Schiit Freya Preamp Review (Episodic) This will be a series of episodic articles covering the Freya. There’s too much to cover and I would like to evaluate the Freya under a wide range of circumstances with various systems. Doing it this way will also allow you guys to ask me questions or make special requests. Assessment in front of a headphone system with solid-state headamp: http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...reya-preamp-review-episodic.3725/#post-111869 Additional notes from a modest wide-range speaker system: http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...reamp-review-episodic.3725/page-2#post-112470 Sonic Comparison with Parasound Halo P5:http://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/parasound-halo-p5-preamp-mini-review.3779/ Freya Bitchisms: http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...reamp-review-episodic.3725/page-4#post-116222 On imaging precision: http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...otunheim-impressions.2700/page-60#post-118996 @Garns Impressions: http://www.superbestaudiofriends.or...eamp-review-episodic.3725/page-11#post-143840 Let’s first start with the reasons for a preamp. For myself, I had an excellent reason. I have a Crest CA2 pro audio power amp which I knew had sounded pretty good in past systems. I was using the CA2 to power my Altec 511B horn / 12” woofer speakers. A Schiit Gungnir multibit DAC fed a Softone Model 5 passive preamp, which in turn fed the CA2. This setup sounded like shit. Muddy, dead, dull, and rolled. I kind of knew why, it was the Softone. It’s not that Softone makes a bad product. Not at all. It was an impedance mismatch. Like many other solid-state amps, the Crest CA2 has an input impedance of 10k ohms unbalanced. Looking up the specifications sheet of the Softone Model 5 passive preamp, we find that the input impedance can be anywhere from 34k to 10k ohms, and the output impedance can go anywhere from 20k ohms to 1k ohms. Ugh! This was a disaster in waiting. The only way this would have worked is if the power amp had an input impedance of at least 100k ohms. Only an active preamp which could act as a buffer between the DAC and the power amp would do in this situation. Let’s look at the feature set of the Freya. There are two balanced inputs, three unbalanced inputs. There is a balanced output and two SE outputs. The outputs can all be driven at the same time. The inputs are selected on the front panel with a button which switches the inputs up in order and cycles backs to the first. I would have preferred an actual switch with five positions or two buttons to switch inputs up and down so I didn't always have to cycle through all the inputs to get to the one before. But this is not a big deal. On the front panel, there is also a mute button,and a disturbing hole which is for receiving signals from the infrared remote. The small remote control replicates all controls on the the front panel. As with all other Schiit gear, the power switch is on the back. Now here is the real kicker: The relay-switched 128 step attenuator with discrete resistors. I've always hated steppers because it was impossible to find exactly that right volume level. You could have 24 steps. No way. 48 steps. Nope. 64. Well, maybe. But whoa! 128 steps at 0.5db increments? That is really nice! Wait, didn't the Ragnarok have 128 steps? Nope, only 64. I thought this was better! The volume knob on the Freya glides smoothly with a quiet series of clicks. The 0.5db steps provides me with more than enough granularity. Going back to other amps with potentiometers doesn’t feel as nice. In fact, they feel kind of shitty. If the fancy stepper isn’t enough, there are the three passive / active options available. Wait three? Yeah, there are three. The Freya can be used as a passive preamp, an active preamp with a JFET buffer, and a tube preamp. The tube preamp isn’t a straight buffer, it has a gain of 5 (14db), which could be useful for those running phonostages or tube monoblocks lacking sufficient gain. One thing that I did not like about this setup was that there was no option to cut off the power to the tube section when the passive or JFET sections were in use. The tubes are on all of the time. (I guess we could always remove the tubes). Just a tip on tube rolling: the first two tubes provide gain. Make sure those are quiet tubes. Your highest quality tubes go here. If your gain tubes are noisy, you will hear it. Match in pairs. One pair in the differential gain section. The other pair for the cathode follower. There is no need to match quads. I don’t know why Schiit offered three preamp circuits, but I get the feeling that those guys did so as sort of a “fuck you” statement to the "audio industry". Allow me to explain. One of the tenets behind preamps is to not commit sins of omission. There is no such thing as a totally transparent circuit. Allowing the user to switch between three modes of operation, one of which is just a pair of resistors (this assuming the case where an active buffer isn't necessary) takes a lot of balls because it gives the user an opportunity to directly assess the performance of the active preamp circuits. In my next post, we’ll discuss more about transparency, sins of omission, sins of commission, and observations of the Freya’s performance in an odd application - in front of a headphone amp.