M2Tech Young D/A processor & Palmer Power Station battery power supply Page 2
It took a little over three hours to fully charge the Palmer, at which point I turned off the AC and was able to run it for a couple days of normal listening (I turned off the power to the DAC when I wasn't using it) before I started charging it again. The company claims around 10 hours' run time on a charge, but it's best not to fully deplete the battery, if possible. If you run out of charge while listening and have the AC switch on, a "pre-regulator" stage feeds the low-noise, regulated output directly so there's no downtime. While the Palmer ran warmer than the Young, it was never too hot to touch. With normal use, the battery should last about 10 years.
I'm not absolutely certain who the Palmer was named after: Robert? Amanda? Carl? I'm going with Robert Palmer, since he was once in a band called The Power Station, but Amanda would have been the hipster choice. Carl Palmer (drummer of ELP fame) would be a contender, but one of his producers recently revealed to me that Carl actually had trouble keeping perfect time when recording, so maybe not. But I digress . . .
After rotating the M2Techs in and out of the system for more than a month, I began my critical listening, with the Palmer battery supply charged and connected. Starting off, I trotted out the usual reference suspects, then queued up a stack of Neil Young tracks, eventually a couple ELP tracks (from the early albums, naturally), and, of course, Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love." These I listened to for fun, but I was immediately impressed with the Young's clear detail and punch, and a lack of the edge that sometimes crops up with lesser DACs.
However, noticeably punchy sound is usually the first clue that a new DAC might have a higher output level than the norm, so I brought out the level meter and found the Young to be about 2dB louder than the Benchmark DAC1 USB I use as a reference. I adjusted for this level difference for all comparisons. I ran both my computer (via USB) and my Meridian music server (via S/PDIF) into the M2Tech, and could detect no appreciable advantage either way, so continued the rest of my tests with the Meridian.
The original stereo masters of the complete Doors catalog can now be downloaded as 24/96 PCM files from HDtracks.com. These are not the same hi-rez versions included on DVD-Audio in the Perception boxed set of a few years back. Those were entirely new mixes from the multitracks; the HDtracks versions are transfers from the original two-channel master tapes.
I went straight for L.A. Woman. The first track, "Changeling," jumped into the room with a tight drums-and-bass workout punctuated by organ and guitar stabs. The M2Techs sounded natural and engaging, with loads of detail and space around the instruments and Jim Morrison's slightly ragged voice. Other tracks in the Doors catalog were equally pleasing, even when I pushed the volume. The M2Tech stack was off to a good start.
Next I cued up the Firesign Theatre's I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus (CD, Columbia/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFCD 785), a well-recorded comedy ensemble album from 1971 that includes plenty of wonderful ambient and soundstage cues, all laid down in a recording studio. Though this album follows their previous (and some would say better) album, Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, it was Bozos I came to first, and it imprinted on me more deeply, quickly becoming a favorite.
Bozos begins with the faded-in sound of an ice-cream truck (Dwarf faded out on that same truck), but soon all bozo hell breaks loose as we travel through a simulated future. Those familiar with this album know how prescient many of its routines were; decades later, nothing, to my mind, comes close to Firesign's hip and intelligent humor. For our purposes, Bozos' layers of voices, effects, and sporadic music spread around the room make it first-rate for listening and equipment evaluation, and here is where the M2Tech's wonderfully rendered soundstage and detailing shone. It was also here that I tried using the wall-wart power supply that comes standard with the Young DAC, though I didn't expect to hear much difference.
Big mistake. I'm curious to see what John Atkinson's measurements reveal, because the Palmer battery supply was easily distinguishable from the wall wart. Voices and sound effects came into better focusor, to put it another way, a slight hashy buzz around the parts fell away when the battery replaced the wall wart.
When the Palmer is fully charged, you can unplug it from the wall and run the Young strictly off the battery, but I couldn't hear any advantage to thatnot like the difference I heard between the battery and the wall wart. Of course, it's hard to know if the battery technology itself was responsible for the improvement, or if simply replacing the wall wart with a decent supply was doing the trick. Bottom line: The Young DAC reached its full potential only with the Palmer.
There's a great-sounding, demo-worthy song on Joe Walsh's The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. "Happy Ways" starts out with bass guitar and builds into a tropical mix of percussion and acoustic guitars. This track in particular set the M2Tech Young (and the NAD M51, I might add) apart from the Benchmark DAC1 USBinstruments were tight and detailed, yet the midrange glare that shows up in spots was under control, so I could crank it up with no reservations. With the Benchmark, as soon as the chorus kicks in, I tended to either turn it down a bit or go on to the next track. Not so with the Young.
While MSB's Diamond DAC IV (starts at $21,995) still holds the top spot here when it comes to sheer honesty of reproduction, the M2Tech Young slots into the next tier down, along with the NAD M51 ($1999). While the NAD strives for the accuracy that the MSB is simply better at rendering (at almost five times the price!), the Young DAC with Palmer power supply produce a very slightly more affable sound full of grace and finesse, while never adding obvious colorations that would otherwise turn me off.
Although the aging Benchmark DAC1 USB ($1195, footnote 1) has been my longtime favorite, sending the Young and Palmer to JA for testing caused me a bit of panic. The M2Tech combo's performance had seduced mewhere I usually return to the Benchmark once I've done my critical listening to any DAC I'm reviewing, this time I left the Young and Palmer in the system until the morning I had to ship them out. I didn't want to let them go.
Great sound at what I consider a very reasonable price: $2748 for the pair. You can always get the Young now, for just $1499, and still have a great DAC, though I suggest you eventually replace its wall wart, one way or another. This is a very competitive price region with dozens of options, but the M2Tech Young is clearly worth trying in your system.
Footnote 1: Benchmark's new DAC2 HGC is now available. I'm hoping to hear it to see if the updated design pushes Benchmark once again to the fore.