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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Audiophile DAC Review!
Mytek Manhattan D/A/HP Amp/Line Preamp:
“Seductive Analog Volume, Major Connectivity
Embody Company's New Flagship Converter"

©Everything Audio Network

Brevis...
Price: $5,500 (base price)
Likes: analog volume control, bit status
 Dislikes: a little flaky on Yosemite OS
 Wow Factor: sounds like analog tape
More info: Mytek Manhattan
Click here for Full Benchtest

by John Gatski
  Michel Jurewicz, the brains behind Mytek Digital, has always had a knack for making good-sounding digital audio converters that professionals and hi-fi buffs appreciate. I have auditioned various versions of their half rack A/Ds and D/As including the award-winning Stereo 192-DSD compact DAC, introduced three years ago.
  The Mytek’s flagship Manhattan priced at $5,500 base, is a departure from the small footprint Mytek converters — featuring a full size-heavy duty, unique-looking chassis that contains a plethora of features including a custom-designed, discrete analog audio attenuator, phono preamp option, DSD digital input, word length indicator and, finally, USB 2 compliance for playing operation up to 24/384 PCM and 4X (11.2 MHz) DSD play from your PC or Mac. The following is a full review and the benchtest can be viewed by clicking this link: Mytek Manhattan Benchtest

Features

  The Manhattan is a full rack-width, heavy-duty aluminum chassis DAC, designed for the audiophile and pro audio engineer who want a complete D/A/preamp solution for stereo listening. Equipped with eight-channel ESS Sabre DAC chip summed to stereo (ES9018S), the Manhattan can decode up to 32-bit integer PCM at 384 kHz sample rate and DSD sampled at 11.2 MHz. To keep the assorted digital signal path connections clean throughout the DAC circuit, the Mytek employs the Femtoclock Internal Clock Generator for internal synchronization, or you can sync to an external word clock via rear panel BNCs.


Connection options enhance  Manhattan flexibility

  Although Mytek’s reputation has been built on accuracy over the years, the Manhattan analog section has gone slightly euphonic — thanks to a specially designed analog attenuator that warms up the sound a bit to give it a wisp of an analog tape/MOSFET smoothing character that is lacking in many of today’s DACs. You can bypass the analog volume to get a more neutral Sabre DAC tone, as well as the option of the built-in digital volume control, but I have to admit the analog path is, musically, very involving. The headphone circuit also is routed through the custom analog attenuator or the digital volume.

 As an audiophile, l love this DAC because of its slightly euphonic coloration through the analog volume control signal path. The audio just has that analog tape (sans DSD) quality that makes you want to listen to your best recordings all day long.

  According to Jurewicz, “the analog volume control option is based on a minimal, single-stage, Class-A biased amplifier — utilizing an integrated, relay ladder circuit which is digitally controlled by the front-panel encoder or optional Apple remote control.”
  “There are two independent parallel analog attenuators: one for headphones and one for main output,” Jurewicz added. “The analog attenuator does not affect actual DAC resolution, even at volume set low, a full 32-bit resolution of the DAC is maintained. Most customers prefer the analog attenuator.”
  The second volume option is a 32-bit digital attenuator. When the digital volume control is selected, the analog attenuator is relay bypassed and the 32-bit digital attenuator is inserted in front of the DAC — in both PCM and DSD mode. “The signal path is shorter, the volume control seems “cleaner” at regular level, but at high attenuation some digital resolution is lost by definition,” Jurewicz explained. The “relay bypass” main output mode — with no attenuator — provides the shortest, minimal signal path.


