Mytek Manhattan DAC
Publisher's note: Bruce Brown is a professional recording and mastering engineer and owns Puget Sound Studios.
I’ve actually only been to New York once. It was several years ago at an AES convention at the Javits Center. All the stereotypes are true. It’s a fast paced metropolis with just too much going on to be able to take it all in over just a few days. For the uninhibited, New York must be experienced. You need to eat, sleep and breathe New York to get the full effect. For someone that was born/raised in New York, you know what I’m talking about. You just can’t get that with one visit.
I’m enamored with Polish DAC’s. When I first heard the Mytek Stereo192-DSD-DAC, I had to have 1 or 2 or? Can’t remember how many I ended up with. I use them almost daily in my archival/restoration of master tapes and direct-cut vinyl lacquers. They are small, only about 8” x 8” and 1.5’ thick. I could just stick them in my backpack with my laptop and do any editing I needed to do on the road or even sitting in my living room with a pair of headphones. The headphone amp was just as good as the analog output. I still use them and they are very versatile.
As all good things in life must come to an end, my Stereo192-DSD-DAC’s are seeing less and less use. I have another Polish muse now and it’s called Lampizator! ~ I have one also. Most musical presentation I've ever heard of DSD or anything else. See Bruce's world's first review ~ Publisher
A dealer friend of mine contacted me out of the blue one day and asked if I’d like to try this new Mytek DAC for a while. I knew how I felt during my first love affair with a Polish DAC. You know how you always have a soft place in your heart for your first love? How could I pass this opportunity up? Could Mytek have another winner on their hands?
The first thing I did was go to the Mytek website and read everything I could about this new DAC. Called the “Manhattan”, it was a major departure from their prior releases. This one had BLING! You could just picture the lights and sparkle of New York in the front faceplate! Typical of Mytek, it could do all PCM rates up to 384kHz and even Quad DSD256! Could it be? I had been using my Pyramix/Horus unit for a year or so and needed something that I could use in my other room for archival/restoration editing. It comes in silver as shown, but also gold and matte black. It also impressively for the price, uses a Femtoclock Internal Clock Generator (lps jitter.) Wordclock In and Out, or sync to incoming digital audio input with JET (tm) PLL. Time Domain Jitter Eliminator.
Computer ins and outs are: Firewire 400/800 up to PCM 192k/DSD async, USB2.0 up to 384k/DSD256, USB 1.1 up to PCM 96k, driver-less. DSD DOP256 SDIF DSD input, optional SACD optical input.
My friend brought over the Mytek Manhattan and when I started opening the box, it wasn’t typical Professional Audio packaging. This was more consumer high-end packaging. Great start! By the way, Mytek is relatively new to the high-end retail game, but has been well known in recording studios all over the world. began his professional career in the late 80s working at New York's largest recording studio; they hit factory and skyline. In 1992 he founded Mytek at Manhattan’s Skyline Studio, home to legendary producer Nile Rodgers. in 2002 he helped develop Sony's SA CD project. His products have been used to record hits from David Bowie, Aerosmith, Mariah Carey, James Taylor, Norah Jones and Stevie wonder to name a few.
After perusing the manual, I noticed something that said “Faceplate Controls”. Really? This faceplate and chassis has bling, but to me, it is NOT user friendly. There are 5 buttons on the front faceplate and with the low ambient light of a studio; you are not going to find them. There is writing on the back of the DAC stating, “Made in Poland, Chassis made in California”.
Well California, you need to do a better job of this. As the audiophile population gets older, the first thing that goes are the eyes. I could have done without the bling for a decent On/Off switch. On the front faceplate are the Function 1 and 2 buttons and “Go to” navigation buttons as well as the On/Off button located on the left front. Once you know exactly where these buttons are located, it shouldn’t be a problem, but I kept continuously sliding my fingers across the front trying to find the exact place to push. I did notice on the model with the black faceplate, the buttons are more obvious. But if you get the silver sculpted faceplate, I think Mytek could have done better with this “feature”.
Once you get into the navigation, the GUI is very intuitive. There are options for up sampling, input selection, volume control in analog and digital or by-pass and filter settings. Even comes with a cool Apple remote when you want to use the Manhattan as a standalone Pre-amp/DAC directly connected to your choice of amp.
Another cool thing is the dual headphone output. Mytek has paid extra attention to the headphone output, using a dual-mono design with ultra low distortion having single-ended or balanced drivers. There are two outputs, the upper being correct polarity and the bottom reverse polarity. This would have been more convenient by just changing polarity via the remote (a la Playback) without having to physically change the output. For more versatility, there is a headphone gain switch on the back panel that allows for +6/0/-4dB gain.
I used the Mytek on 2 systems, a Windows 7 Pro laptop using Pyramix and a MacBook Pro using Audirvana+. Setup was painless. When/if you DO read the manual, there are very detailed instructions on how to install drivers and configure your system to get it up and running in no time at all. Inputs are USB 1.0/2.0, Firewire, S/PDIF, Toslink, AES/EBU and SDIF-3 including Wordclock. Outputs are Single-ended RCA and Balanced XLR. The Manhattan even includes analog single-ended and balanced input so you can use it as a full-function pre-amp.
Speaking of full function, Mytek is working on a MM/MC module so the turntable aficionados won’t feel left out! Did I say this thing is versatile? There is also an ST-optical input module in the works as well so folks with EMM Labs/Meitner/Playback Designs can use it in their system. Also, siad to be released in October of 2015 is Mytek has thought of everything!
