The Mytek Brooklyn is the first non-Meridian-branded DAC that supports MQA. Because of that, every time it’s been shown, whether at a consumer or industry event, it has generated practically standing-room-only interest. I first laid eyes on the Mytek Brooklyn DAC at the 2015 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest when it was only a passive display. As I looked through its list of features and capabilities I thought to myself, “This is one heck of a fully-featured DAC even without MQA.”
I reviewed the Mytek 192 Stereo DAC, which was priced at $1595 (now discontinued, remaining stock available at $1095), in the spring of 2013; I was impressed by its sonics, ergonomics, and overall value. The Brooklyn represents Mytek’s next step in the evolution of its “entry-level” yet full-featured DACs. The $1995 Brooklyn is not only a DAC, but also a preamplifier for both analog and digital sources, a headphone amplifier that supports single-ended and balanced cans, and a phono preamplifier for both moving-coil and moving-magnet cartridges. The Brooklyn also comes with its own dedicated control app that allows you to operate all the Brooklyn’s functions from your computer as well as perform software updates. The Brooklyn even has provisions for linking with an Apple remote.
Given the Brooklyn’s ergonomic flexibility, its front panel is a model of minimalism. The centrally located color LCD is flanked on the left by two buttons and a pair of ¼” headphone jacks while on the right side are two more buttons and a volume/selector knob. To access the Brooklyn’s settings you merely push the knob in—the display will change. The top half of the new display furnishes current volume, peak, and average levels for your program material if anything is actively playing through the Brooklyn. Near the center is a small MQA logo, which will light up when MQA material is being played. The bottom half of the display offers four setting boxes, each accessed by the corresponding pushbutton below. Once you’ve pushed a button the box turns blue (meaning it is available for a change of its setting), then by turning the volume knob you can cycle through the options. Once you have chosen the option you prefer, simply push the button again to save your setting.
Among the adjustments available to the end user are the choices of either line-level analog or phono preamp on the analog input. You can also set the appropriate gain for either moving-coil or moving-magnet phono cartridges. Another option lets you route the output to the headphones, main outs, both, or to auto-sensing. You can also choose a digital or analog volume control as well as a full-output-level bypass option. Input options include the aforementioned single-ended RCA analog/phono, AES/EBU, two SPDIF inputs, TosLink, and USB 2.0. The two SPDIF inputs can also be used for professional DSD SPDIF electrical interface for direct connection to professional equipment such as the Tascam D3000 DSD recorder. The Brooklyn also has provisions for word-clock input and output, as well as an optional 12-volt DC/battery, so you can use the Brooklyn off the grid or with larger dedicated external (third-party) power supplies. Outputs include a pair of balanced XLRs and single-ended RCAs, as well as the two headphone connections on the front panel.
The pair of headphone outputs can be used several ways. You can connect one pair of single-ended headphones to either output, or connect two headphones simultaneously. In addition you can, via a cable adapter available from Mytek ($159), use ’phones with a balanced connection for a true balanced headphone output.
If you use a Windows computer for music playback you will need to install a dedicated driver that is available on Mytek’s website. If you use a Mac no additional drivers are necessary for full functionality. I used the Brooklyn connected to a MacPro desktop unit running the latest version of El Capitan with no compatibility issues whatsoever.
Mytek has developed its own application, called Mytek Control Panel, which allows you to adjust and control all the Brooklyn’s functions via your computer. Many users may find the app easier to navigate than the Brooklyn’s front panel. The app can also perform firmware updates as they become available. Going from firmware version 2.00 to 2.05 took less than two minutes total.
One of the unique features of the Brooklyn is the ability to turn off MQA decoding if you wish. Although I’m at a loss as to why you would want to do this on a regular basis, you can use the feature to compare any MQA-encoded file with what it sounds like with no MQA encoding. You can also compare an MQA-encoded file without MQA decoding against a non-MQA-encoded version of the same file. While this provision may be of value to recording engineers and record labels, for your average audiophile it’s not a feature that needs to be used, except when he or she is driven by extreme boredom.
Another of the more exotic (but useful for professional engineers) options includes the ability either to use an external clock, or to use the Brooklyn’s internal clock to sync with multiple Brooklyn DACs for multichannel playback, or to sync with digital video devices that rely on a master clock.
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.
