Mytek Liberty DAC and Headphone Amplifier
- Handles PCM, MQA, and DSD files from its USB2 input
- Sounds significantly less strident than the majority of Sabre-chip DACs
- Balanced and unbalanced volume-controlled analog output jacks for preamplifier feed
- 127dB of dynamic range
- Up to 384K, 32-bit PCM capability
- DSD inputs at DSD – 64 / 128 / 256
- Built-in 3-Watt headphone amp
The Liberty DAC and Headphone Amplifier is the latest product from Mytek Digital Corporation. Mr. Michal (pronounced “Mehow”) Jurewicz is the company’s guiding light, and designer of the Mytek Liberty DAC. Jurewicz is married to Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardottir, and they currently live in Brooklyn with their two teenage children.
As to Michal’s background, after earning an Electrical Engineering degree in Warsaw, Poland, he moved to New York City. Jurewicz was the recording engineer at two of the top recording studios there. When he saw the coming digital revolution, he started Mytek Digital in 1991. Originally building analog-to-digital converters for recording studios, Mytek launched its Consumer Division in 2011. Many famous recording artists use Mytek gear, including Stevie Wonder.
Digital to analog conversion rates:
up to 384k, 32-bit PCM, native DSD
up to DSD256, DXD, @ 127dB Dynamic Range
Built-in and certified MQA™ hardware decoder
USB2 Class2 (OSX, Linux driverless, all formats)
AES/EBU (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP)
2 x S/PDIF (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP)
Toslink/ADAT 2 x S/PDIF (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP)
1 pair of unbalanced RCA
1 pair of balanced TRS
TRS to XLR Metropolis Cable can be added as option
Reference high-current, high-transient headphone amplifier
300mA @ 3 Watts, unbalanced single ¼” headphone jack
Designed to drive high-impedance headphones
0.1 Ohm output impedance
Low-noise with 10ps of jitter
Upgradable via USB via Mytek Control panel application
Optional DC/battery power input:
WxDxH=5.5” x 8.5” x 1.74” / 140 x 216 x 44mm
3lbs / 1.5kg
Manufacturer-suggested retail price (MSRP):
$995 / €995
MYTEK, DAC, LIBERTY, Reviews, 2018, Headphone amplifier, Sabre, consumer, DAC and Amplifier Review 2018
- MYTEK LIBERTY shipping announcement
- MQA at Consumer Electronics Show 2018
- MYTEK BROOKLYN announcement at the Munich audio show
The Liberty is a 1/3-rack-unit-sized device that was originally developed for professional studio-recording use. Additional “one function” Liberty line products are anticipated later this year.
The Liberty design concept is to provide a simple, small and robust unit which can do one specific function very well. The Mytek Liberty DAC was intended to be a great-sounding USB DAC, that can play every possible format including full decoding of Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) files. The Liberty DAC is intended to provide a good balance of detailed, transparent, and musical sound while also being a very good headphone amplifier.
The Liberty DAC firmware is updateable via the Mytek Control Panel app. There will be new firmware releases as features are added. The content will be fine-tuned based on customer feedback.
The USB input is asynchronous Class 2. That means the DAC runs on its exceptionally-clean internal master clock and requests data as needed, eliminating any jitter created by the source component. The USB input also accepts high speed formats not available on other digital inputs including signals up to 32-bit/384K in both PCM and DSD256 flavors, and up to DSD128 on a Mac using DOP.
When the non-USB, synchronous digital inputs are used, two methods are operating simultaneously for improved sound. Jitter reduction is accomplished not only by a sophisticated Phase-Locked-Loop (PLL) on the input, but also by the asynchronous architecture of the Sabre 9018 DAC chipset itself. Additionally, a low-jitter master clock is used for the last stage of data conversion.
The Mytek Liberty DAC and headphone amp is the newest of the Mytek Digital products. It uses the Sabre ESS9018K2M DAC chipset – so I’ll start with a confession. Many reviewers as well as many on the internet have claimed that Sabre DACs have a characteristic sound. Some claim that the sound is detailed while others claim that the sound is bright and glare-prone in the lower treble. I’ve owned at least two Sabre-DAC-based products in the past. My first, an OPPO BDP-105 Blu-Ray player I considered quite detailed, but without the notorious “Sabre glare.” But my second Sabre product, the newer Oppo UDP-205 4K player, strikes me as crossing the line into the “bright and glare-prone” category.
