Mytek Digital has been a pioneer in digital audio reproduction. Their Stereo192-DSD was one of the first DACs capable of playing DSD files, and their Brooklyn was one of the first non-Meridian DACs to play Meridian’s new Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) files.
MQA is a system of encoding audio files that its developer, Meridian Ltd. (MQA Ltd. has since been spun off as a separate company), claims sounds better than such high-resolution encoding methods as DSD and DXD, while resulting in file sizes much smaller than those formats. The small files mean that MQA encoding can be used to stream hi-rez audio over standard Internet connections -- and indeed, Tidal is currently streaming MQA files. I’ve seen Tidal stream files of resolutions up to 24-bit/352.8kHz, and I understand that MQA can handle up to 768kHz.
MQA claims that the sonic improvements of its codec are due in part to its improved handling of timing information. Technically, MQA is a type of PCM encoding claimed to be able to use information about the particular model of analog-to-digital converter used in the recording process to compensate for the distortions created by that model. It’s also claimed to be able to compensate for distortions in the playback DAC. In theory, MQA can result in a file that sounds better than the original. An amazing quantity of fact-free opinions about MQA have been expressed on various online forums, but when Tidal began streaming MQA-encoded files, most people who listened to them found that they sounded quite nice.
And that, of course, is what counts: the ability to stream hi-rez files that most people agree sound better than CD-rez files. Tidal’s playback apps for Windows and Macintosh can decode MQA files of up to 24/96 using any DAC capable of that sampling rate, but for complete decoding of higher-rez files, such as 352.8kHz files, an MQA-capable DAC must be used. If you don’t have or want Tidal, or one of the other MQA-based streaming services coming soon, you can buy and download MQA files from several sites, such as www.highresaudio.com. Given the highly publicized endorsement of MQA by the Warner, Universal, and Sony Music record labels, I’m surprised that more MQA files aren’t available from Tidal or for download. But no one has ever accused me of being patient, and MQA files play just fine through non-MQA DACs.
Besides being a DAC, the Mytek Brooklyn is also a phono preamplifier, a line stage, and a headphone amplifier. You might think that a component that can do all that would be pricey, but the Brooklyn costs only $1995 USD -- not cheap, but far from crazy expensive. It measures just 8.5”W by 1.75”H by 8.5”D and weighs only four pounds, including its internal power supply (no wall wart!). Its digital capability includes MQA, DSD256, and DXD (24/384 PCM), and its single analog input can be configured to accept a line-level signal, or moving-magnet (47k ohm load) or moving-coil (90 ohms) cartridge. (No gain is specified for either type of cartridge.) Its two single-ended, 1/4” headphone jacks connect to an amp that outputs up to 6W -- an enormous amount of power for headphones -- while its remote-controllable balanced and unbalanced outputs can directly drive a power amp and be used simultaneously. The output impedance is 50 ohms, low enough to drive any conceivable load.
Rather than the smooth slab of brushed aluminum found on most audio gear, the Brooklyn’s faceplate is finished in black or silver Frost Matte, with a striking texture of hexagons that reminds me of a honeycomb. I tried both. In the dim light of my equipment rack, the Brooklyn’s black pushbuttons against the black panel were effectively invisible -- I needed a flashlight. The silver panel was much easier to use. If you like this look, Mytek’s matching 250Wpc Brooklyn Amp was released July 31, in a case of the same size and with the same faceplate design.
The Brooklyn’s controls are clustered around a central status window that displays too much information to be readable at anything greater than arm’s length. Far to the right of the display is a large multifunction knob that both rotates and is a pushbutton. On both sides of the window are pairs of buttons, four in all, that are unlabeled but correspond to various functions displayed in the window, and to the left of the two left buttons are the two headphone jacks. And sure enough, a tiny indicator glows blue when an MQA file is played. You can use the controls to change the color of the illuminated Mytek logo, to match the running lights of your other components. The Brooklyn’s 20-page manual includes useful illustrations. Unlike in the printed version, the illustrations in the online version are in color. Also available for download is Mytek’s USB 2.0 driver for Windows, their Control Panel software, and several firmware updates (for which you need Control Panel).
