M2Tech Young D/A processor & Palmer Power Station battery power supply
You know what's fascinating? As digital audio technology matures, DAC design is not converging on a single most popular or overall best approach. Multiple design paths continue to thrive, new ones are still appearing, and each variation on the DAC theme has its adherents and side trails: bitstream, non-oversampling, upsampling, various filters, DSD playback options, and on and on.
A new path for me is M2Tech's Young DAC, with its optional external battery power supply, the Palmer Power Station. I've listened to DACs with internal power supplies, wall warts, and expensive, cost-no-object external AC supplies. I thought it would be interesting to see what difference running a DC battery might make.
M2Tech is an Italian manufacturer distributed in the US by TEAC America, and available via mail order not only from the usual audiophile suspects, such as Music Direct, but also, surprisingly, through retailers like Adorama and B&H Photo. I'm guessing the latter outlets get access by carrying the more mainstream TEAC and Tascam products.
M2Tech's Young ($1499) is among the relatively recent crop of DACs that can handle 32-bit resolution via USB (and up to 24 bits via S/PDIF or AES/EBU), as well as sampling frequencies up to 384kHz via USB, or 192kHz via S/PDIF and AES/EBU. Its asynchronous USB input is based on M2Tech's hiFace technology, which is used in their line of USB-to-S/PDIF converters.
The M2Tech designers have largely ignored the filter in the Burr-Brown PCM1795 DAC chip used in the Young, instead implementing a custom oversampling "minimum phase" filter aimed at eliminating pre-ringing, and which internally processes the data at 32-bit/768kHz. Upsampling can't be bypassed, and there are no user-adjustable filters or other settings. What M2Tech has selected and programmed into the Xilinx Spartan FPGA on the Young's circuit board is what you get.
The Young DAC is packed in a tidy, no-frills box, with wall-wart power adapter, USB cable, and two sheets of paper. On one sheet are URLs for downloading the complete manual (in English, Italian, or German) and the drivers needed for your computer; the other has a very brief set of instructions. After playing with the Young a while, I never needed to download the manual, but it's there if you need itmost of its pages are dedicated to setting up the required drivers on your computer, which might come in handyespecially for Windows users wanting to use the USB input.
The Young itself is elegant and modern in appearance, encased in a simple single sleeve of aluminum just under 8" square and 2" tall. The front and rear of the sleeve are open, and recessed into the front is a curved screen of perforated black metal, behind which sits the large blue alphanumeric display (a red display is available). Prying off the four small, black rubber feet on the bottom reveals four Phillips-head screws; remove these to easily slide out the electronics and front- and rear-panel assemblies.
On the front panel are two small silver buttons, for Standby (left) and Input Selection (right). Tap the right button and tall blue letters slide across the screen to indicate the input mode: USB . . . XLR . . . BNC . . . When the Young locks on to a signal, the sample rate pops up and stays there. Very simple, very effective. Though you can use the Young as a simple digital input switcher, there is no remote control.
Around the rear, starting at the left, are the two RCA analog outputs, an AES/EBU input, both 75 ohm BNC and RCA S/PDIF inputs, a TosLink jack, a USB 2.0 input, and a small jack for the 15V wall-wart power supply. Everything is very clean and tidy and solidly built. The Young ran only slightly warm to the touch and never became hot.
Oh, and it's named after one of rock's most vocal proponents of high-quality sound: Neil.
Palmer Power Station
The Palmer Power Station ($1249) is packed in a secure but minimal box just like the Young's, nor do the similarities end there. The Palmer is the same size, weight, and general appearance as the Young, and is likewise accompanied by a single sheet of paper listing the URLs for downloading the owner's manual. Not having used a battery supply like this before, it took me a few minutes to figure out the logic behind how everything worked.
The Palmer's front panel looks exactly like the Young's: a curved screen of black, perforated metal with two small silver buttons. There are no labels, which I love for aesthetic reasons, but which requires some patience and experimentation to fully understand. Or you could just RTM (read the manual).
The left button powers on the supply connecting the battery to AC, and the right button turns the DC output on and off, allowing you to prevent battery drain when the attached DAC or ADC is not in use. Behind the screen are two red LEDs, one next to each switch: the one on the left lets you know if you're supplying AC, the one on the right lets you know if the lithium-polymer (Li-Po) battery is charging (instead of indicating the status of the right switch, which confused me a tad at first).
The one feature I wished the Palmer had is some sort of display that indicates the battery's charge level. Considering that the large empty area between the buttons is not otherwise used (as it is on the Young), a series of lights or a display with numbers representing the percentage of charge would have been nice.