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Review: Mytek Liberty DAC II with Headphone Amplifier

Review: Mytek Liberty DAC II with Headphone Amplifier- Liberty DAC II is Mytek's most affordable, yet exceptional, PCM/MQA/DSD USB2 DAC designed for high-quality music playback
5/5 - (1 vote)

Introduction: Unearthing Hidden Excellence

In the world of audio equipment, the Mytek Liberty DAC II often remains a hidden gem. Its unassuming black design exudes a practical, studio-like aesthetic, and its 1/3 rack-size format adds to its charm. In this comprehensive review, we’ll delve into the Liberty DAC II’s features, technology, performance, and overall value.

Technical data

MYTEK Liberty DAC II
conceptDAC, headphone amplifier and preamplifier
Particularities:1/3 Rack-Format, 1 HE
Furnishing:Internal linear power supply, remote control, high quality USB cable
Conversion/decoder:384kHz, 32bit PCM, natives DSD bis DSD256, DXD; MQA Full Decoder
Inputs/Outputs:Digital In: USB-B, Toslink, 2x Coax, AES/EBU
Out: XLR, Cinch; Kopfhörer: 6,3mm Klinke
Dimensions and weight:
(W x H x D):
140 x 44 x 225 mm; 2 kg

Design and Form Factor: Function Meets Simplicity

The Mytek Liberty DAC II’s design is a testament to the adage “less is more.” Its unassuming black finish and minimalist aesthetics give it the look of professional studio equipment. This understated design is not just for show; it also contributes to its functionality. Its 1/3 rack-size format and compact dimensions (1U and 5.5 inches wide) make it an ideal choice for desktop use, where space might be limited. The integrated transformer within the housing, as opposed to a separate power supply unit, adds to its practicality, allowing users to relocate it quickly and easily. One standout design element is the lid, featuring the iconic “pixelated” Mytek logo, adding a touch of character to an otherwise utilitarian appearance.

Build Quality: Meticulous Craftsmanship

The Mytek Liberty DAC II showcases meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail in its build quality. From the moment you lay your eyes and hands on this device, it becomes evident that it’s built to last. The sturdy construction is notable, ensuring that it can withstand the rigors of daily use without showing signs of wear and tear.

One standout feature contributing to its build quality is the generously sized 60W toroidal transformer. This transformer, often seen in high-quality audio equipment, provides a stable and clean power supply to the internal components. Its inclusion highlights Mytek’s commitment to delivering reliable and consistent performance.

The presence of buffer capacitors further underscores the device’s dedication to audio purity. These capacitors help smooth out voltage fluctuations and provide a buffer against power supply irregularities, resulting in cleaner and more accurate audio output. This level of attention to the power supply section is often a hallmark of top-tier audio equipment.

Design: Elegant Simplicity Meets Functionality

The design philosophy behind the Mytek Liberty DAC II can be described as “elegant simplicity meets functionality.” Its unassuming black finish exudes a sense of professionalism and functionality, reminiscent of high-end studio equipment. This design choice is not arbitrary but aligns with the device’s intended purpose as a versatile audio component.

The front panel, adorned with individual LEDs for various functions, remains clean and uncluttered. The labeling is straightforward and easy to understand, contributing to user-friendly operation. The LED indicators are thoughtfully arranged around the control knob, displaying volume levels with varying brightness levels, a subtle yet effective touch.

One distinctive design element is the perforated lid featuring the “pixelated” Mytek logo. This adds a unique and characterful touch to the device’s overall aesthetic. It’s an example of how Mytek manages to infuse a sense of personality into an otherwise utilitarian appearance.

Additionally, the compact form factor of the Liberty DAC II, combined with the integration of the transformer within the housing, enhances its practicality. This design choice allows for easy relocation, making it suitable for desktop use or quick changes in its setup.

In summary, the Mytek Liberty DAC II’s build quality and design reflect a dedication to producing a reliable and functional audio component. Its robust construction, including the toroidal transformer and buffer capacitors, ensures longevity and stable performance. The design, with its elegant simplicity and unique touches, contributes to the device’s overall appeal and usability, making it a standout choice for those seeking both aesthetics and functionality in their audio equipment.

