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REVIEW: Ray Samuels Audio Dark Star solid state headphone amplifier - Page 15

post #211 of 372

I own DarkStar #12, purchased as an upgrade from a Burson HA-160D.  Owned LCD-2 r.2s, but I sold them and got the LCD-3s, so I wanted a better amp to power them.  Still using the DAC section of the Burson to feed the DS until Anedio ships the D2.  I'm in the Air Force and live in a dorm, so I wanted a high-quality system that wouldn't disturb the neighbors.  I listen to most of everything through this system, from HQ music to mediocre-quality TV shows.

 

Comparing the amps, the differences in detail, imaging, and soundstaging are the most noticeable improvements.  While watching an episode of Fringe at a less-than-stellar bit rate, the phone rang.  The detail and imaging were so good that it tricked me into picking up my own phone (sitting about in the place where the sound seemed to come from) before I realized it was a part of the show.  Sounds a bit silly, sure, but it really impressed me that it sounded so authentic.  The Burson always sounded good to me, but with the DarkStar, it seems spatially (as opposed to tonally) deeper and more refined and detailed for everything I watch.

 

Music, of course, is an entirely different matter, and man does the DS deliver.  Even with the darker sound signature*, higher-pitched percussion instruments and female voices always pop and soar as if being performed about twenty feet away.  It is a tad more revealing to mastering defects, grain in vinyl, and so on, but never to the degree of being seriously distracting; think of it as taking such detail from, say, a seven to an eight.  Even the phenomenal PRaT of the 160D was apparent to me with the DarkStar, though if one were gauging this aspect as the main reason to upgrade, the Burson is every bit as good in this department.  Listening to the MFSL version of Territorial Pissings by Nirvana is a brackish soup with the wall-of-sound guitar-playing, but the snare drums cut right through and give an impactful edge.  Burial's Street Halo went from entrancing on the 160D to sublime with the DS; the fog of hiss and click effects, the bass, vocals, and the echoey ambience all noticeably improved.

 

In short, the Burson's got a great sound in a really good value package, but the DarkStar really took it up, without adding any unwanted colorations or taking away any of the strengths of the 160D.  I do love the impact and heft to the sound of the 160D, and the DarkStar keeps that intact, while refining pretty much every other aspect of the sound signature.  From a value proposition, the HA-160D is extremely good with its DAC and preamp features, coupled with a solid amp.  The DarkStar costs about triple what the Burson does for just the amp.  Is it three times as good?  Of course not, but it was definitely worth the upgrade.  Whatever else is under the hood, know that Ray Samuels makes a damned fine amp; it both looks and sounds the part of a high-end solid state.  I can't wait to hear the improvement with a better, balanced source.  (Incidentally, my HA-160D will be for sale soon, if anyone's interested.)

 

I also own a set of Shure SE530s as travel 'phones, and I experimented with them a bit on the setup.  I never use the high gain for any of my phones, but I did flip it on and off to check the background noise levels.  Obvious hiss, of course, but there was a little bit even with the LCD-3s when nothing was playing.  Pretty low hiss on the low gain setting, less than I expected.  I listened to a few songs with them, and it was doable, though the limitations of the 530s like the rolled-off treble came into play, and I couldn't turn them up much at all.  So it's possible to use the DarkStar with even sensitive IEMs; though you do so at your own risk, it still sounds good through them.  Certainly overkill, though, as expected.

 

A few minor negatives.  First, the amp section is surprisingly light, as the Headfonia review mentioned.  Make sure you hold or brace it when you disconnect cables.  If you tend to be mobile when you listen, be careful not to exceed your cable limit.  My amp section is also not perfectly level on the spikes, so you can press on it gently and get a small metallic clang.  Finally, the brushed finish is a beauty to behold, but don't get any softer plastic near it.  I sat my LCD-3 travel case next to it, and it picked up some black on the outside edge without much force at all.  My own fault, but again, be mindful of this.

 

To reiterate, though, I absolutely love the DarkStar (thanks maxvla for the recommendation from the CanJam thread), and of course thank you to Ray Samuels, who not only made this fine piece of equipment, but even honored his "first ten" price since it was still showing on his site, even though mine was #12.

