• M2Tech hiFace Asynchronous USB To S/PDIF Converter Review

    The M2Tech hiFace has received a lot of press this year. It was one of the first very inexpensive asynchronous USB to S/PDIF converters to support all sample rates from 16/44.1 kHz through 24/192 kHz. The hiFace's good specs, good technical design, support for high resolution sample rates, and $150 price tag has had users from all over the world going gaga. While there is no such thing as bad press too much good press can make it very hard for a product to live up to expectations. Such is the case with the M2Tech hiFace. I tried for several months to pull every ounce of sound quality out of the hiFace. I began to wonder if I was the only person on Earth unsatisfied with this converter. I have no qualms about saying the hiFace, through no fault of M2Tech, is overrated. Fortunately this has nothing to do with value. At $150 it's well worth the price and has a very high price to performance ratio.


    Preliminary Notes

    There is no sense in writing a confusing review that interweaves terms like good performance, disappointment, overrated, and great value only to leave readers wondering what I really think. Let me lay some groundwork before going deeper into the hiFace review. As many Computer Audiophile readers know terms like overrated and good performance are not mutually exclusive. Neither are the terms great value and disappointment. Also the conclusions reached by me in my listening room with my components don't say anything about another individual's conclusion reached in his home or even in my listening room. There are so many variables involved when judging an audio component. Readers should only use reviews and others' comments as single data points that have nothing to do with their individual opinions and conclusions.


    Got A Lot Going For It ...

    Designed and assembled by M2Tech in Italy the hiFace asynchronous USB to S/PDIF converter looks unbeatable on paper or screen. Async USB with dual crystal oscillators and support of sample rates up through 24/192 kHz are more than many manufacturers can say about their converters. Add the $150 price to this list and most of the competition falls to the wayside. On paper.

    The hiFace is nearly a self explanatory device. One end has a USB connector that can only fit into a computer's USB port. The other end has either a coaxial RCA or a BNC digital output. There are no switches or power cables to contemplate while physically connecting the hiFace to a computer and audio system. A single electrical digital cable connects the hiFace to an external DAC completing the physical setup.

    Asynchronous is currently the buzzword of all buzzwords. If a component does anything asynchronously manufactures frequently label it with the async buzzword. The hiFace is a true async USB device as it operates in asynchronous USB transfer mode. Async USB transfer mode has nothing to do with asynchronous sample rate conversion (ASRC) even though some manufacturers would like listeners to believe ASRC is an equivalent competing technology addressing jitter reduction. Some manufacturers just use the plain asynchronous label and let consumers try to decipher what that means with regard to the component in question. The bottom line is these two technologies are vastly different and can have a major impact on sound quality.

    M2Tech's async USB implementation is pretty solid on paper. The hiFace uses two separate quartz precision oscillators instead of a PLL with a single oscillator and synthesized frequency. This enables very accurate clocking with less jitter or timing errors. Two oscillators allow the hiFace to have separate clock generators for 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz sample rate families. The 44.1 kHz family consists of 44.1, 88.2, and 176.4 kHz and the 48 kHz family consists of 48, 96, and 192 kHz. Nearly every engineer I talk to about this area of HiFi suggests a PLL with synthesized frequency based on a single oscillator that cannot be a multiple of 44.1 kHz and 48 KHz will result in much higher jitter. Since high end audio components shoot for extremely low jitter measurements in the single digit picoseconds many engineers will only opt for dual oscillator configurations similar to the hiFace. One notable exception is the Weiss Engineering DAC202. It uses the Jet PLL and synthesized clock frequencies to produce excellent results.

    In addition to this very good technical design the hiFace supports every relevant sample rate. It wasn't long ago that extracting quad speed sample rates of 176.4 and 192 kHz from a laptop was nearly impossible because there weren't any acceptable devices like the hiFace. If listeners wanted the higher sample rates they had to install a card like the Lynx AES16(e) or RME 9632 into a desktop computer. The hiFace was one of the first widely accepted devices in the audiophile community to free listeners from the unsightly and frequently noisy desktop computer.

    There's no denying the hiFace has a lot going for it with its async USB transfer mode, support of all sample rates, and very inexpensive price tag. If it wasn't for the music and the fact that I want to listen to said music at the highest quality possible the M2Tech hiFace would certainly make the Olympic podium (gold, silver, or bronze).