So, I must admit that I had negative expectations for the Mytek Liberty DAC, based solely on its Sabre chipset. Now note that all these Sabre-DAC devices, including the both OPPOs and the Mytek Liberty, measure ruler-flat in the frequency domain. But the sounds are distinctly different; due (I’m presuming) to the filters used and the implementation and voicing of the output buffer amplifiers.
And not to keep you in suspense – the Mytek Liberty retains all the expected detail of the Sabre chipset without any of the brightness and glare. How Mr. J. and company managed this, I can’t say, but the results speak for themselves.
Looking inside the Mytek Liberty’s box gives no clue as to its sound either. If you’re looking for audiophile wiring, expensive brand-name resistors, or fancy film capacitors, you won’t fine them here. This is obviously a consumer product with its plethora of (reasonably high quality) polarized and non-polarized electrolytic caps.
My Mytek Liberty DAC was supposed to arrive with some TRS-to-XLR Metropolis (adapter) cables, but as you can see from the photo above, the only cables in the review box were the standard IEC power cord and a USB-2 cable. Fortunately, I had some adapters in my spare parts box, and was able to listen to the outputs via both RCA (unbalanced) and XLR (balanced) options.
After a very simple setup, the DAC is ready to play. The short and to-the-point owner’s manual is adequate and accurate. The front of the DAC includes a single tri-function rotary knob, a ¼” headphone jack, and a selection of very, very bright LED lights. The knob can be used as an on-off switch, an input selector, and a (digital-domain) volume control. Because this device is intended as either a professional rack-mount item or as an enhancement to computer desktop audio, no remote control is included. Now this omission is a bit disappointing in a device priced close to $1,000. But in keeping with the Liberty philosophy of “one use,” it is understandable. The Liberty DAC was never intended to be a preamplifier. So, in its role as DAC and headphone amp, a remote control would have been mostly superfluous. Even so, I can always wish…
The back of the Mytek Liberty DAC is equally straightforward. There are multiple digital inputs, a power socket, and two pairs of analog outputs. There is also a 12-volt input jack and Mytek suggests that using a high-current 12-volt source (such as an auto battery) can provide improvements in performance. I didn’t try this option, but can understand how it could be so, provided that sufficiently heavy-gauge connecting wire was used and that the socket/plug can pass enough current.
I expect that few will avail themselves of the battery option, simply due to the inconvenience. However, if you do opt to try this, be aware that auto batteries contain sulfuric acid, that leaks can be highly corrosive, and that the battery cells can generate free hydrogen. That hydrogen must be vented and dispersed lest flammable mixtures occur. Blowing up your stereo would have a profoundly low spousal-acceptance factor! (I’m picturing snickering firemen too. Ed.) So, remembering that hydrogen gas is lighter than air, be aware that ventilation above the battery is mandatory. (Safety rant concluded…)
So how does the Mytek Liberty DAC and Headphone Amplifier sound? I first evaluated the DAC with the unbalanced outputs driving a power amplifier directly. The sound was clean and detailed with absolutely none of the “Sabre-glare” that I was expecting. This alone makes the Liberty DAC highly unusual in the galaxy of Sabre-DAC devices. My only complaint (the lazy-man’s one) had to do with the lack of a remote and the necessity to get up and cross the room for every volume adjustment.
I then used the XLR adapters to feed a fully-differential, fully-balanced integrated amplifier. With the Liberty DAC’s output set to 100%, I could use the analog and remotely-controlled volume control of the integrated amp. In this mode, I again found the sound far better than average.
I soon noticed, however, that my left channel sound was intermittent. After verifying that the DAC, amplifier, and interconnects were functioning properly, I noticed that my TRS-to-XLR adapters were too wide for the spacing allowed by the Mytek Liberty’s TRS jacks. The shoulders of the adapters were physically pushing each other aside, making for intermittent connection on the stereo ¼” phone plugs. This is not the fault of the DAC, and a slimmer pair of cables (such as Mytek’s Metropolis models) would certainly not have this problem. I mention it only to caution those who might try to employ adapters such as mine.
