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Review: Merason DAC1 MK II: Elevating Sound Quality and Craftsmanship in Digital Audio

Review: Merason DAC1 MK II: Elevating Sound Quality and Craftsmanship in Digital Audio - Discover the Merason DAC1 MK II, a Swiss-engineered DAC, renowned for its impeccable sound quality and craftsmanship

Introduction

In a world filled with digital-to-analog converters (DACs) boasting high-resolution capabilities, the Merason DAC1 MK II from Switzerland is a unique standout. Now in its second generation, this DAC maintains its original 24Bit/192kHz decoding specifications and doesn’t offer DSD decoding. Surprisingly, it has garnered significant popularity and comes highly recommended by our editorial team.

Why Stick to 24Bit/192kHz?

You might wonder what drove Merason’s founder and designer, Mr. Daniel Frauchiger, to stick with 24Bit/192kHz in an era of high-resolution digital streaming. His answer is simple: sound quality. He insists on using the Burr Brown PCM1794A chip with 24bit/192kHz decoding because, in his experience, it delivers the best sound performance. But decoding capabilities are just one piece of the puzzle; factors like circuit design, power supply, and cabinet design play vital roles in sound quality.

The main features of Merason DAC1 MK II are as follows:

● Using Amanero USB module
● Dual clock oscillator, high precision, and low time base error
● Galvanic isolation to ensure no interference between components and lines
● Two Burr Brown PCM1794A Chip
● Fully balanced differential class A amplification circuit, with a total of 4 independent channels responsible for two-channel output

● Each circuit has its power supply, a total of 12 groups
● Each channel has an exclusive over-specification linear power supply Power supply
● Each component is decided after countless actual listening
● Designed and produced in Switzerland

Merason DAC1 MK II Specifications


● Analog output 20 kHz +/- 0.3 dB 

● Total harmonic distortion THD+N: < 0.006 % 

● Signal-to-noise ratio SNR: > 120 dB

● DAC decoding: Dual BurrBrown 1794A, discrete I/V stage 

● Dimensions: 45 x 10 x 29cm 

● Weight: 5.5 kg

Design and Features

An Inside Look at the Merason DAC1 MK II

The Merason DAC1 MK II is not only a paragon of sonic excellence but also a product with meticulous attention to design and features. Let’s delve deeper into what makes this DAC a standout in this aspect:

Minimalist Exterior The DAC1 MK II’s front panel exudes a sense of minimalism, with an uncluttered design that reflects the Swiss commitment to precision and simplicity. It hosts a power switch, a signal source switch, and six LED indicators that convey its operational status at a glance. This clean and functional design underlines the device’s dedication to core functionality.

Versatile Inputs and Outputs On the rear panel, the DAC1 MK II offers a well-thought-out array of inputs and outputs to cater to various audio setups. These include one set of RCA and XLR balanced analog outputs for compatibility with different amplification systems. Digital inputs encompass USB, AES/EBU, coaxial, and optical fiber, ensuring broad connectivity options. Merason employs advanced German WBT Nextgen RCA terminals, emphasizing the brand’s commitment to quality.

Customization Options One intriguing aspect of the Merason DAC1 MK II is its adaptability to different preferences. The device offers users the choice between USB and I2S versions, making it suitable for various audio setups. This adaptability ensures that the DAC can be seamlessly integrated into diverse audio systems, including those with high-end digital interfaces.

Enhanced Circuitry Merason has gone to great lengths to refine the internal circuitry of the MK II, optimizing it for minimal impedance, a purer power supply, and enhanced shielding against external interference. The shift to Surface Mount Device (SMD) assembly reduces signal path lengths, crucial for preserving audio fidelity. New capacitors and dedicated heat dissipation for paired transistors further reduce harmonic distortion.

Balanced Differential Class A Amplification The Merason DAC1 MK II employs a fully balanced differential Class A amplifier circuit. This design, characterized by its balance and precision, uses four independent channels to deliver two-channel output. Each channel receives its exclusive over-spec linear power supply, resulting in exceptional dynamic range and a distortion-free listening experience.

Proudly Swiss Merason’s commitment to excellence is reflected in its Swiss heritage. The company’s factory, located in Burgdorf, Switzerland, is the headquarters of Dafraud GmbH, which owns multiple high-end audio brands, including Merason, Lab12, and Bernola. Daniel Frauchiger, Merason’s founder, leverages his professional engineering background and passion for music reproduction to create products that bridge the gap between digital precision and analog warmth.

Focus on PCM Decoding One of the most distinguishing features of the Merason DAC1 MK II is its unwavering commitment to PCM decoding. While many DACs support decoding formats, including DSD and MQA, Merason opts for a “less is more” philosophy. The company clearly focuses on PCM decoding, believing that perfecting this format results in exceptional sound quality. This approach resonates with purist audiophiles who prioritize PCM playback.

