Dec 292016
 

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Out of the blue back in August I received an email from, as it later turned out Gregor Szymczyk of Veracity Audio titled ‘DAC Test’, and being honest initially I viewed it as being a phishing email – I was getting a lot of these at the time, all getting increasingly clever, and tailored to try and draw me in – so I spammed it without opening it. But a wee voice whispered in my ear that I should not have, and just maybe I had binned a genuine email.

Revisiting the email I did a search for the Mystra DAC, and low and behold I ended up at Veracity Audio’s website (1) and had a look, and while I didn’t recognise the name Veracity I did recall Ten Audio mentioned during the text on the website – a company that Gregor had been previously involved in. After having a further read I went into the spam folder of my email account -tied in with AIHFA- and retrieved the email, read it properly, replied, and the rest as they say is history.

After a number of email exchanges between Gregor Szymczyk and myself, I agreed to do a review of a Mystra DAC, as soon as he had an opportunity to build one for the review. Gregor informed me he had some orders to fulfil first. Some time went by before I was informed that a DAC was available – excluding the headphone option – and Gregor proposed to bring it to me in person. I queried that he knew where I was ok, and that using a courier was fine, but no Gregor was insistent, he wanted to meet me and deliver the DAC in person.

Plans were made and a first in the history of Adventures in High Fidelity Audio happened back in September.

Before getting into that visit and the review I think a little back history will be useful.

Veracity Audio History

According to Gregor he has been into repairing, designing and building audio products since being a boy, when he had to search long and hard to find items to use – audio bits and bobs were not common place when Poland was very firmly behind the Soviet Iron Curtain.

Gregor says this about his life in audio, so far

‘Born in 1966  `behind the iron curtain` (as it was) in Poland.
I was one of those kids fascinated with what is inside things and how they work. Dismantling everything that I could and constantly having ‘projects’ is the thing I remember. Initially it didn`t really matter what, it mattered how. 

I grew up in a fairly middle class family, or it would have been, but for the `iron curtain` reality. My father played saxophone, clarinet, piano and few other instruments that I can`t recall, my mother could sing quite well. Both were performing as `semi-pro` at small venues, yet earning money from being accountants, sic! Saying that music was present in my home from as long as I remember would be the right thing to say.

I wasn`t a `genius` kid by any means, but I could read aged 5 and eagerly practiced this new skill, this, together with the `how the things work` part of the story led me to magazines such as `Young technician`, `Radio-amateur magazine` eventually.

Around age 12, I was able to solder things from ready recipes, including radios, basic amplifiers and such. From the plethora of `flashing lights`, `robot-turtle` and such projects only the ones which reproduced sound/music were interesting to me. Be it a radio, sound keyboard and anything of the sort. Some said then that I had an above average perception and memory for music. Few years later a tragedy struck my family and things went `thin` financially.

I learned to thrive in scarcity to continue my hobby. In my city was a shop called Bomis with the surplus parts from a Grundig/Unitra factory available. I was making Grundig`s TK141, TK241, C260 tape recorders in my bedroom from parts and sell or exchange them for many things with my mates and as I see now, their parents too. I made also a number of record players. 

Poland through 1980`s wasn`t exactly the place you would strive to be in. Marantz or A&R Cambridge audio gear could only be seen on the photo in `Radioelectronic` magazine when one queued up to buy one. Some fairly interesting audio which I made got left behind during life turbulence and change from communist republic to democratic republic.

I managed well through electrical college and studied electro-technologies. My first employment was ironically at the cast-iron factory (not at the `central lab of audio excellence`). Not much later, `magnetically pulled`, I worked for Philharmonic Hall for few years where I learned much for my constant audio projects. Recording live performances on eight tracks Fostex was a great learning curve in understanding about home sound reproduction. I was striving as to how the realism, emotion of live venue could be brought home? It can`t really, but we can get close, so close that our hearing and imagination may grant us similar sheer pleasure.’

Digital Design Work

‘Over last 25 years I committed thousands of hours to designing and building D/A converters. 
In this process there are many ways and choices. Basically- everything matters, every part, every application has almost endless variability when remarkable sound reproduction is the goal. I made very real sounding DAC`s before, also available to buy. But this `time around` I wanted to create something which would leave me and my friends convinced that this is `as far as it can go` for a sound source, for them and me. It took over a year of working everyday on design and application and many trial and error moments. Dismissing advice to: `put it on sale`- I endured and continued and it was worth it.
Finally, I came up with a honed and accomplished design to the degree that I didn’t want to change anything in case the magic would disappear. We tested this DAC in 9 very revealing and musical systems over 12 months. My friends, clients and even I could no longer tell that the sound was sourced from the DAC component in whichever system we tried it. Then the time came to share it. ‘
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At that point Gregor entered the audio business, initially under the Ten Audio brand name, then VAD (Vad DAC 10 above) and more recently Veracity Audio.

Veracity Audio DAC Design and Technology.

I will let Gregor describe his work (taken from his website, but reflecting what he told me in person)  …..

‘It took over a year to pass the boundaries of what already was comparable with high end vinyl replay. The reward: a sound where the D/A converter audio signature (whichever flavour) is no longer present  and the real music plays, unrestrained by format or conversion method. This may be claimed by everybody- that`s the `new marketing`- but the difference is my project didn’t start for commercial reasons. This quest is personal. I have what I sought now.’ 

