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Mytek Digital Manhattan II DAC

Mytek was originally a pro-audio equipment manufacturer when it opened its doors in 1991. Its first flagship DAC for both consumers and pros was the Manhattan. Rather than abandon and replace this model when it was time refresh its product line, Mytek chose to update. So, now we have the Manhattan II. And the good news for owners of the original Manhattan DACs is that Mytek can update them to the newest version for a relatively small fee.

As an audiophile who has lived with and enjoyed Mytek’s less expensive Brooklyn DAC, the first question that comes to mind is whether the Manhattan II is a must-have sonic upgrade or merely a more flexible DAC with additional features in a larger cabinet. It could be both and could be neither. Let’s find out.

Technical Tour
The Manhattan II uses the latest Sabre 9038 DAC chipset, which is capable of 130dB dynamic range. To time the new Sabre DAC Mytek employs a “femto clock” in its Crystek C777 clocking architecture, which delivers 0.82ps internal jitter. Capable of PCM up to 384/32, and DSD256 (11.2MHz) the Manhattan II DAC also has the ability to do a complete decoding of MQA-encoded sources internally.

Mytek offers a multiplicity of input options including USB Class2, AES/EBU, SPDIF coaxial (three), TosLink, analog XLR, and analog RCA (two). The Manhattan II also has provisions for adding a phono module card ($1495) and a Roon-ready network card ($995), which turns the Manhattan into a UPnP-discoverable streaming network device.

Manhattan II’s output options includes one pair of balanced analog XLR, one pair of unbalanced analog RCA, and a pair of single-ended ¼” stereo headphone with 0.25 ohms output impedance. These two single-ended headphone outputs can be combined via the Mytek balanced headphone adapter ($159) into a balanced headphone output. The Manhattan II also has an input and output for running another digital device from the Manhattan II’s clock or using an external word clock with the Manhattan II.

Unlike some DAC/preamplifiers that convert analog inputs to digital via an analog-to-digital converter, the Manhattan II keeps analog signals analog throughout its signal chain. It even utilizes an analog attenuator, which is one of Manhattan II’s two completely separate volume control systems. With digital signals you have a choice of employing either the analog or digital volume controls.

Ergonomics and Setup
Installing and setting up the Manhattan II in my systems (I used it both in a desktop nearfield and room-based configuration) went almost without issues. After connecting it to my computer desktop system via USB, I used Mytek’s desktop app to configure the Manhattan II. The app has a full complement of control functions, including PCM filter options. There are seven filter choices: FRMP (fast roll-off, minimum phase); SRMP (slow roll-off, minimum phase); FRLP (fast roll-off, linear phase); SRLP (slow roll-off, linear phase); APDZ (apodizing, fast roll-off, linear phase); HBRD (hybrid, fast roll-off, minimum phase); and BRCK (brickwall filter). You also have three DSD filter options: Lo (47.44kHz IIR), Med (60kHz IIR), and Hi (70kHz IIR), and Auto mode (where it selects one of the aforementioned.) To access these PCM filters you must turn off the MQA filter, which is something that should be highlighted in the downloadable owner’s manual.

Because the Manhattan has both active balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs I was able to configure my room-based system so there was no need for a separate preamplifier. The XLR cables were connected to either a Pass Labs X150.8 or Cherry Megashino power amplifier tethered to Spatial X-2 loudspeakers, while the single-ended feed was connected to a pair of JL Audio Fathom f112 subwoofers. I prefer to configure this system with stereo subwoofers as opposed to two subwoofers receiving a mono signal. Both the Spatial X-2 and the JL Audio f112 subwoofers received full-range signals, then I employed the f112’s built-in crossovers to limit their upper frequencies while the Spatial X-2s ran full-range without any low-frequency filtration. The crossover point on the JL f112s was set at 45Hz.

The Manhattan II’s front-panel controls give users complete access to all its functions. The square button on the extreme left is the on/off control. Further to the right are a pair of left/right arrow buttons that scroll through user-menu options. The square button to their right makes selections. The middle of the front panel is occupied by a large 7″ by 1″ monochrome display panel. To the panel’s right is a square mute on/off button, the master volume control, and the pair of headphone outputs. On the rear of the Manhattan II you will find, on the extreme right side (when facing the front of the unit) a small three-way toggle that adjusts headphone output gain to three levels, +6, 0, -6dB.

