If you are a devotee of Internet audio sites, especially those that feature “reviews” by amateurs, you’ve probably come across reviewers who swear they can, after a brief listen, discern what DAC chip was being employed in a digital device merely by its “sound.” My response is: “Good for you!” I’ll readily admit to not having that ability. When I review a digital product like the Brooklyn I listen principally to my own recordings and compare what I hear with what I heard during the recording sessions and subsequently on other playback devices. Using that yardstick the Brooklyn ranks with the best DACs I’ve used regardless of price or internal DAC technology. Try as I might I was unable to hear any sonic personality that varied from what was on the recording. Having said that, I could hear differences between MQA and non-MQA versions of the same recordings quite clearly once I learned what to listen for.
When used as a DAC/pre in my nearfield system the Mytek Brooklyn’s sonic signature was quite similar to that of the Grace M-9xx DAC/pre, but with more gain (and a lower noise floor), due in part to the Brooklyn’s balanced outputs. Both DACs did an excellent job of allowing me to listen deeply into complex mixes, but on MQA-encoded material the Mytek had an obvious sonic advantage.
Harmonically the Mytek Brooklyn is as neutral as it gets, so any warming or cooling of your system’s overall harmonic character will have to come from some other component in the signal chain. Bass extension was such that if there was deep bass I could immediately tell. The amount of bass energy and treble extension I heard during playback was primarily a function of the transducers I used, and not due to any audible sonic limitations imposed by the Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn’s single-ended headphone outputs reminded me of those of the Grace M-9xx, but with greater ability to drive difficult ’phones, since I also had the option of using the Brooklyn’s balanced output mode. With highly sensitive in-ears, such as the 117dB-sensitive Westone W-60s, I could hear a small amount of hiss but no hum. With standard-sensitivity headphones, such as the AudioQuest Nighthawk, the Brooklyn’s headphone amplifier was dead quiet. I also tried the Nighthawk with a balanced Silver Dragon cable from Moon Audio. The balanced connection gave them a bit more dynamic verve and low-frequency extension. I also noticed an improvement with the balanced connection over single-ended with the Mr. Speakers Ether C headphones. In balanced mode the Ether Cs had greater dynamic ease and punch. Using the toughest-to-drive headphones in my collection, the Beyerdynamic DT-990 600-ohm version with a single-ended termination, the Brooklyn never maxed out due to power limitations—19dB (–0 dB is max and –99 is the lowest level before mute) was the highest output level I used with any headphone, including the DT-990.
In order to see how well the Brooklyn’s phonostage performed I pulled it out of my desktop system and installed it in my room-based setup. I set the analog input to mc phono, put the gain into bypass (full output), and connected it to my VPI HW-19 with a Souther linear-tracking ’arm and Denon 103/van den Hul moving-coil cartridge. This phono system had previously been attached to the $3875 Vinnie Rossi LIO, which I was using as a phonostage. As with the LIO I could adjust the gain levels of the Brooklyn via the volume control, but the Brooklyn also had the option of bypassing the volume control completely. When I compared the Brooklyn’s analog volume control with bypass mode, bypass delivered a slightly more open top end and better-defined soundstage and imaging. I found the Brooklyn’s phonostage to be as quiet as that of the LIO, and its overall performance was sonically comparable. The LIO had a slightly wider and deeper soundstage but the Brooklyn’s focus was a bit more precise. I could listen to either for hours without any complaints.
Shortly before I began to write this review Warner Music announced an agreement that made it possible for MQA to encode the entire WMG catalog. That is a lot of music. So far I’ve heard and done critical A/B listening on several systems with MQA-encoded music files from more than a dozen sources including Warner. In every case the MQA file has been sonically superior to the un-MQA’d comparison music file. I even had five of my own recordings, which were predominantly DSD tracks, encoded into MQA. Much to my surprise the MQA files sourced from my own DSD128 masters sounded superior to the originals! In what specific ways do they sound better? They were all spatially more accurate with more decipherable low-level information. On one of my recordings, which was recorded at 44.1/16 with a Marantz PMD-671 field recorder, and featured Chris Thile, Gabe Witcher, and Chris Eldridge playing outdoors, the low-level sounds far in the background were easier to decipher than on the original recording. The sounds from another workshop going on simultaneously over 150 feet way were also easier to hear on the MQA file than on the original.
Another of my field recordings featuring Bryan Sutton and Chris Eldridge playing vintage Martin dreadnaughts that was originally done at DSD128 also sounded better on the MQA-encoded file than on my master recording. Once more the difference was the decipherability of low-level information. It was simply easier to listen into the mix, plus everything within the mix had better delineated dimensional cues. Magic? Voodoo? Not really, if you understand the basics and weaknesses of digital recording.