Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter/Preamplifier/Headphone Amplifier
Input: AES/EBU, S/PDIF RCA, S/PDIF Tosilnk, USB 1.1, USB 2.0, Firewire 400 (6-pin), Wordclock BNC, and unbalanced RCA (Preamp version only)
Output: (1) Pair Balanced (XLR), (1) Pair Unbalanced (RCA), (1) 1/4” headphone output, Wordclock BNC
Dimensions (H x W x D): 1.72 x 8.5 x 8.5 in.
Weight: 6 lbs.
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $1,695.00
Website: www.mytekdigital.com

Catching the DSD Buzz
The Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC was unveiled at last year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest right around the time of AudioStream's public launch. As we both approach our first birthday, it seems somehow appropriate that I'm finally taking a closer look and listen. Direct Stream Digital (DSD). There I said it. Most of the buzz at RMAF 2011 was the Mytek's ability to play back DSD natively and while this is truly buzz-worthy for a number of reasons, I'd say that's only about half the story.

The Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC shows the company's Professional Audio roots in its half-rack size, AES/EBU input, and Wordclock in/out. The "Mastering Version" of the 192-DSD DAC adds a pair of BNC SDIF DSD inputs so it can act as a bridge between Pro SACD players and a computer, while the "Preamp Version" replaces those BNCs with a pair of unbalanced RCAs so you can connect a line-level source in addition to your digital audio. The "Preamp Version" comes in two flavors "Black" (the unit under review) and "Silver"; the former adds LED level meters to its black front panel which the "Silver" version removes for a cleaner and silvery look. In all other respects they are identical. We'll be talking about the "Black Preamp Version" here.

The Stereo-192 DSD DAC can handle up to 32/192 PCM playback and 64xDSD and 128xDSD through its asynchronous USB 2.0 or Firewire inputs. Native DSD playback requires two other things—custom drivers for both Mac and PC users, and a Media Player that can handle the DSD task. We'll talk more about this soon but let's cover the rest of the basics first. The USB 1.1 input is included for those Windows users who don't want to deal with loading the drivers that allow for 24/192 playback that Windows shouldn't require but it does. As noted, the 192-DSD DAC includes an input/output for an external Wordclock which I did not explore but its there for anyone so inclined. All other inputs and outputs work as you'd expect and all digital inputs can handle the full 192kHz passed through its 32 bit Sabre DAC (there are actually 4 DACs per channel in a parallel balanced configuration). You can also use any "RC5 Standard" Universal remote with the Mytek DAC (I didn't and mainly used my iPad with Apple's free Remote app to control playback).

The Mytek DAC's 1/2 rack-sized front panel is chock full of useful features. The volume knob controls volume for both the main output and headphones and when you press the "Menu" button it also controls menu navigation for playback options. These options include Input selection, Upsampling (upsamples all PCM data to 192kHz), Filters (PCM - sharp or slow rolloff, DSD - 50, 60, or 70 kilohertz cutoff), Volume Control mode (Analog, Digital, or Bypass), Volume Trim levels (-14dB to -18dB), Functions (Input, Mute, Phase, summed Mono, L-R which subtracts one channel from the other, Mid Side which combines Mono and L-R, and Dim Volume which cuts the output level by 20dB), Display (Brightness, Meters on/off, Auto-Off), Remote (Enable and Address), and Firmware (Default, and displays current version). There are two user-programmable Function buttons which can be set to control any of the aforementioned functions for quick-access, an LED Display which shows volume level and current sample rate, a Headphone jack, and On/Off switch.

The backside is equally packed and in addition to the inputs and outputs listed above, it includes an IEC power inlet so things are fairly tightly-packed. When writing for the web with no word-count limit, the temptation to ramble is practically unrestrained (not a good thing). When writing for print where size matters, having a word-count restriction forces you to edit down to the most relevant (ideally). I'd imagine choosing a half-rack size chassis enforces a similar editorial cleanliness.

If you'd like to read about the design philosophy behind the Mytek DAC as well as some highlights from Mytek's 20-year history, I highly recommend checking out "Engineering and Design of Mytek Stereo192-DSD-DAC" by Michal Jurewicz, Mytek's Founder and Principal Designer.

