This review almost never happened. It was not that Ray Samuels was not willing to send me the Emmeline The Predator headphone amplifier, it was that the unit sounded impressive at first and then went downhill at around the 80 hour mark. Upon receiving the unit i gave it a good few hours of listening and then let is simply let the Emmeline The Predator feed off my XM Radio and drive a pair basic IEMs. After about a week i once again began critical listening, as the unit had around 80 hours on her. My notes at that time were this, and my apologies for the abbreviations yet am sure many of you can read my cryptic notes.
The Predatorís both PC boards, the amplifier & the USB, are mil specs grade with 4 oz oxygen free copper. All resistors are that of high quality Dale Vishay SMDs. The Caps are the highest quality film caps by Panasonic. The power lanes & signal lanes are separated from each others with ground lanes & blocks of ground sections to minimize the floor noise.
You should hear no noise or hiss at all from the DAC when connected to your computer, it is completely silent in every sense no matter which headphones you use, including all the sensitive headphones, IEM, with full gain of 11, at MAX volume.. That by itself is just a remarkable accomplishment when comparing amps with each others using IEMís.
The amp section has identical parts when it comes to quality; no corners have been cut, as the Predator has the lowest floor noise specs than that of the Hornet & Tomahawk.
The Predator has three position gain switch, low, gain of One, medium, gain of Four & high, gain of Eleven. These gain setting come very handy when a variety of phones are used with different impedances.
The USB/Source switch is located on the face plate, it selects between a mini stereo input source and the USB input. When the amp is used with an external source, the USB circuitry is completely disconnected from that of the amp as if it never exists and no battery power is going through it.
The Predator can play while it is charging, with no loss of sound quality. The charging time is within 2-3 hours, the play time is 7 days at 8 hours per day, per charge. The Lithium Ion battery in the Predator is good for over 500 times charging. This means 500 x 7 days with each charge at 8 hours per day comes to 3500 days at 8 hours per day. 3500 divided by 365 days per year = 9.6 years. That is how long the battery should last.
The Predator is priced at $475 plus shipping.
The adapter/charger of the Predator is universal, therefore it works where ever you are in the world. It wonít harm if you charge the Predator all night long, the battery will shut off by itself once it is fully charged, whether being on or off, as long as it has about 2 hours on the charger.
Warning... Do not use another adapter/charger with the Predator as it might cause the battery to overheat & explode. Please if you happen to have problem with your charger, we will be more than happy to send you a replacement free of charge, you pay shipping fee only. The Predator has a life time warranty, parts & labor, the battery has three years. The customer will pay shipping both ways only. The warranty is transferable to any owner.
Cryptic Notes At 60 Hours
Med rear setting lacks highs extension, bass is not as defined. Things sound 'ftat' dynamically.
Low setting seems worse, though bass is a touch better defined
High output, the highs seem more extended, dynamics are better. Better delineation between notes on Steely Dan "Jose."
a-ha song "Take On Me" Same as above. Added note, the small microdynamics are flattened for sure at beginning of song. Medium seems to lay on a layer of haze. Kind of a super quiet 'white noise' per se, but it is not noise in the strictest sense.
Kraftwerk Autobahn off album The Mix
At 3:00 mark it is as though there is some bass missing combined with the noted haze on Medium setting. At the low setting, the interplay of dynamic notes are better, yet still lacking the driving low frequency support.
On the other hand, King Crimson album Beat (reissue), song "Neurotica" it was almost a toss up between high and Medium, possibly due to the immense high-frequency bomblast of various sounds attacking my ears.
Chesky Records release of Lavern Butler has staggering clarity. Especially the song "Isn't It A Pity." Yes, there is definitely some dynamic compression happening at the Low setting. Interesting, the medium setting seems more natural here versus the more dynamic Hi setting. Perhaps her voice is a bit too 'hot' in the mix as compared to the other musicians, so this dynamic flattening makes her voice more balanced within the mix?
Mercury Living Presence 35mm of The Nutcracker, on track 8 titled "The Nutcracker Battles the Arm of the Mouse King" the Med setting sounded more balanced, if less defined due to a slight trimming of the uppermost frequencies. On second though, after playing back and forth both the Hi and Med setting have their advantages, so let us call it a draw depending on your mood.
