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Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC review

  • Designed in USA, Made in Poland. Founder and chief designer of New York’s Mytek Digital – Michal Jurewicz – has been designing digital audio products for twenty years. After graduating with a Masters degree in electrical engineering in Warsaw, Jurewicz initially moved to the USA to work at the Hit Factory recording studio.  He then founded Mytek Digital in 1992 – a NYC-based company that draws on Polish manufacturing talent for mass production of the Stereo192-DSD. Director of Marketeting Chebon Littlefield describes it as a place where “costs are low but talent is high”. With Jurewicz being a Polish native the need for an interpreter is eliminated. This sums to an easier life when maintaining production quality.

    You can read more on Jurewicz’s background and design philosophy here.  In that same .pdf  you will also find a thorough breakdown on how to adjust the output gain on the Stereo192-DSD DAC using internal jumpers. And therein lies the heart of Mytek’s formidable success with their first domestic hi-fi DAC: CHOICES.

    Enter Doug Stanhope.  Here’s his humorous rant on why the USA is the greatest country in the world:

    …it comes down to choices. LOTS of choices. You want some eggs? How do you want them done? We can do ‘em ten different ways. Do you want French toast? Do you want waffles? Pancakes?

    Even before you plonk down your US$1595 on a Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC, you have choices: do you want the “Black-Pre” or the “Silver-Pre” (no LED metering) or do you want the pro-targeted “Black Mastering” version that swaps out the analogue inputs for SDIF connectivity; used to bridge computer and SACD player?

    Home users will likely opt for the Black-Pre version. That’s the model under consideration here.

    Mytek_Stereo192-DSD_DAC_2

    Rugged glory. This review unit journeyed from Los Angeles to Sydney in my hand luggage wrapped in nothing but a plastic bag. I mention this not to fluff the story but to highlight the Mytek DAC’s relative immunity to rough and tumble. The Mytek unit wears it pro-audio roots on its sleeve. Little is conceded to aesthetic niceties with the casework here being pure utilitarianism. If you want show pony hi-fi, look elsewhere. Talking of which…

    First drinks. Ordinarily, comparisons with other DACs usually take place once deep into review territory. I bucked the trend with the Mytek to get one thing out of the way early: the difference between them isn’t enormous but the Mytek doesn’t sound quite as accomplished or refined as the AURALiC Vega (US$3500). It doesn’t look as polished either.

    Getting past this (predictable) comparative result very early on in the review process meant that I could relax and soak up all that the Mytek Stereo192-DSD has to offer. And boy does this DAC offer a lot – they’ve thrown the kitchen sink into this design and come up trumps. Remember: Mytek give you choices.

    Mytek_Stereo192-DSD_DAC_5

    The menu system is an options overload that becomes significantly easier to digest once you make the switch from the physical roll-and-press of the control wheel to the infra-red detachment of an Apple remote.

    Both the older white plastic and newer slimline aluminium version are a cinch to pair with the Mytek DAC. This seemingly convoluted navigation procedure for remote pairing only needs to be done once and the user is unchained from the initial tyranny that rides sidesaddle with so many choices.

    Press menu
    Roll wheel to “remote”
    Press wheel
    Roll wheel to “enable”
    Press knob
    Roll wheel to “on”
    Press menu button
    Roll wheel to “mode”
    Press wheel
    Roll wheel to “apple”
    Press wheel
    Address set should appear on screen
    On the apple remote press center silver button, the DAC screen should flash
    Now the remote is paired
    Press menu on remote to back out of remote menu

    The first option I toyed with was PCM up-sampling. Go bit perfect or have everything pimped to 192kHz for an ever so slightly burnished treble; a boon for the aluminium-tweetered KEF LS50 currently serving time in my listening space. Amplification during the majority of the review process was provided by a Weston Acoustics EL34 Topaz and a REDGUM RGi60. Occasional USB-S/PDIF conversion came via Resonessence Labs’ Concero. The Zu Soul MKII were wheeled out for second opinion.

    Source sample rates are displayed on screen. This is not to be undervalued. Knowing if data is reaching your DAC is pivotal to ascertaining if binary flow is damned upstream. The absence of bit-rate display is a super-minor quibble if ever there was one. Level meters show us proof of life of the decoded stream – any ensuing silence can then be attributed to downstream hardware (settings).

    Mytek_Stereo192-DSD_DAC_4

    Head-high-five. The Mytek packs a headphone amplifier and this headphone amplifier packs a mighty punch. More than enough to extract full guts and glory from the notoriously more challenging AKG K 702. No, they’re not HifiMan or Audez’e but still – a win is a win.

