Mytek HiFi Brooklyn D/A processor–headphone amplifier

When I moved to New York City about a year ago, I was prepared to dislike Brooklyn. Judging it by its reputation as the apotheosis of cool, I envisioned the borough full of good-looking people engaged in pointless acts of mindless, stylish conformity, from man-buns to single-origin pour-over coffee. (Anyone up for adult kickball?) As I've written before, about Portland, Maine—a hipster place much indebted to Brooklyn—I greatly prefer deeply committed idiosyncrasy to mindless conformity.

But I misjudged Brooklyn. It turns out to be big, interesting, diverse, and—yes—idiosyncratic. Sure, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn has its preening hipsters, but walk 20 minutes and you find yourself surrounded by signs in Hebrew and men in shtreimel. Walk in a different direction and the neighborhood is Mexican-Jewish. There's an Arab enclave in the Bay Ridge neighborhood, and Brooklyn is home to the largest Caribbean population outside the Caribbean. Brooklyn's melting-pot character influences both the food—there is such a thing as kosher sushi—and, as I learned in writing this review, the music.

One rainy day earlier this summer, I emerged from a Metro station into a Brooklyn neighborhood I hadn't been in before, one that mixes Thai, Polish, and Chinese influences. It's the 'hood of Mytek HiFi, manufacturer since 1992 of digital pro- and, more recently, consumer-audio products. I was here to chat with Michal Jurewicz, Mytek's founder and chief engineer, and to pick up a review sample of their newest DAC, the Brooklyn.

A Pro in Consumer's Clothing
After earning a degree in electrical engineering at Warsaw Technical University in his native Poland, Michal Jurewicz moved to New York and took a job at the Hit Factory, one of New York's leading recording studios. Soon he moved to Skyline Studios, home at various times to David Bowie, Billy Joel, Patti Smith, and the Wu-Tang Clan. As Skyline's in-house hardware guy, Jurewicz designed, built, and managed hardware used to make and monitor records by the B-52's, Bowie, Maria Carey, Lou Reed, and James Taylor, among others.

Although marketed primarily as a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), the Brooklyn is also a preamplifier with volume control (digital or analog, you choose), a headphone amplifier (two jacks, one for you and one for a date, footnote 1), and—get this—a phono preamplifier. In contrast to its namesake borough, this Brooklyn is small: in pro-audio terms, it's a half rack wide. It has all the usual digital inputs: asynchronous USB, TosLink, AES/EBU, S/PDIF. It plays every digital format most audiophiles could wish for, up to and including quad-speed DSD, 32-bit/384kHz PCM, and MQA. DSD and PCM are handled independently and natively, but Jurewicz says a future firmware upgrade will allow upsampling of PCM to DSD.

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Via its USB connection, the Brooklyn is a 32-bit converter, a point Jurewicz emphasized during our meeting. Does it matter? The dynamic range of human hearing is widely regarded as 120dB, or about 20 bits, and 21 bits appears to be close to the real-world resolution limit for conventional DAC designs, taking into account the physics-dictated noise floor—as John Atkinson's measurements of digital gear have consistently shown. What possible difference, then, can an increase from 24 bits (144dB) to 32 bits (196dB) make? Several years ago, Jurewicz and colleagues conducted careful listening tests; he documented the results in an article he wrote for Resolution, a UK pro-audio magazine: "32 bit sounds better than 24 bit," read a subhead in that article (footnote 2).

In addition to two headphone jacks, the Brooklyn's front panel features an informative display (though it's too small to be easily read at a distance) and a big volume knob. The same knob—push to select—and four small front-panel buttons grant access to the Brooklyn's many programmable features via a well-designed, intuitive user interface. In addition to aforementioned inputs and outputs, those features include Balance, Phase (normal or inverted), Mono, MQA (off/on), Volume (digital or analog), Digital Filter (fast rolloff, slow rolloff, minimum phase), and others. You can even make the faceplate logo light up with varying brightness in any of 14 colors. Most of these features (perhaps all) can be controlled with a standard Apple remote, which is included. If you use a computer as a source, you can set everything via Mytek's control-panel app, which runs on Windows or Mac OS; you'll need the app to update firmware, but otherwise it's optional.

The Brooklyn's 30W power supply is of the switching variety, which, Jurewicz told me in an e-mail, "has many practical advantages." For one thing, it's compact: "The switching power supply we have now is [of higher capacity] than a linear one we could fit in this box." On the other hand, switching power supplies can generate high-frequency electromagnetic radiation, which "could be a problem if it isn't addressed by grounding/shielding." But "in this design we were not able to measure any noise from it leaking to [the circuit] board" (footnote 3). A linear power supply would eliminate any possibility of high-frequency interference, Jurewicz told me; a "substantially larger" supply would also help—so he added a connector for a 12V DC supply. (The best 12V power supply, he told me, is a car battery. He's tried it, he says, and heard an improvement.)

Nor has Mytek skimped on the Brooklyn's pro-audio features, including everything a DAC needs in a pro environment. It has pro-level line output (4dBu, reducible with internal jumpers, in contrast to the consumer standard of –10dBu) and a word-clock input and output. Its two S/PDIF inputs can be set to receive two-channel DSD data from, eg, a Tascam DA-3000 Master Recorder. It's also voiced for the pro market: "Sonically, [the] Brooklyn DAC is designed for the most accurate representation of the recording, so the mastering engineer can hear what's recorded with confidence and make appropriate mastering decisions," Jurewicz wrote to me in an e-mail (footnote 4).

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Probably the Brooklyn's most unusual feature—I'm again tempted to write committed idiosyncrasy—is its built-in, all-analog, moving-coil/moving-magnet phono stage. It's surprising to find a phono stage on a pro-leaning digital component, but from a consumer's standpoint—some consumers, anyway—it makes a lot of sense: It allows this small-footprint DAC to serve as the core component of a compact, affordable audio system.

ADHD Listening
During my afternoon at Mytek headquarters, Jurewicz showed me a neat trick you can do with the Brooklyn: Sitting in your listening chair with the DAC in your lap, you can toggle crucial settings—MQA, analog or digital volume control, choice of digital filter—and immediately hear the effects of the change. Audiophile gurus may recommend long-term listening to evaluate a component's sound, but toggling back and forth at least gives you more confidence that the difference you're hearing is real.



Footnote 1: Your date, however, will be listening in inverted phase—a small compromise that lets those two jacks, combined, drive balanced headphones via special adapters. I hope it doesn't ruin your relationship.

Footnote 2: Michal Jurewicz, "Beyond 24-bit." Resolution: March 2014.

Footnote 3: With my lo-tech RFI detector—a radio—I detected radio-frequency radiation near the power supply, but only when the radio was practically touching the Brooklyn's metal case. That's a good showing.

Footnote 4: Over time, I've grown skeptical of the notion that a component can reproduce precisely what's on the recording—how can we know what that is? Jurewicz has an excellent answer: codesign a pair of companion converters, a DAC and an analog-to-digital converter (ADC). Now he can send a file through the DAC and on to the ADC. "The DAC and ADC are then fine tuned until the result is as close as possible to [the] original. This approach, unique to Mytek R&D, guarantees the highest transparency and fidelity to the original recorded content." The Mytek Brooklyn ADC will ship sometime this fall, and will include an MQA kernel so that you can set up your own MQA recording studio at home, though you'll need an audio workstation and an MQA plug-in. The ADC will cost the same as the Brooklyn DAC: $1995. No word yet—I've asked—on whether you'll need to pay royalties to MQA Ltd.

COMPANY INFO
Mytek HiFi
148 India Street, First Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(347) 384-2687
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