    ... But Far From Ideal

    - Software

    Driver: Noun

    • the operator of a motor vehicle
    • someone who drives animals that pull a vehicle
    • driver (a golfer who hits the golf ball with a driver
    • a program that determines how a computer will communicate with a peripheral device
    • number one wood (a golf club (a wood) with a near vertical face that is used for hitting long shots from the tee)

    Source [Princeton University]

    Until the recent release of Apple's OS X 10.6.4 proprietary drivers were necessary to reach the highest sample rates via USB audio devices like the hiFace. Windows based computers still require proprietary drivers for playback of high sample rates (176.4 and 192) because Windows does not support Class 2 Audio. When the hiFace was released proprietary drivers were required by all operating systems and USB hardware to reach these sample rates. M2Tech had no choice but to use its own drivers for the hiFace to function with Windows and Apple's OS X. In addition M2tech designed the hiFace with specific hardware that requires proprietary drivers even if the operating system supports Class 2 Audio. For example the hiFace will not work on a Mac running OS X 10.6.4 without installation of M2Tech's driver. Whereas devices like the Wavelength Audio WaveLink work as designed on OS X 10.6.4 without proprietary drivers at all sample rates.

    M2Tech's proprietary driver is necessary but not sufficient. Several of the first iterations of the driver required the use of Foobar2000 and manually placing specific files (dll) in a certain location on the computer. Each release has drastically improved the ease of use and eventually added options like WASAPI support. Now a simple double-click -> Next -> Next -> Reboot routine is all that's required. The insufficient part of the M2Tech driver comes from two fronts. Lack of an easy uninstall without contacting M2Tech for a special command run via the Terminal application and the confusing nature of M2Tech's driver delivery.

    It's entirely possible to use a Mac without uninstalling the hiFace driver. It's benign as far as I know. But when troubleshooting an audio issue it's very nice to rule out possible causes by uninstalling software. M2Tech's current hiFace driver removal process is unacceptable.

    On several occasions hiFace users have installed the incorrect version of the hiFace driver only to suffer frustrating and time consuming consequences. Just because most people haven't had an issue with this doesn't make it OK. Identifying the correct driver on the M2Tech website isn't rocket science and has been made easier over time. However, a simple line of code in the installation process could let users know if the downloaded driver was incorrect for their operating system. For example if someone downloads the Apple OS X 10.4 version of the software when they really need the OS X 10.6 version this operating system "pre-flight" check would remove the possibility of such frustrating issues before they happened. The last thing computer based audio needs to deliver is frustration to end users. Especially when it could easily be avoided.

    The fact that drivers are required, the inability to easily remove the driver easily, and the unneeded driver confusion have caused real world problems as evidenced by the users at CA and other sites. These users have sought help with installation, uninstallation, and related issues frequently after several hours of attempting to solve the issue themselves.

    Note: The vast majority of hiFace users have not experienced the aforementioned issues. I raise the issues only because they've appeared several times in the real world and they could be avoided altogether.

    - Hardware

    The hiFace asynchronous USB to S/PDIF converter uses the Cypress Semiconductor ezUSB design. ezUSB provides the component designer (M2Tech) a Windows, OS X, and Linux base driver that operates in bulk mode. The designer then plugs in code for each operating system that creates whatever device is needed. Devices like the Wavelength Audio WaveLink and Halide Design Bridge require no proprietary device driver. These units use the driver supplied by the operating system in a true plug n' play fashion. Although the Bridge does not support quad speed sample rates and the WaveLink currently does not support quad speed on the Windows operating system. As the saying goes, there's no free lunch.

    Correction: I was just informed a Windows driver is available on the Wavelength Audio website that enables the WaveLink to support quad speed sample rates.

    Internally the hiFace uses three DCDC converters to power the Cypress USB controller, the dual oscillators, and the SPDIF converter. Unfortunately the ground of the digital output is connected via 1 kOhm to the USB ground instead of being galvanically isolated which is highly preferable on the S/PDIF output. If the digital input on a listener's DAC is not galvanically isolated either then computer's power supply will be connected to the audio system via the 1 kOhm on the digital input ground pin. This is a very good reason to use a MacBook Pro or different laptop running on battery power eliminating the direct connection to a noisy and cheap switching power supply.

