M2TECH hiFace DAC

Device Type: Asynchronous 2.0 Audio Class USB 384/32 DAC
Input: USB 2.0
Output: 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack socket
Dimensions: 8.8”(d) x 1.4”(h) x 2”(w)
= animal chewable
Weight: 20gr approx. = don’t leave near an open window
Availability: Through all ESOTERIC and selected TEAC and TASCAM dealers. See esoteric.teac.com for dealer listing.
Price: $295
Website: www.m2tech.biz

M2TECH’s Game Changer
When I learned that TEAC America now distributes M2TECH’s hiFace DAC, a palm-fitting, plug-and-play, Italian-made baby that, for $46 more than Audioquest’s 96kHz/24 bit Dragonfly, delivers up to 384kHz/32 bit performance, my curiosity was piqued. As someone with champagne tastes and a bargain outlet budget, I had to find out if the little baby with the preciously spelled name and the enticing slogan, “Sound quality better than you may expect,” amounted to anything more than an object of idle amusement.

Once I opened the M2TECH hiFace DAC’s shipping box, I discovered that there is no instruction manual. Instead, directions are printed on the back of a flimsy gray, black, and white paper sleeve that slides off the unit’s lightweight cardboard housing. Inside, without any fanfare, sits the bright orange plastic unit, secured in a hollowed-out foam cavity. The presentation and appearance are a far cry from the smaller, metal-housed Audioquest Dragonfly USB DAC, with its brightly-illuminated-when-connected dragonfly logo, and far more substantial, impressive, and costly multi-colored packaging and multi-page instruction book.

Packaging and housing, however, doth not music make. What the hiFace DAC’s packaging does explain is that it is USB Class 2.0/1.0 compliant, asynchronous in operation, and supports sampling frequencies of 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8, and 384, as well as resolutions of 16 to 32 bits. (The unit only handles PCM.) Its output voltage is 2.0Vrms @ 0dBFS, and THD + N is 112dB (@ 1kHz, A-weighted). Although its packaging and website fail to say so, the hiFace DAC uses XMOS as its USB interface, and a Texas Instruments PCM5102A DAC chip [www.ti.com/product/pcm5102a].

Once plugged into your computer or tablet’s 3.0, 2.0, or 1.1 USB port, and connected to your amplifier, the unit automatically senses the sampling rate and bit depth of your files, and plays them through your preferred music software. Windows users are counseled to download the hiFace DAC’s driver from www.m2tech.biz/hiFace_dac.html, and run the installer according to the onscreen directions. Then, “launch your favourite player and select hiFace DAC as output device selecting the mode among KS, WASAPI, ASIO and DS at [sic] your preference, or set it up as default output device from Control Panel -> Sound. In the latter, DS mode will be set.”

Little footnotes warn Windows users that “DS mode does not ensures [sic] HighEnd [sic] audio quality,’ and “on USB 1.1 performance are [sic] restricted up to 96 KHz [sic].” (I’ve left out quite a few [sic]s in the above quotes.) Note as well that 352.8kHz and 384kHz are accessible under Windows by ASIO only (unless some player can handle them in KS mode).

Pause for pet beef. When will audio companies from countries where English is a second language show enough respect for English language consumers to hire a translator who can actually write decent English? Then again, when will U.S. newscasters learn the correct use of “I” and “me,” and “is” and “are”?

Back to the real beef. Mac users, of which I am one, are told to open System Preferences -> Sound, and select hiFace DAC as the default output. (Linux users are instructed similarly.) Although I wasn’t instructed to do so, I also opened my Macbook Pro’s Audio Midi panel and took the important step of selecting the hiFace DAC for playback.

While the packaging proclaims that the hiFace DAC works with all iPad and Android based tablets whose systems are compliant to USB Audio Class 2.0 or 1.0, it simply tells you to consult those products’ user manuals. Leaving you to fend for yourself, it sends you off with the bold-faced proclamation, “Enjoy your music with a sound quality like never before!”

I was certainly eager to do so. After plugging a Radio Shack gold-plated (or so they say) mini stereo plug-to-RCA female adapter into the hiFace DAC’s mini-stereo jack socket, I inserted the DAC into one of my Macbook Pro’s two USB 2.0 ports. With the computer and external hard drive resting atop a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base (powered by the Transporter Ultra SE, PowerCell 4 SE, and SR power cords), I used a pair of Harmonic Tech interconnects to connect the hiFace DAC to a Parasound Halo JC-2 preamp.

From there, Nordost Odin cabling connected Pass Labs XA 200.5 Class A monoblock amplifiers to Wilson Audio Sasha loudspeakers. At the other end of the chain were a Nordost QB8 and Qx4 (Quantum). Power cables were Synergistic Research for the Synergistic Research chain, and Nordost Odin for the rest of the equipment. (As I’ve discovered from multiple experiments, Nordost is happiest with Nordost, and, presumably, Synergistic Research with Synergistic Research.)

