Music in the Round #61 Page 2
Briefly, the Stereo192-DSD is a two-channel DAC with S/PDIF, AES, TosLink, FireWire, and two USB (1.1 and 2.0) digital inputs. The "preamp" version that I used also has stereo analog RCA inputs and outputs as well as XLR balanced analog outputs. There are also a word-clock input and output, useful for syncing with other devicesand, as I discovered, absolutely essential for multichannel use.
The Stereo192-DSD's front panel has a central digital display flanked on the left by a knob for volume and setup, a menu button, and a programmable function button; and, on the right, by another function button, a headphone jack, and a power switch. The black version has an LED array below the display to indicate the output level. The silver version lacks this but is otherwise identical.
I became aware of Mytek when I collected their brochures at an AES convention some years ago, when ripping discs and downloading files were in their infancies; I couldn't see how to integrate their capable and well-priced products into a consumer system. However, I recently learned that, as a proof of concept, they were developing a multichannel, DSD-capable DAC based on a stack of three Stereo192-DSDs. After e-mail and phone exchanges with Mytek's Michal Jurewicz, I met him at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, at Sony's demonstration of multichannel DSD, which wowed many of us. There was a Mytek DAC on the rack for the occasional stereo track, but Jurewicz was in the back room, working on the software to link up three Stereo192-DSDs for multichannel, still hoping to reveal it at CES when time ran out.
Afterward, I made two trips to Mytek's studios in Brooklyn, where I glimpsed that goal with some demos of his system, which includes five of Lipinski Sound's L-707 speakers, praised in these pages in December 2005 by Larry Greenhill. When all the channels stayed on and when there was no annoying intertrack crackling, it sure sounded great, with wonderful depth and transparency. It took another few weeks before everything was stable and Jurewicz was confident enough to bring me a pair of Stereo192-DSDs to add to the one I'd been using casually for a while.
The setup: three Stereo192-DSDs are stacked, their USB 2.0 inputs fed from a plain-vanilla USB hub connected, in turn, to the output of a dedicated PC server running JRiver Media Center v.18 on Windows 7. One must install Mytek's driver on the PC and select it in JRiver setup. It assigns the 5.1 channels by seniority: the DAC with the lowest serial number gets the front L/R, the next-lowest gets the center and subwoofer, and the most junior is assigned the surround L/R. In addition, the senior DAC provides the word clock to its subordinates, so it must be told to use its internal clock, and the others to use the external one.
I then connected the XLR outputs of the three DACs directly to my power ampsI didn't want them redigitized by my Meridian Reference 861. As a result, volume control was kind of clumsy, but it worked okay. First, I used a sound-level meter to balance the outputs of the center speaker and sub with the sub's own level control. Then I balanced the center with the front L/R speakers and the surround L/Rs using the volume controls on their respective DACs. Finally, I made note of the differences in dB level among the three DACs, as indicated on their displays. With this information, I could change the levels and maintain the proper balance. I also had to remember that the Myteks delivered scary transients when powered on or offone has to be scrupulous about the sequence of component turn-on/off. To deal with all this, I ordered an Audio Research MP1 multichannel analog preamp, but it did not arrive in time for this report.
Here was something refreshing. The Mytek sounded strikingly clean and thoroughly engaging. Relying on my short-term memory, I found it more open, with a wider and slightly more forward soundstage, than the Oppos'. This, coupled with its marginally brighter balance, made its sound more immediate and vivid. The bass was tight and very potent. Using the DFF download of Mahler's Symphony 1, I heard greater definition in the brass and silkier upper strings. I then played a download of works by Britten (Les Illuminations; Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings; Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal), with Candida Thompson conducting the Amsterdam Sinfonietta (SACD, Channel Classics CCS SA 32213). Britten's orchestration is much less dense than Mahler's, and it was immediately apparent how well the Myteksand this recordingrendered individual instruments and voices, spatially and harmonically.
