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D/A converter
M2TECH Vaughan

Price (in Poland): 26 000 zł

Manufacturer: M2TECH S.r.l.

Via Giuntini, 63 - Incubatore Polo Tecnologico
I-56023 Navacchio di Cascina (PI) | Italy
tel.: +39 (0)50 7519600 | fax: +39 (0)50 754707

Manufacturer’s website:

Country of origin: Italy

Product provided for testing by: GFmod Audio Research

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photos: Wojciech Pacuła | M2TECH
Translation: Janusz A. Szorc

Published: 1. January 2013, No. 104

For about a year now, reading e-mails from various manufacturers or distributors with information about their new products, I can be almost certain to come across the “PC” abbreviation in one of the paragraphs. Personal Computer, for that is what it stands for, is a sign of our times. Without it gone is the Internet, as there would be nothing to connect and without the Internet gone is "High Fidelity". And that would hurt me dearly.
Computer is but a calculating machine with a memory, executing instructions embedded in software. As it soon turned out, a very versatile machine. Is there anyone today who can imagine typesetting newspapers, magazines or books without a computer? Or sound recording and processing, for that matter? Great majority of contemporary musical recordings employs computer workstations and hard drives. Same is with remastering – the best remastering systems, usually connected with CEDAR, use its audio plugins. Since recently, the computer is also becoming an important audio source, sort of a “player.” There are those who believe that this is the only way to high-end or to replacing vinyl with the new generation media that preserves all the advantages of the analogue with all the additional advantages of the digital. Japan with its approach, merging the ultra-conservative with the ultra-modern or downright futuristic, is a perfect example. In most of their systems we will come across a turntable or two with multiple cartridges, next to an audio file player, which is nothing else but a highly specialized computer, or a laptop. They have their own fantastic magazine "Net Audio" dedicated exclusively to audio files and methods of their reproduction.

Keeping that in mind, one should not be surprised by an overrepresentation of devices broadly defined as "PC Audio" in audio magazines. It’s a sign of our times and we can do nothing about it, even if we associate the computer with something hardly manageable and far from relaxing, which is the feeling that should be associated with listening to music at home.
Solid number of experienced audio companies that have made their name in classical audio is trying to find themselves in this new reality. Some with better success than others, each one desperately trying to include in their product something related to PC, a USB port in most cases. Not that that does it any good, usually. That does not appeal to a traditional audiophile, as it is just an extra DAC in an amplifier or preamplifier, or money spent needlessly on such a port in a DAC. Neither does it appeal to modern techno-maniacs or simply people in the know, because the only thing that makes them tick is the most technologically advanced products and they do not tolerate any compromises on their way to Nirvana. For them the leaders are the companies on the very edge of “technological shock,” the companies that bring the changes about. Italian M2TECH is one of them.
Run by a woman, Nadia Marino, the company is fairly young and was founded with one goal in mind: to improve transfer of a USB signal and its conversion to the classic S/PDIF "understood" by older DACs. hiFace was a tiny plug connected to the computer and to an RCA socket on the other side. A typical digital to digital converter, it was one of the first, though, able to process 24 bit and 192 kHz signal. One cannot find the word "asynchronous" in its description but it does appear in the manual. M2TECH was not the first to implement that; the medal goes to Gordon Rankin who is the author of the first D/A USB converter, the Crimson from Wavelenght Audio. Introduced in 2004, it featured something equally exciting as a USB input, namely asynchronous transmission from the computer to the converter. The software, written by Gordon and stored in Texas Instruments TAS1020 controller, has been available under the name Streamlenght and implemented by a great number of audio manufacturers. To a good effect.
Gordon is still just half a digital man, so to speak. His first love were vacuum tubes and his beloved children SET amplifiers. M2TECH is nothing of the kind.