    Clocking. Mytek call it Double Jitter Rejection. An internal oscillator asynchronously handles incoming USB and FireWire audio streams – it generates the sampling frequency clock based on the number requested by the playback software (44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz for PCM and 2822.4 MHz for DSD and 5644.8 MHz for double DSD). This ‘welcome’ clock is used to ready data for the ESS Sabre 9016 DAC chip, which uses its own master clock for the conversion process.

    With S/PDIF inputs you get more menu options, more choices:

    “When S/PDIF or AES input is used the data is fed using the synchronous clock from the incoming source. If this source is slaved to the Mytek internal clock, S/PDIF/AES clock behaviour is comparable to asynchronous USB/FireWire. In most situations however the source does not offer external clock options and its clock is used to feed the Mytek DAC input.  To eliminate the influence of incoming synchronous data the Mytek DAC is equipped with the best jitter rejection in the industry, a patented JET PLL (™) system developed by TC Electronics originally intended for use in professional recording industry.”, explains Michal Jurewicz.

    Alternatively, you can outsource data timing to an external word clock.

    Mytek_Stereo192-DSD_DAC_7

    DSD? This might be why you’re reading this review. After all, when Mytek formally launched the Stereo192-DSD at 2011’s RMAF, it made a big splash in the collective audiophile consciousness for then being the cheapest way to get DSD playback into your life. In the intervening two years the sub-$2k price bracket has seen contenders spring up from North Star Designs, Benchmark, Chord Electronics and Sonore. At time of writing, both Resonessence Labs’ Concero HD (CA$850) and TEAC’s UD-501 (US$850) are the cheapest entry points into the narrow world of DSD listening. That’ll hold until Schiit Audio drop their own DSD bomb next month.

    Playing back both DSD and Redbook versions of Peter Gabriel’s Shaking The Tree (remaster a 2003 vintage) revealed the former to sound smoother, more relaxed and effortless. A shade more detailed too. But really: how many of you will have a DSD rip of this album? That’s not a look-at-me boast; it’s a clean stab of the reality knife. Such DSD rips are a) tough to get hold of and b) of questionable legality.

    Instead, I chose to call out the Mytek’s sonic characteristics based almost exclusively with Apple Lossless rips of CDs. Due to a paucity of source material, DSD playback is the coffee at the end of a very fine Redbook meal; a tasty bonus but not essential to one’s enjoyment of the Mytek unit.

    Mytek_Stereo192-DSD_DAC_6

    USB 2.0. A common experience with DACs at this sort of price point (and below) is that their USB input doesn’t sound quite as resolved or stress-free as the neighbouring S/PDIF input fed by any number of USB converters and/or re-clockers. The USB often sounds comparatively bleached.

    I don’t know if it’s their custom driver or the Double Jitter Rejection tech or their power supply filtering but USB audio on the Mytek DAC sounds excellent. The delta between it and S/PDIF is more qualitative than quantitative: yes, it’s more strident but there’s also better separation. A Resonessence Labs Concero-charged S/PDIF is smoother, more relaxed but it exacts the tiniest of blows to micro-dynamics. Downstream components and system balance will determine which option is best for you.

    If you don’t want to get messy with drivers – which are a must for USB 2.0 connectivity – Mytek covers your fearful ass with a USB 1.1 input, across which PCM is limited to 96kHz sample rates and DSD is a no-go zone.

    Moving in the other direction, super-geeks will prick up their ears when they learn of the FireWire input (for which another driver install is required). That’s Mytek’s pro-audio roots breaking surface soil once again. There is a school of thought that swears by keeping DAC and file storage on separate buses; at 2012’s RMAF Chris Connaker revealed himself to be a proponent of such thinking. This ‘ere Mytek DAC opens the door to FireWire audio gumshoes.

    Mytek_Stereo192-DSD_DAC_9

    My investigative results poured down in the following order of preference: 1) Audiophilleo2 + PurePower 2) FireWire with $30 Belkin cable =3) Resonessence Concero S/PDIF and =3) USB with WireWorld Starlight USB cable. The FireWire input serves up a quieter background, better spatial cues and a presentation that feels broadly speaking more natural. The battery powered AP2 brings more elasticity and finer detail to the table but (remember!) it will run you almost as much as the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC itself. The AP2 + PP is the idealist’s choice, FireWire the pragmatist’s.