The Manhattan II comes with a standard-issue Apple remote. While some may consider the lack of a dedicated custom remote a detriment, the fact that you can pair any current-gen Apple remote with the Manhattan II makes replacing it, if lost, a simple matter. And while not all control functions are available on the Apple remote, the essential ones are. When you combine the Apple remote’s functions with the music selection options available through either the Roon controller app for your smartphone or tablet, the Audirvana+ controller app, or the mControl App (which also works with the PS Audio DACs), you have a complete remote system you can manage from your listening chair.

 

A less simple matter was accessing the Manhattan’s network input. After my initial setup of the Manhattan II, I found I couldn’t select the network input from the front-panel controls. The only way to access the network input option was to select it via the Mytek desktop application’s control panel. A call to Mytek customer support and a couple of minutes checking settings, a reset, and, voilà, the network input option appeared on the Manhattan II.

I mentioned earlier that the Manhattan II has a monochrome display panel instead of a full-color display, as in the Brooklyn+ DAC. Not only is the display monochrome, but it is a throwback to earlier days when square pixels ruled the earth. It is only eight pixels high and 65 pixels wide. And while it can be read successfully from farther away than the Brooklyn+’s display, it simply can’t contain the wealth of information you see in one glance on the Brooklyn+. This display is one area where the Manhattan II seems primitive compared to the newer Brooklyn design.

Having the dual volume control that offers either analog or a digital attenuation is certainly a valuable option, but it does add a degree of operational difficulty. The volume knob not only turns (to raise and lower the volume) but it also push/clicks inward to toggle between headphone mode and speaker mode. When in headphone mode changes made to the level of the analog volume control are defeated. You can turn it and the volume output level numbers on the display will change, but the actual output from the speakers will not vary. Push the volume button inward, changing over to speaker mode, and you regain analog level control. That is not exactly an intuitive configuration and could, the first few times it happens, make a user think something was amiss.

The network card installation was so simple even I didn’t screw it up. Once in place all the UPnP-aware playback software on my computer recognized the Manhattan II as a network-aware playback device. Because the Manhattan II is a Roon endpoint, it adheres to certain protocols necessary for Roon playback. One of these mandates the use of a particular OEM source, whose firmware currently has “only” maximum capabilities of 192/24 PCM and DSD64. That is certainly not the Manhattan’s maximum high-resolution capability. It can handle up to 384/32 and DSD128 through its AES/EBU input. But as of firmware version 1.12, the AES/EBU input is the “alpha source,” which given that most pro gear uses this kind of connection, makes perfect sense. But for those who do not receive their “best” digital source via AES/EBU, this could be a less than perfect (and hopefully temporary) situation.

The Manhattan’s phono card has a number of options and features you don’t typically see on an add-on (or on many stand-alone) phono preamplifiers. You have a choice of either an mm or mc gain setting, and either a solid-state circuit or a custom nickel-core step-up transformer, which can supply 20dB of gain before sending the signal to the solid-state circuit for additional gain. The card also has provisions for changing the cartridge loading and two distinct equalization curves. One is a correct industry-standard RIAA curve, while the second has been configured to add additional “air” to the sound, according to Michal Juriewicz, Mytek’s chief designer.

I mentioned the Manhattan II’s three-way headphone-output gain toggle earlier. It proved essential when I tested its headphone compatibility. Using the low-sensitivity HiFIMan HE-1000 V2 with a balanced connection, I found typical volume levels, once I switched the Manhattan’s headphone gain toggle to +6dB, were similar to my usual loudspeaker levels around -20dB. With the high-sensitivity Earsonics EM-10 CIEMs, once I padded down the gain control to -6dB, the Manhattan’s volume settings were around -40dB without any hum or noise when the source was sans signal.

The Manhattan II is available in three finishes, black matte (Mytek’s spelling), silver frost matte, and gold silver, for those folks who can’t make up their minds between gold or silver.

