New Schiit Saga - Passive preamp

Discussion in 'Equipment Reviews & Opinions' started by normdeplume, Apr 3, 2017.

  1. normdeplume

    normdeplume Pithecanthropus Erectus

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    Hey folks,

    I recently picked up a Schiit Saga passive preamp. When considering it, I wasn't able to find a lot of useful impressions of the thing online, so I'll share mine here. Maybe my first post in ~5 years!

    The rest of my system:
    • Music Hall MMF 2.2, Acri-plat, Speed Box > Stanton 680EEE > Schiit Mani
    • Sony CDP-XA1ES > SMSL Sanskit
    • Sony CDP-CA70ES
    • HTPC > SMSL Sanskrit
    • Chromecast Audio > SMSL Sanskrit
    • B&K ST2140
    • ADS M12
    Background: I'd been using the components above with either a B&K PT-3 or a Sound Valves VT-100 preamp, depending on my mood. The VT-100 is an improved PAS3x circuit and I thought nearly ideal in terms of "openness," staging, and midrange deal, but I felt it missed some HF resolution and its bass sounded loose. My PT-3 performed better in both regards but was much less transparent and didn't image as well. Swapping between these two compromises every couple weeks was becoming a pain in the ass. I've been casually looking for a while for a passive, remote-controlled preamp with > 2 inputs but before the Schiit found only compromises in my price range: McCormacks with no remote, etc.

    Impressions: The Saga is a half-width unit and feels very well made, both in materials and assembly. The top and front finish is a nice brushed aluminum. The FP has a volume knob and two buttons: One increments the selected input (5 total) and the other selects and deselects the tube buffer. There are two sets of outputs (handy; I use #2 for needle drops) and five sets of inputs on the back, along with a mini toggle switch to control power, next to the IEC socket. A credit-card type remote is included - it's cheesy but works fine to select inputs, adjust or mute volume, or select/deselect the buffer. The first thing I did when unpacking was to transfer its functions to my learning remote, then re-packed the original in the box. The Saga came with a new, unbranded 6SN7 tube. The white LEDs on the front panel are way, way too bright. I slapped silver LightDims on them but doesn't look super clean.

    Power isn't remote-controllable, which is good and bad. I turn my rack on and off with a power conditioner but tend to leave it on all day when I'm home. The preamp, tube, and other components are likely to be warmed up when I play them, but in theory tube life will be shortened. Additionally, both the FP and remote switch cycle incrementally through the 5 inputs, so 4 > 3 requires four clicks of the button. These clicks have to be spaced a bit as it takes maybe half a second for the relay to do its thing. Likewise, the stepped attenuator makes a quiet clicking sound when adjusting the volume either by knob or remote. This isn't a big deal and I'm happy to deal with that quirk for a real stepped attenuator. The tube is always powered, whether the buffer is engaged or not.

    The preamp sounds, in a word, great. That is, it doesn't sound like anything at all. I've attempted to A/B and can't discern a meaningful loss of detail or any frequency when using the Saga versus my sources direct to power amp (both Sony CDPs have a variable output.) I have maybe 100 hours on it now and it appears to have solved my preamp dilemma as described above. Between accurate performance and frequency extensions (as sources and my speakers will allow) and a very transparent midrange, very good stage and image are possible. I noted that this is probably the furthest I've got into serious audiophile territory - brilliant recordings sound brilliant and lousy recordings sound lousy. The most notable improvement over my B&K is in midrange inner detail, previously smeared over but preserved very well here. My references during these swaps have been Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Session (single mic, great staging and atmosphere) and Trinity Revisited (no longer single mic, but perhaps a "better" recording.) Selecting or deselecting the tube doesn't make a night and day difference, and my impression is that it functions mainly as a buffer. I do notice a slight increase in midbass bloom with it engaged, and a moderate improvement (exaggeration?) of soundstage as well, for whatever reason. It's all pleasant, so the tube stays on. I've got a NOS GE 6SN7 in place of the stock generic thing.

    Objectively, I'm pretty happy with the Saga, and on feature comparison (passive, multi-input, remote, buffer, stepped attenuator) with the rest of its market this seems like a crazy value.

    Hope this is helpful!

    Drew
     

     

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  2. fredgarvin

    fredgarvin AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Thanks for the review, i've been thinking about trying something new after sevrral years with my current pre.
     
  3. normdeplume

    normdeplume Pithecanthropus Erectus

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    Location:
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    No problem - I know the Saga is rather new and won't ever be as reviewed as the Magni/Modi etc., but hope more hands-on reviews will show up. As I said above, feature for feature I think this is a ridiculous bargain, even if you assume it's merely competent. I really only have active pres to compare directly, but at a minimum I feel like I bought a bunch of transparency on the cheap. Unfortunately, now wondering what I might also wring out of a classier power amp... :)
     
  4. fredgarvin

    fredgarvin AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I like the looks of the Freya and the new amp that's coming. 100 watts per side at around $800 or so. I'm happy witb my amp though. I do have a little Dayton chip amp for my laptop that sounds quite good. It might be fun to but a Saga in front of it.
     
