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M2Tech Young MkIII digital processor/preamp and M2Tech Van der Graaf MkII power supply

29.01.2018..
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It is no secret that people are wary of Hi-End. Often too expensive and touted by a marketing based on personal charisma, on the verge of elitism, and on technical theories that are sometimes only pseudoscience. Obviously this is not always the case, in fact in most cases there are plenty of technicians who have no desire to appear as gurus and have great experiences and skills. But this is precisely the problem: the two things, histrionics and seriousness, are communicated indifferently and it is very difficult to separate them. We intend to say that when the only judgment that matters is "how it sounds", it is automatic that all the efforts of communication aim to create the "fame" of playing well, pushing to shape the image of the company and the designers themselves and since the only way to establish whether an apparatus sounds good or not is to listen to it under controlled conditions - and sometimes this is not allowed - it becomes impossible for the enthusiast to orient himself only on paper. Even reviewers find it difficult to make judgments, at least for me, not so much on the sound because the equipment I try, but on the reliability over time of the company - some disappear after a while - and in determining whether the price is the right one or not. This last thing is important to me because its merit is questioned by the problem mentioned above, but above all because in this niche market manufacturers are obliged, in order to survive, to sustain high costs that are then resolved in equally high prices but among them very different. Not because there is a logic of demand/supply to establish its value, but rather for the mere division between desired revenue, necessary in some cases, and the number of devices that are expected to sell. If then we add that for products from Asia and the United States must be added customs fees, the rightful profit of the importer/distributor, the financial charges due to the anticipation of the purchase and the different taxation, then these devices become relatively more expensive than they are in their country of origin, creating a further disparity with the intrinsic value. We are not talking about low prices, never a few pennies, and the passion also pushes people which are not "rich" to accept them and spend the money required. Economic investment, but also emotional, is important and must be taken carefully.
NdR - Prices, by sector characteristic, are unfortunately totally arbitrary.

 

All this preamble, excuse me, serves to reaffirm that I feel compelled to investigate and know the people behind things, to establish seriousness and commitment. It is clear that it is easier for our home firms to know each other and understand each other.

M2Tech is from Pisa, born in 2007 thanks to the engineers Nadia Marino and Marco Manunta, both young - still today - and both freelance designers for various consumer electronics, audio and video companies. At the beginning the mission was to provide specialized audio advice but already in 2009 they produced the hiFace USB digital converter and after that a series of increasingly interesting products. The hiFace has been a great success, even and above all abroad, and was one of the first products to combine computers with Hi-Fi playback. This would be enough to establish its validity but its ridiculous cost has placed it in the category of audiophile products with a "normal" price. A category that I love very much.

 

After the hiFace, the M2Tech catalog was first enlarged with similar products and then with more ambitious devices, including those of the "rockstars" line to which the two we are trying belong. The fact that they give names of artists to their products bears witness to the fact, of which I have direct knowledge, that for the people of M2Tech music is not just a business but also a passion.

 

The M2Tech Young model we are testing together with the M2Tech Van der Graaf supercharger is a DAC preamplifier. Both are a new version - MkIII the DAC and Mk II the power supply - and compared to the previous ones, circuit improvements and a new aesthetic have been introduced. As we said, the Young is a DAC preamplifier. The meaning of the DAC is obvious as it converts digital signals into analog, but this is also a preamp because it allows you to select between four digital sources - S/PDIF on RCA, TOSLINK, XLR and computer on USB 2.0, from which it is possible to stream in MQA format - an analog source and a wireless source via aptX Bluetooth connection. These last two inputs are new compared to previous versions. The output is available only on XLR connector and is balanced but supplied with adapters that allow the use of cables with RCA terminations. This means that Young has the ability to drive both balanced or unbalanced inputs: another advantage.

 

One of the strengths of the M2Tech is the ability to innovate - the hiFace was unique in this approach - and if it was not useful at least to follow, in the search for improvement, alternative ways compared to the mere application of datasheets of ICs manufacturers. In a sector, like our beloved Hi-Fi, where some invent hot water and sell it as champagne, this is not a trivial matter and denotes a diversity that, by itself, attracts attention.

