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September / October 2005
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Ray Samuels Audio
Emmeline XR-10B Phonostage
A New King Of Analog In Our Midst!
Review By Steven R. Rochlin
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

 

Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B MM / MC Phonostage Unit  It was just one of those days that began a quest for many months in searching for a solution. You probably know the story. There comes a time when you are happy, yet still yearning for... something. Some days i give up on digital as the music sounds a touch contrived to me at times. It lacks flow and smoothness. Oh how that last sentence will launch 1,000 e-mails to my inbox, and so be it. Don't get me wrong, as my review of the $33,000 Audio Note DAC 5 Special back in September 2003 was a rave. This is where zero oversampling meets tubes,  a gaggle of Black Gate capacitors, and more silver than most dentists used back in the 80's to fill our teeth.

But really, did any of us fall for that "perfect sound forever" shtick? And as DVD-Audio and SACD, with not even a few thousand titles together, pales next to my 8,000+ and growing vinyl collection. In fact more new and reissue releases are offered on vinyl than on the two 'high resolution' digital formats during the same period out together! So yes my friend, the past year has mainly been analog reviews by Yours Truly and you can expect many more in the months to come.

 

Time For Tech Inspection
With the new Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B phonostage freshly unboxed it was time for break in. Is it just me or do you, too, find the smell of new electronics in a box to somehow be enchanting? Hmmm, maybe there is a market for a new female fragrance to attract audiophiles? A hint of flowers and sweetness with a good dose of that new electronics smell. We'll call it Electrolove. Just looked it up and yup, not only is the name taken but it is a dating website. Damn!

The Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B is a two-box affair, as should all phonostages. One box holds the power supply and the other the analog goodies. By now i am sure longstanding audiophiles realize a power supply can induce noise and, as such, negatively affect an analog signal. This is especially true when you are dealing with amplifying such a small signal as those from a cartridge. And speaking of those, turntables were both the Acoustic Solid Small Royal with Rega RB250 tonearm and Linn Adikt MM cartridge and my super reference system Voyd three motor turntable with Audio Note AN-1s silver-wired tonearm and Clearaudio's Insider Reference MC wood body cartridge. As for that stock power cord that came with the XR-10B, it belongs as just that, in your back stock never to be seen again. Naturally a phonostage of this caliber deserved the Nirvana Audio Source Analog Cord or some other exotica. One day i really need to review the Nirvana power cords as they are truly remarkable.

Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B MM / MC PhonostageAnd with all that out of the way, the Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B is considered the company's "Reference Phono Stage Pre-amp" and provides three inputs. Each input is selected via a centrally located front rotary switch that is surrounded by a blue light. Since this unit is a dual mono design, meaning each channel is completely separate electronically with only the electronics sharing a single housing, the left and right three rotary knobs control a single channel. To the left you have loading choices of 30, 50, 80, 100, 1K and 47K. Next to that is cartridge input capacitance adjustment with 50pf, 100pf, 150pf, 220pf, 270pf and 330pf. The far right in the trio of smaller knobs is gain control. The power supply is also dual mono by the way.

Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B MM / MC PhonostageOn the rear appear three pairs of RCA inputs and a grounding connection on the right side. To the left is a pair of RCA and XLR outputs plus the electrical umbilical cord connector that originates from the outboard power supply. Five feet of low noise shielded power cord allow users to situate the unit far away from analog cables/sources.  Once the unit is plugged into the wall it is always on as there is no power switch. Ray Samuels Audio warrantees the unit for for five years parts and labor. Note: the clear top seen in the photo above is for show; the actual production unit has a chassis matching brushed metal top.

 

False Start And The Wave Off
Let is be known here and now to manufacturers that they should never, ever, under any circumstances send me a prototype. It is not due to lack of interest to hear the development of a product or that my time is getting ever more scarce. It is that, well... a prototype is not a finished product. And this is exactly what happened with the Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B. My brief comments on the prototype is that the blue light around the volume knob was bright enough to light up my room, the midrange was very impressive and the bass was friggen phenomenal. Add to that a truly immersive 3D soundscape that was the best... ever!

So there i was getting ready to put my cyber-pen to cyber-paper and then came the e-mail saying that another unit would be arriving. The reasoning, according to Ray, was due to bass and they tweaked it, yet the unit already in my hot hands had tied for bass resolution champion. You mean it gets better? No way?!?! So like an addict to his dealer i gladly welcomed another 'free sample.' And what would you have done if you were me? i'd bet a stack of Euro notes, as the US dollar is worth less, you'd do the same thing. So the final production unit arrived and so begins my official reviewers duties.

