22 February, 2013

Review: Micromega MyDAC, Part II

Micro Size, Mega Sound!
Review: Micromega MyDAC, Part II
Talk CAS: Micromega MyDAC, Part I

Review: Micromega MyDAC, Part I

Loose Ends Before I report (briefly) on my CAS findings, some loose ends to tie up:
  • DAC Chip In Part I, I did not mention the DAC chip used. It is the Cirrus Logic CS4351 (a delta-sigma type DAC; for more technical information, as well as a good review, this article from Digital Audio Review is helpful). The CS4351 is also seen in Micromega's well reviewed and top-of-the-line "integrated amp" AS-400. What is fascinating is that the AS-400, which has a proprietary Airstream module built-in, is, just like the MyDAC, meant to be used with CAS. What is even more fascinating is that Micromega's own dedicated CD players (CD10/20/30, see HiFi+ review) do not use this chip, rather AD1853. So, Micromega uses different chips for CAS and for redbook CD playback, and it has nothing to do with price level.
  • Clock Unusually, there are 2 clocks, one for the 44.1 family and one for the 48 family.
  • Noise I noticed the same thing Robert Harley did, a very faint high-pitched noise likely from the power supply. But it detracts from nothing.
Apples and "Les Oranges"?
As I mentioned in Part I, I had trouble getting the MyDAC to hook up with my main computer running an ancient Windows XP. Unfortunately, that is where I have my 576 GB (to date) of lossless files.

[Manger CD test disc]
To test out the MyDAC, I resorted to my Macbook. I ripped the Manger Test CD, just one album, but that will do (virgin run of my Macbook's iTunes). Then I hooked up the Macbook to the MyDAC with a generic USB cable:

Reference System B: CD Transport: Sony DVP-PR50P (Kimber KCAG used as coaxial cable) iPod Transport: Onkyo ND-S1 (stock optical cable) (Preamp) Kondo M7 Line (Integrated) Amp: Kondo Ongaku Speakers: TAD TSM-2201

At first, crap Given the rave reviews I read, I was thoroughly disappointed by the initial sound. Quite smeared and bereft of details. I checked the preferences and found out I had forgotten to reset the iTunes default AAC to a lossless format! No wonder! At least, it proved I am not deaf!

AIFF vs Wav 44.1 vs 48 While the sound much improved, I must confess I could not decide which of the lossless format was better. What was even more surprising was that neither could I hear much difference between 44.1 and 48, when previously I easily preferred the latter. Perhaps Micromega's duo clocks equalized things.

Noise No matter which format, I heard some occasional random crackling noise through the USB. I have read about PC users having this problem with the MyDAC, but I was surprised I encountered it with the Mac.

CAS vs CD If one is able to ignore the noise issue, sound through USB was very good, at least as good as the Onkyo ND-S1 iPod Transport, but it was definitely not as good as CD playback. In general, CD playback has more subtlety, more color, more space. Just 3 examples:
  • Track 1 (Volles Gelaut) With CD playback, the bells toll with more resonance and have more color and body.
  • Track 3 (Beethoven) With CD playback, Gelber's piano sound has more gravitas and shading.
  • Track 6 (Haydn) CD playback has a refined and courtly feeling lost through USB. Indeed, this track is one which shows off the greatest strengths of the MyDAC (S/PDIF)
Looking Forward The test was not a surprise to me. Despite hyperbole's all over the net, I have yet to hear any USB implementation that sounds better than quality CD playback (even in very expensive CAS setups). I am willing to acknowledge my CAS is not cutting-edge (no punt intended), and I read with interest the following quote from Digitalaudioreplay (link provided above):

"...when you compare a direct USB feed (from MacMini) to a signal S/PDIF re-routed via M2Tech’s Hiface Two – they sound pretty much identical, the direct USB connection being free of the over-etched treble that sometimes troubles the Italian convertor. Credit is due to Micromega here for such an excellent USB implementation..."

The MyDAC no doubt is excellent but, like many French things, has a few quirks of its own. I hope to overcome some of the problems I encountered later, but then you know, CAS is not my fave, and I am eminently satisfied with this DAC through S/PDIF. Be warned, YMMV.

