The Sennheiser headphones were selected for two reasons:
First, I have owned them for an extended period of time and am familiar with their (excellent) sound, and
Second, the HD-600s are power-hungry and notoriously difficult to drive, and thus, an appropriate challenge to the Mytek Liberty DAC and Headphone Amplifier. This is particularly true since Mytek claims that the Liberty is specifically designed for difficult-to-drive headphones.
Right away, I’ll say that the Liberty DAC, used as a combination DAC and headphone amplifier, sounds better than the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 DAC’s headphone amplifier section. The Liberty’s real competition is the Emotiva BasX A-100 integrated amplifier. And the Mytek Liberty didn’t flinch at the challenge!
The Liberty was compared directly with two other components, the now-discontinued Emotiva BasX A-100 integrated amplifier and the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 DAC. The DC-1, for these comparisons, was used as a DAC but not a headphone amplifier. The Stealth DC-1’s RCA (unbalanced) outputs were used as connectors to the A-100 amplifier inputs. The remainder of my comments pertain to the Mytek Liberty DAC and Headphone Amplifier component as compared to the combination of the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 DAC feeding the Emotiva BasX A-100 integrated amplifier, with the integrated amp used solely as a headphone amplifier.
My initial impressions are that the Mytek DAC and Headphone Amplifier are very, very good. Although there are slight tonal differences between its sound and that of the Stealth DC-1/A-100 combination, the Liberty doesn’t suffer by comparison at all when trying to run my HD-600 headphones. That is probably the most important single thing I can say about it! Mytek doesn’t mess around with this headphone amp!
I’d also mention that the Mytek’s USB connection sounds great versus the Emotiva DC-1’s BNC connection. This is the only time that I’ve thought that ANY USB connection sounded great! Usually, from a USB connection, I hear some sort of veil or diminished sonic presentation – but not with the Mytek.
I have previously heard the Sabre-DAC (lower treble) glare from every such implementation I’ve tried, including OPPO’s BDP-105, UDP-205 (the worst one), and the Geek Pulse Infinity DAC (although a slightly different coloration than the usual). If the Mytek Liberty has any Sabre-DAC glare, it doesn’t jump out at me. However, there is a slightly-audible cymbal coloration in the treble of Pink’s “Try,” that may or may not be attributable to the Sabre chipset.
In terms of amplitude, I can max-out the Mytek Liberty’s volume into my Sennheiser HD-600 headphones without distortion. The maximum volume won’t deafen you, but it DOES get very loud. Unless you are a total bass-head, I think that the Liberty’s volume capability will more than satisfy. If you want more volume, then you’ll need the Emotiva BasX A-100 integrated amplifier or a similar amp with far more power than the three-watt Mytek.
In terms of ultimate volume capability, the Mytek Liberty and the Emotiva BasX A-100 are surprisingly close (I nearly fainted as I wrote that line – The BasX amp has been my reference since I bought it). Yes, there are still rare times when the BasX sounds louder than the Liberty, and the BasX still has a more powerful sound at extremely high volumes. But the Mytek Liberty is so close that the average listener will never want for more.
What are the audible differences between the BasX amplifier and the Mytek Liberty’s headphone amp? On Adele’s “When We Were Young” (YouTube performance), the bass may be (or may not be) slightly more controlled by the BasX amplifier, and the BasX’s treble is perhaps slightly more accurate. And that’s about it. Right now, listening to the same song through the Mytek Liberty’s headphone amp, the only audible difference is an occasional very slight thinness on some cymbals (and even then, only on some songs) from the Liberty.
On the positive side, the Liberty DAC may be more mellow, and slightly warmer with a minimally more relaxed and open sound than the Emotiva Stealth DC-1. The Liberty DAC may also produce a slightly cleaner left to right coherence. But again, these differences are very small.
The Emotiva DC-1 can occasionally sound slightly more forward than the Mytek Liberty in the upper midrange and treble (the opposite of what I expected). The DC-1 may also be slightly more dynamic in the treble, but when noticeable at all, the difference is very small. Although there IS a barely-audible difference between the two DACs, that difference is so small that it’s hard to say which is better.
In terms of the musical tone of the DACs, the DC-1 may do a few things slightly better than the Liberty. Sometimes when you are wanting that last bit of tonal quality when a singer really belts it out, the DC-1 may produce that edge that I look for – that overload of the listener’s ears. Also, with the DC-1, the voices have a slight gloss that may or may not be a treble artifact. But either way, both DACs sound solid and clear.
The Mytek Liberty may smooth the sound out just a tiny bit more than it should. But in compensation for this, the Liberty does a few things better, including a slightly more open sound and a slightly smoother treble.
So which DAC won? The most honest answer is “Undecided!” Both offer fantastic sound. I REALLY like the Mytek Liberty. The fact that it competes so closely with my previous reference combination of the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 DAC and the Emotiva BasX A-100 integrated amplifier is shocking to me.
My only criticism of the Mytek Liberty DAC is its lack of a remote volume control. Yes, I sit away from the volume control in my living room. No, it’s not too much to ask that I don’t have to get out of my chair to change the volume on every song.
A very minor issue is that in certain cymbal sounds, the Liberty’s sound can be just the slightest bit light in impact and weight. Is this the dreaded Sabre-glare? Who knows. I had to go digging for faults to even find this. But if so, this is probably the slightest Sabre-coloration that I’ve ever heard. It is almost completely inaudible.
The Mytek Liberty would make a great travel DAC to pack in a suitcase but is not quite compact enough to carry in your lap. I haven’t tested the MYTEK Liberty with speakers yet. But when the TRS to XLR adapters (the “Metropolis” wires) arrive, I hope to put the Liberty through its paces with my main stereo.