The company is one of the most active advocates of computer as an audio source, high-end source at that. All digital to analogue converters, because after the hiFace it is now their turn, have been designed with USB signal conversion in mind. There are of naturally other digital inputs; the reviewed model sports two optical ST, two TosLink, two RCA and two AES/EBU. All are 24 bit and 192 kHz capable, including 88.2 kHz. All current D/A converters are capable of that I believe.
However, on the first page of manual of the DAC introduced in May 2012 and presented for the first time during High End exhibition in Munich, we read something much more interesting: 384kHz/32BIT Digital-To-Analog Converter. The above has been made possible due to technological novelties, some of which we learned while reviewing the Young converter, others being totally new.
Indeed, the device accepts 32-bit 384 kHz signal but only via two inputs: I2S on Ethernet RJ45 port and USB.
That is not all, though. All double connectors can be configured in such a way that each connector receives one channel signal. This solution allows to bypass the limitation of digital receivers and has been used for years by such manufacturers as dCS or Chord Electronics. Using such dual channel link we can send 24 bit signal with maximum sampling frequency of 384 kHz. The Vaughan does not accept DSD signal, though.

M2TECH products featured so far in „HF”
  • AWARD: Best Sound Audio Show 2012 - Vaughan, D/A converter; see HERE
  • REVIEW: M2TECH YOUNG – D/A converter; see HERE
  • REVIEW: M2TECH hiFace EVO + EVO Supply + EVO Clock - D/D converter + power supply + master clock; see HERE

    A selection of recordings used during auditions:

    • Audio Accesory - T-TOC Records High Quality Data Master Comparison, TDVD-0002, DVD-R (2011), ripy 16/44,1, 24/96, 24/192 FLAC.
    • Random Trip, Nowe Nagrania, 005, CD (2012).
    • T-TOC Data Collection Vol. 1, T-TOC Records, DATA-0001, 24/96+24/192, WAV, ripy z DVD-R.
    • Al Di Meola, Flesh on Flesh, Telarc, 24/96, Ľródło: HDTracks, FLAC.
    • Ash Ra Tempel, Ash Ra Tempel, MG
    • ART/Belle, 101780, SHM-CD (1971/2010).
    • Ashra, Belle Aliance Plus, MG
    • ART/Belle, 121914-5, 2 x SHM-CD (1979/2012).
    • Brenda Lee, Let Me Sing, Decca/Universal Music Japan, UCCC-9111, "Decca 70th Anniversary, No. 30", (1963/2004).
    • Charlie Haden & Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim Label, 24/96 FLAC.
    • Chris Connor, Chris Connor, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25163, "Atlantic 60th", CD (1956/2007).
    • David Sylvian, Sleepwalkers, P-Vine Records, PVCP-8790, CD (2011).
    • Frank Sinatra & Count Basie, Might As Well Be Swing, Universal Music Japan, UICY-94601, "Sinatra Society of Japan, No. 17", SHM-CD (1964/2010).
    • Jim Hall Trio, Blues On The Rocks, Gambit Records, 69207, CD (2005).
    • Judy Garland, Judy in Love, Capitol/Toshiba-EMI, TOCJ9656, CD (1958/2005).
    • Lars Danielsson & Leszek Możdżer, Pasodoble, ACT Music, ACT 9458-2, CD; rip FLAC.
    • Metallica, Metallica , Warner Brothers Records, FLAC 24/96.
    • Miles Davis, Tutu, Warner Brothers Records, FLAC 24/96.
    • Portishead. Dummy, Go! Disc Limited/Universal Music [Japan], UICY-20164, SHM-CD (1994/2011).
    • Radiohead, The King Of Limbs, Ticker Tape Ltd, TICK001CDJ, Blu-spec CD.
    • SATRI Reference Recordings Vol. 2, Bakoon Products, FLAC 24/192.
    • SATRI Reference Recordings Vol. 1, Bakoon Products, FLAC 24/96.
    • Schubert, Lieder, wyk. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, dyr. Gerald Moore, "Signature Collection", EMI, 55962 2, 4 x SACD/CD.
    • Sonny Rollins, Tenor Madness, WAV 24/96, HDTracks.
    • The Montgomery Brothers, Groove Yard, Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0018-2, XRCD (1961/1994).
    • This Mortal Coil, HD-CD Box SET: It’ll End In Tears, Filigree & Shadow, Blood, Dust & Guitars, 4AD [Japan], TMCBOX1, 4 x HDCD, (2011).
    • Vangelis, Spiral, RCA/BMG Japan, 176 63561, K2, SHM-CD (1977/2008).
    • Yo-Yo Ma & Bobby McFerrin, Hush, Sony Music/Sony Music Hong Kong Ltd., 543282, No. 0441, K2HD Mastering, CD (1992/2012).
    Japanese editions available from

