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M2Tech Hiface Two review (w/ Squeezebox Touch)

  • I shall look back on this week as the time of the great file migration: the conversion of 4000+ albums from FLAC into Apple Lossless. I’m moving to an iTunes-fronted playback system. Bye-bye Squeezeboxen.  It’s a big decision, one that wasn’t taken lightly.  See – I’ve been a Squeezebox user since 2004.  Back then it was developed by Sean Adams and his Slim Devices team.  Those guys were real innovators:  they beat Apple to the punch in getting MP3s to play gaplessly.  (Your iPod didn’t always play gaplessly – ask your Dad).  Slim Devices championed open source audio formats (FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, Shorten) and they brought internet radio to life.  They laid the groundwork for Logitech to scoop up the finest media streamer on the market in 2006.

    Moreover, the Logitech Media Server (formerly Squeezebox Server) has open source development to thank for its providing a stable and hugely functional back-end to the Squeezebox experience. Library scanning, browsing and display are second to none. Add iPeng and/or Squeezepad (on iOS devices) as well as Bliss (for music library management) and you have user-experience simplicity that belies the power underneath.

    In 2012, the Squeezebox Touch is still the finest media streamer on the market.  triode’s Enhanced Digital Output app has formalised USB output as well as 24/192 digital playback, which has in turn seen the Squeezebox Touch enjoy the amelioration of USB-S/PDIF convertors and their re-clocking properties. Hello USB Audio Class 2.0 devices, specifically Hiface Two. [You can’t do that with your Sonos now can you?]

    Like many digital audiophiles trying to juice the best sound from their computer transports in 2010, M2Tech’s Hiface was my first exposure to USB-S/PDIF convertors. I didn’t much care for it with my then MacBook and Channel D’s PureMusic. I didn’t hear what many others heard: deeper resolution and improved micro-dynamics. Perhaps there was a small improvement but nothing notable worth remarking upon.

    An absence of plug ‘n’ play and – therefore — reliance on manufacturer-coded drivers as well as endless promises of Linux support (that ultimately failed to arrive) negated whatever edge it had over a standard USB feed into whatever DACs I was feeding back then.

    When other USB-S/PDIF convertors were appended to my MacMini, I enjoyed a sound that just wasn’t as nervous or tense (or jittery) as going USB-direct into the same DAC. The Audiophilleo and/or JKSPDIF were both more ‘alive’ sounding than the Squeezebox Touch’s direct coaxial connection. During these listening sessions the Squeezebox Touch gathered dust.

    This is an all too common problem for more discerning Squeezebox Touch owners. They fall in love with functionality but despair that it doesn’t sound as good as ye olde CD player/transport that it replaced. Data re-clocking is required to bring it up to par. I’ve previously used the Firestone Audio Bravo, Audio-gd’s Digital Interface and – best of the bunch by some margin – Empirical Audio’s Synchro-Mesh. These three devices re-clock S/PDIF data flow and can also be used to lift the performance of other devices like Apple’s Airport Express, Apple TV and Sonos.

    Whilst Sonos offers only S/PDIF outputs, installing triode’s Enhanced Digital Output (EDO) app on the Squeezebox Touch transforms its USB port into a digital output. As the Touch runs a version of Linux it is fully USB Audio Class 2.0 compliant. Once the EDO is installed, the MK2 Hiface behaves as a plug ‘n’ play device because unlike the MK1 it is a USB Audio Class 2.0 device (built around the XMOS chipset). Fortunately, The MK2 Hiface iteration holds fast to its predecessor’s RRP (AU$199).

    I pushed the Hiface into the EDO-equipped Touch’s USB port and hit reset. Upon restart the EDO app reported the Hiface as capable of outputting all sample rates up to 192Khz. No powered hub was required.

    Equipped with two oscillators for each sample-rate family – 44.1/88.2/176.4 and 48/96/192 – one might expect the Hiface to offer similar levels of bass definition and tonal saturation as the Audiophilleo. It moves things in a positive direction – wider soundstaging, less anemia – but no cigar. It’s definitely an improvement over the Touch’s S/PDIF output.