Gregor goes on to explain his motivation, approach and how both the Mystra and his top model the Chrysalis work…..

‘The difference in my audio designs comes also from the following:

  • This is a dual DAC where the PCM is decoded by separate converters and stand-alone DSD playback is fulfilled without digital processing. These two DACs through direct connection share only the valve output stage on a ‘one-at-a-time’ basis. The 2013 DAC-10 DSD was my first commercial, dual converter. The new Chrysalis and Mystra DAC took 18 months of hardware design and fine tuning, becoming audio product with difference.
  • DAC auto switches with incoming signal file format- directing DSD to DSD reconstruction filter or PCM to parallel PCM only DAC: This means that you can play your library of different format tracks in their native form, seamlessly and without software format processing. This dual DAC will adapt and switch to dedicated for PCM engine or DSD filter playback itself (in milliseconds) using analog signal relays. Very different approach when compared to `all-in-one`ΔΣ chips with transistor logic switching or devices which auto-convert music files from one format to another.
  • A non-oversampling mode was designed to bring remarkable clarity and emotion to CD recordings and 16 bit/44.1kHz music files. This design effort was made to reveal full music potential of Red Book recordings. We listen to many CD`s and 16bit/44.1 music files. Up-sampling them in their PCM domain or converting them to DSD in computer based systems shouldn’t  be needed for a real listening joy. So, you have a choice.
  • The DAC is upsampling free: i.e. the original sample rate of source PCM recording will not be changed (up-sampled). Up-sampling on DAC level is unappealing to me, resulting in sound which somehow fails to bring music to your heart.
  • Multibit hybrid DACs – instead of plain delta sigma or switched resistors a hybrid method has been chosen, relentlessly perfected since 2012 by me. To bring the most realistic dynamics and boost low-level performance- PCM D/A conversion uses dual (for Mystra) and quad mono (for Chrysalis) architecture
  • Differential Receiver with jitter rejection – it `fits`here into one sentence, but in real life it took nearly 2 years until it delivered remarkable CD Audio quality- from SPDIF with CD transport or any other compatible signal source. Seriously, it has to be heard to experience the difference.
  • DSD playback without digital processing, this is gaining more popularity now: I’ve developed and applied this method in early 2013 for DAC-10 DSD. Chrysalis and Mystra DACs employ much improved form of this untouched by digital processing circuit resulting in DSD playback which truly moves your heart.
  • Innovative multiple choke filters: these were designed for ultra clean power for the converters. Substantial choke filters for D/A converters are special to my design. The `air` and `breath` presence in the sound are more realistic with this approach (if you know what I mean)
  • Valve circuit is a true- no negative feedback topology with bias reference generator and no phase inversion. Signal amplifier is designed without valve cathode resistor. Such resistor would cause degree of degenerative negative feedback and affect the revealing openness of SE triode sound.
  • Active triode load is implemented in the valve circuit. This is a purist, elegant solution where one valve triode works as a current source to another valve triode. It is a more coherent, symbiotic relation and this is good for the music.
  • Match for any amplifier: low impedance (209 ohm), high current drive audio outputs. Something that need no explanation for the audiophile. Yes, it is a good thing. Signal outputs directly from the valves through Jensen copper film capacitor.
  • Analogue relay switches which are jitter free and non-saturating are used for all signals. Cmos, mux transistor signal switching is not used. This is to keep pure and simple path for the signal, without `veiling`it with any semi-conductors where these can be avoided.
  • All dedicated circuit boards are manually designed with my own human eyes, brain and hand (over long weeks). Software support of auto-routing and automated options were avoided. The complete architecture was optimized to create a unique circuit coherence. This design approach (laborious as it was) is proven to be the best for the sound
  • Film capacitors are used in the converter’s power filtering and where size matters also organic polymer, silmic and wet slug tantalum. Certain top quality capacitors and their locations were chosen for the sound based on listening tests. Cheap electrolytics are not used.
  • 4 mains transformers supply the circuits for pure power separation. This method, although more expensive, vastly reduces power fluctuations and cross-talk through power supplies. Effectively the 3D soundstage and dynamics are boosted through better channel separation as the interference’s are minimized using this approach .
  • Soft start (turn ON delay), gives time for the valves to warm-up. During this warm-up time, signal outputs are muted. Audio comes-on automatically after 70 seconds. This circuit also automatically switches off the outputs when you power-off the DAC.
  • Strictly linear, ultra low noise power supplies were designed. All capable of high current delivery. Separate power rails with dedicated decoupling to each individual power consumer. Digital, analogue, left and right channel share none of the power supplies leading to channel separation of 120db and remarkable clarity of the sound.

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  • The casework is a three Faraday cages joined together, providing an exceptional EMI shielding. It also has full vibration damping. This method of preventing the noise to interfere is superior to any other and leads to revealing more in the music
  • The build quality and reliability matches the best. The DAC is hand-built in the Heart of England, quality control rests with the designer, parts are sourced from British craftsmen and companies
  • Custom options such as rare wooden fronts, copper plates and matching wood remote handsets are offered. Those options can make your DAC a truly one-off machine

The purpose for this design is natural, involving sound. Design follows the less = more philosophy using thoroughly modern and logical engineering. The circuits which are crucial for the sound are `over-engineered` with extreme quality components and innovative topology.’

