Roon Ready Writeups: Mytek Liberty DAC II and Mytek THX AAA Headphone Amp Review

Mytek Liberty DAC II and Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA

The parade of DACs, and a word of thanks!

Before launching into our review of the Mytek Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA Headphone Amp, we want to thank you for your support and kind feedback. It’s what Roon is here for, to make these choices easier for you. We’re excited to hear that these articles are helpful and welcome your questions.

A few of you have asked us why there are so many DAC models and what makes them different. We completely understand your curiosity. You’ve seen reviews on DACs, including ours, that mention the chips used in a device, and the same chips keep popping up repeatedly. If that’s the case, how can all these DACs sound different?

It’s important to remember that there’s more to a DAC than just the chip that converts the digital signal to an analog one our ears can understand. Implementing the chip into the surrounding circuitry, the power supply, the analog output section, and other factors make a big difference.

Think of it this way; many guitarists have played Fender Stratocasters, but they didn’t all sound the same. There was only one Jimi Hendrix. If the guitar were the determining factor, they would have all been Hendrixes, stylistically. How the chip (guitar) is plugged into the circuitry (an individual player) makes it unique.

Mytek Liberty DAC II and Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA

The origins of DACs, and their shared DNA with Mytek

A curious paradox about DACs is that they shouldn’t sound like anything. A DAC should be a ghost, present yet transparent. Stopping to consider the original purpose of convertors explains why. They began as ADACs – analog to digital to analog converters in mastering and recording studios. Their goal was to encode analog material to a digital signal and reproduce the analog original as accurately as possible. To achieve that conversion without introducing unintentional coloration was sonic Olympia. But it’s exceptionally challenging to do. There are innumerable ways to alter the sound unintentionally. Noise, harmonic distortion, inconsistent current, poor power… more than we could list. 

Fully grasping the importance of passing a musical signal through that conversion loop unadulterated is inherent in people with experience in the spaces where music is made. That understanding is at the foundation of every Mytek product. 

Mytek was born in the studio. And it’s a significant factor why their DACs and Amps are highly esteemed for their accuracy and musical purity. Mytek founder, Michal Jurewicz, worked in some of New York City’s most prolific studios just as recording technology transitioned from analog to digital. He knew what a well-recorded analog track sounded like. His understanding of audio circuitry, technical acumen, and passion for sonic transparency inspired him to improve the sound quality of the first digital recording systems utilized at Skyline Studio. Artists and producers praised the accuracy and sound quality of Mytek equipment, and soon Mytek gear was found in most of the top-tier recording studios in Manhattan.  

That spirit of innovation continued with Mytek’s desire to make the same musical playback equipment available to music lovers, which led to several award-winning home audio DACs that exude the same sound quality as their studio-based siblings. We’ll listen to, and share our thoughts on, the Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA Headphone Amp – two stunning desktop units that place great sound and captivating close listening within a headphone cable’s reach. 

Stacked Mytek Liberty DAC II and Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA with Meze 99 Classics on a bookshelf

Mytek’s Liberty series, quality transparency wunderkinds

The Liberty product line was envisioned as a series of affordable, high-quality single-purpose boxes. Each is designed to perform one dedicated function exceptionally well. The Liberty DAC II had to have missed its “you have one job!” email – because it does three quite remarkably. There’s always a show-off…

The Liberty DAC II is a DAC, Pre-Amp, and Headphone Amp all in one – and it is phenomenally adept at each task. Readers familiar with the original Liberty DAC will recognize external similarities in the Liberty DAC II. The machine-stamped enclosure with Mytek logo venting is nearly the same size and design. The subtlety scaled face plate, LEDs, and rear-mounted connections orientation differ only slightly, and inputs remain plentiful. The Liberty DAC II has a remote for added convenience; the original had none. The most significant changes are tucked away inside the enclosure, unseen – but immediately heard and felt. What are they? Off we go… 

A substantial improvement comes via the new overspeced linear power supply and accompanying toroidal transformer. The analog outputs and headphone section have also received enhanced linear power circuitry. The converter chip-set was upgraded to an ES9038Q2M, the junior version of the ES9038PRO used in Mytek’s flagship product lines. These aren’t the only changes that were made, but the presence of all three is rare in a DAC of this price and size! Remember earlier when we mentioned the importance of the power and analog output stages? They’re proven in this Mytek’s pudding. 

