Ever had an itch you wanted to scratch but the opportunity just didn’t present itself? Well for awhile now I have wanted to compare the USB inputs of my AMR DP777 DAC with the coax ones, but a failed attempt with an Audio Gold GD (bought S/H, old model) quiet some time ago had left a desire to check out the coax inputs performance when using a computer source unfulfilled.
Some may ask why I would want to try the coax input, including AMR no doubt, whose Vincent Luke advocates the superiority of the USB connection over the coax. However despite that, many site the issues surrounding using a complete chain of USB cables from external HD to computer to DAC as being a good reason to break the chain either at the DAC or first step of data in from the external hard drive to the computer. One can do this by using an esata cable (computer permitting), firewire (MAC) or if the DAC permits it using the coax input.
Fairly recently Keith Cooper of Purite Audio reading my musings regarding this contacted me and as the UK distributor of the highly regarded Italian brand M2 Tech offer me an opportunity to scratch this itch with the loan of the fairly recently introduced HiFace Two. This device allows one to take a USB output and convert it to a coaxial one.
The HiFace Two offers 192 khz operation over the mk 1 which only worked up to 96khz. As I have a fair bit of music in the form of 192 khz files I wanted this facility and the HiFace Two having it made Keith’s offer a no brainer, so I agreed to the loan and this review is the outworking of my experiences.
HiFace Two Product Details
M2Tech have this to say about the HiFace Two…….
Highest quality digital audio up to 192kHz/24bit S/PDIF audio format available from your PC, MAC or Linux computer.
Very low jitter oscillators, asynchronous transfer on USB.
Compact size (2×2.2×10.2cm) with hi-end performances hiFace Two USB interface has been conceived to further improve the performance and ease of use of the acclaimed and award-winning hiFace. hiFace Two input format is a data stream signal with sampling frequency/resolution up to 192kHz/24bits, compliant to USB Audio 2.0 specifications, available from a PC, MAC or Linux computer USB port. A very high quality S/PDIF stereo audio output signal is available from hiFace for your Hi-Fi system DAC (Digital to Analog Converter). HiFace looks like a small USB pendrive, featuring a very compact size. Internal very low jitter oscillators allow for playing 192kHz/24bits audio files that feature the best signal quality. hiFace Two is even easier to use than the hiFace. No drivers are necessary with either Mac and Linux computers, while a single standard driver is required for Windows computers. While the old hiFace offered Direct Sound, Kernel Streaming and WASAPI transfer modes, hiFace Two adds ASIO mode to enable interfacing to pro players and software tools. hiFace improves the audio performance over the hiFace by a new output circuit compliant with S/PDIF levels, linear regulators in place of switching ones and a clickless operation even when skipping tracks.
1) LOW JITTER, LOW PHASE NOISE, HIGH STABILITY OSCILLATORS Most audio interfaces and USB-provided DACs refer the data stream clock to the same USB interface clock, that often suffers a very heavy jitter (short range oscillator frequency variations). Thanks to two quartz precision oscillators used on M2Tech hiFace, clock source for output data stream features a very low jitter. A more stable clock is recovered by DAC S/PDIF receiver; a low jitter produces a very limited sound image distortion and degradation. Phase noise (main responsible for jitter) is also very low: this guarantees a short and long range clock stability, also reinforced by a board supply voltage regulation (e.g. at environmental temperature stability is 2-5ppm approximately, compared to 50-100ppm performed by oscillators normally used on commercial CD players).
2) USB 2.0 AUDIO COMPLIANCE
No more needs for custom driver. Using the hiFace Two is very easy. Just connect it to your Mac or Linux computer and it will be immediately visible in the devices list and ready to use. A driver is still necessary for Windows computers, which enables for DS, KS, WASAPI and ASIO mode.’
M2Tech hiFace features a very compact size and can be directly (or using an accessory USB A-A adapter, not supplied with hiFace) connected to a High Speed USB 2.0 port of any computer. A very high electric and mechanical performance RCA gold connector provides an output signal, ready to be connected to a Hi-End system. No external power supply is required, as hiFace draws its power from USB bus itself and regulates it with its internal regulators. hiFace USB interface connected to a last generation mini PC provided with a High Speed USB port makes for a complete music transport system at very low prices (in the range of few hundreds Euros). Such system allows for listening any density and resolution music files, playing own CD’s using a CD ROM drive, obtaining access to more than 10,000 web radio, many of which broadcast their transmissions with CD quality.’