    The build quality is nothing to write home about and is probably what most audiophiles expect for a $150 device that offers quite a bit of functionality. I recommend using a little USB extension cable that connects between the computer and the hiFace. The hiFace is much wider than a USB port and may block or interfere with a neighboring USB port. Also, the extension reduces strain on the USB port and hiFace itself when heavier S/PDIF cables are used or when cables must be routed awkwardly to the audio component. Frequently pulling on the hiFace isn't a good idea. Especially if connected directly to the computer's USB port.

    It's hard to definitively say if using the operating system's built-in USB drivers or different hardware design decisions would have a big impact on sound quality from the hiFace. I can say the async USB to S/PDIF converters I've used, that don't require proprietary drivers, sound better and more accurate. More on sound quality a bit later.


    Music Servers

    During the review period I used several different music servers. The two main configurations used were based on a Mac Pro and the C.A.P.S. server [Link].

    The C.A.P.S. server runs Windows 7 32-bit and J River Media Center v15. The server accesses music on a NAS drive stored in WAV, AIFF, and FLAC formats. I used the Kernel Streaming and WASAPI output modes in J River. ASIO was unavailable with the hiFace and ASIO4ALL doesn't currently support quad speed sample rates of 176.4 kHz and 192 kHz. The hiFace Windows driver in use at the end of the review period was version 1.0.3.

    The Mac Pro runs OS X 10.6.4 and iTunes with and without Amarra version 2.1 (4244). It also access music on the same NAS drive as the C.A.P.S. server and accesses some music stored locally. The hiFace OS X driver in use at the end of the review period was version 1.0.45.

    I compared the hiFace to several components. The components range from a couple hundred dollars more expensive than the hiFace to several thousand dollars more expensive. These are the asynchronous USB to S/PDOF converters on hand during the review:

    • M2Tech hiFace
    • Halide Design Bridge
    • Wavelength Audio WaveLink
    • dCS U-Clock


    Sound Quality

    I had the M2Tech hiFace here for several months. Quite a bit longer than normal component review periods. The only reason for such an extended period of time was so I could try every way I knew to squeeze the last ounce of sound quality out of the unit. Upon its arrival I immediately noticed substantial sonic differences between the hiFace and the Lynx AES16e internal digital audio output card I was using at the time. With over $500 difference between the two components, major design differences, and the fact I had just added the hiFace to my system I simply added this experience to my digital notebook as a single data point among many I would gather throughout the review period.

    A couple weeks went by and I'd used the hiFace off and on in addition to using the Halide Design Bridge. The hiFace just didn't sound as good as everyone online and in personal conversations was claiming. Since I had already tested to make sure the digital output was bit transparent I knew I wasn't' altering the bits before entering the hiFace. I wondered what was going on so I emailed a few first rate engineers with decades of high end digital audio experience. CA readers would be surprised at how many engineers from top high end audio companies purchased the hiFace to test in their own systems. I was not interested in using their opinions to influence mine whatsoever. I just wanted to compare some external data points to my personal experience. (If many groups of people are claiming a color is red but I see it as blue it's never a bad idea to talk to some people who've reached their own independent conclusion). The possibility of groupthink was ever so present in my mind. Without revealing the details of private conversations these engineers told me a bit about how the hiFace was designed and what they thought about the device. Each one of them said the hiFace sounded pretty good for $150. If I gained anything from these conversations it was a bit of knowledge about the hiFace from sources outside of M2Tech and some data points from independent thinking engineers.

    In addition to several async USB to S/PDIF converters I used a few different DACs during the review period. I used my main DAC, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, as well as the Weiss Engineering DAC202 (now sent on to the next reviewer) and the Esoteric D-07.

    Through the Alpha DAC and DAC202 the sound quality via the hiFace was lackluster and uninspiring compared to the other converters on hand. After listening to something very good it's hard to take a step down in quality. The differences tend to be accentuated. If I didn't have the other units on hand I likely would have said the hiFace sounds a bit too dark for my taste but in general offers good performance. It certainly is not a bad sounding component by any means. It just doesn't match the level of the competition in my listening room.

