MUTEC MC3+USB DIGITAL TO DIGITAL CONVERTER REVIEW
Your Final System 03/2016
We recently became a US dealer for the full line of Mutec products. We are very excited to bring the Mutec computer based devices to the US audiophile scene and spread the good word on this German based digital company. It's been 3 weeks and 500 hours since we took delivery of our Mutec MC-3+USB. Our YFS 'Custom' Digital XLR and our Mutec are all 'burned-in' and ready to audition. This review won't take long as it was a pretty easy task on our part. Besides burning the unit in, there wasn't much to ponder and compare once the smoke cleared.
We are using our Schiit Yggy DAC paired with the Mutec MC-3+USB, the M2Tech EVO/ M2Tech Clock/ YFS LPS combo, and the Channel Islands Transient MkII for our review. The EVO combined with the external clock powered by our YFS linear power supply is our current reference SPDIF converter.
The 3 SPDIF converters above were hooked up to our YFS Mac Mini. The Mini was armed with the latest version of Audirvana Plus and identical tracks were played on our source component to keep things fair. The YFS Custom Ref 'Split' USB was implemented as our digital link to each SPDIF converter's input. We used our latest all copper YFS 'Custom' Ref Digital XLR to link the SPDIF converters to our Schiit Yggy except in the case of the Transient MkII. The Transient uses I2S and BNC outputs for its digital signal instead of XLR (AES/ EBU). In the Transient's case, we used our all copper YFS BNC cable. This was an attempt to make sure conductors in both digital cables were equivalent. It's not a perfect review scenario but the best way to determine the differences between all 3 converters without being too unfair.
Side Note: The M2Tech EVO is a 'data-only' device while the Mutec MC-3 and the Transient MkII use USB bus power to run the USB input chip (XMOS in both cases). This means we let the power leg of our 'Split' USB cable hang unused when playing the EVO unit but implemented our YFS PS-5 USB power supply for the Mutec and Transient units. See our 'Data-Only' article here for more information.
The M2Tech EVO with external clock and LPS gave us a nice smooth, liquid sound but it has always been a pain to use as it requires switching the external clock frequency for files with a multiple of 44.1 kHz and 48kHz sampling rates.
This is a major problem, especially at audio shows. Needless to say, sometimes great sound requires some extra work. The Transient MkII has been the most detailed SPDIF converter for the money we have ever tried, and that includes the Berkeley 'Alpha USB' SPDIF converter that has won over many demanding audiophiles. The Transient is a great unit as it does not require any user tweaks to play different sample rates and sounds very nice. It doesn't have the liquid smoothness of the EVO with external clock but it comes VERY CLOSE for less coin and is handy, convenient, and easily bests units such as the Musical Fidelity V-Link 192.
Enter the Mutec MC-3+USB. This unit surprised us as it put out a nice liquid, smooth analog presentation without the need for tweaking or adding an external linear power supply. Mutec has a proprietary clocking process that pretty much removes all jitter from the data stream entering your DAC. This was very apparent as we listened to some of our favorite tracks sans some harshness and sibilance that we're used to going directly into the Yggy via USB. The other thing we noticed is that the Yggy could now be used in our system to play at sound pressure levels previously not played at due to some 'breaking up' of the music. It's hard to explain but Yggy's one downfall is that it tends to not sound 'natural' at higher volume levels and can be a little forward or bright at times, especially with brass, harmonicas, and vocals. Again, this all went away when hooked up to the Mutec. This end result was eye opening and not expected when we set out to put the MC-3 through its paces.
Keep in mind we are nitpicking here for the purposes of our review. All 3 units sounded amazing but we're all in this hobby to get the most out of our recordings and more importantly, our investments in gear. None the less, the clear winner was the Mutec MC-3+USB mainly due to the fact that no linear power supplies or external clocks were necessary to achieve such high level of playback. One downfall of the MC-3 is that the user must select between DSD input and PCM input. This will be solved shortly in the form of a firmware update this Summer.
To wrap things up, there's a new king of SPDIF converters and it's the Mutec MC-3+USB! At $1,099 MSRP, this unit is costly but not that bad when you consider what it's capable of. Compared to the Berkeley unit that comes in at $1,800 MSRP, the EVO and clock at $1,050 MSRP sans LPS, and the Transient MkII at $700 MSRP, this Mutec piece is a no-brainer as it surpasses all the others in the performance AND convenience. Way to go Mutec!
Thanks for reading and tuning in. We look forward to continuing to get the word out on some of the latest HiFi components that are worth an audition in your rack and worth your hard earned money.