 

Gentleman, Start Your Turntables
Will not give a blow-by-blow concerning each turntable setup and cartridge and, instead, give an overall impression as each setup is known quite well. In fact so is the music used to evaluate the XR-10B and this is as it should be. Sure i have newer recordings, yet with many years, and in some circumstances decades, knowing the music contained within the vinyl's grooves and how it has sounded during that time over various systems it provides me with a staggering amount of knowledge to properly evaluate the unit. In other words, i know how the music sounded last week, last month, five years ago, and a decade ago on system X, Y, and Z so keeping that a constant helps to understand the other variables. Changing any variable can lead to a misdiagnosis and this would, in turn, would mislead myself down an incorrect path.

 

Direct-to-disc Wagner Die Walküre: Ride Of The Valkyries
[Sheffield Lab Lab 7]

Here we have a recording, like many others i use, that is excellent yet long out of print. Gobs of information are thrust upon the ears with layer upon layer blazing forth. The XR-10B never showed even a hint of reaching its limits. i would go so far as to say this is the most amount of delineated information my ears have ever heard from this recording. No small feat! From top to bottom, the frequency spectrum and harmonics were very impressive. Perhaps all those tubed phonostages that have come my way have also added their inherent flavor to the music. Dynamics, in general, were extraordinary. Lower-level sound to full orchestra explosion was wonderful, yet it is the extremely small inner dynamics i found lacking. This is a very, and i do mean very, minor quibble and we must remember i am comparing this to the $30,000 battery powered Silbatone C-102 preamplifier(!).

Brass instruments were reproduced with authority and proper blare. The triangle at the climax was not lost within the music, something that can easily happen with lesser units. With such a staggering amount of musical information being brought forth my amazement demanded repeated listening sessions to be sure of my findings. Yes indeed my friends, this is one amazing unit!

My fave and rare direct-to-disc 45 rpm Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 Appassionata [RCA RDCE-4] with Ikuyo Kamiya commanding a Bösendorfer Imperial was taken for a spin.

Have used this LP many times within my reviews and received begs and pleas from others as to where they can buy it. There is one on eBay right now for $50 plus shipping (item number 4758250149), but by the time this review goes to print it may be sold. Rarely — only during the fff sections — there are some hints of breakup, with my guess being it was caused at the microphone or cutting heads. Either that or the first owner of this record has some tracking problem with his turntable that caused damage to the groove. This is direct-to-disc folks and getting 95 percent of the recording right is better than getting 100 percent of a taped session perfect. Give me direct to disc any day of the week! Hmmm... i am debating buying the eBay disc as i could use a second copy. Will leave it on eBay and hopefully one of you will buy it and enjoy the music.

As for the review, once again gobs of information as each note, chord, hammer strike, etc. was clearly audible. Basically more of the same, and this is a very good thing. i was enjoying not just the sound of this very impressive musician easily commending the equally impressive piano, yet her brilliant interpretation of Beethoven's music is moving. This is a recording that separates the men from the boys, and the XR-10B is all man here. Why is it that older pianos seem to produce a subjectively better sound than their new counterparts? Could it be the aging of the wood, employing more handcraftsmanship, or perhaps they simply do not make them like they used to. In any event, from hammer to string to soundboard and hall, the XR-10B got it all right to my ears in my system.

 

Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon
[Harvest SHVL 804]

So far most the music used during this review has been more dynamic rather than, say, a gentle washing over like a slow cool stream on a hot August day. Some people say the Japanese Lab pressing is better, yet i'd argue that over an early original UK pressing. Please understand i have over ten different versions of this recording on vinyl including the MoFi standard (better than UHQR), the MoFi UHQR (sucks, too bright), Holland white vinyl (so bright and harsh you can clean teeth with it), UK quadraphonic (quite good and a different musical mix to boot!)... and picture disc (good for hanging on the wall).

