Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)

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JLM

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Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« on: 5 Jun 2017, 09:06 pm »
Summary:

Compared to my DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core the Schiit pair provided a mixed result.  Overall sound quality improved slightly; but many more of the warts of poor recordings (harshness, thinness, and stridence) were further revealed; most of my library (perhaps 80%) sounds little different; and about 10% of my library exhibited one or two attributes (more defined/detail, improved dynamics/tonal response, additional background coming through, perhaps more bass, but also more sibilance, greater soundstaging) of better sound.

From what I can tell (with limited A/Bing options) the voicing of Freya and Gungnir MB are very similar as is Freya’s passive, buffer, and tube gain modes.  The tube magic I was hoping for just wasn’t there.  So after 10 days of having the gear on almost constantly and lots of auditioning in every possible combination of equipment I had available, the Schiits were returned.


My system goals and why I choose these pieces:

Trying to recreate the original performance in a simple/rather purist near-field setup.  Believe that bass is foundational, but not a basshead.  Quickly fatigue from hyped sonic effects.  I find that pin-point imaging adds a “natural” level of detail (don’t want hyper detail forced down my throat).  Proper tone and solid midrange performance are paramount.  Have been into audio for 40+ years so have tried many things so am setting in my ways and am a “speaker guy”.  The incentive to upgrade was due to trying to find tube palpability (without bloat or excessive syrup) and occasional encouragement by ACers that my speakers “deserved” better ancillaries.

I like the Schiit business (design/pricing/marketing) approach.  In particular I liked: the upgradability of their DACs; the balanced design; and the 3 mode (passive, solid state buffer, and tube gain) options of the preamp.  The Freya remote was a plus.  Looks wise – nothing special, which is fine with me.  The only other tube gear I’ve had in lately was a Prima Luna Premium Dialogue Integrated, which was nice but barely added tube magic and an audition of the iFi Tube 2 which provided no advantages but several possible disadvantages (see my review in the dedicated Abbington/iTube2 tour thread).


Background:

Associated gear – MacBook Air > Straightwire 10ft USB > DSPeaker (for room correction and baffle step correction) > Blue Jean optical cable (new) > Gungnir MB > Best-Tronics 2ft XLR cable (new) > Freya > Best-Tronics 3ft XLR cable (new) > Temple Audio mono-blocks (new) > Scott Endler 7ft custom speaker cable > Brines Acoustics M18-F200 speakers (Fostex F200A drivers were EnABL’d by Bud Purvine) and paralleled via 7ft Monoprice 15ga speaker wire with cap and Dayton Audio DC28FS-8 tweeter on floor behind speaker facing up in a “Late Ceiling Splash” concept (refer to Audio Kinesis child-circle for more information)

Music used – (all CD’s ripped to iTunes, thus my interest in the Gungnir) typical audiophile jazz pieces, some classical (mostly small ensemble), other audiophile standards, and a few “guilty pleasures” (non-audiophile material)

Etc. – room is a well insulated drywalled 8ft x 13ft x 21ft man cave (front is audio, back is my office) with carpet/pad over concrete, setup is modified Cardas near-field, the house has its own transformer, newer house/appliances, all 20 amp/12 gauge circuits, dedicated audio circuits with cryo’d hospital grade receptacles and separate grounding, have six GIK 244 absorption panels that frankly work much better outside of this near ideally shaped room

I also substituted the 3ft XLR cable on down with Best-Tronics 10ft XLR cable (new) > Dynaudio BM5 Mk III (active 2-way monitors) on cheap adjustable height metal stands.  These provide a more accurate but more bass limited sound. 

Links:  http://schiit.com/products/gungnir    http://schiit.com/products/freya


“Quirks”: 

The Best-Tronics XLR cable is reported to best respected audiophile XLR versions (for a 5th of the price).  What a treat to buy a quality pair of 3ft interconnects for $94!  Don’t have facilities to allow for instant A/B comparisons or helpers to do blind testing.  Upon turn-on Freya and Gungnir MB need a few seconds to “warm up”, so a single light blinks on each, then they return to previous settings.  And yes, the relay volume control has “clicks” that is heard at low/medium volumes as it goes up/down.