 

All of the cables connecting the setup were made by Patrick Cullen (he does amazing quality work for the price), with the exception of a Cardas Clear USB cable running from my laptop (running Foobar2K with WASAPI), and the umbilical which is stock (until Patrick makes me a better one).  To connect the headphones themselves, I'm currently using a single-ended Q-Audio cable, and will shortly get a balanced upgrade (likely from Q again).

 

*Let it be known that as the 160D and the DS are the only amps I've ever used at length, all I've ever known are "darker" sound signatures.  I have never once listened to a tube amp, and decided against purchasing one due to upkeep and heat reasons, though both will likely change in the future.


Edited by Thenarus - 2/3/12 at 2:01pm
post #212 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thenarus View Post

My amp section is also not perfectly level on the spikes, so you can press on it gently and get a small metallic clang.

 

incredible review, Thenarus.

and echoes my impressions of the dark star pefectly.

 

regarding the above - yes, components with four feet are almost always this way.  one foot will be shorter than the other, because the case, or the surface you set it on, is slightly out of plumb.

what i did was unscrewed one of the brass feet just half a turn.  voia!  problem solved.

 

cheers and happy listening!!!

the wuss

 


 

 

post #213 of 372
Glad you both like it, especially Thenarus since you bought based partially on my impressions.
post #214 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by maverickronin View Post

The HE-6 Tyll got his hands on was only about 77dB/mW with an impedance of 53 ohms.  63mW into that one is only about 95dB SPL.

 

EDIT:  Calculator for the lazy like me...



Awesome...thanks for the line to the calculator! Helps with those of us too lazy to think late at night. smile.gif

post #215 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thenarus View Post

I own DarkStar #12, purchased as an upgrade from a Burson HA-160D.  Owned LCD-2 r.2s, but I sold them and got the LCD-3s, so I wanted a better amp to power them.  Still using the DAC section of the Burson to feed the DS until Anedio ships the D2.  I'm in the Air Force and live in a dorm, so I wanted a high-quality system that wouldn't disturb the neighbors.  I listen to most of everything through this system, from HQ music to mediocre-quality TV shows.

 

Comparing the amps, the differences in detail, imaging, and soundstaging are the most noticeable improvements.  While watching an episode of Fringe at a less-than-stellar bit rate, the phone rang.  The detail and imaging were so good that it tricked me into picking up my own phone (sitting about in the place where the sound seemed to come from) before I realized it was a part of the show.  Sounds a bit silly, sure, but it really impressed me that it sounded so authentic.  The Burson always sounded good to me, but with the DarkStar, it seems spatially (as opposed to tonally) deeper and more refined and detailed for everything I watch.

 

Music, of course, is an entirely different matter, and man does the DS deliver.  Even with the darker sound signature*, higher-pitched percussion instruments and female voices always pop and soar as if being performed about twenty feet away.  It is a tad more revealing to mastering defects, grain in vinyl, and so on, but never to the degree of being seriously distracting; think of it as taking such detail from, say, a seven to an eight.  Even the phenomenal PRaT of the 160D was apparent to me with the DarkStar, though if one were gauging this aspect as the main reason to upgrade, the Burson is every bit as good in this department.  Listening to the MFSL version of Territorial Pissings by Nirvana is a brackish soup with the wall-of-sound guitar-playing, but the snare drums cut right through and give an impactful edge.  Burial's Street Halo went from entrancing on the 160D to sublime with the DS; the fog of hiss and click effects, the bass, vocals, and the echoey ambience all noticeably improved.

 

In short, the Burson's got a great sound in a really good value package, but the DarkStar really took it up, without adding any unwanted colorations or taking away any of the strengths of the 160D.  I do love the impact and heft to the sound of the 160D, and the DarkStar keeps that intact, while refining pretty much every other aspect of the sound signature.  From a value proposition, the HA-160D is extremely good with its DAC and preamp features, coupled with a solid amp.  The DarkStar costs about triple what the Burson does for just the amp.  Is it three times as good?  Of course not, but it was definitely worth the upgrade.  Whatever else is under the hood, know that Ray Samuels makes a damned fine amp; it both looks and sounds the part of a high-end solid state.  I can't wait to hear the improvement with a better, balanced source.  (Incidentally, my HA-160D will be for sale soon, if anyone's interested.)

