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.


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I own and love the Freya +, using some nice tubes that made a significant improvement to my ear.  I like passive mode and tube mode.  I hear a difference along the lines of what you describe.  I don't really care what a meter says I just go with my ears.  

Thanks, @ejlif , despite this test I, like you, just can’t shake these same subjective impressions while listening: passive feels sharp but lean, tube soft but full. I came across some NOS Tesla E88CCs that I threw on the right side and continue to have the same reaction after this swap.

If I feel inspired to dive back in one more time, it will be with a USB microphone from my listening position. I’d love to verify my observations, but I won’t lose sleep if I can’t. And I won’t stop using tube mode either.

If nothing else, Schiit should be commended for creating a gain-adding signal path with four Soviet light bulbs that is so true to the source. I would love if there were more obvious differences between the modes, but still admire this unique preamp and will continue to enjoy it.

@nixanthrope did you ever present Schitt with your findings and get a response? 

My apologies for dredging up an old thread but I have been interested in the Noval preamp due to the cheap price more than anything but the balanced connections are a plus as well. These tubed Freya's seem to get grand reviews but my concern has always been Does it really have tube attributes to its sound? Certainly no disrespect to anyone but due to the price I take it as a good entry piece and not sure how much experience with tube preamps do these rave reviewers have? 

Your objective findings was something I wondered about this unit..even before you did the testing. But your subjective findings hold weight also I feel. Hard to ignore what's going on between and out of the speakers.. especially if you are being critical and are aware of the bias and acoustical mind tricks that truly do happen. I have experienced something kinda similar to your testing in the form of speakers and crossover mods. Using REW and testing frequency response the before and after testing of loudspeakers with stock and "upgraded" parts  were the same. But the mod speaker was perceived as clearer with better separation between instruments. A darker background. 

Was that all in our heads though? Sure didn't seem like it. Measurements will say no difference..ears and brain says Oh it's there. 

Anyway, I was just curious if you ever presented Schitt with your findings? 

On a side note I have had good experiences with room correction as well. Plenty to choose from these days and a few were obviously already mentioned.