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Punching above: M2Tech Young MkIII DAC/preamplifier

Small things please BIG minds

How easy is it to purchase HiFi products because they have been aggressively marketed with wide outreach. You don’t need your house to be built by one of the biggest construction firms like Skanska, if an equally talented firm can do it just as well…. For less money too.

I’ve tried the M2Tech hiFace Two USB to coaxial converter and was surprised how little effect it has on the audio chain of Innuos Zenith Mark 2 and Zenith SE streaming servers. As a converter, exactly what you want to happen. In context, pretty convincing performance for a £160 dongle. Is that the right word? – it sounds better than plain old ‘USB adapter’

M2Tech is an Italian HiFi company and the Young MkIII Bluetooth DAC and Preamplifier is part of their Rockstars range.

It has a simple retro appearance and is smaller than I was expecting. The metal case is shielded with a further, thick, curved, wrap around aluminium plate. You could describe it as Art Deco looking HiFi….Andy Warhol would have been proud. Shielding always has a functional purpose for sensitive electronics, but here we have understated design. I like that in a product, as its sound can unboastingly bely simplicity. Like a VW Golf VR6 MkIII my father once owned; it looked like a normal hatchback, but went like s—t off a shovel and would be burning up BMW’s.

Looking at marketing pictures, a pair of KEF LS50s fill the picture, impressing a design in conjunction with small passive or active speakers. Perhaps in a desktop computer, bookcase, or small HiFi set up. Tremendous timing because some Ophidian Minimo compact desktop speakers are in a van to me somewhere.

It’s great it’s not another YABA named product. Does it have Paul Young, Neil Young, or Will Young performance sensibilities? Its good to be assessing a MkIII model, as no doubt M2Tech have poured over improvements.

Stuffed rear real estate

There is a single set of inputs for a phono stage or other analogue source. Also 3 digital inputs ; one optical/toslink, one coaxial S/PDIF and one AES/EBU connection. There is a USB2 for connecting it, straight out of the box, to Linux or Apple ‘pistol and shooters’. Or instead installing a driver, for Windows based abacuses.

There is a set of XLR balanced outputs for connecting to power amps or to another pre-amp if you use the Young MkIII just as a DAC. Pleasingly gold blingey XLR to RCA adapters are supplied.

The manual doesn’t refer to any fixed output mode if using just as a DAC. This is of course normal where you need to set maximum output ‘juice’, in difference to variability, when using as a pre amp with volume control. However you quickly realise that fixed mode is achieved disabling the volume in ‘volume mode’. You do this once you’ve set the volume as you like it. Keep it at 0db, using the attenuated scale, if you want maximum output at the given voltage output you’ve chosen. Basically tweek these until the volume is right. 

You can use the supplied switch mode power supply. Alternatively M2Tech say, connect up the M2Tech Rockstars ‘Van Der Graaf’ MkII power supply, for added sound quality gains.

Front : Van Der Graaf MkII
Rear : Van Der Graaf MkII

You don’t get a headphone connection and as a very small box, I doubt there is enough space inside for one. But there is a ‘Marley MkII headphone amp’ in the range, so in this modular way, uncompromising attitudes anyway. I like it! This reminds me – I must get my printer sorted out as its been doing a Bob Marley recently…..its been jammin.

So it’s more than gonna deal with all your format desires – PCM, DSD and MQA. But my advice is always not to worry about picking a DAC on format consideration alone. Pick it on perception of the quality of its overall sound with decent lossless PCM formats, for this is more important. Not only due to the prevalence of such music, but the fact sonic returns between formats can be small relative to changes between converters. And as we know, it mostly comes back to the recording anyway.

Which Young?

People often talk about DACs with screaming detail in the same breath as ‘award winners’. But not everyone wants ‘analytica’. We certainly didn’t with Cambridge Analytica. There is something in the analogy that bending sonic qualities to get detail, is only straying from a balanced ideal. And plenty of DACs do that.

First using it just as a DAC : I notice that the Young MkIII has a really low extended bass. Low notes have dropped a touch, much like Jean-Claude Juncker’s jaw when the UK voted for Brexit. It’s a different proposition to the Chord Qutest DAC I’m using. A more rounded effort.

Where most of the other ‘stuff’ in the music is in midrange, the Young MkIII seems to pull all of this out, to the same or similar level. So it’s a mid focused sound, which is possibly more noticeable than its bass prowess. Good if you want to get your music out there for most enjoyment. Consequently it’s not quite as layered as the Qutest DAC in this respect. However this is perhaps a matter of preference rather than disadvantage though.

In contrast to the Chord Qutest and the range of Chord DACs I’ve tried, the M2Tech doesn’t have overt incisiveness as a major sword in its armour.  It’s a different smoother relaxed sound to Chord as a DAC alone, and is appealing to a different audience without quite the same ‘in-your-face-ness’

Compared to what I’m used too, the highest frequencies are a touch more projected, but not in a bright affronting way. Certainly in a pleasing sparkly way with instruments like cymbals. Still keeping a sense of balance and more balanced than a Mytek Brooklyn DAC, which has an airy presentation with treble/detail. Because this M2Tech presents its treble/detail in an opposite way, it’s a better proposition if wanting a neutral DAC. Extremely good when £700/EUR700 cheaper too! You do forego a headphone output though.

