Steven Stone is the former editor of AudiophileReview.com. He a longtime audiophile and home theater writer, as well as a musician and recording engineer. Steven has written for publications like Stereophile, as well as HomeTheaterReview.com, AudiophileReview.com, and The Absolute Sound.
Steven is plays guitar, mandolin, and Ashbory bass and is a collector of fine musical instruments.
If you have more than a passing acquaintance with digital products, you've probably heard of Mytek, who opened their doors in 1991. When the company began, it was focused on Pro audio products, with their flagship Manhattan DAC/Pre ensconced in many top-echelon mastering studios. As more audiophile consumers embraced Mytek's products, the company's focus expanded in 2011 to include consumer components including the Stereo192-DSD DAC, Manhattan DAC (the first version), the original Brooklyn, Brooklyn DAC+, Brooklyn AMP and their latest consumer device: the Mytek Liberty DAC ($999 MSRP).
The Liberty is the least expensive desktop DAC that Mytek has released to date. It is aimed directly for consumers who can't quite ante up for the company's Brooklyn DAC+. How did Mytek manage to condense their technology into this smaller, more pocket-book-friendly box? And, did they succeed in delivering mastering-quality sound worthy of the Mytek moniker?
The Liberty DAC design is based around the Sabre ESS9018K2M DAC chipset, which is the same device used on the original version of the Mytek Brooklyn DAC, though the Liberty sells for half the cost. The Liberty's digital capabilities are also similar to the original Brooklyn: it supports PCM up to 384/32, native DSD to DSD256, DXD, and MQA. Digital inputs include two S/PDIF, Toslink, USB 2.0, and AES/EBU. Outputs include one pair of balanced TRS, one pair of unbalanced RCAs, and one 1/4-inch stereo headphone jack on the front panel. Mytek even has an ASIO driver available for Windows USB connections.
In many respects, the Liberty DAC is a stripped-down Brooklyn DAC. Unlike the Brooklyn, the Liberty lacks provisions for analog inputs and the built-in phono preamplifier. It also eliminated the front panel display, substituting a series of small, bright LEDs that serve a dual function: they not only indicate your current input, but also your current volume levels. Unlike previous Mytek desktop DACs, the Liberty lacks any numeric scale system for its volume levels.
Installing and configuring the Liberty was relatively easy, but not without a few small issues. The first issue is that if you plan to use the TRS balanced outputs, and if your power amplifier or powered loudspeakers do not employ TRS, you will need to use adapters. And because the two TRS outputs on the back of the Liberty are situated so close together, you may find that many TRS-to-XLR adapters will not fit. If you force two too-large diameter adapters into the Liberty you can damage its TRS connections, so don't do that.
You have two options for powering the Liberty. You can connect a standard IEC AC power cable to the Liberty's standard AC connection, or if you need to listen "in the field" where there's no way to get power, you can connect a 12-volt power supply to the Liberty. While not exactly a most-requested feature, it's nice to know that if your power grid goes down you could still listen to a portable player attached to the Liberty while you wait around in the dark...
Like other Mytek DACs, all the control functions are accessible through the Mytek app, which is available for Mac OSX and Windows machines. This app includes input options, volume levels, LED brightness levels, bypass options, and whether the LEDs are on or off. Also, you can perform updates to the Liberty's firmware through the app.
There were two primary ergonomic options missing from the Liberty. First, there is no way to couple a remote with the Liberty. If you want to change the volume you must either turn the volume knob or adjust the levels in the Mytek Control App. The second omission is the aforementioned lack of display. If you want to know the resolution of a digital file, you will need to look at your playback app for that info, because it won't be available on the Liberty. As for quantifying the volume level, forget it unless you have the Mytek desktop app open, since there's no way to tell exactly what your level is from the front panel.
When I replaced the Brooklyn DAC that I had been using in my desktop nearfield system with the Liberty, my first thought was, "Did I really change DACs, or did I merely hallucinate it?" I found the Liberty's sound as similar to the Brooklyn as two different DACs can be--same soundstage width, depth, and imaging along with identical harmonic balance and inner detail. While I did not find a practical way to go quickly from one DAC to the other using loudspeakers for A/B comparisons, I could make the switch using headphones. Although this exchange still took at least 15 seconds to complete, and was sighted, (although I could not see the DACs while listening), after a couple of minutes of going back and forth I still couldn't discern enough sonic differences that I could reliably tell which DAC I was listening to.
I have spent listening time with three different Mytek DACs: the Manhattan II, Brooklyn, and the Liberty. And while I would not go so far as to say that Mytek DACs have a "house sound" that is intrinsic to all their DACs, they do share certain sonic attributes. The first one that extends to the Liberty is the solidity of the Mytek DAC's imaging. Instruments all have weight and mass within the soundstage and have a less diaphanous quality. The second universal quality to Mytek DACs is their tonal character--neither overly warm or analytical, the Myteks fall into that rarefied harmonic zone of neutral and natural where they seem not to color the sound in any way, as you might expect from a firm whose background lies from professional audio.
When I replaced the Liberty DAC with Mytek's new flagship, the Manhattan II, it was obvious that the sound quality had improved in a multiplicity of ways. Not only was it easier to listen into a mix, no matter how dense, the Manhattan II also had superior resolving powers, with finer low-level details and less haze in the spaces between instruments across the soundstage. Finally, the Manhattan II seemed to add dynamic contrast.
To put the differences in perspective, my subsequent listening sessions have convinced me that the Manhattan ranks among the highest performing DACs I've experienced.
Competition and Comparisons
The primary competition for the Liberty is obviously a used Brooklyn, which should run you anywhere from $1200 to $1500 on the aftermarket. So, given that the two DACs sound virtually identical, it's a question of whether the added features available on a used Brooklyn warrant the increased cost (and lack of warranty). Personally, I would opt for a used Brooklyn if it was in the $1200 range, but if $1400 or above, I would go for the Liberty.
Of course, there many other DACs and DAC/preamplifiers priced under $1000 that are fine performers, such as the IFI xDSD ($399) or Project Pre Box S2 ($399), but they have different feature sets, and the IFI was designed to perform with portable devices as well as more static systems. Neither of these two include balanced analog outputs or desktop control apps.
Got $1000? Want a professional-quality sound that rivals what would have cost almost $2000 two years ago? Then you should look at the Mytek Liberty. Ideally suited for desktop, placed within hand's reach operation, since it lacks a remote, the Liberty is basically a stripped-down Mytek Brooklyn (not Brooklyn +) with no analog inputs, phono preamplifier, or detailed display. So, if you lusted after a Brooklyn's sonics, here's your chance to get that sound for half the price. How's that for value?