Schiit Freya + and S Impressions - Stream of Consciousness

Discussion in 'Preamps' started by purr1n, Jun 30, 2019.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's late and I've been comparing the many permutations available with the Freya + and Freya S preamps for the last several hours. This is going to have to be a stream of consciousness kind of thing as I will expect you to ask me specific questions or go back to do specific comparisons. First off, both the Freya + (x4 6SN7 tube) and Freya S (Nexus) are legit. As usual, I will be succinct and get to the pertinent points without cutting and pasting specs or parroting (with a clue) what the manufacturer may have told me (in this case, it was nothing).

    The Freya + is an incremental improvement over the OG Freya. The gain in tube gain mode has been reduced down to 12db (x4). Noise and microphonics seem much lower. I was worried that the ~100db efficient JBLs with the Aegir monoblocks being fed a differential signal would have too much gain, resulting in audible hiss or lack of usable range on the volume control, but this was not the case. The speakers get plenty loud near 11-12 o'clock, but there is more than enough granularity between that and the 7 o'clock position which is full counterclockwise on the knob. The resistor relay volume control has no issues with channel imbalance that many cheap pots have. Bottom line: the Freya + is usable with super high-efficiency speakers and power amps with a decent amount of gain. Freya tubes turn off when passive or JFET buffer is being used.

    The gear in this setup (Yggdrasil A2, Aegir x2, JBL 4698b) really does not need active preamplification. I've been running a cheap $70 JBL Nano Patch balanced passive controller for the time being. (I am overdue writing a blog article of about preamps and why they are needed.) However, I do have several strong use cases for a preamp: my phonostage only has single-ended outputs while my amps need balanced inputs; I now am running two sources regularly with the Yggdrasil A2 now in the mix on a regular basis; wife wants a remote. The fact that I don't need an active preamp, but can get away with a cheap pot is good IMO because the system will a good test for how transparent these preamps really are.

    Now in terms of transparency, there are two aspects: sins of omission and sins of commission. Every time we add something into the mix, there are going to be these sins. The question is how much of each.

    With the JBL 4698Bs, which are not the most resolving speakers in the house (I do have another more resolving system), I could not reliably tell the difference between the Freya + passive mode and JFET buffer mode. I would appear that either the JFET buffer got improved since the OG Freya, of the circumstances are different. I would be damned if Jason told me that he didn't change shit. But I've been getting the sense by now that he reads what is said here and when the opportunity arises goes to work addressing shortcomings.

    The tube mode on the Freya OG committed both sins of commission (notably bloomer and deeper more diffuse stage) and sins of omission (discernably less plankton). The Freya + seems to back off a little bit on the bloom. The soundstage isn't quite as deep as the OG Freya, but it's still significantly pushed back compared to passive mode. OG Freya tube is we are sitting at row 31, passive is row 7, Freya + tube is row 18. The twist with the Freya + is that the soundstage has a little bit of a wraparound effect where the edges of the stage are slightly closer to us than the center. The effect is slight and there is no excess widening or pushing of instruments to the edges like on the Convert-2 DAC which I found slightly unsettling. As for sins of omission, I'm still not quite sure. I want to say that there is some plankton missing, but it seems more like the macrodetail is being smoothed out with the bit of bloom while the plankton is being retained. Maybe a small step back in terms of plankton and even smaller step back in microdynamics, but I'm having a hard time being sure. I'm way too fatigued at this point comparing things back and forth. However, I can confidently say that Freya +'s sins of omission are less than that of the OG Freya, and that the tube mode does sound good. The sins of commission that it commits are neato: deeper placed stage, slight curvature to the stage, euphonic timbre, a dose of bloom and inherent warmth). These enhancements might be worth the small penalty in transparency.

    Next up is the real surprise for me: the Freya S.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I will need a few more days (probably a week given my busy schedule) to more confidently say so, but Freya S seems to be more where it is at. The Freya S is surprising because I didn't expect it to be as transparent as I thought it would be based on an incorrect calculation.

    Many of the members here have been asking about the difference between the Nexus (Rag 2, Freya S) and Continuity (Aegir). it becomes all too easy to forget that Continuity is an output stage topology. If it came down to amplifiers (which do have an output stage), and I have to choose one of the other (both is best), I'd probably pick Continuity. The reason for this is because I strongly value the technicalities, at the least the plankton and the micro-stuffs, because I can easily work around tonal issues, such as (lack of) heft, warmth, richness, tightness, that Nexus excels at. I can change DACs, tweak crossovers, subs, etc (which I actually do when I change sources around). For most people, I'd probably recommend Nexus if they had to choose one for the other. Well, the thing is, with preamp stages, Continuity does not come into play. There is no power output stage. Hence, I shouldn't have expected the Nexus based Freya S to not be as transparent as I thought.