Finally, I listened to the headphone output using easy-to-drive Koss Porta-Pro headphones. Running these phones was a walk in the park for the Mytek, which is built to run very demanding headphones. But despite the “running at an idle” state of the Mytek, the Koss phones sounded as good as I’ve heard them.
So as a preamplifier, I rate the Mytek Liberty very highly. It is not my choice for a primary preamplifier only because of its missing remote volume control. But since preamplifier use was never the primary purpose of the Liberty, that should not be a deciding factor.
What the Mytek Liberty DAC is primarily intended to be is a very high-quality headphone amplifier. As I’ve said, my selection of headphones is very limited, since I’m not a big cans listener. My choices were Apple ear-buds (that I don’t like anyway and didn’t try) and the lightweight Koss Porta-Pros. The Liberty’s detail from my Porta-Pros was as good as any I’ve heard.
The good news is that my audio amigo has a pair of very hard to drive Sennheiser HD-600 headphones that he’s agreed to use with this Mytek. Once he has a chance to try those phones with the Mytek Liberty, I’ll update this review in the comments section to discuss how well the Liberty’s headphone amp works with really demanding headphones.
- MacBook Pro running jRiver Media Center 22 (Media center was not used with 192/24, MQA, or DSD content)
- Ixos digital interconnect for S/PDIF inputs of the Mytek
- AudioQuest and Blue Jeans interconnects
- Emotiva BasX A-300 power amplifier
- Yamaha A-S2000 integrated, balanced amplifier
- Straight Wire and AudioQuest speaker wires
- Thiel 1.6 speakers with and without subwoofers
- Tekton Pendragon speakers with no subwoofers
- RBH MC-6C sealed bookshelf speakers with subwoofers
- PowerSound Audio S3601 dual 18” subwoofer
- RBH DSA-31 10” subwoofer
A variety of music was used while auditioning the Mytek Liberty as a preamplifier. Included in my notes are:
“One Night In Rio” by Louie Austen – (Hôtel Costes byStéphanie Pompougnac)
Louie’s voice is one that can sound unnatural through many DACs, but the Mytek Liberty nailed his whiney tone perfectly here.
“Barflies at the Beach” by the Royal Crown Revue (New Music from Interscope Records 1997)
The big Royal Crown band should blare without glare. With this DAC, they do.
“Banned in the USA” by The 2 Live Crew (As Nasty As They Want To Be)
There is a great host of sound effects in this song, from news announcers to samples of “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee.” This is an oldie, but a goodie, and the sound effects should be startling in their diversity. The Mytek brings the goods!
“Cast Your Fate To The Wind” by (the late) Allen Toussaint (Allen Toussaint 1971)
This soulful take on an old classic is so much fun, in my opinion, that it should be part of almost every review. Allen’s piano should sound real and present without any portion of its frequency range sounding recessed or excessively forward. The Liberty manages a clean and nuanced presentation.
“Pukara” by Andean Symphony V (Inca Gold, 1998)
The bass wind instrument (I’m not sure of the name) on this recording is difficult to reproduce. Some DACs have disassociated the puff of the breath and the hum of the wooden instrument. But the Mytek makes the combination a whole. Even so, some of my speakers fought the music (being mostly a satellite-subwoofer-crossover artifact, I think). But headphone listening makes clear that the disconnect is not the fault of the Liberty.
“Un Fiesta Anima” by Padu Del Caribe (Cu Amor | Carino)
This is “love it or hate it” music, and I’m obviously in the former camp. I find the juxtaposition of the piano and out-of-time accompaniment to be a musical jolt, but an enjoyable one. Others for whom I’ve played this music absolutely can’t stand it. But what I think makes this a good recording for analyzing a DAC is that deliberately discordant timing makes the listener pay more attention to the sounds of the instruments. If the DAC cannot differentiate between all the things happening in the mix, this song can sound like a disorganized jumble. But if the tonality is right, this music is great, great fun. Again, the Mytek nails it!
“Orleans Stomp” by The Cruel Sea (Honeymoon is Over 1993)
Yes, I’m partial to New Orleans music. And this one reminds me of the Meters in its presentation. Again, a dense mix demands a lot from the DAC, and again, the Mytek seems to come through without any of the dreaded “Sabre glare.” Well done.
