Finding an excellent digital-to-analog converter (DAC) for under $1200 used to be an audiophile fantasy. But with advancements in DAC design and reductions in the price of the high-quality parts needed to make these designs a reality, the cost of entry into high-end digital sound has come down substantially. In Issue 228 I looked at three excellent under-$1200 DACs: the Channel Islands Transient Mark II ($699), the Lindemann USB-DAC 24/192 ($1100), and the NuForce DAC-100 ($1095). Now Musical Surroundings has an entry in the under-$1200 DAC competition, its new MYDAC II ($1199). The MYDAC II may be forgiven its less than totally original name because of the interesting technology under its hood. Does the MYDAC II’s unique and soon-to-be-patented digital technology make it a game-changer? Let’s find out.
MYDAC II Features
From the outside the Musical Surroundings MYDAC II doesn’t look that special. Available in silver or black, the MYDAC weighs only 3.4 pounds and measures 9 7/8" square and 2" high. The front panel is clean but certainly not deluxe, with a single pushbutton that selects one of three inputs—SPDIF, USB, or TosLink. The center of the front panel has three additional LEDs that indicate whether the sample rate is 44, 96, or 192kHz.
The MYDAC II’s rear panel has one pair of single-ended RCA analog outputs, TosLink, USB and SPDIF inputs, and a barrel connector for an outboard wall-wart power supply. The RCA outputs are fixed-level so you will need to use the MYDAC II with a preamp or an integrated amplifier with level controls.
The MYDAC II supports sample and bit-rates as high as 192/24 through its SPDIF digital input. The TosLink input can support up to 96/24, but its USB input can only handle up to 48/16 files. To play higher sample and bit-rate files from USB sources via the MYDAC II will require an external USB-to-SPDIF converter such as the M2Tech hiFace, Human Audio Tabla, or Empirical Audio Off-Ramp. The MYDAC also has no provisions to support DSD or DXD, but that capability can be added to the MYDAC (or any other DAC) through the acquisition of a Schitt LOKI ($149) DSD-dedicated DAC.
MYDAC II Patentable Technology
So far, the MYDAC II seems like a fairly ordinary mid-priced DAC. Inside is where the MYDAC II differentiates itself from the competition. Designed by Michael Yee, who is best known for his analog and phono preamp products, the MYDAC II takes an idea from the analog world and adapts it to digital circuits.
Michael Yee’s explanation of his new methodology makes it seem simple. “In a system with 16-bit ADCs and 16-bit DACs (CD audio), both ADCs and DACs have roughly the same contribution to quantization error. It is the high frequencies that need more resolution in a sixteen-bit system. If one were to emphasize the high frequencies in the digital domain (making the high frequencies represented by much bigger numbers), pass them through the DAC at a much higher resolution, then EQ them back down in the analog domain to make the system flat, the contribution to quantization error due to the DAC would be essentially zero.” Yes, you got that right; the MYDAC II uses equalization to improve the system’s overall resolution, especially in the mid and higher frequencies.