Mytek has also included the ability to adjust the Stereo192-DSD DAC's output gain in all models sold since March 2012. I asked Michal Jurewicz if he would explain the reasons for this option and provide output level specs for RCA and Balanced connections [see Footnote 1 for more detailed information on specs and adjusting output levels]. Here's his reply:

When I was designing the output stage of the Stereo192-DSD-DAC a variety of factors had to be included:
1) existing professional and consumer standards
2) actual large discrepancies of level sensitivities in many existing hi-fi amps and preamps that were not designed to meet these standards.
3) signal to noise ration as large as possible but without large signal distortion
4) large discrepancies of average level on existing CDs and other digital recordings, including +3dBFS max level specified for SACD DSD recordings.
When the CD standard was announced the CD founding consortium HAS NOT defined the average (0 VU) signal level for the CD the way it was earlier defined for analog recordings. Only max peak level of 0dBFS has been imposed by the nature of the medium. This proved to be a strategic mistake haunting both professionals and consumers of music until today. It has resulted in huge discrepancies of average levels on CDs (sometimes as much as 20dBs) and overuse of compression to manage that, which in turns significantly damages sound quality intended by original producer.

A high end DAC has to handle these large discrepancies well and in a practical way—a variety of levels have to be converted well without noise nor overload distortion.

Mytek has been building professional ADCs and DACs since 1992 with the majority of them designed for professional studio and mastering applications. We have gained a good level of expertise on how best to handle a variety of signal levels. Typically in a recording studio an average digital level is defined by the producers and varies from -20dBFS to -14dBFS = 0VU (=1.228VRMS on XLR line) depending on the nature of music and style of recording. For example -20dBFS would be used for live symphony orchestra, while -14dBFS would be used for analog mastering chain where levels are compressed and peak is well controlled. This -20dBFS and -14dBFS is actually the signal headroom—live classical recording requires higher headroom to handle wider dynamic range and loud peaks.

Thus the actual digital recordings vary and the DAC must handle them all very well, particularly the wide dynamic range signals more typical for audiophile quality recordings.

Connecting the 192-DSD DAC was simple and I used both USB (2.0) and Firewire to connect to my MacBook Pro and RCAs to connect the Leben CS-300XS. I ran the Mytek's volume control in Bypass mode preferring to control volume with the integrated Leben CS-300XS. I mainly used Pure Music and Audirvana Plus because both allow for native DSD playback once the Mytek drivers are installed. These drivers are located on the Mytek website so you need to download, install, and setup and there are different drivers and setup routines for USB and Firewire and they vary depending on your chosen Media Player and OS platform (Windows-users always have a few more steps to perform as compared to Mac users). I am not going to detail this process here since its simple and all you need do is follow the step-by-step instructions provided by Mytek. Other Media Players that will work with the Mytek to provide native DSD playback include Amarra, JRiver, and Signalyst HQPlayer.

Firmware updates are handled through the Firewire (FW) connection which presents some extra work if you don't already have a Firewire port on your computer. But don't fret since its easy to add Firewire through an ExpressCard or PCIe adapter. I asked Michal Jurewicz about the reasons for including a Firewire input since its not a common feature in most DACs:

If you are using current drivers off the website they [USB and Firewire] are both bit transparent and in both cases the same internal clock is used (XCO next to the DAC chip) so in terms of jitter performance they should be comparable.

Both FW and USB serve as asynchronous data pipeline, we tried NOT to have differences, even if FW is actually a better, more efficient interface that was designed for streaming while USB is kinda forced to do this.

Also USB on a typical computer has to service the DAC but also mouse, keyboard, maybe harddisk and other stuff all on the same bus requesting interrupts.

As far as why did we include both USB and Firewire, when I was designing the DAC I knew customers like choices (a given in any business) and this way we were appealing to everybody without forcing them to decide prior to buying. If someone wants FW they have it, same for USB. In addition that FW solution has an excellent on chip JET clock PLL which we use for ALL digital inputs (Weiss advertises it with their FW DACs). Having both is also redundant and covers more systems.

