Mojo Audio Mystique V3 Non-Oversampling R-2R
Back in April of 1980, when I was a lad of 15, I went to a recording session that featured one of the new digital tape recorders. This big device on wheels translated the microphone's sound into binary ones and zeros and recorded it on special 1/4" reel-to-reel tape. This process, known as Analog-to-Digital Conversion (ADC), resulted in a near-perfect approximation of the incoming signal, unlike traditional analog magnetic tape, which requires special biasing and noise reduction. Anyway, this conversion to binary numbers allowed the finished and edited album to feature sound quality that was presumably exactly the same as that heard on digital master tapes, because the source and distributed copies are all identical numerical clones of each other.
Today it is typical to have this same conversion technology built into nearly every hand held cell phone, tablet, and laptop. But in the pre-CD days before 1983, recordings that were released on LP and Cassette tapes tended to have a lot of background noise relative to modern digital recordings. And LPs required sonic compromises during the cutting process in order to play properly on most turntables of the time. Consequently, the finished LPs of this era did not always sound like the original master recordings they were made from, especially if they had been captured and produced entirely digitally.
Of course, to hear the digital binary Pulse Code Modulation (PCM), that was contained on the finished digital master tape and CD, one has to convert it back to analog. Then as now, a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) is the interface between the coded digital recordings (PCM, DSD, MQA, etc.), and the analog world where our ears live. Today all cell phones, tablets, computers, car audio systems, multi-track home cinemas, and high-end two-channel digital audiophile systems, each contain a DAC.
All DACs are designed to take in a sequential series of binary numbers and output an analog signal that is supposed to be a precise match for what was fed into the original ADC during the recording process. But this is where a tragic and significant audible difference creeps into an otherwise beautifully conceived binary methodology for the theoretically perfect capturing and replaying of any sound.
Digital: Perfect Sound Forever
The two basic categories are "Multi-Bit" or "Ladder" DACs and "Single-Bit" or "Sigma-Delta" DACs. These two categories of DACs can be implemented into more advanced and hybrid designs that are used in most modern DACs. And any of these technologies can incorporate different types of noise shaping, upsampling, oversampling, digital signal processing (DSP), digital filters, and format transcoding. Below are simplified descriptions of some of the more popular DAC technologies:
A) Multi-Bit R-2R Ladder DAC
B) Multi-Bit Binary Weighted DAC
C) Multi-Bit Segmented DAC
D) Single-Bit Oversampling Delta-Sigma DAC
E) Single-Bit And Multi-Bit Hybrid DAC
F) FPGA Hybrid DAC
Because R-2R DACs have been around the longest, hence having had the most time and money invested in their perfection, there are many highly regarded companies, such as Schitt, Metrum, Soekris, Total DAC, Aqua, and CAD, that believe the best way to achieve sonic digital perfection is with this oldest, simplest, and most modest DAC technology. And below is my review of one of the newest R-2R DAC contenders, the Mojo Audio Mystique v3.
It was clear to me that an audiophile label such as Chesky should embrace the high-end, stand alone, state-of-the-art DACs of the day, in order to fully realize the sonics inherent in their unique single microphone approach, and 128x 20-bit Analog-to-Digital conversion; a pre-cursor to Double-Rate DSD and also used by Telarc, at this time. I had been reading various audio magazines such as Stereophile, Audio, The Absolute Sound, and Stereo Review for some time and was well aware of their top Digital-to-Analog (DAC) converter choices. So, we started off by adding the Theta Digital Generation II Binary Weighted Multi-bit DAC ($3250) to both the recording and editing systems, which I manned daily.
First recording we made after changing DACs? Clark Terry Live at the Village Gate [JD49] and also The Second Set [JD127] from that same live session recording in October 1990. Here, we had the rare opportunity to watch and listen to engineer Bob Katz drop in a single AKG-C24 stereo microphone set to figure-8 pickup. He'd make an adjustment to the mic's position or band member seating location and then we'd go to the control room and have a listen on Stax, Sony, and AKG headphones, as well as on a special pair of Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble Speakers that I had gotten directly from designer Henry Kloss for this recording session. The improvement in imaging detail, tactility, dynamics, and soundstage size due to listening through the Theta DAC were all palpable and quite obviously an improvement. In fact, the better DAC made it possible to create better sounding more believable recordings. Just have a listen to Vivaldi's The Four Seasons [CD78] which I produced and recorded a year and a half later using the same microphone and an even better DAC.