    As an aside, I know completely nothing about how Nexus works. I think some dude on the Internet may have reverse engineered and posted the schematics to Nexus' predecessor Pivot-Point. But it's my understanding there were some errors. And even if there were a schematic of Nexus, it would take me years to understand it. I do network security architecture on a daily basis, not audio circuits! The point is that I've heard a few Nexus pieces already, and it does have a sound (everything has a sound: anyone who says wire-with-gain is full of shit or hasn't heard enough gear). As far as the Continuity stuff, read up on the Tube CAD Journal on GM doubling. Pure Class A or Continuity? I do think Schiit's implementation does have its own sound.

    Now getting back on track: does the Freya S take away from the Freya +? Of course not! I'm sure you guys know that I'm not a purist in any approach, but do I have tendencies toward the purist approach. This is the reason why I would pick the S. However, I am pretty convinced that most people will prefer the + with tubes. There are still many different types of vintage 6SN7s, and with two pairs, an opportunity to mix and match to arrive at a suitable sound.

    So how does the Freya S Nexus sound like? In terms of sins of omission, even less than that of the Saga tube mode and passive mode (which is less than Freya + and passive). In terms of commission? More robust, tighter, stronger. More drive. Two monoblock Aegirs are leaner, cleaner, and less sweet than a single stereo Aegir, so I find the Freya S Nexus just right for a differential output drive to the monoblocks.

    1X or 4X gain? 4X is where it is at. More lively, deeper stage, more spaciousness, most like the original signal.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Pictures or it didn't happen.
    IMG_20190630_014035.jpg
     
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    FYI, these are going on the loaner program. Don't know whether to loan them out separately or individually.
     
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  5. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Validation, yesss.

    Though, it's slightly but noticeably less kind to treble issues is source material than my RCA-powered OG Saga.

    Then again, this system makes so many compromises there's really no point in upgrading the DAC anyway, let alone switching transducers so that I can change DAC.

    I also only get a usable range of 7 to noon on the pot at 4x - 1 o'clock it's into uncomfortably loud territory - but with 128 steps that's really a non-issue.
     
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  6. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    Assume you were using the 4 stock Tung-sols in Freya+? Planning any other tube rolling?

    That’s interesting because with OG Freya the differences were fairly clear to me - JFET was more dynamic and less rounded, but also a bit strident. I far preferred JFET to passive on the OG, but the stridency eventually fatigues. I also though there was something else being added that I didn’t like - almost like a hash in the mids and highs. Passive on theOG is too smoothed over, rounded and muddy, and the soundstage is closed in and lacking in dynamics and bite. So the question with Freya+ is whether the passive mode has become closer to JFET or the JFET closer to passive, or have both moved overall in a more transparent direction?

    This sounds very promising, as long as it’s not overdone and artificial sounding.

    Would that be compared to the Nano Patch? How would you compare the Nexus soundstage and spaciousness to Freya + (in tube mode or buffer)?
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  7. Thenewerguy009

    Thenewerguy009 Friend

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    The new stock Tung-Sols definitely have there own sound. Which I would say more round & polite sounding than some of the better used 6SN7 tubes.
     
  8. schiit

    schiit SchiitHead

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    With respect to the buffer tweaks between Freya and Freya+, yep, they are utterly different.

    The Freya used 4 completely separate 2-JFET buffers for stereo. That was nice and minimalist, but it didn't convert single-ended inputs to balanced. And with our amps needing balanced inputs to be run in mono, not everyone was thrilled with having to use the tube stage to do the conversion.

    The Freya+'s "JFET buffer" uses a gain-of-1 compound-pair JFET differential amplifier, coupled with an equalized-transconductance BJT output stage. So it converts single-ended to balanced, so now you have another option if you want to convert an SE source without using tubes.

    So yeah, totally different...
     
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  9. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    That’s very interesting Jason thanks. I feel like I have a bit of a bias against “FETs” because I always seem to prefer BJT (bipolar) based amps over the FET based ones that I’ve heard. That could of course be just based on the limited set of amps that I’ve heard, but they always seem to fall that way for me.
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    On tube rolling:

    I have a box of most major popular types of 6SN7 with the exception of the European Brimar, Pope, Fivre, Mullard (which I'm not a fan of anyway, too colored for a tube which isn't colored). Tried stock tubes, which are good sounding and provide an overall even warm sound. VIntage TSRP for something the opposite direction. And then these Rogers triangle plates that remind me of the 7N7, a laid back approach which I settled on. I can see the cheap Sylvania chrome domes also being nice with a bit more air and punch compared to the Rogers. Bottom line is to expect your 6SN7s to perform as you would expect if you know how they tend to sound. With two sets of slots, for combinations available, so roll away. I only rolled the gain stage tubes.

    On JFET buffer:

    I didn't care for the JFET buffer on the OG Freya. Listened to it a few times and moved on. I didn't experience fatigue compared to the passive. My main gripe was that it made the music slightly more boring. Differences between passive and JFET may differ from system to system because passive preamp performance is highly dependent upon the source and amp interactions. When the situation isn't ideal for using passive, passive can either sound soft and mushy or anemic. The point is that any impressions I leave on passive or relative to the performance of the passive may be different on different systems.