    A week after the Esoteric D-07 arrived, and I had listened through the DAC enough to get a handle on its sonic signature, I began comparing the converters through the galvanically isolated RCA digital inputs of the D-07. Using the hiFace did not yield positive results at all. The sound I heard was really veiled and really dead. This was evident after long term listening sessions and A/B comparisons. I usually don't gain much from quick A/B comparisons and but I tried the method anyway because the D-07 and J River made it very easy. Using the hiFace and Halide Design Bridge configured as separate zones in J River MC I synchronized both zones and sent the output to two different coaxial S/PDIF inputs on the D-07. The d-07 doesn't offer BNC digital inputs. This worked well since the hiFace I reviewed was the RCA version. Once playback commenced I was able to switch inputs on the D-07 and hear the same audio stream as the previous input. Pretty cool, but ultimately not the best or most revealing way to review components in my opinion.

    I performed much more extended listening using all the S/PDIF converts and the Esoteric D-07. In every case music through the hiFace was much more veiled and dead. No matter what type of music I played from Reference Recordings HRx 24/176.4 material (via WaveLink only) to the new single mic'd John Mellencamp album produced by T-Bone Burnet as soon as I started using a non-M2Tech converter the sound opened up and the level of clarity was wonderful. Almost like I removed cotton from my ears. At the end of the review period I really concentrated on comparing the Halide Design Bridge to the M2Tech hiFace. I used Windows, OS X, iTunes, Amarra, J River etc... to make sure I reached an accurate conclusion. Every comparison ended the same way. Using the Bridge was like removing cotton from my ears as the greater level of clarity and detail were readily apparent. I try very hard not to make unsubstantiated mountains of difference out of realistic mole hills of difference as can be the case in so many audiophile conversations. I admit I am just as guilty of hyping a component as the next guy when we are sitting around chatting. When it comes to publishing a review, that is part of my permanent record :~), I never want to mislead a reader by making a big deal out of nothing. It's bad for both of us and the manufacturers involved. That said, with the components used during this review in my listening room I state unequivocally that the hiFace did not match the performance of the other asynchronous USB to S/PDIF converters. The difference was not subtle. I urge everyone considering the purchase of a converter like the ones used in this review to give them all a shot in a familiar environment.

    Note: As shown in the measurements below the hiFace's output voltage is 2.328 Vpp. This is higher than the standard 0.5 Vpp. It is possible the D-07 does not handle higher voltages as well as the Alpha DAC or DAC202. The bottom line is readers should look at the specs of their DAC and test components in person before purchasing.



    The M2Tech hiFace entered the audiophile scene as a little known device from Italy. It soon surged to the top of several recommended lists. Groups of audiophiles on the Internet couldn't get enough hiFace-time. None of these hiFace users are wrong. It's a good component if it sounds good to the individual listener. Period. The hiFace does offer good specs and features on paper. There's no doubt the M2Tech design team had the right idea. After several months of listening and comparing I think M2Tech's implementation is a bit underwhelming. The hiFace offers good stand-alone performance and value while simultaneously disappointing me. The fact that I believe it's overrated has just as much to do with hiFace users' opinions as it does the hiFace's performance.

    I'm going to end on a positive note. I wish no ill will to M2Tech or any manufacturer. We are all part of the same industry and wonderful hobby. I hope M2Tech continues the success of the hiFace with its new upscale Evo product. At $150 the price to performance ratio of the hiFace has got to be at the top of the charts. Audiophiles used to spending tens of thousands of dollars for an extra 0.01% of performance may be a bit disoriented by the hiFace's value.

    One more time, don't take my word or anyone else's word to be the final answer. When in doubt check it out.



    __________________________________________________ ______________

    Product Measurements (Using BNC version of hiFace):

    Output Voltage [Image Link]
    The output voltage with a 75 Ohm load is 2.328 Vpp. This is a lot higher than the nominal 0.5 Vpp desired at the digital input of most DACs. Sound quality may vary depending on how well a DAC handles this higher voltage. Some digital inputs can be over driven by this 2.328 Voltage PP when they amplify the digital signal, with an HC04UB inverter, that is the regular SPDIF recommendation for an input device.

    Output Resistance [Image Link]
    An approximate 73 Ohm output resistance can be calculated using the hiFace's 4.684 Vpp (without 75 Ohm load) and 2.328 Vpp (with 75 Ohm load). This is close enough to 75 Ohm for most engineers.