 

Let's start from the most important design decisions adopted for the Young, such as the choice of the DAC. It is no secret that the chips that go by the most are the ESS Sabres, but this road also involves a certain uniformity to the recommendations of implementation of the parent company, these DACs do everything and do it well. Perhaps for this reason and having a long experience with another DAC, M2Tech has remained, at least for this product line, on the consolidated Burr-Brown PCM1795. Not only because the previous Young already used the same DAC but above all because the sonic characteristics of the PCM1795 are well known and appreciated. Someone defines its "more analog" sound. In short, beyond what this means - the word "analog" is now abused - for the outcome of a project, the final results depend more on the implementation of the system than on the quality of a single component and it is therefore right that both continued to design improving an already valid product rather than restarting the design from the scratch.

 

So let's see where the Young is different from the most canonical architectures. We said that the heart of the DAC is a PCM1795, the Texas Instruments license plate data declare it able to accept sampling frequencies from 10 kHz to 200 kHz with 32-bit samples and have native compatibility with PCM and DSD formats. Yet the Young accepts, on the USB port, data in PCM format up to 384 kHz and the DSD256x. Why? In the PCM1795, the input from the data provided for an external oversampler filter can be used in place of the I2S input, so that the acceptable frequency reaches up to 384 kHz and actually even to 1.536 MHz... This involves some adaptation, but this was done.

Incidentally, even the TEAC may have accomplished something similar since the UD-501 uses the same chips and declares the same "non-standard" features on the USB port. I say this because I think TEAC is a serious company and therefore even more so, given the different economic potential, even M2Tech.

The uniqueness, however, do not stop at this. In the Young, the output buffer suggested in the PCM1795 datasheet is not used. This is because downstream of the DAC in the Young there is a real pre composed of a Cirrus CS3318 which performs the task of controlling analog volume with digital selection of attenuation value and signal amplifier with user-selectable gain. For architectural simplicity and to remove anything useless from the signal path, M2Tech uses a simple passive anti-aliasing filter and compensates for the I/V converter offset, which is normally zeroed by the buffer that has been eliminated here, through a servocircuit that injects into the input node of the converters a direct current opposite to that to be eliminated. The result is no more offset voltage at the output and one less stage is used, the latter having advantages from the point of view of sound and instrumental performance.

 

This solution, a DAC plus an analog pre, is simple and elegant, dedicating the right technical resources to two very different tasks. In many other DAC volume control is realized in the digital domain: only very few chips do it well and in other cases it is left to management software which is perhaps the worst solution.

 

The Young is powered by 15 VDC which, as we said, in this version has been improved, so its small external power supply is sufficient for the purpose, however the most obvious upgrade is the Van der Graaf MkII - which as rockstar band there is , but which also refers to the name of the American physicist Van de Graaff, who invented the homonymous electrostatic generator. This is a low-noise power supply that, in addition to making the most of its work, has four outputs of which two selectable between 9 and 15 VDC, while the two connectors of the XLR four-pole type have ± 15 V negative for other M2Tech and 5V devices that are useful for most micro-computer based audio devices, such as Raspberry or similar. Just to clarify any doubt, I had it too, the Van der Graaf MkII is not a battery power supply as it was the Palmer: it is a low noise power supply with non-existent ripple or, better, with a ripple outside the band audio, therefore harmless.