As the years went by, stand alone DACs from Analog Devices, Audio Research, Goldmund, Krell, Stax, Manley, Sony, Pioneer, Ultra Analog, Wadia, and Yamaha all came in and out of regular use while we made one album after another of jazz, classical, blues, pop, new age, Latin, soundtrack, etc. As early as 1993, we were recording 16-bits at 96 kHz. And all these varying musical genres made me acutely aware of just how the digital to analog process, as well as the driving amplifier's electrical relationship to the speakers, contribute directly to a very wide range of possible sound characteristics: brighter, duller, bigger, smaller, wider, deeper, more or less dynamic, etc. These differences in sonic character were more than many might imagine could exist when listening to the same exact digital master tapes. One reason why I believe some of the labels I respect the most, such as Dorian Records and Reference Recordings, have produced such a consistently excellent and identifiable sound quality in their albums, is because for years they used Wadia and Spectrum components throughout their recording, editing, and playback systems.
Fast-Forward To Yesterday
Over the last quarter century, there have been many changes in how we buy and hear music. Bit depth has increased from 16-bits to 32-bits; sampling frequency has increased from 44.1 to 768 kHz; and huge libraries of HD recordings are now available to stream online. As such, I continue comparing many of the same recordings on new vs. older formats, such as SACD vs. DVD-Audio vs. LP vs. Reel-to-Reel Tape. I have made it a special point to closely study certain recordings, albums, and tracks I know and love. These comparisons have taken decades of dedicated listening and observation and occurred with the widest possible variety of high-end and low-end speakers, in both large and small acoustic listening spaces, and with a plethora of associated recording and playback gear. The results have varied sonically based on many factors. Yet, when everything is said and done, even a first edition LP pressing from 50 years ago can be made to shine like new on today's playback gear. Often far better then anyone had heard it at the time of it's production and release. And surprisingly as good or better than today's best efforts to restore and re-master the same.
So it will not surprise you that my preference when it comes to DACs and other audio gear leans to the sonically invisible. I want my gear to simply get out of the way so I can actually hear what is going on with each different recording. Aural colorations are to be avoided at all costs because these change the balance of the sound that I am listening to, which could result in my changing or altering something during the production or mastering process in error. As a producer and reviewer I demand this completely transparent window on my music presentation or else I would forever be chasing after a certain sound characteristic while never truly achieving it. Therefore, for me certain DACs and other audio gear make the grade of ultimate transparency (A+) while others are sometimes a complete departure from that pure neutrality (B+). Though these more colored components often sound very good or even terrific in a very specific way, they are not audibly invisible within the reproduction chain.
I'll say that again: Sonically neutral and colorless is what I'm after; whether microphone, speaker, amplifier or DAC. Yet, such honesty in audio also means that certain tracks, songs, and albums just don't sound very good, especially if they are made and mastered or remastered under less than transparent listening conditions. Good recordings sound great, while bad recordings can sound terrible. It all depends on which recordings, who released them, which source they were taken from, and what gear they are played on. For those of you that are interested in making similar comparisons, many of these details are available in the cover notes
The Gloves Come Off:
Comparison Of The Century
What do I mean by this? Well, with my 37 years of listening to digital recordings from both sides of the microphone, and my 49 years of paying attention to fine sounding recordings and performances, I feel I can confidently make some observations that will have value long after I stop typing my professional opinion. And I can site some interesting examples of music and recordings, both rare and well know, that you can get a hold of to make your own listening conclusions. Please realize that there often is need to make adjustments to the listening room, speaker's location, and other factors in order to achieve good sound. And in order to hear a lot of what I'll be discussing, one needs to at least be able to have a good sounding system, regardless of price points and age of gear.
Lastly, whether listening to a 32-bit/384kHz file from a music server, or a 44.1kHz Red Book CD in a spinning transport, or a Lame MP3 from an iPod, the same exact music will sound just fine if it was properly recorded and the system is properly set up. Even the best of components will sound poorly if you and the speakers are not properly aligned with and tuned to the room. This includes your sitting with the speakers being in close to an equilateral triangle together, proper seating height, speaker rake angle and toe-in, system frequency response, and several other factors we don't have time and space to discuss. Read on, if you dare. But be certain to make your own comparisons using known reference materials before criticizing any of my remarks; you may be surprised what you have been missing all these years from your system(s).