    Status Bit Information [Image Link]
    The transmitter in the HiFace always sends 48 kHz sample rate information in the Status Bits, no matter what sample rate is really playing. This is not really as big of problem to consumers as it is in the professional audio world. Consumer DACs by Theta, some by Mark Levinson, and others with a frequency synthesizer as a secondary PLL or those using use what is called slaving the SPDIF receiver could have issues with this status bit error. When reading the channel bit status area to find out what the frequency is the DACs sets the frequency synthesizer and uses either a digital PLL or analog one to determine if the synthesizer should be increased or decreased. Without the correct status bit as a foundation for this method problems will likely arise.

    Jitter (Bi-Phase Signal)
    The average jitter measured on the Bi-Phase Signal from 700 Hz up to 100 kHz is about 284 picoseconds. [Image Link]
    The peak jitter measured on the Bi-Phase Signal from 50 Hz up to 100 kHz is about 1.246 nanoseconds. [Image Link]

    Jitter (Bit Cell) [Image Link]
    Measuring the Bi-Phase jitter over time shows about 1.2 nanoseconds peak (Blue line) in the data area and rises to about 2.1 nanoseconds peak, in the Staturs Bits and Frame Sync area. Thus, jitter is greatest at the Sync signals which is shown clearly in the J-Test.

    Assumed Analog Jitter FFT [hiFace Image Link] | [Bel Canto USB-Link Image Link]
    Here a 16 Bit J-Test Signal (Julian Dunn) is sent. The frequency modulation of the carrier is analyzed via FFT in the audio band and compared to a PLL slave clock. This measurement has a limitation in resolution because the PLL also has its own phase noise characteristics. But, this is the only way to evaluate this without an actual DA converter. This is in principal an assumption of what it could look like after a DA converter. The jitter in the bass area is about 100 picoseconds. This is the measurement limit of the Audio Precision. From 1 kHz on, it is about 1 picosecond. This is also the measurement limit of the AP (similar behavior as the sensitivity of the ear to detect jitter). From 100 Hz to 1 kHz it drops slowly. Clearly visible is the frame sync signal at 229 Hz and multiples of that (44.1 kHz / 192).

    This is what really happens, when you connect the HiFace to good, but typical 96 kHz PLL DAC (with a 192 kHz DAC, it would be worse, because 192 kHz PLL Receivers have higher Jitter than 96 kHz PLL Receivers). Every good design, based on the Crystal CS8414 Receiver (96 K PLL) will have similar numbers. (This is just a typical graph, every DAC acts different, regarding suppression of jitter, but for comparison, one must use a “typical” PLL receiver, in order to get some graph). Here you can see that mostly the jitter that is correlated with the sync signal, creates the most variation compared, to what the signal should look like (red line).

    [hiFace Image Link] | [Bel Canto USB-Link Image Link]




    Product Information

    • Price - RCA $150, BNC $180.00
    • hiFace Product Page - Link
    • hiFace FAQs - Link (PDF)
    • hiFace White Paper - Link (PDF)
    • Purchase hiFace (USA Only) - Link


    Associated Equipment:

    Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers, McIntosh MC275 amplification, Richard Gray's Power Company High Tension Wires, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, Wavelength Audio Proton, Esoteric D-07 DAC, C.A.P.S. server, Bel Canto USB Link, Halide Design Bridge, dCS Debussy DAC, dCS Puccini U-Clock, Kimber USB Cu, Kimber USB Ag, Benchmark DAC1 PRE, Kimber Select KS1011 Analog Cables, Kimber Select KS2020 Digital Cable, Kimber Monocle X Loudspeaker Cable, ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim, Apple iPad, Sonic Studio's Amarra, M2Tech hiFace, Weiss Engineering DAC202, Lynx Studio AES16 Digital I/O Card.




