Mytek 192 DSD-DAC Preamp

Introduction

This is my take on the Mytek 192 DSD-DAC Preamp. I have been listening to it for weeks and thoroughly comparing with other devices, with a particular attention to the Yulong DA8, both because I have quite a few emails as to how the two compared, and also because of my inherent curiosity, given they both come from the same ESS chipsets family.

These are the main specifications of the Mytek:

– 32 bit Sabre ESS9016 DAC
– SNR: 128dB
– audio playback up to 192 kHz, with built in upsampling feature w/ jitter reduction
– DSD: 64x, 128xD
– Interfaces: USB1.1 (plug and play, up to 96 kHz), USB2.0 (requires driver installation, up to 192 kHz); Firewire (up to 192 kHz, developed by TC Connect, same interface used by Weiss)
– Standard AES, SPDIF, optical inputs
– Word Clock output
– Precision programmable analog 1dB step attenuator
– Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs and RCA unbalanced Preamp
– Single ended headphone amplifier

 

Mytek 192

 

Preliminary Thoughts: USB and Firewire interfaces

The Mytek 192DSD has two separate usb inputs. The USB 1.1 requires no driver installation, and allows playback up to 96 kHz. The USB 2.0 and Firewire let the listener play also 192 kHz audio and DSD.
The USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 have a different signature. I believe it depends on the presence of custom drivers and how they are handled by Windows operating system. The USB 1.1 is my reference when listening to the Mytek. With it, the Mytek sounds neutral (warmish side of neutral). The USB 2.0 is shrill sounding. I have read several contrasting feelings about the Mytek DAC on the web, some defining it bright sounding, other defining it smooth sounding. The thing is, it really changes signature depending on the input. The USB 2.0 has is more detailed, but it loses soul and becomes too digital sounding.
The Firewire is, similarly to the USB 1.0, a good input. It’s a bit less smooth, but gains in detail (kind of halfway in tonality / detail retrieval between the USB 1.1 and 2.0 inputs, still on the realistic side) and lets you play up to 192 kHz, plus DSD.
As a PC owner, I am reviewing the Mytek as sounding with USB 1.1: that’s the way the Mytek shows its best qualities. The USB 2.0 input, though, is necessary to play both 192 kHz and DSD.

Set-ups:

Digital side:
PC: Windows 8/Foobar2000 -> Acoustic Revive/unbranded USB cables -> Mytek 192DSD
Mac: Lion/Audirvana -> Acoustic Revive (USB) vs Generic Firewire cable -> Mytek 192DSD

Analogue side:
Stax SRM-727A -> Stax Lambda
Audiocats-Modded Stax SRS-001 Mk2 (portable Babystax system)
Headamp AE-2 -> Audio-Technica AD2000, Etymotic ER4 with Forza Audioworks recable

Sound:

The Mytek, the way I set it up, is neutral and laid back sounding. It has tight and powerful bass. The upper bass and midrange are linear; the midrange is particularly polite sounding. This can be both a plus or a minus, depending on the rest of the system. The highs are smooth, clean and detailed, and never stick out, like it used to happen with Audio-gd NFB9.2 DAC. Compared to such unit, the soundstage is less wide but the treble is less piercing.

The neutrality and the polite midrange of the DAC are the main aspects that define it. It’s an all arounder which can adapt equally well to the “heavy sounding” headphones like Sennheiser HD600 or 650, as well as aggressive, midrange-heavy Audio-Technica AD2000 or Grado’s.
The reason for I am calling the midrange “polite”, is that, while technically it renders everything neutrally, it isn’t very capable to accompany the music. The midrange stays cold. By consequence, at times, the music sounds like it should transmit more, it should push more, but it doesn’t and rather than jumping at you, it stays “sit”.
I would personally match it with a tube amplifier, to try to make the sound more emotional.