On the other hand, songs like Prodigy's "Breathe" has such tremendous bass and highs that the medium setting sounds best. This is not an album for the weak of heart... or system! The 32nd-note pulsations of deep bass has torn apart system upwards of $250,000! It was a full electrostatic system, so can understand how a panel system, could not handle such dynamic and fast pulsations at the lowermost frequencies. Panels are great mind you for lesser music that consists of slower rolling bass.
Neil Young's The Needle and the Damage Done [Harvest] sounded truly spectacular.
And So that wraps up my listening at that time. The above is virtually unedited notes in the raw form. Felt it was good to post them within this review, as perhaps you can get a better idea what us reviewer-types may write when reviewing gear. Naturally there is more, yet at this point things were not as hoped. It appears the unit went downhill from my first listening (no notes) and was getting a bit better, yet...
So called Ray and let him know there was something not quite right with my unit (perhaps defective?). E-mailed Ray my notes and he asked me a few key questions. Ray informed me that the unit needs more time and that my experiences are normal during break in. It seems the battery and power capacitor needed more time, as others have experienced the same situations that eventually resolved themselves. Hmm... perhaps this is a perfect example why truly professional audio reviewers/magazine ensure they have a unit for review for 60 to 90 days, as to ensure the unit has gone through the burn-in period. Besides, smart audiophiles have long ago wised up to those new-rave-of-the-month reviewer club. We must remember that some gear such as the
Finally, Time For Reviewing
Now with about 300 hours total, as i let her play nearly endlessly for a few days, then rest... then more playing, wash, rinse, repeat. It is amazing what a few hundred hours will do to fully flesh out electronic parts within an electronic system! Gone is the veil and now the congestion and obscured details have come into focus. Upon listening once again to the same music as before, it may be better to rewrite my previously written cryptic notes. So my new notes are below.
New Cryptic Notes After 300+ Hours Of Use
Med rear setting has nice highs, balanced harmonics and the bass is well rounded/defined. Dynamically quite impressive.
Low setting seems to reduce dynamics, yet this is subtle.
High output, the highs seem more extended, dynamics are better. Better delineation between notes on Steely Dan " Jose."
a-ha song "Take On Me" is nicely dynamic as notes come and go with speed. Microdynamics are very encompassing with the synthetic reverb, if a tad short of the very best.
Kraftwerk Autobahn off album The Mix
At 3:00 mark bass is nicely full with on-off quickness. Medium setting is perhaps the best, with high having a bit much in the output (maybe my etymotic 4p IEM are to blame?). At the low setting, the interplay of dynamic notes are better, drive is good yet better with medium setting.
King Crimson album Beat (reissue), song "Neurotica" is still a toss up between high and Medium, possibly due to the immense high-frequency bomblast of various sounds attacking my ears.
Chesky Records release of Lavern Butler has staggering clarity. Especially the song "Isn't It A Pity." Very open, nicely rendered dynamics and very alluring (oh la-la!). Still prefer the Hi setting for this album.
Mercury Living Presence 35mm of The Nutcracker, on track 8 titled "The Nutcracker Battles the Arm of the Mouse King" the diff between the High and Med setting is almost a tossup. Lovely harmonics and very clean. Nice!
Neil Young's The Needle and the Damage Done [Harvest] sounded truly spectacular (still).
Summing It All Up
The above should give you the rawness of the note a reviewer such as myself uses to aid in recalling just what was heard during listening sessions. What is amazing is the difference between a mere 60 hours and then, with over 300 hours, the difference of the sound from Ray Samuels' Emmeline The Predator. There is plenty of output power to drive the 4p and i did briefly dig out my HD600, which are now out of favor in my home, and there was power to drive these harsh ear cans. If you had troubles reading the cryptic notes and still wondering what exactly is my opinion of The Predator, they are this:
Excellent unit, top quality build, fit and finish. The sound is very impressive and the battery seems to last... forever. Wish my Zune 30MB unit had 50+ hours of playback before needing a recharge. But then again the iPod sounds like crap, and longer batteries can not fix that. When using my laptop's digital music files, sound quality was further improved and this is how i mainly reviewed The Predator.
Sure $475 is long green, though Europeans/Asians are getting a bargain with the highly devalued United Stated dollar (thanks Federal Reserve). Americans may have a hard time laying out $475 for The Predator, yet it is fairly priced and quite good. Highly recommended you have a listen if you are seeking something within the price range.
Type: Stereo headphone amplifier with USB input
Predator Amplifier Specifications
Predator USB DAC Specifications
Overall Dimensions: 2.95 x 1.7 x 0.75 (DxWxH in inches)
Ray Samuels Audio.