Dual power supplies for analog and digital sections

  The Manhattan utilizes dual, 60-watt, toroidal power supplies with custom-designed, low-noise custom Mytek linear transformers. There is a separate power supply for the analog and one for the digital sections — each with esoteric-design capacitors. Mytek claims the extra power supply reduces analog/digital interference and extra current improves the analog section’s sonic performance: bass and transient response and stereo imaging.
  The optional, built-in phono preamp is a nod to the vinyl mania now sweeping the audiophile world, and it sounds quite good, offering onboard tweaking (MM, MC, loading, gain, etc,) via the DSP menu (not a dip switch in sight).
  The dimpled, aluminum-chassis Manhattan, designed-in-the USA and manufactured in Poland, comes in champagne or black color options. At first glance, especially in the champagne gold version, you can barely tell there are any control buttons — just the volume control knob and the dual headphone jacks. Upon closer inspection, you will see that the front panel contains a power button, left and right menu navigation buttons, the display, another menu button, and the volume control and two headphone jacks. The Manhattan also comes with an Apple remote control, which can simplify a lot of the onboard button pushing needed for setup menu changes.
  As mentioned, the heart of the Manhattan is the ESS 9018S Sabre DACs configured in eight mono channels-to-stereo, which is said to yield signal-to-noise ratio approaching -130 dB (we never got that high in our measurements, but it does have very good numbers).
  Speaking of the rear panel, the Manhattan is one fully fleshed out DAC when it comes to connections. The connectors include: stereo analog balanced XLR I/O, unbalanced RCA input x2 and one set of RCA outputs (or one RCA line input and one phono input if the phono pre card is purchased), a TOSlink digital input, RCA SPDIF digital input, AES/EBU XLR digital input, two BNC connections for professional DSD input (DSDDIFF or SDIFF), two USB connections (USB 1 and USB 2) and two BNCs for using external word clock. It also allows balanced headphone operation via special TRS 1/4-to-XLR HP jumper cables that are included.
  The Manhattan even has an option for DSD optical transport connections for clients who own Meitner or Playback Design SACD players. Finally, there is a three-way rear panel switch that sets headphone amp gain range: -6 dB, 0 dB and +6 dB. This allows the HP amp to accommodate a variety of high-end HP’s with varying impedances.

Manhattan gets word length display with latest firmware

  The front-panel display handles a lot of status info and adjustment parameter menus. I am proud to say that Mytek took my advice and added word-length indicator, in its latest firmware upgrade. to the list of available status windows; the first firmware iteration did not have this feature. A word length indicator is important when working with computer software PCM players.
  Sometimes the computer’s audio engine will word-length reduce audio output (truncation) even though the program is set to 24-bit. The only true way to tell if you are getting 24 bit is for the DAC to show you. Benchmark was the first major DAC company to add this feature.
  The Manhattan LCD can display all the various menus for input, upsampling, volume control, selection, mono, mid-side, clock, phono pre adjustments (if equipped with phono pre). The Manhattan needs a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to sync the button pushes and the volume control turning to get to the desired menus, but after a few days I finally figured it all out. You have to push the button to get it in the desired memory mode, turn the volume control to drill down into the menu and then push the button control to select the desired parameter.

Menu and controls

  Manhattan menu functions include: input (analog RCA 1/2, analog XLR, USB1/2, TOSlink, SPDIF, AES/EBU, phono), upsampling 16 bit/24 bit up to 32-bit integer 192 kHz sample rate, word-clock sync, and variable digital filters for PCM and DSD. The optional phono preamp menu setup is completely software based, including the MM/MC, loading and gain. 
  The PCM filter options are slow and sharp. The DSD filter offers a choice of 50 kHz, 60 kHz and 70 kHz. Other menu items include: phase, mono, L-R and mid-side mode which combines mono and one stereo channel. A semi-mute setting lowers the volume by 20 dB.
  Manhattan’s headphone amplifier offers more power in its dual-mono design, twice as powerful as the Mytek Stereo192-DSD HP amp, and has the ability to drive balanced headphones when using Mytek’s 1/4-inch to XLR-4 adapter which plugs in to the two available front-panel jacks.

  Manhattan’s headphone amplifier offers more power in its dual-mono design, twice as powerful as the Mytek Stereo192-DSD HP amp, and has the ability to drive balanced headphones when using Mytek’s 1/4-inch to XLR-4 adapter which plugs in to the two available front-panel jacks. Balanced headphones are increasingly popular from such manufacturers as Oppo, Audeze and Hi-FIMAN.
  A word about the Manhattan’s computer compatibility via USB, at press time. The DAC’s USB 2.0 compatibility with Windows 10 for PC and Mac through Mountain Lion is pretty solid. However, Mac’s Yosemite OS remains a bit glitchy with the Manhattan USB 2.0 input. I recommend using a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapter on Macs with Yosemite for stable 24/192 PCM and DSD via the FireWire control panel software and DAC FW input. A software fix is coming according to Mytek, as is Manhattan’s compatibility with Mac’s El Capitan OS.