Postscript: MyDAC vs Weiss 202
The other day, a good friend who is a jazz fanatic and who attends concerts often came by and took a liking to my setup. He was impressed by the performance of the TAD, and I lent him the Micromega. Here are his thoughts:

"...The Weiss is more forward and the Micromega moves you a bit back in the venue. The Micromega is surprisingly tremendously detailed and actually was better at classical material than the Weiss. At one tenth the cost of the Weiss, it is at least 80% of the Weiss and a no-brainer bargain..."

Mind you, jazz aficionados like it more upfront, but I am confident the Micromega rhythmically and musically outperforms the Weiss. Yes, I have heard the Weiss' many times and I don't think they are worth the price (just like dCS etc...).

12 February, 2013


Editor's Note: Happy Year of the Snake

The Dragon has just departed, and it's the Snake's turn.

With the world's finance in protracted turmoil, no wonder even financial experts toy with the Chinese zodiac/horoscope, and you shall find diverse views of what the year is going to be like, in any parameter important to you.

Amid all the schisms of the World, one does find some encouraging signs. Even if it may be lip service, I am glad the US Post continued to issue Chinese Lunar New Year stamps, designed by Chinese-American Kam Mak. I actually like the US stamp a lot better than those from China and Hong Kong, which are disappointingly bland.

In any case, NOTHING should stop us from listening to music on a decent system, which I am sure is the way to world peace. Have a good year!

04 February, 2013

Review: Micromega MyDAC, Part I

internals of the MyDAC, from What Hifi

Micro Size, Mega Sound!
Review: Micromega MyDAC, Part I
Talk CAS: Onkyo ND-S1 Digital Media Transport, Part I
Follow Up: Miraculous Transformation of my Reference System B (Kondo, TAD)

Read Part II here

(Micromega MyDAC official Literature)

History of Micromega
I am a HUGE Micromega fan. I have always intended to write a Micromega Overview, but that would take an immense effort to research and collate semi-vintage data sorely lacking on the internet and, believe me, I do make an effort to reasonably thoroughly research my subject, even if the article presents my views. Over the past 20 years I have used more Micromega products than almost anyone I know in person or on the internet. But given the premium of time, my overview shall have to wait, though I have put it on the agenda.

To make a long story short, I have used Micromega's epoch-making and -defining Trio, Duo and Solo, plus the later (and troubled) Drive 1 and DAC1 (and matching Amp 1). I have also collected their entire Micro series (Microdrive, Microdac, Variodac, Microamp). All of them gave me GREAT pleasure. There is no better digital in the 1-bit era, and even today old Micromega digital products sound great. Certainly, in the 1-bit era the dominant players like Philips and Marantz and the bit-players like DPA did not do better. Digital with a human face that makes music that goes right to the soul - that was Micromega's genius.

Micromega's History can be glimpsed on its website, but it is admittedly a revisionist's version, understandably omitting its troubled days of using Philips CDM-12 and subsequent near-demise. Although the company had their share of troubles, those are behind them now and their accomplishments far exceed what detractors would claim.

01 Micromega MicroDacCompare size and internals and parts with the old Microdac (pic from the net)

Deja-Vu: MyDAC
Since Micromega's recent and miraculous phoenix-like rise from its ashes (how wonderful!) I had been watching. I had intense interest in their current CD player offerings, the CD-10, -20 and -30. To Micromega veterans, these look uncannily familiar (outwardly like the old Mimium's; inside more like older separates).

Micromega had also done very well in CAS, even in the ultimate frontier, wireless, where it amalgamates its own technology and Apple's. I am not a CAS fan (though an occasional peruser) but have full confidence in Micromega's digital technology.

MyDAC has been out for a while, and you can read quite a few reviews on Micromega's own site. The most important one has got to be Robert Harley's TAS Blog article (as well as
full TAS article (pdf file). I am not a great fan of Harley's writing on subjective listening, nor the boring megabuck stuff that he usually reviews, but this time it pays to read carefully. No wonder the reasonably priced product received TAS' 2013 Product of the Year Award.

Deja-Vu MyDAC is the first product to see the light in Micromega's new My series. MyDAC instantly reminds me of the old Microdac and the diminutive My series can be regarded as the modern counterpart to the old Micro series I mentioned above. Of course, modern parts and technology can make things much smaller.

Having owned the wonderful Microdac before and having thought about buying the previous Aria and the current CD-10/20/30, I grabbed at the chance to own another Micromega DAC, even if I have little need for its USB functionality.

