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In use. Input equality. The MA-1 auto-switches itself quietly with incoming sampling frequency changes. This confirms by the position of the signal lock light. To test for input equality, I had CDs spinning inside my Esoteric UX-1 fed to the DAC's first coaxial input via Chris Sommovigo's very best Tombo Trøn S/PDIF cable [right]. This I compared on the fly to a USB feed from my iMac running PureMusic 1.8 in memory play. With perfect sync of CD and iTunes playback, the instantaneous switch from coax to USB via Meitner's remote was utterly undetectable. Switching back from USB to coax inserted a momentary mute as though S/PDIF had to first initialize while USB was always already on. Regardless, there were no audible differences even over the long run! In prior such comparisons USB most often had enjoyed a minor advantage.

Here S/PDIF and USB were true equals. While it was well below my pay grade to grasp how Meitner implemented all inputs as asynchronous—I'd always understood the Sony/Philips digital interface to be inherently slave mode—listening seemed to bear it out. Was it related to AMR's zero jitter clock? That too eliminates conventional PLL clock regeneration in favor of 28.000.000 DSP-based clock frequency corrections in real time. Naim's DAC attempts a quasi asynchronous S/PDIF protocol by constantly switching between eight different fixed clocks. An off-the-record description on how Meitner's frequency acquisition system works suggested that for hifi applications it might indeed—perplexingly so—be unique (unless Andreas Koch has migrated the technology to Playback Designs).

Or perhaps not exactly equal. With high-end's general diss of Tosslink this might be controversial but, doing an extended A/B between USB and optical transfers I thought the latter slightly superior. Dynamic contrast felt a tad higher. This was noted on vocal peaks [Falete, Coplas Que Nos Han Matao, "Tengo Miedo"] as well as low-level image pop versus blackground [Josemi Carmona, Las Pequeñas Cosas, "Gran Torino"]. Was the noise floor a fraction lower? This also tied to a sense of 'different' smoothness or subliminal texture.

As you'll see shortly, DSD and PCM file equivalents sounded different. DSD had its own sound. In my setup—the quality of any computer's various output ports remains unpredictable—those who'd prefer DSD over PCM feeds would likely have also preferred optical. No matter, one thing seemed certain. Optical transmission with this machine was not inherently inferior. This mandates a case-by-case investigation to determine the best connection with your streaming server. Don't discount Toslink on principle is the thing to remember. Whilst tech support mentioned that due to their unique MFAST™ scheme their optical input can process 24/192 with a cable of proper bandwidth support, in my case PureMusic and Audirvana both downsampled such signal to 96kHz which the MA-1 confirmed with its corresponding light. DSD at 24/176.4 was likewise downsampled to 88.2kHz.

File density. Primarily, increased data density seems to net greater ambient retrieval. Space appears. With it the venue acoustics turn 'wetter'. Minuscule reverb interactions come more to the fore as performer auras. Reducing file density from 24/192 to 16/44 dries out the apparent acoustics. This puts the focus on just the performers. It eliminates much contextual data which previously interfaced the performers with the physical space in which they performed. It's quite similar to overdamping a room. Lower resolution mirrors higher damping and how too much absorption progressively kills off not just room reflections but also the musical charge or energy of the playback. In that sense hi-rez isn't about more primary stuff. It's about more secondary and tertiary stuff. Short hand might call that a lot more audible space.

A parallel perception is of greater fluidity. Lower resolution appears stiffer and starker. As resolution increases, more nuanced microdynamics flow into this feel. That greater differentiation of micro swings translates into more ebb and flow, into greater inner motion and from there into greater listener e-motion. Finally treble performance becomes more sophisticated particularly with as revealing a tweeter as the Raal ribbon in my Aries Cerat Gladius speaker. But the most profound benefit from higher resolution—at least to my ears—really is the superior ambient recovery or dimensional context.

DSD vs. PCM. The dsf/dff files compared directly to their PCM equivalents all exhibited the same slightly sweet slightly soft texture. As perhaps a deeply PCM-engrained listener who couldn't make the quick transition, I soon related to this as an admittedly pleasing but nonetheless minor coloration. Sharing this with Morton, his terse reply was comforting. Exactly my experience. There's a kind of Hollywood soft focus to DSD. Those who concur to prefer high-resolution PCM (someone could acknowledge this DSD effect but be partial to it*1) might refocus from streaming DSD to playing back PCM at up to 24/352.

*1 "Every EMMlabs DAC from the beginning has converted PCM to DSD.  Ed's is a pure 1-bit system. Ed believes most of the critical problems with digital audio happens at the twin transitions from analog to digital and from digital to analog. Contrary to conventional wisdom Ed is convinced the advantages of pure 1-bit converters far outweigh their disadvantages.  An unadulterated 1-bit DAC produces a far more natural more analog transient response [see image above] than multibit methods and no trick DSP filtering is required.  From Ed's perspective as a bit of a truth seeker and perfectionist, it isn't that one sounds 'soft' and one doesn't. It is that one is realistic and like nature whereas the other is artificial and unnatural."

For hi-rez PCM my Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold with its 384kHz USB spec held the ace. Unlike the Meitner it could render native 24/352 without enforcing software player downsampling. What's rather more important in this personal quest for better resolution of course is to determine which of the various file formats offer the type of music that interests you*2. It's no good to have the fast car but nowhere to go. The Zodiac Gold as yet doesn't do DSD. At present the Meitner won't transcend 24/192 input data.

Yet by handling true 24/192 and DSD64 files natively, the MA-1 would seem as future-ready as I imagine is relevant to the majority of prospective owners. With this detour into streaming DSD concluded, how did the Meitner hold up against my best in-house converters of Eximus DP1, Zodiac Gold and APL Hifi NWO-M? Regarding break-in, Meitner's tech support specified 250 hours total as the magic number and confirmed that all machines undergo 100 hours at the factory before shipping to only leave 150 hours or about a week of continuous play for owners to clock. "We know exactly which parts are responsible. There are actually three discrete stages of sonic break-in changes. One is after the first 5 hours of play, one at 95 hours and the final one at 250. Our customers never have to suffer the first two."

*2 There's also the very real consideration of download times particularly for complete albums; and how far more rapidly such far greater files eat up hard-drive or SSD storage. Relative to USB at 384kHz and Meitner, "so far the only requests we've had for 8fs are from pros who use Pyramix and have DXD. We're a small company and must prioritize resources. We've chosen to implement DoP and develop some other new products before revisiting the USB interface, at which time perhaps 8fs files would be more available. (We selected the XMOS over a year ago. Our hardware already has the speed and power to handle 8fs)." DACs besides the Zodiac Gold which can currently process 384kHz input data over USB include the Light Harmonic Da Vinci, the Playback Designs MPD-5, the M2Tech Young, the MSB Technology Signature Dac IV and the ultra-affordable KingRex UD384.