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 What goes into making it……
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‘5 years of my life`s passion and know-how. The DAC is made using coachbuilder methods, all by hand. It takes 36 to 38 man-hours to make the Mystra range DAC. It takes 46 to 50 man-hours to engineer Chrysalis DAC.  All parts are hand assembled and components are soldered by hand with approx.650 soldering points. All parts are absolute top notch, custom made or handpicked by me for the sound. The complex chassis is special and it does contribute to the sonic performance.’ 
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Gregor was very proud to tell me that this case was a registered/patented design,  Gregor went to this trouble because the case isn’t just about aesthetics but is also a part of what makes Veracity DACs sound the way they do. A factor well worth protecting in my view. (2)
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Valves In The Mystra DAC
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Some might wonder why Veracity Audio use valves – old technology in a modern item like a DAC – Gregor explains why he uses valves in his DAC designs. Again taken from his website but reflecting the spirit of what he told me in person ….
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‘My personal love for valves started when I joined short-wave radio club at my college. Valves were absolutely dominant there and all circuits we made had them. The professor running the club was an old school engineer (Wroclaw University of Technologygraduate) with enormous theoretical and practical knowledge in thermionic valves and what`s best, a passion. What I learned then lasts a lifetime and made me want to study more, which I did.

…back to the subject: When was the last time that we heard a designer saying:  “We`ve made a valve circuit which sounds as good as a transistor” John Broskie`s. Transistors- maybe in a different product. For this DAC nothing sounded better than the valve circuit designed specially for it. 

Saying this I dislike the so called `tubey` sound-i.e. coloured with `syrupy` signature. My valve circuits are clear of that. Simplifying; with innovative circuit topology and super clean power supply – the valves will sing, transparent and natural, just music.

The musicality and transparency are way more realistic with well designed valve circuit than with equivalent solid state. This DACs dual powered, dual mono, SET valve output operates in pure class A and without feedback. It has my own design topology. There isn’t a circuit like this in existence anywhere else. It is also hum and microphonics free.’

 

Description/Operation/Technology
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The Mystra DAC is 44cm wide, 27cm deep and 15.5 cm tall, available in black (as the review sample was) or silver, and is beautifully and solidly made, no part of the Mystra DAC’s case work flexes or bends its a solid rigid design. The shape of the case that Gregor is so proud of is striking and to a fair degree unique, though Italian company Viva Audio also have amplifier designs featuring a lower section bisecting two raised areas with the valves sitting in that valley, much as the Mystra has though Viva designs case work is curved. Personally I prefer the look of the Veracity DAC.
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The back of the DAC I was sent to review was equipped with the following, from left to right: Top Coax 2 In – recessed but with enough space around the RCA to accommodate chunky RCA connectors, USB In, next to that the pre-amplifier out, ground lift switch, and below that Coax 1 In. Next along the back panel was the analogue outputs XLR/RCA, and finally the IEC power in and main On/Off switch.
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One of my big bug bears with audio equipment is flimsy construction, when pushing IEC mains cables in or interconnects one often sees with lesser made equipment the back panel flex to such a degree one fears the panel might bend, even under the weight of uber audiophile cables. No fear hear with the Mystra, no flex whatsoever, and connecting furniture solidly affixed to the case work – little chance here of a tight RCA plug or heavy weight cable causing damage.
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The nicely brushed aluminium front panel has to the far left the On/ Standby button, at the mid point a gain control, top right Input/Function selector and below that the DAC selector: Red book NOS, Red Book oversampling, High Definition – anything above 44/48 khz.
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Operation is simple, one turns the DAC On, wait for it to go through its soft start up procedure and once ready to go you select the input or if the source is powered up the Mystra will switch to that input. Its vital however to select the correct DAC to suit the type of music file/media or you may end up with hissing not music. All the DACs will play Red Book 16 bit/44.1 Hz, but only the HD DAC will play HD files 24bit, 88.2, 96/192 Hz. Sadly not owning any DSD files I did not test this part of the DAC’s ability.
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More technical details…..

‘The Veracity Audio Mystra DAC comes equipped with 24-bit dual mono conversion, which handles the PCM/Reds Book format without sample rate change. The stand-alone ΔΣ bitstream reconstruction filter plays back DSD64 and DSD128 natively, without any digital processing, nothing added, nothing taken away. The Mystra DAC auto-switches, incoming signal file formats, so when DSD is the incoming format it will go to the DSD reconstruction filter, and when PCM is the incoming format the signal is taken to the parallel PCM-only DAC. Through this direct connection, both DACs share only the valve analogue stage, one-at-a-time.  

The Mystra DAC is fully featured for any two-channel digital audio application thanks to its pair of RCA coaxial (optional AES/EBU, BNC) digital inputs, multi-format asynchronous USB input, analogue pre-amplifier function and stereo RCA and XLR outputs. 

The Mystra has an analogue volume control to precisely adjust the output of the DAC to suit any pre-amplifier or integrated amplifier input. Non-inductive audio resistors are switched by relays in a R2R shunt operation mode, which means that only two resistors are in the signal path at any volume level. This discrete, stepped attenuator has 87 levels. For the purist, with a minimalist system, this volume control can enable direct connection to a power amplifier. Volume control and input selection can be operation via a remote control. 