The Brooklyn uses the well-proven ESS Technology ES9018 DAC chip and includes an internal word clock, the Mytek Femtoclock Generator, with internal jitter of 0.82 picosecond -- a very small amount. There are both an input and an output for an external word clock or the Brooklyn’s internal clock. Both analog and 32-bit digital volume controls are provided, both calibrated in increments of 1dB, and selectable via the front panel. Although the Brooklyn has its own internal power supply, it also has a rear-panel input for an external 12V DC power supply or battery. I’ve read reports that some external power supplies can improve the sound quality but that’s not within the scope of this review. The Brooklyn’s internal power supply is described as “worldwide” -- it will accept almost any voltage you connect it to.
On the Brooklyn’s rear panel, in addition to the IEC power inlet, the balanced and unbalanced line outputs, and the analog inputs, are a slew of digital inputs: USB Type-2 Class 2, AES/EBU, three S/PDIF (two RCA, one TosLink), and something labeled SDIF3 DSD. There’s also a grounding post for a turntable.
The Brooklyn comes with an Apple remote-control handset, with which you can adjust the volume when the Mytek is used as a preamp. The remote is small, attractive, functional, and made of aluminum; it looks pretty classy. There’s also a stock power cord, and a two-year warranty on parts and labor -- not bad for the price.
Setup and use
To learn the Brooklyn’s many functions, I read the manual -- what a concept! The controls are pretty easy to use. After some experimentation, I discovered that each click of the big knob brings up another four functions for the front panel’s four unlabeled buttons. Press the button corresponding to the desired category, then turn the dial until your selection is displayed in green. To select that setting, press the big knob and the setting changes from green to white, indicating that it’s been successfully selected. To turn the Brooklyn off, press the knob and hold it in for a few seconds.
When the Brooklyn is powered up, it displays what appears to be operational information but is actually a screen saver. Press the big knob once to display the actual status screen. I set the color of the Mytek logo to green to match the running lights of most of my other gear, and enabled MQA decoding. Most settings were understandable and logical. There’s even a set of linear meters to indicate signal strength. But the display is small and presents a lot of information -- I found it readable only when I stood directly in front of the Brooklyn, or peered at it through the small telescope I use when I’m in my listening seat.
My source was SOtM’s amazing sMS-200 music player, connected to the Brooklyn via USB. A Linux-based device, the SOtM doesn’t need to have a driver installed. Like most DACs, the Brooklyn worked fine with all the Linux-based players I tried. The SOtM had no trouble handling MQA files, all of which are in FLAC format, playable by any competent server or player. It’s up to the DAC to “unfold” (as MQA puts it) MQA files to their original resolution and convert them to analog. The SOtM has no internal drive; just a memory card on which is stored its operating system and a few programs, and caches of the music files selected for playback. I store my music files on a QNAP TS-251 network-attached storage (NAS) drive. To test other digital inputs, I connected the transport of my Audiolab 8000CD CD player to the Brooklyn’s S/PDIF input.
I plugged the Brooklyn’s stock power cord directly into the wall, and used some amazingly flexible balanced interconnects from Clarity Cables to link the Brooklyn to my line stage. An Audience Au24 SE USB cable, with physically separate signal and power conductors, connected the SOtM streamer to the Brooklyn.
I connected my turntable’s output to the Brooklyn’s analog input with my usual Crystal Cable phono cable, and used the Brooklyn’s front-panel controls to configure its analog input for my van den Hul Platinum Frog MC cartridge.
Mytek advised me to break in the Brooklyn by playing it 24/7 for three days; however, it was used far longer than that, so I’m confident its DAC section was well broken in. However, the phono section had barely been used -- it takes a long time to break in a phono section by playing records, and I don’t play many records.