The weak link of all analog-to-digital recorders (and digital-to-analog decoders) is their ability to handle extremely low-level signals. According to Robert Stuart, “MQA’s target for temporal blurring is to do no more harm to sound than passing through a couple of meters of air—it seems trite, but it is actually a profound concept. Simultaneously, but separately, MQA uses advanced sampling and playback methods that particularly stabilize low-level signals and the recording ‘noise-floor.’ This uses advanced insights from sampling theory and neuroscience.” MQA removes the distortions that were added during the recording process.
If you have a digital recording device that uses an analog-to-digital converter, try this test: Record something at maximum levels that peak just below 0dB, and then record the same track at the lowest settings possible. The lower-level recording will have far more additive distortion than the higher-level one. Even when a recording is done at correct volume levels the quiet passages and accompanying background noise will inevitably have higher levels of distortion than the loudest sections. This is not debatable—it’s science. If you can reduce these low-level additive distortions the results will be a better-sounding recording. It is really that simple.
Anyone who doesn’t understand how digital recording functions may have problems comprehending why MQA works, but even if you don’t get the tech, if you critically listen you will hear the audible superiority of an MQA-encoded file when compared with the PCM or DSD original.
As I learned from my mentor J. Gordon Holt, reviewers have a tendency when confronted by a new medium that reduces distortions to be over-enthusiastic in their praise. One of Gordon’s regrets was that he wasn’t more critical of the first CD player he heard, the Sony CDP-101. The Mytek Brooklyn and its MQA capabilities placed me in a similar situation. So far I’ve been unable to discern anything sonically negative while listening to MQA-encoded files through the Mytek Brooklyn. My natural tendency would be to write a spittle-flying gobsmacked rave, but that would be giving in to my baser instincts.
Even without MQA the Mytek Brooklyn offers exceptional value due to its versatility, flexibility, ergonomic elegance, and overall high level of sonic performance. Once you throw MQA into the equation, I have to say, “Game over” for any DAC or DAC manufacturer that can’t keep up.
SPECS & PRICING
Conversion: Up to 384k/32-bit PCM, native DSD up to DSD256, and DXD
MQA hi-res decoder: Built-in, certified hardware MQA decoder
Digital inputs: USB2 Class2 (32-bit integer, OSX, Linux driverless, all formats), AES/EBU (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP), 2 x SPDIF (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP), TosLink/ADAT 2 x SPDIF (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD64 DOP), SDIF-3 DSD up to DSD256
Clock: “Mytek Femtoclock Generator” 0.82ps internal jitter
Analog outputs: RCA, balanced XLR, simultaneous, 50-ohm impedance
Headphone outputs: 500mA, 6W, dual headphone jacks
Built-in attenuator: Choice of 1dB-step analog attenuator, separate for main out and headphones, 1dB-step digital 32-bit attenuator, and purist relay bypass
Built-in analog preamp: Line level input or phono mm/mc input, relay controlled
Audio interface function: All digital inputs can be routed into computer via USB2
Weight: 4 lbs.
148 India Street, 1st floor
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Source devices: 2013 MacPro Desktop with a 3.7 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor with 16GB of memory and OS 10.11.5, running iTunes 12.4 and Amarra Symphony 3.3, Pure Music 3.0.1, Audirvana+ 2.5, Roon 1.2, and Tidal 1.3
Analog sources: VPI TNT III w/Graham 1.1 tonearm, ClearAudio Victory II cart, VPI HW-19 with Souther SLA-3 ’arm and Denon 103/van den Hul cartridge. Vendetta 2B and Rossi LIO phono preamps
DACs: PS Audio Direct Stream Jr. DAC, Cary Audio DMC-600SE Music Hub
Amplifiers: Pass Labs X150.3, April Music S-1 monoblocks, NuPrime ST-10
Speakers: Spatial M-3 Turbo SE with two JL Audio Fathom F-112 subwoofers. Audience 1+1, Role Audio Sampan FTL, Dali Opticon 1, ATC SCM-7 II, one Velodyne DD 10+ subwoofer
Cables and accessories: WireWorld Silver Starlight USB cable, WireWorld Eclipse 7 balanced interconnect, AudioQuest Carbon USB cable, J-Cat USB cable, AudioQuest Colorado single-ended RCA interconnect, Kimber KCAG single-ended and balanced interconnect, Audience Speaker AU24e speaker cables, PS Audio Quintet, Dectet, Octet, and Premier power conditioners