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Schiit Freya Noval Measurements: Taking a Different Perspective

GXAlan

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Schiit Freya Noval Measurements: A Different Perspective
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The Schiit Freya S and Freya+ have been tested by @amirm. The 1 kHz dashboard summary is below.

Freya S (newest)Freya+ and Freya Noval (older)
Passive Mode"As good as the analyzer""As good as the analyzer"
Solid State Mode+6 dB gain (111 dB SINAD)
+18 dB gain (107 dB SINAD)
+0 dB buffer (86 dB SINAD)
Tube ModeNot available+0 dB volume attenuated
Freya+ with factory tubes (60 dB SINAD)

The Freya Noval, also called the Freya N, is the third member of the Freya family that hasn't been measured yet. It's identical to the Freya+ with the exception that it has different tube sockets (and therefore operating points and gain structure to support the different tubes). The Freya Noval was released in 2022 at a launch price of $899 and has been discontinued.

There should be no difference in solid state performance, but instead of Amir's 86 dB SINAD, I got 96 dB! How did that happen?

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Let's explain why these numbers look the way they do... I've taken a different, but still scientific perspective
It's important to standardize measurements to allow comparisons between products. Here, the standard is 2V for unbalanced line level connections, 4V for balanced line level connections, and 5W at 4 ohms for speaker level outputs. That's just for the dashboard measurements and @amirm is always quick to point out that the dashboard is a quick one number "score", but if that's all you needed to know about a product, he wouldn't take the time to do all of the other measurements and provide all of the other charts.

I'd like to present an added perspective to help everyone understand why the rest of the graphs are important. We have great DACs that only get better with higher voltages. We have great amplifiers that give us SOTA performance for not-a-lot-of-money. I don't really need a pre-amplifier. What I'd really like to have a remote-controlled volume attenuator and input selectors with balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA inputs.

I live in California, so grabbing a Schiit Freya of any flavor makes a lot of sense for a SOTA passive mode. I get to support a "local" company and have a SOTA remote-controlled volume attenuator and source selection. It's a done deal. The reason I picked up the Freya Noyal variant is that I have a stash of 6DJ8 tubes and having the tube option to "season my sound" with tube distortion might be enjoyable.

I tend to listen at 70-75 dB, which seems to match the values reported in this study of young adults.

With an average SPL of 75 dB, my peaks might hit 90 dB with real music.

Scenario 1: Revel F328Be and HypeX Nilai 500

The Revel F328Be is a spectacular speaker and the HypeX Nilai 500 is a spectacular amplifier.

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The Revel F328Be is pretty efficient and is nominally 8 ohm. So 2.5 watts per channel, 2 speakers, 10 feet listening distance, speakers within 4 feet of the wall = ~91 dB at the listening position. That works for my listening scenario.

Note the red text in the Nilai500 dashboard image: 0.183 volt in

So, if the Schiit Freya Noval is fed a 4V signal from a 105 dB SINAD source and the volume is attenuated to output ~0.183V, you are at 96 dB SINAD.

Once you feed the signal to a Nilai 500, your cumulative SINAD is still better than your listening level of 91 dB at 10 ft listening distance..

1689838496643.png


So, even something that doesn't seem measure to well at a nominal 4V output, may in fact be just fine in actual practice if you're living at a lower voltage. Why would you take the penalty at all and not just use the passive mode? With the solid state circuitry enabled, the unbalanced inputs get converted to balanced inputs, which is great.

Scenario 2: Genelec 8351B
Let's say you just take this SOTA speaker out-of-the-box and run it in default mode with the analog XLR-inputs. What are looking at?


By default, Genelec is setup so that -6 dBU gets you to 100 dB. -6 dBU is 0.388V. At this default gain structure, 0.188V gets you to >93 dB at 1m anechoic room so you're getting even higher SPLs with room gain if your speakers are somewhat close to a wall.

Subjective Impressions/Comments
  • The power switch is located on the back of unit. I don't love that but it does remember the last mode you were in and I understand how this keeps the cost low.
  • The remote is poorly labeled with icons but the metal is a nice touch and it does exactly what it is supposed to do. If you point it in the general direction of the unit, it works.
  • Everything is relay driven so there's an awesome or annoying "clickity-clack" when you adjust the volume, depending on your perspective about loud relays.
  • There are amber LEDs on the PCB that exaggerate the tube glow. These LEDs are active even in passive mode, but it's only on the right side. LEDs are a great substitute for regular diodes given the manufacturing tolerances/economics.
  • It's capacitor coupled, so you don't have to worry about DC but there will be a roll-off if your next device in the chain has an abnormally low input impedance. I only have the E1DA Cosmos ADC which is a poor device for running a FR sweep.