The Freya’s right two tubes are used in the gain stage, the left two tubes are used in the output stage (one tube per channel). Schiit only supplies “ordinary” tubes, so I bought two matched pairs of NOS 6SN7 RCA’s.  Freya offers lots of options: 2 pair of balanced (XLR) inputs, 3 pair of single ended (RCA) inputs, 1 pair of XLR outputs, 2 pair of RCA outputs, 3 output modes: passive, JFET (solid state) buffer, and tube gain.  In my system there is sufficient volume range in any of the modes.  Can hear no difference between passive and JFET buffer modes.  No problems with impedance matching.

Future Freya preamps are supposed to keep the tubes out of the circuit while in passive/JFET buffer modes, don’t know how running in those modes might (hopefully) extend tube life while in the circuit.  Gungnir has only three rubber footers (awkward for a long/thin piece, Freya has four and a bit unstable if you stack Freya on top.


My impressions (compared to my DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core DAC/preamp/DSP) with both speaker setups:

Relatively little is lost switching from tube to passive or buffer modes, which means I heard almost no tubbiness (a major disappointment).  Took 100 hours to lose most of the excessive sibilance.  After roughly 160 hours one of output tubes (half of a $92 matched pair) developed a hum and at around 200 hours it blew while running in passive mode, just adding to my life long frustration with tubes.  The good news was both the passive and buffer modes were unaffected.
« Last Edit: 7 Sep 2017, 11:53 am by JLM »

Peter J

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #1 on: 5 Jun 2017, 10:55 pm »
I also like Schiit's approach to business and have considered the Gungnir MB as a replacement for my W4S DAC 2, but have yet to pull the trigger. Did you have a way to evaluate Gungnir sans Freya?
The yet-to-be released Vidar amps are interesting to me as well and I may give them a go first.

Lancelot

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #2 on: 6 Jun 2017, 12:32 am »

 Excellent review. What drives me crazy is if you are going to build a pre ( with a tube option ) and it doesn't have some of that tube magic ( and you are not the first to notice this ), then why bother at all.
 
 I'm not talking overly warm or rolled off etc. , just  some added tonal richness etc. that  appeals to many.

 I was interested but not now.     

restrav

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #3 on: 6 Jun 2017, 12:46 am »
the volume pot looks frail and insignificant even compared with a $40 alps pot! what gives?

ryno

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #4 on: 6 Jun 2017, 01:18 am »
Most preamps—passive or active—use a potentiometer for volume control. Freya uses a sophisticated microprocessor-controlled relay-stepped attenuator for perfect channel matching and zero distortion—and with 128 steps for ultra-precise level control. You can hear it clicking as you turn the volume up and down.

Sounds like they feel their pot isn't insignificant.

OzarkTom

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #5 on: 6 Jun 2017, 01:21 am »
Makes me very happy that I bought the IFI Ipro Ican instead. That unit has all of the tube magic with no harshness. :D

restrav

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #6 on: 6 Jun 2017, 02:05 am »
Most preamps—passive or active—use a potentiometer for volume control. Freya uses a sophisticated microprocessor-controlled relay-stepped attenuator for perfect channel matching and zero distortion—and with 128 steps for ultra-precise level control. You can hear it clicking as you turn the volume up and down.

Sounds like they feel their pot isn't insignificant.

actually that is what i needed to know, these things were not apparent from the pictures of the inside on the unit. in the pictures it looks like a tiny potentiometer

JLM

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #7 on: 6 Jun 2017, 11:27 am »
Peter J:

I did run the DSPeaker (DSP only) into Gungnir MB, then back into the DSPeaker (preamp only) and as stated it was voiced very similarly to the Freya, with the same effects on my library.  Note that the DSPeaker has single ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs/outputs so was able to stay with XLRs.


Lancelot:

Agreed.  I anticipated that a gain stage designed around 6SN7s would be "tubie" (in as you describe a good way).


Dadbeh:

Yes, they really hype their attenuator over other methods for volume adjustment.

dspringham

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #8 on: 6 Jun 2017, 02:57 pm »
Makes me very happy that I bought the IFI Ipro Ican instead. That unit has all of the tube magic with no harshness. :D

Hey Tom,

Can you please elaborate regarding your experience with the Ipro Ican (maybe a new thread would be appropriate or possibly continue here). I'm looking for preamp duties with speaker setup (no current requirement for headphone duties, however realize that this is a large part of the Ican design). Remote volume capability with good functionality a must. Also considering de Havilland Ultraverve, Rogue Audio RP-1 etc.

Looking for tube dimensionality/tonality (without softening the edges or adding too much "syrup") to go along with Class D mono's (Nord). Sounds like the Freya does not add much to the mix on this front.

