This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

This review first appeared in the December 2012 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 Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Poland: 26.000zł

For about a year now, emails from manufacturers or distributors about new products invariably contain the PC abbreviation in at least one paragraph. This personal computer reference is a sign of the times. Without it gone would be the Internet as there would be nothing to connect. Without the Internet gone would be 6moons and High Fidelity. That would hurt at least me dearly. The computer is a calculating machine with memory and executing instructions embedded in software. As it turned out, it's a very versatile machine indeed. Can anyone today imagine typesetting newspapers, magazines or books without one? Or sound recording and processing for that matter? A great majority of contemporary music recordings employ computer workstations and hard drives.

Ditto remastering where the best systems usually run Cedar's audio plug-ins. Recently the computer has also become an important audio source, a sort of player. There are those who believe that it is the only way to high-end performance or to replace vinyl with next-gen digital media that preserve all the advantages of analogue with all the additional advantages of digital. Japan with its predilection toward merging the ultra-conservative with the ultra-modern or downright futuristic is a perfect example. In most their systems we will come across a turntable or two with multiple cartridges adjacent to an audio file player which is nothing but a highly specialized computer or laptop. They even have their own fantastic magazine Net Audio dedicated exclusively to audio files and various methods of their reproduction.

Keeping that in mind, one should not be surprised by the veritable glut of devices which hifi publications refer to broadly as PC audio. It’s a sign of the times and we can't do anything about it even if we associate the computer with something hard to manage and thus far from relaxing which ought to be the feeling associated with listening to music at home. A solid number of experienced audio companies having made their name with classic hifi (some of which now is considered vintage or legacy) are grappling with this new reality. Some enjoy more success than others but each one tries desperately to include in their product something related to the PC - a USB port in most cases. Not that it usually does much good.

It won't appeal to the traditional audiophile as it is just an extra DAC inside an integrated amplifier or preamplifier or money spent needlessly on such a port in a DAC. Neither does it appeal to modern techno maniacs from whom the only relevant thing is the most technologically advanced product sans any compromise. For them the real leaders here are the companies on the very edge of the technological shock, the companies that bring about real change. Italian M2Tech is one of those.

Run by Nadia Marino, the company is fairly young and was founded with one goal: to improve the transfer of USB signal and its conversion to the classic S/PDIF protocol 'understood' by existing DACs. Their hiFace was a tiny plug which connected to the computer's USB port with an RCA socket on the other side. A typical D/D converter or what is now called a USB bridge, it was one of the first to process 24-bit 192kHz signal. One won't find the word asynchronous in its description but it does appear in the manual. M2Tech wasn't first to implement that for consumer hifi. The distinction goes to Gordon Rankin as the author of the first consumer USB converter, the Wavelength Audio Crimson. Introduced in 2004, it featured asynchronous signal transmission between computer and converter. The software written by Gordon and stored on a Texas Instruments TAS1020 controller became available under the trade name Streamlength and has since been implemented by a number of audio manufacturers to good effect.

But Gordon is still only half a digital man so to speak. His first love are vacuum tubes and his beloved children SET amplifiers. M2Tech is nothing of the kind. This company is one of the most active advocates of computers as high-end sources. All their digital-to-analogue converters past the advent of the hiFace were designed foremost with USB reception in mind. There are naturally all the other digital inputs present as well. Today's model sports two of each optical ST, Toslink, coax on RCA and BNC and AES/EBU. All are 24/192kHz capable.

However, on the very first page of the DAC's manual—the machine was introduced in May 2012 and presented for the first time during the High End Munich show—we read about 32-bit/384kHz compliance. This was made possible due to technical advances some of which we already came across in my Young converter review from the same firm while others are new. So the Vaughan accepts 32-bit 384kHz signal but directly only over two inputs: I²S on an Ethernet RJ45 port and USB. That's not all though. All twinned connectors can be configured mono whereby each socket only receives one channel. This bypasses conventional limitations in digital receivers and has for years been used by dCS, Chord Electronics and Esoteric. Using dual-channel links we now can send 24-bit 384kHz signal across all interfaces except Toslink. The Vaughan does not accept DSD over USB however.