Ray Samuels Audio F-117 Nighthawk: Giant Killer?

Discussion in 'Vinyl Nutjob World: Turntable and Related Gear' started by purr1n, Apr 2, 2016.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Ray Samuels Audio F-117 Nighthawk Phonostage Review
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    I don't think I've called any piece of gear that has come into my hands a giant killer; however this one could be it. This little phonostage is shockingly good. I cannot believe it possible. Like some of the Sutherland offerings, this amp is opamp based and battery powered. I believe it employs two stages with using an active RIAA network (that is the RIAA is in the feedback loop). The liIon battery seems to last at least a full day (probably longer as it hasn't run out on me yet) on a full charge that takes approximately two hours.

    WARNING: Leave the unit on and run the unit through for at least several hours before listening. It's probable that like other gear I've owned (Theta Gen V, Schiit Yggdrasil, Mjolnir, etc.), warm up time requirements will diminish with use. The Nighthawk is basically un-listenable out of the box. The highs are shrill and nasty (even in another room while my speakers are playing at low volume). The bass congested and sloppy. And overall sound constipated. The good news is that even while brand new, the Nighthawk does start to sound much better after several hours hours.

    Once the unit is fully warmed up, the overall tonal balance is a tiny bit bassy and warm. The treble is extended, and the mids are cohesively integrated. The Nighthawk falls in the accurate school rather than mid-centric school of sound. The Nighthawk has a nice punch, fast reflexes, clarity, with air between notes. In contrast, the Ph3D (which I recently reviewed), is softer at the very tips of transient attacks, and a bit slower in the bass.

    The nature of the Nighthawk's sound is immediate, engaging, and upfront. You are sitting in the first five rows. For those familiar with the Yggydrasil DAC, the stage is located in the same spot. The reason I mention this is that headphone listeners who prefer a distant and more diffuse headstage may find the Nighthawk's headstage a little bit too close for comfort. For me, this was never an issue. Depth of the soundstage is good, but tube based phonostages will do a little bit better, particularly in terms of layering and front back separation. The Ph3D's presentation is more laid-back with a soundstage located a little bit further back (you are in row 10) with a more diffuse sound. For the record, my wife preferred the more exact and upfront stage of the Nighthawk.

    The Nighthawk is detailed sounding on both an macro and micro level. In terms of microdetail, the Nighthawk easily exceeds the Ph3D and just edges out the modified Ph3D with the expensive OPA637/627 opamps. Good tube based phonostages will probably edge out the Nighthawk in microdetail. In microdynamics, the Nighthawk seems to come up a bit short on the softer ranges of volumes, but I suspect that I need to give the unit more time to break in. Where the Nighthawk far exceeds the Ph3D is with the rendering of bass textures. I've noted the veil and simplification of the bass and lower mids on the Ph3D, but I didn't realize how much it was lacking until now. It's not matter of the Ph3D being poor in this regard, but rather that the Nighthawk is so good. The clarity and "blackground" across the entire audio band is so exceptional that I suspect BJT based opamps are used.

    The unbelievable thing about the Nighthawk is that I can go on and on about how good sounding it is. The harmonics and the attacks are unbelievably real - the most real I have heard yet in one of my systems. The Nighthawk is not an apologetic phonostage. The twang of guitar strings, the blare of trumpets, the quaking of piano soundboards will make you jump! I absolutely love this, but as a warning, I know some audiophiles who would be scared of this. For those you want a more forgiving sound because you are scared of dynamics and attack, look elsewhere.

    And finally, the bass! You would think that the Nighthawk had a little nuclear reactor inside or was powered by behemoth power supplies wasting 100W at idle. The bass is deep and has massive sustain. I was sitting down listening to a Fleetwood Mac album, and I looked up outside the window thinking I was hearing the rumble the garbage truck outside. It turns out I was hearing the rumble of the drums in the recording! (And no, it wasn't feedback to the table). Even low volume bass work, such as that found on the low guitar strings in Nirvana's Unplugged album had such amazing sustain and power!

