Mytek HiFi Manhattan DAC II

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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.

Looking at the specs, a hell of a lot. Plug ins, modules, cards—call them what you like, Mytek gives the buyer choices above and beyond the basic DAC unit (with a preamplifier and headphone amplifier included). MSRP is $5995. But like buying a Porsche or BMW, the Mytek options page can raise the price significantly, up to $8630 (phono card is $1495, network card $995 and balanced headphone adapter $159).

Like the mid life crisis Porsche purchaser, many grey-haired audiophiles are downsizing their digs and gear. Why not go from three or four large boxes to one, sexy, skinny little thing? Even your significant other may approve.

While I’m as mid life and ADD as the next guy, I am not where my components are concerned no matter how shiny or accompanied by glowing words. I’m a meat and potatoes guy. As it happens, I chose the entry level 2015 Rolex Oyster Perpetual (39 mm, Rhodium dial for watch fans) for my long wanted, forever watch. It only tells the time. Elegant and brilliant simplicity. No date, no day, no whizzing chronometer dials, zero complications.

Interesting word ‘complications’ as used in the watch world. You’d never use it in high end audio marketing material, but its root meaning remains with many all-in-one digital boxes. Luckily, Michal Jurewicz is at the helm, a rockstar designer of pro and home high end audio gear.

Below is the Features section. FYI, my review is concerning the DAC only. Like my Rolex, I want my components to do one thing, and brilliantly. If it can do more than one thing, each at the same level, lucky buyer. But my focus was on prospective audiophiles wanting the very best conversion. As such, the headphone amplifier, its use as a digital volume control, phono preamplifier, etc, were not used in this review.

The ‘basic’ Manhattan DAC II comes with an advanced DAC. I ordered my review unit with the ‘Roon Ready’ Network Card which adds network streaming with 24/192k and DSD64 maximum throughput and is compatible with Roon and DLNA/UpnP/Apple Airplay 2/Spotify Connect, iOS, and Android devices for $995. Could I also get rid of my music server and have a one box solution that suits my digital listening?

The unit was shipped from Poland and arrived in pristine condition. Packaging was solid. Included, the unit (with the optional network card installed), a standard IEC power cord (which I discarded and substituted an Anticables Level 3 Reference Series Power Cord) and an Apple remote (Gen 3 with no Siri support). The unit is also shipped with silver metal spikes that matched the ‘Silver Frost’ finish of my review unit. Also included are rubber feet and a USB cable. The II also comes in Gold Silver and Black Matte.

Luxury fit & finish. LED displaying sample rate and analog attenuator value.

Luxury fit & finish. LED displaying sample rate and analog attenuator value.

The shipping box is sizeable and quite heavy, although the actual unit is slim and very striking. Fit and finish are outstanding. Dimensions are WxDxH 432x267x50mm and weight, 8kg.

Features

  • 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

Specifications

  • 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

  • DSD256 

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

My use

I experimented with the DAC for a long time, getting to know its myriad of technical abilities, changing filters, changing other settings, sorting MQA, solving a Roon query, using the Roon-ready Network Card, upgrading my USB and Ethernet cables (thanks Audioquest), all of which gave me time to break in the unit. About 50 hours. However, it does sound very impressive cold out of the box.

I was under the impression that I could use the DAC’s optional network card as a Roon Core. Incorrect. My silly assumption. It’s clearly stated that it’s ‘Roon Ready’. To use the DAC as a streamer, I had to download the mconnect iOS app and use it as remote control for TidalHiFi. So, no Roon without an off board Roon Core. As I’m a big fan of Roon (now with Tidal HiFi and Qobuz—review forthcoming), I used the USB input to connect to my Antipodes Audio CORE Server, which houses a Roon Core. The sound was spectacular from both USB and mconnect Ethernet source. But for lengthy or long term ownership, I would lean USB/Antipodes CORE Music Server. The Antipodes server is just so damn good.

Volume Control

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.

Filters

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.

Sound

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.

v Bel Canto Design e.One DAC3.5VB D/A Converter with VBS1 Power Supply

The two box Bel Canto came in for a healthy $4990 almost seven years ago, an eon in digital years. I reviewed the single box DAC2.5 DAC Controller a few years earlier and was very impressed. The 3.5 with its outstanding outboard power supply gave me a lot more of what I had enjoyed on the 2.5.  Bel Canto has transferred all its considerable digital know how into its own multi task, digital wunderkind, the ‘Black’, a three-box, do everything you’ll ever need (incl. phono and amplification) for $55,000. Crazy price, insane sound. Still the best digital I have experienced. Truly sublime.

The 3.5, even with a brilliantly designed power supply, can’t compete with the its big brother at over ten times the price, but the Bel Canto sound design shines through all John Stronczer’s products. Very neutral with all tessitura in complete balance and shaped musically. And while the imaging and soundstage are impressive on the 3.5, the Mytek’s depth and width of soundstage and incredibly accurate instrumental timbre with concomitant imaging are even more impressive. Exceptional, in fact. Vocal timbres are fantastic on both—Frank singing Willow Weep for Me is one of my tests and sounded very beautiful on both DACs. But, for a $1000 difference in price, Mytek gives you much more flexibility (to use USB on the Bel Canto, you need to add the $675 Bel Canto uLink USB Converter!), MQA and Roon support, firmware upgrades, trade ups, and is more musical and more dynamic. Add to that the exceptional imaging and soundstage and the much better digital volume control and the choice is made.

As a network streamer

I purchased an AudioQuest Cinnamon RJ/E Ethernet cable ($99) to use for the network streamer option. And, yes, I can hear a difference between my Monoprice ethernet cable and the 10 times the price Cinnamon. The streaming sound from TidalHiFi was excellent with a high degree of definition. Dynamics were mighty and then refined and sweet when called upon. But without Roon, a fanboy like me is always going to be looking for that interface. Be warned, the network card took more than a few hours to lose a slightly brighter sound than direct from USB. Listen casually for a week before you judge.  Mconnect worked just fine (go for the paid version—you’ll lose the annoying ads), but with only streaming—and with a server a rack away chock-a-block with a Terabyte of superb albums—I’d always opt for the Roon enabled server with USB and get the best of both worlds. But, if it means getting rid of one more box and you don’t mind dining out only at Tidal HiFi, then the optional network card is a very good buy.

Conclusion

I have read the Manhattan II’s optional phono card is very competitive and the headphone amplifier is a revelation for those who use headphones. It wouldn’t surprise me, knowing Jurewicz’s design prowess. It also doesn’t surprise me that he has designed a superb volume control for both the digital and analog domain. Your choice, or bypass them completely, and it’s potentiometer heaven. The network card is also a very viable downsize option if you dig streaming above all.

But it’s the conversion and myriad of settings that’s the star turn. And why I would purchase it. The 55K Black is out of reach for most, but the Mytek Manhattan DAC II, ten times cheaper, gives you much of what Black delivers.

There are a lot of DACs at this price for you to audition. I’ve heard 25K DACs that made me want to run for the exit. There are some very good cheaper models on the market, including a very fine one from Mytek. But $5999 will get you Jurewicz’s very best digital. If you are in the market, I suggest you buy one and immediately cue up the Dudamel/Strauss/MQA file and allow the DAC’s exceptional design to transport you to a musical place that I’ve found rare in the digital world. Very highly recommended.

Further information: Mytek HiFi