Mutec has recently released their new state of the art external 10 MHz master clock which has been talked about since last April at the AXPONA show in Chicago. We finally got our hands on our YFS demo unit and we want to share our thoughts on this latest piece of digital source gear.
We got our first taste of an external clock when we purchased the M2Tech clock to add to our M2Tech EVO USB to SPDIF converter 4 years ago. It made an impact that was hard to describe unless you were in the room comparing the EVO with and without the external clock in place. We always hope for more of an 'in your face' result when auditioning review gear. However, everything did sound better with a more 'liquid' sound when the EVO clock was in place.
This is the same sound we're after when we listen to vinyl and we tend to call this a smoother, more 'analog' sound. Digital gets a bad reputation when it sounds bright and harsh. This is the main reason vinyl is so popular and remains the source of choice for many audiophiles.
Fast forward to 2017. The Ref 10 from Mutec is now the latest external clock we have been able to audition mated alongside our YFS modified Mutec MC-3+USB SPDIF converter. The Ref 10 is housed in an industrial chassis and has more of an 'audiophile look' to it based on the thicker more substantial CNC'd face plate. The unit measures 8" wide by just under 4" tall by 12" deep and weighs in at approximately 9 pounds. The larger chassis compared to the MC-3+USB is needed based on the fact that a beefy power supply and toroidal transformer sit inside the Ref 10.
The Ref 10's rear panel consists of (2) 50 Ohm outputs and (6) 75 Ohm outputs which allows the user to mate the master clock to several devices in his or her rack. This is pretty slick. The blue light on the faceplate blinks for several minutes before the clock is ready for operation. This is the warm-up cycle the Ref 10 goes through every time it is power cycled. Another handy feature of the Mutec clock is the ability to turn off the outputs you're not using. We decided to use output #3 and turn the other outputs off for our review.
The most important aspect of the clock that we've all been patiently waiting to find out about is how does it sound? Is it worth adding to your existing Mutec MC-3 converter or other compatible digital device? We have to say the Ref 10 made a very noticeable difference when we placed it in our chain. The difference in sound quality was immediate when listening to hi-res material. This is the 'in your face' change to our system we like to hear. We didn't have to go back and forth more than once to hear the change as it was not subtle.
The sound stage grew and enveloped the entire room. Without the clock the sound stage barely reached past either side of the speakers and lacked depth. The detail and overall presentation of the music was lifelike. Our music now sounded as if the musicians were almost playing in the room with us. The tone of the music changed slightly and we could hear very minute details in the background of our favorite tracks that were hidden deep in the background when the clock was removed.
When listening to red book material, the changes were more subdued and subtle but were still there. We tried to play our favorite DSD tracks through the Mutec pairing but our EMM Labs DA2 would not play nice with the Mutec stack unfortunately.
Bob from Sonic Distributions told us some DACs will grab onto the incoming DSD data stream and some will not. It's just a matter of whether your DAC can handle the 0's and 1's or not. In our case, the DA2 DAC could not lock onto the DSD stream and instead converted it to PCM. This was our only complaint and it appears the DAC is the deciding factor not the Mutec gear as the MC-3+USB does indeed pass the DSD stream to components down the chain.
Should you buy the Ref 10? Is it worth the asking price of $3400 USD? In our case, we're keeping the Ref 10 along with our YFS modified MC-3+USB SPDIF converter. You cannot pry them out of our hands and we're not going to listen without the pairing from this point forward. The Ref 10 was a very welcome addition to our system and it could very well transform your rig as well.