    Annexing the Hiface Two from the Squeezebox Touch’s power supply so that only audio data was permitted thoroughfare demanded a different USB cable.

    Michael Parin from Adelaide’s Elijah Audio had sent me his BPM “Battery Powered Module” (US$105). It segregates the Hiface’s data and power feeds: the main connector hooks into your audio device (Squeezebox Touch) and the tail connects to your 5V power supply (KingRex UPower).

    For the curious, some background on Elijah Audio from the horse’s mouth:

    “Elijah Audio came about when a fellow Jplay forum member asked if I could build him a custom cable with separate battery lead. The early versions used generic hookup wire. That was until I heard Audience’s Ohno cryo wire.”

    “The same forum member also requested an adapter to run a USB flashdrive on battery power. This is the BPM that you have (although it’s best used with HiFace 1 & 2).”

    “I have been using Peter Belt products to enhance my own system for about 6 years – so it seems only natural to incorporate Peter’s products and procedures during construction to enhance Elijah cables in the same way.”

    “I make no claims about the performance of my cables, I am simply offering reasonably priced, well built, alternatives for those who may be thinking about upgrading their USB cables. With approximately 50 cables sold, only one has been returned for sonic disappointment.”

    The take-away result is the same on the Squeezebox Touch as it is on both MacBook and MacMini: the UPower and BPM take the sting out of the Hiface’s top-end. A hint of upper-frequency etch is soothed away; the sound is put poolside with a cocktail. Unfortunately, round back the Elijah Audio cable pushes hard against the Squeezebox’s power umbilical. Another reason to move to Apple hardware.

    For this reviewer, the Logitech device is off to the subs bench.

    Logitech hammered the final nail into my own Squeezboxen deployment coffin with their recent announcement of the new UE range of products and the consequent halt to production of the (quite wonderful) Squeezebox Touch. Sonos might have the greater market penetration but the Squeezebox Touch has a touchscreen, a USB port and an active software development community.

    Only a fool would expect the Squeezebox to vanish from the market overnight. There’ll likely be a vibrant second hand market for used Touch’s once store stocks run dry. Logitech have intimated that they will continue to support the server software and – more importantly – for the foreseeable future. Even so, anxiety has already begun to creep into some of the Squeezebox user base.  [MOG integration in Australia is plagued by song truncation (when using LMS). With the Squeezebox now entering retirement, what incentive for MOG or Logitech to provide a fix?]

    I need a digital front-end that isn’t stamped “end of life”.  One that will see continued development. Logitech’s hardware player re-fit means the Squeezebox Touch ain’t it. Without a product refresh the Touch will swiftly appear long in the tooth.. Don’t believe me? Look at the iPod Mini and tell me now it doesn’t look like it came from the 80s.

    Ongoing product development is bean-keen among the big OS X software players: Pure Music, Amarra, Fidelia, Bitperfect, Decibel and Audirvana. Advances in software playback engines have come a long way since this FLAC-to-ALAC migration was first mooted back in mid-2010. That was my first taste of Pure Music besting iTunes’ sonics for micro-dynamics and breadth of tonal colour palette.

    This week I’ve been listening to an Audirvana-integrated iTunes, the go to player of choice for many digital audiophiles. It sounds terrific. I’ve yet to compare it to the competition but Frederic Beudot covers four of the aforementioned OS X players over at 6Moons. He pegs Audirvana as his favourite.  Moon-head Srajan Ebaen accords.

    As I type this, XLD is slowly munching its way through thousands of FLACs, digesting them and shitting out thousands of fresh ALAC turds. You can tell that I’m not super-pleased that Apple has funnelled me into transcoding my entire library so that it plays nicely with iTunes. I’ll be delighted (for others) and irritated (for selfish reasons) if the forthcoming iTunes 11 finally brings with it FLAC support…

    …but let us take a moment’s silence to remember the Squeezebox Touch – in terms of bang-for-buck, it was peerless.  RIP.

