There is this one kind of reviews I don’t want to take, the ones I am not sure I will enjoy. I prefer analog to digital sources and if I must spent some time listening to zeros and ones, I prefer them comin’ out of a ladder DAC and not some ΔΣ of the shelf chip. But I am open to suggestions, new ideas and I have several friends always asking me for relatively affordable components, and those usually come with an Asahi Kasei or ESS chip inside. Mytek, known for being among the first to implement the ESS Sabre chips in their designs, contacted us with an offer I could not refuse, to take a closer look at the second iteration of their Brooklyn converter, the DAC+ with the latest of the crop Sabre 9028pro chip inside.
A voice screamed: But that’s identical to the non + version
That voice was right, apparently there is no difference between the former Brooklyn DAC and the later Brooklyn DAC+, not on the exterior. Not a matter of cost saving, more of an intentional evolution. In fact, inside things are quite different. The new Sabre 9028pro packs 8 filters, pre-loaded from ESS and ready to use at the touch of a button. Speaking of which, the DAC+ has many of those, buttons that is, that paired to the double LED displays offer all possible and imaginable options, more than one would ever consider possible. Besides picking the right filter one can choose whether to use an analog or digital volume potentiometer, select input, adjust the screen’s intensity, trim the phono stage, even change the color of the LED that lights up the Mytek logo on the front panel. I went for magenta.
The back plate is at least as interesting as the front, with balanced and single ended outputs, an extra RCA input, SPDIF, AES/EBU, USB, Coaxial, word clock in and even out. There is a ground binding post useful for the tonearm cable and a 12V DC input next to the IEC. Those last two options are very, very interesting. The DAC+ keeps the phono stage module the old Brooklyn introduced which is quite good actually, and for being an extra it is more than welcome. With selectable gain for MM and MC cartridges this is probably enough for many potential users out there. I tested it with a few of my cartridges and you wont be disappointed at all. It is clean, with low coloration and fairly dynamic sound. You wont be able to better it easily with less than $500, the price of say an iFi iPhono or ProJect’s phono box DS+. As for the 12V DC input, I will come back later on because it is crucial soundwise.
The overall impression is of a very well built product, with quality components throughout, attention to detail and nice touches. Rubycon audiophile grade capacitors, shielded SM power supply, Altera Cyclone FPGA and XMOS receiver, at least 5 crystal oscillators and an all new, sealed Apple’s remote control. The box also contained a stock power cord and a Hama USB cable, which I didn’t use as I prefer my Das Klang (pricey) USB cable. Mytek also packs a few micro jumper for lowering the output, in case the DAC+ overloads the amplifier. This was not the case with my ASR so I left the output untouched.
So what else is new?
Once there with the new chip, that offers slight specs improvement over the already stellar ones of the older ESS Sabre 9018, they decided to revise other parts of the Brooklyn design. Actually by going through the list there is not much left unaltered.
- Higher grade, more transparent and less noisy analog attenuator circuit.
- Improved analog input performance
- Improved Phono Stage transparency
- Improved Headphone Amp sound (more detail, more definition)
- Dual mono analog path
I have no reason to doubt them but I know only one way for checking their story. Called a friend who owns the former Brooklyn DAC and he dropped it by my place, along with a linear power supply. Putting the two DACs one next to the other, one atop of the other actually, was a revelation. First it confirmed my impressions from audio shows, that the new DAC+ is a bit smoother. Not silky smooth, that was never the Mytek house sound but smoother yes. You won’t be loosing the notorious punch and deep, fast bass the Brooklyn always packed but you will notice a slightly more human approach to vocals, a tad less sibilance with the less than perfect recordings.