I mostly listened to downloads selected from the website of the Norwegian label 2L -- they’re beautifully recorded, they’re available in several different recording formats, including MQA, and they’re free.
Because the Brooklyn is primarily a DAC, that’s how I first evaluated it. In general, its most distinctive characteristic was its extended but nonpeaky high-frequency extension. Complementing the highs was extended, well-behaved bass: it wasn’t boomy, soft, or mushy. The all-important midrange had a spatial perspective, and the sound was immediate and upfront.
“Blågutten,” from the Hoff Ensemble’s Quiet Winter Night (DSD128/DFF, 2L), includes a very deep, powerful drum that’s felt as much as heard -- it’s a good subwoofer demo. The solo trumpet’s full, rich harmonics were precisely reproduced by the Brooklyn, and the piano and guitar were also accurately reproduced.
The Et Misercordia of Kim Andre Arnesen’s Magnificat, performed by the Nidaros Cathedral Girls Chorus and the Trondheim Soloists conducted by Anita Brevik (24-bit/352.8kHz FLAC, 2L), radiates great serenity. As reproduced by the Brooklyn, it filled the soundstage. There was no edge or peakiness, but plenty of detail that let me hear all the choral parts easily.
As captured by the Brooklyn, Ola Gjeilo’s instrument in “Ubi Caritas,” from his Piano Improvisations (24/352.8 FLAC, 2L), sounded slightly hard, but the harmonic envelope was well reproduced. Dynamics were subtle but precisely reproduced, making Gjeilo’s expressiveness clear and poignant. Another good jazz album for people who aren’t big jazz fans.
“Snilla Patea” is a catchy composition by folk fiddler Bjørn Kåre Odde for fiddle and chorus. The composer plays fiddle and the versatile Schola Cantorum sings, in Norwegian, under the direction of Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl (24/352.8 FLAC single, 2L). 2L has converted it to MQA themselves, along with the rest of their catalog. A video of the recording session shows Odde standing behind the microphones, and the chorus standing in a nearly complete circle, surrounding him and the mikes. Several other mikes are also used. The Brooklyn delivered Odde’s ravishing fiddling with nuance and shading. The flexible, well-trained chorus sings almost flawlessly, and the Brooklyn accurately reproduced their frequent shifts of dynamics and timing. “Snilla Patea” was the only 2L track I used as a reference recording that was not available as a free download. I predict that it will become a favorite demo track at audio shows.
If you’re an experienced audiophile, you’ve probably heard Rebecca Pidgeon’s cover of Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector’s “Spanish Harlem,” from her The Raven. Well, the remastering of the 15th Anniversary Version of the album (24/88.2 FLAC, Chesky/HDtracks), by engineer Bob Katz, improves on the original. The pristinely clean recording captures Pidgeon’s voice with startling palpability and presence. The bass that begins the track, though not especially powerful, is also caught with a dynamically tight sound. The Brooklyn made all of this come to life.
Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Lovin’ (DSD64/DSF, Lost Highway/Acoustic Sounds) is a collection of songs mostly once sung by Dusty Springfield. The title track begins with a powerful bass, which the Brooklyn handled extremely well -- I heard great extension and detail. When Lynne enters, her voice had an almost fool-you realism -- expressive, nuanced, deeply engaged. Instruments other than the bass were portrayed with excellent realism, particularly the cymbals.
The Brooklyn as MQA decoder
I then listened to the MQA FLAC versions of the 2L recordings mentioned above. In “Blågutten,” the bass drum was presented with equal depth and power, but a smidge more definition, and the Brooklyn captured the complete harmonic envelope of the guitar slightly more accurately.
The Et Misercordia of Arnesen’s Magnificat had more spatial precision and vocal texture. The soprano was unstrained, and the organ was a bit more audible. There was less homogenization of the performers, more a sense of people in front of me performing the work.
Ola Gjeilo’s piano in his “Ubi Caritas” had slightly more texture, with a tad more dynamic differentiation and a little more space and air. The recording just sounded a bit more real.