Features and Connectivity: A Plethora of Options

The Mytek Liberty DAC II impresses with its extensive range of features and connectivity options. Within its unassuming form, it combines the functionality of a D/A converter, headphone amplifier, and preamplifier, making it a versatile addition to any audio setup. The rear panel is where it truly shines, offering a multitude of inputs and outputs. With two S/PDIF digital inputs (Cinch), one AES/EBU digital input (XLR), a Toslink digital input, and a USB-Audio input, it accommodates various sources with ease. Additionally, it provides both stereo pre-out options, one in Cinch and the other in XLR, catering to different systems. The inclusion of a Kaltgeräteanschluss (cold device socket) ensures reliable power connectivity. However, while the Liberty DAC II is a comprehensive audio hub, its headphone amplifier section falls slightly short, providing only a 6.35 mm jack and lacking balanced connections, which might disappoint users with more demanding headphone requirements.

Technology: A Closer Look Under the Hood

Peering beneath the Liberty DAC II’s casing reveals a commitment to robust and high-quality technology. The heart of this device is its generously sized 60W toroidal transformer, which ensures a stable and reliable power supply. The presence of buffer capacitors further contributes to its ability to deliver clean and consistent power to its components.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the ESS9038 DAC chip. While the specific version of this chip remains undisclosed, it is known for its ability to support high-resolution audio formats, including PCM up to 384 kHz, DSD256, DXD, and complete MQA compatibility. The choice of DAC chip, along with other factors like the quality of the analog output stage, significantly impacts the device’s overall sound quality. Mytek has certainly not cut corners in this department, offering audiophiles a chance to enjoy their music at the highest fidelity possible.

User Experience: Intuitive and Efficient

Using the Liberty DAC II is a straightforward and efficient experience. The front panel’s LED indicators provide clear information about the selected source, resolution, and sampling rate. However, it’s worth noting that the device lacks a hard on/off switch, providing only “ON” and standby modes. The power consumption during operation is reasonable, at approximately 10 watts, but it drops significantly to 1.2 watts when in standby or idle mode, contributing to energy efficiency.

Navigating the controls is user-friendly, with a rotary/push control for volume adjustment and mute, as well as a button for power on/standby and source switching. Additionally, the inclusion of an Apple Remote adds a convenient layer of control, allowing users to adjust the volume and switch sources without needing to be in close proximity to the device. This feature proves especially valuable for those integrating the Liberty DAC II into their audio setup and want easy control from a distance. However, the device could benefit from separate switching options for the rear RCA and XLR outputs to fixed levels, which would expand its range of applications and flexibility in complex audio setups.

Performance: Sonic Prowess

In listening tests with a range of headphones, the Liberty DAC II showcases its prowess in delivering balanced and detailed sound. It adeptly captures subtle nuances in music, providing a pleasurable listening experience across various headphone models. While it may not dethrone higher-priced competitors like the Questyle, it certainly holds its ground within its price range. The Liberty DAC II’s ability to please discerning audiophiles is evident, with its capacity to faithfully reproduce the intricacies of the audio source.

In direct comparisons with more expensive alternatives, the Liberty DAC II may fall short in terms of dynamics, resolution, and clarity. However, this should be expected, given the significant price difference. For its price point, it performs admirably, making it a compelling choice for those seeking a high-quality audio experience without breaking the bank.

Sound Test and Quality: Unveiling the Acoustic Experience

One of the most critical aspects of any audio component is its sound quality, and the Mytek Liberty DAC II doesn’t disappoint in this regard. During extensive sound tests, this versatile device was put through its paces to evaluate its ability to deliver an immersive acoustic experience.

Balanced and Detailed Sound: The Liberty DAC II shines when it comes to producing a balanced and detailed sound. It has the capacity to capture the subtleties in music that audiophiles crave. The device’s high-resolution capabilities, enabled by the ESS9038 DAC chip, allow it to faithfully reproduce intricate musical nuances, revealing layers of depth that might go unnoticed with lesser equipment.