    The press feeds on differences, dichotomous preferably. They can be emphasized, turned inside out, vivisected and finally, after everybody is bored, can be negated. The press, audiophile press as well, needs “fuel” that would carry the message, primary one based on opposition of left-right, down-up, or cold-hot. It may sound cynical, because such actions rely on the needs and habits of readers, not always pure and noble. That is the world and reality, though. So if it provides a good way to bring across something more, something that would leave better impression or even leave any impression at all - I am all for it.

    Source: Compact Disc transport, PCM 44.1/16, RCA input

    The opposition that springs to mind after connecting the Vaughan to that system is cold-warm. If we consider Mark Levinson No.512 warm then the DAC under review must be cold. Its tonal balance is, compared to the Levinson, clearly shifted up.
    This opposition will probably survive every audition and each change of opinion cause it remained in place to the end of this "High Fidelity" review. The only problem is that does not say much about the device itself, obscuring the truth, in the same way as calling the Levinson "warm" also distorts the perceived image. Because if we call something "cold" it is often associated with other more pejorative characteristics such as "clinical", "devoid of emotions" and others, thus dismissing the device from the start. That is why I must start with an explanation that the Vaughan does not sound "cold" per se. It is not cold at all for f..k sake! That is how the common terminology fails, the language itself. Listening to Frank Sinatra and Count Basie album Might As Well Be Sing, listening to albums of great singers like Chris Connor, Judy Garland, Brenda Lee or even playing the latest album issued by Nowe Nagrania Random Trip i.e. club and trans music, I could not point to any aspect that was overemphasized. Vocals were incredibly precise, well placed in space and musical continuum. I will even say more: all the mentioned vocals had very nice color and were exquisitely differentiated. The emotions associated with singing, playing an important part of musical performance of all the above vocalists, were easy to read and pleasant to listen to.

    Precision is what plays the most important role in the presentation. That is indeed the key to this sound. It may also lurk behind the description "cold". There is nothing here that is artificially warmed, withdrawn, smoothed out. But that is exactly the way to "create" pleasant, nice sound. I do not mind that. One should be aware, however, that there will always be something missing, that it will always be some sort of interpreting of the presentation, where in order to achieve peaceful and relaxing mood some part of music is lost. If this is what we are after, the Vaughan immediately drops out of our shopping list, why bother?
    The Italian converter has its own place and does not need any labels. To assimilate it in one’s audio system one should find other compromises, no doubt about it. The phrase "no-compromise audio" is an empty expression, with no referent in reality but only existing in the creative minds of PR people working for manufacturers and distributors or in some dark corners of the mind of moronic (sadly) audio journalists.
    The M2TECH DAC sounds incredibly fast and clear. Its dynamics is far above par – on the level of far pricier CD players, not even all at that. Differentiation and all shades of dynamics is top shelf. The Levinson, for instance, an absolutely brilliant player presents recordings in a similar manner; outstanding but always similar none of the less. The reviewed device does not play the same twice, unless we play the same album again... The compromise, mentioned above, will require taking a stand on our requirements concerning sketching the shapes of instruments and their tangibility. The Vaughan’s sound is rather distanced. It is impossible to show that kind of dynamics and draw the phantom images towards the listener; it would require low volume levels. If, then, we push everything behind the line of speakers, we slightly reduce lower midrange saturation and the result is what we get here.

