M2Tech Evo set | Part One - hiFace Evo interface and Evo DAC

24.09.2012..

Introducing today M2Tech in a web review is unnecessary. Just google and you will easily find out that the Tuscan M2Tech, famous in Italy for its “USB pen”, is also known worldwide and I am sure it will go down in the history of the musical reproduction at the chapter “And the day came when the PC replaced the CD players”.

 

In the past, and especially in pro, it was not so difficult interfacing a PC with a system, or with an audio DAC. All you needed was to buy specific PCs, with specific sound cards, with specific S/PDIF outputs, with specific drivers, for specific formats, and so on. Easy, isn’t it?

Then came M2Tech with a small, budget, practical “USB pendrive”: the hiFace. With few clicks to install the drivers and make the set-up for the right app, it was possible to extract from the USB port of any desktop PC, notebook and net book, a digital signal at the sampling frequencies of 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192 kHz, with a resolution from 16 up to 24 bits and virtually no jitter.

 

This is history. Today M2Tech has in its catalogue, besides the “dear old USB pendrive” in the improved new version, two DACs and a new and very interesting AD converter, with dedicated power supplies and accessories.

Here we are going to review the Evo series, which I consider, for its modularity, flexibility and freshness of engineering approach, the most interesting and innovative product line dedicated to streaming music of the last years.

The Evo line comprises four products: Evo DAC, hiFace Evo, Evo Supply and Evo Clock.

Four nice aluminium “cubes of wonders”: a DAC, a digital interface PC-DAC, a battery power supply and a clock generator for the interface. They are separate modules sold separately. I have listed them following the order of their insertion in my chain. I also suggest you to follow this order if you are going to evolve a system from the CD player, as digital source, to a – only?- streaming music system.

 

M2Tech Evo DAC

I test first the Evo DAC because I want to compare the musicality of the digital-to-analog converter with the musicality of the internal processors of my Yamaha CD-S 2000 player and of the processors alternated in the systems of my friends.

The DAC comes with its 9V/2A power supply, although you can replace it with the Evo Supply. The Evo DAC can operate up to 92 kHz/24 bits for the coaxial and optical inputs and up to 192 kHz/32 bits with signals sent to the I²S input.

It looks like a compact and small aluminium parallelepiped whit a squared base of about ten cm on the side and five of height.

On the front panel are: the supply input and relative LED, the indicators of the sampling frequency with relative leds that indicate the frequency multipliers, and the switch to select the inputs: coaxial S/PDIF, optical Toslink and the I²S.

 

 

As explained in the user’s manual - to download from M2Tech website - the sampling frequencies of all music files have one of these two frequencies: 44,1 kHz of the CD and 48 kHz, all the others are their multiples.

Therefore, starting from 44.1 kHz we get x2 = 88.2 kHz and x4 = 176.4 kHz, while starting from 48 kHz we get x2 = 96 kHz and x4 = 192 kHz.

The LED lights indicate that the multiplication factors are two: the first multiplies by one, the second by two and when both are lit the multiplier is four.

Combining the lit LED with the basic sampling frequency, with the lit LED lights indicating the multiplication factor, we will have the indicator of the effective sampling frequency that the DAC is converting and - a thing that I appreciate a lot - we keep awake the arithmetic/logical unity of our brain!

 

On the rear panel of the Evo DAC there are inputs and outputs. At the side of the optical and coaxial inputs is the unusual I²S input expressly studied by M2Tech to connect the hiFace Evo to Evo DAC, allowing a signal transfer from hiFace to DAC virtually at zero jitter. Such connection uses, to transfer the signal, a straight CAT-5 cable which permits a good shielding from the external interferences.

Furthermore, only with special connection the DAC will be able to convert signals up to 32 bits of resolution, while coaxial and optical remain at 24 bits.

The available outputs are only RCA, but gold-plated.

I have connected the optical link of my player to the input of the Evo DAC and, comfortable seated on my coach, I have started listening, switching and, unavoidably, comparing.