We were also new to the hi-fi market and wanted to make a splash. I knew we'd have to include not only great sound but more features than our competition (including DSD). I think we did manage to make this splash. I thought: let's just throw all the features at this new (for us) hi-fi customer and see what they appreciate. Fortunately, most of these extra features turned out to be appreciated.

Also, traditionally, Mytek designs (I designed about 30+ various converter models since 1992) were always about the sweet spot in high sound quality and the best bang for the buck for sound and for features. I design with this goal in mind. This is our trademark.

What's All This Fuss About Viol[ins]ence On DSD?
Let's start with the basics. In my setup with a MacBook Pro acting as front end music controller being served music from a NAS, the Firewire connection sounded better than USB with the Mytek DAC. It sounded smoother, more relaxed, more natural. This holds for DSD and PCM playback. One thing to note is you'll need a 9-Pin to 6-Pin FireWire cable and I tried a standard el-cheapo cable as well as the new FireBird-96 from Furutech ($158/1.2m) and the latter offered what I'd call better sound—less grainy and more natural. But if you take issue with the notion that a cable can make this kind of difference by all means ignore what I just said. While we're covering controversial stuff, I will also mention that the Mytek requires some break-in before it relaxes. Over the course of the first few weeks, the Mytek's sound changed considerably, going from uptight to relaxed to even more relaxed.

Regarding DSD source material, I purchased some DSD downloads including the gut-wrenchingly gripping Violin Concerto, Horn Concerto by Krzysztof Penderecki from Channel Classis. This download which features the Sinfonietta Cracovia, Krzysztof Penderecki conducting, Robert Kabara on violin, and Radovan Vlatković on horn is comprised of two tracks (41:41 and 17:30 in duration) and with my MacBook Pro's 4GB of RAM the first track refused to play through on either Pure Music or Audirvana Plus. It would stutter, skip, and eventually crash. Even with the Buffer size set to Max. So I ordered some more memory from the ever reliable www.macsales.com and slapped those minty-fresh 4.0GB + 8.0GB DIMMs into my MacBook Pro and lo and behold Penderecki played through without a hitch (w/Max Buffer size set to Max).

I also availed myself of all the free DSD downloads I could find from sites including Blue Coast Records, Channel Classis, and 2L [see Footnote 2]. Also, during the course of the review, Mytek kindly sent over a Mac Mini stuffed with DSD music so I could sample from a wider variety and all's I can say is through the Mytek DAC, native DSD playback sounds fabulous. It's important to note that we're talking about very high quality recordings but even when compared to some cream of the crop high resolution PCM, DSD had a greater sense of naturalness, frighteningly so at times especially in terms of dynamic range. This is not to say that DSD is better than PCM, it is to say that if you end up with a Mytek DAC you will enjoy some seriously marvelous-sounding DSD music.

Regular-old PCM fared very well as well especially when using the Firewire connection. The Mytek may not be the equal of the something like the Resonessence Labs Invicta in terms of overall ease and smoothness with PCM, but without the benefit of direct comparison, there's no way to know for sure. And it's my contention that since we cannot hear every DAC simultaneously, these kinds of comparisons don't matter as long as you find the Mytek completely enjoyable. And I do not hear anything in its performance that would suggest otherwise. I also tried the PCM and DSD Filters and upsampling on/off but my preferences are just that and yours may very well differ.

To put it as plainly as I know how, the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC is a very natural and musical-sounding DAC and completely enjoyable to listen through for both PCM and DSD music sources. Nothing stands out and apart from music's natural flow and I can and did get lost on many occasions just listening to and enjoying whatever music I cared to hear regardless of its sound quality or pedigree. I will note that I used the Mytek's PCM upsampling option (upsamples all PCM data to 192kHz) which made CD-quality source material sound, well, less like CD and more like music.