The Mystra DAC is equipped with a single linelevel preamplifier option. An external analogue source can be linked directly to the DAC valve stage, thus the Mystra can become an active preamplifier with R2R volume control. Analogue input is via a pair of RCAs – just above the ground switch – while output is via main analogue outputs, RCA and XLR. 

The valve output stage operates in pure Class A, and is a single-ended triode design with no negative feedback, this design is a totally original, and unique Veracity Audio topology. The valve signal amplifier has a bias reference generator, and active triode loading. in this design one valve triode works as a current source to another valve triode for pure, symbiotic operation. The valve stage consists of a pair of 6SN7 signal drivers, a pair of ECC82 output drivers and a pair of CV574 full-wave valve rectifiers.’

At no stage during the review period did the Mystra DAC misbehave or malfunction. The only time there was an issue was my forgetting to select the right DAC when switching from playing a lot of Red Book material in a row and then switching to a Hi Res HD file from the laptop. It took me a few minutes to try and figure out why there was hissing coming out of the speakers rather than music. Then it dawned on me why, and I stopped playback, selected the HD DAC, and music flowed out of the speakers – you have been warned.
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This particular Mystra DAC was supplied with a nicely made remote control which is available as an option but as it turned out I didn’t use it once during the review.
One aspect of the Mystra sent to me that I didn’t explore was using it as digital source pre-amplifier, as this particular example was fitted out to act as a pre-amp, as well as a DAC. I regret that, but the degree of extra complexity and difficulty this would have brought to preceding’s, trying to figure out what was doing what and to do comparisons would have been too great a task on top of assessing the Mystra’s abilities as a digital to analogue converter so I opted not to as part of this particular review.
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The Visit, Installation.

I must say I was both impressed and a little nervous re Gregor’s visit, I think every audiophile feels nervous at their system, and their choices coming under peer scrutiny but having the tool by which I examine components sent to me for review, in away reviewed, was unsettling. However that Gregor felt that Adventures in High Fidelity Audio was worthy of a personal visit and that he cares deeply about his products enough to visit spoke volumes, even before I had met him.

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Gregor arrived on a somewhat damp late summers day, and he wasted no time getting his baby, the Mystra Dac removed from its packing and travel bag. Once the Mystra had been fitted with its valves, my proposed siting position on the middle Clearlight Aspekt rack – where the Passlabs Xono phonostage normally lives –  didn’t meet with Gregor’s approval, so a quick reshuffle saw the computer moved to the top of the third Clearlight rack, the turntable that was there temporarily removed to the floor.

Once the Mystra was hooked up, awkwardly, the HP Windows 8.1 laptop sitting at an angle so the USB cable could be hooked up to the Mystra, we fired everything up and once the computer was awake fully, drivers downloaded for the Mystra which includes ASIO functionality – my previous experience with the AMR DP777 DAC confirmed the superiority of this feature – I was pleased the Mystra was ASIO compatible.

Once the driver was downloaded and working we gave the DAC ago, and it was alive.

Gregor and I retired to the kitchen and had a long chat about audio, both modern and vintage, his system, Veracity Audio, his life and background but at no time did Gregor push his DAC, big it up or rubbish other companies. I enjoyed our chat and after Gregor did a final check he was happy and had to head home, which would entail a ferry journey, and a very long drive back to Northampton.

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After Gregor left, I had a good think about the position the DAC was in and no matter how I thought about it the Mystra had to go back into the place I had originally felt it would work best. This decision was necessary to facilitate the USB cabling I had to hand, and allow me to quickly swap USB cables so I could do comparisons, which would be an important part of the review.  So conscious of a virtual disapproving Gregor breathing down my back I moved the Mystra back to that shelf, and re set my system up, as it had been.

While the space was possibly not completely ideal there was no overheating issues with the slight lack of height, ventilation was adequate. However in saying that I think that during a very hot summer or in a country with more persistent climatic heat more ventilation would be wise.

 

System Used

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I used my normal reference system during this review: Balanced Audio Technology VK52Se pre-amplifier, Music Reference RM200 mk1 power-amplifier (BAT VK75 briefly), Anthony Gallo Reference 3.5 loudspeakers. Sources were: Esoteric P5 CD/SACD transport, HP laptop Windows 8.1. J River 18 media server program, WD 3TB Hard Drive. Source/Amplification Cabling: Atlas Mavros, RCA to RCA and XLR to XLR, Wireworld Starlight USB cables (various connection types). Purist Audio Design Dominus RCA to RCA digital coax cable. Speaker Cable: Atlas Mavros. Mains Cables/Distribution: Audience AU24, Analysis Plus, Mark Grant 6 way distribution blocks. Equipment Tables: Clearlight Audio Aspekt Rack. No mains regeneration or filters were used.

 

Music Used

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Dead Can Dance – Into The Labyrinth – 24 Bit/88.2 khz Studio Master File and Red Book CD

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Thomas Dolby – Aliens Ate My Buick – Red Book CD

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Hugh Masekela – Hope. Red Book CD/ 24 Bit, 96khz Studio Master File.