The HiFace Two comes in a simple box, with minimal bling (1) and no instructions (those can be found online) build quality is good, with a nice heavy quality gold plated RCA jack at one end and the USB connector at the other.
The unit is compact, not much wider than the USB connector but it has a bit of length (3 inches/7.5 cm) to it and with your choice of RCA cable connected this will put quiet a bit of weight on the laptop/computer/MAC its hooked into. I would suggest a couple of options to get round this: a short USB cable with an input termination, USB docking station, hooking the HiFace directly into the DAC using an RCA adapter, or a more simple option to place something under the HiFace that will help take the stress off the computers USB input – in my case a cork dome placed at the RCA output end fulfilled this function.
Operation is straightforward, one plugs the RCA digital cable of choice into the RCA plug on the HiFace and then one plugs it into the computer. If you have a MAC then no driver is required, PC you will need to download a driver from M2Tech’s website.
I did encounter a slight problem here, the driver I downloaded – for Windows 7 – required extraction once downloaded and in my case rather than being presented with a single file to click and run I had to go into the download part of the computer, find the download, open it and then click on the exe part of what was there (the driver had been extracted into its individual parts) to get it to run.
I used an HP Windows 8 and a Dell Windows 7 laptop during the review and the Dell ran fine, allowing me access to the HiFace’s control panel but the HP while it ran fine, would not allow me access to the HiFace’s control panel. I am not sure why this happened and I suspect anyone more computer savy than me might be able to solve this but I failed to do so during the period of the review.
Once the driver is installed you get a red T on your screen icons and clicking on that opens a control panel relating to the HiFace where you can tweak the settings, once done you are good to go.
The review system comprised my current reference components: Balanced Audio Technology VK52 SE pre-amplifier, Music Reference RM200 mk1 power-amplifier, AMR DP777 DAC, Anthony Gallo Reference 3.1s speakers. The media engine was JRiver 17 and 18 (on the HP), an HD 3TB My Studio, iFi USB Power and JRemote on an iPad.
All equipment was housed on Clearlight Audio Apeckt Racks, with SSC and BASE isolation platforms, Sound Mechanics M8 Cones, Telos Silver Caps. Signal cabling was High Fidelity Cables CT1 RCA to RCA cables, Altas Mavros XLR to XLR, USB cables used included: Wireworld Starlight Red, Locus Designs Polestar, iFi Audio Gemini. Coaxial cables used included, QED SR75, XLO, High Fidelity CT1 and CT1 E (review coming soon) Speaker cable was Atlas Mavros. Mains cables were: Audience AU24, Analysis Plus Power Oval 2. No mains conditioners or filters were used on the main system except on the PSU for the laptops, where an EC Audio Pandoras box was used (very effective blast from the past used on the laptop power supply)
I used quiet a bit of music, varying from MP3, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 and 192 and multiple genres but in the main I used the following albums during comparisons.
Dead Can Dance – Into The Labyrinth
Stanley Clarke – 1, 2, To The Bass.
After exchanging a few emails with Keith the HiFace arrived and after sorting the aforementioned driver issue I sat down to have a listen and while early listening was interesting I decided to leave the laptop on repeat, playing various albums, and come back to it in a few days.
Once I felt the unit had been run in, initially I used a QED SR75 coax cable, then an XLO, each cable change was obvious and so I decided to go for broke – hopefully I wouldn’t – by trying a High Fidelity CT 1 digital cable, they of the Vulcan death grip RCA plugs.
Listening to Dead Can Dance – Into The Labyrinth I heard a wonderfully open and detailed presentation, but one that was quite natural and relaxed, with no spotlighting. Soundstage depth and width was very good with real insight into the space and air of the recording. Small ambient clues, details such as the decaying resonance in drum skins after strikes, fading shimmer in cymbal strikes, all had more reality to them, a kind of see round 360 degree reality I had not heard before. The fading haunting voice of Brendan Perry at the end of The Carnival is Over receded into the back ground acoustic with greater clarity than before. The throbbing, pulsing drum strikes at the beginning of another track, once again had more clarity and reality than I had heard via USB, it seemed that the very air of my listening room was being energised in a different way than before.
