Some years ago, the electronics market could be cleanly divided into “professional” and “consumer” gear. Consumer devices were cheaper and prettier, but their pro counterparts did more and were more reliable. Consumers then started to develop a taste for pro-level gadgets, regardless of whether they “needed” the extra power. Manufacturers responded by creating a new class of device — the “prosumer” model — which has grown in popularity to the point that nobody really questions whether high school kids “need” Macbook Pros. The Brooklyn DAC from MyTek is a little like the Macbook Pro in that it is well-designed, feature-packed, beautiful, and expensive. We think it’s awesome.
If you haven’t heard of MyTek, that’s probably because they were previously known only for their pro-level audio equipment. Their high-end digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters are designed in Brooklyn, New York and built in Poland. More recently, however, they have branched out into the consumer hi-fi market with their Manhattan and Brooklyn DACs. These devices aren’t cheap — the Brooklyn currently costs $1,995 — but even if that’s far out of your price range, it’s still worth exploring what that kind of investment can buy.
The Brooklyn is a beautiful piece of hardware. Its tiny gray case is about the size of a college textbook, with the Mytek “M” logo punched out of the top of the case for heat transfer. The front plate, available in silver or black, has a honeycomb relief texture interrupted by a volume knob, four buttons, a crisp OLED display, two headphone jacks, and a smaller backlit MyTek logo. The color of the front MyTek logo can be customized; true to its pro roots, MyTek suggests that you use the color to identify the device on a multi-unit rack, but we used it simply to match the blue glow of our other gadgets. The two headphone jacks can be used separately or, for a higher-power balanced connection, in tandem. If you’re planning to run a balanced headphone connection, you’ll need a dual 1/4-inch to XLR adapter; MyTek sells one for $159, but we were able to build one for about $30 in parts and an hour of soldering.
The rear of the Brooklyn is where we find out just how “pro” this prosumer device can be. In addition to the normal-people RCA in/out, USB in, and optical in, MyTek also includes balanced XLR outputs, AES/EBU inputs, coaxial inputs, and word clock inputs – if you use these in your setup, you will certainly appreciate that all are available in a device this small. For those who want to blend new technology with nostalgia, the Brooklyn also features phono preamp and ground for use with a turntable. Through these inputs, the Brooklyn will accept PCM audio up to 32/384, DSD up to 256, MQA and, of course, any analog source.
Though the mix of hardware connectors on the Brooklyn is impressive, its true potential is revealed through its display. A dizzying array of adjustments and options are made available by pushing in the volume knob to enter the menu, then using the four face buttons and volume knob to make selections. Navigation is clunky (push the volume knob to access the menu, turn the knob to page through the menu, press a button to select a feature, turn the knob to adjust, press the knob to select…), however the Brooklyn allows you to tweak inputs, outputs, and internal processing of audio signals with incredible granularity. There’s too many options to review in detail here and, to be fair, most users will only need a small subset, but it seems like the Brooklyn has enough adjustability to slot into any audio setup.
To gauge the Brooklyn’s performance, we assembled a testing setup similar to that from our review of the Advanced Mezger DAC. We connected the Brooklyn and other DACs via USB simultaneously to a Macbook and created a multi-output device using Audio MIDI Setup so they would all play simultaneously. We connected the DACs two at a time to a Burson Soloist SL headphone amplifier, and listened using the extremely-revealing Sennheiser HD800. We played through our test tracks in various formats, including high-res, switching back and forth between the DACs instantly and listening for differences. We admit that this isn’t the most scientific test possible, but it does allow us to isolate the DACs for evaluation.
We also compared the internal headphone amp performance of the Brooklyn against other DACs/amps. Despite the high power advertised by MyTek, we found that the Mytek’s headphone output is significantly less powerful than the Audio-Gd NFB-28, even in single-ended (non-balanced mode) — the NFB-28’s volume was at 49%, we had to crank the Brooklyn up to 82% to match it. The Brooklyn’s headphone amp may not be a monster, but it’s no slouch — we had no problem driving the 300ohm HD800 without distortion. We found the MyTek’s preamp outputs to be a little too hot for our consumer gear, and used the included jumpers to reduce the gain down to something our amplifiers could handle.