    Comments 207 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Eloise - Good points, thanks for the input.
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      PS. Did you try the HiFace with a back to back RCA connector and a USB extension cable as an alternative to HiFace into USB port and longer RCA digital cable?
    1. theotherkiwi's Avatar
      theotherkiwi -
      Thanks for the great review, the perspective was a good one and the comments added value. An excellent post, thanks all. <br />
      <br />
      My view is that this device seems well suited to it's price point unless you can afford more and have a suitable system that matches<br />
      <br />
    1. Lowlands's Avatar
      Lowlands -
      Chris,<br />
      <br />
      Thanks for the review!<br />
      The fact that you compare it to far more expensive (all a-sync)designs might be considdered praise for starters... <br />
      <br />
      I do agree with Eloise there's a lot of context & perspective in valueing a $150 device. On a related note.. If respected DACs (Bryston BDA1 / AR DAC7, Benchmark) carry USB inputs, that ARE bettered by this 'dongle' (I understand I might be assuming things, based on hype.. :-) ) .. what does that say about the rationale of buying a HiFace for such a DAC..?<br />
      <br />
      What a nice hobby this is... Wonder how that EVO would sound on my BADA...<br />
      <br />
    1. jonmarsh's Avatar
      jonmarsh -
      as Eloise put it, is a good turn of phrase describing the Hiface; I've run it into an Antelope DA into my BADA, but with the trade in program offered in the US, it's been returned and an EVO paid for, as that will likely deliver performance similar to the modded standard Hiface (batteries or regulators) but with much more connectivity. <br />
      <br />
      The BADA does seem to be fairly sensitive to quality of incoming data stream, and depending on the type of material you listen to (RB or HD), spending some dollars on a good interface is a necessary investment. If you're only into RB, then one of the good 44.1 solutions will suffice, but for hi-rez, a few more coins will be needed. I expect the Wavelink will be rather good and well sorted, but it wasn't released by the time I ordered my Evo, and for the most part, I'm not worried....<br />
      <br />
    1. Erwin S's Avatar
      Erwin S -
      "The last thing computer based audio needs to deliver is frustration to end users."<br />
      <br />
      Chris,<br />
      I am rolling under the table! Computer = frustration! For mortals like me anyway. Glad that Mac's have the added choice for the optical Toslink for mid-price (free of headache) devices and the FireWire for high end connections...<br />
      <br />
      OT:<br />
      Thanks anyone who enlightened me in search of my ultimate system. The Weiss DAC2 is very good, and I have not even tried the FireWire!
    1. ted_b's Avatar
      ted_b -
      but the device has brought HiRez to the many folks with average DACS, who couldn't get the right connectivity up till now.<br />
      <br />
      My HiRez Circle on Audio Circle has an 11 page HiFace thread that has morphed into a DIY mod discussion, complete with adapters, attenuators and outboard power supplies. The results are pretty satisfactory for the modders, and all is accomplished for little $$. Feel free to peruse.
    1. chilest's Avatar
      chilest -
      Chris:<br />
      Thanks for an objective (& honest) assessment of the M2 HiFace interface. Your review is one of many reasons why Computer Audiophile is the best informed source (outpacing the major print magazines and other web sites) for current and cutting-edge information on computer audio. <br />
      <br />
      I hope you are planning reviews of the new Wavelink USB and the Weiss INT202 Firewire interface in the near future. <br />
      <br />
      Tom<br />
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      I think we have to remember the context into which M2Tech launched the HiFace.<br />
      <br />
      USB (and FireWire) to SPDIF devices were pretty limited back then (still are a bit). There were audiophile devices such as the BelCanto which while they did a job, were still adaptive and not a huge improvement on the USB interface provided by TI with their PCM2704 and similar chips utilised by most DACs. Then there were the "pro-audio" devices - everything from M-Audio Transit right through to Weiss AFI1. Either they were limited in sound quality or very expensive.<br />
      <br />
      Your alternative was a PCI/PCIe card which limited you to full sized computers, or to use digital output built into the motherboard.<br />
      <br />
      Then along came the M2Tech HiFace, budget priced $150/£100 while providing good quality sound. Yes it's pretty basic, but it does what it set out to well. Compared with more expensive devices it's limited, but it allowed people with older non-computer-enabled DACs or those with limited capability DACs access to high resolution audio from their computer with no need to open cases or mess around too much, or spend too much money.<br />