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Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – Studio Master File/Red Book CD

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Stanley Clarke – 1,2, To the Bass – Red Book File/CD

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Acoustic Alchemy – Reference Point – Red Book File/CD

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Patricia Barber – Cafe Blue – 24 Bit, 96khz Studio Master File

and many more.

Methodology 

As the Mystra has three DAC type options I had to review each listening option in order to get a handle on the various flavours/differences between the Hi Res DAC, the Over-sampling DAC and the Non Oversampling DAC (NOS). I opted to listen to each track three times, switching between the DACs and hoped this would reveal all.

Listening

Its very easy to take a basic thing like being able to hear for granted and as I was to begin listening to the Mystra DAC I came down with a series of heavy colds that took that certainty in life away to enough of a degree that I could not do the review.

I contacted Gregor and expressed my frustration, but what could I do, but postpone the listening until my hearing had come back. During this down time I ran the DAC to burn it in – normally Gregor puts 50 hours on the DAC’s he builds before shipping to a customer, but in my case he was unable to do this in order to meet the date of bringing it to me.

Sadly because of my hearing issues I can’t report to what degree the sound improved during run in, but based on past experience I am pretty sure it will have sounded better after burn in than from new, to what degree in this case I can’t say – regardless it got at least 80 hours of use before any serious listening began.

After my hearing had returned my first listening impression would be best expressed by saying the Mystra had a sound blessed with great fluidity, nuanced musical expression, openness, detail and an incredible naturalness. A musical rightness that no matter the genre, format or medium carried through, regardless. I have pages of listening notes, and similar words, descriptions appear regularly throughout the formal listening period notes.

Its worth mentioning at this point, though I didn’t use MP3 for the review, that early on a few MP3 files I have I listened to and the Mystra made MP3 sound pretty good – not as good as the higher data music files I reviewed with, but better than MP3 has any right to sound – interesting.

As I have hinted at above I decided to start off with computer audio as a source, as many potential Mystra users will more than likely favour a computer source than a physical CD transport. I used my HP Windows 8.1 laptop – J Remote equipped Ipad as a remote control – which runs silently enough that neither internal cooling fan nor mechanical noise would be a distraction.

I flicked through the album art selection looking for a suitable starting point and landed on Stanley Clarke’s – 1,2, To The Bass album and I began with the title track, and the Hi Res DAC selected.

The soundstage was wide, and deep, with the rap vocal solid and very three dimensional. Stanley Clarke’s bass playing was deep and powerful but very nuanced, fluid and articulate – never a blended opaque, blob, an indistinct lump that bass can be as low bass, mid and higher bass notes can blend together. The Mystra was able to reveal each thrum of the bass strings resonating and then decaying into acoustic space. This was beautifully rendered, sure part of the recording, but the Mystra was unlocking this in a way I had just not heard before.

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Backing vocals were clear, in their own space and very easy to follow, with a degree of transparency over and above what I have heard before. Each vocalist had their own acoustic space and solid reality.

I then switched to the Oversampling DAC and listened again. Things were pretty much as they had been with the Hi Res DAC (the Stanley Clark album a RED book recording) and in all honesty I would have been pushed very hard to say it was much different in performance.

Up next was the Non Oversampling option and where there was no real difference between the Hi Res and Oversampling options there was a noticeable difference, and a very interesting one.

On the NOS setting the Stanley Clarke track was slightly sweeter, had a marginally deeper, wider soundstage with a smidge more resolution and detail. Also improved was the air and spaciousness in the acoustic of the track, also instrument separation was improved too. This was most clearly heard towards the end of the track when the Rap vocal was even more clearly delineated in its own space.

Stanley’s bass playing was more nuanced, string harmonics and resonance as well as decay of notes had a slight degree of greater clarity.

I found the ebb and flow of the track, the rhythm and timing slightly better as well. Overall on the NOS setting the track was more musical. I know that’s a catch all, often overused and misused term but the music was just that bit more enjoyable.

Staying with the Stanley Clarke album I moved on to ‘I shall not be Moved’ and I decided to stick with the NOS setting and work backwards from there.

I was blown away by this simple but powerful track about prejudice, hatred and intolerance of coloured people in America and sadly elsewhere too, it never fails to move me and via the Mystra I was left emotionally impacted by the amazing way in which the instrumentation ebbed and flowed behind Oprah Winfrey, very three dimensional spoken vocal.

The track was beautifully rendered, nuanced (there’s that word again), fluid and delicate and as with ‘1,2 To The Bass’ all the aspects that had been clearly present with it once again stood clear on this track albeit its a simpler more spartan piece of music.

Switching to the Oversampling DAC I was a little surprised to find that Oprah Winfrey’s voice was marginally larger sounding, a little more forward and there was a slightly deeper soundstage. However despite this change there was a slightly more analytical presentation, which came with a tad more air and space but overall I didn’t feel it sounded as good. Different system and listening bias and I guess some might feel that on this DAC setting the track would sounded better – overall I wasn’t sure initially and it took a fair bit of back and forwards for me to feel that on balance the NOS DAC sounded better, more natural, but it was a close run thing.

The Hi Res DAC option as before didn’t sound that different to the Oversampling DAC.

Next up was Patricia Barber’s album Cafe Blue and the track What a Shame. I did the listening from Hi Res to Oversampling to NOS and despite a smidge more air and openness on the Oversampling DAC I once again preferred the NOS DAC, which was more musical and enjoyable.