The setup

  I set up the Mytek Manhattan in two audio systems: my audiophile listening room and my home recording studio, used as my monitoring DAC during recording, editing and mastering.
  In the Hi-Fi system, the DAC was connected to a variety of sources, including an Oppo BDP-105, Pioneer BDP-88FD universal player, a Macbook Pro Retina via FireWire (through Thunderbolt adapter), and an Astell and Kern AK100 Mk II portable 24/192 player via TOSlink. For the turntable playback, I hooked up a VPI Scout with Benz-Micro LO4 MC cartridge.
  Other DACs on hand included the Benchmark DAC2 DX, Oppo HA-1, Mytek Stereo192-DSD, Resonessence Mirius and NAD C510. We listened to the MartinLogan Montis electrostatic and Pass Labs SR-1 speakers powered by Pass Labs X350.8 dandy new Class A/AB design or a Bryston 14B-SST bipolar output, a standard in our amp arsenal.
  All analog and digital interconnect cables were Wireworld Eclipse; the speakers cables were Wireworld Eclipse 7. All components with IEC sockets were linked to a dedicated AC line using Essential Sound Products Essence II (power cords and the Essence II power strip).
Oppo PM-1 'phones sounded dandy via Manhattan

  Headphone listening was sampled via several headphones, including the airy Shure SRH-1840, Oppo PM-1, AKG K702 Anniversary and K812, the company’s new flagship HP. I listened to the Oppo PM-1’s through the Oppo unbalanced 1/4-inch premium cable and the optional balanced cable, connected to the Mytek adapter.
  Since the Manhattan also is an ideal professional DAC, I pressed it into service as my recording/playback/editing /mastering monitor DAC, using various headphones and Legacy Studio HD speakers as the final sonic arbiters of the Mytek.
  I recorded acoustic guitar, a Martin OO-28 Custom, to 24/192 and DSD 5.6 MHz using the TASACM DA-3000 master recorder, then connected the recorder to the DAC, and its output to a Rogue Audio Medusa hybrid/tube digital amplifier for speaker listening. I also connected the DAC to my Mac iMac via FireWire for playback from the computer.

Software progression

  When I first got the Manhattan several months ago, the software was not as far along to take advantage of all the features. Several firmware and software generations have netted more user-friendliness and features, such as the word length display. As of this writing, the Manhattan utilizes software version 2.8 for the USB 2 and 4.2 for the FireWire. Since the Manhattan is still a bit iffy with Yosemite OS, I found the FireWire was more stable. However, with older Mac OS, such as a 2011 Macbook Pro with Mountain Lion OS, the USB 2 worked fine; no glitches and I could monitor up to 24/384 PCM. According to Jurewicz, the software should be updated for Yosemite by the end of the year. Then there’s El Capitan.
  Through the the Manhattan’s analog volume renders the recording with a touch more gentleness than the bypass or the digital control, yet the cymbals were still dynamic, as was the flat pick notes of Mr. Wilson’s Gibson hollow body guitar.

  As for the general selection and adjustment within the menu, the Manhattan’s multi-step button pushes and volume twists with an eventual push to access the desired function, became familiar but was is not as easy as having separate function buttons. But then again, there is a lot of functions in the box. According to Mytek, some tweaks to the software and firmware have simplified operation since I had my last hands on.
  I will say that from an ergonomic perspective, the black version allows you to see the Menu buttons more easily than the champagne-colored cabinet. By the way, it should be noted that the Manhattan’s advanced designs, heavy duty power and analog parts, make this a stout chassis. It is one of the heavier one-rack DAC’s I have hoisted above my head.

The audition

Okay, okay. You have faithfully followed this review and you wonder ”enough of this features, background diatribe”, “how does it sound?”
  I am happy to report that the Mytek DAC is a fantastic sounding D/A converter! The custom analog attenuator adds an airy warmth that reminds you of the best analog tape machine you have ever listened to, only way more quiet. Upon first listen through HPs all the way through the review process with the various amps and speakers, this is one of the most musical DACs I have ever heard. Lots of inner detail, big wide sound stage, but no coarse, coolness or detached neutrality in the instruments. I know it is not input equals output through the volume control, but this is one fine audiophile DAC.
  I listened to my 24/192 PCM recordings of the Martin 00-28 custom acoustic guitar. Through the analog volume circuit, the sound was rich — with those delicate pick-to-string overtones and a nice spread of space.

