Got my EVO over the weekend and promptly put my foot through the ceiling. No, the two events weren’t related, well, not exactly.
I started my day out with some honey-do’s. Crept into the crawlspace over the living room, with it’s great big cathedral ceiling, to finish insulating the attic and wouldn’t you know it, I put my foot through the ceiling. 18′ up in the air.
One, WTF is it with sheet rock? Why in God’s Name would anyone use this crap to build a house? If you can put your fist through it, it’s shit, I mean, seriously? Sheet rock is the best we could do? It’s a flipping wonder more houses don’t simply fall over. And to think of all the time we spend worrying about locks on our doors when a granny with hammer can get in just as easily by going straight through your wall.
Two, if you have 3 year old (twins, in my case), putting your foot through the ceiling is apparently the precise moment when they hear, understand, and ask for clarification on the word “f**k” and it’s many uses. Especially when that word is repeated half a dozen times in full volume from 18′ up over their wondering heads. In all fairness, it was remarkable. Daddy disappears. Suddenly, a giant hole appears explodes with a bang out of the ceiling and then a thunderously magical voices floats down shouting this word, so yes, why wouldn’t a 3 year old go to Mommy and say, “Mommy, why is Daddy shouting f*** f*** f***?” Priceless.
Okay, so, long story to get to the point — the EVO showed up and I did precisely nothing with it until the next day. Instead of watching primer dry, I took the opportunity to hook it up, verify that it worked, and set it on a loop to play for a couple days.
Here it is, that couple of days later. Hole in ceiling is fixed and EVO is in and playing. I am running it with the AES/EBU connection into a Berkeley Alpha DAC. It’s a USB input (only), so the cable I’m using for that is a borrowed 6′ SRT Tesla Tricon.
I cued up a bunch of stuff. Some remastered Seal, Jem, the K2HD version of Jazz at the Pawnshop, Tommy Emmanuel’s Live One, Norah Jones, and some classical music from Trevor Pinnock. First impressions? The EVO “sounds” great — that is, there’s nothing obviously missing from the music. My system still sounds awesome. I’m not sure a mere converter really ought to have a “sonic signature”, but if it does, it wasn’t apparent to me — at least not in comparison to what I’m used to hearing with the Legato. Bass was still tight and full. Mids were still clean and luscious. Highs were still extended. No muddiness. No haze or hash. In a word, it sounded exactly like my Legato.
Anti-climactic? A bit, actually. I had expected it to sound like shit. I mean, the Legato is such a jewel of a performer — I’d successfully used it to beat the crap out of a Lynx PCI card in a head-to-head test — so I had expected the differences to be marked and pronounced. Well, they weren’t. So, on to a more thorough test.
The Alpha has 3 inputs: Toslink, AES, and a BNC connector. I have an Analog Research Technologies Legato USB-S/PDIF converter on the BNC connector already, so all I needed was a way to toggle between them.
I typically listen to iTunes via Amarra. The problem with a/b testing a converter is that Amarra can’t abide by mid-use switching. I’d need to shut it down and restart it all every time I needed to switch between the two converter — which technically was fine, but added several seconds that didn’t help the preservation of my aural memory at all.
So what I did was simply shut down Amarra and started up iTunes without it. To change sample rates (usually Amarra’s job) manually on a Mac requires using Audio Midi, a core Mac utility. No sweat; all I had to do was select the “Properties For” and pick the interface I wanted (Legato|M2Tech HiFace — which must mean that the EVO and the HiFace use the same drivers) and then select the appropriate sample rate under Audio Output. I set both the M2Tech to 44.1 (which is the only option on the Legato) and I was off. Changing converters now was a matter of slewing through the Alpha’s input via its remote and then selecting the matching device in the Sound app in the System Preferences. Not terribly elegant, but very functional.
Let me cut to the chase. It’s possible, with very well recorded material, that playback through the Legato sounded “better” than it did via the EVO. But I wouldn’t swear to it. It’s close — too close for a reliable judgment. I think the appropriate term is “the differences are subtle”, where ‘subtle’ = inaudible or nearly so. I switched between tracks, in the middle of tracks, skipping back and forward for replay of very familiar or complex passages and still got nothing reliable.
Except one thing — the EVO plays louder. Not much, but maybe 6dB or so. Since it’s a 32bit encoder (vs the 16bit Legato), all the data gets shifted which bumps the volume. Don’t ask me to explain it. Anyway, what I did to sort it out was to switch the Alpha’s filter from 1:16 (Filter 1, 16bit) to 1:24 (Filter 1, 24bit) for the BNC interface, which level-matched quite a bit better. End of problem. But that initial problem aside, the converter chosen seemed irrelevant to quality of the playback. So, if Redbook resolution was a non-starter, I figured, what the hell, let’s do a high-res comparo.
Now, I don’t have a lot of high res files. And even less that I already have in Redbook so I could compare the two. But I do have some. So, I went back into Audio Midi, changed the M2Tech to 192kHz, and restarted iTunes. Now, I could select a track in iTunes and the converter in Sound.app and since I was using two separate settings for two separate converters, iTunes apparently was satisfied and the Alpha would show the changes in sample resolutions.
Out of a lack of options, I first chose Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness. Stupendous album. I happen to have this one 3 ways: vinyl, the RVG (Redbook) Remaster and the HDTracks 24bit/96kHz version. And while I submit that the vinyl playback sounds best, the HDTracks version played back via the EVO sounded (perhaps, probably) better than the RVG Remastered version played back via the Legato.
On the flip side, playing a friends 24/192 sampling of the DVD-A of Canonball Adderly’s “Autumn Leaves” from the classic Somethin’ Else, and comparing that the RVG Remastered version produced the opposite result.
So, what makes the most difference? Hi-res or quality recording?
Oh, I should note that the EVO does not come with a power supply when shipped from Italy, so caveat emptor. I bought my unit from Tweek Geek so I got the lucky benefit of having them send along freebie linear power supply. Though there’s been quite a bit of excitement on Computer Audiophile about the potential benefits to be had by upgrading the PSU to either a battery-powered solution or one that uses a high-end linear PSU, I have to say, given the performance so far, I’m not sure I’m inclined to bother with the hassle of creating a battery powered option or shelling out another $500 for a Bolder PSU.
At this point, I have to say that the EVO is doing very well, and much better than I had expected. But has the Legato been dethroned?
More to come. I need to get some more high-res music that might better show off this potential difference between the two as that’ll probably be where the two really separate. And then I’ll take both down to the Big Rig at Command Performance and beat on them both for a day. Ahem.
Right now, all I know is that the M2Tech EVO is a very nicely done piece of kit. Looks great sitting there and the playback I’m getting is very enjoyable. Happiness is. 😉