The Merason DAC1 MK II showcases a blend of Swiss precision and audiophile sensibility. Its design and features reflect a commitment to delivering uncompromising sound quality, and its adaptability to different input sources makes it a versatile choice for a wide range of audiophiles. With a focus on the essentials, this DAC exemplifies the philosophy that less is more when it comes to high-quality audio reproduction.

Usability and Unique Functions of the Merason DAC1 MK II

The Merason DAC1 MK II delivers exceptional sound quality and offers a user-friendly experience with unique features that set it apart in the world of digital-to-analog converters. Here’s an exploration of its usability and standout functionalities:

Amanero USB Module The DAC1 MK II is equipped with an Amanero USB module, crucial in delivering high-quality digital audio. This module ensures reliable and stable USB connectivity, allowing users to easily connect the DAC to their computers and other digital sources. It’s a testament to Merason’s commitment to using top-notch components that enhance the user experience.

Dual Clock Oscillator for Precise Timing One of the unique features of the Merason DAC1 MK II is its dual clock oscillator. This oscillator provides high precision and low time base error, ensuring digital audio signals are converted with impeccable timing accuracy. Precise timing is essential for reducing jitter and preserving the audio signal’s integrity, resulting in a cleaner and more faithful reproduction of music.

Galvanic Isolation for Interference-Free Listening The DAC1 MK II incorporates galvanic isolation, a sophisticated technology that separates electrical circuits to eliminate interference between components and audio signal paths. This unique function ensures that external electrical noise and interference do not degrade the quality of the audio output. It’s a crucial feature for audiophiles who demand a pristine listening experience.

Dual Burr Brown PCM1794A Chips While many DACs chase after a wide range of decoding capabilities, the Merason DAC1 MK II focuses on PCM decoding. It utilizes two Burr Brown PCM1794A chips for this purpose. These chips are renowned for their sound quality and fidelity. Merason’s dedication to perfecting PCM decoding demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing sound performance over a laundry list of decoding formats.

Fully Balanced Differential Class A Amplification The Merason DAC1 MK II features a fully balanced differential Class A amplifier circuit. This design is characterized by its balance, precision, and exceptional performance. What sets it apart is that it employs four independent channels responsible for the two-channel output. Each of these channels has its exclusive over-spec linear power supply. This unique setup ensures that the DAC delivers a distortion-free and dynamic listening experience, making it an ideal choice for those with balanced audio systems.

Designed and Produced in Switzerland, Merason’s dedication to quality extends to the device’s origin. The DAC1 MK II is designed and produced in Switzerland, a country known for its precision engineering and high standards of craftsmanship. This ensures that the DAC is crafted with meticulous attention to detail and adheres to the quality standards associated with Swiss manufacturing.

Less is More Philosophy Merason’s unique approach to DAC design is encapsulated in its “less is more” philosophy. The company refrains from adding unnecessary functions or specifications to the equipment, adhering to the principle of doing what’s essential but exceptionally well. This philosophy is reflected in its finely divided power supply, electrical isolation to prevent circuit interference, and balanced design, emphasizing sound quality over many decoding formats.

The Merason DAC1 MK II offers a user-friendly experience with several unique functions contributing to its outstanding sound quality. From its Amanero USB module to its dual clock oscillator and galvanic isolation, the DAC1 MK II ensures listeners enjoy interference-free and precise sound reproduction. Its focus on dual Burr Brown PCM1794A chips for PCM decoding and a fully balanced differential Class A amplifier circuit is a unique approach that prioritizes sound quality above all else. The “less is more” philosophy further sets it apart, emphasizing audio fidelity and excellence in craftsmanship. All these features make the Merason DAC1 MK II a distinctive and highly desirable DAC for discerning audiophiles.

Sound Performance

The Acoustic Brilliance of the Merason DAC1 MK II

The Merason DAC1 MK II’s sound performance is where it truly shines. This Swiss marvel exhibits a remarkable capacity to transform digital audio into an enchanting and lifelike auditory experience. Let’s explore its sound characteristics and how it elevates the listening experience:

Natural Detail and Clarity When listening to music through the Merason DAC1 MK II, one is immediately struck by the device’s ability to unveil a world of natural detail and clarity. The DAC’s reproduction of audio is comprehensive, capturing the subtle nuances and intricacies that often go unnoticed. It doesn’t exaggerate details but presents them with exceptional clarity, immersing the listening experience.

A Soundstage of Remarkable Depth The soundstage depth provided by the Merason DAC1 MK II is nothing short of impressive. Tracks are imbued with a sense of space and dimensionality that transcends the physical boundaries of your listening environment. Vocals and instruments are positioned precisely, creating a vivid and immersive auditory landscape. This remarkable sense of depth is particularly pronounced in acoustic and live recordings, where every instrument and voice finds its rightful place in the sonic panorama.

