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  1. #1

    Vinyl to digital, my experience of the M2Tech Joplin D/A

    Joplin, 32/384 A-to-D convertor and phonostage.

    Iím an early adopter, there Iíve said it, got it off my chest, admitted my fault. Iím also a magpie, I love shiny. So the new Joplin 32/384 A/D convertor and phonostage from M2tech is right up my street. Truth be told I also have a lot of time for the brand; they broke the mould with the Hiface USb/Spdf convertor, which I owned and then continued to do great things as they expanded into the dac market with the 32-384 Async USB Young dac, which I also owned. I have to admit I was pulled from the fold by the offer of a Weiss 202 at around half msrp- whoís going to turn that down? Itís fair to say I like what M2Tech do, I like the house sound, the product design and the functionality. Best of all though I think they have so far offered pretty damn good sound per pound- and thatís what really counts.

    Not my actual details.

    The Joplin arrived last week in the usual Ďpacked by Keithí brown paper wrapper. An unassuming lightweight box, hiding an even less impressive cardboard box inside. Fair enough though, Iím not big on paying for packaging and all I want is a well packed item that will survive the inevitable fall from the back of the delivery van to the road- this packaging will suffice. Inside you get a small SMPS, USB cable and remote control, there is also the familiar silver extruded casework used for the Young but this time housing a little bit more.

    Set up is simple. I was born in the age before video recorders so Iím hard wired not to read user manuals and to just go at it. Power in back, arm-leads into the input and spdif cable out into my dac and off we go. Houston we have illumination. We donít have any sound though, ok so I do need to familiarize myself with some of the controls, well the volume control at least- hey, we have music. That was utterly painless. I then spend the next twenty minutes fiddling with every setting imaginable. I set level, I set output format, word length and sample rate. I set dither, fiddled with high and low pass settings, chose various vinyl EQ options, mess about with MPX ( I donít have a reel to reel, but what the hell). In short there is a setting for just about everything you could possibly think of with one exception, there is no adjustment available for cartridge loading. For me thatís not an issue my Benz LP is happy running in 47k but it may be an issue for others, though I suspect the MM brigade with shelf after shelf filled with pre 54 jazz recordings and 78ís is where the Joplin is primarily setting its sights and they will be perfectly served by the 47k input impedance for their MM carts.

    For those collectors of jazz and early issues then the Joplin includes pretty much every major EQ. RIAA, AES, Capitol, Columbia (Microgroove), HMV, Decca FFRR, MGM, Angel (EMI), Audiophile (Acoustic Sounds reissues), NAB, Oiseau-Lyre, Pacific Jazz, Philips, RCA (1, 2 & Orthophonic), Brunswick, Columbia 1925, Columbia 1938 and Columbia England (CO25, CO38 and COLE), Victor 1938-47 and Victor 1947-52 (VIC3 and VIC4), Decca 78 and MGM 78. If itís not on there you probably donít need it. I have no 78ís and only a handful of early HMV and one pre 54 Columbia. Playing back with the RIAA curve Iím limited to in my phonostage has always left me wondering what was missing from these records. The ability to select the correct curves has brought these records back into focus and freed the music that was pressed into them for the first time in many, many years. For me the EQ curves are a nice addition, if I had a reel to reel Iím sure Iíd be very interested in the tape playback curves and filters that are built into the Joplin but the truth is I donít, Iím looking to simplify my vinyl playback and improve upon my current phonostage.

    I have a pretty expensive dac, the Weiss 202, itís well regarded and to my ears sounds very good. Iím sure better exists but it would be out of my price range. I like the idea of convergence, as long as thereís no trade off of quality for functionality and interoperability. So a phonostage that integrates a high quality A/D that works with my current dac would be welcomed into my set-up. Iím genuinely not bothered about the bells and whistles and tech for tech sake, it has to sound good. Actually at the price it has to sound better, not just in one area but top to bottom, right across the board. The Joplin sounded a little thin fresh out of the box, so I left it plugged in for a couple of hours playing a locked loop dj record that I have. Whether I quickly became acclimatized to its sound or if the unit did genuinely burn in a little I canít really say. But I did like it much more after coming back to it than I did straight out of the box. Iíve had quite a few phonostages through my music room in the past twelve months, discarding both a Naim Superline and Linn Uphorik in favour of a simpler and cheaper, modified Naim Prefix. Itís not perfect but Iíve not found anything I like more overall for sensible money yet.