The Mytek also passed the all-important Reggae test with flying colors. What's the Reggae test? I'm glad you asked because in my experience Reggae can sound like crap when using a digital source as opposed to analog. And this crap is mainly related to conveying the beat, the rhythm in a convincing way as if digital has a difficult time getting into and keeping Reggae's sense of time (or is it also the case that digital reproduction can get lost in the details, missing the forest for the trees?). Vinyl does not exhibit this same shortcoming, at least in my experience, but something like the superb-sounding 24/192 Legend album from Bob Marley & The Wailers available from HDtracks (US) and Qobuz (EU) was conveyed in time and in tact by the Mytek DAC. Jammin'.

Subtle instrumental colors and shades did not sound the least bit bleached so the emotive quality of tone and timbral difference were conveyed in all their glory. I listened to a rip of Morton Feldman's For Philip Guston [hat ART CD 61041-4] which is slow, subtle stuff and if instrumental voices do not ring true to ones sense of true, this kind of music can make you wonder why anyone would bother listening to it for over four hours. Arthur Grumiaux performing Bach's Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin sounded like raucous rock 'n roll (math rock?) as compared to the Feldman, and it was also presented in wonderful voice through the Mytek DAC without a hint of edginess in the upper registers.

To reiterate, when fresh out of the box, the Mytek can sound a bit strident like it's trying too hard to deliver every last bit of data but thankfully this etched sound eases and resolves itself into a natural and lovely sense of musical flow over time. Which also means the Mytek passed the "I can listen as long as I want" test with flying colors and it also passed the "I can't wait to hear _____ but I want to finish listening to this entire album first" test. When a given piece of gear sounds well-balanced, meaning nothing screams out from music's flow, I tend to smile.

And when the Mytek DAC delivered music's natural voices from well-controlled and authoritative bass to sweet and pristine-sounding highs, coupled with a convincing sense of music's unfolding time in time, I tend to smile even more because listening to music can and should be a completely pleasurable experience. With the Mytek handling my digital music library, especially with the new and exceedingly pleasant sonic surprise that is native DSD playback, I spent a lot of time listening happily, smiling.

Free Your DSD and Your PCM Will Follow
From a purely practical perspective we have to ask—how many DSD titles are out there? And the answer in wallet-terms is a lot (see this post for a list of sources as well as some other DSD-ready DACs) but in terms of a raw number of releases we're still talking less than 500 by my very rough quick count and they average around $30+ a pop. Whether or not the current catalog of titles will float your boat is an important question to ask as is how large will the DSD catalog grow in the future which is anyone's guess. But let's note that every SACD has the potential to become a DSD download.

But, and this is a big but, at the Mytek's price and given its PCM performance, especially through Firewire in my MacBook Pro setup, coupled with its ability to act as a preamp with a choice of digital or analog volume control and headphone amp, you can look at its DSD capability as a bonus. Nearly a freebee. I will also mention, mainly so people cannot point out that I didn't, it is possible to rip SACD's but this process is DIY intensive in every sense so its appeal will be for a limited few and its my feeling you already know who you are and how to do it.

To get native DSD playback, you have to do some work. Your computer has to be up to the task, Mytek recommends a minimum of 8GMB of RAM (but keep in mind one of computer audio's first rules which states - the more memory the better), you have to use one of the Media Players mentioned, and you have to download and setup some drivers. No big deal. What is a big deal is the level of performance you get from the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC with regular-old PCM-based music but when coupled with native DSD playback you've got one very compelling product.



Footnote 1. I am including this in-depth description from Mytek here because it does not appear in the user manual...yet (the online version should be updated to include this information shortly). There have been a handful of cases where owners found they needed to reduce the output of the DSD DAC beyond what was offered by the "Trim Level" control to better mate with their system. Mytek introduced the "GAIN PAD" option as described below to address these cases.

Stereo192-DSD-DAC factory output is designed as follows:

XLR output DEFAULT:

Average level (0 VU) = +4dBu= 1.228 VRMS on XLR (between pin 2 and 3)
Output trim (adjustable in menu) = -18dBFS
Max output (sinewave) 9.79V RMS or 13.84V Peak or 27.69 V Peak to peak (Voltage swing)

This is the typical professional recording setting well handled by professional and some hi-fi equipment typically powered by +/-15V power rails (or larger).

