Positive Feedback Logo

The Mytek Manhattan DAC

05-04-2016 | By Dave Clark | Issue 85

Gee, what happened to the time? Yeah, that construct or concept that continually moves forward. Not only forward in the sense of progress (for some for sure, and for others… uh, 2016 people) but also in the sense of "where did it go?"

I received the Mytek Manhattan ($4995) something like… last summer, and after a shaky start it ended up not seeing as much listening time as it truly deserved (spoiler alert... the unit is stellar and will rock you with your music of choice). The unit arrived working and (black as pictured with some closeups of the silver version here and there), well, not working. The digital side came on, so that was fine, but there was no output—neither to the headphones nor to the preamp out. What gives? Spent a fair amount of time trying to see what the deal was, and after several calls to Chebon at Mytek with no fix, the unit went back (in talking later at RMAF, it appeared that the unit had been dropped in such a way that no damage had been done to the box, but key fuses had been jarred loose. Once reinserted the unit worked just fine, so thanks UPS). And I had asked for a full-blown Manhattan, as my interest was in the unit as a standalone preamp—DAC, headphone, preamplifier, and phono-stage… all-in-one, but what I received was a Manhattan sans the phono card (chip) to handle the analog duty. One was promised to arrive within a month or so as the phono was still being tweaked a bit more, but still, not what I was after in the review project. So after the unit went back, another unit rather quickly arrived—a demo version from a dealer—though also sans the phono. Sigh. Come on guys, you are killing me here. I want to run this baby with analog too! This one worked, and so into the system it went to as DAC... and preamp… as it was intended by Mytek.

Mytek Manhattan DAC

But… well… I dunno, time and life got in the way and I never got around to writing it up. I listened to it a lot, used it a lot, loved it a lot... but there was another fly in the ointment that limited my experience. The Manhattan has two USB inputs: USB 1.0 that is limited to 24/96 and USB 2.0 that loves everything way up to double-DSD, but that USB requires a driver. Uh,could not get the USB 2.0 driver to work with my Mac (not compatible with my version of OS though a work around is in the works) nor does the AURALiC Aries see the Manhattan when connected to the USB 2.0. Both are fine with the Manhattan via the USB 1.0 as it does not require a driver. Come on… 2015 (well now 2016) and you still need drivers? Come on… why a driver for USB 2.0? Who are we, Uber? Oh well, USB 1.0 it is then. Besides, I have very little music that is more than 16/44.1 let alone 24/96—just not there for me in terms of releases that I listen to for enjoyment—so off I went... but the word was that the USB 1.0 is not in the same part soncially as the USB 2.0 input so I am not getting the whole Manhattan experience. Never got the phono card either, so these together sort of slowed the impetus to complete the review.

Yeah, a few quibbles but rightly so. No excuse really. It is 2016 as I write this and well… things need to be plug-n-play. The need for drivers is, well I get it but I don't get it. I mean Mytek is doing their thing, but so are other companies making DACs that have USB 2.0 inputs, and well… they are all plug-n-play here with no issues. Your Apple OS updates and there goes the driver. One needs to be rewriting and updating the drivers to stay abreast of any OS changes and updates… not practical. Interestingly enough, the new Brooklyn DAC does not need drivers for its USB 2.0, so perhaps there is hope.

And so what the hey… a new version is coming out this August—the Manhattan II that features MQA and other upgrades that require a board swap, meaning sonically it could be different or even better (and perhaps not requiring drivers… please, which would make sense if they take that from the Brooklyn and toss that into the updated Manhattan). I am hoping to receive that version—with phono card please… but till then let me say this about the older version I have here now, as this current unit is, as I already have tipped my hat, quite good as it stands.

That is, the Mytek Manhattan is cut from what one would want in a recording studio; clarity, cleanliness, neutrality, etc. Let me hear what I just recorded. If I want to add additional color or enrich the sound in some way, well I got a wall of boxes with knobs for that. And you, the end-listener, has a system tailored to do that as well. After all, your system is a reflection of how you want, or think, music should sound—neither right nor wrong, it just is… right for you. The Manhattan is not the DAC for you if you want to editorialize the sound.