Thank you in advanced for your (and others) comments.

Dave

firedog

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #9 on: 7 Jun 2017, 06:09 am »
Excellent review. What drives me crazy is if you are going to build a pre ( with a tube option ) and it doesn't have some of that tube magic ( and you are not the first to notice this ), then why bother at all.
 
 I'm not talking overly warm or rolled off etc. , just  some added tonal richness etc. that  appeals to many.

 I was interested but not now.   

Well, I guess it depends on what you want the tube section to do. I have the Freya. The tube output to me does sound different than the solid state: it's a little more warm, rounded and softer, a bit less clear (to my way of hearing). It definitely sounds different.  I think that is some aspect of "tubiness". I'm pretty sure it was not the Schiit design goal to add heavy tube coloration, etc. In that sense the tube section stays broadly similar in character to the other stages.
Personally, I find the jFET stage sounds the best. Yes it is basically the same sound as the passive, but IME has more "drive" to the sound.

JLM

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #10 on: 7 Jun 2017, 11:18 am »
Tube "magic" can easily become a two-edged sword.  Defining it is hard enough, but when does it become excessive?  I've heard some wonderful tube amps that I could never live with as they are "way over the top" in my book, like having a sheet cake with 2 inches of frosting.   It does seem that Schiit didn't want to overdo the tube effect, which IMO is the more desirable approach.

Perhaps I need to replace my source (server/software and library) to make these pieces work better for me but I'm not willing to do that.

Being a "speaker guy" (as mentioned in my review) I'm rather insensitive to the rest of the playback chain. I considered the difference between the tube and passive/buffer modes to be quite subtle (except for the 15 dB of gain, duh) and the difference between passive and buffer extremely subtle (probably much more useful if you have impedance matching problems in your system).  It seemed to me that I found the Schiit house sound in all three modes as well as in the Gungnir MB:  accurate and uptilted. 

I.Greyhound Fan

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #11 on: 7 Jun 2017, 04:30 pm »
I don't understand why you would make a piece of gear with tube and SS switching option and not make the tube side sound tubey for lack of a better term.  Having owned and still own several pieces of tube gear, it is easy to change the sound of tube gear with tube rolling if other tubes are available. Although you can drive yourself crazy in doing so, looking for the holy grail of tubes.  Tube rolling can affect every aspect of the sound.

reelvox

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #12 on: 7 Jun 2017, 06:28 pm »
just to throw in my two cents.

i own a Freya and my experience could not be different than the OP. No disrespect at all.

i find the differences between the passive, buffer, and tube stages to be stark.

the tube section is IMO amazingly toobey in the best possible way. i am using new production Tung Sols.
« Last Edit: 7 Jun 2017, 09:19 pm by reelvox »

Paddlefoot

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #13 on: 7 Jun 2017, 07:47 pm »
 i am in full agreement with Firedog about the sound of the Freya, i find the jFet sounds the best for my system. i wished that Schiit would include either a switch to turn off the tubes or would have made some covers for the tubes holes in the top, so crap don't fall in there when you remove the tubes. :duh:

jseymour

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #14 on: 7 Jun 2017, 08:09 pm »
In agreement with Reelvox.  Not only is there a distinct difference between the 3 modes, but I hear distinct differences between various tubes.  I have tried Sylvania 7N7, Sylvania 6SN7A (1954) and a whole assortment of 1940's 6F8G and 6C8G.  I have demonstrated SS vs Tube mode to many people and everyone chooses tube.  The SS mode is good, but tube mode adds a dose of organic 3D goodness to the sound.  Probably distortion, but it is preferred. 

The only tubes I don't like are the stock tubes.  They suck.  Schiit should have offered the choice of Freya with no tubes and Freya with the current Tung-Sols.

I use and highly recommend socket savers.  It make tube swapping quick and easy by having the socket level with the top of the Freya.  It also keeps things from dropping into the preamp.

reelvox

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #15 on: 7 Jun 2017, 09:22 pm »
In agreement with Reelvox.  Not only is there a distinct difference between the 3 modes, but I hear distinct differences between various tubes.  I have tried Sylvania 7N7, Sylvania 6SN7A (1954) and a whole assortment of 1940's 6F8G and 6C8G.  I have demonstrated SS vs Tube mode to many people and everyone chooses tube.  The SS mode is good, but tube mode adds a dose of organic 3D goodness to the sound.  Probably distortion, but it is preferred. 