It's recommended for Hi-Fi systems with well designed high headroom preamps and amps.

Output TRIM:

Output TRIM affects both XLR and RCA outputs exactly proportionally.

XLR:

Mytek DAC output can be trimmed (within the menu) in 1dB steps between -14dB and -18dB = +4dBu=1.228VRMS on XLR:

When set at -14dBFS trim the XLR out is:

Average level (0 VU) = +4dBu= 1.228 VRMS on XLR (between pin 2 and 3)
Output trim (adjustable in menu) = -14dBFS
Max output (sinewave) 6.14V RMS or 8.68V Peak or 17.37 V Peak to peak (Voltage swing)

This is the typical professional mastering setting well handled by professional and some hi-fi equipment typically powered by +/-15V power rails (or larger).

The-14dB setting results in LOWER output from the DAC. It's recommended for Hi-Fi systems which have problem handling -18dB default. -15 and -16dB trim settings are in between the two.

GAIN PAD shown with 4 jumpers in the Default OPEN position
XLR output GAIN PAD:

GAIN PAD is a set of 4 jumpers accessible after removing the top DAC cover. The DEFAULT is Jumpers OPENED. When jumpers SHORT the pairs of pins, additional IV resistors are inserted into DAC circuit and output GAIN is Lowered by 6dB (twice in voltage terms).

PAD affects both XLR and RCA outputs exactly proportionally:

Average level (0 VU) = +4dBu= 1.228 VRMS on XLR (between pin 2 and 3)
Output trim (adjustable in menu) = -18dBFS
Max output (sinewave) 9.79V RMS or 13.84V Peak or 27.69 V Peak to peak (Voltage swing)

This is a non-typical setting intended for hi-fi equipment which cannot handle large signals well (typically powered by less than +/-15V power rails).

INSERTING THE GAIN PAD results in LOWER output from the DAC. It's recommended for Hi-Fi systems which have problems handling standard XLR levels (are distorting or are too loud).

RCA outputs:

The standard average level on consumer RCA is defined as -10dBV = 0.312 VRMS. This is pretty much implemented in most standard mass produced off-the-shelf sound equipment. This equipment typically uses lower power rails (often +/-5V) and consequently has a lower Signal to Noise Ratio than XLR equipment.

Most Hi-Fi equipment designs are hybrid—they use RCAs, but on higher voltage rails, thus capable of handling larger signals.

Mytek DAC RCA output takes advantage of this: the default RCA average output (-18dBFS trim) = 0.614 VRMS.

In most cases this level is handled well by Hi-Fi equipment and results in overall better signal performance and sound quality (as opposed to standard of -10dBV which will decrease performance).

If this level is too loud (signal is too loud or distorted) the following steps should be taken by the user:

a) GAIN PADS should be inserted - this will lower the signal by 6dB resulting in output = 0.307 RMS, pretty much within -10dBV standard

OR

b) If smaller adjustment is needed the TRIM function should be used from within the MENU.



Footnote 2. Here are a few sources for free DSD Downloads:
Blue Coast Records
Channel Classics
DSD-Guide
2L
And for further reading on DSD, I'd recommend starting with DSD-Guide.com.

Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC review: Schiit Bitfrost DAC, AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC.

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COMMENTS
firedog55's picture

I bought one of these (30 day trial period is offered) sight unseen based on the feature set and reviews by some audiophiles I trust. 

I'm very happy with it.  The comments about break-in do apply, I found it sounded much better after a few hundred hours of play.

DSD does sound great, but unless you can rip SACD's, the titles are mostly classical. 

Hopefully that will change, and some more of the SACD catalogue in jazz and pop/rock will become available for download.

BTW, my music server is a dual-core ATOM motherboard with only 2MB of RAM onboard. I'm running Windows 7 32bit, and have had no problem playing back DSD.

I don't find much of a difference between USB and FW on my setup.

I think this DAC is a real value for the price and the feature set. I think it sounds as good as some DACs that go for double its price.  The Preamp section is also pretty good.