 

I also own a set of Shure SE530s as travel 'phones, and I experimented with them a bit on the setup.  I never use the high gain for any of my phones, but I did flip it on and off to check the background noise levels.  Obvious hiss, of course, but there was a little bit even with the LCD-3s when nothing was playing.  Pretty low hiss on the low gain setting, less than I expected.  I listened to a few songs with them, and it was doable, though the limitations of the 530s like the rolled-off treble came into play, and I couldn't turn them up much at all.  So it's possible to use the DarkStar with even sensitive IEMs; though you do so at your own risk, it still sounds good through them.  Certainly overkill, though, as expected.

 

A few minor negatives.  First, the amp section is surprisingly light, as the Headfonia review mentioned.  Make sure you hold or brace it when you disconnect cables.  If you tend to be mobile when you listen, be careful not to exceed your cable limit.  My amp section is also not perfectly level on the spikes, so you can press on it gently and get a small metallic clang.  Finally, the brushed finish is a beauty to behold, but don't get any softer plastic near it.  I sat my LCD-3 travel case next to it, and it picked up some black on the outside edge without much force at all.  My own fault, but again, be mindful of this.

 

To reiterate, though, I absolutely love the DarkStar (thanks maxvla for the recommendation from the CanJam thread), and of course thank you to Ray Samuels, who not only made this fine piece of equipment, but even honored his "first ten" price since it was still showing on his site, even though mine was #12.

 

All of the cables connecting the setup were made by Patrick Cullen (he does amazing quality work for the price), with the exception of a Cardas Clear USB cable running from my laptop (running Foobar2K with WASAPI), and the umbilical which is stock (until Patrick makes me a better one).  To connect the headphones themselves, I'm currently using a single-ended Q-Audio cable, and will shortly get a balanced upgrade (likely from Q again).

 

*Let it be known that as the 160D and the DS are the only amps I've ever used at length, all I've ever known are "darker" sound signatures.  I have never once listened to a tube amp, and decided against purchasing one due to upkeep and heat reasons, though both will likely change in the future.


Is the Burson known for having a 'dark' sound signature?

 

In the DAC section, amp section or both?

 

post #216 of 372

Yes; the Burson has a bit of a bottom--to-mid-heavy focus.  It is not extremely bright or sparkly in the treble region, which also makes it fairly forgiving (less sibilance, though your phones are still the prime determining factor).  I haven't A-B tested its DAC section against any others, but from what I've read, the amp section is tuned to be dark, as the stand-alone HA-160 sounds pretty much the same.

 

With the DarkStar, you still have that heft and presence at the bottom-end and in vocals and such, but the highs are also clearer and more present.  Seems slightly dark, but much more toward neutral...and the other improvements in the sound I mentioned before, especially regarding detail and imaging, really set it apart.

post #217 of 372

this thread needs more pictures!!!  biggrin.gif

 

here's a shot of my current favorite paring with the Dark Star - the Beyer T1.

 

darkstar_T1 (1415 x 940).jpg

 

darkstar_t1_ (1415 x 940).jpg


Edited by TheWuss - 2/5/12 at 8:16am
post #218 of 372

Could you compare your three amazing amps with respect to their ability to drive HD800 and HE6? Thanks. 

post #219 of 372

Hey Brent:

 

Thank you for sharing those pictures. Certainly a great looking p/s and amp assembly.

 

Enjoy music!

post #220 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by cacatalysis View Post

Could you compare your three amazing amps with respect to their ability to drive HD800 and HE6? Thanks. 



i will certainly try...

first, the Peak/Volcano is not my choice for either of those headphones.  it is a splendid amp, but it leans a bit toward the cool side of neutral. 

and, as you may know, neither the HD800 nor the HE-6 mate well with a cool sounding amp.

i prefer the Peak with warmer cans like the Ultrasone, Denon, HD650, and the lot...

 

So, between the Cavalli Liquid Fire and the RSA Dark Star...

So far in my experience, the LF is the best amp for the HD800.  It is just flat out amazing.

