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Schiit Happened: The Story of the World's Most Improbable Start-Up

Discussion in 'Jason Stoddard' started by jason stoddard, Jan 23, 2014.
  1. Ableza
    Yes, well I am paraphrasing Jason Stoddard, who said basically the same thing. If you like what they offer, fantastic. If you want something else, there are many other options.
  2. Yethal
    New preamps appeared on Schiit product page.
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
  3. jimmers
    Oooh :astonished:, must read features and specs now :nerd:
  4. Robert Padgett
    Thunderdome in Pre-amp section, with Solid-state and tube versions of Saga and Freya. It appears the images are not yet loaded but whomever predicted pre-amps were spot-on.
  5. dieslemat
    According to the product page of the Freya+; it has a motorized volume so the remote and the pot are always sync

    Edit: all the preamps have the same motorized pot
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
    Derrick Swart likes this.
  6. jfoxvol
    I agree on all accounts. I think most HT bypass in preamps and integrated amps are a mess. I've seen some that work fantastically and have encouraged me to try and integrate things over the long run (or at least get better two channel out of my theater speakers). Yeah, this is supposed to be a community. I don't like the attitude you mentioned either. This is supposed to be a community.
    Derrick Swart likes this.
  7. Pietro Cozzi Tinin
    Those pre-amp diversifications are really spot on.
    Massa Kudos for Schiit.
    33na3rd likes this.
  8. PioBeer
    At first glance it looks like the difference between the original Saga and the Saga+ is the better remote? I wonder if that is all you get for the extra fifty bucks?
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
  9. judson_w
    I do like that the preamp products all have this symbol in their descriptions:


    Which has the file name of "Product Thunderdome 100.jpg"

    Edit: which means that article was using the correct terminology, just... too early. Or Jason decided to play on the terms of the article. Could go either way.

    Edit2: If I happened to look at the FAQ section of the product pages, I would have seen that the symbol was explained. Still, file name confirmed it.
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
    audio philestine and Mike-WI like this.
  10. W S L
    The preamp pictures are now uploaded. Now i have to decide on which to get, to replace my pending order of the old Freya..
    Mike-WI likes this.
  11. Robert Padgett
    Saga+ has a tube, Saga S is solidstate.
  12. Jason Stoddard
    2019, Chapter 8:
    A Plethora of Preamps (and “Product Thunderdome”)

    Saga+, Saga S, Freya+, and Freya S.

    Not one product. Not two. Not three. But four. Four preamps.

    I can hear it now.

    “Four preamps?” you yell. “Four? Are you kidding me? That’s nuts! That’s too much! That’s like, a billion preamps—“

    “Well, technically a billion preamps would be 999,999,996 more than four,” we interject. “Which at our current rate of product introduction will take—"

    “Another year or two!” You cut in, exasperated.

    And yeah, you’re right. Four preamps is a lot.

    But it’s also not all that many.

    “But four!” You cry again. “How am I supposed to choose?”

    Well, very simply: choose what works for you, and with an eye to what you want us to make. Or choose nothing, if you’re already perfectly happy with your current preamp. Or if you don’t need a preamp. All choices are valid.

    Your eyes narrow. “Hold on a sec, what’s this ‘with an eye for what you want us to make.’”

    Heh heh.

    Remember I said that we’d be introducing a lot of new products this year—a crazy amount, if we did it in the same old way, as ongoing additions to the line?

    Remember I also said we wouldn’t be doing it the same old way?

    Yeah. There you go. These four preamps may become two really fast. Or one. Or three. Because we’re going to do something so completely crazy that it’s almost sane: we’ll continue building only the ones you like the best.

    Consider these four preamps the first test of our all-new Product Thunderdome.

    The Freedom to Fail

    Here’s the thing: the most fun thing we do is develop new products.

    Coming up with new designs, figuring out their problems, making them work...that is literally the best thing we do. Well, at least for me, Mike, Dave, and Ivana.

    So, the temptation to do a lot of different products is always there:

    What if we did this?