  The first recording was my 24/192 PCM dub of The Anthony Wilson TrioOur Gang SACD. This warm, cozy, direct-to-DSD recording showcases the jazz guitar, Hammond organ and drums, perfectly placed in the mix. Through the the Manhattan’s analog volume renders the recording with a touch more gentleness than the bypass or the digital control, yet the cymbals were still dynamic, as was the flat pick notes of Mr. Wilson’s Gibson hollow body guitar. Oh, that throbbing swirling Hammond tone-wheel organ sonic persona was heaven through the Manhattan.
  Next up, was the Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD-24/192 PCM dub. This Tom Jung recording is quite minimalist and dynamic. There is not a lot of warmth, but it has an expansive stereo image and the one of most realistic transient response I have heard from a recording.
  The Manhattan adds a smidgen more analog sheen to the Steinway piano, yet it does not strip away the dynamics of the drum cymbals, just a little more friendly. It’s the quality I usually use to describe DSD. The Mytek analog volume control and associated high-caliber digital parts gets you that fine smoothness we all love about the 1-bit recording process — but I heart it in the PCM playback as well.
  I played several more PCM discs through the Oppo/Mytek Pass Labs/ML Montis electrostatic playback system and confirmed what I noticed initially. This is one easy to listen to digital converter. If the smoothing had such a profound effect on the PCM, what would it do to DSD? I played several downloads from Channel Classics: a Telemann album and Dvorak Symphony No. 7. These and other DSD recordings they sounded as good as the best DSD converters I have heard. Funny, though, I did not sense that the analog volume added too much softness to the DSD. In my view, the volume control subjectively improves the PCM more than the DSD.
  The headphone amp presents the same sonic character as the line-out: a really smooth relay of various music via the analog volume control and that wonderful, wide and deep stereo image. You switch to the digital volume control and the sound leans out enough to notice. The bypass mode is somewhere in the middle.
  When playing the Flim and the BB’sTricycle, the SACD version, played from the Oppo BDP-105’s analog jacks, I much preferred the analog volume control’s harmonically friendly hues over the slightly edgier glint from the digital control. Maybe the digital is more accurate and quiet in terms of bench measurements, but the analog was my preference.
  By the way, although balanced headphone connections are touted as the superior conduit, I could not hear any difference between the Oppo PM-1 headphones’ unbalanced cable vs. the balanced. They sounded the same. Maybe on other balanced ‘phones with different cables, an improvement could be ascertained, but not with the Oppo.
  I also sampled my own 24/384 acoustic guitar recordings that I made in order to test high-sample rate converters. This high-end Taylor dreadnaught recording was made using the Antelope Eclipse A/D, True Engineering discrete mic preamp and two Audix SCX-25 condenser microphones. The preamp was linked to the mic via Wireworld Eclipse XLR cables.
  On the best converters, The stereo guitar recording is deliciously spacious with a lot of inner detail on the pick attack. Being a Taylor guitar, the sound has a pronounced, yet not harsh, presence in the top-end with a nice even bass. Listening via the Manhattan analog volume control into the main system, I found the primary sonic attributes of my guitar recording intact, but a slight warmth and smoothness to the Taylor's chime quality. Very analog-tape like, and a sound that I like. The Bypass mode loses that bit of analog warmth. Again, knowing there was slight coloration, I kind of preferred the analog volume mode with this recording.
  
Optional phono preamp is available to play your vinyl

  Switching to the optional phono preamp listening through the VPI turntable and Benz MC cartridge, Jurewicz’s first effort at a phono stage sonically nails an accurate (as a vinyl can be) quality. The ability to tweak the capacitance, load, and gain steps, allowed me to get the most out of the Benz. Though the early preamp card version suffered from a bit of excess hum, the new version is quiet. 
  In comparing the Manhattan to the Benchmark DAC2-DX, the Oppo HA-1 and the Mytek Stereo192-DSD — all equipped with the ESS Sabre DAC in different configurations. Once I level matched the outputs, the subtle difference began to emerge over long-term listening in direct comparison.
  In keeping the comparisons relative, I first listened to the Benchmark DAC2-DX balanced output and Manhattan's balanced output in the volume control bypass mode. The two DACs were similar in their inner detail tight bass and broad sound scape. The Oppo,  through its headphone output-to-line via an adapter (my preferred HA-1 line output listening option, sounded good as well — with a bit more coolness, but a substantial soundstage.
  The biggest difference is when you put the Manhattan in the analog discrete volume stage.  Then the Mytek's "bigger" sonic persona emerges with that bit of seductive analog color. Even through the headphone amp,when the Manhattan's analog volume control is active, the sound is just bigger than when bypassed or relayed via the digital volume control, which is pretty much like the bypass.
  It's nice to have the Manhattan configurable to give you the analog "color" of the volume control, or the slightly cooler, succinct, fast signal path of the bypass for, say, working in a recording/mastering studio.