    An additional benefit of FireWire connectivity here is it frees the user from the tyranny of choice in the burgeoning USB-S/PDIF converter space. The only way forward for OCD tweakers is the FireWire cable itself. I’ll be springing for something from Furutech or Audioquest soon enough.

    Relatively uncommon to DACs in this sticker zone is an analogue input. Holding fast to the choices mandate, Jurewicz include one here…

    …and the analogue connectivity might’ve been all for nowt had he not also given end users the choice of digital or analogue volume attenuation. The former sounds leaner and more incisive than the latter – digital offers additional overtones of cracked pepper and instant coffee. Analogue mode brings more connective tissue and softens transients.

    Better than 0db in the analogue domain is ‘bypass’ mode; it extracts the very best from the Mytek when used as a standalone DAC (and where volume attenuation is carried out downstream). July’s firmware revision (1.7.5) demands that bypass mode be selected and then confirmed, after which a relay clicks to circumvent ALL volume attenuation circuitry.

    Analogue input coupled with analogue attenuation means we find ourselves with a VERY attractive pre-amplifier solution on/in our hands. For me, this is the Mytek Stereo192-DSD’s killer blow. A DAC/pre that doesn’t alienate vinyl heads or those with a (justifiable) aversion to the bit-stripping side-effect of digital attenuation.

    Mytek_Stereo192-DSD_DAC_10

    Last orders. Playing the AURALiC Vega off against the Mytek Stereo192-DSD once again reminds us that judging on chip choice is for chumps. I still see people wince when I mention Sabre-toothed decoders. They’re stuck on preconceptions of sibilance and brightness brought to public consciousness by lesser implementations. Both the Vega and Stereo192-DSD deploy ESS Sabre silicon but their artistic styles differ.

    If we think of the Metrum Hex’s presentation as a Picasso (abstract expressionism), the AURALiC Vega might be seen as a Monet (beautiful, vivid). The Mytek? Francis Bacon. It’s physical, gutsy and heavy – altogether more confronting but never annoying. It’s not as finessed as the AURALiC. It’s a shade more opaque, particularly up top – but no less enjoyable.  The gap between the two narrows when the Mytek is FireWire connected. It grips music and never lets go; it offers far more musical conviction than (say) a Rega DAC, compared to which the Mytek is a few degrees cooler on the tonal front and nowhere near as cuddly. That’s not to say the Mytek sound is strident. “Not A” does not imply “B”. Instead, we hear “C”.

    Mytek_Stereo192-DSD_DAC_8

    Owners of already bright-ish systems will likely prefer the Mytek to the AURALiC. Without a ladder-to-the-sky treble, the Mytek instead hones in on midrange meat – think diluted golden treacle with crisp-clean edges. Transparency with vocals, percussion, acoustic guitars and strings is the New Yorker’s trump phonic card. If you found the Metrum Octave too thin or reedy, the Mytek could be more your bag.

    The idealist’s slant on the Mytek will see it as not quite as keenly resolved or grandiose as the AURALiC Vega; it lacks the broader elegance of the opulently-cased contender from Hong Kong. Enter the pragmatist to remind us that the Mytek is $2k cheaper – not insignificant coinage. US$1595 for all that the Mytek offers in features alone would see it considered for award assignation: headphone amplifier, FireWire connectivity, analogue input and analogue volume control are mere highlights in a pool of options that runs considerably deeper than the competition. The Mytek Stereo192-DSD’s diaphanous midrange lands the knockout blow. If you were to take away every other DAC tomorrow, I would continue to listen with total satisfaction, untroubled by what I no longer owned.  DAR-KO award.

    darko_award_2013

    FOOTNOTE: I’ve not finished with the Mytek Stereo192-DSD yet.  It’ll soon be run through its paces as a pre-amp feeding a pair of Wyred4Sound mAMP mono blocks.

     

    Associated Equipment

    • Wireworld Starlight USB cable
    • Belkin FireWire 800/400 9-pin to 6-pin
    • AURALiC Vega
    • Metrum Hex
    • REDGUM RGi60
    • Weston Acoustics Topaz EL34
    • KEF LS50
    • Zu Audio Soul MKII

     

    Audition Music

    • Peter Gabriel – Shaking The Tree (DSD, 16/44, 2003 remaster)
    • The Orb – U.F. Orb (1992)
    • Leonard Cohen – Songs From The Road (2010)
    • L.S.G. – The Unreleased Album (24bit – 2013)
    • Thomas Dolby – Live in Tokyo 2012 (2013)
    • Thomas Dolby – Live at SXSW w/ Jazz Mafia Horns (2008)

     

    Further Information

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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