With the Evo in my system, I have got a great improvement. The acoustic scene is wider, mostly horizontally, the disposition of the instruments is more focussed with more detail and with a sensible increase of air sensation around the speakers and the live sensation of the voices.

Substantially, the main feature I have noticed by switching from the CD to the Evo DAC is taking out something between me and my dear Tannoy, as there were some curtains that the EVO has immediately taken away.

The Evo DAC represents a good upgrade for a system that features a digital source to be increased remarkably and an adequate digital output.

The list price of the DAC is about 330.00 euro and can represent the first step towards a streaming digital world at high satisfaction.

 

M2Tech hiFace Evo

What is the hiFace Evo?

A PC-DAC output interface that transfers an audio digital signal from a Personal Computer to a digital-to-analog decoder collecting it from an USB port, Universal Serial Bus, rigorously 2.0.

The hiFace Evo, via the 2.0 USB port, allows the use of any desktop PC, notebook or net book, meant as data source independently from the sound card in use. Thanks to its drivers, it can transfer this digital signal in asynchronous mode, up to 192 kHz with resolutions from 16 to 32 bits depending on the output you intend to utilize.

 

The hiFace supplies itself with a 7-11V and does not have a power supply. The DAC has instead a 9V/2A power supply. Its dimensions and look are the same of DAC, Evo Clock e Evo Supply…as an instigation to collect them all…

On the front panel are the supply input with its led, the connection for an external clock, like the Evo Clock, with the led that turns on in green when the signal is in, an USB input with relative led that turns on in green whenever the host is sending data to the hiFace Evo, the Optical Toslink and the Optical AT&T ST outputs.

On the rear panel are the I²S output, the RCA S/PDIF and the 75 ohms BNC S/PDIF outputs, the AES/EBU output. Quite amazing considering the dimensions of the object.

 

As the hiFace is a PC-DAC interface, the Drivers have to be installed on the elaborator in use to guarantee the correct operation and the set-up of the apps for the audio reproduction in order to recognize the hiFace as a “sound card”.

You can find on line the updated drivers and a manual that explains the installation of the hiFace both on Windows XP, Vista and 7, and Apple.

You can also find how to make the correct set-up of the interface in the most widespread apps like iTunes, Foobar, Media Monkey and WinAmp.

 

N.B. To recap, here we have spoken of:

1 – installation of the drivers…

2 – set-up of the apps…

 

Let us deepen it. The hiFace is an interface that the PC sees as a peripheral, like a printer, a video or, like in this case, like an external sound card.

It follows that we need to install, if not already present, the drivers to recognize the peripheral and “driving” it. When the drivers are installed, the operating system knows that a new peripheral is present and ready. Now, the programs that use it often need to be set too.

 

With Microsoft, we have to decide which is the protocol required to collect the data from the mass memories, to elaborate and send them to the peripheral.

Currently there are three protocols: Direct Sound (DS), Kernel Streaming (KS) e WASAPI. Also in this case M2Tech puts online a complete documentation.

 

I have inserted the HiFace in my chain with the Evo DAC downstream and a notebook with MS Windows 7 Prof operational system upstream.

The installation of the drivers is very simple and the interface immediately recognized.

I have used as players Foobar and JRiver Media Center, remote-controlled from my coach by a smartphone on which I have installed foobar2000 controller for foobar and Gizmo for Media Center.

 

I have made some tests and, effectively, the CPU with WASAPI has to work more causing sometimes a slight and brief hesitation in sending the data. N.B. This on my PC, on another one could not happen.

 

I have had the best results with Kernel Streaming (KS), though.

 

Following the specs and advices of M2Tech, I have connected the HiFace to the Evo DAC via the I²S ports with a generic CAT5 cable of one meter of length, and I have predisposed the system to a resolution of 32 bits and a jitter virtually very low.