Separation and Clarity: One of the Merason DAC1 MK II’s standout qualities is its ability to render music with exceptional separation and clarity. Even in complex musical arrangements, individual elements maintain their independence and clarity. This separation allows for exploring each sonic component, which stands out distinctly without muddling the listening experience. Each instrument and voice retains its own space in the mix, contributing to a sonic tapestry that is both coherent and engaging.

Quiet and Uncompressed Background An often overlooked but crucial aspect of high-quality audio is quietness. The Merason DAC1 MK II excels, delivering a virtually noise-free backdrop against which the music unfolds. This silence allows even the softest musical details to emerge with precision and grace. There is no sense of bandwidth limitation or compression, ensuring that the listener can fully appreciate the dynamic range of the music.

Energy and Impact Switching to USB input, the Merason DAC1 MK II exhibits a noticeable increase in energy and impact. The sound becomes more pronounced, with a heightened sense of dynamics. Details are accentuated, and the mid and low frequencies gain additional presence. This energetic music rendition can be particularly engaging for listeners seeking a more dynamic and lively experience.

Timbre and Texture The DAC1 MK II faithfully reproduces the timbre and texture of musical elements. Low brass instruments carry a satisfying weight and resonance, while high notes are rendered with clarity and a touch of brilliance. The device captures the nuances of each instrument, allowing listeners to discern the texture and character of individual sounds. This level of fidelity brings music to life, adding depth and richness to the listening experience.

Emotional Engagement Ultimately, what sets the Merason DAC1 MK II apart is its emotional ability to engage the listener. It is not merely about producing technically accurate sound; it’s about conveying the emotions and subtleties within the music. The DAC paints a vivid sonic canvas that elicits a strong emotional response. Whether it’s the tender grace of a piano or the vitality of a vocal performance, the Merason DAC1 MK II ensures that the listener is not a passive observer but an active participant in the musical journey.

In conclusion, the Merason DAC1 MK II delivers a sound performance that is both technically precise and emotionally resonant. Its ability to reveal natural detail, create a deep soundstage, maintain separation and clarity, and engage the listener profoundly makes it a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking a transcendent listening experience. This DAC doesn’t just play music; it paints it in vibrant, multidimensional strokes, leaving a lasting impression on anyone who enjoys listening.

Connections and Connectivity

Seamless Integration with the Merason DAC1 MK II

The Merason DAC1 MK II ensures that its connections and connectivity options are designed to be versatile, reliable, and reflective of the latest audio technology trends. Here’s a closer look at how the device facilitates seamless integration into various audio setups:

An Array of Digital Inputs The Merason DAC1 MK II features a comprehensive range of digital inputs that cater to a wide spectrum of source components. These inputs include:

  • USB: The device is equipped with a USB input, often the go-to choice for connecting to modern digital sources such as computers and laptops. USB has become a ubiquitous digital audio transmission interface, offering high data rates and wide compatibility.
  • AES/EBU: With an AES/EBU input, the DAC1 MK II can interface with high-quality digital audio sources that utilize this professional audio standard. AES/EBU is known for its balanced, noise-resistant transmission, making it a popular choice among audiophiles and audio professionals.
  • Coaxial: Coaxial digital inputs offer a flexible connection option for various audio components, such as CD players, digital transports, and digital audio streamers. The coaxial connection is well-regarded for its reliability and ability to transmit high-quality audio signals.
  • Optical Fiber (Toslink): Including an optical fiber input, often called Toslink, ensures compatibility with devices that utilize optical connections. It is commonly found in devices like gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and audio sources.

USB and I2S Versions Merason’s thoughtful approach to connectivity allows users to choose between USB and I2S versions of the DAC1 MK II. This flexibility allows consumers to tailor the DAC’s connectivity to their specific audio system and preferences. USB and I2S are both high-quality digital audio interfaces, and the ability to select the one that suits your system best is a significant advantage.

Versatile Analog Outputs: the Merason DAC1 MK II offers RCA and XLR balanced analog outputs on the output side. This duality ensures compatibility with a wide range of amplification systems, catering to the preferences of audiophiles who may favor either connection type. Including XLR outputs, known for their balanced, noise-rejecting properties, is particularly valuable for those with balanced audio setups.

German WBT Nextgen RCA Terminals Merason places a premium on the quality of its components, evident in the use of advanced German WBT Nextgen RCA terminals. These terminals are known for their high performance and precision, ensuring the analog output connections maintain their integrity and fidelity.

Interference Mitigation and Isolation: The Merason DAC1 MK II, incorporates galvanic isolation, eliminating interference between components and audio signal paths. This technology is crucial in maintaining the purity and quality of the audio signal, especially in complex audio setups.