Sound
One of the first sonic comparisons I made through the Manhattan II was to pit a stock Mac Mini’s USB input against the Manhattan II’s network input card. I compared identical files streamed through the network connection with files sourced via the Mac Mini. The Mac Mini lost. The Ethernet connection proved to have superior spatial acuity, better dimensionality, and greater dynamic contrast. This is not the first time I’ve done this test—the PS Audio DSD Jr also sounded better through its network connection than through the USB input. Does this mean that all USB sources will be inferior to network ones? Not necessarily. It does supply strong support to the conclusion that a stock Mac Mini’s sonic abilities are sonically inferior to a robust network connection, however.

This is the third Mytek DAC/preamp I’ve used—the Manhattan II ($5995), Brooklyn ($1995, now discontinued), Brooklyn DAC2+ ($2,195), and Liberty ($995) have all spent time on my desktop and in my main system. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Mytek has a “house sound” that carries across all its products, all three share a particularly natural and neutral sonic character. Also, the Manhattan II has a solidity and sense of physical weight to its presentation that gives music a wonderful three-dimensional presence. On the Latest Punch Brothers release, All Ashore! sourced from Qobuz (96/24), each instrument had powerful, palpable physicality. The hoary old audiophile cliché of “musicians being in the room with you” was very much in evidence. Also, I was delighted by how all the subtleties of Chris Thiles’ vocals seemed magnified. I have met Chris and have known him since he was in his early teens. I am very familiar with the sound of his voice, both speaking and singing, and have a number of my own live recordings of his workshops and live performances.

The Manhattan preserved all the subtle harmonic characteristics of his voice on the All Ashore! album. It also made it obvious, due to the low-level hiss, that analog tape was used for the All Ashore! sessions.

I compared the analog and digital volume controls, and the vast majority of the time I preferred the analog control. When I switched between the two controls the digital control sounded less harmonically complex—the word “threadbare” kept appearing in my listening notes. I also spent a lot of time using analog sources with the Manhattan II. With its three analog inputs I was able to connect both my turntables and a tape deck. And how good is the Manhattan II as an analog preamplifier? Good enough that the sonic differences between my two turntables were obvious. I was pleased to discover that the Manhattan II allowed me to hear deep into the low-level details of a mix while not adding additional colorations that I could discern.

 

During the last month I’ve put in a lot of listening time using both Tidal and Qobuz via the Manhattan II. Currently only Audirvana+ supports both Tidal and Qobuz streaming, and it functioned without issues with both the Manhattan II and PS Audio DSD jr. It’s still too early to weigh in on which streaming service (if either) is sonically superior, since there is no way to ensure they are both using the same files, even on the same album. Also, unlike an A/B of two source components using physical media, there are a lot of variables that can affect the final output before the files even reach your home network. But, I will state unequivocally that with the Manhattan II it didn’t really matter which service I used since both sounded consistently great and with some material were noticeably superior to my own 44.1 Red Book music files sourced via a Mac Mini USB connection.

Combining the Manhattan II’s headphone output, especially with the Mytek balanced adapter cable in place, with top-shelf headphones, including the Abyss Athena, HiFiMan HE-1000 V2, and Sony MDR-1Z, produced a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious headphone experience. J. Gordon Holt often got goosebumps from listening to music that moved him. While I find this a far rarer occurrence, with the Mytek Manhattan II/Abyss Athena combination even I occasionally found myself in goosebump territory.

Time to look at the phono card’s sonic capabilities. Sometimes, a phono add-in card is made available just as a convenience feature. But after spending time comparing the Manhattan II’s phono input with two highly-rated external phono amplifiers, the Vendetta Research SCP-2B and the phono section in the Vinnie Rossi LIO, I felt the Mytek phono preamplifier was certainly in the same league. Actually, I was surprised to discover that not only was the Mytek phonostage in the same league, it was also an all-star player. It delivered tighter, more precise centerfill imaging than the legendary Vendetta! Also, the Mytek phonostage was remarkably hum-free—I did not hear any noise until the Mytek’s analog volume control was boosted to -5dB (0dB is max level) and normally “loud” usually runs around -20dB.