    Back to back and box fresh there are areas where I prefer the Joplin and where I prefer my Prefix. The Joplin does better bass. It has more depth, greater slam and less overhang. Itís better nuanced with every kick and thwack having more shape and more natural tone. Itís not a small difference, itís a fundamental difference and if the bottom end is where it happens for you then the Joplin excels here. It memory serves me right it sounds better in the bass than either the Superline or Uphorik did, it really is first class. Across the mids I think thereís little to separate them you could prefer either on a particular day. I think the Joplin may trade a little sweetness in the mids, but repays you with greater soundstage definition and placement. Itís only in the treble where I prefer the Prefix and not by any great margin. Reading that back it sounds very cut and dried, and it isnít. I think thereís more Ďflowí to how my phonostage presents the music. Iíll refrain from serving up analog vs digital analogies but thatís what Iím hinting at, at least with the supplied SMPS.

    The Joplin stayed in over the weekend and I played a fair bit more music for myself and for friends, several of whom were struck by the Joplinís forthright way and firm grip down below. It was only on Monday that I started wondering what a decent linear PSU might bring to the party. I have several power suppliers lying round that would work, including a brace of LiFePo 18650ís which I plugged in and used. Instant improvement, less grain in the mids and a greater sense of cohesion. Iím not sure if this is the result of better power to the Joplin or not having the SMPS plugged into my 6-way block. Whatever it is, itís worthwhile and neednít be an expensive upgrade.

    There are so many features and functions to the Joplin it seemed remiss not to try them out. So hereís what I found. I canít hear any difference between AES and Spdif. On Spdif and AES it sounds better using the supplied sync rather than the internal clock in my dac. I donít have a USB dac present to test the USB output with though I did make some rips to my laptop. I already have the Young drivers installed so didnít bother download them specifically for the Joplin. You may wish to check out later drivers if they exist. You set the input sample rate and word length on a Mac via the Audio-midi window from then on itís a simple case of opening your preferred recording app, Audacity in my case, and hitting the record button. I spent a fair bit of time recording at 16 and 24 bit, 44, 48, 88, 96, 172 and 192khz. I canít tell them apart, they all sound excellent. If there is any difference between the signal going from Joplin (AES)to Weiss to power amp and speakers vs, a recorded rip played back through laptop (Firewire) to Weiss and onwards as before then I canít hear it. Whenever Iíve used A/D before there has always been an exaggeration of surface noise, tape hiss and clicks and pops from the vinyl. Thereís always been a telltale I could focus on. The record/playback loop with the Joplin and my DAC as best as I can tell is utterly transparent making the Joplin not just a great phonostage but a great archival tool as well.

    It should be obvious by now that Iím quite taken with the Joplin, it performs solid service as a phonostage and almost has every bit of flexibility you could ever wish for- in fact apart from cartridge loading options it does have everything. A quick look inside surprised me with the component density, I wasnít expecting it to be so densely packed and itís nice to see even though itís mostly smt inside that a significant proportion of the parts appear to have been chosen for sonic grounds- you would choose to use the barrel resistors they use if Ďpick and placeí was your overriding concern. Likewise in the signal path all the caps are Wima film and in the digital section all the inputs and outputs are galvanically isolated and correctly terminated.

    For your money you get a nice case, an adequate psu, remote control, a high gain low noise pre-amp, top notch A/D, a Hiface evo, and the ability to use the Joplin as phonostage, Archival quality A/D and standards convertor between different digital formats. It would be unfair to call it a jack of all trades, with all that implies, as it does seem to be the master at extracting the best your records have to offer.

    17\"MB-Pro-Weiss 202-Muse 200- NS 1000M

  2. #2
    Generalist, Craftsman Daudio's Avatar
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    Nov 2010
    Detroit Metro
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    The only thing I didn't see was the price, so I looked it up and NeedleDoctor lists it for $2500.

    Very well done review, thanks !
    More signal, less noise, please.

    Dave A's system: Audirvana+ 2.6/iTunes 10/OSX 9.5, on 2.5gb I5, 16GB, 2012 Mac Mini (w/ MMK & LPSU), USB->Supra-Intona-Regen-Curious, to Benchmark HGC, to SS amps, to Electrostatics and servo subs

  3. #3
    Senior Member wkhanna's Avatar
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    Aug 2012
    The Analog Land of Archaic Anachronisms
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    Great job, Simon!
    A lot valuble info.
    Thanks for taking the time to share.

    Practicing Curmudgeon & Audio Snob

    ....just an "ON" switch, Please!