 

With this set-up of Kernel Streaming (KS) and the data transfer via I²S, I have made some listening tests together with some friends on the same tracks using the following configurations:

 

  1. CD-S2000 transport + Optical Cable + Evo DAC
  2. PC (Jriver Media Center with set-up Kernel Streaming (KS) + USB cable + hiFace Evo + I²S + Evo DAC, tracks in WAV format extracted by me on PC from the same CD (therefore 44,1 kHz/16 bits) using EAC (Exact Audio Copy)
  3. PC (Jriver Media Center with set-up Kernel Streaming (KS) + USB cable + hiFace Evo + I²S + Evo DAC, tracks in FLAC bought online from official websites with sampling frequencies at 192 kHz/24 bits.

 

The judgement that follows is based only on personal opinions without any device of measurement.

The differences between the configuration 1 and 2/3, when perceived, mostly with jazz or acoustic tracks, have been all in favour of the configuration PC + Evo family.

That says a lot!

I personally believe that such chain: PC + interface + DAC + smartphone is intrinsically less expensive than the one based on a CD player or transport. This because a PC, for several reasons, is already in our homes and the same is for a smartphone or a tablet. In a PC configuration is possible to have in one database all the digital music we have at home: the CD opportunely extracted and the high resolution tracks already bought. Finally, thanks to the last interfaces for smartphone and tablet, everything is close at…finger. Basically, if it does not play better – and here it plays a lot better – it plays equal, costs less and it is more cosy!

 

There is a big difference when we listen to the same tracks in higher resolution than the ones of the CD at 44,1 kHz and 16 bits. There are more details and a wider dynamics independently from the kind of music, both in tracks at 96 kHz 24 bits and in tracks sampled at 192 kHz/24 bits that, in my opinion and on my system, are almost indistinguishable.

 

The hiFace performs easily, silently as between PC and DAC there were only a cable and this, I think, is the best compliment for an interface of data transmission. But we, human beings, want more from the Evo DAC and from hiFace! What? I tell you softly: when a HDMI will be able to extract from a Blu-Ray or from a DVD by Wayne Shorter a high definition audio stereo signal to send to my preamp? This is just a goliardic provocation….

 

In conclusion: Evo DAC and hiFace Evo are the two first M2Tech magic cubes I have tested and with great satisfaction. With a relatively budget price, about 740.00 euro, you can have access to a new virtual dimension of music usability that could reserve great surprises.

 

 

Official technical specifications

Evo DAC

Supply voltage: 9VDC

Power consumption: 350mA

Input sampling frequencies (kHz): 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192

Resolution: up to 32 bits (I2S input), up to 24 bits (coax and Toslink™ inputs)

Output voltage: 2.7VRMS

THD+N: 0.002% (@ 1kHz, 0dBFS)

SNR: 118dB (“A” weighted)

Operative temperature range: 0°C to 40°C

Size: 105x50x104mm cabinet, 105x50x150mm with connectors (WxHxD)

Weight: 400g

hiFace Evo

Sampling frequencies: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz

Resolution: 16 to 24 bits

USB: 2.0 high speed

External clock voltage: 3Vpp to 3.6Vpp

External clock frequency: 10 to 25MHz

External clock input impedance: 75ohms

Internal clock precision: +/-10ppm 0 to 60°C, 2ppm typical @ 25°C

S/PDIF output voltage: 0.5Vpp +/-0.1V @ 75ohms

AES/EBU output voltage: 2Vpp +/- 0.2V @ 110ohms

Toslink™ output bit rate: up to 15Mbps (up to 96kHz sampling frequency)

ST output fiber length: up to 1.6km (complies to Avago AV02-0723EN application note, page 5)

I2S output voltage: 3.3V (LVCMOS)

I2S current capability: +/-25mA on each line

Minimal requirements:1.3GHz CPU clock, 1GB RAM, 2.0 USB port

Supply voltage: 7 to 11VDC (15VDC max)

Power consumption: 140mA @ 9V (idle, no output loaded)

Size: 105x46x104mm cabinet,105x46x142mm with connectors (WxHxD)

Weight: 320g

 

Official Italian dealer: to Marantz Italy website

Official current price in Italy: Evo DAC 369.00 EUR, hiFace Evo 369.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Matteo Noly system


1 out of 2 – To be continued

 
by Matteo Noli
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