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A/D M2Tech Joplin digital processor

07.05.2013..
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Reviewing the M2Tech Joplin Analogue/Digital Converter is the most complicate thing I have ever done. In fact, I have never thought to test an object that represents a solid bridge between the analogue and the digital world.

A stargate connecting two distant universes today very close thanks to the new digital electronic devices capable of offering, in terms of versatility, always more articulated and advanced apparatus, and thanks to the infinite variables granted by streaming music.

The multiple operation possibilities, the multiple variables of objects that interact with the IT world applied to the sound, make difficult if not impossible an exhaustive objectivity of the results.

Anyway, we have to start somewhere to understand this product, which offers the possibility of digitalizing an analogue record collection on whatever format, first of all the vinyl.

 

The Analogue/Digital converter extracts at its inputs an analogue musical content and converts it in a digital file. Then it sends the file to a computer in order to create a music library.

Are we "getting rid of" our record and CD collection? If you like, yes. The important thing is to put your vinyls on a computer memory and then listen to them through a DAC, not included in this Joplin.

Obviously, the Joplin can do that and can do many other things.

This M2Tech device has the functionalities of a phono stage, hence offering equalization curves and a tension gain that the user can vary, from 10 up to 65 dB, in relation with the output level of the cartridge. Therefore, it can perfectly interface with several cartridges although it cannot offer the possibility of adjusting the input impedance that is normally 47 Kohms in a MM phono preamp.

That means that if you do not want to interject your phono preamp between your low impedance MC cartridge and the Joplin, you should necessarily insert a suitable step-up or use RCA connectors with the required resistances.

Obviously, if we want to use our phono preamp, the gain has to be set on 0 dB and, as a consequence, the RIAA curve of the Joplin will be excluded. The Joplin will just create a musical file to send to a PC.

Otherwise, the Joplin offers the opportunity, a rare case though, of having a series of equalization curves that add themselves to the common curve of the standard RIAA that the record companies have been using since the mid '50s. Therefore, it is possible to listen at their best the recordings made before that period where every record company had its own equalization curve. For technical reasons, the vinyl is always recorded with a frequency response that requires a sensitive lowering of the level for the bass frequencies to which corresponds a higher level for the high range. At that time, the implementation was different from company to company until the standardizing of this curve with the specifications made by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).

 

So, if you own records from the ‘40s or early ‘50s you can listen to them almost perfectly, whereas we have always thought that a certain "closed" sound could be ascribed to the qualitative levels of that time. 

M2Tech is one of the first Italian companies to put itself on the market of the digital "streaming" devices, both with its already famous "hi-face DAC", a USB to interface DAC and personal computer, and with its converters at a moderate price capable of top operation possibilities.

 

How to use it

Forget to use the Joplin as a plug and play object.

First, the red LED display is hotly despicable, since it is barely readable and also quite ugly.

It was not so difficult to employ something more agreeable and practical, considering that we live in the era of the high resolution displays which are employed for mobiles of 90 euro.

Having said that, the Joplin can be set also via the basic remote control that, although intuitive, is too simplistic: there is no articulated menu but just the possibility of browse in a linear way the various steps.

But we know that technology and hi-fi world have never come along.

If you want to use it with a Windows system, you have to download the drivers from the website in order to activate the USB port with the 2.0 standard. Then you have to configure your PC in ASIO modality. Your PC has to recognize the Joplin as an audio hardware, following a simple procedure described in the user’s manual.

This is what I did, albeit the manufacturer told me that it is possible to configure in Kernel Streaming, WASAPI or in Direct Sound, depending on the app you are going to use.

 

If you have a Linux or Apple system, everything is already set: I did not check it but I have no reason to doubt.

However, there is something else.

Whatever system you have, you need a program of audio acquisition in digital format. The manufacturer suggests some software, also for free, that you can download on your PC in few minutes.

 

Now we have to choose the operating choice on the Joplin itself. This device can operate in digital standard with a resolution up to 32 bits and a sampling frequency up to 384 kHz, even if this last one only by using the USB standard port.

The chosen resolution has to be related to the DAC you are going to use to convert the files to the listening mode. Consider that the very high quantity of data that are on the vinyl and/or tapes demands for the most performing standard.

 

I stop here to avoid repeating the user’s manual that I suggest you to read anyway.

 

All the possible digital outputs have been provided - I think - with just one RCA analogue input with mass contact, like a normal phono preamp, and an S/PDIF input to use a digital source with your PC via the Joplin itself.

The only thing I want to add about the internal circuit is that the phono equalization curves have been obtained in digital domain and not, as happens with a traditional phono preamp, with passive nets.

 

Finally, it is possible, in recording phase, to verify the input level thanks to a signaling in VU meter style with LED, so to avoid any mistake while choosing the gain level.

Once you have understand the whole thing, it is quite easy to "digitalize" a vinyl. You can also choose among three filtering operations whether any problems of noise of the record are present or if you are recording from a radio source, and in this case by activating the MPX filter.

Nothing seems left to chance except, maybe, the possibility of varying the load data of the input resistance, useful with a low impedance MC cartridge. Obviously, nothing prevents to add to the Joplin a normal transformer step-up.

 

The sound

I think it will be not so easy to define a precise sound characteristic of this electronic device even if, at the end, I have got one.

I used the Joplin only with my analogue front end made of Wilson Benesch base and tonearm, Denon DL-S1 cartridge, interfaced with a Denon AU340 step-up, NOS transformers by Beyerdynamic with 1:15 transformation ratio, Sutherland Ph3D and Estro Armonico Bellaluce phono preamps.

