Intra-DAC deltas are often small. Small enough that an afternoon’s A/B testing isn’t sufficient. The qualitative differences between DAC A, DAC B and DAC C take time to surface. These differences, no matter how small, are what audiophiles pay for.
At US$2000, the Mytek Brooklyn isn’t quite as sonically excellent as its more expensive rivals (and neither would be expect it to be). At US$3500, the AURALiC Vega offers a smidgen more detail and tonal colour whilst the US$5000 Resonessence Labs INVICTA a slightly fuller body.
But what if these audible shortcomings were offset by a feature set so varied that it permitted greater flexibility in use?
The aforementioned INVICTA from Canada’s Resonessence Labs steps out in a different functional direction than most. An in-built SD card reader and balanced headphone drive from a pair of 6.4mm sockets but analogue volume attenuation isn’t part of the package. Ditto the AURALiC. Remember this – we’ll be coming back to it.
Whist the Mytek can’t match the INVICTA on digital transport self-sufficiency – an external streamer or server is needed here – its own single-ended headphone output does righteous justice to needier ‘phones like the Sennheiser HD650, provides more control over easier loads like the AudioQuest NighHawk and offer up to 6 watts when both of its 6.4mm sockets are tapped in balanced mode (untested).
As a standalone converter, the Mytek unit favours a clean and direct gestalt with an ever-so-slightly forward presence. This places the New Yorker’s personality as genetically closer to the Resonessence Labs INVICTA than the AURALiC Vega. Interestingly, all three units wear internal DAC silicon from ESS Labs. AURALiC spoons in a little more techni-tonal-colour brilliance and treble extension which in turn contrasts the Brooklyn as slightly cooler but also, at times, less strident.
During the course of my investigation into audible differences between the Mytek and these two more costly rivals, I stumbled upon an interesting find: where two DACs like the INVICTA and Brooklyn sounded more alike than different, subjective performance metrics relating to bass presence and all round avidity could be narrowed with the introduction of the Wyred4Sound Recovery playing USB standover man between Brooklyn and Macbook Air.
This conclusion was arrived at with with a clear caveat: USB reclocking won’t lend the Brooklyn the euphony or source material forgiveness that we hear in the multibit Schiit Gungnir or the Aqua La Voce S2.
My point? The Brooklyn holds its own in more expensive company but it is not a DAC that suffers source material fools.
Perhaps this is where Michal Juriewicz’s pro sector roots show through. The Mytek mainman cut his teeth designing ADCs for some of New York’s most well known recording studios. This led to the founding of Mytek Digital, initially as a pro-audio sector consideration.
Only in the last five years or so have Mytek begun to push hard into audiophile territory. Their more clumsily named Stereo192-DSD DAC was the first to offer DSD decoding for less than US$2K.
Nowadays, Juriewicz splits his time between Mytek Digital’s administrative headquarters in Brooklyn – which furnishes this latest model with its name – and the company’s production facility in Poland – where the Brooklyn DAC is made.
The halo effect of emerging format compatibility isn’t lost on Juriewicz. In 2016, he’s doing it all again with the early adoption of MQA compatibility, included in the Brooklyn. A logo lights up blue or green in the presence of an MQA file (see video below) and the half-width Mytek was used by yours truly to test MQA’s claims of better sound. Those findings can be found here.
The Brooklyn’s USB input also has listeners covered for up to 32bit/384kHz PCM and quad-rate DSD. However, from where I’m standing, future format compatibility is a sideshow to the Brooklyn DAC’s main strength: multi-source functionality for the music you have access to right here, right now. Vinyl and digital files.
Some DACs, like the aforementioned Schiit and Aqua are single purpose devices: they decode digital to analogue. Input moves to output.
Others, like the AURALiC, the Resonessence Labs and the Mytek feature digital volume attenuation that affords each unit a quasi-pre-amplifier role. However, along for the ride comes very real concerns about bit-stripped resolution loss, an unavoidable consequence of deeper downwards attenuation. Take a 32-bit volume control below its halfway point whilst playing a 16-bit file and soundstage collapse and emaciated tonal mass become increasingly evident.
For the Brooklyn, all but the quietest in-room SPLs have its 32-bit digital volume control operating north of the -50db (50%) marker when direct connected to a pair of Red Dragon S500 monos, each driving an ELAC Debut B6 loudspeaker, all whilst Roon-running FLAC-compressed CD rips of albums by likes of The Orb, Grace Jones and The Sugarcubes.