Now on to the sound; I have several DSD recordings that I go to for reference when auditioning new equipment. Because I also have the Lampizator DSD and the Playback Designs MPS-5, I can see how this stacks up to the best of the best. First let me state, there is a definite improvement over the Stereo192-DSD. I know these DAC’s intimately and in every category, bass/mid/treble tonality, coherence and spatial performance, the Manhattan is a definite winner!
Now switching back and forth between using the Manhattan on one laptop while using either the Lampi or Playback on the other laptop, I could quickly switch between them using my Crane Song Avocet. Level matched within .1dB, the Manhattan didn’t get embarrassed by these heavy hitters. The Manhattan has better bass slam and transient definition than the Lampi, but it lacks the overall body of the upright bass that you get from the Lampi. It felt as though the upright bass was thin on the Manhattan. For midrange clarity, Manhattan had just a bit of glare and smearing. It wasn’t much and you could only tell on female vocalist that overloaded the mic pre. A Shelby Lynn cut that I listen to has her vocals overloading the mic pre sometimes and with some converters, it can be a little harsh or edgy.
On the upper registers, this is where the Manhattan felt a little flat and one-dimensional. The Lampi and Playback excel in this area and I thought the Manhattan was a little unfocused. Cymbal hits were just a little less defined.
Spatially, the Manhattan had good left to right and front to back stage presence, but that’s where it ended. It didn’t extend beyond the speakers and have the depth of the other 2 converters. It was truthful to the recording, but maybe too truthful? It didn’t pull me in like the Lampi and Playback can do. It didn’t give me that goose bump factor. I wouldn’t think twice about using this DAC for mastering or in any other Professional setting, but for sitting down for an evening of listening enjoyment, I’d have to choose my Lampi.
You also have to realize that the Lampi DSD is a one-trick pony. No PCM allowed - no CD playback, no 24 bit - DSD only. No headphones, can't use as a preamp, no phono option... DSD - that's it. And it's about six times the size of the Manhattan. And the Playback Designs is 3x the price, so a fair comparison? Yes. That’s why we have reference components!
The Mytek Manhattan, coming in at under $5k, packs a lot of features into one compact box. It can be used as a DAC, Pre-amp or Headphone amp. Neither the Lampi nor Playback Designs can do this. If someone were looking for a great streamlined unit, the Manhattan would be the one to choose. Am I going to buy one? You damn right I am, and here is why. Versatility. This thing can do it all and that’s what you need in a studio setting or a streamlined system in your living room. Add a streamer/laptop and amp and you’ll have a central station that can control all your ancillary equipment.
These few complaints (except for the faceplate) are just splitting hairs. Believe me, it’s not night/day using any of these DAC’s. DAC's are a big part of what I do for a living so I'm very picky. It’s only when using them on a daily basis that you get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each. Versatility and upgradeabilty. You can upgrade if you have the older Mytek.
Mytek may have another winner on their hands. Only time will tell.
SME 30/2 with Series V
Playback Designs MPS-5
Lampizator DSD DAC
Crane Song Avocet
Pass Labs XP-30
Pass Labs XA-100.5
Wilson Audio Alexia
Cabling by Light Harmonic and JPS Labs
- Conversion: 32bit PCM up to 384k, DXD, DSD-DS-DSD256 (11.2 MHz)
- Dynamic Range: 130dB (ESS Sabre chipset in 8 mono to 2 stereo config.)
- Femtoclock Internal Clock Generator (lps jitter.) Wordclock In and Out, or sync to incoming digital audio input with JET (tm) PLL. Time Domain Jitter Eliminator
- Headphone Amp: High Current, High Slew Rate ultra low distortion 1600mA Hi-Fi dual mono design, 0.25 Ohm impedance with gain selector switch
- Computer Audio Inputs and Outputs: Firewire 400/800 up to PCM 192k/DSD async, USB2.0 up to 384k/DSD256, USB 1.1 up to PCM 96k, driver-less. DSD DOP256 SDIF DSD input, optional SACD optical input ***
- Digital Audio Inputs: SPDIF, AES/EBU, Toslink all up to 192k single wire. DSD-DSD256 SDIF DSD input, optional SACD optical input ***
- Internal Hardware Upsampling to DSD256: Any digital signal can be upsampled to DSD256 for superior DAC chipset performance*
- Internal PCM Hardware Upsampling: 16bit 44.1k etc. can
be optionally upsampled prior to conversion to 192k/24bit.
- Analog Attenuator: Transparent, 1dB stepped programmable, separate for main out and headphones. Or 32 bit digital attenuator or relay bypass of the attenuator can be chosen by user
- Analog Inputs: 2 Unbalanced RCA, 1 Balanced XLR
- Linear Power Supplies, Separate: Oversized 50VA analog, 50VA digital,
- Firmware updates: online, user downloadable, periodic feature upgrades
HQPlayer on custom PC
Audirvana+ on Macbook Pro
Light Harmonic USB cables
Pass Labs XP-30 pre
Pass labs XA-100.5 amps
Wilson Alexia speakers
All cables (other than USB) JPS Labs Aluminata
DSD In rotation:
Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
Oscar Peterson – We Get Requests
Holly Cole – Temptation
Living Stereo – Leontyne Price : Arias
Living Stereo – Tchaikovsky : Piano concerto ½
Wilson Audiophile – S’wonderful Jazz
Wilson Audiophile – Steinberg/Abel : Sonatas for Violin and Piano
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