Schiit Freya Modes: Subjective vs Objective Differences

Longtime lurker, first time poster here, thanks to all the contributors to this community over the years.

I’m curious if anyone has had experience with a firm subjective impression being negated, or at least complicated, by objective testing.

I recently purchased a Schiit Freya Noval unit and have been driving it hard and testing its output modes for the last month. I very much enjoy it, regardless of the following.

Ignoring the SS buffer for now, my impressions of the passive mode are that it is clean, clear, detailed, and transparent, at the cost of the lower midrange down feeling a little thin, as if the backing band is a few steps farther away from the singer. Vocals are prominent but the soundstage is a tad narrow. The tube mode on the other hand feels a smidge richer and fuller, with male vocals and acoustic guitar in particular having extra presence, weight, and warmth. The bass is more articulate and extended, and a pleasant haze falls atop the presentation, softening harsher details and making the soundstage seem wider and airier.

Or so I thought.

I decided to record the outputs of the Freya with a high end video capture device I use for work that has analog inputs. Using test tones, scopes, and the stepped attenuator, I’m able to achieve a dead-nuts exact level match between the two modes prior to making 24-bit/88khz recordings of a handful of songs spanning different genres. I sync these up in my editor program, and am able to instantly A/B them live listening with my Sundara headphones, sighted or blind.

The result: no difference. No difference as in truly zero difference between the passive and tube outputs. I’ve done this test in a few other contexts with other components before and always find some little detail I’m able to latch onto to establish a contrast, but not this time. Classical, bluegrass, rock, reggae, doesn’t matter: the passive and tube modes give the same output in my test.

Assuming for the sake of discussion that my methods and analyses aren’t flawed, I see two possible explanations:

Either A) The differences exist, it’s just that they are due to the interplay between the Freya and all downstream components in my main listening area, and therefore cannot be heard directly from the Freya to the capture device.

Or the dreaded B) There are actually no differences at all and this is purely one’s brain and ears, the collected influence of reviews and audio forums, confirmation bias, and the imprecision of level matching the modes while listening, playing tricks on me.

What do you all think? Is this something you have experienced as well? Thanks for reading and for sharing any impressions.


Interesting experiment! I have a regular Schiit Freya +, i.e. not the Noval, subjectively I can say there is for sure a difference between passive and tube mode. More obvious if you give the tubes about 30 minutes of warmup.

I would try the same measurements using REW and a calibrated mic, and spend some time learning how to interpret the graphs. It would be interesting to compare the higher order harmonics in the distortion graph to see how they differ, thinking the tube stage would add some second order harmonics, but I am not an expert. 

Let us know the results if you give it a try. 

Thanks for your replies, @kota1 and  ​​​​@zlone .

I haven't gone down the REW rabbit hole just yet but that would be the logical next step to try to measure the actual perceived differences I originally thought I heard through my equipment and from my listening position.

Do you know if REW only works with recordings you make within it, or if you can use its tools on audio files you create elsewhere in order to analyze harmonics and frequency response?

And yes, I did the test in two parts, the first time with the tubes warmed up for well over an hour, followed by the passive test, then for the second round I did the passive first so the tubes were cold...same result. This makes me less keen to roll tubes on this unit, which is perhaps a blessing in disguise.

I have a Fryea Plus and honestly when I use it, I use the passive mode rather than SS. 

I haven't gone down the REW rabbit hole just yet

Before you get REW consider getting a room correction device that measures and applies room correction, there are 3 I am aware of for less than $500. If you want more info just ask and I'll post. 

Do you know if REW only works with recordings you make within it, or if you can use its tools on audio files you create elsewhere in order to analyze harmonics and frequency response?

Pretty sure it only works with it's own test tone audio that sweeps the desired test frequency range.

For the record, I mainly used the SS buffer mode on my Freya +, passive is slightly anemic sounding, and while the tube sounds are nice for dedicated listening sessions, I don't like leaving it on in tube mode.