 

The two devices were inserted into my reference system and listened to in different configurations. To date, I have accumulated a minimum of experience with the DAC, both "pure" and associated with a pre, and I can safely say that there is a difference in listening to the economic devices and those created to belong to the Hi-End . The Young MkIII, alone and even more so along with the Van der Graaf MkII, undoubtedly belongs to the Hi-End segment and plays on par with the best achievements of the market. Moreover, in the price category to which the Young MkIII belongs, the differences in listening among the various models are minimal and must be sought exclusively in those details of relative importance that will have to be cured only after having put in place other parts of the musical reproduction that have a greater impact on the final output, for example the quality of the speakers and the acoustic correction of the environment. Consider also that this specific sector, the DAC and the digital signal management, is still evolving and we strongly advise to carefully evaluate the investments, because in pursuing technology we risk making money more spent on an object "space".
Obviously, who already has everything and wants the absolute best and can afford it also has every right to be right in buying expensive products to listen to even more “nuance” of beautiful sound. I would do it ... but I'm not in the condition just described.

 

So, how does the Young sound? Very well, like the best ones that have gone through our listening room. This is due to the general impression, while for details we can say that compared to the Mk II, which I have, it is just a little better in the medium and high range, which is slightly cleaner and, therefore, sweeter. Compared to other recently tested devices, the differences are minimal, of the same type as those described above between Mk II and Mk III, only residing elsewhere: the best Asian DACs have perhaps a brighter acute range, while the American ones have a slightly thicker bass. It is not just an example, it is a trend that depends on the listening habits of the relevant markets and the fine tuning that the designer probably performs to satisfy them by changing something in the analog section of his project. The Young is in the middle, in my opinion a merit, leaving us more free to adjust the final result with speakers with the desired characteristics. These M2Tech electronics have an almost perfect balance, making the task easier.

 

In conclusion I can say that, if you are looking for a Hi-End DAC able to manage all types of digital sources available today, an analog source, even as a turntable with its own phono, and to have a volume control above every suspicion and you have a wide but not unlimited budget, then it is not really worth going to look for something else. The apparatus is here, near home, in Pisa.

 

 

Official technical specifications


M2Tech Young MkIII

Inputs: analog single-ended RCA, S/PDIF RCA, AES/EBU XLR, Optical TOSLINK, USB 2.0 high speed, Bluetooth

Outputs: analog balanced XLR, trigger jack 3.5mm

Sample frequencies: PCM 44.1kHz to 384kHz, DoP 64X to 128X, Native DSD 64x to 256x

PCM resolution: 16 bits to 32 bits

Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 118dBA single-ended, 120dBA balanced

THD+N: 0.0008% at 5Vrms out balanced

Output Voltage: 2.5Vrms or 5Vrms single-ended, 5Vrms or 10Vrms balanced, 12VDC trigger

Output impedance: 100ohms single-ended, 200ohms balanced

Input impedance: 47kOhms analog, 75ohms SPDIF, 110ohms AESEBU

Supply voltage:15VDC

Power Consumption: 4W operational, 0.23W standby

Size: 200x50x200mm WxHxD

Weight: net 2kg including ancillaries, gross 2.5kg
M2Tech Young MkIII flyer: download here


M2Tech Van der Graaf MkII

Input: 90-265VAC, 50/60Hz VDE socket

Outputs: 2 x 9VDC or 15VDC 5.5/2.1mm jack, 2 x 5VDC:+15VDC:-15VDC 4-pin XLR

Total output power: 50W

Residual noise: 3µVrms 5Hz to 22kHz

Power consumption: 60VA

Size: 200x50x200mm WxHxD

Weight: net 3kg with ancillaries, gross 3.5kg

M2Tech Van der Graaf MkII flyer: download here

 

Official Italian dealer: to Marantz Italy / Hi-Fi United website

Official current price in Italy: M2Tech Young MkIII 1.450,00 EUR, M2Tech Van der Graaf MkII 945,00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Maurizio Fava's system

The M2Tech Young MkIII and Van der Graaf MkII just arrived at the home of Giusette
The M2Tech Young MkIII and Van der Graaf MkII just arrived at the home of Giusette "The Editor" Castelli.
The M2Tech Young MkIII and Van der Graaf MkII in my system, above the brothers (older by age) Young MkII and Van der Graaf MkI.
The M2Tech Young MkIII and Van der Graaf MkII in my system, above the brothers (older by age) Young MkII and Van der Graaf MkI.
by Maurizio Fava
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