In my tests, I quite liked it with all the headphones I had at hand, since the AD2000 didn’t sound bright and their upper midrange excess wasn’t problematic (like, indeed, they sounded out of the Yulong DA8), and the Etymotic ER4 sounded simply the way they are meant to be. It sounded also very natural with the Stax SR-001 Mk2 (the in-earspeaker), with a beautiful sense of music flow, almost “reassuring” in tonality. In all cases, I also liked the clean, well laid out soundstage, which can sound at times more “messy” with more aggressive devices.

My favourite pairing is with the Stax Lambda.The frequency response of the Lambda isa bit off neutral, as its a bit too bright, but it has got a superb musicality with a very nicely extended treble, beautiful midrange and bass. The pairing was a bit lean at times, but there were several passages where the midrange raised in fullness, almost enveloping, and capable to convey a huge emotional charge.
I have been listening to all kind of music, ranging from psychedelic/art rock (Can, Jefferson Airplane, Zappa, Yes, the list goes on indefinitely) to electronic music (modern Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, Depeche Mode, Shulman, Amethystium), Orchestral music (Mahler, Bach, Penderecki, Philip Glass,).
Although the Mytek has a harmless sound (with no fatal flaws sticking out, at least with Usb 1.1), it lacks a realistic, intense soul.

As a guess, analytical headphones, like the dynamic Sennheiser HD800 or the electrostatic Sennheiser HE60 or monitors like the Stax SR-4070 wouldn’t be a good choice with the Mytek, unless putting a tube amplifier in the middle.

When comparing the Yulong DA8 and the Mytek 192, based on the same chip, I like to think they are 50% equal, 50% different. Obviously, this could be said in comparing anything, but let’s just pretend it’s true, so to underline similarities and differences better.
Both have similar soundstage width, similar smoothness in the highs, pulsive bass, comparable level of details.
The Mytek has a bit more polished spatial presentation.
The Yulong has a more energic presentation, dense and lively soundstage, slightly less polished but offering a fuller sound and more authoritative personality.
The Mytek is more laid back with classical music. The Yulong is groovy, it feels more enveloping and “ready to rock”.
Obviously, these are just tendencies, becuase all lies in the choice of the headphones/speakers and the rest of the system.

Amplification

The Mytek offers an integrated preamplifier, with the dual choice of digital and analogue attenuation. And it has a headphone amplifier. I have tried the preamplifier by setting my Stax SRM-727A in “direct mode”, which bypasses its own volume control. The analogue control is fine, while the digital attenuation loses dynamics and sounds clinical.

I have been trying the headphone amp with the Etymotic ER4 and the Audio Technica AD2000, but I haven’t had a good impression. The headphone amp is not up to the rest of the device. It sounds digital, clinical, soulless. It’s quite skeletal, flattened. I would advice to skip using it, it doesn’t do justice to the DAC.
Using the Headamp AE-2 (a very well made portable amp, but still a portable amp) makes a lot of difference and the sound with both headphones is much more natural.

Conclusion

The Mytek should be mainly considered as a good option for people owning a Mac, or giving up using its Usb 2.0 for most of the time.
What’s good with the Mytek 1.1 is that it doesn’t screw up the sound, while there are several, so called ‘neutral’ sources, which can sound peaky or digital, and such nasty qualities go through and are very hard to get rif of… it’s also why the usb 2.0 of the Mytek should be avoided, unfortunately.

Anyway, this hobby is not just about having a flat system, but to maximize the sound quality.
In order to do so, with the Mytek, one needs to pair it with something special and musical, as well as revealing. The description of my experience with Stax SR-Lambda goes in this direction.

The Koss ESP950 would be another great choice, and unlike the Stax Lambda, they are in production and easier to come by.

From a connectivity standpoint, it offers a balanced output, since it opens up possibilities to make especially dynamic cans sound better.

Ultimately, if considering to buy the Mytek today, one cannot help but think that, unlike when it came out, it’s not the only unit offering DSD for a reasonable price, but there are now better sounding offers, for comparable price or even less premium.