I was certainly not expecting the Mytek phonostage to be such a high-performance option, but after several listening sessions where it took me a maybe a nanosecond to hear the difference, I had to conclude that given a choice I would prefer to listen to the Mytek’s phono section over the Vendetta. Also, I found the EQ and loading options available through the Mytek menu were extremely useful. Usually I opted for the standard RIAA curve coupled to the 100-ohm loading with my current moving-coil cartridge, the Clearaudio Victory II. But occasionally the extra “air” of the custom equalization curve proved useful, especially on some older recordings. In short, I was blindsided by the sonic quality of the Mytek Manhattan II’s phono section. To say it re-energized my passion for LP listening would be an understatement.

Competition
If you’ve socked away enough money to consider the Manhattan II, then you have the resources to obtain many fine DACs and DAC/preamps. I had been using the PS Audio DSD jr ($3999) in my system before the Manhattan II. And while in my humble opinion they both sounded superb, they did not sound identical. The Manhattan presents a slightly more forward midrange with some material I know well. In comparison the PS Audio DSD Jr delivers slightly more “tube-like” harmonics with a softer top end. In features the Manhattan has provisions for analog sources (including its excellent optional phono card) which the PS Audio does not.

Although it’s been a more than a couple of years since I had it in my system, the Mytek Manhattan II reminded me of the Weiss 202 DAC ($7737) I had back in 2010. Just as the Weiss was an ear-opener in terms of what I could expect from a digital source, the Manhattan II combined with the other components in my current system created the best sound I’ve heard from any configuration in my room.

Of course, the big question is whether the Manhattan II’s sonic capabilities overshadow those of its less expensive sibling, the Brooklyn+. While I did not have a Brooklyn+ for comparison, I did have the original Brooklyn. For the first couple of days of listening to the Manhattan II, after replacing the Brooklyn in my desktop system, I did not think it offered much sonic advantage, but then, after the unit had warmed up completely, I began to hear subtle but pervasive improvements in low-level decipherability and greater dynamic energy. Burn-in? Maybe. When I switched to headphones, the Manhattan II’s more robust and flexible headphone output was immediately obvious. Also, the Manhattan’s phono section beats the Brooklyn’s. So, yes, the Manhattan II does sonically best the Brooklyn. I suspect with the Brooklyn+ the sonic differences could be less distinct.

Summary
The more time I spend listening to high-quality streaming, the more I’m convinced that streaming sources via either a hard-wired ethernet connection or via Wi-Fi are digital music’s future. USB served its purpose, giving us all a bridge from the days of CDs and Firewire to our current technological level. But in my opinion USB’s days as the primary way we get music from a hard drive to our ears are numbered. Sure, USB will still be found on music workstations, along with AES/EBU, for mixing suites and mastering studios, but for end-users I see it fading into the background, replaced by streaming/ethernet/Wi-Fi sources.

How do my musings about our digital future weigh on my opinion of the Manhattan II? Simply that the Manhattan II was designed and configured so it can remain on the leading edge of digital innovation (consider the original Manhattan—it can be updated to current Manhattan II status), while also supplying avenues for high-quality analog sources. When you couple the Manhattan II’s digital capabilities with its excellent analog features, you have a special component that should remain viable in both mastering and recording studios as well as music-lovers’ systems for many years to come. That is value.

Specs & Pricing

Type: DAC/preamplifier/streamer (with optional card)
Inputs: USB2 Class2 (OSX, Linux driverless, all formats), AES/EBU (PCM up to 384k, up to DSD128 DOP), 3x SPDIF (PCM up to 192k, up to DSD128 DoP), TosLink, SDIF3 DSD up to DSD256, RCA Line In switchable to Phono (with optional phono card), second pair of RCA Line In, third pair XLR balanced Line In
Formats supported: PCM up to 384k, 32-bit, MQA, native DSD up to DSD256, DXD
Output: Balanced and unbalanced analog, fixed or variable output
Dimensions: 17″ x 1.95″ x 10.5″
Weight: 16 lbs.
Price: $5995. Options: phono-preamp card, $1495; network card, $995; balanced headphone adapter, $159

MYTEK HIFI
148 India Street, First Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(347) 384-2687
mytekdigital.com

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