There is a small deficiency in the handing of the lowermost dynamics that interferes with the fullest of musical immersion. Perhaps another 500 hours of use will cure that. The phonostage portrays the phase information quite well. In fact one thing i have forgotten to fully express is the amazing 3D-like soundscape produced with the XR-10B. This is not an exaggerated 3D, but on part with the very best unit my ears have had the pleasure to enjoy. Don't kid yourself about the SACD or some other digital reissue of this recording; the original UK pressing has vast amounts of information i have yet to hear on more modern releases. Could it be the master tape showing age, or is the rumor of the original master tape being mishandled decades ago really true? In any event, the ability to accurately handle phase information can greatly affect the way we humans perceive sound and it's directionality. This unit gets it right. It is as though the music is dancing in a 3D space all around my listening room. Those of you with the Roger Waters rare Amused To Death vinyl are familiar with Q-Sound 'tricks,' a studio effect employed to give a false sense of location as we humans perceive sound by altering time, timber, and phase shifting information. While Q-Sound is a totally false and contrived effect, naturally recorded music also contains information we humans identify as location.

All in all, Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon was hindered to a larger than normal extent due to missing those small, subtle cues my soul craves. For me this was a major drawback. To provide a modern and accessible alternative as an example, Westminster Choir's O Magnum Mysterium [Chesky CD83] song titled "Behold! I Build A House" has startling 3D hall sound! Before you shoot me for mentioning a digital recording, let alone a mere 16-bit/44.1kHz one at that, in an analog review, this is for example only. While the entire CD is very impressive, this particular track perfectly shows that in the right system capable of accurate rendering plus an extremely quiet listening environment can generate amazing 3D spatial feats that float and gently flow about in an apparent natural fashion. And that, as they say, is that.

 

The Miles Davis Quintet Cookin'
[Analogue Productions APJ 021]

This limited edition 180-gram vinyl pressing mastered by none other than Doug Sax and here we have Miles in much of his jazz glory! Plus how could i dislike a guy who has owned and enjoyed driving many miles in his various Ferrari cars! C'mon, you had to know i would include the F-word in this review somewhere plus as i write this tomorrow is yet another day at the racetrack for me. Getting back to what really matters here, the music, the muted trumpet on "My Funny Valentine" was produced with a perfect (the P-word!) balance of rasp and horn. My best friend for nearly a decade was a trumpet player so... To make a long review of this album short... remarkable! Need i say more?

 

Kraftwerk The Mix [Kling Klang1C 164-7 96650 1 DMM]

Ok, so this is a digital metal master LP. Start the flame war towards me now as i have a three-layer rated Nomex suit, Nomex socks.... This original German pressing, with German lyrics, is a statement of fast and furious on-off percussive notes. From the uppermost frequencies to deep bass, this is a percussive attack! Not once did the Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B show any hint of holding back. The ability to expand the synthesized notes in space was equal to the very best. 

 

ZZ Top Tres Hombres  
[London XPS 631]

Ah yes, here i am throwing in a curve ball. Actually there were quite a few funk/groove/blues albums enjoyed during the review and i guess this is the one chosen as an example to be different. This is ZZ Top when they were strictly a blues/back beat band, not the more modern synth it-all-sounds-alike music they produced in their later years. PRAT (Pace, rhythm and timing) of the XR-10B is more on the downbeat side of things. It leans towards the down notes rather than the up tics. Upbeat funk music lovers will not be disappointed mind you, though felt readers may be interested to know that if the XR-10B was a band it would be backbeat.

 

The Victory Flag
Did it really take 3,000 words to reach this point? And are you really still reading this review, or did you cheat and scroll down to the conclusion first? As they say, cheaters never prosper so my conclusion will simply state, "i have said about all there needs to be said in the above review." There is a reason why this unit appears in our Ultimate Audio magazine and the body of the review says it all quite nicely.  Of course in the end what really matters is that you...

Enjoy the Music,

Steven R. Rochlin

 

Specifications
Type: true dual-mono design moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) phonostage

Inputs: three stereo pair via RCA

Outputs: RCA and XLR (stereo pair each)

Input Loading: 30, 50, 80, 100, 1K and 47K

Input Capacitance: 50pf, 100pf, 150pf, 220pf, 270pf and 330pf.

Output Voltage: 18 Volts rms

RIAA: 15Hz to 20kHz (0.1dB)

Output Impedance:  within 300 Ohms

Gain Settings: 40dB to 70dB in six increments

Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 2 (WxDxH)  per unit, two units

Warrantee: five years parts and labor

Price: $4,500

 

Company Information
Ray Samuels Audio
8005 Keeler 
Skokie, IL 60076

Voice: (847) 673-8739
E-mail: rsaudio@raysamuelsaudio.com
Website: www.raysamuelsaudio.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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