The only tubes I don't like are the stock tubes.  They suck.  Schiit should have offered the choice of Freya with no tubes and Freya with the current Tung-Sols.

I use and highly recommend socket savers.  It make tube swapping quick and easy by having the socket level with the top of the Freya.  It also keeps things from dropping into the preamp.

..amd my experience mirrors yours...i also was easily able to demonstrate to listeners hiw different the three modes sound...which to my mind mean schiit met their design goals.

i think this preamp may be the biggest bargain in high end audio today.

i also agree with you about the stock tubes, they are junk, but that is literally my only complaint.

The Tung Sols cost me under $100 for the quad and they bettered many NOS tubes i tried.

poseidonsvoice

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #16 on: 7 Jun 2017, 09:49 pm »
just to throw in my two cents.

i own a Freya and my experience could not be different than the OP. No disrespect at all.

i find the differences between the passive, buffer, and tube stages to be stark.

the tube section is IMO amazingly toobey in the best possible way. i am using new production Tung Sols.

Given your polar opposite appraisal of the Freya compared to the OP, please share the components in your system to put your appraisal in context.

Thanks,
Anand.

reelvox

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #17 on: 7 Jun 2017, 09:54 pm »
Given your polar opposite appraisal of the Freya compared to the OP, please share the components in your system to put your appraisal in context.

Thanks,
Anand.

sure;;

Power amp; Simaudio 760A

Digital; Bryston BDP-2/BDA-3

Analog; Rega Planar 3

Speakers; Bryston Mini T

..and to repeat, no slight on the OP, just totally different take aways.

jseymour

Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #18 on: 7 Jun 2017, 10:45 pm »
Please take this as pure speculation, but could it be that reelvox's system is more revealing of detail?

JLM

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Re: Schiit Freya (and Gungnir Multi-Bit)
« Reply #19 on: 8 Jun 2017, 11:15 am »
Over my 40+ years in audio I did try for detail, but found it fatiguing and distracting as it drew away from tonality and the body of the music.  It forced my analytical brain (I'm a degreed/state licensed engineer) into left brain mode when I wanted music to engage the right side of my brain.  So my main speakers are my "babies" that I commissioned Bob Brines to design/build for me 13 years ago (called M18-F200 on his website).  They use the "mighty" Fostex F200A extended range driver in a floor standing transmission line cabinet.  The F200A uses an 8" cone (no whizzer) with a huge AlNiCo magnet and is rated raw 30-20,000 Hz, 8 ohms, 89 dB/w/m.  These are definitely not your typical single driver speaker (weak bass, thin mid-bass, forward midrange).  These have been called the world's best extended range drivers (I'm in no position to argue one way or the other).

When last available the F200A cost $575 each (the driver in single driver designs have no place to hide).  I further enhanced the driver by having Bud Purvine perform the recommended EnABL treatments on them (Bud invented the concept) to improve midrange detail and treble performance.  Then Duke LeJeune (Audio Kinesis here on AC) suggested adding "Late Ceiling Splash" ambience tweeters (lay on the floor behind the speakers, aimed upward wired in parallel to the F200A with a capacitor in series) to add more highs (and it expanded the soundstage).  My reviews are here at AC.

Last year I scored a pair of Dynaudio BM5 Mk III active studio monitors (on discount before they were discontinued).  These had a MSRP of $1400/pair and were well respected in their price range and had impressive specifications (41 Hz F3, 118 dB/m maximum output).  The BM5s are the next model up in the Dynaudio professional series of the $2,000/pair Excite X14A that are Audio Stream's top pick.  Professional reviews of the BM5 range are online.  They have a more detailed presentation with less deep bass.  As per my review, I now use both pair of speakers to audition gear.

I really can't explain why I didn't hear more differences between passive/buffer modes versus the tube gain stage in the Freya (I really wanted to).  I agree that the stock tubes are throwaways, but I only had the supposedly very nice NOS 1950's RCA 6SN7 matched pairs as alternatives to listen with.  I wanted to like (and keep) both pieces as I'm not a flipper.  But my last two in home auditions (iTube 2 was the other) both yielded mixed results (mostly bad for the iTube 2).  As far as buffering needs go, I've experienced problems using a passive preamp in the past in a previous system (muted highs) and switched to stepped attenuators plugged in at the mono-block inputs, but no such effects from Freya or iTube 2 in my current system.  And many (including Schiit) report almost no difference between passive and JFET buffer modes (probably due to imperfect impedance matching).