Click on the photo above for a larger version.Before it heads to New York for the Official NYC Fall Regional Meet (2007-11-10), a Ray Samuels Audio Predator USB DAC/portable amp prototype arrived for a brief stay with me. It is uncased (see the photo above), so I just have it sitting on a white index card. (Ray Samuels made sure to make sure that I understood that, as an electrical device uncased, it's potentially susceptible to shorting should anything conductive cross the exposed paths. I told Ray not to worry, as the first thing I'd do to protect it would be to wrap it snugly in aluminum foil. http://hfimage.head-fi.org/smilies/wink.gif I think Ray's heart skipped a few beats, before he realized a second or two later that I was joking.)
I've only had three or four hours on it, so all that the Predator's played for me so far is some Loudon Wainwright III (Rufus' dad), John Pizzarelli Trio, Tord Gustavsen Trio, and Brad Mehldau. And, since I forgot my only 1/4"-to-mini adapter at the office, I haven't had a chance yet to use the Predator with any of my favorite full-sized headphones (currently the Sennheiser HD650 and Grado GS-1000). So, so far it has been all IEM use, trying both the Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro and UE-11, both sounding fantastic out of the Predator in either low- or medium-gain modes (high is too high for these IEMs). Before the night's over, I may also try the Predator with the SHURE SE530, Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 Pro, and Yuin PK-1.
So far, with the UE-11 and UE-10 Pro, the Predator's sound reminds me of my Ray Samuels Audio Hornet, which is my current favorite of my portable amps. I'll compare the Hornet (with the Firestone Audio Fubar II as its USB DAC) with the Predator, hopefully tomorrow, or sometime this weekend. As with my Hornet, I love how well the Predator is able to convey piano, which is critical to me, since I listen to a disproportionate amount of piano (both jazz and classical). In fact, I just cued up Marc-André Hamelin performing Jules Massenet's "Valse folle" from Hamelin's Kaleidoscope album, and ended up playing it three times in a row, because, as the piece's name might indicate it could, it always puts an ear-to-ear smile on my face. The Predator (through the UE-11) conveys Hamelin and his piano's presence very dynamically, very impressively. Again, so critical to me, this diminutive setup does piano great justice.
I'm champin' at the bit to try this Predator with my full-size headphones, which I'll do later today, and to get a greater variety of music played through it. (It's 0436 over here, I've got to get up in a couple of hours, and I'm still up listening and working, and typing this up.)
So far, so very good, Señor Samuels. Please put me on the list for the first batch!
(I haven't heard HeadAmp's Pico USB DAC/portable amp yet--which has been getting some rave reviews so far from those who've heard it--but will do so at my earliest opportunity.)