When I was beginning to learn about Mahler and, although I did not know the Mahler 5, I got a ticket to hear it with Georg Solti and the CSO at Carnegie Hall. My seat was in the first box, stage right, and right over the deep brass choir. The opening was just hair-raising. With the Channel Classics session file of the not-yet-released Mahler 5 (Fischer/BFO), my response to the opening was electric and comparable to that first live experience. The Mytek clearly shows its studio DNA and the Mytek trio was stupendous in multichannel. However, it was necessary to note its very generous output voltage. At first, the Pletnev/RNSO Tchaikovsky 6th (PTC 5186386) suffered from an edgy roughness in tuttis, something I did not notice when I played it via the DACs in the Oppo, Marantz, and Meridian, but which was all too apparent with the Myteks. Reducing the gain on the Myteks (and/or adding a preamp) cured that entirely.
I think that Mytek's stack of three Stereo192-DSD DACs is a successful proof of concept. I hope it will result in a single, proper consumer product that's easier to use. Still, any dedicated audiophile can set this up now, download some of the growing number of DSD downloads available for sale, and hear them the way the recording engineers heard them.
There's an app for that! DeRemote
After I reviewing the Marantz AV8801 11.2-channel preamplifier-processor in my March 2013 column, I debated with myself about whether it should replace my trusty Integra DHC-80.2. Finally, I decided that it should, based on the wonderful results I got from the Marantz's AudysseyPro calibration, which became possible after I'd written the review. These results weren't so much a change in character as a clear emphasis of distinctions that, previously, had been barely detectable. Now, the improvements in the integration of the channels and throughout the audioband were substantial. I decided not to go back. I bought the AV8801.
Recently, David A. Rich, of Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, has shown evidence that the Marantz AV8801and likely every other model that includes Audyssey softwaredownsamples all higher-resolution signals to 24/48. While Audyssey itself does not downsample high-rez signals, the MIPS required to process 24-bit/192kHz data would effectively quadruple the load placed on the host pre-pro and, of course, increase its cost. The decision to downsample, therefore, is left to the pre-pro manufacturer.
One can argue about the audibility of this, but until Rich revealed his findings, only a few listeners had heard any faults. Indeed, as I've argued in other contexts, in most situations, the salubrious effects of room correction seem to trump the small effects of incremental increases in resolution.
For many, Rich's revelation will be a little disturbing; for others, it will vindicate their obdurate dismissal of Audyssey. It bothers me a lot, but I still believe that room correction is generally worth that small price, and I will continue to use the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 software in the AV8801with almost all sources, it makes for greater musical enjoyment. However, it may explain why I preferred the direct playback of DSD files with the AV8801.
I then tried Marantz's Web interface on my iPad. I found it quite adequate, and more pleasingly graphic than those of any of the other pre-pros I've used. However, a Web post suggested an alternative Web interface, DeRemote, available from the Apple Store. I highly recommend it to all AV8801 owners. The latest version is compatible with most recent Marantz and Denon AVRs, and costs only $4.99.
DeRemote has four features that really distinguish it. First, it offers many more screen menus than the free Marantz app, and lets you see your choice of any three menus on the same screen. So, depending on your preference at the time, you can see and control zones and inputs, various audio options, video options, Audyssey options, individual channels, etc. Multiple options are instantaneously available without having to climb through Marantz's hierarchical OSD menus. Second, DeRemote has a screen menu with a navigation cluster (direction buttons surrounding an OK button) that emulates a standard? remote control. This lets you navigate and manage external sources, such as USB- and Ethernet-streamed files and other Web apps. Third, DeRemote shows the cover art for these sources in its navigation window. These features mean that you can exercise complete control of an AV8801 without having to power up the main display.
The fourth feature is even better: Unlike using the onscreen setup option, DeRemote lets you browse among its display windows without interrupting or obscuring any audio/video function, and to command that option with a nearly instantaneous response.
I can't think of a better buy for $4.99. Anyone who has a compatible Marantz or Denon device and an iPad, iPod, or iPhone should also have DeRemote.