But, for the HE-6, i found that i was turning the volume knob up to 3 o'clock.  so, almost enough power, but not quite...

 

So, i bought the Dark Star for the HE-6. 

And it works as advertized.  it is (in my humble opinion) the only headphone amp that truly kicks the HE-6's butt.

 

So, depending on which headphone you are working with, the HD800 with Liquid Fire, or the HE-6 with Dark Star, you'd have two world class rigs.

 

But, I must say - They are more alike than they are different, to be honest.

With either rig, i experience a large soundstage, smooth highs, tons of detail, tight bass, clarity, articulation...

 

i'm very very pleased with my rigs at the moment.  the hobby has come together, that's for sure...

 

cheers!

the wuss

post #221 of 372
I liked the Peak with the HD800. Not the best combo I heard with the HD800, but for the price it was fine. The only amps I liked over the Peak was Ray's B-52 ($5000) and Woo's dual monoblocks ($10,000), so the Peak did well costing much much less.
post #222 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maxvla View Post

I liked the Peak with the HD800. Not the best combo I heard with the HD800, but for the price it was fine. The only amps I liked over the Peak was Ray's B-52 ($5000) and Woo's dual monoblocks ($10,000), so the Peak did well costing much much less.

sure.  i also have to keep reminding myself that part of it is my current tube i have rolled in there.

the sylvania chrome top.

it adds a bit of treble sparkle, making the amp great for some cans, and not so great with others...

post #223 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thenarus View Post

 

  My amp section is also not perfectly level on the spikes, so you can press on it gently and get a small metallic clang.  Finally, the brushed finish is a beauty to behold, but don't get any softer plastic near it.  


Since the spikes screw in all you need to do is rotate out (extend) the one where there is a bit of gap to close it.  Problem solved.

 

post #224 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheWuss View Post



i will certainly try...

first, the Peak/Volcano is not my choice for either of those headphones.  it is a splendid amp, but it leans a bit toward the cool side of neutral. 

and, as you may know, neither the HD800 nor the HE-6 mate well with a cool sounding amp.

i prefer the Peak with warmer cans like the Ultrasone, Denon, HD650, and the lot...

 

So, between the Cavalli Liquid Fire and the RSA Dark Star...

So far in my experience, the LF is the best amp for the HD800.  It is just flat out amazing.

But, for the HE-6, i found that i was turning the volume knob up to 3 o'clock.  so, almost enough power, but not quite...

 

So, i bought the Dark Star for the HE-6. 

And it works as advertized.  it is (in my humble opinion) the only headphone amp that truly kicks the HE-6's butt.

 

So, depending on which headphone you are working with, the HD800 with Liquid Fire, or the HE-6 with Dark Star, you'd have two world class rigs.

 

But, I must say - They are more alike than they are different, to be honest.

With either rig, i experience a large soundstage, smooth highs, tons of detail, tight bass, clarity, articulation...

 

i'm very very pleased with my rigs at the moment.  the hobby has come together, that's for sure...

 

cheers!

the wuss


Totally agree with your assessment.

 

 

post #225 of 372
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ray Samuels View Post

My web site has never been altered regarding the DarkStar. We have not up-dated it either as it has been the same since day one.

I have made it clear to everyone who has asked me including Mike from Headfonia, that the DarkStar is running in class A due to it's ample power of voltage swing & current capability.

Having four amps as powerfull as those used in the DarkStar teaming together in balanced mode to drive any headphones is like a walk in the park for the DarkStar.

The amp will not switch or cross to class B due to it's capability. This has been said to Mike & to every one who called me. Those who don't like it Don't Buy IT.
Read this...

Class AB is widely considered a good compromise for audio amplifiers, since much of the time the music is quiet enough that the signal stays in the "class A" region,

where it is amplified with good fidelity, and by definition if passing out of this region, is large enough that the distortion products typical of class B are relatively small.


 



 


Does anyone else find it disturbing that the designer of this amp, as well as many other amps, is apparently ignorant of the requirements for class A operation? This is a quite basic topic in amplifier design and indeed could be learned by simply reading a wikipedia article. Actually the above quotation includes a rather blatant plagiarization of wikipedia.

 

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