The RSA Protector balanced portable: Images and impressions 1st page, Please post your impressions . .
Jan 12, 2010 at 10:49 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 837


Headphoneus Supremus
Nov 6, 2004
Southwest Sumwear
Well it looks to be coming together very nicely.

The amp can be seen to have a balanced output and a single ended output. The connector covers the single ended output when the balanced cable is used as the amp is not meant to drive both balanced and single ended at the same time.



Capable of driving IEM's and Headphones with an improved swing voltage of approximately 14 to 16 volts and plenty of current. The size is the same as the Predator.

Lifetime warranty.

Impressions and thoughts on the Protector:


Originally Posted by jude /img/forum/go_quote.gif

I received my Protector today. So that I could immediately listen to my balanced HD600 and HD650, Ray included an adapter. As of right now, the balanced HD600 and HD650 are the only headphones I have here that I can use with the Protector (in balanced mode).

Using my MacBook Pro-->Amarra-->Lavry DA11 DAC-->Cardas Clear XLR (female)-RCA adapter-->Cardas iLink mini-RCA-RCA cable-->Protector-->Sennheiser HD600 and Sennheiser HD650 (both balanced), I'm having some difficulty believing what I'm hearing.

At least where the HD600 and HD650 are concerned, this amp may dispel the commonly held (and generally true) notion that a portable headphone amp cannot drive these headphones like a good desktop amp. To my ears, with these headphones, that bridge has been crossed, and you're going to be reading similar comments from others a lot about this amp, as more and more people get their ears on it. Macro- and microdynamically, the Protector is desktop-sounding with the HD600/650--highly resolving, effortless, powerful, nuanced. (I've so far only listened to the Protector/HD600/HD650 combos in balanced mode--I'll try single-ended later.)

I listened to my JH Audio JH13 Pro and Ultimate Ears UE18 Pro with it just briefly (and single-ended only, as I have yet to order my balanced cables for those), and the initial impressions were excellent (again, just a very brief listen), and the channel balance is perfect.

Next up: Contact Whiplash Audio for Protector-terminated balanced cables for my JH13 Pro and UE18 Pro. If Moon Audio has the plugs, I may go for an HD800 cable terminated that way to see how the Protector does with the very picky HD800.

So far, this amp is sort of like a....a PortApache. And anyone who heard the balanced JH13 Pro/Apache system at RMAF will tell you how stunning that setup was. I'm hoping for some such magic done portably, when I get the JH and UE pieces wired up for balanced. We'll see, but this sounds promising so far.

I've been listening to this thing for hours--it's 4:23 a.m., I should be asleep, but I can't put it down.

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Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict March 21

Blutarsky, Sherwood and I did a mini-meet Saturday to listen to our custom IEM on the Pico Slim and Protector. Blutarsky owns the ES3X and Sherwood has JH13Pro, while I own both. Remember, the ES3X are a more forward and revealing IEM, and JH13Pro are a more laid back IEM with a little bump in the bass We all tried each amp with stock cable and with a 125 hour TWag cable. We used a single ended TWag adapter with both amps, and also tried them balanced with Protector.

Blutarsky thought the ES3X had a little better synergy with the Pico Slim because the mids and treble are smoother and not too forward while the bass is very strong (paraphrasing). Sherwood seemed to feel the Protector had a little better synergy with the JH13Pro because it filled in the mids and didn't bump the bass too much like the Pico Slim. I agreed with both of them, and it's interesting that they didn't read my post above where those were the same things I noticed when I compared them.

Interestingly, my bass heavy UE11Pro are not excessively bassy with Slim or Protector, as the amps seem to improve bass control so that it doesn't sound sloppy. Mind you, I can listen to any of these amps with any of my IEM and enjoy them; but many of us will have different preferences for which amp we grab first depending on their synergy with the IEM we own.

Originally Posted by jamato8:
So was the impression the same with the Protector in single ended and balanced?

Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict: March 21

I'm including my previous comments for continuity and so I can link in my public profile to this one post that will have all my impressions in one spot, without making a new thread:

SE vs balanced didn't affect the synergy with the various IEM. I did feel the balanced mode was a little wider and deeper soundstage than SE mode, while Blutarsky agreed he felt the differences were not huge. I don't recall exactly what Sherwood said in that regard.

