World Premiere Review!
Note: Months after the review the manufacturer realized this unit its their EVO Pro and not B4B 21 DAC 2021 Version. We've left the below text the same, yet readers should be aware this error from the manufacturer.
Mojo Audio, located in Albuquerque, NM, is the brainchild and passion of Benjamin Zwickel, President, CEO, and chief designer. Although not as well recognized as the big-name manufacturers, Benjamin has established his brand as a manufacturer direct digital source alternative that offers enormous value in performance and routinely hits way above its price point. Do not confuse this Mojo with the Chord Mojo portable DAC... not the same. I have previously had a positive experience with his DACs within my pre-reviewer days and I was thrilled at the opportunity to formally review the Mojo Audio Mystique EVO B4B 21 D/A Converter. Having gone through several iterations, the current model line-up nomenclatures are all Mystique EVO 21 DACs. The 21 is for, you guessed it, 2021. There is a Basic model ($7777.77), the B4B or Bang for Buck model ($9777.77) and the Pro model ($11,777.77).
The "EVO" designation implies that the unit can evolve from a Basic to a Pro by upgrading power supplies, shielding, etc. now or at a later date. I was sent the B4B version with the Class A output stage, the analog signal path, and the ERS paper shielding, all of which as of 1/2/21 are standard and no longer upgrade options on the B4B. The EVO Pro will come standard with more intensive shielding, a whole new more advanced shielding package (with tiny high-tech materials bonded directly to the most critical chips as well as considerably more ERS paper lining, Perfect Path Technologies Graphene magnetic sheets, Mu Metal, and other advanced shielding materials), and the most sophisticated power supply options.
Other across the board additions in 2021 are a 100% zinc plated cold rolled carbon steel chassis for better EMI shielding, more rigid TG 180 core circuit boards and laser etched lettering into the attractive polymer finish.
To step right into it, the elephant in the room with Mojo gear is that Benjamin's Mojo Audio is a relatively small independent business and is essentially a one-man show, like a lot of smaller manufacturers in this industry. I confronted him directly with this question as it frequently comes up when discussing smaller audio manufacturers.
Me: "If you quit / retire / close for any reason than service and resale value becomes an issue. It's a big reason many people avoid small brands like yours. No offense. "
Benjamin: "No offense taken. It will certainly take a lot to fill my shoes, and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to hire and train such a person. At the same time, my gear is built to last for decades, the circuits are extremely basic, the parts are readily available, and there should be no problem finding a qualified tech to work on my gear after I'm worm food. Half of the schematic for my DACs are on the AD1862 DAC chip datasheet and the schematic for the S/PDIF stage is on the CS8416 S/PDIF receiver datasheet. I didn't need to reinvent the wheel... only make it spin more true. I would think of me like Carroll Shelby: plenty of people can fix or update a Shelby Cobra but it took Carroll Shelby to design and build it. Any qualified tech or EE who can read a datasheet could fix one of my DACs. In the late 1960s the question was: did you want to give Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Maserati over $20,000 or give Shelby only $7500 to build you a world-class high-performance car? Audiophiles should be asking themselves the same question when it comes to my DACs :^)."
Carrol Shelby chose to work with a Ford V8 and Benjamin chose the DAC chip version in the Analog Devices' classic monolithic AD1862 R-2R ladder DAC chip. To quote their web page, " our EVO DAC converts PCM format files up to 24-bit at 192kHz via Femto clocked USB, S/PDIF coaxial, or balanced AES. Optional BNC and TosLink optical available. The fifth of our independent power supplies is "floating" from all other AC and DC grounds. This 100% isolates the USB input from all other power supplies and eliminates the need for any external USB reclocking or regeneration devices. To minimize input signal degradation, our digital input stages use six dedicated ultralow-noise Belleson SPX regulators and over 6000uf of organic polymer capacitance. Each stage is independently powered and all stages are galvanically isolated from USB buss power."
Without going into too much tech talk about Vishay "Nude" resistors (this is a family review site you know) and Mundorf capacitors, I suggest you check out the EVO B4B web page to see the nitty-gritty specs. Needless to say there is a lot in that simple black box, and everything is meticulously laid out to improve overall sonic performance. The case is a custom two piece highly rigid fabricated chassis with all stainless steel hardware. Internally, every circuit board floats on Sorbothane mounts and is isolated by quarter inch barriers to shield each section from EMI and RFI. The unit is elegantly finished in a textured very resilient baked on polymer finish (which also reduces mechanical resonance by roughly 11%), the back inputs and outputs are widely spaced to make for easy access, the IEC connector holds a heavy power cord firmly, the USB connector held firmly and was very stable, and the unit feels like it is filled with lead bricks when you pick it up.
