Pros: Balanced and SE input-output capabilities, with an additional USB DAC. An auditory upgrade for most people.
Cons: You need to put your smartphone/DAP in Airplane Mode equivalent in order to use it without hearing hisses and pops (RFI and Wi-Fi Interference).
Ray Samuels Audio – The Intruder
The Intruder is a fully Balanced input-output headphone/earphone amp as well as a USB DAC by Ray Samuels Audio. I was able to borrow The Intruder from a friend for a couple of weeks, and as a result would like to give my impressions of the DAC/amp, as well as comparisons of the Balanced and SE outputs. I am using my Shure SE846 with Sensaphonics Custom Sleeves, HL Silver Litz SE cable and my friend's HL Silver Balanced cable, with the iPhone 5 and PC (Windows 7 Ultimate) as sources.
The Intruder (no flash and with flash):
The Intruder (left side and right side):
Pros: Built like a tank. Balanced and SE input/output capabilities, with an additional USB DAC. Wider, taller and deeper soundstage, a little bit harder hitting bass, broadened and an ascent in clarity regarding the SE to Balanced output, as well as separation are the best attributes in my opinion. You are purchasing an auditory upgrade to most of whatever (portable equipment) you are using now.
Cons: ** Slightly hisses and pops from time to time. Sweeping the pot back and forth did not help with this. ** More difficult to use compared to using only one device such as a smartphone or boutique DAP when working out. Can walk around with it, but with more difficulty than just using one device such as a smartphone or boutique DAP. No bass-boost option. Balanced connection is limited in its application (not normally used with most audio equipment) and you need a custom terminated cable for your particular headphone/earphone – which is an added expense to experience the Balanced output.
** Increasing the volume helped, but it is working fine with my PC (where I am performing my A/B tests). When each song ends or there is no music playing I can hear slight hissing/popping, which I do not think is a problem with the cable (as I made sure it was new and not used when I purchased it) when it is connected to the iPhone 5. When I sit with the iPhone 5, it only hisses/pops at the end of songs or if the volume is really low. When I walk/move around out and about, the hissing/popping is much more prominent. Maybe using the silver interconnect or if I purchased the Camera Connection Kit (Apple), USB hub and USB cable would bode better for the hissing/popping, or it could exaggerate/amplify it as well, I'm not sure as I do not have any of these connection cables to test. ** Edit: There is a workaround for the hissing and popping. You need to put your smartphone and/or DAP in Airplane Mode equivalent so The Intruder doesn't pick up RFI and Wi-Fi Interference from your Wi-Fi and cell phone wireless connection. This essentially turns your smartphone into a local-access DAP with no internet connection and no cell phone service.
I used the SE input/output of The Intruder for the duration of my listening.
When I tested using my iPhone 5, I used Neutron Music Player, and Spotify Premium - Extreme setting (320kbs). When I tested using my PC, I used WMP, VLC and YouTube.
I used a combination of FLAC, 320 kbs mp3 and whatever is used with uploaded YouTube clips to listen to variances and nuances between the same and different tracks.
The Intruder did not have the latest sent-in RSA update that supposedly elevates the already awesome sound quality.
This is only my opinion, so what I’m going to say below regarding SQ should only be taken with a grain of salt. Okay, maybe two grains.
In my setup, I used my PC so I could make as fast cable and amp swaps as I could. I did not use Bass Boost, Headphone Virtualization, Loudness Equalization or any EQ settings. Basically, every setting was default to have an as ‘colorless’ interpretation of the sound between all three connections as could be.
Using my HL Silver Litz SE cable directly to the PC sounds great.
Using my HL Silver Litz SE cable > The Intruder > PC sounds even better, +~5-15% increase in overall SQ.
Using the HL Silver Balanced cable > The Intruder > PC sounds the best of the 3 connections, +~5-10% increase in overall SQ compared to the SE cable > The Intruder.
This means your uses of the three or similar connections should bode a +~10-25% overall increase of SQ based on many, many varying factors. You can add an extra +~2-10% if you are going from a stock cable to your favorite upgraded cable.
With all of this said, if you prefer a possibly blacker background (with a high quality DAC/amp), more natural, organic and possibly more musical sound, you may prefer the SE connection all together. Based on your individual tastes and preferences, my observations might be spot on, or you may just want to throw whatever observations I stated out of the window, so to speak.
I feel that The Intruder is great for places where you will be stationary, like sitting at home, the bus, train or airplane. I did not have a chance to use multiple sources other than the iPhone 5 and PC, but I feel using a device like the iPhone 5 may not be the best to use if you plan on walking around because you won't be able to use the Wi-Fi and cell phone wireless services. I took the iPhone 5 with The Intruder to the mall and Costco, and it was a small challenge working with two separate devices. I did not like the rubber band connected to the phone because it made the screen unusable, and I did not want to use sticky tape Velcro on my iPhone 5 with The Intruder, even though there was Velcro on the back of The Intruder, ready to be used so I wouldn’t have to use the rubber band. With the rubber band off, I was free to use the iPhone 5, but it was difficult because I had to make sure The Intruder did not come out of my pocket. Also, it took me longer to untangle an additional cable to use The Intruder when I was out and about. It was much easier to just plug my HL Silver Litz SE cable directly to the iPhone 5 and immediately be on my way.HL Silver Balanced Cable Pictures (Click to show)
HL Silver Balanced cable:
HL Silver Balanced connector:
Another view of the HL Silver Balanced cable:
PC setup (SE846 with Sensaphonics Custom Sleeves) on top:Mobile Setup (iPhone 5 on Holster, The Intruder in Pocket) (Click to show)
HL Silver Litz SE on the left, HL Silver Balanced on the right:
All and all, The Intruder is a great sounding device, especially when listening through the Balanced output, but having to put my iPhone 5 in Airplane Mode to avoid the hissing/popping makes it not the best portable option (even though The Intruder is very small!). Even though I personally do not feel the amp is worth the price for the gain in sound quality (mainly because I can’t use the iPhone 5 past the local-access properties), I can understand why someone would purchase The Intruder and love the ability to use something that actually elevates sound quality in a portable and miniature package. I would try to demo The Intruder (or any other DAC/amp) to make sure it can integrate seamlessly with your current equipment prior to purchasing. If you like to keep your portable options simple and devoid of additional devices, cables and still be able to use the internet and/or cell phone services, using a dedicated smartphone or boutique DAP with your SE connection (or Balanced if you can) will bode almost as good SQ (or possibly better SQ) compared to using The Intruder. If you value SQ above anything else, you can either purchase The Intruder and use it Balanced, or use other DACs/amps that will have as great quality sound as The Intruder, or better, regarding Balanced as well as SE connections. That said I will be sad to see The Intruder leave my hands when I send it back to my friend, as it was great to experience an even higher level of auditory bliss - in the palm of my hand.