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Xin SuperMicro-IV VS RSA Tomahawk Impressions

post #1 of 119
Thread Starter 
Finally it's here.

When you own two of the best available portable amps today, there's no avoiding the dreaded comparison. Many have asked me what's my impression on Xin SuperMicro IV (SMIV) against RSA Tomahawk (TH), and I was hard pressed to say anything simply because I don't have a concrete answers at that time.

My impressions and reviews are based on intensive listening to both amps to songs that I know very well. And some of you already know that I am a hardcore fan of Shoegazer, Indie, Britpop, Metal and Industrial genres. I don't listen to Classical, Blues, Rap, Jazz etc... So always remember that I will not be able to tell how these amps would perform for those genres.

And it has to be understood that my rig is build around ETYMOTIC ER-4S, my unconditional love for ETYMOTIC house sound governs everything. I have used and owned numerous DAPs, amps and cables but my ER-4S is here to stay - and those that stayed are the ones that can synergize the best with ER-4S. Same goes to my amps, eventually only one will stay and that will be determined how well they drive my ER-4S. And please also understand that I believe in setting up a rig that are sized properly in proportion to the cans used (IE: small amp should drive small can)

Breakdown of my Rig:
Source: RWA iMod 60GB Photo / FLAC V4 Lossless
IC Cable: DIY Qables Pure Silver with Switchcraft Gold Plated Minis
Cans: ETYMOTIC ER-4S (100 oHm)
- Xin SuperMicro-IV (Batch 04/11) - One AAA Alkaline (43 Hours Runtime / Fixed Gain Setting )
- RSA EMMELINE "The Tomahawk" (T315) - Two AAA Alkalines (700 Hours Runtime / High Gain Setting)

A Note of Xin 04/11 Batch:
If you have been monitoring Xin's Forum and activity lately, you will know that there's a sudden avalanche of delivery notification from Xin himself to his entire customer who have confirmed their order - dating all the way from November 2006. Yes, it took me four months to receive my SMIV and based on what I have learned, Xin was in "research mode", secluding himself in total isolation trying to figure out why SuperMacro and SuperMini IVs sounds slightly "inferior" to SuperMicro-IV - yes he admitted it openly and that was done on the fated 04/11/2007. The good news is, Xin has finally figured out the cause and most importantly he has a solution for it. He also claimed that beginning 04/11, all of his IVs range will have the improvement implemented (including SuperMicro-IV). Now I do not know precisely what he has improved but I was glad I received the newer batch.

Now on to how the amps perform. Well for a start, anybody trying to compare SMIV and TH side by side on SQ will have the likeliness of acquiring a brain cancer because they are trully amazing! both of them. Some of you would have already know that I am a forgiving person with impressions, my previous reviews has been non-critical at best, and I will continue to be so because I was hard pressed to find any flaw to bitch about those two amps.

Since there has been loads of review on TH and SMIV published all over Head-Fi, I will focus on the areas that matters the most. Straight to the point

Treble & Highs:
TH - hugely known for its sweet highs. Never piercing and extends very well
SMIV - similar treble performance to TH, but has more treble air and extends superbly as well
* Treble junkie will be hugely satisfied with both. Silky performance for sure

TH - Solid mids imaging - never flabby
SMIV - Solid and VERY neutral sounding, but placed a step behind TH in staging (positioning)

TH - Tight and deep, solid presence. Audible midbass and lowbass (the listener can clearly tell which is which). Moderate punch and slam
SMIV - Tight and deep as well, very authorative and convincing bass response and because of this the impact is stronger than TH in most songs

TH - Tightly controlled and never sibilant
SMIV - Extends a bit longer. Very sweet fade and swishes

BOTH equally superb in this section. A slight edge for TH over SMIV because one of TH strongest attribute is the ability to place a fine line in each separation. While SMIV have more distance and depth between instruments

Imaging & Transparency:
Stellar transparency from both, I could not decide which one is more transparent than the other. Both are very revealing with very wide open window to the music.

Soundstaging & Focus:
This is where SMIV outclass TH by a small margin. With tons of spacious airiness everywhere, SMIV projected the experience with ER-4S as if I was listening to full sized cans. TH is just a step behind. Again I stress, this is due to the generous amount of "air" that SMIV possesses. Still I am convinced both will have no problem outclassing most portable amps.
Both amps displayed superb focus with regard to which instruments to present. What should stay in the background, stayed in the background.

Tonality, PRAT & Smoothness:
TH is blessed with authorative tonality, everything sounds very succinct and convincing. Equally matched, SMIV proved to be the smoother/liquid sounding of the two. Overall PRAT is equally matched - breathtaking speed and attacks. Most importantly, through an ER-4S, TH sounds very analytical and SMIV is tube like. Yes for SMIV, I can safely declare that my ER-4S sounds slightly warmer when paired with SMIV, and the best part is that I am not losing any of the surgical precision of ER-4S in the process. Both projected almost zero glares.

I believe this section is attributed more to my RWA iMod. With dreamlike fidelity offered by iMod, Dynamics/Transients/Nuances sounded just right on both amps. I could continue AB-ing both day and night and still I will not be able to decide which one is superior in this regard.

Sibilance Control:
On certain records, both still failed to completely eliminate the "SSSS" sibilance on high pitched vocals. But I am not too worried about this because the sibilance is something that is native to ER-4S than the amp and source. This is something that I have learned to live with. Nothing is perfect. But at least, SMIV did a commendable job of minimizing it.