Bjørn Kåre Odde’s “Snilla Patea” sounded more harmonically full and accurate, and made the DXD version sound slightly washed out. Odde’s fiddle was more nuanced and expressive, with more air around it. The chorus was just beautiful, especially when it swells to full volume -- dynamically clean as a whistle.
With the CD input
I used Pidgeon’s recording of “Spanish Harlem” because I wanted to try Chesky’s MQA-encoded CD of The Raven. Sure enough, when I popped in the disc, the Brooklyn’s MQA light came on, and the display told me I was listening to a 24/176.4 recording. Think about that: I was getting hi-rez playback from a CD -- which may be more remarkable than streaming hi-rez over a normal Internet connection. For fun, I listened to some of the other songs on The Raven, most of which I like better than “Spanish Harlem.” They all had a natural, unforced, analog-sounding character that was devoid of the sterility I sometimes hear in ultra-high-resolution digital files. I could listen to sound like this all day. I’ve heard lots of audiophiles say that they prefer physical music media -- MQA CDs could give them their preferred formats and hi-rez sound.
Listening to MQA files through the Brooklyn was encouraging. Differences between MQA-encoded files and the original versions weren’t uniformly night-and-day different, but the MQA versions usually sounded slightly better. That doesn’t mean the original versions didn’t sound perfectly fine, and I certainly don’t suggest that you erase all your current digital files to buy MQA versions, even if that were possible.
The Brooklyn as phono preamplifier
The bass in the title track of the LP of Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Lovin’ (Lost Highway) wasn’t as extended as on the download, but sounded a bit better integrated with the midbass. Lynne’s voice was equally expressive, but the most obvious differences were the sounds of the instruments. The cymbals were much more prominent on vinyl, with a sheen much like I hear when listening to a live band. The high-frequency extension also sounded very natural, but extended -- there was no hint of peakiness, but lots of fine detail. Even when passing along signals from my moving-coil cartridge, the Brooklyn was extremely quiet. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles offered by many phono preamps days, such as adjustable gain and loading, but I found it entirely acceptable as a basic phono preamp. But if you’re serious about vinyl, I’m sure you’ll want something more elaborate, and that probably costs more than the Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn as headphone amplifier
I tried the AKG K712 ($349) and Audeze LCD-4 ($3995) headphones -- a difference in price of an order of magnitude. The Audezes need a lot of power, but presented no challenge to the Brooklyn’s 6W output. The bass was extended and powerful, with realistic detail. The midrange was spacious, with pretty good soundstaging for headphones. The highs were slightly rolled off and somewhat polite. In “Just a Little Lovin’,” the bass was deep and extended. Shelby Lynne’s voice was burnished and stunningly realistic, while the instruments were detailed but lacked a little high-frequency extension.
I switched to the AKG K712s and was reminded why they used to be my favorite headphones. Though they lack the deepest bass, their midrange was quite open, and the highs seemed more extended -- I could hear some of the delicate cymbal tinks in considerably more detail. The AKGs are much easier to drive than the Audezes, not that it mattered to the Brooklyn. If you’re a serious headphone fan, you might eventually want a separate, dedicated headphone amp -- but the Brooklyn’s amp should give a lot of separates a run for their money.
PS Audio’s NuWave Phono Converter is a phono preamp and analog-to-digital converter that can be used to make digital copies of LPs. Originally priced at $1899, it’s now available for $999 while supplies last, as PSA prepares to launch its replacement. I’d installed PSA’s latest operating system, Huron, in their DirectStream DAC ($5995), which PSA says is the first step toward adding MQA capability to the DirectStream. I used Audeze’s The King headphone amp, which outputs 6W and costs $3995 -- more than twice the Brooklyn’s price. It may not make much sense to pit the $1995 Brooklyn against an $11,889 array of gear, but it’s interesting to test precisely how much better performance a lot more money might buy.