If you are interested, Sonore has also come out with a native DSD capable DAC with fewer features, but also a few hundred dollars less expensive than the Mytek. It was favorably reviewed on ComputerAudiophile.com by a Mytek owner. They are also producing a USB>SPDIF converter that not only works with PCM, but will convert DSD so it can be played back on non DSD capable   DACs. http://sonore.us/index3.html ;  http://sonore.us/index2.html

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

The Memory issue obviously depends on a number of factors - OS, Media Player, what options you're using - memory play, hog mode, what else the computer is doing, even the size of the track (the Penderecki track I referred to is 750MB)...So I think it's safe to say that 8MB is a good general-use kinda number.

I've recently added a few DSD-ready DACs to the list. I'm due to receive the Fostex when its ready but I am definitely interested in trying others including the Sonore.

Esprit's picture

The FW isn't Hot swapping and hot plugging. 

Always remember to turn off first to remove and insert the wire

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Never "hot swapping' any live connection including USB.

firedog55's picture

I inadvertantly pulled the USB plug the other day while hot, and the DAC couldn't do any playback until I restarted both it and the server. Lucky I didn't do some actual damage.

Esprit's picture

The trim is not operating in "bypass mode"

Michael Lavorgna's picture

What gave you the impression I suggested it was?

mytek's picture

Hi Michael

Thanks for excellent and informative review. I greatly appreciate including my technical comments. 

The firmware 1.6.4 along with the version manual is being prepared for release in the next few days. In meantime I have just posted firmware 1.6.3.b2 in the support section of the website. This one does have trim in bypass mode as well as few other minor rearangements in menu. 

Michal at Mytek New York

Esprit's picture

It was an affirmation, not a correction.

(The manual does not explain it)

 

The best sound is achieved in bypass mode.

labjr's picture

I'm wondering if you got to compare the two DSD sampling rates or got to listen to 128xDSD recordings with this DAC?

As I've mentioned elswhere, SACDs I've listened to had some things that I liked better than 96khz PCM, but I felt PCM was easier to listen to in the end.  I'm wondering if 128xDSD ups the ante here?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...was 2.8224MHz / 64xDSD.

That said, 64xDSD was very compelling and I'm not so sure you can draw file format conclusions without counting in any number of other variables in the playback chain.

mytek's picture

Generally 128xDSD should be better by definition. The only fair comparison for this would be the use of files created from analog source using the same ADC machine in 64x and 128x mode, for example our Mytek 8X192 ADC or  Korg boxes. Upsampling or downsampling between them does not really do justice because of conversion artifacts.

However, you could try to upsample an original 176 or 192k PCM file. The originals _guaranteed_ to be original PCM at this 176 or 192k  would be fo example a Reference Recordings recording by prof. Keith Johson. You could convert this PCM file to 64xDSD and also to 128xDSD and play the resulting files. Korg Audiogate converter is quite good. Conversions would be parallel, so this would be a relatively fair comparison. Pls let us know what you make of results once you hear them.

Michal at Mytek New York

labjr's picture

Thanks Michael and Michal

I can only comment on different discs we've compared in a couple of universal players. Myself and a couple friends noticed the SACD had a lush midrange but that something was still missing compared to 192KHZ LPCM. 

By no means a scientific study. We've never heard the source tapes. We have a limited amount of equipment and resources we could use. Also, with most of the rock/pop I listen to it seems much more difficult to determine the provenance of anything. But we have fun anyway. 

BTW, I found 96KHZ compelling until I heard 192KHZ. Interestingly, I realized more about what's missing when looking back. I find it hard to go back and listen to CDs anymore.

A couple of questions for Michal: Digtal artifacts don't occur when converting from PCM to DSD?  Do they occur when converting from DSD to PCM? Would it make any sense to convert from DSD64X to 176KHZ or 192KHZ ?