The soundstage is also deeper, wider and taller. That was almost unexpected, as the Brooklyn was already among the best in class. There is no doubt this is a better product than the one it replaces. Not by a long margin, not a revolution but a clear step ahead, an evolution. And it gets even better with a linear power supply. The Brooklyn DAC+ packs what appears to be the same switching mode supply as the Brooklyn and once connected to a LPS the sound loses a bit of edge, turns into a more analog one. Mytek is aware of this positive effect a linear power supply instills and while not offering one made in-house they do suggest using one for better result:
Mytek Brooklyn DAC is equippped with external 12VDC power supply input. There is some sound quality improvement (particularly deeper base and better soundstage) when a large external power supply is used.
A small mention for the headphone section. On the manual a whopping 6W with 0.5A is reported, not sure at what loading but definitely more than enough for most headphones out there. Unfortunately my can collection is limited in number, with nothing more than a pair of Hifiman Susvara, a pair of Abyss 1266 and a cheapo Superlux 681evo. The first two are extremely hard to drive and the Brooklyn pushed them up to a certain point. The Superlux was comfortably driven but you wouldn’t expect me to draw any significant conclusions from a $40 plastic can? I am more than positive in saying that the headphone section will be a nice match for most “normal” cans, as in not watt thirsty planars that cost three times more than the DAC itself. And even with the Susvara and the Abyss the Brooklyn offered very good performance, with good control over the lower frequencies, extended frequency response and tons of detail. For those who want to take full advantage of the headphone section, Mytek offers a 2xjack to 4pin balanced adapter discounted at $159, though it can be easily built for less than $30 in half an hour’s time.
And what about the others?
This is probably the most relevant market segment, the one that produces more sales and everybody wants a piece. I kept the Brooklyn DAC+ for more than 3 months and during this longer than usual period I had the chance to put it up against half a dozen DACs, all of which were served digital files from my Odroid C2 streaming computer running Archphile OS.
Among these there was the third generation of the M2Tech Young DAC, which was paired to the company’s linear, ultra low noise power supply and since this new version became much more detailed and fast, it closed the gap between the two converters. The M2Tech comes with a sleek cell phone app and also plays MQA, a first for the Italian brand. Slightly less priced and with similar extras, except for the integrated phono stage which is unique to Mytek, the Young sounded only a bit warmer and at the same time maybe a fraction more restricted in terms of soundstage. Both DACs excel in detail retrieval, a characteristic common to the other major contender of this price bracket, the Chord Hugo 2.
The Hugo 2 follows the lead of the already highly acclaimed Hugo with some added filters, four of them actually, that can mitigate some of the edginess in the upper octaves, and as per Chord tradition, offers a remarkable headphone amplifier paired with true portability. Different if not almost unique in this category the Hugo 2 uses a field programmable gate array, aka FPGA chip on which conversion and filter functions are programmed with proprietary, in house developed code. As a long time user of Chord’s entry-level portable DAC, the Mojo, I was expecting the Hugo 2 to draw closer to the warm-ish, more relaxing sound of the Mojo, which I clearly preferred over the first generation Hugo. A bit disappointed I must admit when I realized that the Hugo 2 remains slightly cold and un-involving, even with the “warmest” filter selected. Despite not having any major flaws, except maybe for that slight edginess on upper mid range, the Hugo 2 failed to captivate my imagination, it sounded a bit sterile through my ATC speakers. FPGA conversion is not the definitive cure for all things digital, not yet at least.
The opposite timbre, warm and sensual, was true for the big grey DAC underneath the lot. Coming from Lab12, a company that won’t be ringing a bell for most of you, the DAC1 Special Edition is based on the Philips TDA1543 ladder DAC chips, a bit like the Border Patrol DAC that was so favorably reviewed by Scot Hull a few of months ago, only that the Lab12 DAC1 SE uses 4 chips per channel instead of one and while not having tube rectification offers thermionic I to V conversion. Not only this was the most analog, fatigue-less sounding DAC in the category but it was also antithetical to every other DAC for offering nothing more than plain vanilla conversion of up to 24/96 PCM files. No DSD, no MQA and no preamplifier, no headphones output, no nothing. If functionality is something you want then this is no DAC for you. Soundwise though it is the most interesting of the lot and made me one hell of an impression especially with female voices and small-scale orchestras.