    No, wait, what if we made it a tube topology?

    No, wait, what if we could get True Multibit in there?

    What if it was a do-all unit?

    What if we made it remote control?

    On top of that, we’re asked for lots of things:

    Why can’t this have a home theater bypass?

    Why can’t the power switch be on the front?

    What if you added a whole bunch of features to a Fulla?

    Why does it have to be tube?

    Why does it have to be solid state?

    It all adds up to this: we’re tempted to do a whole lot of different things:

    Crazy things.

    Things that may or may not fly.

    But, if we’re adding all those things to the product line, for now and forever, we’re gonna quickly end up with a product line that’s way too big. We’d constantly be in backorder on, like, pretty much everything.

    So, we can’t do everything.

    But, it sure would be cool to do more things.

    And there’s the fundamental rub with electronics. You don’t want to do too many products, but you certainly would like to do more of them. Especially since surveys don’t work. Anecdotal feedback doesn’t work. Focus groups don’t work.

    (Doubt me? Consider that something like 97% of all new food products fail. Also consider that every single one of them “tested well.” I don’t know about you, but 3% aren’t odds I consider stellar.)

    Here’s what works: building and selling something. Build something, and you’ll quickly know if you have a hit on your hand—or not.

    The problem is with the “nots.” You don’t need them hanging around, taking your attention, slowing you down. But, in conventional thinking, you don’t want to just make one run of something and then drop it.


    ...along came mass buying organizations.

    And now, suddenly, doing a single run (or more runs if people liked it) made sense. Not only that, it made so much sense to so many people that they could get pre-orders for stuff that wasn’t going to ship for 6-8 months!

    The problem is, working with mass buying organizations really isn’t really for us. Mass buying organizations can be great for brands who don’t have a lot of in-house manufacturing capability, or who aren’t super well-known. Neither of which are us. And, the fact that you have to wait for product didn’t sit well with me. And that prospects were teased like Bob the Dancing Seal to get! a! lower! price! for! more! people! buying! really, really, really gave me heartburn.

    But, I started wondering: did we really have to approach a product like it was the One and Future Thing, Forever and Ever, Amen?

    Or could we look at it more like, Hey, let’s test it out, and, if it works, make more?

    Because The One and Future Thing model puts you in Paralysis by Analysis mode. You start wondering, “Is this the right feature set? Would people rather have X than Y? Should we just add this to be safe?”

    And then product development takes a long time.

    And then there’s the temptation to keep adding stuff, making the product suck.

    And then if you’re wrong, you’re really really wrong.

    As I looked at it, I realized: no, this isn’t how it has to be. We could be doing more products, getting more real-world feedback, and iterating more rapidly...if we just gave ourselves permission to try a few more products, and kill them if they didn’t work.

    We could do limited runs and see if people wanted more.

    But, not like the mass buying organizations. Not “if enough people sign up, this is the price.” Because that’s too circus-y. That’s too beg-for-the-treat-dancing-seal. That’s a bit, well, not us. In our model, the price would be the price.

    Not pre-sale, either. Nobody wants to wait months for stuff. We’d do stuff that would be finished and available immediately.

    No. What we were shooting at doing, I realized, was something completely different. More like real-world product A-B testing, or the ultimate focus group—where you voted with your wallet, rather than with your mouth. The strong would continue, and the weak wouldn’t see another run.

    Or, as I put it in a teaser:
    • What if we could bring you new, cool things more often? Maybe even some special things?
    • What if you didn't have to join a big group to get the price down...or wait for months for delivery?
    • What if it was in stock?
    And that’s Product Thunderdome.

    If you’re of a certain age, you know the reference. “Two men enter, one man leaves.” Except in this case, it may be “Many products enter, maybe none leave.” Because we don’t know how it’s gonna go.

    But we do know one thing: this will get us more information than anything else we can do.

    And, it will keep us agile. It’ll keep us on our toes.

    And, most importantly: it will let us play with a whole lot of new ideas.

    The Road to Bartertown

    Perhaps it’s best to stop, rewind, and let you know how we got here...and what the contenders to this first Product Thunderdome look like.