“Scarlotti Sonata K. 491” by Vladimir Horowitz (A Reminiscence – 2004)
Solo piano is always one of the toughest tests of a DAC (and the rest of the system, for that matter). Since we’ve all had plenty of experience hearing real pianos in real spaces, our minds are calibrated to the live sound. Some DACs emphasize one part of the frequency spectrum over another, making a pianist sound as if she or he is playing louder and softer (or often closer and farther away) as the music ascends or descends the keyboard. But to my ears, the Mytek provided a unedited frequency response from one end of the instrument to the other.
“Wieniawski Scherzo Tarantelle” by Itzhak Perlman (Itzhak Perelman Encores – 1988)
So, HERE’S where any glare will be evident (if it’s there to be heard in the first place). The fundamentals and overtones of the violin strings and its body sounds span the entire upper midrange to treble region. The finger sounds and bow scrape should be clear and obvious without being dominating. If Mr. Perelman doesn’t seem to be in the room with you, something’s wrong. If the instrument sounds screechy, something’s wrong.
Here’s where I listened most closely for the “Sabre glare”, to my surprise and pleasure, I found none from the Mytek Liberty. If only my OPPO 205 had such poise and neutrality! Ironically, my older 105 Oppo COULD present this music as well as the Mytek does. But rest assured that to my ears, the Mytek is as glare-free as two of the best DACs I’ve yet auditioned, Schiit’s Gungnir Multibit and Rega’s DAC-R.
Vivaldi Cantata Rv 679: Che Giova Il Sospirar, Povero Core – Aria: Cupido, Tu Vedi by Tone Wik & Baokkanerne.Playing this off the hard drive in full MQA provided a better image (both side-to-side and front-to-back) than my previous Meridian Explorer II in hardware MQA mode. The imaging, through the Mytek, also exceeded the performance of my previous AudioQuest Dragonfly Red in software MQA mode.
Why this is so, I won’t even speculate, because the MQA format itself is supposed to minimize playback variability. But the sound spoke for itself, and the Liberty DAC delivered yet again.
Almost all the above music was played via the TOSLINK optical and the S/PDIF coaxial inputs of the Mytek Liberty DAC. To test the USB capabilities, I hooked up my MacBook Pro directly to the USB input of the Mytek, made a few changes in the setup, then tried a variety of 192/24, MQA, and DSD files. All played perfectly, and without trouble. The lights on the front of the Liberty DAC confirm the type of file currently playing. The MQA material (mostly downloaded from the 2L website) was particularly pleasant.
I’ll mention again that my limited trial of the headphone amplifier was done using Koss PortaPro cans, and that I’ll be sure to follow-up this review in the future with at least one, and preferably more, harder-to-drive headsets.
The MYTEK LIBERTY DAC AND HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER offers exceptionally good sound with a smooth and detailed frequency response that avoids glare. Its price is commensurate with its performance.
- Avoids the lower treble brightness that some Sabre chipsets exhibit
- The ability to run balanced or unbalanced outputs allows flexibility
- MQA-in-hardware decoding is still a rare feature in DACs
- Full hardware MQA capability
- This DAC sounds very good!
- A remote-volume control would have made this a viable preamp
- The front panel LEDs are exceptionally bright – a dimmer control would be nice
As a balanced and unbalanced DAC and preamplifier, the Mytek Liberty has superb technical chops. Its ability to handle any and all sources I threw at it (including MQA, DSD, and high-bitrate files) exceeds that of any other device I’ve tested. On the other hand, the lack of a remote-control volume pretty much disqualifies the Liberty (for most potential buyers) as anything but a headphone amplifier. This is in keeping with the Liberty’s stated design goal of “one-function, done very well.”
The sound of the Mytek Liberty is also exceptionally good. Better, in fact, than any other DAC I’ve yet heard that uses the Sabre-brand chipset. Apparently, significant attention was paid to filtering and buffering, and that attention shows in its highly-dynamic sound that (at least in my system) lacks any hint of harshness or glare.
Used within its intended parameters, the Mytek Liberty DAC and Headphone Amplifier seems like a winner to me!