger brothers, we’d argue that to put them against each other would do the Fulla 2 a disservice. If you view the Fulla 2 for what it is – namely, an entry-level amp designed to be an improvement on basic computer or phone sound – then its audio quality makes a lot of sense. In this light, it also doesn’t make sense to compare the Fulla 2 to what we think is not only the best amp Schiit makes, but also the best currently available: the identically-priced Magni 3 (full review here).
Since the Fulla 2 was released, Schiit has done a mass-renaming of their most popular models. For now, you'll find the Fulla 2 displayed on their site - still the only online store it's sold in - as simply: Fulla. It's the same model as the one we're talking about hear, so don't stress. To our knowledge, there's unlikely to be a new edition of the Fulla; Schiit have moved in a different direction, design-wise, with sleeker housing and smoother metal. Still, the Fulla - whatever it's called - remains a good solution.
You’re not going to be completely blown away by the sound of the Fulla 2. It’s not an audio game changer. Used in its most common configuration – that is, as an amp/DAC combo with a single USB input and a headphone output – it provides a sound that is clear, straightforward, and weighty, noticeably better than the source it’s drawing from. We tested it with a variety of inputs over the course of a month, and although the sound didn’t make our heads explode, we found that it was highly capable of handling just about any genre we listen to. Whether it was hip-hop, soul, or heavy metal, the Fulla 2 treated everything with respect and depth.
Bass had a compact, punchy weight - present, without being overwhelming, and vocals had a terrific clarity to them We used several test headphone models, including the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80ohm, the AudioQuest NightHawk Carbons (full review here), and in all circumstances the low-end showed a slight improvement over the stock sound from our Macbook Pro. It wasn’t mindblowing, by any means, but it certainly got the job done. The highs, we felt, could have used a little more sparkle, but the level of detail and depth to the soundstage was a lot of fun to listen to, particularly on powered speakers.
Using the Fulla 2 as a DAC Only
We didn’t notice a significant difference when using the Schiit as a DAC only, and when used an amp, we felt something was missing - nothing we could put our finger on, just an indefinable ‘not-there’-ness, which is credit to the synergy between the amp and DAC circuits that Schiit packed into this thing. One thing that impressed us was its capacity to handle high-impedance headphones – with 0.55 watts into 16 ohms, it was quite capable of generating a decent volume without even putting the volume knob past nine o’clock. For the most part, we didn’t have any occasion to use the USB power port, as it didn’t have any problem drawing power from our computer, but we tested it, and it works just fine.
It also didn’t feel like it required burn-in, as so many amps do; over a month of listening to it, logging around a hundred hours, we didn’t feel like the sound changed significantly. It sounded solid right out of the box, which is always a plus. That’s a definite difference to something like the Bravo Audio V2 - it’s a little cheaper than the Schiit, at $68, but it does require a few hours of listening to get the best out of it - and is a demanding diva next to the Fulla 2’s precise soprano. We need to say again: none of this was unexpected. We weren’t anticipating huge, block-rocking sound, or endless tubey goodness, or pinpoint clarity. While it might have been nice to have a little bit more detail in the treble, the Fulla 2 delivered exactly what we hoped: powerful, precise sound that was worlds away from internal circuitry of our laptop and phone. It was an immediate improvement to both. It actually reminded us of the Topping NX2, albeit a little more detailed and powerful.
The silver metallic design and the curved, boxy housing will be instantly familiar to anybody who is a fan of Schiit products. The top of the housing is made of rough, textured metal, with eight ventilation holes and a giant, smooth volume knob, connected to the same Alps RK09 pot used in the Magni. The entire thing is just smaller than a human hand, and a little under an inch high, if you don’t include the knob. On the bottom are three sturdy rubber feet. Everything about the design screams: robust, solid, reliable. Not only that, but the color scheme and the dinky size make it right at home next to a laptop or tablet, and is sufficiently eye-catching that you’ll get passers-by (or in our case, partners) stopping to comment on it. And it helps that the Fulla 2 is incredibly light: at 9oz, it could comfortably be slipped into a purse or backpack for use on-the-go, meaning that you no longer have to settle for dodgy sound when you’re away from your home or office. Compare that to slightly heavier portable DACs, like the Chord Hugo 2 (full review here), which is 16oz - and massively more expensive, at about $2,400. Admittedly, it’s designed primarily for stationary listening (and we used it as such almost exclusively) but it’s tiny enough that you could quite happily take it with you.
Inputs and Outputs
Even if it functioned simply as a one-input-one-output interface, it would probably be enough. But the beauty of the Fulla 2, and the real reason you should buy it, is its flexibility and versatility. Put simply: you can use this little guy for just about anything. On the front is a 6.3mm headphone connection, and on the back, there’s a USB power/data connection, meaning that plugging it into your laptop or PC is simplicity itself. But see, you can do so much more with it.
The fun starts with a separate port on the front with a mysterious symbol on top of it that requires reading the manual to understand: it’s an analogue input, allowing you to connect your phone or tablet to the Fulla 2 with a TRS-to-TRS cable, and use it as an amplifier only. We’ll admit, when we first found out that it could do that, our gob was a bit smacked. It’s not unheard of, but it’s relatively unusual in this price range. Things get more interesting when you turn the unit around. For starters, no longer do you have to ask your computer to contribute power to the amp if you don’t want it to, or if it’s not capable of supplying it (if, for example, you have too many USB devices plugged in at once). A separate USB port allows you to plug in a separate cable to supply the power, which you could theoretically do off a conventional phone charger. Furthermore, if you have a powered amp, or powered monitors, the Fulla 2 is capable of handling that, too, with a variable preamp output. Next to it is a fixed DAC output, allowing you to connect the device to an integrated amp, headphone amp or preamp, using it as a DAC only (as described above).