      <br />
      So yes it was hyped, but if you keep in mind the cost, much of the hype IS based in reality.<br />
      <br />
    1. blueixus's Avatar
      blueixus -
      Chris, great review but why now?<br />
      <br />
      The Hiface has been with us for over a year which in this business is an eternity!<br />
      <br />
      I agree with Eloise that the Hiface brought many people into Computer Audio due to it's incredible (and still today) price performance ratio.<br />
      <br />
      It merits a place in the Computer Audio Hall Of Fame, as even today, nothing offers the same bang for the buck/pound/euro and low entry price.<br />
      <br />
      Sure, I have heard it bettered (The Weiss Int 202 etc) but I am using one presently with an decent spec Audio Note Dac and it sings. Point being I think it does suit some Dacs better than others.<br />
      <br />
      I think it easily earned it's hype, and here is another reason:<br />
      <br />
      It seems to be available everywhere. <br />
      <br />
      Many American Manufacturers treat Europe like an afterthought making it difficult to try/evaluate their products - I think The Bridge is here just now, for some reason Wavelenth Audio are only in Poland etc etc.<br />
      <br />
      So well done M2Tech for producing a game changing product AND letting everyone get their hands on it. <br />
      <br />
      Meraviglioso! <br />
      <br />
    1. kamil's Avatar
      kamil -
      Could it be that the tested Hiface was faulty?<br />
      <br />
      1) The jitter measurements look very different from what was measured by Audiophilleo. You measured about 1.2ns peak and they measured 175ps peak. Or is it just the different measurement technique that I'm ignorant about?<br />
      <br />
      http://www.audiophilleo.com/comparison.aspx<br />
      <br />
      2) Bad batch of crystals, see this post.<br />
      <br />
    1. mikemercer's Avatar
      mikemercer -
      Nice job Chris!<br />
      <br />
      Solid reporting as always. I love seeing what engineers are doing these days with less money. As you stated; audiophiles who are accustomed to spending TONS of money for small increases in performance should be psyched about alot of these more affordable products today.<br />
      <br />
      I'm psyched to be able to turn young people onto the notion of sonic integrity, and do it with a system THEY can afford now! When I first started in this business, it was rare when a friend of mine could even afford a pair of higher end speaker cables for their system!!<br />
      <br />
      Now we can help them get into an entire desktop system that'll give em good sound for under 500 bucks (been puttin together alot of those latey - affordable USB DAC and a pair of AUDIOENGINEs for example)<br />
      <br />
      It's also great to have a resource like ComputerAudiophile to point them over to---<br />
      <br />
      Keep it Up,<br />
      <br />
      Michael<br />
      <br />
    1. rlodad's Avatar
      rlodad -
      Excellent review Chris, as well as excellent comments by Eloise and others. My experience may be different than most, but will be the same as some regarding audio affordability. I started as a college student listening to a reciever and cheapo altec lansing "Boom/Hiss" speakers. Went to Med school and had no time to listen to anything. As a resident had a little money and put together a $2k system that was the top of the world to me then- KJ Sonograph CD player, Adcom GFA 555 amp and similar preamp and Glenn Monitor speakers. In that system, the hiFace probably would have been just fine if I was using a computer and DAC. Now that I am out 10 years and working hard, my current system would not work with the hiface- but that doesn't mean it is not much better than some cheap cd player to someone with a system similar to my old one; and they spend a lot more time on the audio blogs than I do. For $150 (let's say $75 build cost), the hiFace is not only a triumph, it is nearly a miracle.<br />
      <br />
      Now Chris, on to the miracle I need, you tease! What about the BADA with the Wavelink vs. the Lynx? Can I get rid of my noisy, big nasty G5 beast yet?<br />
      <br />
      Huh?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks in Advance!<br />
      <br />
    1. JR_Audio's Avatar
      JR_Audio -
      @Kamil: I just want to add a small comment about jitter, not directly meant to you, but more target to all who are interested in jitter.<br />
      <br />
      Why does everyone just want to ask for one number, to characterize the jitter of a device? The field of jitter is too complex to be explained with only one number.<br />
      <br />
      If someone has time and interest to learn more about jitter, I ask to read the book from Julian Dunn about “Measuring techniques for digital audio and the AES paper of Wolfson about “Specifying the Jitter Performance of Audio Components” (just to mention some).<br />
      <br />
      What is more important than just one number, is how the jitter is distributed over the audio band, after DA converted, and these are the measurements below.<br />