We won’t sidestep the issue of cost in these comparisons. For example, we compared the Brooklyn to a Schiit Bifrost ($400) and Audio-gd NFB-28 ($800); neither are cheap and both sound very good. The Bifrost, however, has just three inputs, one output, no variable preamp output, no integrated amplifier (most pair the Bifrost with the Schiit’s $450 Lyr 2). The Audio-gd NFB-28 has a powerful headphone amp and a similar number of inputs and outputs, but with only the most minimal display and nowhere near as much adjustability as the Brooklyn. It also runs very hot and is about 4 times the Brooklyn’s size. Neither of those devices can be updated in the future, nor do they include a phono preamp, software control, support as wide an array of formats or look as cool as the Brooklyn. We think that when the comparison extends beyond sound quality to features and future-proofing, the Brooklyn’s price starts to seem like less of a stretch — it costs more, but you get more.
We experimented with USB, optical, balanced, and RCA inputs. As expected, we did not hear striking differences between the Brooklyn and our other high-quality DACs — they all sound great or, more importantly, transparent. The Brooklyn delivered the source material with no audible distortion and excellent detail. For example, Lavender Diamond’s quiet and sad “Everybody’s Heart’s Breaking Now” was delivered to our ears with complete preservation of the cringe-inducing hiss caused by poor mastering on the track (the singer’s vocals were recorded too low and boosted too high, causing a hiss that starts and stops with the vocal track). This kind of unforgiving detail is exactly what we’re looking for in a DAC, and the Brooklyn handled all formats with ease.
Many will justifiably be skeptical about the need for the Brooklyn’s many inputs and support for such absurdly high-resolution music files, including the controversial DSD and MQA. It’s probably not likely that any one user will be using all the Brooklyn’s features and supported formats at any given time, but that’s not the point. What we like about the Brooklyn is that it Brooklyn will handle virtually any audio signal through almost any connector and deliver a clean line-level analog signal to an amplifier and, if you choose, simultaneously to its internal headphone amp. Stay in this hobby long enough, and you’ll start to feel the need for this kind of versatility soon enough.
Oddly enough, using a device with so many features left us wanting even more. We missed the gain control feature of the Audio-Gd NFB-28, and would have liked the ability to tweak the Brooklyn’s headphone volume to scale up faster. We couldn’t help but wonder why, with so many inputs, we couldn’t mix two sources on the fly. With two outputs, why not allow the user to set one at fixed volume and the other variable? If the Brooklyn really is marketed to consumers, why not ditch the niche professional connectors in favor of a wireless streaming receiver and support for AirPlay? This criticism isn’t exactly fair, but we think that some more consumer-friendly features would make the Brooklyn DAC an easier choice for consumers.
Our time with the Brooklyn wasn’t all roses — we did have some problems. We appreciate the inclusion of the Apple Remote, but to avoid triggering any Mac Mini or IR-equipped Apple TV within range you’ll have to deal with the slightly cumbersome process of pairing individual remotes with each device. The Brooklyn also worked instantly with our Macbook over USB, but its drivers caused major problems on our PC — we don’t usually comment on PC performance, but we were forced to reinstall Windows after the MyTek drivers caused chaos on our machine. It was not until after the latest Windows 10 update (the Creators Update) that the Brooklyn was recognized by the operating system without additional drivers. The free Mytek Control software works but was, in sharp contrast to the hardware, very clunky and only barely more convenient than pushing buttons on the Brooklyn’s face. Hopefully MyTek improves its software offerings in future releases.
In the world of hi-fi gear, there is virtually no upper limit on cost. We have listened to absurdly expensive devices and found, not surprisingly, that they sound good. Most would agree, however, that as price increases improvements in sound quality become marginal at best. Some companies justify their price with little more than to play on audiophile paranoia — the promise of a “cleaner” signal or the subtle suggestion that higher cost must equal better sound. The Brooklyn, instead, does something that tech fans and audiophiles can appreciate. Instead of offering magic, it is one of the most feature-packed, versatile, and future-proof audio devices we’ve ever used, potentially earning its cost in a much more tangible way. The Brooklyn DAC leans more “pro” than “consumer, but if you’re looking to justify spending nearly $2,000 on a DAC, the MyTek Brooklyn makes a very strong case.
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