RSA Protector: It’s Here!

At last. The eagerly awaited RSA Protector is here. Ray’s post on Head-Fi announcing the development of the RSA Protector was dated 12 December 2009, so it’s only been three months until we received our amplifier. I applaud Ray for such speedy development and delivery.

As you may have already known, Ray utilizes a custom four-pin connector for hooking up balanced headphones. On the front faceplate, it’s labeled as “Balanced Phones”, while the 3.5mm connector on the left serves for regular single-ended duties. While the build quality on the Protector is just as impressive as Ray’s other portable amplifiers, somehow I feel that the silk screening of the Protector logo is not as good as that in the SR71a amp. But that’s fine, as long as I can get balanced drive in a portable form.

While newer portable amps have moved to digital volume controls or stepped attenuators, including Ray’s own RSA Shadow, Ray couldn’t implement the digital volume control for the Protector, and so the Protector is back on analog pots. However I didn’t find that to be a big issue, as my Protector doesn’t have any channel imbalance issues.

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If you’re good with a soldering iron, you can order the proprietary connectors from Ray, and you can make adapters to your existing balanced headphones, which are probably terminated in XLRs. If you need extra connectors and you’ve missed ordering them from Ray, you can get it here (Thanks to Audio Addict @ Head-fi for the link).The connection should go as follow:
PIN 1: Left Positive
PIN 2: Right Positive
PIN 3: Left Negative
PIN 4: Right Negative

I happen to have an extra XLR to TRS adapter that I built a while ago, and so I cut off the TRS end and installed the Protector’s connector.

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The connector itself feels solid, and they lock into the Protector’s jack fairly well. The connection is definitely stronger than any conventional 3.5mm. They are so good, I feel confident holding on to the cable and leaving the amp hanging. Of course this is with the connector being brand new, so we’ll see how they turn out after a few months of usage.

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17 Comments

  • Reply September 26, 2010

    Mike

    This is the stupidest idea ever!

    Why would you need a BALANCED portable headphone amp?

    Balanced connections are only needed to reduce/eliminate RFI (radio frequency interference). That is why microphones use balanced connections. RFI can be a problem with cables a hundred or more feet long.

    A balanced connection offers absolutely no benefit for portable audio. The cord is likely only inches long and it is unlikely to be used in an area, such as inside a radio station, that has high RFI.

    If you want to look like an idiot, buy this device and walk around with it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balanced_audio

    • Reply September 27, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Mike, you're not all-knowing and there are things that you happen to not know.

  • Reply October 8, 2010

    Fabio

    Hello Mike,

    It’s interesting that you found this tiny little amp did a very good job in driving HD650. I heard that RSA will put out new portable balanced amp, SR-71B I guess. That’s why I asked you these following questions:

    I haven’t tried RSA product before, do you think this amp warm or neutral? Did you find it analytical? How about its speed, dynamic, and PRaT?

    Just out of my curiosity, what technicalities of sound quality differentiate this amp from Balanced Beta22? I know it’s unfair, but I’m wondering what your response would be. Night and day difference?

    I’m in the market looking for affordable balanced amp to drive my HD650, any other recommendations buddy?

    Thanks.

    • Reply October 8, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Fabio, yes it's surprisingly quite good in balanced.. but compared to the Beta22, the difference is night and day. It's like putting me in a basketball game against Jordan, James, or Kobe, if you know what I mean. Anyway, the RSA sound is mostly toward warm and slightly dark. Speed, dynamics, PRaT, are quite good. Not the best I've heard, but not too shabby either.

      Now as for alternatives, Ibasso PB1 is the first one that comes to mind. With the PB1, Ibasso has finally manage to bring the quality of their amps to the same level of the US brands. I've never compared the Protector to the Ibasso PB1 directly (perhaps I should do that), and I've never used the Ibasso PB1 in balanced yet (don't have the Hirose connector), but I think at half the price of the Protector, the PB1 is quite a worthy alternative. It's also not as dark as the Protector which I think should match the HD650 better.
      http://headfonia.com/ibasso-pb1-toucan-unboxi

      • Reply October 12, 2010

        Jeremy

        Hi Mike, I've been enjoying your website for a couple of weeks now. Great job! I have learned so much. You seem to have such a keen ear and you always seem to know what amp to pair with what headphone. My question is I'm about to purchase the JH16 pro and I think I want a portable balanced headphone amp to go with them. Do you have any thoughts on this? I know there is the Ibasso PB1 and the RSA protector. There may be others. Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you.

        Jeremy

        • Reply October 12, 2010

          Mike

          Hey Jeremy, thanks for the very kind words. The Protector and the JH16 is a good combination, and the only one that I've had the chance of using balanced with my customs. I really haven't tried the PB1 for balanced so I can't say much on that, although I like the PB1 than the Protector as it is less dark sounding. I think RSA is coming out with the new quad-mono portable amp, and I think ALO is also coming up with a balanced portable amp.

  • Reply October 12, 2010

    Jeremy

    Thanks for responding so quickly. If the protector is a bit dark, I can see that it might not be the best for the 16pro. Do you have a recommendation as to the best portable amp available for them. While i enjoy bass and want something that would be the best accompaniment. Thanks again, Jeremy

    • Reply October 12, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Jeremy, you can try the Ibasso PB1. Though I have no experience with their balanced drive, they're quite great in single ended. Personally for me, I think the Pico Slim is my favorite pairing for the JH16, as it is quite a bright amp compared to the PB1 and the Protector. The JH16 is naturally great at bass, you need not worry about the bass performance.

  • Reply October 30, 2010

    Andrew

    well, i have been using the pico slim for awhile. However, i do not like the vocals being laidback with respect to the rest of the music.

    • Reply October 30, 2010

      Mike

      Oh, is that what you find? I actually find the opposite with te pico. Well, still back to the original question, I really can't say much about the pairings with the UM3x, haven't listened to it for a long time. I just didn't enjoy the UM3X with RSA amps, too dark of a combination I feel.

  • Reply October 30, 2010

    Andrew

    So the pico slim brings forward the vocals for you? COuld mine be faulty?

    • Reply October 30, 2010

      Mike

      It does make vocals more forward, but it doesn't put a spotlight in just the vocal. I doubt its faulty, probably more of a result of different recordings and IEM combination.

  • Reply October 30, 2010

    Andrew

    Hi mike, ive recently tried my um3x paired with a mustang and liked the outcome. Would the protector be better than the mustang single ended? I would be using it single ended since my um3x cables are not detachable but would like the balanced connector for future upgrades.

    • Reply October 30, 2010

      Mike

      Unless you want to go balanced, I see little point in upgrading to the Protector. Within RSA's house sound, the result should be about the same. The Pico Slim would is a good alternative to try.

  • Reply October 30, 2010

    Andrew

    Hmm, i found it more difficult to follow lyrics using the slim. Vocals in certain segments of tracks also fail to catch my attention when they would when i was going ampless.

    • Reply October 30, 2010

      Mike

      I still doubt that your Pico is faulty, as faulty amps normally manifests as distortions in the sound or complete no sound. Yet your impressions are puzzling. The pico is probably the portable amp with the best control today. Everytime I listen to it I am amazed at how clear it makes my music sound. Even in comparison with other amps, using relatively easy to drive IEMs like the dual drivers.

      Oh well, I really can't explain what's happening on your set up.

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