    I know this review may be hard to believe, but believe it. The Ray Samuels F-117 Nighthawk is really this good.



    Other Stuff:
    • Cost: $813 out the door including shipping to California
    • Two sets of two switches for loading and gain L and R
    • Won't turn on while charging - must remove power plug to use

    System Description:

    VPI Classic 4
    12" JMW tonearm
    Ortofon 2M Black
    Two stage SET (5842 driver tubes, x2 parallel 45 tubes cathode biased, amorphous core LL1663AM output and Monolith IT-02am interstage transformers, 50 kHz filament heaters for the 45 tubes, 866a/866/3B28 rectifier based power supply
    Fostex Fe168EZ BLH speakers
    Mr.Speakers Ether headphones
     
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    Last edited: Apr 3, 2016
  2. drfindley

    drfindley Secretly lives in the Analog Room - Friend

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    I never trust any of your reviews until you wife gives the thumbs up. I'm super excited about this phono stage.
     
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  3. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I'd already planned on making this my birthday gift to myself next month as my endgame phonostage.
     
  4. brencho

    brencho Friend

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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Recent evidence of @shaizada running it. You know if it sounded like crap or even OK, it wouldn't be there.
    IMG_8287 (Medium).jpg
     
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  6. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    Fantastic review and I totally concur. This is a potent piece that completely fools the mind. So hard to believe that something as big as a pack of cards has this level of sound quality.

    Also, one very important thing to note. This was just the moving magnet side that Marv has heard and reviewed above.

    Here is the real kicker...The moving coil side is significantly better!!

    EDIT: Just saw the pic posted by Marv above. See those 3 little wooden isolation feet on the right side? They cost $200 more than the Nighthawk does! The Nighthawk value proposition is simply off the charts.
     
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  7. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    Anyone else heard other RSA gear like The Raptor?
     
  8. Dr. Higgs

    Dr. Higgs Boson - Member

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    I'm thinking of picking one of these up & comparing against the Chinook.
     
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  9. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    Please do and report back if you can. I am very curious to hear your impressions as Manley Labs stuff is really good - actually EXCELLENT sounding.
    Also, having owned a Manley Steelhead, I think I have a good idea of what the Chinook would sound like, but a direct comparison like the one you can make would help a lot :)

    Thanks!
     
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  10. ald0s

    ald0s Acquaintance

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    Any chance we can see a picture of your amp Marv?
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Nothing special in terms of cosmetics. Purely functional. I usually don't have the mercury vapor tubes running for obvious reasons.
    DSC_2254 (Custom).JPG
    DSC_2248 (Custom).JPG
     
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  12. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    That looks so beautiful!
     
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  13. BioniclePhile

    BioniclePhile The Terminal Man - Friend

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    Now we need an XR-2 review. :p
     
  14. lukeap69

    lukeap69 Pinoy Panther

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  15. Mikoss

    Mikoss Friend

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    Thanks for the review Marv!

    Decided to go with the F-117 as my first decent phono stage myself. I will see how it goes, coming from a TC-750 with the Ortofon 2M Bronze to the Nighthawk with a Denon DL-103R. Excited!
     
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  16. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    That is NOT a small jump, but a very large one. Congrats! Post back after you've had some time with them.
     
  17. jmcmasterj

    jmcmasterj Friend

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    Are those the Monoliths in the front of the amp?
     
  18. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Yes, those are the Monolith Magnetics interstages in front.
     
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  19. jmcmasterj

    jmcmasterj Friend

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    You weren't kidding about the size
     
  20. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Studio-M (if it ever comes out) had to be modified. No more portholes and the tubes will stick up and be closer together like what you see here. At least those can be enclosed in the chassis. We had a shipment of Monoliths get sent back to Belgium because either customs or DHL was retarded. Six weeks back by boat I assume. Another week to get back here to clear customs again.
     

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