So use it as a DAC and you might think it won’t make you uncomfortable with ‘full frontal nudity’ detail as these DACs do. If you like a DAC to be smooth and rich, and not overly analytical, the M2 Tech is a great DAC for auditioning.

It’s pretty dynamic too and doesn’t let the side down here. The Young MkIII is capable in the soundstage department and does an authentic job with dispersive compact floor-standers like my PMCs. So it is great as a diminutive unit in bulkier systems too.

It does like to be plugged into a power conditioner rather than standard audiophile power bar – I’m using an ISOL-8 Integra power conditioner.  Just more refined. It’s also less forgiving of poor quality streamed content from Tidal, than ripped content from an Innuos Zenith. An altogether more polished experience, demanding a good local source.

It is Blurtooth with Bluetooth to be honest but this is no great revelation as a compressed format, nor a criticism of this product. This feature really is a matter of ‘now and then’ convenience, with such a great unit. So you should be feeding it a better source. A Maybach is not bought to take junk to the tip. I should also say I used the sharp roll off PCM filter to better effect.

Summit not yet reached!

Just as I thought I’d reached a plateau, I plugged it into my Cyrus Mono X200 Signature power amps and well……I wasn’t expecting that! As a pre amp it competes very well and it’s closer to my Cyrus DAC XP Signature than I thought it would be considering the big price differential. It is not quite as wide and deep but Soundstage is all there and from my recollection, the Young MkIII has an advantage over a Mytek Brooklyn as a pre amp, in this area. It has come alive with more detail and is no longer as relaxed, but is still neutral. I’m then beginning to think the pre amp is perhaps the best bit of this minimalist box. It’s fast too.

It’s considerably better as a DAC and pre amp compared to a Cyrus Pre 2 DAC Qx pre amp / DAC I owned and for less money. It has more authority and detail resolution over that Cyrus.

Maybe it should have been called the Morrison MkIII considering its all out need to perform and please. It’s definitely not ‘Will Young’, with no shrillness. This is a little pocket rocket box for the money and a great find for me. Sadly I didn’t get to try its matching power supply and with it this good already, I can only imagine what it might sound like.

I used the Qutest into its Analogue inputs and there is more detail, as comparisons before went, but again it’s a different sound quality preference.

With a Nord One SE NC500DM MkII dual mono stereo Amp, the M2Tech works extremely well with my PMCs. Dynamic, good detail and a nice authoritative tone.  

Acid Test?

You might think that there can never be a bad review, but the thing is, HIFi is mostly all so good nowadays. Differences are smaller than expected which makes it more astounding people go straight to the highly marketed brands. There are smaller gaps to very well known brands, sometimes no gaps at all, and sometimes the gap exists the reverse way.

Everyone has fallen foul to this marketing pull, at some stage. I know I have. Knowing now what I do about this unit, personally if looking to build a HiFi with a power amp(s), utilising a great DAC and preamp, I think you’d be hard pressed finding a better pre amp at this money. Simply because it ticks all the boxes and it has all the balanced characteristics lots will want. In a system compromising smaller compact speakers where soundstage is perhaps less critical, it would be a no brainer.

It absolutely proves yet again, if ever there is any doubt, that great value well engineered audiophile HiFi like this, is really where it’s at over considerably more expensive and marketed gear. It achieves the 13th Note easily. Go for it.

Check out my engaging video regarding the M2Tech Young MkIII. Please tell me what you think!

Test System

PMC Twenty5 23 speakers, Innuos Zenith Mark 2 source/server, Cyrus DAC XP Signature pre amp with connected Cyrus PSX-R power supply, Cyrus Mono X200 Signature power amps, ISOL-8 Integra power conditioner connected to mains with ISOL-8 IsoLink Ultra power cable, Chord Signature tuned Aray XLR interconnects.

I also used other great British HiFi ; Ophidian Minimo speakers and a Nord NC500DM stereo power amp.

Specifications

  • Inputs : 1x RCA analogue, 1x S/PDIF RCA digital, 1x AES/EBU (XLR), 1x Optical/Toslink digital, USB2.0
  • Outputs : Analogue balanced (XLR), 3.5mm trigger for powering on connected components
  • Sample Frequencies : PCM 44.1kHz to 384kHz, DoP (DSD over PCM) 64x to 128x, Native DSD 64x to 256x
  • PCM Resolution : 16-32 bits
  • DAC : PCM1795 Burr-Brown.
  • Power Consumption : 4w operating, 0.23w standby
  • Dimensions : 200x200x50 (wxdxh)
  • Weight : 2kg

Price

  • Young MkIII DAC/Pre-amp : EUR1450 (£1350 / $1600)
  • Matching Van Der Graaf MkII power supply : EUR945 (approx. £850 / $1050)

Manufacturer details

M2Tech Srl
Via Giuntini, 13/N
56023 Navacchio (PI)
Italy
Tel : +39 050 754 195
Email : [email protected]
Website : https://lnx.m2tech.biz

Written by Simon Price

I'm an AUDIO-LOVER who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE way. I am primarily interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews are not overly technical and I don't use pretentious language, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and is to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

Assessing speaker wire : Tellurium Q Black II

Exceedingly Good Value; NORD NC500DM MkII Stereo Power Amplifier