With HD600 the Protector balanced mode is noticeably better than single ended, and the synergy with HD600 is fantastic. The Slim struggled more to drive the HD600, but it did respectably well with the HD800 - the frequency response of the HD800 on the Slim was a little nicer than Protector with W-A cable, but not nearly as powerful as the Protector. With HD800 in balanced mode the Protector was slightly bright with my Warren Audio cable but powerful enough - I haven't had time to try the HD800 with stock cable and 4-pin XLR with balanced Protector yet.
I needed to re-write my most recent comments above, but wanted to save the original post above to show that I am not changing anything or back-peddling, but mearly clarifying what I meant to say:

The impressions were not the same using balanced vs single ended, and we listening to the Protector both ways. Balanced was better. But, SE vs balanced didn't affect the synergy with the various IEM. To me, the synergy is how well the frequency response characteristics of the amp and IEM mate with each other. The ES3X sound best on an amp that is a little more laid back in the mids as they have a bump or plateau in the 2K - 8K range and roll off some after that; and the JH13Pro sound best with an amp that is a little more energetic in the mids, as these IEM are a little less forward in the 1K - 5K range than the ES3X (fortunately the 6K peak is short and not very audible). I've always called the ES3X an HD800 in an IEM with it's more prominent and crisp mids, while I've said the JH13Pro are more like an O2 Mk1 in an IEM, with the bass a little more more prominent than it's mids.

However, I did feel the Protector's balanced mode gave all the IEM a little wider and deeper soundstage than SE mode; and while Blutarsky agreed with that, he felt the differences were not as huge as I thought they were. I don't recall exactly what Sherwood said in that regard. It's generally accepted that IEM have more headstage and less soundstage than full size headphones, because the pinna of the ear is not involved in imaging and so HRTF are out the window. I think that it's much easier to hear the benefits of using balanced mode with full size phones than with IEM; but the fact that the soundstage opens up and becomes wider, deeper and more transparent at all when switching from single ended to balanced with an IEM is more significant than I may have made it out to be. It shows that the amp's channel separation and micro-detail is improved in balanced mode; so that cues involved in air, ambience and space are improved, despite using IEM that only present the sound deeply in the ear canal.

With HD600 the Protector balanced mode is noticeably better than single ended, and the synergy with HD600 is fantastic. The Slim struggled more to drive the HD600 in terms of power, but Justin has made it clear that it is designed primarily with IEM in mind. The Slim did respectably well with the HD800 in terms of synergy, where the frequency response of the HD800 with Warren Audio cable on the Slim was a little nicer than Protector, but it was not nearly as powerful as the Protector. The Slim was mostly good for quiet to medium volume levels, where its frequency response matches the HD800/WA cable in a pleasant and enjoyable way at low to medium volumes. I would still take the HD800 balanced with Protector over single ended off the Slim, because of the improved soundstage, imaging and power.

It needs to be said that in my Warren-Aduio (AKA Fidelity-Audio) HD800 cable review I noted that the aftermarket cable increased the detail and treble levels of the HD800. This was easy to tune a full size tube amp to match it, but a solid state amp's state of tune is fixed and you can only tune it with the source and cables. I've always maintained that like to use a warm DAC and tubes with my HD800. Even with as much as I have gushed about my Nuforce HDP with HD600 and HE-5, it doesn't perform as well with my HD800 as my WA6 or ZDT (nor does my Amphora). So it's no surprise that with HD800/WA cable in balanced mode that the Protector was slightly bright - I haven't had time to try the HD800 with stock cable and 4-pin XLR with balanced Protector yet, but this should sound less bright.

Last night I did try the warmer sounding uDAC as source to the Protector/HD800/WA cable, and this was a better mach, just by changing my source. In another review I've noted that the uDAC is a better DAC via RCA outputs than it is a headphone amp; and I found that the uDAC RCA out was a nice match for the eXStatA electrostatic amp and SR-Lambda, HE-60 or Jade. Now I can add the Protector/HD800/WA cable to the list of amps that do the uDAC justice. I've been using the Protector with different portable sources like DACport, Pico DAC, and iBasso D4 DAC, until last night when I added the uDAC. At this point, I do plan to try the Protector with a desktop DAC like my Apogee mini-DAC, Nuforce HDP, PS Audio Digital Link III and PS Audio Perfectwave DAC. I'd like to see how well the Protector scales up with IEM and full size phones with a desktop source. With HD800/WA cable I suspect the DLIII and PWD will be the best match, but we'll see.

I know I will get more questions about Protector vs the Pico Slim here, but I wont be able to try the Slim further with these sources because the input jack broke and I have to send it back to Justin today. In the 4-5 months that it's been sent around the country as a demo amp it's probably seen a lifetime of plug insertions and removals, and it may have been accidentally abused as well. Some plugs really grab and hang onto the jack's contact springs, and my ALO jumbo cryo silver x iMod LOD may have been the culprit since I can barely plug it in and remove it from the Protector as well. I don't think this will be an issue for people who buy one, but I'm sorry I wont be able to provide more comparisons.


Originally Posted by AudioDwebe /img/forum/go_quote.gif
All right, so here's my WOW! moment for the day.

