Freya+ has been here a week, has shown a movie or two and played quite a few records. This post recounts our experiences to date. Associated equipment are Schiit Modius, Gumby Multibit, and Vidar. Most media was Qobuz or Roon disc library based. I also talk about the new speaker placement I settled on.
Freya is three preamps in one
Freya has three modes
- Balanced passive attenuator
- Solid state full differential balanced buffer
- Tube differential balanced gain and buffer
Freya’s thing is to make it easy for audiophiles to experience, compare, and contrast three preamplifier topologies, the passive attenuator, the balanced differential unity gain buffer, and the balanced differential tube line stage. The passive attenuator serves as the level control for the two active amplifiers.
Interestingly, Freya+ makes the same first impression in each mode. The passive attenuator is upstream of the two active stages. Selecting the attenuator routes it to the unbalanced outputs. Selecting either active stage routes the attenuator to the stage input and the active stage’s output to the unbalanced and balanced outputs. The passive attenuator is unable to feed the balanced outputs directly as the selected input may or may not be balanced.
Balanced Differential Buffer
Switching from the passive attenuator to the balanced differential buffer is not immediately noticeable. The level remains unchanged. The big difference is that the balanced outputs are now active. Balanced differential buffer mode is able to drive Ageir and Vidar in bridged mono mode.
The active stage is better able to drive long interconnects and lower input impedance amplifiers than the passive attenuator. Output impedance is 75 ohms unbalanced and 600 ohms balanced (AES standard). With Vidar, there was not much difference between the two. With extended listening, the focus and texture are a bit different. Bowed bass strings have more growl. Small plucked sounds are better articulated. The ability to portray soft percussive sounds with long resonant sounds is improved.
The Balanced Differential Tube Stage
Switching from the passive attenuator to the tube balanced differential gain stage, be ready to duck and cover as the tube stage has a gain of 4. The level could go up and it might get loud. The gain difference dominates the initial impression of the tube stage.
Both active stages have the same essential character. They are neutral in voice, present a sharply focused image, and have a live performance transient naturalness. This is most apparent listening to good jazz recordings where piano and drum transients are focused and free of ringing. Tuned toms sound glorious. The ability to combine soft percussive sounds with louder resonant sounds remains.
Freya+ has a tube stage using 6SN7 new stock vacuum tubes. Tube-heads are passionate about new old stock vs new tubes, who made what when, etc. There can be significant differences in characteristics between 6SN7 tubes from different manufacturers as there is no standard for what is inside the glass. Rather, each manufacturer takes their house approach to approximating the ideal characteristics of the 6SN7. Plate structure, plate dissipation, noise, and microphonics can vary between brands and from one production run to the next.
The Chinese and Russians make most tubes today. Some may still be made in eastern Europe. The manufacturers are consolidating with Electroharmonix, New Sensor, and Svetlana acquiring tooling and designs from the older manufacturers. These companies sell under multiple brand names.
My Freya+ currently has JJ 6SN7s. When it comes time to retube, I will order replacements from Schiit rather than from one of the many Internet tube merchants. Schiit buys in 6SN7s in volume for Freya and two headphone amplifiers that use the 6SN7. Schiit stays abreast of what is available, affordable, and good. And they sell matched quads for Freya at a reasonable price ($100), a $5/tube premium for matching. And they keep abreast of the new tube market with respect to product quality and availability.
Stage Usage Patterns
I use the balanced differential unity gain stage (the solid state one) for general listening. I use the balanced differential tube stage for evening record listening. I find that both the solid state and tube stages are very similar in sound. I don’t note a difference in voicing. There may be a difference in impulse response, how the two stages render drum beats, piano notes, mandolin plucking, etc. But it is a second or third order effect. Either stage sounds the same, the focus is the same, and the decay the same.
What I do notice more than anything is that the Magneplanar LRS is happier at about 80 dbA than at lower levels. The Maggies appear to bring the small sounds out better at 80 dbA than at 70 dbA. (measured with an iPad app). This is a feature of the Maggies, not Freya and Vidar.
What I Would Change
If it were me, I’d make the solid state stage (unity gain) and tube stage both gain 4. Here’s why. I use the Freya+ with Modius for TV audio. TV audio is subject to the whims of Dolby and THX and is noticeably lower in average level than music and the radio. To play back a Star Wars movie, I had to have the unity gain stage level up fully to have a good dialog level. Finally, I switched to the tube stage.
Yes, I moved them. I also moved the TV from the low rack to the tall rack. This positioning gives a much more focused image at the listening position (where I was sitting when I took this snapshot). The proper placement of Maggie LRS has a dramatic effect on the sound. With similar reflection conditions and being forward in the room, most of the bass honking is gone. If the bass has pronounced peaks, Maggie needs to be further from the back wall.
That width seems to give a nice image breadth. Jazz piano is a good reference for sound staging. The treble notes (right hand) should be focused and the sound moving about as play moves up and down on the keyboard. I’ve heard this in live concerts seated about 10 to 12 feet behind the pianist. So it is not a trick of close miking the piano.
The typical jazz trio or quartet will have the piano at one side, the drums at the other, and the bass player and featured artist in the center. You should hear this arrangement when you play a Joey Alexander, Jon Batiste, or Justin Kauflin record.
I arrived at the arrangement after extensive consultation with Rocky. (He has decked the right one twice). It can’t be too close to the squirrel lookout or the treat drawer. An excited Rocky bumps into things. This arrangement also lets me watch TV without moving the speakers. It was only a matter of time until peanut butter, chocolate, or jelly decorations were applied while moving them for TV viewing.