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Mytek’s Clef: a portable MQA DAC/amplifier with AAC Bluetooth

  • Want the best performance from your headphones? Unlikely that the 3.5mm socket found on the average smartphone, PC or Mac will cut it. Third party DAC/headphone amplifiers, like Mytek Digital’s Clef, are where sound quality starts to come on song.

    However, Mytek’s latest product announcement is also story of two codecs: MQA and AAC. (Side note for readers unaccustomed to news items that go deeper than the press release: this is not a review).

    Portable USB DAC/amps are a dime a dozen. Those that support PCM to up 24bit/192kHz or DSD128 are less common. MQA? Only the Meridian Explorer 2 ticks every box. Until now…

    Mytek Digital’s Clef offers a driverless USB Audio Class 2.0 connection to your home computer in a palm-sized package for US$299. Inside its handy hardshell (4” x 2.5”x 0.5″) an ESS Sabre 9018 chipset feeds “a powerful high fidelity headphone amplifier…easily driving quality headphones at twice the volume of typical smartphones”.

    The Clef will play a broad range of hi-res audio formats including the deeply controversial MQA. Mytek Digital’s half-width but feature-packed Brooklyn DAC was used this commentator to audition Bob Stuart and Peter Craven’ time-domain correcting, hi-res folding, end-to-end authenticating audio format last year.

    The Clef’s USB power feed waves buh-bye to the mains supply and, assuming we have the corresponding content, allows us to take MQA playback to the office and back. As of right now, only a few hundred downloadable MQA-encoded titles exist in the wild but with CES 2017 kicking off tomorrow, we might see Tidal finally dropping the lever on MQA streaming.

    We live in a streaming-dominant world and if MQA remains solely the preserve of downloadable (to own) music, it’s sure to become just another audiophile (read: niche) plaything.

    However, let us not be distracted by the Clef’s MQA support as this portable packs an even stronger punch: it will decode and amplify incoming Bluetooth audio from any paired device for up to 8 hours between re/charges.

    Those who rubbish Bluetooth audio should understand that not all Bluetooth audio connections are born equal. Sound quality depends on the audio codec in play.

    For example, the higher quality aptX codec built into the Clef only fires into action when also present in the transmitting device. If we’re talking smartphones, that means a handful of Android and Windows devices but not the Apple iPhone.

    Here Mytek have been more thoughtful than the majority of manufacturers. Rather than let iPhone users fall back to the default and largely unsatisfactory-sounding SBC, the Polish-American company have also baked AAC into the Clef’s Bluetooth receiver. AAC is supported by iPhones and iPads and, in my experience, delivers tonal avidity and micro-dynamic flicker on par with aptX. In other words, neither codec sound as lifeless as SBC-fuelled Bluetooth. This gives the Clef a sharp advantage over the SBC/aptX-only Astell&Kern XB10 and Noble Audio BTS.

    If that’s not enough for you to take a closer look/listen, the Clef’s internal microphone allows us to make phone calls even if our headphones do not.

    In short, the Mytek Clef adds Bluetooth audio to ANY smartphone but with none of the usual compromises.

    Not bad for US$299. Not bad at all.

    Patience though: the Clef doesn’t begin shipping until Q2 2017.

    Further information: Mytek Digital


    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.

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      • Don’t even have to be fully nomadic either. In my case, mostly powering custom or universal in-ears or low impedance headphones, this would make a good desktop setup as well. Could use it over USB with the laptop and rely on Bluetooth while on the go. Not personally sold (or keen) on the whole MQA thing, but it’s not like I can’t use non MQA’d music with it. Only worry is if it’ll cause hiss with my most sensitive balanced armature in-ears. I suspect (and so does Mytek, if their competitive price is any indication) we’ll be seeing a lot more devices like this in the coming months. Also suspect we’ll see some strides and codec/transmission with the arrival of Bloetooth 5.0 devices later in the year.

    1. Hi John, does this also allow a USB/lightening physical connection to the smartphone like a Chord MoJo? Would seem a great opportunity to enable the owners of ‘legacy’ 3.5mm headphones to the Apple world of lightening only connection to new iPhones.

    2. Interesting. And it’s able to play DSD. I hope the sound will make up for the homely appearance!

    3. I think that a good deal of the earlier skepticism (not invalid) about MQA were addressed yesterday with the combination of the immediate availability of Tidal streaming as well as MQA software decoding.

    4. John-have you ever tried Sony’s LDAC bluetooth streaming and if so is it better than AAC Bluetooth or Apt-X Bluetooth?

      • Yes, I have with the Sony Zx2 DAP feeding the Sony MdR-1000X headphones. I’d say it’s on par with AAC but for the FLAC library owner, the Sony player makes it much easier to load lossless content than the iPhone, therefore better on the go SQ arrives more readily from the Sony/Sony combo than the iPhone/Sony pairing.

    5. I am interested in this DAC. I like that it plays MQA, the price is right, and the brand has a good reputation.

      I am wondering about its use as a desktop DAC. Does it operate normally without noise when the battery runs down and it is recharging? Apparently this is an issue with the Chord Mojo unless a device is added (a different cable?).

      Also, how does it sound compared to other DACs? I look forward to reviews.

    6. This device is very appealing to me (in spite of the strange aesthetic choices), but the output impedance is listed as 10 Ohms on the Mytek site. That would definitely be an issue for users of multi-BA IEMs. I hope the spec changes before the product release because it seems promising in many other ways.

      • Output impedance is now listed as 1.0 ohms. I believe the previous 10 ohm spec was just a typo. Still waiting to hear if the Apple camera cable is required for a wired connection to an iPhone.

    7. Perfect device for HD headphone music enjoyment! Much looking forward to its release. Smart idea the bluetooth and Tidal MQA streaming functionality. Design looks ergonomic as well, leave your phone in your pocket and play. For sure one for my bucketlist

    Coming over the hill: the monstrous Roon 1.3

    CES 2017…as it happened…not much