Thanks

mytek's picture

Hello (labjr),

Thanks for asking this question, it's very interesting as we all are still lloking for answers on the professional side of the recording industry as well. DSD vs PCM discussion, once arousing great passions, is coming back again as both record producers and audiophiles give DSD another look, once the format freed itself and has taken on new life in the form of DSD dowloads, now easily accessible to anyone wanting to release music in this format.  There is a number of AES papers written on the subject both for and against superiority of one or another, the fact remains is that all this is inconclusive in terms of "scientific" assesment.  Main reason being that both formats have artifacts the other format does not have (DSD has high frequency  noise, while PCM has digital filter artifacts) and these artifacts are too small to be conclusevily measured in terms of affecting sound quality, so the ears remain the judge, making the issue "subjective" , hence the continuing debate.

My (short) take on this:

PCM: Almost all PCM ADC and most DACs are built around two blocks 

-DSD like delta sigma modulator (often 5-6 bits) which generate "DSD like" raw data

-Digital decimation filters to reduce this signal to typically 24 bit PCM

These digital filters produce artifacts (preecho, ringing) that are being moved away from audio spectrum as the sample rate goes up. So 192k PCM will be less afected by these than 96k and so on , 44k being the worse as they cut into the audible band. IMO these give the sound the "PCM" signature. As you up sample rate the sound gets more and more relaxed or closer to "analog" or "dsd". At 192k being really really close.

DSD: DSD used to use 1 bit modulators but often these days it's built around same modulator as in PCM (5-6 bit) and then "remodulated" to 1 bit DSD. DSD does not have digital filters so it's one step purer in that sense.

The main issue with DSD raw data is that its signal at 64xDSD (SACD) contains high frequency noise that rises up above about 25k. An SACD player (or our DAC for instance) would have gentle filter that would keep this noise flat at resonable levels, so it is usually not an issue, but the question remains" is it audible"? And if it's is it bad? Some people think it may even act as a pleasant softening dither, but the Q is still open.

128xDSD is essentially DSD at twice the speed and I'd advocate anyone making new DSD recordings to use this one. IMO it's a bit more transparent and there is no noise issue with it really (noise does not raise until about 50k). 

Having said all this , I want to stress that differences btwn 192k and 64xDSD and 128xDSD are very small. They can't be determined in one A/B test. 

How to compare these fromats?:

Playing disc of different recordings in different formats on stock commercial players may only provide some clues but by no means any proof. There are too many variables, recording itself, unknown of production process, unknown of how hardware is implemented, what happened at pressing plant etc etc.

The only way to be able to tell anything really is to take a piece of the same hardware (like our Mytek 8x192ADDA professional converter) and record the same live acoustic session to 3 formats simultaneously using 3 same units, one at 192k , one at 64xDSD and one at 128xDSD.   I'll be working on getting such a material together at the next controlled recording opportunity that falls in place. Even so one can argue there could be other implementations of hardware to squeeze even more performance from given format, so I would never excpect straight answer of superiority of PCM over DSD or viceversa.

However- it happens that statistically the musicians and producers with ears, I have learned to trust, (some people just have great ears and great sesitivities), do like liquidity of DSD , in a sense that they get involved in it for hours and hours of listenign while at the same they can listen to just one CD and then just turn it of. 

I belive both formats, DSD and hi-speed PCM have great future and I always suggest to producers, that they record at highest resolution they can, PCM or DSD and use the best mics and best gear, because this is needed to make the music that people will come back to over and over again in the future.

Hope this vague answer clarifies a bit where we are now. 

Best Regards, Michal at Mytek, New York

PS: There are artifacts with any conversion. Conversion never makes a 100% copy. There is always some loss. It's math and rounding. There are good converter softwares and other not so great. OS SRC for example are typically horrible. Korg Audio Gate is quite ok for all DSD, PCM stuff. I have not carefully listened to what's in Pure Music, Audirvana , JR , HQ and other players, I suppose it's easy to make a good sounding DSD>PCM conversion BUT , when DSD is converted to 96/192k PCM some people try to filter out the high frequency noise so it's not there, not visible on spectrogram, which IMO is a mistake. Big chunk of quality gets thrown out with this noise. 

192k>DSD conversion is actually easier in that sense, noise gets added, not substracted.

With a simple spectrogram tool and my ears I can usually tell which PCM download originates from an SACD or which SACD has actually been made by upsamplig a CD. IMO record companies should start to provide this information (how the download was produced exactly) to accompany all high resolution dowloads. I hope market will start requesting this soon. After all they charge premium for "high resolution" PCM OR DSD _recording_. 