As the next number of tracks I listened to were still Red Book I mainly used the NOS DAC with brief comparisons pretty much reinforcing my view that the NOS DAC had the edge still on the Oversampling DAC, for example Daft Punks – Random Access Memories sounded wonderful but for example while Game of Love was beautiful sounding on the Oversampling/Hi Res DAC on the NOS DAC it was more beguiling, magical and haunting, there was more emotional atmosphere coming through the speakers.

I have pages of notes outlining this finding but to sum up the Red Book listening phase via the PC source I will discuss Acoustic Alchemy’s album Reference Point via the NOS DAC.

‘Lullaby for the first Born’, had a wide deep acoustic and the Mystra effortlessly unlocked all the elements, in much the same was as I had heard so far, with the other tracks I had listened to. I was particularly struck by the way each acoustic guitar existed within its own 3 dimensional space, all aspects of the playing laid bare but not in a spotlit HiFi way. I heard and very much appreciated how the Mystra revealed the nuances of the instrument playing, decay of notes, the plucks and strikes on the guitar strings but also how all the elements of this track hung together as a whole spotlighting just how wonderfully magical a performance this was.

I sat enjoying the music, finding myself swept along and into the recording, nodding my head in time with the music – totally beguiled by the beauty of it.

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Moving on I switched to Hi Res HD music, selected the HD DAC and tried the Mystra with numerous tracks that were 24 bit, 88.2, 96 and 192 khz.

A long term reference track came next from Hugh Masekela – ‘Stimela’ from the album Hope, and it was everything I know it to be and more. The way the Mystra reproduced this beautiful recording was fabulous. Every detail, nuance and ebb and flow of the track presented in an effortless way, open, detailed, layered instrumentation within its own spot on the recordings acoustic soundstage. Little details such as the way a cow bell sounded struck, the impact, sonic signature and the way the initial strikes followed though, and decayed into the acoustic gave it a very real sense of solid reality. Not just little details but the whole track sounded, well it just sounded fabulously right.

Dead Can Dance album – Into the Labyrinth, tracks from the ‘Carnival is Over’ to ‘Birds’ sounded equally wonderful as did many others.

Impressed with the computer side of things I decided to move on to CDs – yes those silver discs that were oh so very popular, not that long ago – to see how the Mystra performed with a CD transport hooked up via a coax cable.

A Blip

Just as I was about to assess the Mystra’s performance as described above my Music Reference RM200 after a few minutes of music, died, music vanishing to silence, much as a picture on a CRT TV would after switch off – sound like picture diminishing to a dot, then blackness, silence.

Wanting to continue with the Music Reference amplifier I informed Gregor of the possibility of a delay as I would need to get the amp fixed. I did offer an alternative which was my using my BAT VK75 amplifier until the Music Reference amplifier was fixed, which he had no issue with so briefly I continued the review with the BAT.

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During this period I checked over the Music Reference myself, testing all the valves and the mains input fuse, which showed as being ok, as it turned out all the valves tested fine and my gut feeling was it was a power issue – I hoped it wasn’t the mains transformer. Not having any replacement fuses I ordered some and replaced the measuring fine fuse for a new one and….. it lives. The fuse that the meter showed as still working was not working with the full power of the mains flowing through it.

After getting the Music Reference RM 200 back to life – only a few days had gone by – I continued the review as before. However I did for a few days use the BAT VK75 which sounded lovely in the system and it offered an interesting perspective on things.

003_412x550I went back and used the PC as a source again and played the tracks I had during the first part of the review and despite the differences between the presentation of the BAT over the Music Reference amp my previous listening impressions held. A brief period using a CD transport into the Mystra with the BAT amplifier, before the Music Reference was working also led to listening notes and assessments that didn’t change much.

The following section was done using the Music Reference RM200 amplifier and not the BAT VK75 amplifier.

Back To The Physical

After extensive PC based listening I decided to hook the Mystra DAC up to an old fashioned, well not so old fashioned, Esoteric P5 dedicated CD and SACD transport, a machine designed to extract as much off a physical optically read disc as possible – well as possible at the price point.

To facilitate that hook up I went to my plastic crate of spare interconnects, both analogue, and digital. Wanting as good a cable as I had to hand I dug out the monster of digital cables, the type Christian Grey might use if he had a HiFi, the Purist Audio Design Dominus.

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Hooking the Dominus up required a bit of clever cable dressing as always and allowing a period for it to settle in was also required but after doing so the first CD I played was Thomas Dolby’s – Aliens Ate My Buick a long term listening favourite.

As with the PC side of things I tried the NOS DAC setting and the Oversampling DAC and as before I ended up feeling that NOS had the edge on the Oversampling DAC for musical pleasure within my system.

The track ‘Hot Sauce’ had wonderful bass, powerful and driving, soundstaging was wide and deep and musically enjoyable, as was ‘Pulp’ too. In comparing NOS with Oversampling, NOS had slightly better spacial staging, detail and the bass had a bit more weight and scale.

Next up, and in away coming full circle I put the CD of Daft Punks album – Random Access Memories on and played ‘Giorgio’, this sounded wonderful with Giorgio Moroder’s voice sounding more real and in the room than I had heard before, and the click on the track had a clarity and solidity that mean’t it literally sounded like it was in the room, not coming out of a pair of speakers.