Hi-res downloads that offer a bit depth of 24 come in for some slight qualitative erosion when the Brooklyn dips beneath -33db. When wanting music to maintain full aural satisfaction but at a low volume, that’s just too loud.
Concerns of digital volume bit-sripping evaporate when we learn of the Brooklyn’s analogue domain volume control – accessible via a menu system that the user navigates with four click-buttons and an infinite rotary which in turn controls relay switching under the hood.
The Brooklyn’s souped-up OLED display is infinitely more informative than the rudimentary ‘80s Casio calculator glow of the Stereo192-DSD. 80085 have given way to bouncing peak level meters. Oooh, matron.
With echoes of Resolution Audio, the Brooklyn’s sculpted front panel, a concession to the audiophile world’s keener demand for form AND function, adds to this DAC’s appeal.
Listening positioning menu access (as well as volume control) comes courtesy of an Apple remote hijack, a neat trick carried over from the forerunning Stereo192-DSD. However, reading the new model’s display from more than a few feet away isn’t easy. Talking of eyesight challenges: the silver version provides higher visual contrast than the black for locating the Brooklyn’s four front panel buttons.
Analogue attenuation then opens the door to analogue sources made room for by the farewell bid to Firewire connectivity. Stepping across the threshold is an MM (47kOhm) / MC (90 Ohm) phono stage. Manufacturer talk of this module being commensurate with “$20,000” units is nothing more than unchecked hyperbole; wishful thinking that does Mytek’s ordinarily down-to-earth approach a disservice.
External phono stages can be connected to the Brooklyn once the rear plate’s single analogue input has been re-configured to read a line level input via the front panel (see video). And so, another functional surprise: the Brooklyn can serve as a single input passive pre-amplifier!
In use with both a Dynavector 10×5 and Ortofon M20FL Super, I’d peg the Brooklyn’s phono staging performance as price commensurate as signposted by on-hand rivals. Sounding superior to that of the Schiit Mani but inferior to the Devialet Expert 200, the latter digs deeper into the mix whilst not pushing the midrange as forward as does the Brooklyn when performing double duty; phono stage and pre-amplifier. The Mytek’s dominant audible traits as a phono pre-amplifier are consistent with its DAC personality: clean, direct, fresh-faced.
A fellow Brooklyn user reported insufficient gain with his Benz Micro Wood. A follow up email exchange with Mytek tech support revealed the internal phono board’s gain as fixed at 69.1db for MM cartridges and 86.5db for MC variants (which on paper at least seems more than sufficient).
With this commentator’s understanding insufficiently grasping the hidden complexities of matching low output MC to phono stage (or vice versa), those rocking such cartridges are advised to check in with Mytek directly – or a vinyl expert of their choice – before dropping cash on the Brooklyn.
However, analogue volume attenuation applied to analogue and digital inputs inside the the same box is precisely where the Mytek box puts many of its more costly rivals in the rear view mirror. The Brooklyn can feed a power amplifier directly, obviating the usual pre-amplifier but without first forcing turntablism into the digital domain via third party ADC.
No more tapping units like PS Audio’s ADC-loaded NuWave Phono Converter for on-the-fly digitisation in order to feed a digital pre-amplifier like the AURALiC or Resonessence Labs. This rewards us with a reduction in box count – as well as fewer interconnects and power cords – and lower wallet damage. A downsizers dream ticket.
Going passive on pre-amplification here we note a little weight loss and more quicksilver in transient delivery.
Is the Mytek Brooklyn the only product to date to combine DAC, phono stage, headphone amplifier and analogue pre-amplifier in a single device? That it sells for US$2000 has us struggling to justify the cost of a multi-box configuration.
And even if designer Michal Jurewiecz can’t find the internal or back panel real estate for a Roon Ready network board (that will likely first land in the Manhattan 2), the Sonicorbiter SE (US$299) is a suitably affordable Roon Ready add-on that, when combined with the Wyred4Sound Recovery (US$299), could well forestall the upgrade itch for a bigger, better D/A converters.
The Mytek Brooklyn is one of the most multi-faceted products in entry-level hifi right now. It joins DAC/pre to power amplifier without severing all ties to the analogue domain. For that alone it deserves a DAR-KO Award.
Further information: Mytek Digital