  5. normdeplume

    normdeplume Pithecanthropus Erectus

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    Funny, I have the DTA-1 and a pair of MB42X at my computer. I'm not a big PC-as-listening-station guy so they're there mostly because I wasn't using them anywhere else. I worked from home the other day and was struck by how competent that $100 rig is. Maybe $175 with my FiiO DAC.
     
  6. Carraway

    Carraway AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Thanks. I've been considering one as well.
     

     

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  7. Eric n Kc

    Eric n Kc AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Hey
    I like my Freya. The included tubes are for looks only,(IMHO)upgrade to some better tubes and your good to go. Eric
     
  8. MarkNC

    MarkNC Active Member

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    146
    Location:
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    Just bought a Saga, and it sounds more open and transparent than either my C-J PF-R or Rogue Perseus. And this is with the stock Sovtek tube (Hytron 5692 on the way). Incredible value, if you have the system gain for it.
     
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  9. normdeplume

    normdeplume Pithecanthropus Erectus

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    Location:
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    Good to hear you're enjoying yours, too. I'm a convert.

    You're spot on re: system gain. My ST-2140, with the Sound Valves pre in front of it, required 12db attenuators on its inputs just to get useful volume control. With the Saga - one less gain stage - one especially weak source needs almost 100% on the dial.
     
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  10. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    Well, the problem with a passive pre-amp is you have to match everything well (voltage and ohm loading) or you do not get good sound. They can sound amazing and not so amazing. Just keep this is in mind, they are not a panacea, but can sound good.
     
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  11. normdeplume

    normdeplume Pithecanthropus Erectus

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    I haven't measured voltage or resistance, but the Saga is buffered (switchable anyway, mine's on) and to my understanding shouldn't be more sensitive to loading than most active preamps. My quiet source doesn't sound much better or worse than the others.
     

     

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  12. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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  13. normdeplume

    normdeplume Pithecanthropus Erectus

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  14. freQ(*)Oddio

    freQ(*)Oddio Super Member

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    I was thinking of the passive idea for vinyl and looking at the saga, but I am going one further or lesser ? The passive $49 schiit sys volume , and rca switcher, schiit mani phono pre, dynaco stereo 80 amp, nht bookshelves, very short made cables for least high end loss. Hoping the amp can reach to about average listening levels with a passive pre.. thats the plan anyway, results will tell.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2017
  15. normdeplume

    normdeplume Pithecanthropus Erectus

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    You may know this, but worth restating that a passive pre adds literally no gain and will only attenuate. It would be your source maxing the amp, which you can test now (though maybe painfully if your source doesn't have a variable output.)
     
  16. freQ(*)Oddio

    freQ(*)Oddio Super Member

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    Thanks normdeplume, yes i totally understand preamp voltage output and trying to match it up close with a poweramp for rated max output, and it is a really strange thought of taking that out of the signal, but i already have everything but the schiit sys, and am curious of how flat and accurate the signal can sound, just above the quiet level, I have many monster systems, small and simple is a nice change in this hobby for me. thanks for suggestions, it is only source voltage, power amp attenuation , pretty cool idea for separate, quiet discerning listening to some records.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2017

     

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  17. hocheye

    hocheye New Member

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    I don't know your budget but try the Khozmo passive pre from Poland, you can get it with or without a remote, dual mono,rca or xlr.You can have the resistance set to your amp.You will not be disappointed rivals many very expensive pre amps.I have one it is amazing! You can order online shipping is cheap highly recommend.
     
  18. freQ(*)Oddio

    freQ(*)Oddio Super Member

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  19. jetstream

    jetstream Active Member

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    I would like to try a tube buffer. Would Saga be a good choice? How it should be connected to a integrated with no tape loop nor pre-outs? I intend to connect the source to the Saga and than the Saga into one line in on the integrated. I assume the Saga pot should be open to the max. Any objections to this scenario? Is it weaker than inserting it in a tape loop or between pre and main amp? (How much) does the Saga pot affect the sound compared to if it wasn't there?
     
  20. normdeplume

    normdeplume Pithecanthropus Erectus

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    Location:
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    You might stumble upon some magic, but I don't imagine that would be a good choice. I'm assuming you don't have a known voltage or impedance issue and we're talking about imparting some "tubeiness" here. I don't know much about them but am aware that standalone tube buffers are available, some designed to do just that.

    Can't speak for the engineers obviously, but as I view function/features the Saga is a passive "preamp" (ie. not a preamp at all; input switching and volume control only) first and a tube buffer stage (which can be switched out of the circuit entirely) second. In my use with various sources and cable situations, the tube buffer has little apparent gain effect. With the buffer switched in or out, the Saga is very transparent. Discounting impedance and synergy mysteries, I wouldn't expect much effect at all, or possibly negative effect since you have additional circuits and cables in play. That could be compounded in a tape loop.

    Always exceptions, but most of the time I think you're better off attenuating as late in your signal chain as possible - so would at least start with the Saga at full volume and use your amp's volume control. Seems like an ugly solution, though - you've got a $350 preamp hung off your integrated and are stuck using that for input switching, and your integrated for volume.

    No pot on the Saga, it's got a relay stepped attenuator.

    What problem are you trying to solve with the buffer?
     
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