Those power sections push up to 3 watts from the headphone jack and easily drive most high-impedance headphones. The Meze Liric and Meze Empyrean headphones paired with it very well. And it’ll decode up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256, and MQA – that covers the waterfront, and then some format-wise, with Roon streaming partners.

Wiring it up to the legacy system we’ve used the last few weeks provided stellar results. Then we connected the Liberty DAC II to a Primare Prisma MK2 Roon Ready bridge and instantly had a Roon Ready wireless legacy system. But this box sounds incredibly good no matter how you integrate it into your system – we’ll dig into the sound more deeply in our listening notes.

If you’re new to Liberty DAC II, you appreciate its finer features as much as its sound. The feeling of the 1/2dB stepped volume pot, the snap of the headphone jack when the plug seats, and how perfectly cabling locks into the rear connections. Its tactile feel is beyond satisfying.

Personally, its look and feel were pleasantly reminiscent of the studio gear of my past. It’s the first time I can say that a consumer audio desktop unit felt like studio hardware since I last had production gear on my desk daily.

Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA

The Liberty THX AAA HPA, audio purity – not morse code

The Liberty THX AAA HPA is another impressive sonic wonder in the Liberty product line. Let’s start by decoding its name. AAA is an acronym for the Achromatic Audio Amplifier technology developed by George Lucas’ THX production company. HPA stands for Headphone Amp. 

The Liberty HPA utilizes THX AAA 888 circuitry, the most linear amplifier technology available today. Its goal is hidden in the name, achromatic means “without color.” AAA technology was developed to deliver completely transparent musical accuracy with unprecedented dynamic range while maintaining extraordinarily low levels of noise and distortion – even at -1dB from the maximum output level.

The Liberty THX AAA™ HPA is a reference-grade desktop headphone device nearly identical to the Liberty DAC and equally suited for dedicated HeadFi enthusiasts or professional sound engineers. The Liberty HPA features controls for input, gain levels, and crossfeed mode on its face and four sets of analog inputs on the back. (Full tech specs for both devices can be found below)  

The Liberty HPA reinforces Mytek’s technical expertise and commitment to developing equipment capable of pristine music reproduction. Its genetics continue the legacy of the legendary Mytek Private Q headphone monitoring systems used in almost every New York City recording studio in the 1990s. Headphone cue systems are critical in music studios. Creativity instantly craters when artists and engineers can’t trust the accuracy of their headphone feeds.

The technology inside the Liberty HPA cranks out up to 6 watts of rich analog sound to four headphone outs; balanced XLR 4pin and 4.4mm, and unbalanced 1/4” and 3.5mm. That’s enough muscle to drive any pair of headphones available today with reference-grade audio transparency. Whether you’re using the Liberty HPA for studio monitoring or music immersion, you can trust that you’re hearing exactly what’s in the mix or Final Master. 

And, for those who use another DAC for reference decoding, there’s good news. The Liberty HPA can be paired with any DAC or device with analog outs. Connect it to your current DAC and feel confident that you’re hearing it at its best. The Liberty HPA dishes out power and accuracy anywhere you tie it into your signal chain.

Mytek’s Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA HPA demonstrate the sonic benefits of the company’s studio heritage, delivering decoding precision and sound reproduction with astonishing musical accuracy. The only way to get closer to the original recording would be to hear it in the studio, where it was tracked and mixed.

Listening Notes

I auditioned the Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA HPA in various configurations. First, using the DAC and its integrated headphone amp out, then the Liberty DAC II paired with the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 Roon Ready bridge for wireless networked streaming. Then with both of them wired to the THX AAA Headphone amp. I left the Liberty HPA gain settings on normal with crossfeed deactivated. I used the Meze Liric and Meze Empyrean for reference.