The front has very large and attractive tone-on-tone laser etching, which will only cut half way through the black baked on finish. This is a smooth flat black lettering on a shiny textured black background, and three buttons to select the digital input S/PDIF Coax (RCA or BNC), USB, balanced S/PDIF (AES or optional TosLink optical). I exclusively used my PC windows based Memory Player and it synced instantly with multiple drivers via the USB connection; one of the most reliable and robust windows to DAC connections I have experienced to be honest.
What does need to be highlighted is that this DAC is PCM only; up to 24 bits at 192 kHz. No DSD, no DXD, no MQA... Just PCM. Thank you, don't let the door hit you on your way out. If that's a problem, stop reading here and look elsewhere. It was not a problem for me, which is important since I'm the guy reviewing the thing. Yes, I enjoy MQA on Tidal, and yes I have DSD files yet find myself streaming mostly from Qobuz's true lossless Hi-Res Music these days, and so Qobuz and the Mojo B4B played together quite nicely indeed. With the fact that the proprietary lossy MQA format uses filtering to improve a selection of Tidal's source material, I would like to see more DACs implementing MQA provided sound quality is not compromised elsewhere. But neither of my reference DACs (each in the range of $40,000 retail) do MQA, so no MQA in the B4B was a non-issue for me and probably for many of you reading this too.
Let us touch on the other two DAC's in the room. The Light Harmonic Davinci 2 has been my reference for many years, and my newly acquired Pilium Elektra is still burning in (about 440 hours as of my typing this). I will admit that I do frequently consider jumping onto the MSB or DCS DAC-train to have an MQA compatible DAC in my rack, but what I have sounds SO good I don't feel the need to change. As mentioned, these two DAC's are approximately four times more expensive than the B4B, and both at the very top of their game. During my comparisons, and to Benjamin's enormous credit, I never felt the Mystique EVO B4B to be massively outclassed. As its name implies, this DAC is seriously an amazing bang for buck!
For God's sake Matt, how does the thing sound already????
How Does The Mojo Mystique EVO B4B 21 DAC
Upon mentioning this to Benjamin, he responded, "Thank you for recognizing the organic and analog-like quality of the EVO. This is significant in that what separates us from most other digital to analog converters is that we focus on both the power supply and analog signal path performance as opposed to boasting about some inaudible digital resolution. The concept that the "upgrades" between our models are mostly power supply related is quite unique among digital sources."
My listening list has matured and expanded over time. The songs I use are not necessarily songs I like anymore. If I never heard Hugh Masekela's "Coal Train (Stimela)" on Jive Africa [Jive JVD-0330B, 44.1 kHz/16-bit] or Shelby Lynn's "You Don't Have to Say you Love Me" from Just a Little Lovin' [Lost Highway Records, FLAC 192kHz/24-bit] again, I'd be just fine with that. But the familiarity I have developed with these tracks makes them as reliable and necessary for delineating subtle differences in components as a chemist using standard solutions in their lab.
With that being said, I got smoke in my eyes while listening to Hugh and that cowbell sounded about as real as I've ever heard it sound. The drum kit was wide, deep, realistically conveyed, and punched me in the gut. And that sexy saxophone floated in the air and had that resolving brassy bite that makes you think vinyl, not digital. Mussorgsky's "Dance Of The Persian Slaves" from Khovanshchina, Act IV [Pentatone, FLAC 96kHz/24-bit] is a reliable scaling tool and the B4B scaled like a rock climber rocketing up the side of an indoor climbing wall. It also painted a symphonic image with realistic width, depth, and height.
Yellow's "Out Of Dawn" from Touch Yellow [Polydor 0602527194851, 44.1 kHz/16-bit] techno beat and deep vocals can challenge any component from source to speaker. The B4B offered a palpable, exciting presentation that drew me in and wouldn't let go. It happens to be a track that can keep my attention or lose it very quickly based on the component under review. I ended up listening to Out of Dawn and two other songs from the album before moving on. This seemed to be a recurring theme.
Billie Eilish's & Burn from Don't Smile At Me [Darkroom 7799202, 44.1 kHz/16-bit] is a great track because it's almost anti-audiophile. Yes, it has got cool alternating stereo sound effects, match strikes, and a just off-center vocal that, when properly placed, is about five feet behind the speaker line. But it's a classic pop song with a bold, dramatic statement and drum pattern that congeals with her unique vocal qualities. When properly reproduced, you hear width beyond the speakers, depth beyond the front wall, and textures and colors I sometimes miss with our more routine "go-to" audiophile tracks. The B4B did it right and made me want more.