In the studio

  In the recording suite, I was equally as impressed with the Manhattan. Through the Legacy Studio HD speakers, powered by the Rogue Medusa hybrid amp, I listened to my 24/192 PCM recordings of the Martin 00-28 custom acoustic guitar. Through the analog volume circuit, the sound was rich — with those delicate pick-to-string overtones and a nice spread of space. On the digital volume control, the warmth lessens a bit and tightens up, but it is not as involving. I actually preferred the bypass, which struck a more even balance of the Sabre chips accuracy yet remained smooth. Those same characteristics held up with headphone listening. I used the Shure SRH-1840 and the AKG K812’s extensively when doing edits and final quality checks on these and other hi-res recordings during the edit process.


Another color option for Manhattan


  Thanks to the BNC DSD digital input connection, I also was able to play back a few of my direct-to-DSD piano and jazz guitar recordings I made with the TASCAM DA-3000, which has DSD L/R outputs. Compared to the DA-3000’s quite good DSD converters, the Mytek’s 1-bit playback showcased a bit more depth and width to the stereo image, and was a touch smoother in the piano upper register range. With all the features, such as mid-side, playback, phase control and the plethora of I/O, the Manhattan is right at home in a quality recording studio.
  I can see mastering engineers taking a shine to the Manhattan. (Noted Mastering Engineer Alan Silverman told me he is very impressed with the it in his NYC studio.) The bypass mode is probably the best way to be analytical with the Manhattan, but that analog volume sure is seductive.

The verdict

  Overall, I was quite impressed with the Mytek Manhattan DAC/preamplifier, as I have been with all the company's converters over the years. The company’s A/D 192 analog-to-digital converter, along with the Benchmark ADC1-USB, is still a favorite of mine when I go out and record live bits of acoustic guitar and jazz guitar. And the Stereo 192-DSD, is still an excellent DAC that belies its under $1,500 price tag (soon to be replaced by the Brooklyn).
  But the Manhattan is the company's flagship: a magnificent DAC with numerous bells and whistles and superb sound. Once you learn your way around all the button-push and knob-twisting adjustments, you realize how much is there. It also has a unique appearance with its metallic-dimpled cabinet. You won’t mistake this DAC for any other.
  For me though, as an audiophile, l love this DAC because of its slightly euphonic coloration through the analog volume control signal path. The audio just has that analog tape (sans DSD) quality that makes you want to listen to your best recordings all day long. As an accuracy zealot, it might sound hypocritical to sing the praises of a bit of sonic color, but in the case of the Mytek Manhattan, it works. And if you don’t like it, you can always switch to the bypass or digital control.
  Any way you want to listen to it, the Manhattan is one of the best sounding, full-featured DACs on the market (not too many DACs have  phono preamp bulit-in) and deserving of our Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

  John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via everything.audio@verizon.net



2 comments:

Frank Zawacki said...

Hi, John.

Just read your review of the Manhattan DAC and something you mentioned caught my eye...

"The custom analog attenuator adds an airy warmth that reminds you of the best analog tape machine you have ever listened to, only way more quiet."

I am particularly interested in this comment since I am using the Manhattan with an LDR-based passive preamp and certainly will experiment but wondered if you found that the warmth is dependent on what the volume setting is in ANALOG mode or if this characteristic is added regardless, i.e., is it a case where just passing through the ANALOG volume control adds the warmth?

In addition, you comment on the sound of the "PASSIVE" preamp setting but do not mention what preamp was in use to make this assessment vs the "ANALOG" and "DIGITAL" modes.

Having owned the Mytec 192-DSD DAC previously, I too believe that the Manhattan's performance is outstanding.

Thanks in advance for whatever additional thoughts you might share.

Frank Zawacki
Connecticut Audio Society

John Gatski said...

Frank. Thanks for your comments on the Mytek review. It indeed is a great sounding DAC/pre, with a very analog character. To my ears, the warmth and musical friendliness comes at all volume settings through the analog attenuator. In this mode, the Manhattan is probably closest that digital gets to sounding like analog tape. On some kinds of recordings it may not be as accurate as digital, but neither was/is analog tape. (I do like fresh DSD recordings played through Manhattan bypass and my Coda preamp for the utmost in musical accuracy.) Versus the Stereo 192, it is no contest. in my view. As good as it is, the Manhattan in any mode including the bypass, has more depth and detail.

Thanks for writing

John Gatski
Publisher