Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-2 Phono Pre-Amplifier
Review by Wayne Donnelly
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This little dual-chassis beauty is the kind of product that comes along now and again to remind us that refined, highly musical audio equipment need not cost a fortune. The
$1,050 Emmeline XR-2 is very much at home in the company of pricier and more elaborately designed turntables, electronics and loudspeakers.
The XR-2 comprises two small, nicely black-anodized aluminum chassis connected by a shielded
5.5 ft. umbilical. The exteriors are minimalist: IEC jack on the chassis of the regulated power supply, and on the audio circuit chassis one set each of RCA input and output jacks, a grounding screw and a red power-on LED-not even an OFF/ON switch. The XR-2 is intended to be warmed up and ready whenever you want to play a record.
Opening the two enclosures reveals impressively elegant circuit layouts. The circuit boards owe much of their compact simplicity to the use of four integrated circuits. Once upon a time, the presence of ICs would have been a red flag; I have generally associated such devices with Japanese mass-market mid-fi components, not serious high-end audio. But in recent years lines such as 47 Laboratories have amply demonstrated that quality ICs properly implemented can sound very good indeed. And it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to build a preamplifier of this level of performance and small size-not to mention price--using all discrete component parts.
The other parts employed in the XR-2 are likewise of high quality. The Ray Samuels Audio website offers an informative description of parts selection and utilization in the XR-2, so I won't paraphrase that information here.
The XR-2 can be used with either moving magnet or moving coil cartridges. A set of switches allows the user to select the optimal impedance for a given cartridge: 47K (standard for most moving magnet cartridges), 470, 100, 80, 50 or 30 ohms. A thoughtful touch is the inclusion of a custom location for the addition of any value resistor-in the event that none of the standard values offers the best possible performance.
My only analog source is in my primary review system, so the XR-2 got to play with the big boys: Basis 2800 turntable/Graham 2.2 arm/Transfiguration Temper cartridge; Thor TA-1000 and VTL 7.5 line preamplifiers; Thor TA-3000 phono preamplifier; VTL MB 750 Reference monoblocks, recently factory-updated and modified with Bybee Quantum Purifiers; Dodson DA-218 DAC with
hot-rodded Pioneer DVD/CD transport; Eggleston Andra loudspeakers recently custom-upgraded by Albert Von Schweikert to
better-than-Andra II performance; Bybee/Curl Pro power conditioner; and a variety of cables and accessories. [Reviews are in progress on the Transfiguration, VTL 7.5 and Dodson.]
While it costs far less than any of the above components except the Pioneer, the little XR-2 is unfazed by such august company. I expected a substantial sonic
drop-off when replacing my beloved Thor phono stage with the XR-2, but I was in for a surprise. Yes, the tubed Thor is discernibly better in sheer tonal beauty, harmonic richness, broad and deep soundscaping, airy and extended high frequencies and, not least, ability to draw me into the music. The XR-2, at one-sixth the price, gives up surprisingly little in comparison.
Although missing the exceptional lushness of the Thor, the XR-2 has none of the harmonic leanness I have often heard in solid-state
pre-amplifiers. Similarly, it throws a less voluminous but respectably large soundscape, and image placement is rock-solid. High frequencies, cymbals in particular, miss some of the airy, floating quality that is one of the Thor's special glories, but are free from harshness. Bass is slightly tighter than the Thor, and equally extended. Retrieval of low-level inner detail is quite impressive. And so is the almost uncanny quietness of the XR-2.
After listening to the XR-2 for a few days, its qualitative differences from the Thor are essentially forgotten, and playing a wide range of classical, jazz, blues, rock and folk LPs through it is consistently an unalloyed pleasure. That is a clear indication of the XR-2's ability to stay out of the way of musical expression. Also, I find that locking in VTA during play is quite easy, due to the unit's tonal and spatial precision.
When reviewing a component of the obvious price/performance value of the XR-2, I always ask myself if this is one that I could live with over the long haul. In this case the answer is yes. While I was happy to return my Thor to the system, I must admit that I really
did not miss it much during the weeks the XR-2 was doing the job. This ingeniously conceived and executed phono preamplifier would be a strong value at twice its price. Since Ray Samuels sells his products direct with a home trial period and money-back guarantee, I advise anyone who is looking for a fine phono stage that won't break the bank to give the Emmeline XR-2 a serious audition.
MM Gain: 72dB
Input impedance: 47Kohm
Input Capacitance: 220pf or custom to desired capacitance
RIAA Accuracy: 10Hz to 30kHz at better than 0.02dB
MC Gain: 70dB
Input Impedance: Variable through micro SW --
30, 50, 80, 100, 470,& 47K
Also Available On Board: two posts for each channel for custom resistor of
Signal To Noise: 86dB
Connectors: Gold plated input & output RCA
Optional: Balanced output ONLY available at $150.00 extra.
External Shielded Power Supply: (anodized black aluminum chassis)
6 X 4.5 X 2.5 (DxWxH in inches)
Pre-Amplifier Chassis: 6 X 4.5 X 1.5 (DxWxH in inches)
Shipping weight: 4.5 Pounds
Warranty: 3 years, transferable
Ray Samuels Audio
8005 Keeler Ave.
Skokie, IL 60076
Voice: (847) 673-8739