Conclusion
[+] Made in the USA
[+] Remote control that doesn't turn into a game of lasertag
[+] 3 unbalanced/2 balanced inputs which can be used separately in passive mode or converted in active mode
[+] Opportunity to add distortion via tubes* (I haven't had a chance to do any level matched listening comparisons)
[+] 5 year US-based warranty. EU customers get a 2 year EU + 3 year extended US warranty
[+] 128-Step Relay-Switched Volume
[-] Not the best choice for low-gain amplifiers and low-efficiency speakers where you need more voltage than your DAC can supply and/or need the unbalanced to balanced conversion

I agree 100% with Amir's recommendations. The Freya S is the model most people should probably get over the Freya+. With the Freya S, you have a fully transparent attenuator in passive mode, and a clean active mode that's going to be audibly transparent with a lot of usability/comforts like a nice remote and a 5-year warranty. With low-gain amplifiers, the Freya S can supply plenty of voltage. Want second order harmonics? @pkane has some software for you to use. You can achieve a lot with the combination of software and a solid state pre-amp.

This is not a fixed effects box -- you get your high quality passive stepped attenuator and the option to add tubes into the signal at the touch of the button.
 
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GXAlan

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Listening Impressions
I hooked up the Freya Noval to the JBL 708P.

The strength and weakness of the 708P, in my mind, is the center image for vocals are truly pinpoint but then it sounds a bit like the old era Dolby Pro-Logic II Music where 0 center width seemed a bit off. That is, I can hear exactly what is in recording and nothing more.

Again, at the output voltages I was working with, I couldn’t appreciate any difference between the passive and active mode. This makes sense since I was listening at around 70 dB as well below even 0.183V.

Switching to the tube output changes the gain, so it is hard to level match. However, doing my best to do a level match comparison, I find that the tube mode adds excitement to the violins and makes the voices richer. The H2 isn’t that high, but it might be IMD or the dynamic treble sweetening effect I saw with the 300B. To ensure it wasn’t just louder, I kept trying to increase the volume of the solid state mode until it was uncomfortably loud and then had to back off. The tube mode seemed to have a more prominent violin presentation

What was very nice was that the tube stage was very quiet and I had no subjective increase in noise over the 708P’s internal noise. This matches the noise measurement I got above of -113 dB vs -123.7 dB for the tube vs. active mode * (32 averages, 512K FFT).

Comparing the 708P’s precision against the JBL XPL90 and the Bose 901, there is a clear regression in detail/transparency with each step but a compensatory jump in soundstage width as well. The 708P is true insight into the recording while the Bose 901 makes your room feel bigger than it really is. The Freya’s tube stage makes a very small difference compared to speakers, but in my opinion, it is audible.

I will try running some REW sweeps with a UMIK-2 at different levels to see if there is anything audible.
 

Gorgonzola

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Thanks for your posts. Interesting and a well-reasoned explanation of your selection of the Noval.

Many tube lovers seem to prefer the "octal" -- eight pin -- tubes such as the 6SN7 used in the Freya +. But overall "noval" -- 9 pin -- tubes are more popular. The latter are smaller sized tubes but I'm not sure how much size matters :) in makers' decisions. There is a large variety of the 9 pin tubes in particular.

The Freya Noval might have appealed to me to the same reason you selected it over the '+', namely you have an existing collection of tubes. That is, except that the tubes I have lying around are 6922-type tubes rather than the 6N1P used in the Noval. A quick check of major tube retailers implies that 6N1P are relatively rare -- they each stock only one make & model.

I may added that I owned the Freya + for a while; it was equipped with with Tung Sol 6SN7 tubes. My tube preamp is the Sonic Frontier Line 1 which uses six 6922 tubes; the input or 'driver' stage is tube as well as gain and cathode followers stages. I'll admit that I much prefer the sound of my SF to the Freya +; it is considerably more resolving for one thing.

A pic of my preamp's guts ...
gi.mpl
 
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Veri

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Thanks for your posts. Interesting and a well-reasoned explanation of your selection of the Noval.

Many tube lovers seem to prefer the "octal" -- eight pin -- tubes such as the 6SN7 used in the Freya +. But overall "noval" -- 9 pin -- tubes are more popular. The latter are smaller sized tubes but I'm not sure how much size matters :) in makers' decisions. There is a large variety of the 9 pin tubes in particular.

The Freya Noval might have appealed to me to the same reason you selected it over the '+', namely you have an existing collection of tubes. That is, except that the tubes I have lying around are 6922-type tubes rather than the 6N1P used in the Noval. A quick check of major tube retailers implies that 6N1P are relatively rare -- they each stock only one make & model.

My tube preamp is the Sonic Frontier Line 1 which uses six 6922 tubes; the input or 'driver' stage is tube as well as gain and cathode followers stages.

A pic of my preamp's guts ...
gi.mpl
Boy oh boy, so many (small) parts... :p
 
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GXAlan

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I may added that I owned the Freya + for a while; it was equipped with with Tung Sol 6SN7 tubes. My tube preamp is the Sonic Frontier Line 1 which uses six 6922 tubes; the input or 'driver' stage is tube as well as gain and cathode followers stages. I'll admit that I much prefer the sound of my SF to the Freya +; it is considerably more resolving for one thing.

The Sonic Frontiers line is great. I had the SFS-80 and that’s why I have a stash of the 6DJ8. I do believe that the 6922/6DJ8 tubes seem to measure really well. It may not be preferred over the octals due to looks?
 
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