The Mystique V3 DAC:
Zwickel also told me that he didn't actually have any intention to get into the manufacturing end of the audiophile industry, it just happened serendipitously when he decided to go back to college in 2009 to get a degree in Computer Electronics Engineering Technology; at the age of 49, no less. His intention was to transition into medical tech or aeronautical electronics after graduation. But like most students he needed money. So he started selling hand-made power cables created from vintage Western Electric wire and offering R-2R DAC upgrades on eBay as a part-time gig.
By the end of his first semester, Mojo Audio's popularity and sales had grown so much that he had to hire other students to work for him. In his last semester he was the first student in the history of the college to get special dispensation to write up and present his first commercial linear power supply, the Joule v1, instead of the portfolio and capstone project all other classmates were required to do prior to graduation. He confided in me that he drove most of his instructors a bit crazy. And... I know the feeling.
Though it was the power cables, linear power supplies, and Mac Mini upgrades that brought in the money, Zwickel's obsessive compulsive passion for the past 25 years has always been to develop a DAC that produced life-like music. Nearly all products sold by Mojo Audio were developed so as to allow him to do the R&D on his DAC. And nearly all of Mojo Audio's profits from day one went back into R&D on this pet DAC project.
Early on, he came to the conclusion that non-oversampling R-2R topology resulted in what he considered to be the most natural and life-like presentation from a digital source he had heard. He wanted to learn from the masters, so he spent countless hours studying schematics, doing upgrades on, and using non-oversampling conversions of the best vintage R-2R CDPs and DACs from Sony, Marantz, and Philips.
If you skipped past all that detail above in Section 2 that concerned historic DAC designs, I'll just summarize here by saying that R-2R based-circuit design for a D/A chip is the oldest practical technology, and also the simplest and easiest to make sound very good, or even great. Apparently Zwickel agrees with me on that point. By 2009, he decided that there just wasn't enough space in these vintage CDP and DAC chassis to fit the parts that he wanted to use. So he began modifying DAC boards made by other companies, building custom power supplies, and putting them in custom chassis.
Mojo Audio sold a handful of these hand-built DACs, but their real business was Mac Mini upgrades. Like myself, by 2005 or so, he had decided to dabble with Apple Mac Mini computers and refine their ability to act as great sounding digital music servers through use of better power supplies, superior wire, low-latency RAM, SSD storage, optimized OS X, and bit-perfect music playback software, such as Pure Music, Audirvana 3, and JRiver Media Center 23. Since he had been building "silent" media servers for personal use as far back as the early 1990's, it is no wonder he'd been successful in marketing and selling a line of dedicated outboard power supplies and tweaked out media systems to audiophiles, videophiles, and music lovers over the years.
Yet, with all this, it wasn't until Zwickel started to designed his first DAC from scratch in 2012 that Mojo Audio actually got seriously into the DAC business. His goal was to design the most musical DAC that could be sold for under $3000 -- a price point that he considered to be affordable by most serious audiophiles (including himself).
And thus was born the first Mojo Audio Mystique v1 DAC in 2013, engineered with his own circuit boards in a simple square chassis and based on the AD1865 18-bit DAC chip. It was non-oversampling, and only had a single input (USB or S/PDIF), but what really set it apart was the isolated power supplies feeding each type of chip or clock independently with nine Belleson ultra low-noise regulators. It also had an unusually hardware-based 6X IC demultiplexing circuit that realigned the left and right channel's digital words so they are not the typical 13 bits apart in time. The direct-coupled output was the necessary final step in the design, with no capacitors or transformers in the signal path, thus assuring the shortest, most transparent and phase accurate reproduction possible. The Mystique v1 DAC sold for just under $2,000! Interestingly enough, Zwickel has used an almost an identical circuit in every future incarnation of his Mystique DAC, including this new v3 on review, here.
Within 12 months, Zwickel had made further improvements by coming out of the current output of the AD1865 DAC chip and into a new output stage utilizing some of the best signal path components possible, like OPA627 IC op amps, Vishay TX2575 "Nude" resistors, metal foil and polystyrene film capacitors, and a total of 11 Belleson regulators - two more than in his v1. By late 2014 Mojo Audio released a Mystique v2 DAC in the same simple square chassis as the v1, with the same Analog Devices AD1865 DAC chip, but with the new output stage that resulted in significantly smoother and more articulated sound quality. The Mystique v2 sold for just under $2,500.