    And that is the main reason one could use the "warm-cold" opposition. The DAC seems to pull the music from the listener rather than push it forward. The minimal lifting of tone, i.e. withdrawing the lowest bass (its mid and upper range are fantastically controlled), as well as slight distancing of midrange, all adds up to create a sound which, lacking imagination, one might call "cold". Or even "bright". If you have, however, been with me for some time till now, you realize that its crap. How potent, though...

    Source: audio file player, WAV/FLAC 44.1/16 - 192/24, RCA input

    To be honest, there is not much to write about. The sound is better than the one from the CD while having a very similar signature. Changing resolution improves the sound depth and the size of phantom images. Dynamics becomes much more justified - it was far above par with the CD, yet only in comparison with hi-res material one finally knows the reason for it. I am not going to rabbit on, because the sole reason of pride for people from M2TECH relates to USB input.

    Source: laptop, WAV/FLAC 44.1/16 - 192/24, USB input

    Are you sometimes tired of all the ado around computer audio? I am and frequently so. There are so many problems with playing an album you need to overcome and still so much can go wrong that picking up a CD, powering up a CD player and pressing the "play" button seems to be a real bliss.
    And that is not all. I am under impression that a great number of D/A converters with an USB input trying to catch up with the top audio world does not show even a shadow of what the computer – theoretically – could provide as a source of digital signal, especially the hi-res signal. As if the mere presence of said input justified names like USB DAC or other mindless actions. The Vaughan mercilessly shows the truth. It is one of the very few DACs with USB input that fully deserves the name. Moreover, I had no shadow of a doubt as to positioning of RCA and USB inputs based on the sound from CDs (WAV/FLAC 44.1/16). The clear and outright winner is USB. Based on the descriptions of CDs played on high quality separate CD transports it easy to come to the conclusion that such a transport is a worthy device. It is only after we plug in the laptop and play something with a decent software player (JPlay for me, invariably) that we will be able to fully appreciate efforts of the engineers who called the Vaughan to life. No doubt about it! The USB input is the sole reason for this device!

    The sound played this way is accented lower and better saturated. Phantom images are bigger and more tangible. The latter is due to a better saturated lower midrange. The low bass is still rather withdrawn and not as well controlled as in the reference player. As there is not much of it – we are talking below 60 Hz range – it should not bother us too much. All that is above is another story.
    Not trying to split the hair, which is quite useful usually, it has to be said that the sound is "alive". And I swear, listening to subsequent songs and then whole records, including those in hi-res, I often had goose bumps and received a similar message to that when listening to vinyl. No, it is not the same, but the depth, saturation and dynamics gave the impression that the CD played from a CD player from the same price range seemed to be shallow, boring and dead. It is not the whole truth; CDs played on a good device can really rock, the Vaughan, however, showed something more, particularly with high resolution material.
    It is possible because it superbly differentiates the recordings, presenting their mood, production, details – no vivisection though. I would venture as far as to say that the sound from USB seems warm! Obviously, it only seems so; upper treble is pushed forward but calmness and control of midrange produce exactly that effect.
    Yes, the top end is clearly shown, which was evident earlier on. Because it does not involve the particularly irritating range, i.e. sibilants, it does not affect the listening experience. Only with the most demanding material such as the voice of David Sylvian or Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau this effect was audible indirectly through a hardening of "t" consonant. With all other material this will add to an effect of stronger aura around instruments and more evident background noise (air, interior).
    But it is not what is important. The most important message of this review is that the sound played from the computer can be fantastic. Starting the review from a CD transport I could not quite find myself. Not because there was something wrong but because I remembered slightly different sound from the Audio Show 2012. Now I know what made an impression on me and that the music was played from a computer, slightly hidden on the right, behind a loudspeaker. How can you reconcile the view of beautiful emphatically old school broad band Bodnar Audio speakers with a computer? The only common denominator is the sound, involving, filling the space between the speakers. Its character lets you forget the mechanics of reproduction and allows you to focus on music.

