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Schiit Freya+ Preamp and Bifrost 2 DAC

Schiit has all the answers. Or at least they have enough reasonably priced products to furnish a full system (sans loudspeakers), whether it be on the desktop or full two-channel. It’s an impressive line of products, and one that has largely remained in the sub-$1k range, which in itself is worth talking about. It’s also all made in America, and its designs are admirably consistent across component categories. I’ve wanted to review a full Schiit system for a while now, and recently settled for a nearly full Schiit system instead: the Freya+ preamplifier ($899) and the updated Bifrost 2 DAC ($699).

Starting out and working my way in, the Bifrost 2 is a “True Multibit” DAC, employed in conjunction with Schiit’s custom in-house digital filter. The Bifrost 2 also incorporates a new proprietary USB input, called Unison USB. Beyond that, Schiit took the original Bifrost and gave it some upgrades. It changed out the power supply, switched to a new 18-bit Analog Devices AD5781ARUZ D/A converter, swapped in that new custom USB, and made future updates easier. The Bifrost2 also includes a remote control (for source switching and phase inversion) and balanced outputs, which is nice. It accepts formats up to 24/192 on all inputs (USB, coax, optical). But truth be told, I’m not much of a digital person, and a lot of the technical jargon goes above my head, and I suspect that holds true for the majority of hi-fi listeners. So to simplify just a bit, the Bitfrost 2 is a serious DAC with the ability to play a wide range of files, accepts USB, coax, and optical inputs, and works on most platforms.

Next up is the Freya+ preamplifier. It functions in one of three modes: passive; differential solid-state buffer for balanced outputs; and differential tube gain for that sweet, syrupy tube sound. Which also means that if the tubes ever go out, you can switch over to the solid-state mode while they’re being replaced. And let’s be honest: Tubes do go out. They start making weird sounds; they hiss, fart, burp, and make all other manner of very rude noises. It’s just the nature of the tube. Schiit claims the Freya+ tube stage is “whisper-silent,” and I found that to be more or less accurate, but tubes are never going to be perfect. 

There are a total of five inputs, two balanced and three unbalanced, along with one balanced output and two unbalanced outputs. The volume control uses a relay-switched stepped attenuator; so there’s some fun clicking when it turns. And finally, most important of all, there’s a remote, a very nice, heavy slab of aluminum with mute, volume, output mode selection, and input selection. Historically, Schiit remotes have been a little on the boring plastic-afterthought side, but this is a nice little hefty thing. So good job, Schiit.

Overall, both the Freya+ and the Bifrost 2 exemplify Schiit Design Theory Principles. They both feature the curved sled front, where the front face and the top plate are one single bent sheet of aluminum that slides on to cover the bottom, sides, and back, where the guts reside. Both my units are industrial silver, which I always prefer, although the Bifrost 2 does come in black. The volume control knob on the Freya+ and the source selection buttons on both units are very shiny, which I know is a primitive small-brain sort of thing to point out, but in general I don’t find Schiit to be all that great about aesthetic details. But here, those shiny knobs give Schitt’s otherwise very basic forms a slightly more elevated look. Schiit gear generally shies away from fancy LEDs, soft-touch buttons, and big fat chunky faceplates with intricate racing stripes, and favors high-quality components that hopefully sound good. At least that’s the theory, anyway.

Getting set up was pretty straight forward. I connected my Cambridge Audio CXN v2 to the Bifrost 2 via coax, connected the Bifrost 2 via unbalanced RCA to the Freya+, and ran the Freya+ into my Parasound Halo Integrated 6 in home-theater bypass mode, which essentially turned it into a power amp. Later on, I swapped out the HINT 6 for a more traditional power amp, the Emotiva A-150. However, I actually preferred the sound I got from my HINT 6 over the Emotiva, so all my listening notes will be based on that setup, unless otherwise noted. I also stuck with the supplied 6SN7 JJ tubes, frankly because I don’t feel like tumbling into the tube-rolling money pit again, but rolling is a real thing and worth trying out if you have unlimited cash, patience, and a masochistic streak.