Not satisfied even here, in 2015 Zwickel decided to build the DAC of his dreams – cost is no object – the culmination of 25 years of R&D. While researching the Mystique v3 he discovered even better sounding component parts to substitute, like Sparkos discrete op amps, which he incorporated into the Mystique v2 Plus during the first half of 2016. The v2 Plus was almost identical to the v2 and sold for the same price. Numerous requests have resulted in a re-release of the newly upgraded version of the Mystique v2: the v2 SE will sell for the same $2500 as the v2 and v2 Plus.
Finally, after an additional two years of continued R&D, Zwickel released the Mystique v3 DAC, which first became available the middle of 2017. This new, wider-shaped product, features three inputs (optical, coaxial, and USB) and an upgraded pair of 20-bit Monolithic AD1862 DAC chips. For those of you unfamiliar with digital math, these 20-bit chips have 4-times the digital resolution of the 18-bit chips he used in the v1, v2, and v2 Plus.
But what really sets the Mystique v3 apart from its predecessors are the five choke input power supplies, similar to those he developed for his new Illuminati series of dedicated outboard power supplies. For those of you that are neither electronics historians or techs, the choke input power supply was developed about 90 years ago by Western Electric for use in military field radios. It is still used in the most expensive of tube amplifiers, but is completely unheard of in a low-power component like a DAC, let alone the use of five of them!
By adding a choke between the rectifier and first capacitor of a power supply the crest factor, heat, and parts wear are reduced by literally 50%. The choke also acts as a reservoir for power and pre-regulates the DC, doubling the efficiency and effectiveness of each consecutive stage of filtering. Mojo Audio's Illuminati power supply concept combines the best of old-school heavy iron choke input regulation, feeding a highly decoupled four-pole Mundorf AG+ capacitor, with modern ultra low-noise ultra high-dynamic Belleson regulators.
The fifth power supply in the Mystique v3 is used for the USB input and is 100% galvanically isolated from the other four power supplies... not even the ground plain is shared with anything else. To my knowledge, this is the most isolated USB input topology without resorting to an external transformer or re-clocking system of some type, such as those made by iFi Audio, Wyred4Sound, and SOtM.
The reviews I read of the Mystique v2.0 were very positive, indeed, describing the sound produced as reminiscent of hearing real instruments with believable timbres resolved in palpable live acoustic spaces. Given the tendency for hyperbole in the press and on the internet, I didn't know what to expect when I first unpacked and warmed up the v3 back in October 2017. But it was clear from the outset that this was a no nonsense design, with only what is needed for the best possible audio reproduction, while still maintaining a relatively accessible pricing for high-end audio gear. No AC power chords are included with Mojo Audio's products, so I used a variety, including Cardas, LessLoss, Hi-Fi Tuning, and the new Skogrand SC Wagner Power chord. I'll discuss observations made in both my large (treated) studio mastering room, and my medium sized (untreated) living room using the same recordings. In both cases, the Mystique v3 was plugged directly into the chosen amplifier via a variety of interconnects, both ordinary and super high-end. And I tried a variety of vibration isolation products from both Solid-TECH, Navcom, Iso-Hexagon and so on in comparison to the feet that come with it.
Listening Tests: Transparency
The aural fun continued on the Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me film soundtrack from 1992. Track 4, Don't Do Anything (I Wouldn't Do), continues the same high level of super studio recording technique, but with a larger ensemble that now includes bowed and plucked bass, xylophone, piano, and drum kit. And along with Track 5: A Real Indication, which includes weird vocals and Sax obbligato that punctuates a wide and deep soundstage, containing many discrete musical and sonic elements, which seem to mix naturally. Not at all the electronic digital facsimile that I have come to expect in so many ways and on so many systems that often sound bigger than life. Again, the bowed bass is visceral as is the voice, coming from a place well beyond either of my listening rooms actual back and side walls. In each track mentioned above, as well as the many other examples from David Lynch's The Twin Peaks Archive, I find a rare level of sonic and musical transparency that will easily help you get the most out of any playback system, quickly and enjoyably. Note this collection of 213 tracks was released in 48 kHz online, offering superior sound quality to CD.