    You can read more on how the M2Tech Hiface Two played with a MacMini and MacBook Air in the forthcoming issue of TONEAudio.

    EDIT 1st October 2012:  Logitech has formally announced its intention to provide ongoing support for the Squeezebox Touch.


    Associated Equipment:

    • MacMini 2010
    • Logitech Squeezebox Touch
    • Elijah Audio BPM
    • Kingrex UPower


    Audition Music:

    • Giant Giant Sand – Tucson (2012)
    • Giant Sand – Glum (1995)
    • Nicolas Jaar – BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix (2012)


    Further Information:

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter


    1. A problem I have encountered when using iTunes in the past, is that files seem to randomly disappear. No idea why. Hopefully, you won’t have those problems.

    2. yep – sad indeed! I have had the Transporter for about 6yrs myself. I have been toying with the idea of going to USB. Its a hard one. Schiit audio is an interesting replacement option that I’m considering.

    3. Hi John,
      Why convert when Audirvana plays Flac and uses iTunes when In integrated mode?
      Having great fun here using A+ iTunes integrated and iPad using remote app to control playlist. Also use Upower, great little unit.
      Downside, remote app doesn’t yet have a swipe function.

    4. Hey John – curious as to how you would classify the ‘house sound’, if any, from the squeezebox using its spdif output to a DAC. I have heard others say that they have tried other DAC’s with the Touch and they all still seem to sound like the Touch in some way or another. Possibly a jitter issue? It seems like you are hinting at it in your observations. – Thanks much – Eric

      • Hi Eric. If the S/PDIF output of the SBT has a ‘house sound’, I’ve not heard it. However, the Touch really does benefit from a (re)-clocker.

    5. Hi John,
      I know that my Touch to DAC (S/PDIF) can be improved upon but I don’t know which button to press.

      If Synchro Mesh is as good as Touch > EDO > USB converter > DAC then I’d probably go that route and avoid some of the issues being reported on various forums. However The fact that it’s not bit perfect does tbother me a little. I’m getting better sound running my Oppo 93’s S/PDIF into my DAC but UPnP/DNLA is a far cry from the user friendlieness of the Touch. The PC > Off Ramp solution would probably yield the best results soundwise but it’s not cheap and I’m not sure I’m ready to dump the Touch yet.
      I guess what I’m hinting at here is a ratings list of the various gizmos/setups that you’ve tested. That would eliminate some of the guesswork and confusion.

      • Hi Mike, I’m basically in the same spot as you, except I have $2K Transporter that I am even less inclined to give up, although progress is progress. Interesting results with the Oppo. I have toyed with that one, and they just released new models that may work better as a music server. The off-ramp is very tempting to go from USB to SPDIF, but built in USB/DAC protocols seem to catching up (XMOS)- ex. Schiit Audio. I agree with you and others that the Squeezbox Server is a hard one to give up. It just works so well. Like John said, the clocking is probably the issue with our ‘long in the tooth’ products.

        • Sorry John, hadn’t realized it was being “reviewed”

          Maybe not a star system as such but rather a pecking order based on the various combos you’ve tested.

          Your articles do give a good sense of that but it’s not always easy to reference.

            • If the m2tech HF2 is the bottom and the Audiophilleo is tops… what’s the ‘high value’ buy? Are any of the XMOS options worth it? Or is it really, JKSPDIF MkIII, Halide or Audiophilleo?

    6. John,

      What did you use to convert your digital library from FLAC to ALAC? I may be doing the same thing sometime soon, now that I have a Mac Mini to use as a music server.

    7. Hi John,

      Given the Audiophilleo is also plug-n-play, is it possible to use it in the same way as the Hiface Two with the Squeezebox touch?