Finally, Bruno Coulais's soundtrack to Himalaya, The Rearing Of A Chief has a track titled "Norbu" [Peermusic France 030206718928, 44.1 kHz/16-bit] that has this wonderful contradictory ethnic drumming alternating with a pure native string instrument plucking, and an overlying haunting chant. The piece is beautiful, deep, eerie, and mesmerizing and you should add it to your listening list right now. Those drum pulses alternate between impactful and visceral, and the B4B gave me not only what I wanted, but what the song offered. The backgrounds were black and deep, the deep strikes conveyed proper texture and I could feel the vibration and impulses conveyed by each mallet striking the drum's massive animal skin. The plucking was clean and clear with fast and true leading and trailing edges. Like the other pieces, when I go through the entire track and enjoy what it has to offer instead of looking at my listening list to see what's next, I know I'm in my audiophile happy place.
The B4B would be a great source for either tube or solid-state equipment, and I believe would work with most equipment without worrying about meticulous system matching. Well implemented cable voicing can help to get the most out of combining the B4B with pretty much any system. If you are looking for analytical or tubey warmth, the B4B won't give it to you on its own; but it will work well with associated equipment to give you what you want.
I hate using the term "analog" as it's a vague misnomer at best, and at worst, downright misguided. But in this case, it applies. PCMag defined Analog Audio as, "Recorded audio in a format of continuous vibrations that are analogous to the original sound waves." In this regard, the Mojo Mystique EVO B4B sounds analog. It's about vibrations and sound waves, not about zeros and ones.
I can't really say anything bad about the Mojo Mystique EVO B4B 21 DAC, and I try to find something bad to say about everything. Is it the best DAC I have ever heard? No, it doesn't quite offer the level of refinement, resolution, scale, truly reference complexity or texture, low-frequency palpability and natural presentation that my $40,000 Davinci 2 and Elektra offer. But for around $10,000, holy crap it is really good!!! I have heard many many DACs in the $4000 to $16,000 price range,. And the Mojo Mystique is not the most resolving, not the most dynamic, certainly not the most recognized, not the warmest, and not the most expensive.
What the Mojo Mystique EVO B4B 21 DAC is, is one of the most musical, emotionally engaging, flexible, bullet-proof DACs I've heard at any price. With a 45-day no-risk audition policy, and a 90-day full-value upgrade policy, if you're looking for a DAC in the $10,000 and up category its a flat out no brainer for an audition. There's nothing to dislike, and a whole lot to fall in love with.
Note: Enjoy the Music.com's world premiere review is thanks to this version Matt Clott was given. This is a 2021 'prototype', yet housed within Mojo Audio's 2020 chassis to get this review done in time. Mojo Audio is in the process of completing their last production run with 2021 upgrades inside their remaining 2020 chassis (like photo), which are all pre-sold. Mojo Audio will have their zinc plated steel chassis at the end of this month (February 2021).
DAC Chipset: Analog Devices monolithic AD1862 R-2R ladder DAC.
Converts PCM format files up to 24-bit 192KHz via USB, coaxial S/PDIF, AES, or optical TosLink.
Direct-coupled ultrahigh-performance Staccato Class A discrete OpAmps
Hardware-based de-multiplexing to ensure perfect phase and time coherency.
Five independent choke input power supplies with Mundorf M-Lytic AG+ four-pole capacitors.
Sixteen Belleson SPX ultralow-noise regulators
Cryo'd Kimber VSS VariStrand wire
Vishay TX2575 "Nude" resistors matched to 0.1% tolerance in analog signal path.
S/PDIF inputs with Lundahl amorphous core transformers and Vishay Nude resistors.
Furutech connectors and OCC UniCrystal wire in foamed Teflon dielectric in signal path.
Advanced discrete double-Pi multistage cascaded AC input filtering.
Ground lift switch to isolate DC signal ground from Earth, chassis, and AC grounds.
Optional Graphene magnetic sheeting for ultralow-noise black hole imaging.
Sorbothane anti-resonant standoffs under PC boards and Sorbothane feet under chassis.
Optional Stillpoints Ultra Mini, Ultra II, or Ingress Audio RollerBlock anti-resonance feet.
Dimensions: 17.5" x 3.5" x 12" (WxHxD)
Weight: 29 lbs.
Price: $7777.77 on up depending on options.