      <br />
      As one point to think about is, that a 44.1 kHz SR system needs about less than 100 ps RMS (SNR = 6.02 x N + 10 log (fA / 2 x Bo) + Cs), or 280 ps Peak to not compromise 16 Bit and if a system does disturb the 1/192 FS LSB Signal of a 16 Bit J-Test signal significantly, it can't have less than 280 ps peak jitter, that counts in the end. So for example in the Wolfson Paper you can see, that there are units, that are more than 10 times better in one jitter number, but in the same time 10 times worse in another jitter number.<br />
      <br />
      So if I repeat myself, in my opinion it is more important to look at the jitter distribution over the audio frequency, and not just one jitter number.<br />
      <br />
    1. Purite Audio's Avatar
      Purite Audio -
      I hardly recognise the hiface I use every day from your review Chris are you sure there wasn't something wrong with your example?<br />
      Keith.<br />
      Purite Audio represent M2Tech in the UK.
    1. Matias's Avatar
      Matias -
      Eloise has excellent points here. <br />
      HiFace was game changing because it was easy for the average person to get very good resolution into any desktop or notebook, be it Mac or PC. Sound quality IS better than many USB implementations found on mid-level and entry-level DACs.<br />
      <br />
      The device was so succesful that many other companies copied its basic async USB-to-SPDIF design. Nowadays it is unfair to compare the original HiFace to those second generation devices, specially if they are a lot more expensive (although I agree they might have improved sound quality). That is where the EVO is supposed to compete, a more mature market, not again as a pioneer.<br />
      <br />
      PS: don't forget the original HiFace is a small device that you can order from anywhere around the globe paying cheap shipping without customs. That does make a difference in TCO.<br />
      <br />
      So good article overall, true in its statements, but unfortunately lacks context.<br />
      <br />
      Greetings from Brazil!
    1. sq225917's Avatar
      sq225917 -
      I'm not sure how other people use their Hiface but for me, I upgrade from one driver to the next when the new ones come out. Seems a sensible way of doing it, though what harm a driver for an unplugged hardware device could do on your system who knows, probably none and not worth worrying about.<br />
      <br />
      For me the Hiface replaced the optical out from my macbook pro, I suspect this is how many people use it, as a tsolink replacement. Still more I expect use it as a repalcement for the crappy USb connection that their own DAC has, and as such it's a huge step up. <br />
      <br />
      I don't think any of us expected it to compete against a DCS Udac, or thought it would turn a $300 DAc into a Berkeley or a Metric Halo beater, and as such framing it against those DACS is unfair and makes the review read like a hatchet job. Neither did we think it was likely to be better than the 6x more expensive competition from Wavelength and honestly no one has ever pitched it as such or made those kind of claims. The amount of F.U.D in the review certainly doesn't help it read like a balanced review.<br />
      <br />
      If there are indeed Hifaces out there with poor quality chips then it's worth investigating to see if Chris's review sample was one of those. In fact being aware of that possibility surely it would be beholding of Chris to find out one way or the other- after all the rep of the product that Marco has built his brand on is being brought into question, potentially somewhat unfairly it feels
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Sq said... <em>If there are indeed Hifaces out there with poor quality chips then it's worth investigating to see if Chris's review sample was one of those. In fact being aware of that possibility surely it would be beholding of Chris to find out one way or the other- after all the rep of the product that Marco has built his brand on is being brought into question, potentially somewhat unfairly it feels.</em><br />
      <br />
      Actually I would say it's not the reviewer's job to check up is the device is faulty - the supplier should check that before sending it for review; however if on reading the review Marco (M2Tech) feels this maybe the case Chris should be prepared to re-review the device and print corrections / updated views. The fact some HiFace interfaces are sent out "faulty" - if true - is a negative point on the device.<br />
      <br />
    1. PeterSt's Avatar
      PeterSt -
      The first 100 were faulty allright (admitted by Marco; wrong firmware).<br />
      But I don't think this was about sound quality.<br />
      <br />
    1. 4est's Avatar
      4est -
      The aforementioned head-fi link indicates a statement by Marco that late last winter a batch with different (presumably worse) crystals were sent out. If Chris has been using his for 6 months, it might be one of those. Marco would be smart to send him a new one, but the damage may very well be done.