A Schiit Tube Shootout – 6SN7 Vs. LISST Vs. 6N1P
It has been a while since the Schiit Audio crew got together for one of their blind listening tests conducted at a California retail location dubbed the Schiitr. Pandemic issues have plagued everyone in the audio space when it comes to meeting together with fellow audiophiles in real life. Previous “double blind” get togethers included cartridge shootouts, Schiit’s own Preamp Thunderdome and even tubes.
In the wake of a potential tube shortage due to the changing global supply, Jason Stoddard and co. are taking a look at a few alternatives to their 6SN7 models, mainly the popular Freya+ tube preamplifier. Two of the options presented at this week’s meet are the company’s Valhalla tube, the noval 9-pin 6N1P and a reissue of their solid state “mosfet in a can” called LISST.
The event’s hosts attempt to keep the evaluation process as clean as possible, so listening options were presented in a blind scenario. Attendees did not know which of three preloaded Freya+ preamplifiers they were listening to from a selection of A/B/C. Songs were of the listeners choosing and sourced from Qobuz via an iMac server. This high resolution file was then fed to the company’s flagship Yggdrasil DAC, through the three aforementioned Freya+, then to two Link Bone 2 mono switches and finally to another Freya S “solid state” in passive mode for volume control. Every option is then level matched, and led out to a pair of Schiit’s new 200 watt Tyre monoblock amplifiers. Speakers used in the evaluation were the Salk Song 3 and Magnepan 1.7i. Participants were of varying age and gender, but all identified as audiophiles with at least some degree of critical listening experience. Musical tastes spanned most traditional audiophile genres and did include popular test tracks like Keith Don’t Go by Nils Lofgren and others at points in the listening sessions. As this was a blind test, individuals reported their impressions without knowing exactly which tube option they were listening to, only whether it was A, B or C. After all results were reported and tallied, then the correlating tubes were revealed.
Original Freya+ 6SN7 Tube
The 6SN7 JJ Electronics glass that originally shipped with the Freya+ was described by some as “the most plain”, but warm and non fatiguing by others. Strings and vocals were “sharper”, crisp and tight by one listener, but also described as softer with just slightly round edging by another. Despite these somewhat conflicting impressions, the 6SN7 was picked as the favorite the most often by the group as a whole. One might guess that even though it wasn’t initially viewed as a clear superior, it was the most inviting of the three.
New 6N1P Noval 9-Pin Tube
Initial reactions to the 6N1P were that it was “the most exciting” as well as engaging. Some defined the tonal structure as somewhat fatiguing, but was exemplified by good staging and more high end frequency energy that the other two options. For this reason, many listeners assumed that the 6N1P was actually the solid state LISST alternative. Also further contributing to the assumption were comments of the Noval having the quietest background, less body and the harshest treble presentation.
Schiit LISST Solid State Tube
Perhaps the biggest upset of the presentation was the LISST “tube” itself. Most participants identified the LISST and original 6SN7 as having the most similar tones, with the 6N1P being the most unique sound out of the bunch. Even more surprising to some in retrospect, were comments of more openness, better sense of space, excitement and air. One individual described Schiit LISST and the 6SN7 as having this same closeness in presentation, but the former offering up a wider soundstage and the latter deeper. Others described the experience akin to sitting in the front row at a concert, whereas the 6N1P was more like sitting further back in the audience.
Conclusions. The Schiit LISST?
For those interested and engaged in these types of evaluations, there is never a shortage of makeshift drama to the reactions from different individuals. While it often appears that people will hear similar things, when asked which is their favorite the consensus rarely reflects the same type of consistency. The first three individuals out of the listening room soundly reported their favorites as A, then B, then C. As follow up conversations evolved, most seemed to agree that A and B were the most similar in sound, and that correlation led people to infer that C must be the solid state option – when in fact, A was the 6SN7, B the LISST and C was the 6N1P. Now whether this assumption was a bit of an overstep based on the process of elimination over the generally assumed characteristics of analog vs solid state, we may never know. What does appear to rise to the top from this small sample group is that one might assume that the original tube selected for the Freya+ sounds pretty good to most people. My own experience reflects this notion as well. As for substitutions in the face of dwindling supply, Schiit’s LISST might pleasantly surprise an audience who originally purchased a $1k preamp specifically for its tube properties, but now find themselves scrambling to keep the amplifier working as the analog bits slowly wear down. This certainly seemed the case at the meet, as a few visitors appeared to attend specifically to test this scenario, and were personally excited for the relaunch of the Schiit LISST product.