L: MyDAC and NS-D1 next to Sony DVP-PR50P

Mais Oui, Un Miracle!
Since I last wrote about it, my alternate system (description here) had undergone some change. I lent out my Studer A730 to my friend Karma, and substituted the humble Sony DVP. The Sony did not have the richness of the A730 but it had charms of its own, a rightness that is hard to fault. But to test out the MyDAC, I quickly installed it into this system, which is now:

Reference System B:
CD Transport: Sony DVP-PR50P (Kimber KCAG used as coaxial cable)
iPod Transport: Onkyo ND-S1 (stock optical cable)
(Preamp) Kondo M7 Line
(Integrated) Amp: Kondo Ongaku
Speakers: TAD TSM-2201
[Manger CD test disc]MyDAC Coaxial input To cut to the chase, the Micromega MyDAC transformed the sound to a degree I did not think possible. It simply made everything more articulate; in another word, it speaks - and I use this term only sparingly (previously used for the YBA WD202 DAC, coincidentally another French device). The first track I played was Tennstedt's live Mahler 7th, from this great bargain box set (which finally releases internationally his EMI live Mahler recordings), and from the first note I was captured by the ambiance, the gravitas of the music, which so few digital products capture (CAS needs not apply).

I was not entirely certain of my feelings based on just one CD. So I put one of my favorite Test CDs to work, the Manger Test CD. Over its 14 tracks (some of which I dislike, like the utterly boring Jonathan Taylor) I became more and more astonished by the accomplishment of this tiny device. Here, I discovered more rhythmic subtleties (like the Pulcinella track), more bowing nuances (like the Vivaldi track), more everything. The amplitude of the difference is like going from ordinary push-pull to Western Electric. I kid you not, my Kondo has never sounded better!

It should be emphasized that the I highly value Sony DVP-PR50P's own analogue output. Many people use this player as transport, but my experience tells me the external DACs they hook up usually do not sound as coherent as the onboard one, which is why the Sony was my Best Buy 2010. But the Micromega MyDAC is an exception - it is better by a significant margin.

Detour! The Onkyo NS-D1 Digital Media Transport Although it has CAS USB input capability, my interest in this device solely centers on its iPod digital output. I have the more expensive Wadia 170i, but frankly I like the looks of the Onkyo more. A second-hand specimen cropped up and I grabbed it.

The Onkyo had been well reviewed in the Uk and Europe (techradar, What HiFi), but appears much less known in the US. A later more expensive version with metal enclosure is named ND-S1000.

Kopatchinskaja & Fazil Say - Violin Sonatas
MyDAC Optical Input The Onkyo came with a cheap generic Optical cable. Since the MyDAC coaxial was occupied by the Sony player, I used the Optical Input. Now, I am not usually a fan of optical inputs, but the effect was surprisingly pleasant. Most importantly, even with the cheap optical cable, the MyDAC Optical Input still delivered highly articulate music! I did test out the generic optical cable by connecting it to the Sony player's optical output, and also by connecting the Kimber KCAG to the Onkyo's coaxial output. Surely, in both permutations the optical smeared things a little and the coaxial threw things into sharper relief, but MyDAC surely made the Optical Input useful. The AIFF file of Beethoven's Kreutzer sonata showcased Patricia Kopatchinskaja's astonishingly bold playing, fully matched by the excellent pianist Fazil Say. The sheer presence of the recording was marvellously conveyed, and that was from the iPod!

MyDAC USB I am sorry to say, that unfortunately shall have to wait till Part II. My old Windows XP did not seem to agree with the MyDAC (there is a short and unclear blurb on this on the official page). When I have time I shall set up playing with a Macbook, or perhaps it is time to get a new computer!


  • The Micromega MyDAC is a miracle (of an order even higher than the esteemable YBA WD202), offering sonic attributes that most high-end digitals fail so miserably to deliver. It goes to show talent and hearing acuity has nothing to do with price-points. Although many will view its USB asynchronous ability as its raison d'etre, based on my listening I beg to differ and say anyone with interest in digital playback (that is almost everyone) owe himself to listen to this one. In many ways, it is digital product of the decade for me.
  • The Onkyo ND-S1 does an excellent job with the iPod. When I have time I shall compare it to the Wadia 170i.
  • Once again, the system proves the synergy between Kondo and TAD TSM-2201. Kondo is also extraordinarily sensitive to the front end, and the MyDAC is the best of what I have tried so far, outperforming many more expensive stuff (I hope to try 47 Lab one day). The sheer refinement and details on offer now is nothing short of amazing.