My rig consists of a 2009 Classic (320 AAC) fed to the Protector via a LOD made from the same cabling as Nordost uses pushing a pair of balanced CK10's.

I'm on my third recharge, so guessin' 'bout 70 or so hours.

I was listening to a Flim and the BB's track and the instrumental separation was not like I had ever heard before. On that particular recording, and some others, I literally get a sense of surround-'round-my-head. It's almost jaw droppingly amazing...(mumbles something)wait a minute...picks up jaw. I take it back, it IS jaw droppingly amazing!

The balanced CK10's are definitely a dual-edged sword, though. On well recorded material, they sound phen-om-uh-nal! On not so well recorded stuff, well, yeah, those really sound like turds.

I wasn't 100% certain that I would keep this amp when I first purchased it. Now, I don't see it even as a remote possibility that these will leave my hands. To get this level of sonic bliss from a (trans)portable rig blows my mind.




The Protector is a portable balanced amplifier taking up little more room than three 9 volt batteries side by side. Who would have thought of the need or desire for such a portable device. Can the change from single ended to a balanced amp that feeds the monitor a positive and negative signal, giving a doubled voltage swing and better driver control really be of value in a portable?

How far portable amps have come in a few short years. The RSA SR71 or the later SR71a, with two 9 volt batteries and a swing of 18 volts would have seemed enough but sometimes enough isn’t enough. So does a balanced portable amp taking a single ended input and outputting balanced increase the listening experience? I could answer that at the end of this or now. Why not answer now. The simple answer is yes. Everything I have balanced sounds better. Listening to live recordings of the Grateful Dead, “Closing of Winterland”, is so fresh and so “alive”, you can’t help but be drawn into the moment. The separation of the audience from the band and then the separation of the band and imaging, that I haven’t heard so well since listening to a fine speaker system or, live, is confounding.

Listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival "The Concert" on your choice of balanced phones. It sounds like a live feed. The pulse pulls you along on a journey that is a shear auditory joy. Some systems seem to suck the life out of the music, this amp infuses the music with life.

Interesting, with my Ultrasone Ed. 9 in balanced and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers newly remastered concerts, the sound has a strange (for headphones but good) depth as in height in true dimension of space. I haven't heard this on headphones before. Such an open and fluid space yet precise. I have heard phase shifts before that add an interesting slant to the music but after a while sound unnatural, this isn't that, it is a true rendering of space but in all directions.

So why is this confounding to me? It is confounding because I had no idea there was more music, sound, depth and separation to be pulled from these recordings and especially from ear monitors. That it is there is fantastic, that it has taken so long to hear it is frustrating on one hand and rewarding, greatly rewarding, on the other.

Can we talk about dynamics and the bass line? The speed that the drivers are driven to will make many other amps sound impoverished by comparison. Listen to some good classical like the war horse, Beethoven’s 9th with Roger Norrington conducting. There is no collapse of the sound field. There is no thickness to the music on orchestral dynamic passages. The sound stays open and unopposed by the constraints of too little power. Violins are sweet and yet there is a harmonic bloom and flow and the music cascades to your personal audition. It can’t get much more fun or rewarding than this.

Jazz is something I truly enjoy. Listening to any of Scott Hamilton’s many CD’s, which some can be a little closed in sounding, a nice positive impression of his playing comes across. “No Bass Hit” has the reedy sound of Hamilton’s sax playing while the piano has the right body and feel. The brush strokes on the drums is not white noise but actually sounds like brush strokes on drums. Cymbals have the right brassy twang to them.

For the listening of this amp I am using my Ultrasone Edition 9, Sennheiser HD650, ESW10 JPN, and the JH13 Pros. These phones are all balanced but lest you think that the Protector is only a balanced amp, it isn’t. You can also use your single ended phones. While not as 3D, which it is in balanced, the Protector is still an excellent single ended amp. So there you have it. Any phones you don’t want to use balanced, you have an amp, and any that you want balanced, you have an amp.

I should mention that I achieve around 30 hours of run time and more with easy to drive monitors. It should also be noted that while the Protector is portable by size there is no reason it can’t sit at desk side pumping out the tunes. It will beg you to wonder if anything larger is or will be needed for your musical indulgence. Quite an achievement from such a small package and you will think this all the more once you place one in your hand. It is also important to know that as good as, no as excellent as the Protector is, the better the source, the better the sound. Sure it will give fine results out of a portable player and well worth it, but if you choose to use it with a home source your rewards will be even greater. The potential of this amp seems unbounded. It is neutral and puts out what it is feed so feed it good and you will be smiling to the music.