 

I have digitalized a series of vinyls both with the external phono preamps and the Joplin's but always with a step-up, since the Denon requires one to get a quite good result.

 

Another premise is required, though. I think that a copy could not be better than the original.

This counts for a master with respect to a live event, for the support with respect to the master and, of course, for a file with respect to a "ripped" record.

The concept of copy cannot - per definition - exclude a data loss or an alteration.

A perfect copy can, if anything, preserve all the content of the original but never improve it, and today we should speculate on the fact if it is possible to get a copy identical to the original.

In my experience the answer, supported by technical evidence, is negative also in the digital field.

For sure, a copy can be different from the original and this diversity can be considered as an improvement, although apparent.

This is what the Joplin does. Thanks to its high resolution it can get very close to the entire preservation of the analogue signal it gets. But it gives its personal vision to the sound result, mostly if used as a phono preamp.

In few words: the result is a bit lower than the original record and a bit different.

Where we lose something this something can be defined in terms of dynamics, image and harmonic content.

In the first case, there is less rise time, less immediacy of the micro contrast. We are talking of nuances but perceptible at an attentive listening that contribute to a minimum hint of loss of the sound realism.

The image, if compared to the original, has a different scan of the sound planes, with a cozier bottom of the stage and is less wide, while the subjects in the foreground are more precise and etched.

Again, this is not an improvement. I have just said that a copy cannot be better than the original, but a feeling due to a light loss of harmonic weight of the instruments that helps to perceive the fundamentals in a clearer way. It is like a painting full of nuances where we rub off some colours leaving the more visible and strong ones although less rich from a tonal point of view.

 

All that has its meaning only if related to a critical listening test. At a first approach, the file is less exact while a bit different, and it is only talking out the differences that you come to the previously mentioned conclusions.

What matters is a credible and appreciable result, mostly if considering the very high number of info contained in an analogue support that this device can "copy".

While the record has more sense of immediacy and realism, the Joplin produces a file rich in detail, with more transparence and sound cleanness for the aforementioned reason.

Therefore the file is listenable, agreeable and, in any case, different from our vinyl.

Maybe someone could prefer the file to the original vinyl, mostly with DAC and a computer system of great performances.

 

The tonal aspect has an indubitable, at least for me, increasing of the mid high range. Maybe it is brighter and extrovert, mostly with acoustic instruments of great harmonic weight, like the piano, which is more percussive although no more dynamic, as it could appear at a first approach.

The tonal characteristics stay unchanged at the varying of the resolution we ask the Joplin to use. The comparison with a file made in CD standard and one file made at 24/96 or 24/192 is unmerciful, with advantages for these last formats that are undeniable under the profile of musicality and sound realism, very close, as I said before, to the original vinyl.

With an increasing resolution, everything seems easily detachable, mostly concerning the fluidity of the sound message, since always a virtue of the valuable vinyls.

 

About the playback of the voices, the most important test for any musical comparison, if the analogue disc guarantees that sense of humanity and realism of high level, the Joplin can produce files without any harshness. The mid bass is dryer and there is a sense of less harmonic body, which has the merit of getting the sound playback closer to the real event.

 

Using the Joplin as a phono preamp means making a comparison with the electronic devices that we have at our disposal. I can state that the phono circuit of the Italian device is on equal terms with phono stages whose price is around a thousand euro, just to give you an idea.

Its performances are only below the performances of devices of real worth.

 

At this point, I stop and suggest you to test this great piece of equipment, which can do justice to any analogue source.

 

Conclusions

Great object, this Joplin. M2Tech has been able to implement with technical competence and attention to the musical performances, without forgetting the high operational possibilities that consent a user-friendly employment, depending on the single requirements.

The possibility of preserving the content of our vinyls that loose quality with their continual use is a great opportunity. Moreover, the musical files are simpler to use.

The price is not very low but adherent to what it can do and the way it does. At this point I could have ask for an internal DAC to listen to our musical files, but most probably the manufacturer has thought that the target client has already a converter of quality and that having another one inside the Joplin could be a surplus not required with a consequent increasing of the final price.

As far as I am concerned, they hit the mark.

 

Official technical specifications:

Sampling Frequencies(kHz):44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8*, 384*

Resolution: 16, 20, 24bit (S/PDIF, AES/EBU, optical, with or without dither), 16, 20, 24, 32bit (USB, with or without noise shaping)

Frequency response: 10-20kHz +0.1/-0.5dB (fs = 44.1kHz), 10-150kHz +0.1/-0.1dB (fs = 384kHz)

SNR: 122dB (A weighted, 384kHz, 32 bits, gain 0dB), 114dB (A weighted, 192kHz, 24 bits with noise shaping, gain 0dB), 100dB (A weighted, 192kHz, 24 bits with noise shaping, gain 40dB)

THD+N: 0.00045% (1.7Vrms in, 192kHz, 24bits, gain 0dB)

Gain: 0dB, 10dB to 65dB in 1dB steps

Cross-talk: -110dB at 1kHz

Inputs: analog single ended on RCA female, S/PDIF on RCA female

Outputs: 1x S/PDIF (RCA female), 1x AES/EBU (XLR), 1x optical (Toslink), 1x USB (USB female Type B)

Input voltage: 1.7Vrms (4.8Vpp at 0dBFS)

Supply voltage: 15VDC

Supply current: 290mA

Size: 200x50x200mm (WxHxD)

Weight: 1kg approx.

Official Italian dealer: to Marantz Italy website

Official current price in Italy: 1,999.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Paolo “Miracle” Di Marcoberardino's system

 

by Paolo Di Marcoberardino
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