    Again, I felt the JFET buffer and passive was too close to call on the Freya+, but I am using a different system and slightly less resolving speakers this time around. Last time was Pioneer M-22 on the ORIS horns + Lowther DX3 and OB 15". I will listen again to make sure.

    Compared to JBL Nano Patch:

    Well obviously the JBL Nano Patch has no remote, no input switches, and can't convert the SE output from my phonostage to balanced. However, the JBL Nano Patch does sound just a little bit more transparent than the Freya passive, more plankton and more clarity. This would seem to echo a similar experience where @Hooncake mentioned the Freya passive is like Goldpoint- (in this case a JBL Nano Patch-), but probably too close to notice during casual listening.

    The Nexus 4X soundstage is more focused, located deeper than passive, and has more layers to stage depth. The soundstage shape is traditional and doesn't have the slight curvature wrap-around effect of the Freya + tube gain stage.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
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  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It doesn't sound "FET". With some exceptions, I dislike most *FET stuff too. I can dig up the messages I've sent to Jason over the years "No *FETS right?"

    Glad to know that I wasn't insane. Would have been funny if Jason said: nope I didn't change a thing.
     
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  12. schiit

    schiit SchiitHead

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    FETs are an important part of the input to any gain stage (or buffer) that is DC-coupled from a volume pot or ladder, because that's how you avoid pops from a ladder and scratching from a pot. Any gain stage with inputs that have current leakage (that is, based on bipolar transistors, BJTs) needs to have a capacitor between it and the volume pot or ladder for truly noiseless operation. Sure, you can have complementary BJT input and hope that the devices match enough for almost noiseless operation, but it's never perfect.

    Both Nexus and the (unnamed) differential buffer in Freya+ use JFETs on the input. As far as both of these "not sounding like FETs," maybe it's due to the compound pair in Freya+ (using both N channels and P channels do cancel some FET oddities) and also due to how Nexus uses the FETs in the input--the input is really more an interface stage, the differential part is the second stage. But that's just speculation.
     
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  13. Cary

    Cary Acquaintance

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    Thanks for the writeup, it has pushed me to order the Freya s. I tried the original Freya and was less than enthusiastic, but believe it was not working correctly. Hopefully this is the replacement for my Adcom GFP-750, which I like, but the volume knob is getting scratchy and parts availability slim.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2019
  14. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Here you go.

    Notes:
    • New Saga not in the comparison.
    • Higher values = less sins of omission (coloration) or less sins of omission.

    upload_2019-7-3_11-39-38.png
     
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  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    More comments:
    1. Iconography. The iconography on the chassis and remote are too small. It's hard to make for 50-year-old people. Also, I am not sure if the iconography makes sense.
    2. Real volume knob. It's a real volume knob that stops counterclockwise near 7 o'clock. This is a nice touch over the "infinite spin" of the prior models.
    3. Tube mode shutdown on the Freya+ was much needed. The downside is that if switching back to the tube gain stage after 10 seconds from another, the 45-second warm-up is needed again.
    4. The remote volume control does not work during the pause/warm-up cycle after switching to the tube gain stage or the 4X stage. One needs to be aware to lower the volume before making the change to a higher gain stage.
    5. Loud relay switching. The relay switching when the volume is changed is kind of loud.
    6. Wishlist: I would have liked to see a Freya with both the JFET/BJT diff amp circuit and Nexus in the same chassis.
     
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2019
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  16. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    One point - neither my Freya nor my previous Saga, had infinite spin on the volume knob. There was always a stopping point on either end. Not sure if there were other versions that did the infinite spin thing or not. The remote volume didn’t actually move the knob before however, which I understand it does now, which is great.

    Does an LED on the front of the chassis blink each time you volume up or down as well? This was something I had suggested for the previous versions of Freya/Saga that Jason said should be possible, but wasn’t sure if they implemented it. Otherwise, when music volume was high and you couldn’t hear the relay switching, I wasn’t sure if the volume was changing or not, especially on Freya since it’s less than a dB of change (I guess now however you might notice the volume knob turning).
     
  17. econaut

    econaut Almost "Made"

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    Yes, an LED blinks when changing volume via remote.
     
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  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Oh, or maybe that's it. There was just something off about how the volume control worked with the OG Saga and OG Freya.
     
  19. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Yeah because if you changed it by remote you then had to lower the physical pot to the lowest volume achieved by either or sth - so that you wouldn't instantly switch to max and blow your cones - and only then it would pick up you moving the pot.

    As a solution to said problem it worked but always made it feel weirdly disconnected.
     
  20. RatSalad

    RatSalad Almost "Made"

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    I just set OG saga to a half on the knob and use remote. When I shut it off always turn knob all the way down. I like it like this, nice to see OG saga rates so high across the board against all the freyas.
     

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