    8. Hey John – I’ve been pondering this here topic for a few.. Its a good one. many of us squeezboxer out there! I’m not convinced it makes sense that USB will sound better than ‘optimized’ SPDIF output from a squeezebox server. What I’m driving at is that I have found that the Ethernet protocol can be exploited for its bandwidth. What I have been doing is upsample and process my redbook before its sent to the DAC. Then I can use the filters I want, add some dither, aliasing etc. to reduce jitter potential before it happens. IMO, Ethernet is optimal for such large data loads, and sound quality is unaffected by other computer operations (I just read a review of JPlay – its seems that just about everything the computer is doing while it is playing music affects the sound!). I have done numerous processor and hard drive intensive tasks on my computer while listening to music over the years. No change, nada. If the packet rate cant keep up with the demand the player may have to ‘rebuffer’ as most of us have experienced from time to time.

      My request to you is, before you shelve your Touch for good, give it one last test – for the rest of us! Use foobar with Sox SRC – set phase to minimum. Upsample to 24/96. Add dither. Allow aliasing. Give us an idea of what you think. I would be willing to venture a guess that putting a good clocker/DAC on the end of your Touch will sound better than the same over USB to said DAC. – Thanks for your great reviews! You the man! – Eric

    9. I know, Eric, let it go! – John,I guess you had to sell it so you could ‘move on’. I can understand that. Sad as it is! I just dont think I could live with myself for getting less than half of what I put into the Transporter. I will probably end up keeping it. Kind of like a kept my USB Link DAC lll. I just couldnt let it go. I’m actually listening to it now via Toslink from my Transporter. It actually sounds a wee bit overall ‘better’ than the Transporter in terms of realistic and ‘palpable’ sound. Less clinical you could say, but a bit higher noise floor (as expected).

    10. John, Thanks for agreat article. I was about to buy a SBT as my network device. You say you are moving to Apple, but you don,t say what device you’re going to use to feed your DAC? Sorry if that was a silly quetion but I’m new to this.

      • Hey Goughi. Currently not using any USB-S/PDIF with the PerfectWave (doesn’t need it) and the Micromega (running it in). I still have the Hiface Two and the Kingrex to hand. Next month I’ll be receiving a Wyred4Sound uLink.

    11. Hey John – ,-) now it makes sense! Is that the Perfect Wave ll? Quite a machine. I would toss my Transporter in a heartbeat for that one. Are you using Ethernet?

    12. I recently tried connecting my Squeezebox Touch with EDO Coax S/PDIF out into a Rega Dac and then from the Rega coax S/PDIF out into the internal Dac of my Moon i3.3. Sounds fantastic! Better than any solution I’ve tried with USB, from the Squeezebox or Mac/PC (adaptive or through V-link or HiFace into the Moon), and miles better than the SBT S/PDIF directly into the Moon amp. Everything just falls into place. Apparently the Rega does something right with the digital signal from the SBT which the the Moon dac doesn’t. I had just decided to sell the Rega since the dac itself doesn’t quite cut it for me sonically, but now it will stay!

      • Coax in > coax out…sounds like a pass through but you never know. Could it reclock?

        I have recently began looking to switch from a Touch > V-Link 192 > EE DAC setup to a Foobar Asio PC > V-Link > EE DAC setup. So far results are inconclusive. There “might” be a small improvement in separation but for now the benefits do not outweigh the Touch’s convenience.

        I’m waiting upon an iFi USB power module and Elijah BL cable which will hopefully make a noticeable difference in both setups.

        I seem to have noticed an improvement in my Touch setup over the weekend following a software update. Psychoacoustics? Maybe it’s the weather but I listened all day yesterday and again this morning without the urge to tweak.
        That doesn’t happen very often.

          • Did a little bit of research (i.e. read the manual…)and according to Rega the input stage of the DAC comprises a Wolfson digital receiver with a high stability low jitter clock. The receiver and PLL have their own dedicated power supplies. The digital inputs are galvanically isolated. The signal passes through this input stage and is thus reportedly “cleaned up and re-clocked” before being sent to the digital output.

            Again, really works wonders with the Moon i3.3 internal DAC.

    13. Hello There Guys,
      Do you think a WDTV Live Hub would be able to use/and operate with the HiFace 2 going an av receiver (which has coax in) or outboard dac?