The original DXD version of Bjørn Kåre Odde’s “Snilla Patea” sounded luscious compared to the somewhat more matter-of-fact Brooklyn, even when I played the MQA version through the Mytek; harmonics were more complete, and there was a good bit more detail. Even the soundstage, in which the MQA version excelled, was much better defined.
The bass drum in “Blågutten” surged with rhythmic energy, sounding deeper and more powerful, yet it also had better pitch definition. I could hear more detail in the solo trumpet’s phrasing, and the accompanying instruments were more timbrally and texturally convincing.
The 24/88.2 remastered version of “Spanish Harlem” is the best-sounding conventionally encoded version of this track that I have. In it, Rebecca Pidgeon’s voice sounded less mechanical and more human, and the instruments had more inner detail and nuance. The PS Audio DirectStream just sounded more enjoyably realistic than the Mytek Brooklyn -- as it darned well should, for three times the price.
Through the PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter, “Just a Little Lovin’” had better definition of texture, and Lynne’s voice had superior resolution and humanity. The bass went no deeper, but had a smidge more detail.
With my CD player directly feeding Audeze’s The King headphone amp, I played the CD of “Spanish Harlem.” Although the CD player by itself couldn’t
decode the MQA CD, undecoded MQA CDs played fine. Through the Audeze LCD-4 headphones, the CD had a great deal of rhythmic energy, and Pidgeon’s voice sounded more realistic than I’ve ever heard it. And the opening bass was more prominent, more powerful. Most interesting was the string arrangement -- it sounded as if the players had shown up at the session with better instruments. Even the highest-frequency details were easier to follow.
The Audeze combination was pretty amazing. The fact that I wasn’t listening to MQA or even hi-rez playback mattered a lot less than the basic quality of the headphone amplifier. Again -- the Audeze headphone amp alone costs twice the Brooklyn’s price. But the Mytek Brooklyn’s headphone amp was no slouch.
The Brooklyn was not shamed by these comparisons. What’s more important is that I never found the Mytek’s sound to be unpleasant or deficient in any way -- and at the price, that’s very important.
Going in, my expectations of the Mytek Brooklyn were mixed. I halfway wondered if it might be just an OK DAC rushed to market to capitalize on its MQA capability. That turned out to be far from the case. It’s an excellent DAC with a host of other relevant features. It’s not only relatively inexpensive, its additional features could make it the only electronics front end you need -- which makes it a real bargain. There’s a lot of bitching online and in print about the escalating prices of audio gear, and with some justification. My response to that complaint is Mytek’s Brooklyn DAC. What a deal! And it unfolds MQA.
. . . Vade Forrester
- Speakers -- Affirm Audio Lumination, Syzygy Acoustics SLF870 subwoofers (2)
- Amplifiers -- Berning ZH-230
- Preamplifier -- Audio Research LS28 line stage, PS Audio NuWave Phono Converter phono stage
- Sources -- Linn LP12 turntable on custom isolation base, Graham Engineering 2.2 tonearm, van den Hul Platinum Frog cartridge; SOtM sMS-200 streaming music player and mBPS-d2s power supply, SOtM sMS-1000SQ network music player with sPS-1000 power supply; PS Audio DirectStream DAC with Huron OS; QNAP TS-251 NAS
- Interconnects -- Audience Au24 SX (balanced, unbalanced), CablePro Freedom (unbalanced), Clarity Cables Organic (balanced), Crystal Cable Piccolo (unbalanced), High Fidelity Cables CT-1 (unbalanced)
- Speaker cables -- Crimson RM Music Link
- Power cords -- Audience powerChord e and Au24 SE LP powerChord, Clarity Cables Vortex, Purist Audio Design Venustas
- Digital -- Audience Au24 SE (USB) and Au24 SX (S/PDIF)
- Power conditioners and distribution -- Audience aR6-T
Mytek Digital Brooklyn DAC-Phono Stage-Preamplifier-Headphone Amplifier
Price: $1995 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor to original purchaser.
148 India Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Phone: (347) 384-2687