Because of the weight of the Harmonic Tech cables, which stretched from the laptop at the very top of my rack to the preamp on the bottom shelf, I had to prop up the little DAC with its own packaging. Since that wasn’t high enough, I stuck a CD stuck atop the box to achieve the required height. This ensured that both the hiFace DAC and the computer would not fall off the rack, and the world would not come to an abrupt end.

As for why I introduced Harmonic Tech into the Nordost chain instead of sticking with Nordost Odin throughout, the answer is simple: my 1.5M pair of Nordost Odin RCA-terminated interconnects was on its way to the factory for repair. Had I not been fighting the clock before my reference system was dismantled for our house sale, I would have waited for their return.

Pretty fancy cabling and equipment for a $295 DAC, to be sure. But certainly a configuration that enabled me to hear just about all that the little baby has to offer. Toward the end of this review, I’ll discuss the hiFace DAC’s performance in my more modest computer desktop system.

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COMMENTS
ms142's picture

should be against the Meridian Explorer - same price, same PCM5102 chip, also reviewed recently here. I know the reviewers are different, but I suppose it'd deserve a mention, Mr Editor?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

You've answered your own question - I reviewed the Meridian and Jason reviewed the M2Tech.

JayPee's picture

Michael, how do you think the M2TECH fared against what you remember of the Halide DAC HD?

And +1 for the comment above - I'd love to know how the M2TECH and Halide DAC HD fare against the Meridian Explorer.

Thanks!

Jason

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I have not heard the M2TECH, Jason wrote this reivew and he's on the opposite of the country from me. I do hope to have the Halide DAC HD here again soon so I can refresh my ears.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I considered contacting Aaron Hammack of Halide, who lives in the Bay Area, to again request the HD DAC for comparison. But I realized that would be far too tacky. (As in, hey Aaron, please bring your DAC over so I can compare it to the M2TECH, and perhaps declare to the world that yours doesn't sound as good.) Hence, I never performed the comparison.

Having said that, I don't know how to stress enough that, given that the Halide includes interconnect cables, the only fair comparison would be to outfit M2TECH hiFace DAC  with the best $150/pair interconnects that were the sonic equal of Halide's built-in "pure silver analog cabling, featuring the LOK silver connectors." That, in turn, would only be possible if the cabling that Halide uses is available commercially with the same terminations. Note as well that the Halide HD DAC only decodes up to 96kHz files.

 

JayPee's picture

Thanks Jason!

Martin Osborne's picture

making a cameo on Audiostream. He is always a pleasure to read and hopefully will be making future appearances.

This isn't a dig at Jason or hi fi class warfare, but him so enjoying a 'small budget' component put a huge smile on my face.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'm happy to report that this is more of a debut for Jason here on AS as opposed to a cameo as he will be providing more reviews in the not too distant future.

macaronian's picture

I've been enjoying my hiFace DAC for a couple months and it's nice to read a detailed review from a fellow Oaklander.

Thank you Jason.

Steven Plaskin's picture

Welcome and nice review Jason. I like those Tranquility Bases :)

Steve

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thanks to all who have welcomed me, either in postings or in thought. And a big wink to Steven on the Tranquility Bases. They are indeed fabulous.

It is somewhat ironic that just when my first review appears on AudioStream, I am counting the days (6) until my reference system is packed up and put into storage. After 9 years of noise, litter, and crime in East Oakland's barrio - nine months after I found a bullet hole in my car window after my next door neighbor was shot, for the second time, around the corner; 4.5 months after my husband was robbed at gunpoint; less than a week since someone at the other end of our cul-de-sac had his car stolen; just a few nights after a neighbor on one side of our beautiful casa went on yet another prolonged stoned out, drunken, music blasting jag; and at the same time as I am wearing earplugs because my neighbor who was shot is playing music outside because he and his entire family (8 siblings and two parents who collect bottles on the street and care for all the grandchildren) live as if no one else exists - we are preparing to stage our house and move somewhere else in the Bay Area, location TBD.

This means that, after one more review, there will be a break while we sell, pack up the rest of our stuff, move to temporary quarters with the dogs, and search search search for our new home. Unless Michael and I find products that can be reviewed adequately on my desktop system, and our temporary quarters allow me to play music loud enough to write good reviews, my contributions will be minimal for the next number of months. But, as much as a move isn't easy, it does feel as though Liberation Day is finally approaching.

Thanks again at all for the lovely reception. More to come...

jason

anomaly7's picture

Jason,

You've lived with a wonderful music room for years, and just as your system has reached its current zenith, you're moving on! So be it. In the end it will be worth it.

While you, may not get a listening room that compares to the one you're leaving, having a bit larger aura of serenity, (or at least less chaos) around you should do wonders for your peace of mind, and perhaps extend your life span if you have fewer bullets to dodge.

I look forward to seeing wherever it is you end up next as well as I look forward to your future reviews here on Audiostream.

 

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