I found the sound of these devices to be absolutely stellar in their transparency and musical nature. I don’t mean a bright “audiophile” sound signature when I say transparent. That kind of presentation isn’t generally accurate because it’s been tuned to enhance higher frequencies. Both Liberty devices presented my reference albums with an exceptionally natural, lifelike sound signature. What you hear is more of the genuine character of the original recording. I wondered if that may be undesirable with genres and records with lesser production quality. I decided to test that possibility with one of Rock music’s undisputed classics.  

Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street

This is an album I know like sugar knows ice cream. I’ve played it thousands of times on more systems than I can remember. It was recorded by The Stones while they were in the throes of legal and tax problems in England. Recording began in London before they decamped to an improvised dank basement studio in the South of France. It’s a legendary rock record, but it typically sounds murky when played by inferior devices because of its thick, humid mix. 

I demoed a few tracks from this album on the Chord Hugo 22go combo a month ago and was surprised by how wide the soundstage sounded – I’d never heard it open up so much. With the Liberty DAC II receiving wireless 24/192 kHz FLAC from the Primare streaming from Qobuz, the album crackled with wiry energy, displaying hypnotic rhythmic currents. The staging was narrower than it was with the Hugo, but it felt more natural. The sound was unbelievably analog in character. Like I was listening to a stereo mixdown on reel-to-reel tape at Sunset Sound circa the early summer of 1972.

The bass was full and had great punch. The depth of the kick drum cut through with lovely heft. The stacked guitars and organ felt less claustrophobic in the mids, and the horns, piano, and harmonica had wonderfully organic timbre and texture. The album sank wonderfully into my marrow when played through Meze Liric headphones. It was a transcendent listening session, one of those brief periods when you’re entirely engrossed in the music. It’s inspiring when music you’ve lived in feels this fresh again.

Sleep – Dopesmoker

This album just returned to streaming, thanks to renewed licensing from Third Man Records. The original album title has been restored. Dopesmoker evolved into Jerusalem upon release under the influence of eastern mysticism and cannabinoids. When I bought a copy on disc in 1999, it had a sticker on the front that read, “Threatens to eclipse the first four Sabbath albums in a wall of pot smoke and despair.” How could you not buy that?! 

For this one, I added the Mytek THX AAA HPA to the Liberty DAC II and Primare NP5 Prisma MK2, then seated the Meze Empyrean on my head. Now, admittedly, a stoner rock cult album may seem like a strange choice of demo music. But it contains one of the most unique untameable, and idiosyncratic organic signals you can throw at a converter – distortion-soaked layered guitar riffs.

For anyone schooled in fuzzology, Dopesmoker’s hour-long primordial riff swamp is ideal fuel for DAC study. The track’s chugging intro builds slowly in volume and instrumental intensity before an avalanche of Sovtek fuzz-fueled Orange Amplification crashes down upon the listener at 2:47 seconds in. It’s incredibly heavy, but its undulating oceans of woolly fuzz sounds remarkably musical. If ever there was an album that would suffer from enhanced analytical decoding, it would be this one. Instead, the waves of sonic magma are astoundingly controlled and detailed – oozing from the Liberty boxes with every watt of their pulverizing intensity perfectly delivered for maximum crushing impact.

It’s the first time I’ve played it in its entirety in a while, and I quickly realized just how poorly it’s been treated by Bluetooth streaming and the DACs on my laptop or phone. Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land? Can do, dude!

Conclusion, I have discovered my new go-to reference playback gear 

Mytek’s studio origins shine through in all their products; they exude a confident understanding of digital encoding, reference-grade playback purity, and studio-grade reliability. It’s a significant factor why their DACs and Amps are so highly esteemed. These products are perfection, unerringly reliable in Roon, and built to sustain years of heavy use – and, they make the same equipment used to create timeless music available to music lovers. 

The Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA Headphone Amp have become my new reference DAC and HeadAmp. Their transparency and accuracy resonate with my studio and production background like no other prosumer DAC/Headphone Amp combination I’ve used previously has. They deliver phenomenally pristine sound and allow me to hear my favorite music exactly as the artist intended. 

