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This review first appeared in the October 2011 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or M2Tech. - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacuła
CD player
: Ancient Audio Lektor Air
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, Miyajima Laboratory Waza
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Regenerator power supply version II
Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version
Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro
Interconnects: CD-preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp-power amp Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2
Audio stand: Base
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD player, Pro Audio Bono platform under CD player
Review component retail in Poland: 4.650zł

Just a few years ago companies like Burr-Brown manufactured large quantities of USB digital receivers capable of receiving 16-bit signals with 32/44.1/48kHz sampling frequencies like the PCM2702 chip. So many of them were manufactured that they now sell for next to nothing and remain used in sometimes even very expensive gear. Those USB receivers by today's standards usually sound bad because they are characterized by very high jitter. There are of course exceptions to the rule like the magical and by all common sense inexplicable sound of the Musica Ibuki DAC or the incredibly successful KingRex UD-1 Pro. But those really are the exceptions.

As a matter of fact it does seem that if sound quality were their only concern, the major brands would not raise a finger to do anything about it. Changes were brought about by life itself, not even audiophiles this time. It simply turned out that selling files via the Internet is very profitable and not only as MP3 or 16/44.1 formats but also in 24-bit versions with higher sampling rates. So USB receiver chips were manufactured which would would handle such 24/96 files. One of the first was probably the TAS1020 TI, now rather obsolete because of its still high jitter. The decision to stop its manufacture was seemingly premature. For example the digital board of Primare newest I22 amplifier sports exactly this receiver chip. The thing here is, Primare’s engineers developed a special program with PLL loop embedded inside the chip whereby their signal is reclocked in this silicon. This gave outstanding results!

Hifi firms quickly embraced another chip, the Tenor Audio TE7022 now almost ubiquitous from the inexpensive Audinst HUD-mx1 DAC all the way to the very advanced Soulution 540 player. Yet even this chip remained limited to 24/96 input signal. Something more was required to unlock computers for their native 24/192 files. This has become the new de facto ‘gold standard’ for audio files as it is in some way endorsed by the DVD-Audio and Blu-ray carriers whose best sound is defined by those exact parameters. But to transfer audio data with these parameters intact via USB mandates proprietary drivers for Windows whose default drivers limit out at 24/96 . For higher rates you need to install more advanced drivers.

Enter Wavelength Audio who in my opinion must be viewed as the most important trend setter of two paths currently shaping digital audio - USB DACs with 192kHz sampling frequency and asynchronous receiver mode. Although the latter is not absolutely essential, unlocking 192kHz files is. Fortunately other companies beside Wavelength quickly took the lead and introduced their own advanced solutions. One of them was the Italian firm M2Tech which conquered the audio scene with their hiFace USB-SPDIF converters. Those were really small but fulfilled two requirements - they handled 24/192 files in asynchronous transfer mode.

One might have thought this the end of the road but humans are pushy animals. We need to explore the limits of the possible. That’s why the barely obtained 24/192 formula seems already no longer sufficient to some. Count M2Tech amongst those. Word got out last year that the company was working on a DAC and USB-S/PDIF converter which would handle 32-bit/384kHz audio [Antelope Audio’s Igor Levin already had his in the Zodiac Gold – Ed]. Although 32-bit compliance had already appeared in for example the KingRex UC192 DAC (32-bit at 192kHz), the 384kHz sampling rate seems pure madness. What's it currently good for?