Bladelius Freja

Product Review by Björn Törnroth
Updated 27 November 2006 (Final version)
Updated 8 September 2006 (Disclaimer: Preliminary version)
Original date: 7 September 2006
Copyright © Björn Törnroth 2006
Bladelius' home page

Bladelius Freja
QUIBBLES

Display says "DVD PLAYER" on startup.

Display says "5.1CH" all the time.

Display cannot be turned off.

Gets bored when not playing music and falls asleep.

Huge OneForAll remote with a silly number of buttons. On the other hand it can be programmed to control the rest of the rig, if you own mainstream stuff. It doesn't handle my projector, nor my amp. And individual keys cannot be re-programmed through learning. Silly, bad and pathetic.

Won't accept track selection commands from remote during disc loading.

No "open"-button on remote.

No track skip buttons on player itself.

Freja emits an annoying amusing little clicking noise just before the first track starts and when the last track ends. When manually skipping between tracks she double-clicks, but that's ok, and the click when going into and off pause doesn't concern me at all.

SYSTEM

Amp: Primare I30
Speakers: Sonus Faber Electa
Subwoofer: REL Strata III
Filter: Isotek MiniSub GII
Interconnects: Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval
Speaker cables: Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8
Mains cables: LAT AC-2, Russ Andrews The Reference

Seduced by Freja

It's a sensual CD-player all right. Seduced me from the word "go". Please bear in mind that I got really carried away.

Update 2006-10-27 This revision has now been sobered up after extensive listening. But let's start at the beginning.

I began by connecting her to the system and putting on some warm-up music. Then I went into the kitchen to feed the cat. After just a few seconds of music, while spooning cat food out of a tin, I knew that Freja had to be mine.

While I write this, Freja is ripping my heart apart with some excruciatingly beautiful woodwinds. The purity of tone, the richness of timbre, the delicate phrasing - it's just too much to bear!

Freja makes the air vibrate. There is a sense of rightness, ease and unlimited power. During pacy music my foot will rip my leg right off if I try to stop it from tapping. Beautiful music makes me cry. Buena Vista Social Club makes my hip do things that are quite rude and surprisingly agile. I submit! I yield! Mercy! Freja makes me listen to music emotionally, and that's exactly what I want.

There is precision without hardness, air without artificiality and detail without harshness. The bass is rumbling and brutal when called for without bloom or exaggeration. The pluck and vibration of a base's strings are readily discernible and gives a powerful foundation with plenty of drive, weight and authority. The midband is pure and clean with deceptive fullness. Treble is well extended and etched, yet silky smooth.

Lute music was all I could ever wish for, revealing the delicate phrasing and how the tone subtly changes with varied finger pressure and plucking technique. Freja conveyed the mastery of the artist and the instrument felt physically present with a perfect balance of strings and wooden body in a lavish and fairly three-dimensional acoustic.

Grand piano has weight and authority with just the right balance between its percussive element, its vibrating strings and its wooden body. Tone purity, transient speed and dynamics make for a very physical listening experience with a great sense of being there.

Violin and cello are rendered with the bite of the metal strings as well as the mellow singing of the wooden body.

Transient speed and dynamics are breath-taking. It's evident in the plucking of a string, the blow on a drum, the hammering on a piano and, most spectacularly, in the liquid feel of electronic sounds.

Freja's timing is fantastic. Her astounding time-domain resolution creates the illusion that she plays music at a slower tempo because it's so easy to hear the beginning, duration and end of each note. Especially the way notes begin has me mesmerized. In my opinion, that has always been a difficult stunt to pull for digitized music. What should be an evenly rising slope has always felt rather like an edgy staircase. I think Freja somehow manages to do a smoother rising slope than most other players I've heard - which in all honesty are not many. Keep in mind that I'm trying to describe what I hear and feel here, although it sounds silly.

There is an abundancy of detail, but it's the right kind of detail. It's not the kind of detail to impress you at a demo, nor the kind of detail to distract you from the music. It's the kind of detail that lets you see further into the music. Freja lets your hear the individuality of both the musicians and their instruments and the differences in technique in both playing and recording. These details highlights the contrasts that make up music and makes it very enjoyable.

I think Freja is probably very honest in how she renders CD's. My CD collection sound more varied than before, which implies that she elicits what really is on the discs rather than impose her own character on the music. She doesn't hide any nasty sibilance, but on the other hand she doesn't infuse all CD's with unnatural air either. If the recording is dense with restricted frequency extremes and a harsh midband, then that's what comes out of the speakers. Still, crap CD's sound surprisingly enjoyable, so Freja doesn't wallow in their shortcomings, she merely doesn't glaze them over, and whatever sweet music is lurking in there is lured forth with stunning skill. I actually feel that Freja makes each CD sound as good as it realistically can. And that's a really neat trick!

At first I felt that Frejas tone of voice was just a smidgeon on the leaner side of absolute truth. Now I'm not so shure. Perhaps my ol'Teac has gotten me used to some extra distorsion-induced warmth.

So, no quibbles then, eh?

Well, not quite. Freja can be too honest with sharp esses of vocals miked too close. Shure, this is probably the truth, as in "high fidelity", but firstly, I've yet to hear a sharp "s" from someone singing live without amplification, and secondly, even so - I just don't want it. This, however, may just be something I'll have to learn to live with. At least Frejas rendering of a sharp "s" is absolutely silky smooth with no exaggeration. (Again, I think I've gotten used to the comfy smoothness of a somewhat restricted high frequency response during my long years with the Teac.)

Update 2006-10-27 After writing the preliminary version of this somewhat silly rave review, I gradually reversed my opinion on three accounts. I found that a) Freja is simply too ruthlessly revealing of harsh sounding discs, b) she had a too lean timbre, making vocalists sound strained, and c) that she couldn't play classical music very well, making especially string instruments sound artificial and lacklustre. I then - very suddenly and quite without planning - switched speakers from my Sonus Faber Electa to a pair of Dunlavy SC-III. Now that was some change! All my criticisms of Freja vanished into thin air. Freja was suddenly singing like never before. Perhaps a tad of her ruthlessness with harsh discs remained, but to a sufferable degree. But, hold on, I then started having my Primare I30 switched on 24/7. And, lo and behold, that took care of the rest! No, I kid you not. To say that I am utterly flabbergasted would be an understatement. But there you are.

Conclusion

Now that I've read through what I've written it seems a bit too fantastic. Hmm, I do tend to get carried away...
Hold on a sec, I'll just go and check...
Ah, yes. Fantastic it is.

Gonna make her mine? By the norse gods, yes! I'll do whatever it takes - I'll rob the kids' piggy bank, I'll sell my mother - anything - as long as it makes Freja mine!

Update 2006-10-27 Did I succeed? Yes. Freja is now a member of our happy family. And I'm happy to say that Mom's still around, although the piggybank's history.

Björn Törnroth
bjorn.tornroth.net
bjorn at tornroth dot net