Okay, all of that out of the way, I powered everything up. And my first impressions were very positive. Schiit claims the Freya+’s tube stage is quiet, and it’s definitely right about that. I’ve had some noisy, hissy, angry tubes in my system, but I can hear absolutely nothing at a moderate volume from my listening seat through my fairly sensitive GoldenEar Triton Three+ speakers. 

 

I also noticed that the Freya+ runs incredibly hot. After a long day of listening, it smelled like melting rubber and hot steel, and I couldn’t leave my hand on the chassis for too long. Again, that’s just the nature of tubes, the things put out enough heat to cook a chihuahua. I just make sure my toddler doesn’t lick it after its been on for a few hours, and otherwise it’s good to go. Something to be aware of, though. Adding the Freya+ to a small room will be like adding a tiny space heater. It needs room on all sides of it to make sure there’s enough airflow to keep everything coolish; so those with tight cabinets might want to double check that everything will fit and flow just fine.

I started using my CXNv2 as a Roon endpoint outputting into the Bifrost 2’s coax input. Since I’m so deep into a jazz hole that I’m not sure there’s any way out for me at this point, I put on Ambrose Akinmusire’s new album On the Tender Spot of Every Calloused Moment sourced through Qobuz at 24bit/96kHz. I love Akinmusire’s almost harsh, squealing sound, like a TV tuned to static and cranked to max volume. He has this ability to make his horn scream and break in really incredible ways, and he’s really pushing his sound on Tender Spot. The overall image of his trumpet felt defined, and there remained a nice bloom on its lower end. I want to say a tube bloom, but that makes it sound like a bad thing, like a bloat. But it really isn’t—more like a pleasant softness to the signature, as if the attacks were slightly less sharp and the decays were lingering just a touch longer.

In general, though, the Freya+’s sound wasn’t overall heavy in the tube presentation—didn’t have an overabundance of that cliché “warmth” or whatever. It was more like it took the better qualities of tubes—such as the deep, rumbling lows, which I know a lot of people don’t love—and used just enough to give the whole sound a more spacious feel. The midrange was solid and smooth, and the high-pitched wails Akinmusire sometimes reaches never felt harsh or overly sharp. For me, that’s the best aspect of tubes. They take the sound and make the pointiest ends just a little bit softer, while giving the midrange a really pleasant, wide-open feel. Maybe that’s distortion I’m hearing, and if so, give me more distortion. Keep feeding me those pleasant lies, tube daddy. 

Of course, there was the Bifrost 2 doing work in there. I swapped out the Freya+ to get a sense of how the Bifrost 2 sounded, and it beat my CXNv2 over the head with its tight dynamics and sense of rhythm. It also far outpaced the HINT 6’s built-in DAC, which I’d been happy with up until that point; so, thanks for that, Schiit. I also tested the Bifrost 2 out in my desktop setup, and found it impressively energetic. Where the Freya+ strayed into nice, gentle, kind softness, the Bifrost 2 was unabashedly detailed.

Together, the Freya+ and the Bifrost 2 made a nice little loop where the Freya+ wanted to soften the whole sound while the Bifrost 2 wanted to sharpen it all up, and the overall presentation ended up taking the best of both qualities. I suspect Schiit listens to pieces of its gear in concert with each other, which makes good sense. There are a lot of people out there building Schiit stacks and full-on Schiit systems, as they’re reasonably priced, relatively attractive, and overall very solid values.

But anyway, back to listening. I put on Khruangbin’s new album Mordechai at 24bit/96kHz via Qobuz. His spacey stoner-rock vocals and lead guitar mixed with tight, almost reggae-like beats really played up the strengths of both the Bifrost 2 and the Freya+. Grooves sounded tight and ready to leap out of the soundstage. The combination of the wide-open bass with the Bifrost’s unrelenting edge gave the presentation a rumbling depth that really kept the music rolling. 