    If you want to skip to the chase, the way we got here was simple: too many good ideas for preamps.

    Lots of people wanted lots of different things. Some made a ton of sense, like making sure Freya only turns on the tubes when it’s in tube mode (but that turned out to be an odyssey in terms of implementation), and some changed the products entirely (like, hey, make the damn things solid state, bub!), and some came from our own frustrations, and some simply weren’t doable (due to physical space on the back panel, etc).

    And, like I mentioned before, we do like to play with variations, so perhaps it was inevitable we’d end up with more than one replacement preamp for each of our current products.

    However, the changes we ended up incorporating break down into some logical categories:
    1. Better performance. Freya in tube mode could have some tube hiss and hum, especially with some tubes. We wanted a quieter Freya. We also thought we could improve the performance of Saga a bit (though it already was pretty fantastic.)
    2. Improved versatility. When you want to run dual Vidars or Aegirs from a single-ended source, you have to use the tube stage on Freya to convert it to differential. It would be better if the buffers could convert as well, so we wanted to see what we could do on that front.
    3. Improved experience. Freya ran the tubes all the time, which is kinda sucky if you have a billion dollars worth of NOS tubes in it. We wanted to fix that. Also, both preamps had volume pots that didn’t track the remote control. We wanted to address that.
    And so, that started the saga of changes.

    A motorized volume pot solved the problem of volume tracking the remote. Pretty straightforward.

    A whole lot of breadboard prototypes came up with a discrete gain-of-1 differential amplifier to replace Freya’s old buffers. Interestingly, this compound feedback pair differential topology is unlike anything else we use to date, and is completely open-loop with no overall feedback. Not quite unique enough to give a name to, however.

    Aaaaanndd...after much pain and suffering, we figured out how to turn the tubes on only when needed. This is one of those things that should have been simple. The tubes are run from a completely separate transformer on Freya. Turn off the AC input to the transformer when it’s not being used and you’re golden, right?

    Well, uh, no. Turn off the AC to the tubes, and they crap out a whole metric ass-ton of DC. Including through the grids. Turn them on again, and the same thing happens.

    (People who know tubes are cringing right now.)

    So, in order to safely turn on and off the tubes, we had to add a hard mute to the output, and relays that unhook the grid connection as well, as well as firmware that carefully times the turn-on and turn-off sequencing. A seemingly trivial thing turned into a big fight.

    At the same time, we played a bit. We improved Saga’s transconductance-equalized hybrid buffer, added DC heaters to bring the noise down in both preamps, and played around with new tube gain stages for Freya, ending with a semi-circlotron type design (again, not interesting enough to name) that, together with DC heaters, reduces residual hiss and hum by a whopping 20dB over the old Freya—at a gain of 4, even.

    But, as we tweaked and prototyped, one request kept coming back: “What if I don’t want a tube preamp?”

    A fair question. While many people are curious about tubes, many more don’t want to live with them on a daily basis.

    And it would be pretty trivial to use the existing Freya low-voltage transformer and the old Freya buffers in Saga+, to create a solid-state Saga, or Saga S.

    d I had this shiny new Nexus topology, which would be pretty cool in a preamp, so it was easy to drop that onto a Freya board, sans all the tube power supply. And that did work very, very well. Hence, Freya S is born.

    But...something bugged me.

    Were these changes enough to call the preamps “Saga 2” and “Freya 2?” In my mind, nope. They were still fundamentally the same products. They did the same thing. Heck, we could almost roll them in as running changes. Going up a full number rev, to me, seems like it should be saved for stuff that changes significantly.

    Hence, Saga+ and Freya+. Also, hence our new promise to you: no more silent changes. No more running revisions. If we change a product, we’ll call it out. It’ll become a “+” or something like that. Of course, we’re still going to have to make minor tweaks as resistors change or a part becomes obsolete, but we’ve heard you. No more uncertainty.

    Well, except what preamps will emerge from our first Product Thunderdome.

    Four Preamps Enter...

