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M2Tech Young DAC vs John Kenny JKDAC32

  • Another extensive reader letter that eases into user review territory.  Pearse from Dublin explains how/why he moved from an already impressive M2Tech Young DAC to the more humble-looking but (apparently) superior-sounding JKDAC32:

    “I come relatively new to FLAC and WAV based playback and already (within a year) I have been amazed at the progress of PC-based playback.  My playback chain which has remained constant throughout my foray in to digital audio: I have invested heavily in Nordost cables – thanks eBay! – as well as a recent mains distribution block with earth spike. Amplification comes through Conrad Johnson 17LS Preamp and MV60 Amp; all tubes. Lousspeakers are Quad ESL63s.

    My first stand-alone DAC was a Beresford Caiman Gatorized TC-7520SE which I found was a very good DAC at the time since it presented a level of detail I was missing from the analogue out on the Squeezebox Touch, especially when playing high resolution files.

    It got me hooked into the stand-alone DAC route for digital playback and within months I had moved from spinning CDs to ripping CDs to FLAC and then playing these from my laptop. Foobar was my then player of choice and I put in the hours getting it set up with artist info, lyrics, LastFM integration.

    I then decided to get a larger budget together for a DAC upgrade as it was clear from all the activity on various forums that there were a lot of new DACs coming to market.  After reading a smattering of favourable reviews of the M2tech Young DAC I took the plunge, adding a a Teddy Pardo linear power supply soon after. It was a real step forward from the Caiman (which was mothballed).  I was very happy with the Young DAC.  I was convinced that I would have to spend serious money to make any further substantive improvements.

    Next, I focused on playback software.  After running round forums for several weeks I came across Pureplayer and this became a serious challenger to Foobar for some time. The real gains arrived when I tried JPlay.  This was one of those major steps forward which creates a totally jaw-dropping experience.  No A/B comparisons were necessary.  It was clearly way ahead of both Pureplayer and Foobar.

    It was some time after this I really wanted to know at what level my digital audio sound was when compared to vinyl playback. Since I had sold off all my vinyl many years ago I had to step back in to that world again. I picked up a second hand Dual CS 455-1 turntable with an Ortofon OMB 10 cartridge and a second hand Puresound P10 phonostage.  Finally came some new heavyweight vinyl pressings – which were nice to hold and look at again – to complete the analogue system. I put aside an evening to compare my PC based playback system with the Young against my newly acquired vinyl based system and I was a little disappointed that I could hear more body in the sound from the vinyl setup.  However, the difference was not so big that I could consider switching back to vinyl full-time.

    Two weeks ago, I went to the HiFi show in Dublin’s Burlington Hotel.  This is where I met John Kenny.  I liked the IDEA of this new JKDAC32 and so – thinking there’d be scant chance of such a little DIY-ish box besting my setup – I took my M2Tech Young DAC with the Teddy Pardo power supply to his place for a comparison. John wanted to hear the Young to benchmark his DAC against it and as far as I was concerned I was there to help him out, not expecting what would happen next…

    Since listening to the JKDAC32 for a good week or so in my own system, I’ve put the M2Tech Young (w/ Teddy Pardo power supply) out to pasture.  I have been amazed how much the JKDAC32 DAC has opened up. I am not one for all the hi-fi jargon but the best way I can describe the sound is something like this: it now has a weight, body, depth and detail that had hitherto eluded my PC-based setup. It may be one of those lucky mistakes when I installed the JKDAC32 using the existing Young driver but the sound is so good I have no desire to revert back to the HiFace driver.

    This evening for the second time I ran an experiment using my analogue set up against the JKDAC32 using Jplay. For the first time the PC based system left the analogue system behind. I used a fresh vinyl copy of Van Morrison’s “His Band and the Street Choir” against a FLAC rip from the CD for comparison.  After repeated switching back and forth with both playing simultaneously all I could hear were the weaknesses in the analogue setup. Now I understand why people spend such crazy money on cartridges, turntables and phono stages. The analogue system sounded soft and lacking real separation. Don’t get me wrong here: if you had not heard the PC based system, the turntable setup is a sound you could easily live with and enjoy daily.

    What’s even more amazing to me is how John Kenny developed such a wonderful piece of kit without any real serious investment in playback equipment at his disposal. He is either a genius, very lucky or I have a lot more to learn about what can be done at reasonable prices in this often bemusing, dazzling and flash world of hi-fi.”

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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