M2TECH hiFace 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.
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.