On the other hand, the Manhattan is not sterile or analytic, but I like I said, it is not going to warm things up... not a bit. The Manhattan offers you an honest rendering of what is in your music, with way less editorializing and coloring than many other DACs of similar price and hey, you got a preamp as well. And a stellar headamp too! (not the person with most experience with headphones, but the Manhattan drove either of my Audeze LCD4, Sennheiser 650, or AKG 702 with no issues and made the time doing so quite nice indeed). All of which does not make the Manhattan necessarily better, just different. You would have to decide if this 'sound' fits your preferences or biases. It fits mine and even though it is different, it fits right in with either the Playback Designs MPS-5 or the PS Audio Directstream DAC in being a reference product. Competitive with either? Maybe. Sure. Different? Definitely. Either the Playback Designs MPS-5 or the PS Audio Directstream DAC get you more of everything in being more refined and resolving, and with more color and whatnot that they add or take away from the sound by being programmable. And the PS Audio can also serve as a preamp and is networkable. But the Manhattan is a great deal and comes mighty close and offers a lot of features. 

Yeah, for sure it does all the bits quite right. Bass, extension, control, air, presence… all the audiophile check boxes are checked. But like I said, it is not going to present the music like other DACs that have more of a 'sound' or character. This is why there are so many options for us to choose from.

I was talking to Cookie Marenco at Blue Coast Records, and she mentioned she uses one in the studio for her headphone feed… yeah the Manhattan lets her hear what she needs to know, if she got it right. It is musical and very upfront as to what is there on either the tape or the file.

Just so you do not take this to mean that the Manhattan's sound or presentation is reminiscent of say Cello or even Halcro—neither of which had any soul or engagement unless a ruthless analytical presentation was what you sought in your music's reproduction. That it ain't in the slightest.

No, the Manhattan, while offering that 'studio feeling,' gets you a more engaging presentation that is big, dynamic, robust, with plenty of natural tone and color… but only if it is there. In other words, good sounding files and such sound really, really good. Clean and smooth. Works as a killer preamp, that's for sure, does not sound like a tube unit like my Cary SLP-05, but then the Manhattan is not tubed. If it did, then it would be adding something to the equation. And that the Manhattan doesn't. It took anything I tossed its way and presented it like I like it... fast, articulate, robust, deep, wide... engagingly palpable. Bass, slam, extension... smooth. Try some Lustmord Carbon or Four-Tet's Pink for starters. Or the latest from Pil... 


Stellar product. Now if we could just get the USB 2.0 thing worked out. Oh… and, well, another thing or two. Please offer an app so one does not have to go through the less than intuitive front panel rigmarole. Even after using the unit I still get confused, or lost, about how to get from A to find C and then to change E. I realize that is my ineptness, but still... I get that it keeps it all software driven, making the units simpler in terms of connections and so on, but it is not simple and elegant in use—at least not for me. Which the Manhattan demands based on its look and feel. The Manhattan exudes design and style, but the interaction is rather clumsy and at my age, forgetful. Oh and how about dropping the firewire and adding network capability? Now that would be cool! Am feeling that any DACs coming out should all offer the ability to be networked in terms of not only streaming... who uses a computer anymore for music? With so many options from the likes of Auralic, Aurender, Lumin, Antipodes, and so on , all of which can run circles round any tweaked out PC/Mac, the days of computers are drawing to an end. So toss an Ethernet port on the rear and let updating be done over the internet. That would be a sweet deal.


A thing of beauty it is, both inside and out. Images do not serve the Manhattan justice. Oh, and be careful… the unit has some serious heft. Not just musically, but physically too. Audition one, buy one... I am planning on doing that soon as soon as I can sort my retirement out from teaching!