This thoroughly impressed us. Not just that it offered so many possibilities for connection, but that it did so effortlessly. There was no source selection, no menus to wade through, no companion app. There were simply a selection of inputs and outputs, and it was up to us to choose which ones we wanted to use. While we do wish the little icons above the individual ports were more intuitive, that’s a very minor nit-pick. It’s not the most intuitive DAC - that would be the amazing little brick that is the Resonessence Labs Herus - but it works damn well. For the most part, the design is virtually flawless, and what got us is just how easy it was: within a day, the Fulla 2 was our go-to audio interface. Plug in, play.
Build Quality Concerns
We’ve been pointed to a Reddit post where a Fulla 2 owner measured the distance between the volume knob and the housing, and concluded that the knob was slightly off-center, by around half a millimeter. While we can’t fault their conclusions - ours is visibly off-center, too - the volume knob works perfectly, and doesn’t feel loose. Lesson: don’t let anal-retentive measurements like this put you off buying one of these.
Super-barebones – although, again, nothing unexpected for an amplifier in this price range. The Fulla 2 comes in a very basic cardboard box, with very few frills. There’s a short and simple manual that will take about ten seconds to read, and a 3’ micro-USB cable. One of the things it doesn’t come with is a 3.5mm-6.3mm headphone adapter, which is required to use the amp, so bear in mind that you will need to buy one. Don’t worry, they’re very cheap.Schiit offer a comprehensive two-year warranty, and a fifteen-day trial period during which you can return your Fulla 2 if you don’t like it, minus a small restocking fee. Very little not to like here.
What We Like
- The Fulla 2 offers great design, that looks excellent on a desk, and it’s built like a (very small) tank.
- The DAC is amazingly easy-to-use - you’ll be up and running in seconds.
- It offers a versatile and deep range of connections.
- The sound is crisp, balanced, and effective - especially at this price point.
What We Don’t
- This isn’t the most portable DAC we’ve come across. It’s light enough, but is more suited for desktop use.
- The icons for the individual connection ports can be a little obscure, at times.
- There are some very minor concerns about build quality.
|Schiit Fulla 2||$99||Yes||AKM AK4490||No||24-bit/96kHz|
|JDS Labs Atom||$99||Yes||N/A||No||N/A|
|FiiO K3||$110||Yes||XMOS XUF208||Yes||32-bit/384kHz|
|CHORD Electronics Mojo||$549||Yes||Xilinx Artix-7||Yes||32-bit/768kHz|
|Schiit Lyr||$449||Yes||Various Options Available||No||24-bit/192kHz|
Like Schiit, JDS Labs are an independent amp company that produce some outstanding gear. Their latest is the Atom - an amp and preamp that retails for the same cost as the Fulla 2, $99. You don't get a DAC, so it's not a complete solution, but it's an excellent little beast. Sound is punchy and fun, and the build draws on the company's experience with open-source designs. We really like the Atom, and although the Fulla 2 offers a little more, they're cheap enough that you could conceivably get both. Just for research, you understand.
If you want something portable, then we'd suggest the FiiO K3. It costs $110, and is a little more modern and fully-featured than the desktop-based Fulla. FiiO are known for sleek amp designs, and they've got a winner here: an affordable with a great feature set. You get a bass boost, hi-res audio decoding (including DSD files), and dual headphone jacks - plus, the design is excellent, especially with FiiO's knurled volume knob. That's something of a trademark with them. Our take? The Fulla is cool, but the K3 is amazing. Get it.
Of course, you could always do something ridiculous. And by ridiculous, we mean buy the Chord Electronics Mojo (full review here). At $550, it’s significantly pricier than the $99 Fulla 2, but the sound is out of this world. In our review, we said, “There is a running joke among music producers that they are never able to hear ‘that’ sound again after leaving the audio mastering suite (the place where only the pair of speakers are worth $100K). The Mojo kicks up a very close second place to that scenario in our opinion and for the price bracket, it really gives an astounding performance.”
Finally: the Fulla 2 isn’t the only amp/DAC combo Schiit offers. It’s one of three at the time of writing, and right now, we think their best is the utterly immense Lyr 3. It’s a combination tube amp and DAC with multiple modules, meaning you can customise it to your heart’s content. We had one in for review recently, and it left us seriously impressed. It is, however, $499 for the base model - five times as much as the Fulla 2. Keep that in mind.
That being said, it’s impossible not to recommend the Fulla 2. It doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or noteworthy, but it fulfils its niche perfectly, existing as a simple and effective amp/DAC combo at a very reasonable price point. It’s enough of a departure from the original Fulla to make a difference, and if what you’re looking for is an entry into the world of Schiit, then this could be the perfect buy. Even if you don’t know the world of amps and DACs at all, and you just want something to improve your computer sound, then this is - by some margin - the easiest, most flexible and most effective way of doing so. Its versatility, solid sound and superb design make it highly worthwhile, and we think you’re going to love it. We did.