Italy may be better known for high-performance automobiles than high-performance audio, but that doesn’t stop Marco Manunta, owner and designer of the Italian audio firm M2Tech, from creating cutting-edge digital devices. His first commercial product was a DAC for North Star Design in 1998. But the M2Tech breakout product was the HiFace USB adapter. The HiFace delivered acceptable USB sonics when most manufacturers were still struggling with basic USB interface methodology, and established M2Tech as a serious player in the evolving computer-audio universe. Now M2Tech has a stand-alone DAC, the $1499 Young, as well as a matching accessory battery power supply, the Palmer ($1100). The Young attempts to build on the advances of the HiFace USB interface, but with additional inputs, greater resolution capabilities, and its own built-in digital to analog converter.
The Young DAC supports up to 384kHz/32-bit digital files via its proprietary USB driver, 192kHz via AES/EBU, S/PDIF, and 96kHz through its TosLink input. For outputs the Young has one pair of fixed-level, single-ended RCA analog. The Young front panel has only two buttons. The left-hand one turns the unit on and off, while the right-hand button selects the input. There is no remote.
The entire Young DAC is housed in a one-piece half-sized ¼"-thick aluminum outer case. The front panel consists of a metal screen with regularly spaced circular holes. An LED display, tucked behind the front-panel’s center section, tells you which input has been selected and the bit-rate from that input. The LED display is available with either red or blue LEDs (the blue version costs $100 more.)
The Young can be powered via its supplied 15-volt one-amp wall-wart or the optional Palmer battery power supply. The Palmer is housed in a chassis identical to that of the Young but without an LED display. The left-hand button powers up the Palmer, while the right-hand button enables the Palmer’s output. The Palmer will support two M2Tech devices requiring a 15-volt supply.
The Young uses a Burr-Brown DAC chip, but unlike most implementations, M2Tech uses only part of the chip. All the filtering and oversampling is performed by an FPGA (field-programmable gate array) integrated circuit. This circuit contains a collection of logic gates programmed with M2Tech’s proprietary algorithms, which, according to its designer, is “a faster and cheaper” way to realize signal processing compared with dedicated chips.
The Young’s 32-bit processing theoretically allows for up to a 195dB signal-to-noise ratio; however, the DAC itself only supports up to 123dB signal-to-noise. The DAC’s limiting factor is thermal noise rather than sampling noise. M2Tech’s filters “bury” sampling and computational noise under the sampling noise, which M2Tech says makes the sampling noise “inaudible.”
The optional Palmer power supply uses a LI-Po battery coupled with fast-charge circuit, a 15-volt post-regulator, and a pre-regulator. It is spec’d to supply a maximum output of one amp peak current delivery. M2Tech claims the supply is good for a minimum of 500 charge cycles, and its 4400mAh capacity allows for 9000 hours of battery operation before it will need replacement.
Getting the Young DAC up and running is simple as long as you have an Internet connection. To get the latest USB driver for either Mac or PC you must go to the M2Tech Web site and download it. Once the driver was downloaded and installed (which took only a couple of mouse clicks), my Mac Pro desktop immediately recognized the Young, and it was added to the list of output devices in my selection box. Once it was selected I went to Apple’s MIDI control program to see what output rates were supported by the Young. As promised, the Young can handle everything from 44.1 to 384kHz at up to 32-bits via USB.
For most of the evaluation period the Young was connected to my Mac Pro desktop computer via an AudioQuest Carbon 1m USB cable. The Young also received a S/PDIF signal from other USB adapters, including the Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 4 and Musical Fidelity’s V-Link, as well as TosLink directly from the Mac Pro’s digital output. The Young’s analog output level was controlled via the volume control in the April Music Eximus DP1 DAC/PRE by routing the Young’s output into the Eximus DP1’s analog inputs. Using the Eximus as a signal selector and analog volume control also made it possible to compare the Young’s DAC section with other DACs such as the Wyred4Sound DAC2 in matched-level A/B tests.
All the USB DACs were connected to the high-speed USB 2.0 ports. The port configurations were confirmed through Apple’s “About This Mac” control panels. When comparing USB interfaces and DACs, it’s important to confirm that the units being compared are receiving their datastreams over identical paths, so the evaluations are made on a level playing field in terms of data-stream capabilities.