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REVIEW: Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2


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#1 Welly Wu

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Posted 21 July 2004 - 09:20 AM

REVIEWER EQUIPMENT EXPERIENCE:
I owned both the Grado RS-1 and Sennheiser HD600 flagship headphones; I also owned the Etymotic Research ER-4P/S and I use the Ultimate Ears Ue-10 PRO earphones. For headphone amplifiers, I owned the HeadRoom Cosmic (with Reference Module), but I use a Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2. I owned both the DiMarzio High Resolution and M-PATH, but I use the Cardas Neutral Reference interconnecting cables. My power conditioner is a Balanced Power Technologies BP.Jr. II Ultra and I use the Cardas Golden Reference and PS Audio xStream Plus power cords. For sources, I owned a Panasonic SL-CT570, Apple iPod, NAD C541i and Denon DVD 2900. My current source is a Pioneer Elite DV-59AVi and I use both Vibrapod Isolators (Model Two) and Cones.

REVIEWER BIASES:
I prefer my sound akin to a mug of Starbucks Italian Roast coffee: warm, full-bodied, dark, and boldly rich with hints of sweetness.

MUSIC SELECTIONS:
Eagles Hotel California (HDCD)
Celine Dion, All the Way…A Decade of Song
Patricia Barber, Modern Cool
Renee Fleming & Bryn Terfel, Under the Stars
Van Halen, 1984 (HDCD)
Toby Keith Shock ‘N Ya’ll (HDCD)
Norah Jones Come Away with Me, Feels Like Home
Sade Lover’s Rock (HDCD)
The White Stripes Elephant
Linkin Park Meteora
Renee Fleming Bel Canto, By Request, Under the Stars
Andrea Bocelli Sogno, Sentimento, Cieli Di Toscana
Hans Zimmer Gladiator
Rachel Podger Antonio Vivaldi: La Stravaganza: 12 Violin Concertos
Anne-Sophie Mutter Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (DVD-Audio)
The Beach Boys Pet Sounds (DVD-Audio)
Fleetwood Mac Say You Will (DVD-Audio)
Sting Sacred Love (DVD-Audio)
Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (DVD-Audio)
Roxy Music Avalon (Hybrid SACD)
Diana Krall The Girl in the Other Room (Hybrid SACD)
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Top Gun (Single Layer SACD)
Anne-Sophie Mutter Beethoven: Violin Concerto / Romances (Single Layer SACD)
Midori Debussy, Poulene, Saint-Saens (Single Layer SACD)
Nikolaus Harnoncourt Anton Bruckner: Symphony No.9 (Hybrid SACD)
Hilary Hahn Bach Concertos (Hybrid SACD)
Helene Grimaud Credo (Hybrid SACD)

Ray Samuels Emmeline HR-2 Dual High Resolution Headphone Amplifier:
Introduction:
Dark.
Warm.
Poetic.
Superb build quality.

Design:
Such words succinctly describe Ray Samuels' products and signature house sound. The Emmeline HR-2 was originally conceived as a preamplifier but it is tuned as a headphone amplifier. Mr. Samuels hand builds each of his products himself. Each one is built with 0.1% Dale (Vishay) resistors along with polypropylene and tantalum caps. A full sized Noble volume pot is directly soldered onto the PCB without wires: it is dead quiet. The PCB uses top drawer FR4 materials that are built to military specifications (double sided) along with two ounces of copper. Power signals are separated by blocks of grounds and lanes. All parts are matched between both left and right channels. The output stage is powerful enough to drive any pair of ear / headphones with the exception of the AKG K1000 ear-speakers. All Emmeline HR-2s are designed with a key feature: two independent eight pin DIP sockets permit owners to tune the sound to suit their preferences by switching operational amplifiers. Two high quality gold RCA input connectors protrude from the back of the unit and all parts are housed within a black anodized chassis with a custom designed, silk screened, face plate.
The headphone amplifier is separate from the power supply. Mr. Samuels believes that a separate power supply unit delivers sonic performance worthy of bearing his name. It is housed in a black anodized chassis that is shielded and fully regulated + / - 12 volts DC. Instead of using electrolytic caps, he uses polypropylene caps and power flows through a four conductor low noise shielded cable to the headphone amplifier. The PCB still uses FR4 materials built to military specifications (double sided) along with two ounces of copper, but the transformer is a class A shielded and it contains an encapsulated toroidal with two secondary windings. Each has a full wave bridge rectifier and adjustable regulators to ensure precise voltage between negative and positive in relation to ground.

SOUND:
But, how does it sound?
The quintessential Ray Samuels house sound is dark, warm, and poetic. The background is dead silent with an oily blackness between notes: sounds suddenly appear and vanish like ghosts. Imaging is precise with excellent stereo separation yet the three dimensional sound stage allows listeners to place the positions of instruments and performers with utmost precision.