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Thanks for that detailed response Michal. Lots of food for thought.

valenroy's picture

Dear Michael,

 

I am a fellow user of the Mytek and I appreciate that you have written a fantastic review piece for this DAC. After reading your review and a few others from other web sites of this particular DAC, I realised that the performance of the headphone output was never discussed and always neglected. With your experience with headphones (noticed you have the wonderful STAX SR-5 and ATH-W1000), how would you have compared it to the other popular headphone amplifiers out there like the Schiit Lyr, Burson HA-160 or the likes of those that you have experience with? I am currently using a pair of Audez'e LCD-2 rev.2 with the DAC and I am very curious as to the degree of performance I can have over the in-built headphone outputs by using dedicated headphone amplifiers and would really appreciate your personal take and assessment of this. Thank you for your attention.

 

Best Regards,

Ivan (Singapore)

Michael Lavorgna's picture

And the unfortunate answer is it appears as if my ATH-W1000 was stolen during a weekend trip and I did not want to hold up this review.

I've been in touch with Michal from Mytek and he's been kind enough to extend the loan period so I can run a few more file comparisons. And if I can get a replacement set of headphones in time, I will report on this as well.

In general, I do not focus on headphone amps since InnerFidelity is the destination for all things headphones.

daneinspain's picture

Michael, congrats on fantastic write-up with thorough descriptions of sonics in both dsd and pcm. I was wondering if you have tried the converter as a pre-amp, connected directly to power amp and would like to comment on the SQ (via rca and xlr out)? If not, now that Michal has agreed to let you play with the unit a bit longer, maybe could do it?

BTW, in the review you mention Korg's Audiogate software can play back in native dsd, which I believe may be incorrect (?).

Regards

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I was wondering if you have tried the converter as a pre-amp, connected directly to power amp and would like to comment on the SQ (via rca and xlr out)? If not, now that Michal has agreed to let you play with the unit a bit longer, maybe could do it?

I did not use it as preamp directly into an amp but agree, as with the other preamp/DACs I've reviewed, this is an important feature. I need to get a suitable amplifier for this purpose and I'm working on it but am unsure at this point if it will arrive in time for use with the Mytek.

BTW, in the review you mention Korg's Audiogate software can play back in native dsd, which I believe may be incorrect (?).

You are correct - I should not have listed the Audiogate software since it does allow native DSD playback, rather it's main purpose is for DSD-PCM conversion. I've made a correction in the review.

Thanks again for the excellent comment and correction.

labjr's picture

Michal,

Thanks for the explanation. I really appreciate designers who participate in the forums. We all get a better understanding of how things work.

Regards

 

newby11's picture

Please do explore and comment on the preamp function on this and future DACs with preamp functionality. This is an important criterion in terms of value for the dollar. Thanks.

Xinlisupreme's picture

Hi Michael,

thank you for your beautiful reviews.

Could you tell us the sound differences with Wadia 121?

Thanks,

Alberto.

Esprit's picture

When we could have measurements of the HW reviewed on AudioStream? smiley

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...there are no plans to include measurements in our reviews.

Esprit's picture

Umpf: digital products and no measurements (it's strange...)?

Will we find the same product reviewed and measured in other magazines of the group?

TIA

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Strange? Consider that rhetorical x 2.

Will we find the same product reviewed and measured in other magazines of the group?

Only by chance.

Esprit's picture

It is rhetorical in the U.S., not in Europe (different points of view based on different background...) laugh

Thanks anyway

labjr's picture

Do you know if JA has plans to review this DAC in Stereophile? Maybe he would offer critique from a more technical perspective complete with test results.   

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...for any future reviews. You could try sending JA an email through the Stereophile site.

stephhance001's picture

The amplifer of the Mytek Stereo 192 DAC is capable of driving my HD800s/LCD-2s to great heights. However, I still prefer my Phonitor but I could live with the amplifer included in this DAC, and again the strong point is most definitely the bass region.

-Missed Fortune

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