MYTEK MANHATTAN DAC II
Like most progressive digital manufacturers, Brooklyn’s Mytek HiFi ships multi-use, single-box audio solutions. Basically, full function, highly technical, very capable, one-box-cures-all, digital wiz kids. The Manhattan DAC II is Mytek designer/owner Michal Jurewicz’s top wiz kid.
It’s interesting the name of this unit changes from internet source to internet source. The title of our review is the name as it appears on the Mytek HiFi webpage. Others call it Manhattan II D/A preamplifier-headphone amplifier, Manhattan II, Manhattan DAC 2, and other odds and sods. The reasons for this could be as simple as lack of research, an editor’s personal taste, or, possibly, at first glance, a little confusion as to what this box can actually accomplish.
- World’s highest performance 130dB Sabre 9038 DAC chipset
- 32 bit integer Class 2 USB2 driverless audio interface
- World class transparent analog preamp attenuators
- MQA ® hardware decoder
- 2nd generation Manhattan DAC II electronics
- High Current 1.6 Amp, High Transient, Dual Mono state of the art Headphone Amp easily drives most demanding headphones.
- 32 bit conversion
- PCM 384k
- Oversized dual separate digital/analog power supplies
- Femto clock technology
- USB2 Class 2 driverless 32 bit USB input
- Ultra Transparent Preamp Function with multiple digital and analog inputs
- 2 year warranty
The front of the machine has six controls, incl. On/Off, Left navigation, Right navigation, two user programmable buttons, and a large volume control (when pressed, acts as Menu navigation for configuring the device’s options). On the far right is the dual mono, Headphone Output Section. The large LED displays sample rate and volume level. Also available on the LED are very sensitive volume metres, which I turned off almost immediately. The LED’s font is large, white and bright, but dimmable. If you wish, all of the unit’s functions can be controlled by downloading the ‘Mytek Control Panel’ app after installing the appropriate OS driver. I went old school and used the Apple remote included in the box. Got me to where I wanted to go quickly and efficiently. Well into the review period, I eventually got to my favoured setting, at which time I turned off the display, stashed the Apple remote, and left the unit powered on.
If you’re looking for the very best in conversion or a multi task machine, you won’t want for inputs. Everything in the here and now is looked after. Digital inputs include: USB2 Class2 (OSX, Linux driverless, all formats), AES/EBU (PCM up to 384k, up to DSD128 DOP), 3x S/PDIF (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD128 DoP), Toslink, and SDIF3 DSD up to DSD256. For Analog Inputs, you get RCA Line In switchable to Phono with the optional phono card inserted, a second pair of RCA Line In, and a third pair XLR Balanced Line In. Analogue inputs are routed through the minimal path state of the art analog attenuator directly to analog and headphone outputs. Analogue Outputs include RCA, balanced XLR, simultaneous with 50 Ohm impedance.
Headphone Outputs are Reference High Current, High transient Headphone Amp, 500mA, 6 Watts, 0 Ohm out impedance. With Dual headphone jacks, designed to drive demanding headphones. Balanced operation w/optional Mytek adapter ($159).
Three options for volume control—a choice of 1dB step analog attenuator for main out and headphones, a 1dB step digital 32bit attenuator or (very importantly) a relay bypass.
Mytek uses its Femtoclock Generator 0.82ps internal jitter, Wordclock Input and Output (allows stacking multiple units for multichannel operation, includes mch DSD).
Firmware is upgradable via USB Control Panel App for both Apple and Microsoft.
Both the DAC II and optional network card came with detailed, well-written manuals.
Basically, you’ll want for nothing digitally (or phono, if you wish) and the unit is somewhat future-proof via firmware updates. Also, Mytek HiFi has a generous trade-up policy. See their website for current details.
I think the days of buying a hardened digital box without the ability to upgrade or trade in are gone. Things move very fast in the digital world. As such, you may consider the Manhattan DAC II a digital investment.
Much like the often criticized digital zoom on cameras, many audiophiles eschew digital volume controls and prefer the use of a full featured preamplifier for attenuation. The DAC II gives the owner three options, digital, analogue and bypass. I used the volume control on my Jeff Rowland Continuum S2 Integrated Amplifier with the Mytek in bypass mode, but also with the DAC’s analogue volume control enabled (set to null). The sound in analogue mode was glorious just as it was when bypassed (and good enough bypassed for frugal audiophiles to get rid of their line stage boxes). Yet, I kept returning to the analogue control enabled while using the Jeff Rowland volume control. It had a lusciousness and transparency that was beguiling. Have fun with the settings. You’ll find your system’s sweet spot.