In summary, the Merason DAC1 MK II’s connections and connectivity options are designed to offer versatility and reliability. Various digital inputs, including USB, AES/EBU, coaxial, and optical fiber, ensure compatibility with a broad range of digital audio sources. The choice between USB and I2S versions allows users to tailor their setup. Including RCA and XLR balanced analog outputs offers compatibility with different amplification systems. The utilization of high-quality components, such as German WBT Nextgen RCA terminals and galvanic isolation, further reinforce the device’s commitment to delivering uncompromised sound quality. Overall, the DAC1 MK II’s connectivity options make it a versatile and powerful component in any audiophile’s audio system.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Merason DAC1 MK II is a masterpiece of Swiss engineering and audiophile sensibility. With its meticulous design, exceptional sound performance, and unique features, it stands out as a high-end digital-to-analog converter that caters to the most discerning of music enthusiasts. The DAC1 MK II’s ability to reveal natural detail, create a deep soundstage, maintain separation and clarity, and engage the listener deeply emotionally sets it apart in digital audio. Its versatility, with a range of digital inputs and analog outputs, ensures seamless integration into various audio setups, while its “less is more” philosophy underscores its commitment to audio fidelity. The device’s unique functions, such as galvanic isolation and a dual clock oscillator, further contribute to a listening experience free from interference and marked by precision. With the Merason DAC1 MK II, users enjoy outstanding sound quality and a user-friendly experience, making it a compelling choice for audiophiles who demand the utmost from their digital music playback.

The Merason DAC1 MK II’s dedication to PCM decoding and its Swiss origin exemplify its unwavering commitment to sound performance and quality craftsmanship. This DAC excels, whether it’s conveying the dynamic nuances of acoustic tracks, the richness of classic performances, or the harmonious interplay in contemporary songs. It doesn’t just reproduce music; it brings it to life, engaging the listener on a profound and immersive level. For those who seek a DAC that marries technical precision with emotional resonance, the Merason DAC1 MK II stands as an exemplary choice, proving that the pursuit of audio perfection is alive and well in the heart of Switzerland.

Why You Should Consider Buying the Merason DAC1 MK II:

  1. Exceptional Sound Quality: The Merason DAC1 MK II is designed to deliver outstanding sound performance, focusing on revealing natural detail, creating a deep soundstage, and maintaining clarity and separation. If you’re an audiophile who values pristine audio quality, this DAC offers a remarkable listening experience.
  2. Unique Features: The DAC1 MK II incorporates unique features such as galvanic isolation and a dual clock oscillator, contributing to interference-free and precise sound reproduction. These features set it apart in the world of digital-to-analog converters, ensuring that your music is conveyed with the utmost fidelity.
  3. Versatile Connectivity: With various digital inputs, including USB, AES/EBU, coaxial, and optical fiber, the DAC1 MK II offers flexibility in connecting to various digital audio sources. The choice between USB and I2S versions adds further versatility, allowing you to tailor the DAC to your specific audio system.
  4. Swiss Craftsmanship: Designed and produced in Switzerland, the DAC1 MK II benefits from the country’s reputation for precision engineering and high standards of craftsmanship. This ensures that the device is crafted with meticulous attention to detail and adheres to the quality standards associated with Swiss manufacturing.
  5. “Less is More” Philosophy: Merason’s “less is more” philosophy means that the device prioritizes sound quality over many decoding formats. It focuses on what’s essential but does it exceptionally well, making it an ideal choice for those who seek a lucid and engaging audio experience.

Reasons to Be Cautious:

  1. Limited Decoding Formats: The Merason DAC1 MK II is primarily designed for PCM decoding, focusing on high-resolution audio in this format. If you require extensive support for other decoding formats, such as DSD or MQA, this DAC may not be ideal for your specific needs.
  2. Price Point: While not unattainable, the Merason DAC1 MK II falls into the high-end category, reflecting the quality of components and craftsmanship associated with Swiss manufacturing. If you’re on a tight budget, more affordable options are available on the market.
  3. Balanced Systems: Including XLR balanced analog outputs caters to balanced audio systems. If your setup primarily uses unbalanced connections, you may not fully utilize this feature, potentially making other DACs with only RCA outputs a more cost-effective choice.

In conclusion, the Merason DAC1 MK II is a compelling choice for audiophiles who prioritize sound quality, appreciate Swiss craftsmanship, and seek a DAC focusing on natural detail and clarity. Its unique features, versatile connectivity, and commitment to audio fidelity make it a noteworthy option for those looking to elevate their digital music listening experience. However, suppose you require extensive support for various decoding formats or have budget constraints. In that case, you may want to explore alternative DAC options that better align with your specific requirements and financial considerations.