‘Rhythm of Life’, and the track ‘Game of Love’ also sounded fantastic.

A Regret Or Two 

The Mystra came equipped to decode DSD but alas not having any DSD music as computer files I was unable to assess this ability which was a real shame. Another regret was not checking out the Mystra’s feature to act as a digital pre-amplifier, but as my system is as much analogue source based as it is digital and comparing pre-amplifiers would complicate the review I chose not to assess this function.

Conclusions

The Veracity Audio Mystra DAC represents a fairly major achievement and one that designer and owner of Veracity Audio Gregor Szymczyk should in my view be very proud of, as it is a DAC that manages to offer so much – NOS, Oversampling, Hi Res, DSD digital to analogue decoding, pre-amplifier facility and other options – with no compromises that I could detect.

There was always a rightness to, and beautiful musicality, no matter what the DAC option selected was,  a solid consistent level of performance well above what I was used to.

I briefly compared the AMR DP777 DAC I have owned for a number of years (3) and on all the tracks I compared the AMR DP777 to the Veracity Audio DAC the Mystra managed to unlock more detail and nuance in the recordings and ultimately brought a more even handedness to the various decoding options.

002_550x412This was one of the outstanding aspects of the Mystra in that while it is three DACs in one box it doesn’t perform like that, and while there are some differences between the options they don’t become the headline story, with each option sounding like a different design. No matter what music was playing the Mystra sounded wonderful, yes it did all the HiFi things and brilliantly well, but it did so much more and did it in away that just sounded right, music sounded like music not HiFi.

I am aware some reading the above will say, well its clear you preferred the NOS setting to the Oversampling on 44.1 hkz material and in my system that is true to a degree (4) but those differences were differences of excellence, one was not massively better than the other – but there were differences – nor did one make the Mystra not sound like the Mystra – at no time was the wonderful way this DAC so naturally, effortlessly decoded bits compromised between DACs (5). For once you can have your cake and eat it, with excellence on every setting.

I want to thank Gregor Szymczyk for trusting me with his baby, bringing it to me in person and in so doing rekindling my personal flame that had begun to burn a bit low. Hearing the Mystra was a truly amazing and wonderful experience and it is a sad fact that the day it has to go back is rapidly approaching.

I would urge anyone looking for a DAC in and around this price point to contact Veracity Audio and talk to Gregor about hearing a Mystra, to not do so would I feel be to miss out on something that is very special.

 

Highly Recommended.

 

Neil 

 

 

Source of Loan – Manufacturer.

Website – (1) Veracity Audio https://veracityaudio.com/

Address – Veracity Audio, Highfields, 17 Ashby Road, Welton, Northamptonshire, NN11 2JS, UK

Phone – +44 (0)1604 922704

Retail Price – The Mystra price ranges from £3390 to £3940 depending on the options chosen.

Warranty – 3 years RTB.

Specifications: 

Data Support
Format: PCM or DSD
Sample rate (PCM):  44.1kHz, 48.0kHz, 88.2kHz, 96.0kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz
Word length (PCM) 16bit, 24bit
DSD rate:  SACD standard (2.8MHz) DSD64 and DSD128 double rate (5.6MHz-6.144MHz)
DSD transfer support: raw (native) DSD or DSD over PCM (DoP) into USB input with ASIO/WASAPI driver
D/Analogue conversion method:
PCM- multibit hybrid
DSD- 1bit ΔΣ, analogue filter
PCM processing S/N ratio >120 dB
DSD reconstruction filter S/N ratio >112 dB

Digital audio inputs
Coaxial SPDIF x 2
USB x 1

USB digital input details
Connector: USB type B
Format: PCM and raw (native) DSD with ASIO driver or DoP v1.1 (DSD over PCM)
Transfer mode: Asynchronous
O/S device name: combo384/ASIO , Amanero Technologies/WASAPI, KS

Input sample rates and format
SPDIF: (PCM) 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz/16bit, 24bit
USB: (PCM) 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz/16bit, 24bit. (DSD) DSD64(2.82MHz), DSD128(x 44.1- 5.64MHz), DSD128 (x 48- 6.14MHZ)

Analogue audio input
RCA (pair) x 1, line level signal input,
Sensitivity: 100mV – 2.81Vrms
Input frequency range: 5Hz – 100kHz +0/ -2dB

Analogue audio outputs
RCA unbalanced x 1 pair, XLR (Jensen passive) balanced x 1 pair
Output level minimum: step 1- 0.0001V (-77.78dBu)
Output level maximum: step 87- 3.777V (+13.76dBu)
Output impedance: 209 (RCA), 600 (XLR)

Headphones output
1 x stereo, 6.35mm Jack socket
Support for 32 to 300 headphones
Power: 150mW (depends on headphone impedance)
Maximum output current: 250mA
Headphone driver takes signal directly from valve outputs. Output level is controlled via main volume

Frequency response
PCM sampled at 192kHz: 5Hz – 40kHz +0/-3dB
PCM sampled at 44.1kHz: 5Hz – 20kHz +0/-0.2dB
DSD64 – 5Hz – 50kHz +0/-3dB
DSD128 – 5Hz – 50kHz +0/-3dB
THD at 1KHz (2.77V, +11.06dBu): <0.08%
Phase: source phase, no inversion
Channel separation PCM: 110dB
Channel separation DSD: 95dB