    So what are these four preamps I keep nattering about, and how are they different from the old ones?

    Good question. Let’s break it down:

    Freya+, $899
    This is a tube, solid-state, or passive balanced remote control preamp with 128-step relay attenuators, the replacement for the Freya. It’s substantially the same as the Freya (it looks very similar), with the following changes:
    • All new tube gain stage that is substantially quieter than the old Freya (20dB less hum and noise)
    • All new differential buffer stage to enable easy connection of mono Vidars or Aegirs
    • Tubes only turn on when they are in use, otherwise they are completely powered down—no heater, no B+, nothing
    • Volume control tracks the remote control
    • Standard Tung-Sol 6SN7 tubes
    • New “fastenerless” chassis similar to Jotunheim (and no cracks about it not being grounded, there is a specified ground path from top to bottom and each Freya is individually tested, like all of our fastenerless products.)
    Freya S, $599
    Think Freya+, but with the tubes AND solid state buffers replaced with a Nexus gain stage. As in, no tubes at all. No tube worries, either. Just a huge expanse of PC board with two lonely Nexus gain stages on it. That’s OK, don’t worry, just enjoy. And don’t ask us if it sounds like a tube preamp. Because it’s not.
    • Same functionality as Freya+, but all solid state
    • Same inputs, same 128-step volume control
    • Nexus differential stage with gain of 1 (‘buffer”) or 4, for easy interface with dual Aegir or Vidar
    • Passive mode like Freya+, of course
    • Volume control tracks the remote control
    • Fastenerless chassis like Freya+, but with different top perf (again, grounded and tested)
    Saga+, $399
    This is a tube hybrid buffer or passive remote-control preamp with a 64-step relay volume ladder, and no gain in either buffer or passive mode. It’s the replacement for the Saga, and looks very similar. Here are the differences:
    • Refined tube/transistor equalized transconductance buffer with DC heaters for lower noise
    • Volume control tracks the remote control
    • New “fastenerless” chassis similar to Jotunheim (and no cracks about it not being grounded, there is a specified ground path from top to bottom and each Saga is individually tested, like all of our fasternerless products.)
    Saga S, $299
    Think Saga+, but without the tubes. Instead, it uses the simple two-JFET buffers from the previous Freya. Like Freya S, Saga S comes without any tube nervosa—you won’t be chasing down NOS JFETs for this guy.
    • Same functionality as Saga+, but all solid state
    • Same inputs, same 64-step volume control
    • Two-JFET discrete buffer
    • Volume control tracks the remote control
    • Fastenerless chassis like Saga+, but with different top perf (again, grounded and tested)

    ...Maybe None Leave?

    Which preamp will you choose? Freya+? Saga S? None of the above? Again, all answers are valid.

    We don’t know which ones will survive. Maybe all will sell so much that we’ll have to keep every single one in the line. Who knows? If I was to guess, I’d say that Freya+ will win over Freya S, and Saga S will win over Saga+. But we’ll see. I’ve been wrong before.

    What’s more, this is only the first Thunderdome we have planned this year. There will be others. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is safe. We’re in full heretical mode, and having the time of our lives.

    Are you ready for this Thunderdome...and the next?
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
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  13. Robert Padgett
    FOUR new pre-amps predicted. Four new Pre-amps delivered. @Jason Stoddard, delivers
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
    the finisher, barondla and Mike-WI like this.
  14. judson_w
    I believe PioBeer was comparing the Saga+ to the original Saga. At which point, I will say that the Saga+ has motorized volume control. I could be wrong, but I remember hearing that if you used the remote on the original Saga, if you then wanted to use the volume knob, you had to turn it back down to zero to get it to set, so things did not suddenly get loud? With this, the volume knob will also be accurate and you can freely use remote or knob interchangeably to your heart's content.
  15. Oveja Negra
    Freya + is by far the most interesting one to me, they implemented two out of four features from my wishlist. The addition of a motorized pot for all versions is fantastic too. Nice job!
    Les Strat and Mike-WI like this.

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