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...).

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