I had high expectations of the Micromega MyDAC as there has been a couple of glowing professional reviews and plenty of positive user comments flying around the internet forums. Namely, Robert Harley from The Absolute Sound proclaimed the proudly designed and manufactured in France MyDAC as a “Miracle DAC” – here’s an excerpt from his review:
I dropped the MyDAC into my reference system and was shocked by how good it sounded for the price. The Micromega gives you some sonic attributes usually reserved for much more expensive DACs—qualities like air around instruments, a sense of three-dimensional space, and a laid-back sense of ease. Through the Micromega, instruments don’t sound like flat cardboard cutouts; they are instead fully fleshed out three-dimensional images surrounded by a wonderful bloom. In these qualities, the Micromega’s sound would not be out of place in a $2000 DAC. Timbres are remarkably smooth and free from grain. The bass is solid and tight, although the very lowest bass lacks ultimate authority. This is, however, nit-picking; …the Micromega MyDAC offers so much performance that it’s practically free.
Why do I need a DAC?
Before I get into my thoughts on the MyDAC I’ll briefly explain what a DAC is and why you may find an improvement to your system if you added a standalone DAC. DAC stands for Digital-to-Analogue Converter. It does just that, it takes a digital signal (usually via USB, Coaxial, Optical/Toslink or a AES/EBU) and converts this signal to analogue for connecting to your amplifier.
So when does a person use a DAC? Well, every CD player has a DAC inside it, your computers sound card has a DAC, your Apple TV has a DAC inside it etc. The thing is, as with all electronic components they are designed to a price point, so as a result the DAC stage can be improved on most components as it often isn’t optimised for high fidelity audio. Certainly with computer based audio, the other advantage is taking the processing of these digital signals out of the noisy environment of the computer – think of it as an external sound card, free from interference of the computer’s other processing chips.
Back to the Micromega MyDAC
At home I run a Squeezebox Touch for streaming FLAC and Mp3 files off my computer, and I’ve always had the intention of buying a DAC to upgrade the sound from the Squeezebox as the bass isn’t the best and the overall sound is somewhat compressed using the on-board DAC/analogue outputs. I’ve had a number of DACs in my system, and to date while I’ve been able to beat the on-board DAC from the Squeezebox, I haven’t been able to beat the sound from my Shanling CD Player, so I hadn’t made a purchase.
The MyDAC is a really nice size, and it is smaller than I had imagined, but has enough weight to it so cables don’t lift the front. The choice of case material may surprise some, it’s made from a textured ABS (read plastic) and as a result it doesn’t have the luxurious feel of the other DACs we sell. No doubt this is one of the reasons Micromega can do this unit anywhere near the price, but the main reason is because it has sonic advantages too. Being completely non-magnetic and non-conductive – it’s an ideal casing for cleanly processing high frequency digital signals and Micromega claims this gives the MyDAC a lower noise floor than using a metallic case.
The rotary dial on the front is very solid, and clicks from Standby (red LED) to USB, Coax, and Optical/Toslink. When out of standby the LEDs are white, and unlike so many other DACs and electronics the LEDs are a sensible brightness, i.e. not too bright!! My only quibble here is that when one input is selected there is light leakage so the other two inputs which aren’t in use light up dimly.
I let the unit warm up for half an hour before doing any critical listening, and as this is a demo unit and not new out of the box I couldn’t tell you if it benefited from any ‘burn in time’. I connected the Squeezebox via Optical (Wireworld Nova) and just switched my analog interconnects from the Squeezebox to the Micromega. A favourite album of mine is Gareth Thomas Band’s Lady Alien, and track 8 Out of Fashion is one that I often use for comparisons. Not only is this a great album musically, the recording is fantastic too – go NZ Music!
I first listened again just to the Squeezebox, reminding me of its sonic signature, then I switched the cables and started playing the MyDAC. In short, wow, it seemed like someone turned up the bass, added another 5hz or so in bass depth, and the overall presentation was spot on delivering an open and smooth sound.
One thing I’ve found really frustrating with some DACs is that you plug them in and the level is boosted. This makes it very hard to compare between units because without a SPL meter, its very hard to know you are doing a fair comparison, as the louder one will often tend to sound “better”. With the MyDAC to my ear at least (which I know could well be flawed!) there was no level boosting happening here.
So I mentioned the bass, this was the obvious area that can be improved on the Touch output, when compared to my CD player it was obvious how much more full, tuneful and deep the bass on the CD player was to the Touch. With the MyDAC connected, the bass was easily to the same quality of the CD player, and using the digital output of the Shanling connected to the MyDAC proved that in fact the MyDAC went slightly deeper and added a touch extra bass weight.
I have Paradigm Signature S2’s, and as with all metal dome tweeters they can be easy to excite, the thing that makes the MyDAC so special is its smoothness. There was less treble glare than that Shanling, and more air than the Touch. The sound of the MyDAC (or should that be lack of sound?) is open and natural through the midrange with excellent separation between instruments. I’ve had other DACs in the system that emphasize sibilance and whispery vocals, whereas the MyDAC gave a more natural sound and it was this that I kept thinking as I played a range of tracks from Mazzy Star, Radiohead, Lambchop, Ryan Adams, Air….
I guess the best thing I can say about the MyDAC is that I’m keeping it in my home system permanently. This is exactly what I have been looking for, and if you require a straight up DAC (no preamp/headphone amp) then the MyDAC comes with my highest recommendation.
For more information and images of the Micromega MyDAC, visit the product page