Here is one more graphic idea of what is happening with the transducers when balanced. Take a sheet of cellophane and push on it. It is a single direction and release, it goes back to flat. In a way two dimensions. Now push one way and then the other. From the single plain, you are now going in two different directions. Now add true solid control to that movement and you can see that the transducers you are using are going to spring to greater musicality, normally.

The Protector I am finding, adds new life to both recordings and ear monitors. The monitors I was thinking of getting rid of got a reprieve and I got the reward. Have fun!


Originally Posted by Sasaki /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I got Whiplash JH13 balanced cable so I can try Protector in Balanced mode.
Now my setup is iMod 5.5G + ALO SXC cryo + RSA Protector + Whiplash SCSCag + JH13.

I was so impressed when I hear the sound. I have been a heavy portable amp user since I got original SR71 in 2005. But Protector provides whole new experience to me. The spatial sense is unusual I have never experienced in portable gear.
Yes the soundstage is huge and wide but the most notable difference is on depth. The sound from this combo is not a 2D papertoy, now the sound is 3D sculpture with vivid rendering. This is a kind of magic.
Not only imaging is amazing but also I felt the sound has a firm weight. Not faint but strong like steel.

I remember this feeling. First time I heard balanced headphones, I felt similar feeling. That was GS-X with HD650 balanced. I think this new experience is a virtue of balanced headphones.
Jazz piano-trio reproduction is a strength of JH13, now this is even better than before and more life-like. Now rock sounded powerful and punchy.

I changed cable as well, so some of the honor may goes to Whiplash (mine is SCSCag).
I think this cable is quite nice JH13 replacement cable. Good timbre, good bass. Sharp but not being harsh. I am thinking to get Single-ended one for HM801.
In these days, Hifiman 801 impressed me much for its strong source circuit which employ high-end PCM1704.
So my mind was about to lean towards the idea that the iPod based portable amp is now obsolete. But I was wrong.
Protector proves.

Jan 12, 2010 at 11:21 PM Post #2 of 837
That looks extremely nice. Do we have an ETA at this time?
Jan 13, 2010 at 1:56 AM Post #4 of 837
It's a standard single-ended mini plug in, IIRC. The signal is balanced in the circuit.
Jan 13, 2010 at 2:03 AM Post #6 of 837
If you can get your Sennheisers reterminated with whatever plug that is, sure. I don't exactly know how well it would be driven though. I'm pretty sure that it's intended for IEMs.
Jan 13, 2010 at 2:04 AM Post #7 of 837
Most likely but they would have to be reterminated and if they don't have 4 wires to the jack then rewired also. So it may or may not be an option. The amp is mainly for use with the many good IEM's on the market now like the JH13's and UE.
Jan 13, 2010 at 2:24 AM Post #10 of 837
Why isn't this in the existing, or a new sponsored thread from RSA?

If your relationship with Ray Samuels is this tight (you're certainly a proliferate mouthpiece) then threads like this need to be considered under the MOT rules.

Personally, I think that what you're posting here skips around the rules and needs to be curtailed.
Jan 13, 2010 at 3:15 AM Post #11 of 837
The image has already been posted elsewhere. That is where I found it. What are you worried about. Don't fret, just enjoy the music.

If you look around you will find the same information I did. It is there for anyone to find. You sound bitter. Good music can help.
Jan 13, 2010 at 6:53 AM Post #13 of 837

Originally Posted by jamato8 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
The image has already been posted elsewhere. That is where I found it. What are you worried about. Don't fret, just enjoy the music.

If you look around you will find the same information I did. It is there for anyone to find. You sound bitter. Good music can help.


A somewhat deft dodging of the issue. I made no comment about you posting the image. Although since you do, I would like to know exactly where it was posted first.

"In a PM from Ray." Is not a suitable answer to that of course.


If it's there for anyone to see, does this mean there is already a thread? If so where is it and why was the creation of this one necessary?

If it's there for everyone to see, and there isn't already a thread, then by what qualification of the term is it "there for everyone to see"?

Again "The photo is on the RSA website FTP." is not a suitable answer.


What I am worried about is an (and I chose my abjective with some care) insideous circumvention of MOT posting rules. I shall be upfront and frank and say that I personally find your long term posting history to go beyond what might readily be described as fanboyism. Although I am uncertain as to if it merits description as shilling. It's certainly on the same scale as Herandu or Sovkiller in the past and we know what status they now occupy.
Jan 13, 2010 at 8:43 AM Post #14 of 837
looks too small :| I prefer portable amps to be same size as the player it is being used with, then it is easy to hold
Jan 13, 2010 at 11:10 AM Post #15 of 837
Looks very interesting - Thanks Jamato, I certainly appreciate you collating this info together in one post.

Is the four pin connector standard with any current IEMs?

How does this sound compared to a standard jack connector?

...the spending never stops does it....

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