OP-AMP ROLLING:
AD797
AD8065 (Brown Dog Adapter)
AD825 (Brown Dog Adapter)
AD8610 (Brown Dog Adapter)
LT1028
LT1115
OPA604AP
OPA627BP

One of my favorite songs is Sheryl Crow's “A Change Would Do You Good.” Like the title of that song, the Emmeline HR-2 permits owners to change the sound to suit their preferences. The stock AD797 is quite dark and warm with a lush midrange reminiscent of tubes and it possesses the best bottom end. It calls listeners to attention with its slightly forward and wide sound stage. However, trebles sound grainy to my ears. For most owners, this is the most preferred op-amp for most music genres especially pop / rock. The AD8065 sounds darker and more detailed to the point of sounding dry. It is more relaxed with smoother trebles but there is noticeable background hiss. The AD825 is by far the worst offender: there is a very prominent background hiss that mars the Ray Samuels' signature house sound. I spent all of ten minutes trying to decipher it and I decided to move on. The AD8610 sounds very dark and quite detailed but it lacks that signature tube liquidity and lush warmth.
As Mr. Samuels once remarked, the LT1028 is like “putting sugar all over your sound.” It has a very liquid, sweet, and warm midrange that exhibits sharp bass and treble roll off. Unlike the Analog Devices op-amps, it is not dark. In fact, low level details flow through with greater clarity and definition. Its' sibling, the LT1115, sounds more demure: the midrange is darker and less sweet but it has greater tonal balance. The OPA627BP is my favorite op-amp because it sounds very natural and neutral much like the Russian Electro-Harminox 12AX7 / 6SN7 tubes with no overt discolorations: it just sounds good to my ears! The OPA604 is the smaller sibling that sounds darker and veiled.

Ray Samuels Emmeline II The Stealth:
DESIGN:
Ray Samuels' Emmeline II The Stealth is a tube based preamplifier and headphone amplifier that ships with two new stock Russian Electro-Harminox 6SN7 and one 12XA7 tubes. Mr. Samuels believes the prices of new old stock (NOS) tubes have become so exorbitant that he specifically designed his unit to perform well with new stock tubes. The preamplifier has four RCA inputs and two RCA outputs. In keeping with his design philosophy, the power supply is separate from the preamplifier / headphone amplifier; a detachable five and a half foot long power cord connects the two separate black boxes. There are three knobs located on the front of the headphone amplifier: 1. a four position knob to select the input source, 2. a DACT stepped attenuator to control the volume, 3. a four position knob to control the power. Furthermore, the power switch has four settings: 1. OFF, 2. ON (to warm up the tubes), 3. MUTE (to run high voltages through the tubes), and 4. PLAY (to let the tubes amplify the signal). A CAVEAT: use extreme caution in handling the Emmeline II The Stealth as there are potentially LETHAL VOLTAGES!

SOUND:
But, how does it sound?
The signature Ray Samuels house sound is still present but the stock EH 6SN7 and 12AX7 tubes trade warmth for a more natural and neutral sound. Bass extension goes down deeper yet it still has that feisty cross punch. However, decaying notes linger longer: they gradually vanish into the oily black background. Midrange sounds more focused and I can hear the different layers of music with greater ease. Treble is no longer rolled off: it extends higher upward and notes have a more natural decay which gives music its own aura and space.

TUBE ROLLING:
Amperex Bugle Boy 12AX7
RCA Black Plate 12AU7 (medium gain)
RCA Black Plate 12AU7 (medium gain)
Electro-Harminox 6SN7 / 12AX7
Telefunken 12AX7

I tube rolled the EH 12AX7 for the RCA Black Plate 12AU7 (medium gain). In so doing, the bass and midrange take on that lush, magical, tube warmth. Norah Jones' voice becomes raspier and more seductive while while Lisa Gerrard beckons to me like a poetic muse. Sade lulls me into a deep state of hypnosis while Renee Fleming dazzles me with her splendorous voice. Sadly, my time with the Emmeline II The Stealth was limited and I had to move on to other tubes. The Amperex Bugle Boy 12AX7 tubes fail to impress me. It lacks that tube magic as the EH12AX7 / Black Plate 12AU7 tubes. In fact, it sounds duller and less life-like. The Telefunken 12AX7 is the very finest of the inexpensive lot of NOS tubes. Talk about tube magic: excellent tonal balance and a lush sweet midrange to die for! Bass has full-bodied warmth and trebles possess natural extension.

CONCLUSIONS:
While op-amp or tube rolling will produce differences in sound, they can sound remarkably close to each other if you roll carefully. In short, picking the right headphone amplifier comes down to needs and preferences. Rest assured that both the Emmeline HR-2 and Emmeline II The Stealth are hand-built, shining products.

STRENGTHS:
Emmeline HR-2
Op-amp rolling
Dark, warm, poetic
Outstanding build quality
Transferable two year warranty

Emmeline II The Stealth
Tube rolling
Tuned for new stock tubes
Tube magic sound
Preamplifier / headphone amplifier
Outstanding build quality
Five year warranty

WEAKNESSES:
Emmeline HR-2
$875 USD
Certain op-amps produce background hiss

Emmeline II The Stealth
$2495 USD
Amperex Bugle Boy 12AX7 sounds lifeless

Edited by Welly Wu, 21 July 2004 - 09:27 AM.


#2 Mackie

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Posted 21 July 2004 - 01:09 PM

Thanks dude. A commendable job. I will put it up to the sticky review section.
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#3 Rameish

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 05:31 PM

Are your Amperex BB 12AX7 made in USA (ie Richardson). Or are they the ECC83 Holland made ones.
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#4 Welly Wu

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Posted 24 July 2004 - 10:54 PM

QUOTE (Rameish @ Jul 24 2004, 05:31 AM)
Are your Amperex BB 12AX7 made in USA (ie Richardson). Or are they the ECC83 Holland made ones.

I don't know? biggrin.gif