The instrumental closing track “Shida” was a particular standout for me. The shimmering lead guitar was set deep back in the soundstage, with tight drums on top, but everything retained the spacious and melodic aspect that makes Khruangbin stand out. There was just enough snap on the drums, just enough sparkle on the guitar to create that really lovely swelling feel. Earlier in the album, on the track “If There is No Question,” the vocals echo and bounce around the mix, and really benefit from the Freya+’s tendency to bloom and present the midrange in big, efflorescent crests.

 

To finish up, I plugged in my Raspberry Pi 3 running RoPieee directly into the Bifrost 2’s Unison USB connection. The Raspberry Pi does not have the best USB, but I have to admit, I didn’t hear any of the glare that can come from using a low-quality output. I put on Jessie Ware’s new album What’s Your Pleasure? via Qobuz and straight up basked in the luxurious synths and shimmering vocals. It was another perfect example of spacious, upbeat music that worked right within the wheelhouse of the Schiit system. The wide, shimmering vocal pulse played right into the Freya+’s best qualities, while the tight, slamming bass benefitted from the Bifrost 2 running the show. The Unison USB certainly was a step up over other USB inputs that I’ve heard, in particular when paired with the relatively low-quality Raspberry Pi 3.

Sticking with the Pi and USB, I put on Ware’s stellar title track, with its unrelenting almost near-corny electro beat. It combined breathy vocals with sweeping orchestral undertones and created this absolutely huge, nightclub-sized soundscape. The potentially harsh hi-hat was toned down by the Freya+, which still allowed the general sound to remain tight and controlled. On its own, I found the Bifrost 2 could be unrelentingly sharp in its presentation, which can sometimes be a good thing, but very often can come across as too harsh or too focused. As a system, though, these two pieces of stellar equipment worked to elevate each other’s positive aspects while softening the potential negatives.

There’s something to be said for building a system from one manufacturer. In theory, manufacturers listen to the pieces of their gear in combination, and have the ability to tune their house sound so that each component will work well with all the others. More and more, people are buying their hi-fi equipment online, which means they aren’t necessarily able to demo multiple components together. On the flip side, buying online from manufacturers that value an in-home test period can make sure any given component works with all the others, and works in a given space.

One way to get a head start on that process would be to purchase a stack from Schiit. In particular, the Freya+ and the Bifrost 2 are fantastic companions, and really had me loving my digital front end over my treasured analog for weeks. As individual pieces, I think they’re both really solid performers, in particular the Bifrost 2. I could easily see myself keeping it in my system long term, truth be told. But taken together, I think they worked to elevate each other. In general, I’d say Schiit remains one of the best value propositions in the hi-fi game, and I’d highly recommend this little pairing for anyone looking for a truly outstanding DAC and a real no-joke tube preamplifier.

Specs & Pricing

Bifrost 2 DAC
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz, +/-0.1dB, 2Hz–100kHz, -1dB 
Maximum output: 2.0V RMS single-ended and 4.0V RMS balanced
THD: <0.003%, 20Hz–20kHz, at max output
IMD: <0.004%, CCIR
S/N: >114dB, referenced to 2V RMS
Inputs: Coaxial SPDIF, optical SPDIF, USB 
Input capability: Up to 24/192 for all inputs
Output: RCA (single-ended) and XLR (balanced)
Output impedance: 75 ohms for both
Remote control: Controls source selection, phase invert, and mute
Weight: 5 lbs.
Size: 9″ x 2″ x 6.75″ 
Price: $699 

Freya+ Preamplifier
Input impedance: 10k ohms
Crosstalk: >85dB, 20–20kHz
Inputs: 2 XLR pairs plus 3 RCA pairs
Outputs: 1 XLR pair plus 2 RCA pairs
Weight: 11 lbs.
Size: 16″ x 2″ x 8″ 
Price: $899

SCHIIT AUDIO
24900 Anza Drive
Unit A
Valencia, CA 91321
schiit.com

By Drew Kalbach

I have a degree in English from Temple University and a Masters in Fine Arts with a specialty in poetry from the University of Notre Dame. I’m a full-time self-published author with over 100 books in both romance and men’s adventure fiction.

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