    Headphone amplifier

    All commercial materials on the Vaughan describe it as a 384 kHz/32 bit digital-to-analog converter. There is no mention of something that is an essential functional component – headphone amplifier. Disassembling the unit I learned that it is not a secondary addition but rather a full-fledged circuit, based on the output transistors, assembled on a separate, large PCB. The only component that couples it directly to the system is a digital volume control.
    That is why I approached this review section with interest. One can hear it's a decent device with very clean and dynamic sound. But I missed the saturation of bass and midrange. So my search focused on the AKG K701 and the HiFiMAN HE-300 headphones. Although it was the Sennheisers HD800 that emphasized the advantages I heard elsewhere as well as flat frequency response, they also quickly revealed the weakness of the system – the lack of a short, muscular bass and some thinning out of midrange.
    The system is not an equivalent to the Vaughan’s perfect DAC. Similarly, the preamp whose role is simply volume control; I would treat it as a useful – but still – option.


    Designing a product to become the flagship, manufacturers try to infuse it with all their knowledge and experience. That way they put all their reputation on the line. If it happens that something is not quite like the customers had imagined, if the sound does not meet their expectations, then making excuses that "they specialize in mainstream electronics and high-end is just a side project, something for fun" just won’t do. It is something that may ruin the company's image. I've seen a few times how it ends – dropping out of the market altogether.
    After auditioning the Vaughan DAC, knowing its technical objectives and how they have been implemented I can’t help but write the following conclusion: these people know what a high-resolution audio file is and are fully capable to control a USB input. For while I haven’t heard this device in its top form, i.e. with 32-bit and 384 kHz files (I have no equipment at home to provide such signal, although I have some DXD recordings), yet even what one can hear with the files ripped from CDs is exceptional. It is significantly better than what can be heard from the RCA line out, from the CD transport or from an average quality audio file player. No matter if we play 44.1/16 rips or 192/24.
    I've heard something like that only a few times in my life, e.g. with the Musica Ibuki Series Sekigahara Japan DAC (see HERE), but maybe that's why such experience is so moving. The Vaughan shows what computer audio is capable of if it is done right. It can be a completely new experience. It is no coincidence that the Japanese go crazy about turntables, Super Audio CD players and, as a matter of fact, computer audio, including stationary audio files players. Over the years of experience with the products of their hands I've learned I can’t ignore even their most bizarre ideas, because sooner or later I mature enough to understand what is going on. People from M2TECH realized it probably much earlier than others – USB is the gateway to a whole new world and they just opened it wide.


    The Vaughan is a digital-to-analog converter from Italian company M2TECH. Its integral part is digital volume control, making it a potential preamplifier or a headphone amp.
    The unit is very large, even larger than the Mark Levinson No.512 SACD player, which it replaced on the Acoustic Revive RAF-48H anti-vibration platform. The enclosure is made of thick aluminum plates. The front panel is shaped in a characteristic way for the manufacturer, i.e. features a very large (bravo!) red dot-matrix display covered behind, curved, perforated metal sheet. On the right side is a large, chrome volume knob and a 6.35 mm headphone jack, and on the other side are two buttons. One activates the menu and the knob then is used to move around, and the other is used to exit the menu or go into standby mode. If we want to completely disconnect the unit from the mains we can use a mechanical switch, located next to the IEC socket on the rear panel. The display can be dimmed in six steps or set to an automatic mode. The indications appear only if we change some setting, for example move the volume knob. I think it should be lit for a bit longer. The display indicates the selected input and the sampling frequency of the input signal. Turning the volume control knob we can read the current level – in dB or relative. The menu also displays the battery charge level, channel balance, and the absolute phase. The only thing that’s missing is displaying the word size (or bit depth: 16- or 24-bit).
    The rear is packed with digital inputs – after all we have 12 inputs to our disposal: 1 x USB B, 1 x I2S RJ45, 2 x S/PDIF RCA, 2 x S/PDIF 75 Ω BNC, 2 x AES/EBU XLR, 2 x Toslink , 2 x ST. Apart from Toslinik (24/96 kHz), all others accept signal up to 192 kHz and 24 bit. They can also be used in dual-cable setup – a solution used for example by dCS and Chord. We can then send a signal up to 384 kHz (Toslink - 192 kHz). I2S and USB inputs are different. Both accept the 32-bit 384 kHz signal via a single cable. If need arises, an external reference clock can be used, via a BNC input. I2S connector is galvanically isolated from the circuit. Besides, other inputs also sport matching transformers.
    Analog outputs are balanced XLRs (hot pin = 2) and RCM sockets. All connections appear to be very solid.

