I’ve never aspired to owning a BMW 7-series, or a Martin D-45, or a Rolex Submariner: BMW’s far less expensive 3-series models capture my imagination by bordering on the affordable, likewise Martin’s D-18and as long as I live, I’ll never understand the appeal of expensive wristwatches. Bling’s not my thing.
True to form, when I visited the Mytek display at High End 2018, in Munich, my attention was drawn to the brand-new Mytek Liberty DAC and its three-figure price: for $995, one could now own the equivalent of the original Mytek Brooklyn D/A processor, without that model’s phono preampthis according to the company’s Adam Bielewicz, who served as my product-line guide on that sunny May day. And if it’s true that the Liberty does more for lessthe Brooklyn was introduced in 2011 at a price of $1795then it also does more with less: the Liberty, which was designed in Brooklyn, New York, and is manufactured in Poland, measures just 5½” wide by 1¾” high by 8½” deep, minus knobs and connectors. That’s approximately 35% smaller than the Brooklynand is, coincidentally, precisely the size of the paperback edition of Robert Evans’s A (Brief) History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, which I recommend.
Like Mytek’s other D/A processors, the Liberty is built around a 32-bit ESS Sabre DACin this case, an eight-channel ES9018K2M chip, which Mytek uses in double-balanced configuration for two-channel output. The Liberty’s single USB input addresses an XMOS receiver chipset, and is the portal for the DAC’s ultimate performance: PCM up to 24 bits and 384kHz, and native DSD up to DSD256. Via its other digital input jacksone optical (TosLink), one AES-EBU (XLR), and two S/PDIF (RCA)the Liberty handles PCM up to 24-bit/192kHz and up to DSD64 via DoP. Mytek claims for the Liberty a low 10ps of wordclock jitter and a big 129dB of dynamic range, the latter just 2dB less than the dynamic range claimed for the ES9018 chip itself.
Unlike the aforementioned and overachieving Brooklyn, the Liberty has neither an analog volume control nor analog inputs of any sort. The Liberty’s output options are also fewer: It has one front-mounted ¼” stereo headphone jack instead of two, and while the Liberty has both single-ended and balanced outputs, the latter are three-conductor ¼” jacks, not the XLRs found on the Brooklyn (and on most other domestic electronics with balanced outs). The Liberty’s single-ended outputs are RCA jacks, as per usual.
Otherwise, as Mytek’s Michal Jurewicz confirmed in an e-mail, the Liberty is “more or less” the same as the original Brooklyn, though its “PCB and surroundings are a bit different.” Those surroundings are impressive: The Liberty, which weighs only 3 lb, is built into an aluminum-and-steel enclosure, most exterior surfaces of which are painted in a dark-gray, textured semigloss. The top and bottom plates are machined with small cooling holes that also form the outlines of the company’s stylized M logoa touch that manages to be more classy than gaudy. Inside and out, the construction quality of my review sample was superb.
Installation and setup
To say that I installed the Mytek Liberty is puffery: I removed it from its nicely made carton and packing, plunked it down on the middle shelf of my Box Furniture D3S rack, and used its generic AC cord to connect to my Shindo Laboratory Mr. T power conditioner. Simple. As the Monkees once sang, I could teach a dog to do that.
For playing music files and streaming from Tidal, I connected my MacBook Air to the Mytek’s USB input with a 1m-long AudioQuest Carbon USB link. Playback software was Roon v.1.5, build 339. To play CDs in my Sony SCD-777 SACD/CD player, pressed into service as a CD-only transport, I used a single 2m run of Luna Red interconnect from the Sony’s S/PDIF digital output to one of the Mytek’s two S/PDIF inputs. I relied on my well-worn Audio Note AN-Vx silver interconnect to go from the Liberty’s single-ended analog outputs to the line inputs of my Shindo Monbrison preamp.
I set out to be the big-shot reviewer who doesn’t need documentation to operate a consumer-grade DAC, but soon turned to the manual (download only) when I realized I didn’t know how to wake the Mytek from standby. The Liberty had powered itself up as soon as I plugged in its power cord, as I could see from an illuminated LED on the left side of its front panel, but was otherwise unresponsive. As it turns out, the Liberty’s sole user controla knob on the right side of the front panelis also a pushbutton: push and hold it in for a second or more to awaken the Liberty, upon which five more front-panel LEDs, arranged in a row, also light up. In use, the LED at far left, labeled MQA/DSD, indicates the type of file being played: orange for PCM, white for DSD, green for MQA, or blue for MQA files that have been approved or verified by the pertinent artist, producer, or copyright holder. The remaining five LEDs act as a bar indicator to display the volume-control setting: when all five glow red, the digital volume control is at full throttle and thus removed from the signal path.
In addition to their careers as volume-level indicators, those five part-time volume LEDs bear labels that correspond with the Liberty’s five digital inputs: from left, USB, AES, S/PDIF 1, S/PDIF 2, TosLink. When the DAC is out of standby mode, briefly pushing the control knob illuminates the LED of the selected input; further pushes cycle through the inputs and LEDs until the desired one has been selected.
During the Liberty’s time in my system, all of these control functions performed as described above. In particular, the file-indicator LED never failed to correctly identify the type of file being played. (Only a very few MQA files made the LED glow green instead of bluemake of that what you will.)
A mild caution: Roused from standby, the Mytek Liberty ran very warm to the touch. I don’t think it will ignite your curtains, but I wouldn’t go leaving CD cases or paperback booksor anything at all, reallyatop its case. Just saying.
There are so many things that real music has in abundance but that playback technologies tend to miss: Color, as opposed to colorations. Naturally occurring textures, as opposed to artifacts. Physical force, as opposed to electronic bursts. The momentum and drive that tell us when music is alive with forward movement, not stagnant like a pond.
There’s something elsea quality I admit to overlooking much of the time, simply because it’s so painful when poorly done: crispness: These are the flashes of sound we hear as the attack components of notessounds that, in real life, last only long enough to assure our subconscious minds that we’re hearing real music and not some grotesque imitation of same, but that in hi-fi linger long enough in the air to screech and keen and glare and make us wish we’d taken up stamp collecting instead.
Not only did the Mytek Liberty nail that realistic, just-enough crispness while playing some of my favorite music, it did so from the very first recording I played through itand in doing so made possible the kind of involvement with the music that followed me into the next room and, I swear, almost made me dance. (I offer that description with apologies, timid in the knowledge that no one should ever, ever be made to watch or even imagine a middle-aged male dancingnot even another middle-aged male.)
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