Versatile Headphone Performance: With a variety of headphones across the spectrum, from affordable models like the HiFiMan HE400se to premium offerings like the Focal Utopia 2022, the Liberty DAC II consistently demonstrated its versatility. It adapts to different headphone characteristics, effectively driving them and making the listening experience enjoyable. Even with headphones presenting varying impedance levels, the Liberty DAC II handled them capably, showcasing its prowess as a headphone amplifier.

Questyle Comparison: In a direct comparison with the Questyle, a higher-priced reference amplifier, the Liberty DAC II held its ground admirably. While the Questyle outperformed it in terms of dynamics, resolution, and clarity (as expected given the price difference), the Liberty DAC II still managed to impress. It’s essential to understand that the Questyle is a premium audio component, and the Liberty DAC II’s ability to compete demonstrates its value for its price range.

No Evident Weaknesses: One notable observation from the sound tests was the absence of evident weaknesses in the Liberty DAC II’s performance. It consistently delivered clean, balanced, and detailed sound across various genres of music. Its ability to cater to different headphones without any noticeable shortcomings is a testament to its overall competence.

In conclusion, the Mytek Liberty DAC II excels in delivering a high-quality acoustic experience. Its balanced and detailed sound reproduction, versatile headphone performance, and the capacity to bring out the subtleties in music make it a compelling choice for audiophiles. While more expensive alternatives may offer superior dynamics and resolution, the Liberty DAC II confidently holds its own within its price range, making it a solid option for those seeking impressive sound quality without breaking the bank.

Conclusion: A Purist’s Delight

The Mytek Liberty DAC II stands out as a hidden gem for audiophiles who value sound quality and functionality over flashy design. Its unassuming appearance belies its versatility, serving as a flexible converter, preamplifier, and headphone amplifier. The inclusion of an Apple Remote adds convenience to its user experience, allowing for remote control of volume and source selection. However, some users may find the lack of separate switching options for the rear RCA and XLR outputs to fixed levels limiting in certain setups.

In summary, the Liberty DAC II is an excellent choice for those seeking a no-nonsense audio component that delivers clean, detailed sound. Its simple and compact design is backed by robust technology, making it a valuable addition to any audio setup, whether for home listening or desktop use. For audiophiles looking for a budget-friendly yet high-performance DAC, the Mytek Liberty DAC II is undoubtedly worth considering.

Positives:

  1. High-Quality Sound: The Mytek Liberty DAC II delivers exceptional sound quality, offering a balanced and detailed audio experience that caters to audiophiles and music enthusiasts.
  2. Versatile Functionality: With its multiple functions as a D/A converter, headphone amplifier, and preamplifier, it serves as an all-in-one solution, simplifying audio setups and reducing the need for additional components.
  3. Robust Build: The device’s meticulous craftsmanship, including a generously sized toroidal transformer and buffer capacitors, ensures reliability, longevity, and clean power delivery to audio components.
  4. User-Friendly Design: The elegant and straightforward design, coupled with an included Apple Remote, makes it easy to operate and integrate into various audio systems, whether for desktop use or home audio setups.
  5. Competitive Value: The Liberty DAC II competes well within its price range, offering a compelling balance of sound quality and features without the premium price tag associated with high-end audio equipment.

Negatives:

  1. Limited Headphone Connectivity: The device only provides a 6.35 mm headphone jack, lacking symmetrical or balanced connections, which may disappoint users with high-end headphones requiring such connections.
  2. No Separate On/Off Switch: The Liberty DAC II lacks a dedicated on/off switch, offering only “ON” and standby modes. Some users may prefer the option to power off the device completely.
  3. Fixed Level Output Challenge: Switching the rear outputs to fixed level is somewhat limited, requiring users to turn the volume control to maximum for quasi-fixed level output. A more flexible switching mechanism would be beneficial.
  4. Comparative Performance: While the Liberty DAC II performs admirably within its price range, a direct comparison with significantly more expensive audio equipment may reveal differences in dynamics, resolution, and clarity.
  5. Unassuming Aesthetic: While the minimalist design is functional, some users might desire a more visually striking or premium appearance in their audio components, which the Liberty DAC II doesn’t prioritize.