    The Vaughan is actually several M2TECH devices in one box. However, it is not an assembled "kit" - all circuits and systems have been custom designed and built for this project.
    In the center, not surrounded by electronics (good!) is a switching power supply housed in a perforated metal cage. Its integral part is mains filter, preventing high frequency noise from being transmitted back to the mains. That could have an adverse effect on power supply systems for other circuits in the system. This power supply is not connected to the audio circuit – it does not "communicate" with anything. It is just a charger for the LiPo battery located in the neighboring compartment. Everything here is battery-operated.
    The main circuit is mounted on one large PCB. Lower inputs are soldered directly to it and the upper to an auxiliary PCB. I would use the former, just to be sure… The signal path is as follows: from buffered inputs the signal goes to Burr Brown digital receiver circuits DIX 41921. Next, it is sent to the powerful Xilinx Spartan-6 DSP which implements coded in-house upsampling unit and digital filters. It seems that this is also where digital volume control is. As we read in the company materials, the input signal is processed with 64-bit precision, so there is no concern about any resolution reduction. Next step is the actual D/A conversion. This stage features as many as eight Burr-Brown PCM1975 stereo DACs; four ICs, and so eight converters per channel. This solution is used successfully by many companies, such as Accuphase and T+A. It helps to minimize quantization errors and drastically reduce noise and distortion. Interestingly, this arrangement has been used to the maximum. The ICs are simply not connected with each other. Each one of them is a complete stereo system, with own analog section, i.e. IU conversion. In the output stage, in gain and buffering we find IT OPA2211 systems. The whole audio circuit is surface mount, featuring quality passive elements (e.g. Wima polypropylene capacitors), and resembles what we already know from the Young. Here it's just in multiple form.
    The headphone amplifier is mounted on a separate board, attached to the rear panel. In the input there is a quad chip Analog Devices AD8674, and the output is based on a pair of transistors in push-pull mode. The transistors are mounted onto an aluminum plate, which in turn is bolted to the rear panel.
    It is worth mentioning the beautifully designed clock circuits, one for each of family 44.1 and 48 kHz), and the DSP chip system at the USB input, which implements asynchronous receiver 32/384.

    Technical specifications (according to manufacturer):

    Inputs and outputs:
    Digital: 1 x USB B, 1 x I2S RJ45, 2 x S / PDIF RCA, 2 x S / PDIF 75 Ω BNC, 2 x AES / EBU XLR, 2 x Toslink, 2 x ST, 1 x external clock 75 Ω BNC
    Analog: 2 x RCA, 2 x XLR, 1 x 6.35 mm (headphones)
    Sampling frequencies:
    44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz, 352.8 kHz, 384 kHz


    • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition, review HERE
    • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
    • Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE), Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE
    • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III [Signature Version] with Re-generator Power Supply
    • Power amplifier: Soulution 710
    • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom Version, review HERE
    • Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
    • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro; 600 Ω version, review HERE, HERE, and HERE
    • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300 (article HERE, preamp-power amp: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
    • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review HERE
    • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
    • Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE
    • Stand: Base; under all components
    • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under the CD and preamplifier
    • Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS [Custom Version]; review HERE