To find out, I imagined what I might have partied to as a teenager had I lived in Egypt's Port Said not Kiel on the Baltic Sea. It'd have been an Amr Diab type who today is the region's most popular singer. I cued up "Fouq men elenta feh", a bubblegum love song from his Al Leila album. PureMusic's dynamic range meters didn't move. This was everything-equally-loud gruel for breakfast though definitely much tastier than a Full Irish with congealed pork blood in oats called black pudding. To my surprise, switching in the Mutecs was audible. Whilst the Germans obviously couldn't make a dent in such a wall of sound which flattens out depth and compacts sounds without in-between space, the background strings still separated out better into discrete entities. Also, the overall impression was of somewhat greater musical elegance. Whilst I doubt that anyone partying to this in the Sharm el Sheikh seaside resort would notice or care if they did, jitter and noise reduction still telegraphed on a costly home hifi even if to a far smaller extent than on higher quality material.
To get the very most from today's digital helpers obviously relies on feeding them with the very best quality. Two 'very' make an even bigger 'verily I say unto thee'. But, music-first libraries don't do racial profiling based on origins. It's not about where music comes from or how snazzy or not its recording values might be. That made it gratifying to hear that Mutec's benefits weren't exclusive to audiophile productions. With efficacy established, how would Mutec's best compare to Soundaware's best? To find out only meant reseating USB cables, toggling Audirvana between D300Ref and Mutec, then switching the Denafrips from I²S to AES/EBU. It also meant musical baby steps with the first minute or so of Jacques Loussier's "Träumerei" from his Schumann / Kinderszenen album. Unlike the full Jazz trio numbers here, this particular track is just solo piano (it starts at 16:44 on this full album video).
A single instrument recorded in a wet acoustic. Comparative machinations purely in the digital clock/jitter domain. What could possibly differ? My ears said contrast ratio and edge definition. With the D300Ref—sold at €2'850 through Vinshine Audio's global portal when reviewed though distribution changed since so pricing may also have—contrast ratio was higher. The rise of sounds from and against silence had more frisson. On edge definition, that of the Mutec twins was higher. When Loussier's lazily exploratory piano sounds of the opening fall like ink drops onto the wet paper of the reverberant venue, they instantly feather out like a Rorschach test. In that discipline, the Chinese component showed more of that running-ink effect. Hence it registered as slightly softer on its edging, as more water-color dispersive and lingering. This influenced my perception of recorded space. Its acoustics seemed to be wetter whereas with the Mutec duo, they felt drier. Not knowing what this should sound like, I couldn't make any better/worse pronouncement, only one of difference. Given the moodily probing atmosphere of this piece, I preferred the Soundaware. Listeners whose sense of resolution ties to edge limning would have favoured the slightly crisper Mutec. Back on audio lingo, we'd call this a small textural offset of softer versus sharper, slightly more laid back versus crisper. Two kinds of close flavors.
My next test meant to exploit the MC-3+USB's clock output into the D300Ref's 22'5792MHz input. When I couldn't figure out how—whenever I engaged Soundaware's external clock input by rear-mounted switch, the sound cut out to restore instantly when I ran it off its internal clock again—I asked Christian Peters for help. Once math is involved, my mind goes blank. I was foggy too on how to correctly set his clock multipliers for the occasion; and whether indeed the Soundaware was copasetic with his deck in the first place.
Weighing the relative appeal of the D300Ref vs. MC-3+USB as USB bridges in a hi-end home not studio context, the far costlier Chinese adds that potentially valuable I²S-over-HDMI facility, the definitely useful SD card reader with its display and IR remote plus WiFi/network functions. Against its single clock output however, the Mutec will sync to far more digital devices with a far greater range of individualized clock options.
With clock inputs on consumer machines being mostly crocodile tears however, for the great majority of listeners that expanded facility will be irrelevant. Just how many digital devices do you need to or can you sync up to an external clock generator? The most common MC-3+USB use in a home hifi in fact will be as a simple yet demonstrably effective USB-in, coax/XLR-out D/D converter with built-in reclocker. Rather than waste coin on an overpriced audiophile server with no or marginal display to require a Wifi tablet as remote controller, the home listener can now exploit a standard computer like our iMac and be assured that its non-optimization for upscale audio isn't an issue. Run Audirvana or PureMusic to bypass Apple's core audio; JRiver, JPlay & Co on a PC. Add $999 for today's small Mutec with its many tiny lights. Voilà, your computer has just been elevated to a bona-fide music machine aka audiophile streamer with far superior functionality than boutique streamers. You'll access Qobuz, Tidal, Spotify, YouTube & Sons without silly UPnP hassles and a proper not virtual keyboard. That the Mutec looks its pro heritage to a 't' is simply part of this package. For home users, the Berlin team might thus consider a firmware update to add a 'black-out' function whereby, after the desired settings have been made, all the small LED can be extinguished by simultaneously pressing two buttons.
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