    14. Nice read John. However, when I read this:

      “This is an all too common problem for more discerning Squeezebox Touch owners. They fall in love with functionality but despair that it doesn’t sound as good as ye olde CD player/transport that it replaced.”

      I thought, John, you’ve got to be kidding. I used to have a clockable professional studio CD player, clocking it to the DAC. Switching to the Squeezebox did not degrade the sound. Switching DAC’s, sure that will change the sound quality, but I have not read a single review, worldwideweb-wide, among enthusiasts or professionals, saying the Touch EVER performed worse as a transport than any kind of CD player/transport. I’m sure you are familiar with Kal Rubinson’s review of the Touch and was so impressed with it as a transporter he was told by John Atkinson to censor his gushing review or else they would lose advertising income. Now, audiophilia nervosa, a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (seriously) and tweakophilia (same class of disease), which just about every audiophile suffers from, me included, gives us a tendency to look for the next great thing. However, there are a number of sources of error to our auditory perception (excluding commercial interests, kick-backs, freebies, a way to earn a living, etc). For example expectations and placebo will explain up to 30% of perceived differences, and auditory memory is not perfect. In addition, if we have worked hard to achieve something, or found something unique and exclusive, we will tend to value it more. Auditory perception is not neutral and objective. Visual perception will even influence our perception of sound.

      Unfortunately the sweet spot for price/performance of the Touch has been betrayed by Logitech management who see more profitable potential in web based services and mass of lower performing, even simpler devices than the Touch. They bought something they didn’t understand. They neglected development etc. and are now killing the highest value for money auditory product in the market.

      • Hey. I stand by my assertion. I’ve at least two CD transports sound fuller and more alive than the SBT. I’ve even heard the same results at friend’s places. I’m not the only one to have drawn this conclusion, hence my comment.

        Yes, the SBT is a *tremendous* piece of gear and certainly one of the best bang for bucks in modern hifi. The Empirical Audio SynchroMesh takes it to another level though, again reinforcing my opinion that it isn’t the best digital transport around.

        However, I do appreciate your input – that your conclusions are different to mine.

        I’m afraid I don’t know anything about what went on behind the scenes with the Stereophile review of the SBT.

        • I agree with John. I’ve always had my old trusty CD-player (a Quad CDP 99 from around 2001) as reference and it has taken a long time and a lot of experimenting to reach a SQ from computer audio that comes close to that of the CDP (from its analouge outputs, the CDP 99 digital inputs (or outputs for that matter) are not very good unfortunately). I also regularly compare the sound of the digital out from an old H/K CDP with that from any given computer based solution. The same findings as John describes. On the right path but not really there yet.

          I’ve more or less given up on the USB route, after trying both PC and Mac with various player solutions, asio/kernel/wasapi/integer mode, different USB to S/PDIF converters etc.

          The Squeezebox Duet I thought would be my final playback solution when I bought it about 5 years ago after reading raving reviews turned out to sound really bad from its digital output. The digital signal from a Touch is MUCH better, but it still needs a DAC that can handle what is obviously a not completely perfect (jittery?) digital signal (see my post above about the Rega DAC). And I’m convinced that there is more to find and will soon try out both the Simaudio Moon MiND 180 and Naim ND5XS. My findings after experimenting for 5 or 6 years is that network audio is the way to go, but the Touch, although a fantastic product for the price, is not the final say in SQ, even from its digital out. The CDP 99 and digital out from the H/K still sounds a bit better.

    15. With Triodes conversion software for the USB port of the Touch to an output device is there any reason a Dragonfly would not work?


        • Thanks very much, I’ll try it and advise.

          One other thing that may be of interest to all is I note that many apps such as Amarra say they won’t work/ no improvement with the Touch as the Touch system somehow makes such apps irrelevant. Any widom on this issue?

          Also I have a NAD T785HD receiver and all works perfect through coax.

    Into The White – sound is not ALL that matters

    PS Audio announce NuWave DAC