Output stage
2 x 6SN7 dual triode voltage driver
2 x ECC82 dual triode, high current output driver
A pair of Jensen Copper paper-in-oil signal decoupling capacitors
Operation mode: pure classA single ended triode without feedback

Controls
Front panel power On/Off switch
Rear panel device pwr cut-off switch
Front panel rotary input selector with LED indicators for: inputs, SPDIF signal ON and DSD ON,
Front panel rotary volume control

Power requirements
Mains voltage: 100-120VAC or 220-240VAC (mains voltage compatibility is factory set according to order)
Power consumption: 50W

Physical
Unit weight: 13.5kg
Unit dimensions: 44cm (W) x 31cm (D) x 15cm (H), 17.32″ x 12.20″ x 5.90″
Shipping weight: 19.5kg
Shipping dimensions: 65cm (W) x 55cm (D) x 40cm (H), 25.59″ x 21.65″ x 15.74″

 

(2) ‘In the beginning was passion: an engineer’s passion to design a dac with a magical connection to music; it would be beautiful and have great functionality. So, what would it look like? There were enough bland boxes on the market ( OK not necessarily ugly but…well.. bland)   At the first discussion, Gregor  presented several drawings. He was adamant he did not want the chassis to be a cuboid box. He wanted to create something he could put his heart into. He’d been turning the concept in his mind and drawn it many times over the years. He made a scale model out of wood, so I could understand.  We still have it.  He took it to a company in Northampton UK to translate it into dxf. from his scale model. There was nothing like this design around in audio; we were told it should be protected.  Gregor presented it to the UK Patent Office.  They granted it as unique and registered it in November 2012. There’s a valve cover he designed  to go with the dac, so

Gregor: When I was drawing this chassis I actually wanted a three separate casework`s. One for mains power transformers, one for valve circuit and one for converters. I planned for the circuits to be shielded in-between for lowest induced interactions- thus creating a Faraday cage for each circuit. I also wanted the valves to be visible, to see the glow.Despite aiming for three separate boxes I felt that in real life- three boxes are troublesome with umbilical cord connections and space taken. Experimenting, at some point I drew a chassis where all the walls are tied together with two cross walls being also welded in place- this became self containing monocoque just like the car chassis. This chassis is virtually impossible to bend or resonate unlike any traditional `screw together` type.  It became a main part with three shielded sections inside, where the middle section is holding valves visible. With the aluminium main cover fitted, this casework fulfills the Faraday cage principle for each circuit . The shape was inspired by the Art Deco design style and Star Wars movie. The chassis is also internally aluminium lined combined with composite anti-vibration material.

Footnote from Jacqueline (summary): As an engineer, Gregor has spent most of his working life in audio: designing, building and researching or experiencing live orchestral performances as when working at the Philharmonic Hall in Poland long ago. In 2012, he was able to pick a challenge: to build a DAC that would fulfill his passion for natural, unveiled sound.  Now owner and director of Veracity, he designs and builds each product with love, passion and an engineer’s dedication.  His tenacity and commitment to perfection mean your product has 100% reliability. His sonic analysis of the new DAC has taken over a year.’

(3) I have not heard the more recent version of this AMR design the DP777 ES, so can offer no opinion re how it would fair in such a comparison.

(4) I found myself preferring the NOS presentation in my system.

(5) I have in the past heard DACs with NOS, Oversampling, Upsampling sounding like totally different products when switching between them, the Mystra doesn’t, it is always the Mystra regardless of the DAC chosen.

Mystra Options/Components: Dual D/A converters for PCM 16 and 24bit/44.1,48,88.2,96,176.4,192kHz, DSD 64, DSD128 reconstruction filter without digital processing, Axicom signal relays, Panasonic  MKT film capacitors in converter power supplies, Super low ESR polymer capacitors in digital circuits, Long life capacitors in valve banks- Nichicon KXJ, 100uF of film capacitors in anode filtering, Dual 10H choke filtered valve power, twin rectifiers, Jensen Copper foil Paper in Oil, silver lead-out audio output capacitors. One per stereo channel – pair, Dale, Fukushima and PRP PR9372 – audio resistors, Silver plated copper audio signal links (converters to valve), Silver plated copper in Kapton power wiring, Weller copper/silver solder thorough, Tin plated PCB pads with tin plated ground plane and blue board colour, Automatic oversampling, No upsampling, Custom implemented linear phase digital filter, Option if chosen – [Header picture at top of review] Headphone output 32-300ohm/150mW (front plate, 6.35mm stereo Jack socket), Aluminium top cover, polymer coated in black, Aluminium front panel  (silver or black anodised), Handmade in black acrylic remote handset (when remote version chosen), Machined, anodized aluminium controls, R2R network/relays stepped attenuator analogue volume. Alps RK27 blue velvet potentiometer in volume control as an option,  Manual controls or remote control for volume and inputs option, Veracity metal nameplate in chosen colour or according to version: Silver, Gold or Copper, Three mains transformers, Turn ON delay, slow start- 70sec.

 Posted by at 9:52 pm

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