For the unfamiliar, JCAT is a sub-brand of JPLAY dedicated to hardware components. The company believes that use of their products will help JPLAY users to maximise performance of their systems.
JPLAY is already well-known as software designed to optimise the PC as a digital audio transport (sadly for me, only available for PC). The explosive growth of computer audio has in turn spawned a whole industry, with aftermarket components and accessories such as USB cards, SATA cables, power filters for hard drives and fans, etc.
JCAT's product line-up includes cables for USB, SATA and ethernet, a USB card, and a battery PSU.
Marcin Ostapowicz of JPLAY / JCAT kindly sent me their flagship USB cable, the JCAT Reference USB Cable ("JCAT Reference" for short) for purposes of this review.
I previously reviewed the base model JCAT USB cable, and was suitable impressed (see review).
The JCAT Reference is physically finished to high standards similar to the JCAT USB. The most obvious visual difference is the twin USB A plugs for the separate data and power wires.
According to Marcin, the JCAT Reference is a totally different design using a different conductor material that is superior. The conductors are triple shielded with silver-plated copper, while the nickel plated copper and aluminum connectors are double shielded. The conductors are both multi-stranded and small gauge multi-core wires. Insulation material is teflon. The JCAT Reference also adheres to proper USB impedance specification - 90 ohms.
A length burn-in process was advised, and the cable received close to 350 hours of continuous power (including 100 hours of playback time).
The first thing that you notice about the JCAT Reference is how quiet this cable is. There is a noticeable lowering of the noise floor, and blackness during silent passages. This is all done without sucking the life out of the music, nor rolling off the top end - a very impressive start - all that extra shielding really works.
Bass quality is excellent. Besides having a tight and articulate quality, there is a noticeable increase in impact, and bloom compared to the JCAT USB.
The midrange has a fuller and sweeter quality too, with a more solid yet smoother tone. This extends to the high frequencies that have a gentler and more organic presentation, while delivering an even higher level of detail than that retrieved by the JCAT USB.
From a staging perspective, the JCAT Reference expands the sonic space of instruments and voices such that a more three-dimensional rendering is delivered, together with the sense of space around them.
I noticed that violins had a fuller and sweeter tone, while piano had more weight and authority. There was also better texture, and resolution of the decay of the instruments, and ambience of the recording venue.
The JCAT Reference happened to be evaluated at the same time as the Curious USB Cable (click here for my review). The Curious Cable has a strong sonic signature, with powerful bass, very analog like presentation, and a great sense of dimension. The JCAT Reference on the other hand, has a neutral to slightly warm tone, with excellent speed and resolution. You certainly won't go wrong with either cable, and the right choice would depend on system matching and your own preference.
In my view, the JCAT Reference is a worthwhile upgrade from the JCAT USB. I believe that most audiophiles would prefer the sweeter and more musical tone of the JCAT Reference, while enjoying the higher level of quietness, resolution and three-dimensionality.
The JCAT Reference rightfully deserves it's "Reference" label. Having listened to a number of highly rated USB cables, this cable definitely belongs to the top-tier. I've decided to purchase the review sample and this cable is definitely staying put in my system.
A big thanks goes to Marcin Ostapowicz of JPLAY / JCAT for arranging for the review sample.
JCAT - JPLAY Computer Audio Transport
Price : EUR 499 (EUR 449 for JPLAY users)
Sunday, October 4, 2015
|Espresso anyone ?|
Mizik is a new company helmed by Javier Guandalajara. Javier is best known for his products sold by Wadax. Unfortunately, Wadax products are priced beyond the reach of most audiophiles, and thankfully, that is where Mizik steps in.
Mizik's product range consists of two products at the moment, a DAC cum preamplifier (the dPlay) and a phono-stage cum A/D converter (the dVin). I understand that Mizik should be ready with the dStream soon, a streamer/server product.
At the heart of Mizik is it's MusIC process - a patented Wadax process. To quote Mizik verbatim, "All audio circuits are susceptible to parasitic error mechanisms, mechanical and electrical effects that distort and alter the musical signal passing through them. To make matters worse, these distortions differ depending on the size and nature of the signal and effect not just resolution and information, but time and phase relationships within the music. The result is a loss of detail and transparency, but also a blurring of the timing and rhythmic patterns that define music and separate it from random noise."
Wadax tackles this by predicting the error via complex mathematical modelling and correcting the signal to eliminate distortion. MusIC is carried out in a proprietary MusIC chip. In order to bring this process to more cost effective products, only the most essential fare retained, which cuts down on the processing power required, and allowing them to be loaded onto commercially available chipsets, e.g. Mizik.
Each Mizik module has identical dimensions (29 x 22.3 x 8.1 cm) and weight (5.5 kg). VIsually, they are quite stunning in the flesh, with a choice of matt or chrome finish. While the styling may be a matter of taste (an old style ATM or coffee machine comes to mind), you cannot help but admit that it does make an impression. I personally loved the looks, especially the chrome finish.
The Mizik module can be oriented vertically or horizontally, with a specialised base available for each orientation.
The dPlay is well specified with three digital inputs (asynchronous USB, coaxial, Toslink and Mizik link). Both single ended and balanced outputs are available, as well as a 6.3 mm headphone jack. The proprietary Mizik link works using a HDMI cable. Unused ports include an Ethernet socket (for connecting to the yet to be released dStream streamer), and a socket for an external PSU.