Listening Tests: Transparency
Tracks 3, 5, and 7 are just as much fun. You'll thrill to what can only be called a stunning mirage of sound. Even my mini schnauzer, Nero, could not help himself as he tried to figure out where the music was coming from. Mind you, this was only with the Mojo Audio DAC and not any of the others on hand for this review. That's high praise because this dog regularly hears the highest levels of fidelity and is used as a guide for proper timbre and spatial projection from audio gear. If there are 3D qualities in the recording, the dog will clearly look in those directions. I also must point out that his ability to hear and respond to sounds with precise, repeatable results is a mainstay in making sure my evaluations are actually dealt with honestly, having a third party with hearing that is better than any of ours, also assessing the sound. And dare I say this was the result with more than just one set of speakers or amps during the comparison and review period.
Listening Tests: Dynamics (A)
In order to hear truly wide dynamics, you need to listen under very, very quiet conditions. And this can often reveal aspects of even your favorite songs that you simply never heard before. And given the apparently low, low (forgive the repeat) noise floor and ultra low jitter that propagate Zwickel's well considered Mystique v3 DAC design, new things were revealed to me in surprising and subtle ways, from recordings I had worked on myself.
Let's take the case of Paquito D'rivera and his Chesky Records album Havana Café [JD63]. A recording decked out with his full band and recorded at legendary RCA "Studio A" back in 1992 before it's ultimate demise. This single stereo microphone recording will lay waste to most systems because it is capable of incredible, unrestricted dynamic range, when played at full tilt. If you think you've heard it all, try playing this recording so that the last note on track 1 measures out at 113 dB! Yes, that's deafening. But it only lasts for a short burst. And let me tell you, the lead up to that last triple forte is impressive in it's own right. Yet, I was stunned to hear inner instrumental details from the piano and sax, much less the drums that simply were slightly hidden before hearing this whole album through the Mystique v3. The shear clarity at the loudest and softest ends of the dynamic spectrum, in combination with a palpable, detailed portrayal of the acoustic and instrumental space around the musicians, made for a truly scintillating listen.
Listening Tests: Dynamics (B)
Listening Tests: Imaging (A)
Take a classic album like Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's Jazz Samba, made at a time (1962) and on a label (Verve) then using high quality magnetic tape, vacuum tubes, and LPs as the defacto standard of recording production and distribution. Whether heard on original pressings, recent remasters on LP, or the CD (44.1kHz/16-bit) and it's HD File successors (96/24 or 192/24), this is always a truly intimate and compelling concert. And it's ensemble has never sounded better digitally or more coherent and focused than through the Mystique v3 DAC. Why? The sound staging is just magnificent with depth, width, height, and envelopment that is very reminiscent of the experience when listening to the first edition Reel-to-Reel and LP pressings, sold in 1962. With this DAC, it's like being thrown in a time machine and going back to whenever and wherever the album was originally recorded.
Listening Tests: Imaging (B)
Volume 1 – Track 7 is the previously mentioned Clark Terry, but here playing Pennies from Heaven. And as I have remarked before, the imaging with this single microphone set-up is just splendid, pinpoint, and open in a fashion that makes the speakers in any properly set up system just disappear. But again, through the Mystique v3, this cherished favorite of the last 28 years has an even more delicate, refined, and layered presentation than I have heard before, short of the original 1/4" 15 IPS analog master tape. Obviously I'm a bit prejudice in regards to that recording, since I was the one that edited it for release onto LP and SACD. Also, Volume 2 – Track 8 shows a totally different sonic view of Clark that is from his Live at the Village Gate album I spoke about at the beginning. Instead of the almost colorless qualities of the RCA "Studio A" acoustic in the first example, the second is an actual nightclub and bar with an audience, recorded live. At once, one can hear a much more characterful room with the band surrounding the single stereo microphone. Yet through the Mystique v3, the degree to which one can "see" or rather "hear" the room acoustics, and even the shape and height of the club, was revealed more easily and more precisely than on just about any other DAC I'd played this treasure on. The rather surprising level of sonic detail revealed by the Mojo Audio Mystique v3 DAC is pretty damn amazing, especially with a recording I have heard repeatedly on some of the best DACs in the world, not to mention directly from the simultaneously recorded original analog master tape.
When I asked Zwickel about this USB issue he commented that this was actually two of the unique performance features of the Mystique v3: apparently the USB and all other inputs "float" on anti-resonant mounts and apparently all power and signal connections inside the DAC are hard wired soldered instead of connected with removable plastic connectors and ribbon wire like most other companies use.