Congestion/Crowd Control:
Both are quite impressive with congestion control. This is because both handles instrument separation superbly. Nothing to complain about here

Now the deciding factor:
INTIMACY! - SMIV offers tons of intimacy. TH is all businesslike. This I believe is affected by synergy factor. ER-4S is a bright sounding can and intimacy is often sacrificed in the name of precision - but SMIV succeeded in bringing that element without sacrificing any analytical prowess of ER-4S. One key factor that need to be considered is that the maker of SMIV, the "former rocket scientist" Dr. Xin is an ER-4S hardcore user - rightfully any amp that he build will reflect his love for ER-4S. TH on the other hand has been designed to cater most IEMs and some delicate compromise has to be considered there. I could imagine Ray has put in tremendous effort to make TH sounds good on all major IEMs. Another factor (though not as crucial) is that SMIV allows me to wear my IEM + Amp without the need to stack them together with my iMod - I have plans to stack my iMod with an external battery pack and the relief offered by SMIV is very welcomed.

Yes, I am pretty much set on keeping my SMIV because I have no plan to migrate from ER-4S to any other IEM (I have TWO ER-4 in possession). Since I only have two ears, I may bid my farewell to my TH....

Now that we have covered the SQ part, let's talk a bit about the rest. Truthfully, SMIV is quite laughable. The look, the feel and the build - one can almost expect to find SMIV given as freebies with Kellog's Corn Flakes or KFC purchases. LOL! SMIV is so frugal that you can buy it totally naked without a case. TH on the other hand, well the legendary RSA build quality can put most amp to shame (LaRocco & HeadAmp merits as well).

Volume control on SMIV is very much similar to the sort of control you find in cheap 80's portable radio. And to make things worse, the knob itself is placed slifgtly recessed to avoid accidental movement. I fixed this DIY style by scraping (yowza!!) and sanding my SMIV case with w flat sandpaper to lower the profile on the volume side. As a result the volume dial is much easier to turn now. And I loved the sensitivity of the wheel.

Pics for your enjoyment:

There you go, my opinions on my two little amps. Hope this helps.
post #2 of 119
GREAT Reviews!`
post #3 of 119
1. how did you get it out of the case? i tried before and i was afriad of damaging the volume wheel.

2. did you try the smiv with ni-mh? in some posts people reported better performance with ni-mh due to the much lower impedance
post #4 of 119
It is really insane that such tiny device can produce such huge sound....really insane
post #5 of 119
Great Review EFN!
How many hours do you have on the amps?
post #6 of 119
Nice review. J

ust a note- while the build quality of the micro is laughable- I like the volume knob for this device. I strap mine to my ipod with the volume knob up against the ipod- this makes it almost impossible to accidentally adjust the volume. I can't say I have ever had difficulty adjusting the volume- maybe if I try to do it without taking it out of my pocket.
post #7 of 119
Pure jealousy. Right here.

Glad to hear this. Cant wait to get my email from Xin.

Great review, i'd like to see some pictures of the other side of the SMIV. I cant figure out where the sound comes from!

post #8 of 119
Originally Posted by icantusefizz View Post
Pure jealousy. Right here.

Glad to hear this. Cant wait to get my email from Xin.

Great review, i'd like to see some pictures of the other side of the SMIV. I cant figure out where the sound comes from!

He took that picture down, maybe Xin doesnt allow pictures of the circuit board
post #9 of 119
How many hours are on TH and on the Micro? I find that for most units that 100 plus hours is required for the top end and general performance to open up.

Excellent review. I know it takes a lot of in depth listening to discern these differences when both units are of this high musical standard.
post #10 of 119
Two thumbs up for the nice review, EFN. It's probably one of the most straight forward review I have read in a while. I've been looking forward to hearing about your thoughts regarding the comparison between these two high-end portable amps. I must say the outcome of the review has made me more excited about the SMIV order I made at the start of last month. Now, I just need to find a better portable source to upgrade to.
post #11 of 119
Is the black case on the SM a new option? I don't see it listed on Xin's website.
post #12 of 119
dammit - I saw the circuit board shot earlier and didn't save it!!! waaa
Although in all honesty at the time when i quickly glanced over it I didn't recognise any opamps that I knew.
post #13 of 119
I want one.
post #14 of 119
Nice reading, thanks.
post #15 of 119
Originally Posted by jamato8 View Post
How many hours are on TH and on the Micro? I find that for most units that 100 plus hours is required for the top end and general performance to open up.
Tomahawk has 650 hours, the SupermicroIV is quite new. But i think a much more difference makes the earphones you use for a comparisson. Ans as ELF said, the Supermicro ist built with an ER-4S.

I read from an user with ER-4P and Triple.fi 10 pro would compared SupermAcroIV with SR71 and Tomahawk from RSA.

While he liked the SupermAcroIV with his ER-4P he found the SupermAcroIV muddy with his Triple.fi 10 pro.

I know that ER-4P sounds different than a ER-4S. But i would still asume, that a Tomahawk would sound better with my Shure SE530. That said i must still get one Tomahawk for myself, before i can be sure. But EFN wrote, that a Tomahawk is more indipendant of the earphones, so i´ll get a Tomahawk and be hopefully satisfied for the next two or three years.
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