The touch screen front panel gives you access to all available functions, including volume control, and output voltage. The latter works on the headphone jack too, which means that you can select the output to either match the sensitivity of your headphones, overall gain of the system, or minimise the use of the digital volume control. The orientation of the screen can be rotated manually or set to automatically detect your chosen orientation of the device. Other settings include balance, input level, preamp mode, phase and dsd filter settings. The input level is an unusual setting that allows you to select trim levels for the different digital inputs. No manufacturer explanation was given and I left it at the default settings. The Mizik resets your volume to a lower volume each time you switch it on. Deactivating the preamp mode is accompanied by a warning that the level will be set to maximum. All these are nice touches to ensure a safe and pleasant hi-fi experience.
Moving on to the dVin, a similar menu provides for levels of gain for the phono stage, three choices of phono equalization curves (RIAA, Decca and Columbia) and activation of the preamplifier section. One glaring omission in my view is the ability to customise loading. You get the standard 47K ohm and 100 ohm loading for MM and MC respectively. Capacitance for both settings is fixed at 100 pF.
A second set of RCA jacks allows you to hook up a line-level analog source (e.g. a tuner or tape deck) for purpose of A to D conversion. This permits the dVin to send the digitized signal via the Mizik link to the dPlay, or via a USB output for purposes of recording. Most purists would have headed for the door by now. Digitized vinyl ? The sheer heresy of it all ! Don't write it off just yet. The dVin does have a pair of line level outputs, so you can use it as a standalone device.
Initial listening sessions with the dPlay made it obvious that I was dealing with something very unusual and quite special. For want of a better description, it sounded very "right", natural and quite unlike any other digital hardware I've heard at this price level. MusIC at play perhaps ?
The best words to describe the dPlay would be sweet, fluid and very "analog" sounding. There is a lack of aggression and harshness that made music very easy to listen to. I also noticed that the Mizik brought the soundstage slightly closer compared to my reference DACs (Calyx Femto DAC and Totaldac D1-dual DAC), with an overall bigger image size.
Tonally, the dPlay had a light golden glow to it, with a solidity to the reproduction of brass instruments. This gave the dPlay good presence, and an almost turntable and tube-like character to it's presentation. Bass authority and power, as well as the very top most octave were slightly diminished, which gave music a bit less scale and airiness compared to my usual equipment.
Otherwise, the dPlay performed well, with good resolving power and staging. I cannot overstate the immense listenability of the dPlay, which made listening for hours on end so enjoyable, even with less well recorded albums.
Compliments should also be given for the quality of the headphone output stage. After some modest run-in (24 hours), it really performs well - I would put its performance to be on par with most headphone stages below $1,000.
While the DPlay supports DSD, I had some issues playing back DSD files on the dPlay. It worked fine for PC, but failed to work for my Auralic Aries (no lock) and Mac (sound quality issues). If DSD is important to you, it would be best to confirm with your dealer that your source is compatible.
I tried the dVin in both my analog setups. In my bedroom setup, the dVin replaced a Whest Two phono stage. Paired with a Pro-ject 2xperience Acryl, Pro-ject 9CC tonearm and Sumiko Blackbird High Output MC cartridge, the dVin handily surpassed the Whest Two, with an edge in bass impact and high frequency extension. The dVin also had better detail retrieval and separation, while casting a deeper and wider soundstage. The Whest Two promptly stormed off after a while, and sulked in the corner throughout the review period.
Comparing the dVin with my Graham Slee Reflex M / Elevator phono stage / stepup was more interesting. The dVin had a sweeter and more relaxed tone, while the Graham Slee duo had a more dynamic and lively sound. Paired with my Soulines Kubrick DCX, Jelco 750D tonearm, and Shelter 5000 MC cartridge, the dVin was a bit too polite and dynamically restrained.
Tonally, the dVin is quite similar to the dPlay, with a sweet and fluid presentation.
Notwithstanding my preference for my Graham Slee, there was no doubt that the dVin was serious equipment as far as phono stages go. To stop the review here, would be selling the dVin short. The dVin has far more tricks up it's sleeve. I made some high resolution digital recordings from the dVin with very good results, using a Macbook Pro running Sound Forge.
Hooking up the dVin to the dPlay using the Mizik link brought a significant jump to the performance of the dVin with tighter and better controlled bass, finer resolving power and better staging. It would be a logical step to at least invest in both the dVin and dPlay together. Add in the yet to be released streamer, and you would have a complete solution.
The Mizik dPlay and dVin must probably be the most unusual components I've come across in a while, from both a visual and technical perspective.
The dPlay is to me the clear winner, with it's strong level of performance and feature set. The dVin on the other hand, faces stiff competition. As a phono stage, there are plenty of options out there, but the scales would definitely tip in it's favour if you are looking to digitize your collection, and have already invested in the dPlay to maximize the dVin's performance via the Mizik link.
Mizik dPlay - Highly Recommended. Mizk dVin - Recommended.
Review samples were kindly provided by X-Audio Pte Ltd, local dealers for Mizik.
Mizik DPlay and dVin
Local Promotional Price - S$ 4,800 each
X Audio Pte Ltd
1 Jalan Anak Bukit
#01-01S Bukit Timah Plaza