After listening to a broad range of music, including: 44.1, MP3, HD 88.2, 96 and 192 I had what I thought was a pretty good sense of things, and so decided to switch from direct connection to the laptop to using the iFi Audio iUSB Power (which I kept in place during the rest of the review) as the interface, as the HiFace is a USB powered device, and not surprisingly there was a definite improvement in performance, not a massive night and day improvement but enough of a one that I feel HiFace owners should give consideration to trying one in their system.
Switching back to USB connection was an interesting experience with a definite change in presentation, which took a few back and forwards comparisons between the HiFace and the USB to get a handle on which was the better option – being honest this didn’t take long.
The USB connection had a somewhat forwards, flatter, dimensionally compressed sound, with very good detail, soundstaging (width, height) and general imaging, with strong articulate bass, but after a few comparisons it was clear that depth perspectives were foreshortened using the USB (any USB cable I had to hand), as was the ambience and air of a recording curtailed. Bass was also more detailed and nuanced with the coaxial connection, via USB it was stronger but lacked note detail, nuance and texture.
In away the best analogy I can give to what I was hearing was like looking directly at a very 3 dimensional image, which when viewed head on seems to have everything, but when one steps to the side it is seen to be flatter than the front view indicates. I am of course, not saying the image is flat, lacking in depth as a photograph is if looked at edge on, but there is simply more retrieval of these acoustic depth clues using the coaxial connection via the HiFace than using USBs.
One other area again relating to dimensionality was that instruments and vocalists all had more solidity, body and see round reality with the HiFace than the direct USB connection.
At the end of the review period and after I had written the review (bar tidying up, insertion of photos and the following paragraph) I had a fellow audiophile have a listen (he hasn’t embraced computer audio at all, knows very little and is still mainly CD and vinyl based re music listening) and after one comparison he turned to me with his mouth hanging open in shock re the difference between USB and coaxial data transfer. When I asked him to tell me what it was he had heard (I had not told him anything about what it was I had been doing) he described exactly the areas I have written about above. ‘Not subtle, that’, is what he said.
In my system, with my music and my room the HiFace offered the more believable presentation, with more dynamic shading and phrasing and it is I think some form of possibly data compressing effect while using a direct USB connection that robs the music of its dimensionality, believability and naturalness.
With no comparison in my set up, USB is impressive and yet I always felt ultimately was lacking slightly, something I put down as possibly inherent in computer audio or the form of connection I was stuck with, the USB (a very flawed design) but until the HiFace Two came along I had no means to try coaxial connection so the niggling itch that I couldn’t quite put my finger on remained but yet was there enough that I still wanted to hear the coax input – despite many stating that USB is the best way – and it seems to me, based on what I have heard that coax is the way to go, at least in my set up and quiet possibly in yours too.
Of course some will say that the High Fidelity CT1 digital interconnect is what made the difference here and yes it was better than the other coax cables I used, and yet the differences I heard were still audible with those, just not quiet so clearly as it was with the CT1 in place.
I realise my words above may well be seen as overemphasising the difference, improvements I heard but in order to draw them out I have to describe them as best as I can so those are the carefully chosen words I have selected to do so.
The HiFace Two USB to coax converter is a valuable, flexible (its also available with a BNC connector option) tool in the arsenal of getting the best out of computer audio and in my case – of course your mileage may vary – the M2 Tech HiFace Two has got me further along the road – so much so I bought the review item.
Manufacturer: M2TECH S.r.l. – Registred Office Via Carlo del Prete, 2 – I – 56121 Pisa – Italy http://www.m2tech.biz/it/index_it.html
Operation Office Via Giuntini, 13/L1 – Polo Tecnologico I-56023 Navacchio di Cascina (PI) – Italy
Source of Loan Product: UK distributor Purité Audio Ltd. http://www.puriteaudio.co.uk/
Tel: +44 (0)20 8815 5878 m. +44 (0)7739 407129 e. firstname.lastname@example.org
UK Retail Price: £140
Input 1 x USB A type male
Output 1 x RCA or BNC female
Input USB 2.0 Audio Format
Output S/PDIF Stereo Digital Audio Format
44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4khZ, 192kHz
Resolution 16 up to 24 bit
Dimensions 10.2(d) x 2.2(h) x 2(w) cm
Power Supply 5V DC from USB bus
Temperature from 0°C to 70°C
Weight 50gr approx.
© Text and Photos Copyright 2014 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio. Except album sleeves/manufacturers images Copyright resides with those owners.
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