Bottom line of this review, if you are the owner of the former Brooklyn DAC keep it and live happily ever after. The new DAC+ is better, offers more adaptability thanks to the new ESS filters and a better overall sound both in terms of tonality and soundstage, but not that far from the old one to make you sell the one you already have and invest extra money on the Plus.
The Brooklyn DAC+ takes its place in the panorama of mid level DACs and will help Mytek keep a dominant position on the market. I cannot think of another device as capable as this one, with a complete set of functions including a headphone amplifier, pre-amp and configurable phono stage on top of an already good DAC.
One last piece of advice, no matter which version you own or are about to buy, do yourselves a favor and buy a linear power supply. There are several ones that can be built of bought for as low as a couple of hundred dollars, and they do make a nice difference. The same applies for practically any given DAC that comes equipped with switching mode power supplies and I would not even consider playing with the Brooklyn or the M2Tech Young without going linear.
Do keep in mind that digital converters costing in the two thousand dollars range (give or take) have come a long way, and while not 100% exempt from small flaws, they will provide a level of reproduction that was unthinkable only a few years back. Which is more than true for the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, a converter as fully featured as one can only dream off.
PS: I left MQA out of this review on purpose. Some files sound “better” on MQA while others don’t but the format has still miles to cover before becoming mainstream, in fact the only everyday source for MQA remains Tidal streaming which it self is not my cup of tea and more importantly comparing FLACs with MQAs from Tidal is of no use at all as we don’t know if these come from the same master or not. Until there is something more substantial to write about my reviews will still focus on the most dominant format, FLAC, which is the source for most of the DSD files out there too. That said Mytek has been on the edge of MQA playback since its launch and I cannot think of a better, almost affordable DAC for those interested in MQA.
User Manual with all pertinent technical details here
Complete review system here
Digital front end includes:
- Rockna Wavedream DAC (MSB modules)
- Chord Mojo
- Odroid C2 streamer running Archphile OS, linear power supply
- Synology j216 NAS with Seagate HDDs
- TP Link Archer gigabit router with linear power supply
- BAASKE medical grade ethernet filter
- Nordost Heimdall 2 ethernet cables
- Das Klang USB cable
CONVERSION: up to 384k, 32bit PCM, native DSD
up to DSD256, DXD, 130dB Dynamic Range
MQA HI-RES DECODER: built in certified hardware MQA™ decoder
DIGITAL INPUTS: USB2 Class2 (OSX, Linux driverless, all formats), AES/EBU (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP), 2x S/PDIF (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP), Toslink/ADAT 2x S/PDIF (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP), SDIF3 DSD up to DSD256
CLOCK: “Mytek Femtoclock Generator™” 0.82ps internal jitter, Wordclock Input and Output (allows stacking multiple units for multichannel operation, includes mch DSD)
HEADPHONE OUTPUTS: Reference High Current,High transient Headphone Amp, 500mA, 6 Watts,dual headphone jacks, designed to drive hard to drive headphones.
BUILT-IN ATTENUATOR: Choice of 1dB step analog attenuator, separate for main out and head- phones,1dB step digital 32 bit attenuator and purist relay bypass.
BUILT-IN ANALOG PREAMP: Line level input or Phono M/M, M/C input, relay controlled.
AUDIO INTERFACE FUNCTION: All digital inputs can be routed into computer via USB2. Allows connection of external digital sources such as CD Players and digitizing ADCs.
REMOTE: Included, universal remote capable
FIRMWARE: Upgradable via USB Control panel
WORLDWIDE POWER SUPPLY
OPTIONAL DC/BATTERY POWER INPUT: 12VDC
WEIGHT: 4lbs, 2kg
WARRANTY: 2 years