Your personal sound design is as easy as switching between the seven PCM and 3 DSD filters. None may be used during MQA playback, which requires its own filter. I played around a lot with the PCM filters: FRMP (Fast Rolloff, Minimum Phase); SRMP (Slow Rolloff, Minimum Phase); FRLP (Fast Rolloff, Linear Phase); SRLP (Slow Rolloff, Linear Phase); APDZ (Apodizing, fast rolloff, linear phase); HBRD (Hybrid, fast rolloff, minimum phase); and BRCK (Brickwall), and a little with the three DSDs: Low (47.44kHz IIR), Medium (60kHz IIR), and High (70kHz IIR). There is an ‘Auto mode’ provided so the correct DSD filter is chosen automatically by the the rate—Low for DSD64, Medium for DSD128, or High for DSD256. Sound design, indeed. And now Qobuz is on Roon, I’ll be revisiting the filters to hear if I prefer the hi res files Qobuz offers above the MQA on Tidal HiFi. For those interested in this upcoming shootout, I’ll post my thoughts in a comment below at a later date and Karl Sigman will be discussing this in an upcoming Qobuz review.
Each filter performed as advertised and filtered the sound through its particular design philosophy. All sounded somewhat different, all excellent, each retaining the essence of what the Manhattan DAC II does so well, time, tone and space. But, my favourite was with the MQA filter enabled. Sure, with MQA on, I couldn’t fiddle with every file and filter, but as I mentioned, I prefer one thing executed to the best of its ability. Those of you not enamoured or convinced by MQA (I wasn’t at first, but a few professionally curated demos convinced me of its aural prowess) may choose a filter or filters that you will surely adore. And like me with MQA, you’ll stick with it. Simply, trial and error. And a lot of fun researching your favourite.
Now we have the technical settings all in place, let’s have at it.
Out of the box, I heard a clinical but musical sound that hinted at great depths and widths of soundstage. A wonderful box with magic just over the horizon. The fifty hours of break in playback allowed the DAC II to reveal its mastery of the soundstage and control of images. After a particularly long review session, with my mind wandering about reading and chatting, I looked up during Bill Evans’ The Complete Riverside Recordings to see if I was playing my vinyl copy. Close. Very close. I felt my eyes widen. The time and space between the piano notes allowed them to hang with crystalline beauty. With drums and bass in perfect, unfaltering position. Music was flesh.
A wonderful audio salesperson told me once ‘if you like digital’ don’t listen to vinyl’. Meaning, great vinyl can definitely spoil your digital day. That was some time ago and since then digital design has come a very long way. Boxes like this Mytek advance the art. No doubt about it. My ears never ached for vinyl, they never fatigued, even playing through the most thorny, heavily orchestrated orchestral music. The MQA file of Gustavo Dudamel’s fairly recent Berlin/DG Also Sprach Zarathustra was a specific case. The mighty opening was deciphered as Strauss envisioned, with bass dynamics ever changing (very rare in digital recordings of this piece) and the ‘world riddle’ solo played in perfect unison by the three trumpets. Many times the sound is congealed, not specific and definitely not with the time and space a classic vinyl Also Sprach reveals (eg. Reiner on his RCA Shaded Dog). This DG/Dudamel recording is magnificent and should be used in every Mytek Manhattan DAC II demo.
The rabid vinylphile in me loved the DAC II’s sound. A beautiful and, at times, languorous look into the original recorded space with scarily accurate instrumental timbre and an effortless handling of complicated musical passages. Digital is surely not vinyl (and vice versa), but I think those of you with digititus should try and have a listen. I think you’ll not only be very impressed—which great digital can do relatively easily—but be moved, which I’ve found to be a much higher digital hurdle. In fact, I’d say the Manhattan DAC II plays well into five figure digital territory, giving the listener a healthy portion of what money-no-object digiphiles experience.
The DAC’s wonderful soundstage gives us space, the instrumental and vocal timbre the tone, and the coherence and rhythmic flair, the time. Propulsive (macro or micro) musical mechanisms like ostinato synthesized bass (Last Train Home from Pat Metheny’s The Road to You) or scrubbing, syncopated viola accompaniment lines in just about any of Brahms’ symphonic expositions to the cellos and basses at the stormy opening of Die Walküre (Karajan/BPO/DG) are all beautifully experienced in their own time and space as imagined in the original recording sessions. Of course bass is low and very powerful when the composer asks, but it, the midrange and the very sweet treble (check out the 32 divided string parts in their gradual crescendo after the Also Sprach introduction for coherence and time) are always in perfect balance. The DAC won’t sway you to poor recordings, but if the engineer and producer know what they’re doing, the Mytek will tell you the whole story.