Also of note is that the unimpeded and direct output circuit has no mute, as is often the case in most commercial DACs. And what I found was a short "pop" or "scratch" sound about once every 37 seconds or so when the USB input is selected with no USB source. It is not loud but will play through the speakers anytime the USB source is missing, asleep, or off. This forces one to switch inputs on the DAC, switch inputs on the preamp, or turn the volume all the way down. It seems small but over the course of twelve plus weeks of switching and swapping components it can become a little fatiguing as one goes to start up or shut down a music system. repeatedly.
Zwickel commented that this was another intentional design feature. Apparently because the USB input is 100% isolated from the USB source, it is constantly powered on. That noise I mentioned is the USB input of the DAC trying to "handshake" with a USB source. Obviously he could have put some type of "mute" circuit in the DAC, but he felt that adding a reed switch, relay, or some such would both add unnecessary expense and degrade performance. Benjamin commented that his Mystique v3 is like a NASCAR, not like a Lexus. It is optimized for performance, not convenience. Customers that are used to a more "luxury" DAC with all the bells and whistles would need to get used to doing things like manually muting. He considers this to be the necessary price one pays for this level of performance.
Lastly, and this might be unique to me and my Apple 17" PowerBook, but there was a tendency for the connection as seen through various playback apps (JRiver, ChannelD, Audiorvana) and the Midi control to revert to 96 kHz and below, rather than up to 384 kHz. Simply unplugging and re-plugging in the USB from Laptop to DAC resolved the problem each time. But I have no understanding why the handshake across USB is not renewed after system wake-up. Beyond this situation, where music APPs other than iTunes automatically switch sample rate with different source files but were hindered due to the wake-up handshake error, everything else ran smoothly and without problems.
Zwickel was not aware of this specific issue, but reminded me that the Mystique v3 can only receive up to 192kHz inputs, so this specification might be the cause of my problems. He also mentioned that most player software has the option to limit output resolution to 192kHz, which he felt might have resolved this issue.
What I heard through the Mystique v3 was what only some of the very best DACs in history have been able to achieve. A rare and breathtakingly seamless emotional connection with the music and sounds being produced. On cherished digital versions of albums that I've known or been involved in producing and recording, the qualities this DAC let through were the sort of experience one can expect to hear when attending a live concert and sitting in an ideal spot. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can resolve all sorts of things that most people never bother to think about, but they hear anyway. So often, these subtle inner details are crushed or distorted much the way different lenses change the viewers perspective in photography. But when listening to a well constructed audiophile music system, and occupying the center position in one's listening space, the distortion that affects most digital music is almost completely absent with the Mystique v3. It repeatedly allowed me to feel the sound in a tactile, visceral, and meaningful way, that is both (a)live and reminiscent of the best analog sources I have had the pleasure of hearing and working with.
Time and again, with CDs, HD Audio files, Blu-rays, HD-Audio, LaserDisc, MiniDisc, and DAT, I heard and felt more coming from this $5500 digital source, than from any gear short of the best of analog sources. Of course great analog sound comes with its own compromises, in terms of background noise, colored tonality, size, and price. While listening to great albums replicated equally in all formats produced over the last 60 years, my impression has been that the Mystique v3 may well offer a more direct and complete aural listening experience than 98% of all of audiophile and pro audio DACs I've heard. Obviously no device or product is perfect, particularly one made in small runs by artists that invest years of there lives just to get this one thing just right. It is clear that Benjamin Zwickel and Mojo Audio are on a heartfelt mission to bring you more from your digitally derived music and better fidelity than you have any right to expect for this kind of money.
And for those that want DSD, MQA, or another more advanced HD format of digital music, media, movies, and television, we both suggest you get some transcode software, such as dB Poweramp or XLD, to convert these other formats to an HD PCM format. From my experience, if a recording is made and mastered right, there is little emotional difference as to how you will experience each of these formats on a properly tuned system. And if the point of our hobby is, indeed, to enjoy the music, I can think of no finer way than to call up Mojo Audio and order up a Mystique v3 DAC to enjoy digital audio at it's finest, each and everyday!
March 2020 Update: Mojo Audio will be releasing their next generation Mystique EVO later this month. While their Mystique v3 is discontinued, the company will have several units being traded in for their new Mystique EVO, which will be factory reconditioned and resold with a two year factory warranty starting at $3500.
Voice: (949) 438-6656