If you’re looking for a DAC/AMP or Headphone Amp that shares DNA with studio-grade gear – your search is over. That legacy is at the heart of everything Mytek does. My Liberty DAC II order has been placed. 

For more details, please see Mytek’s partners page.

Additional observations of note:

  • Mytek Liberty Series devices have a combination input/power button. Press and hold the button for a few seconds to power up the units.  
  • The Liberty DAC II’s remote is fully integrated with Roon. Adjust volume, pause and resume play, or change tracks with the remote, and Roon responds just as if you were in the app. 
  • The Liberty DAC II remembers your last volume setting when powered back up. 
  • Exercise Caution: fixed output on the Liberty DAC II is achieved by turning the volume up to full. That would be an unpleasant surprise if one were to return to headphone listening after using fixed output. We’ll update these notes if an alternative fixed output mode is revealed. 
  • Connecting the Mytek THX AAA to the Liberty DAC II, I used inexpensive RCA, and XLR interconnects and found the sound quality exceptionally good. 
  • My preferred settings for the Mytek THX AAA HPA were with normal gain and without crossfeed activated.
  • The Liberty THX AAA HPA can drive the most demanding headphones with complete ease, purchase with confidence.

Mytek Liberty DAC II and Liberty THX AAA Headphone AMP FAQs

Are these devices Roon Certified?

  • Yes, the Liberty DAC II is Roon Tested and requires a wired USB connection. For wireless Roon RAAT streaming, simply connect the Liberty DAC II to a Roon Ready bridge. I used the Primare NP5 Prisma MK2 in my tests with excellent results. 
  • Roon Certification doesn’t apply to the Liberty THX AAA HPA. It’s a standalone headphone amp that can be connected to a DAC, Pre-amp, or any similar device with analog outs.   

What file formats and resolutions do these devices support?

  • Mytek Liberty DAC II up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 native, MQA™, DXD (USB); up to 24-bit/192KHz PCM, DSD64 DoP and MQA (EBU, S/PDIF, Toslink)
  • Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA is a reference-grade headphone amp. It can handle any signal you send to it. 
Mytek Liberty DAC II

What type of input and output connections do they have?

  • Mytek Liberty DAC II: 
  • Inputs are 2 x SPDIF, 1 x optical, 1 x AES/EBU, and 1 x USB-B (USB2 Class2 driver-less)
  • Outputs include 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output, 1 x unbalanced RCA, and 1 x balanced XLR
  • Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA: 
  • Inputs are 3 x RCA, 1 x balanced combination XLR / 1/4” TRS
  • Outputs include 1 x balanced XLR 4pin, 1 x balanced 4.4mm, 1 x unbalanced 6.35mm, 1 x unbalanced 3.5mm headphone outs, and 1 x Pre-amp RCA

Tech specs: 

Mytek Liberty DAC II:

  • Compatibility: Roon Tested, MQA decoder/renderer
  • DAC Chip Set: ESS SABRE ES9038Q2M DAC chip
  • Inputs are 2 x SPDIF, 1 x optical, 1 x AES/EBU, and 1 x USB-B (USB2 Class2 driver-less)
  • Outputs include 1 x 6.35 mm headphone output, 1 x unbalanced RCA, and 1 x balanced XLR
  • Dynamic Range: 127dB DR
  • Sample File Formats: up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 native, MQA™, DXD (USB); up to 24-bit/192KHz PCM, DSD64 DoP and MQA (EBU, S/PDIF, Toslink)
  • Headphone Output Power: 300mA, 3 Watts, designed for hard-to-drive headphones, 
  • Headphone output impedance: 0.1 Ohm
  • Power Supply: Linear with automatic voltage switching 
  • Dimensions: 1/3rd Rack Mounting – 5.5″ (W) x 1.740″ (H) x 8.8″ (D)
  • Weight: 4lbs.

Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA:

  • Amplifier Technology: THX AAA certified
  • Inputs are 3 x RCA, 1 x balanced combination XLR / 1/4” TRS
  • Outputs include 1 x balanced XLR 4pin, 1 x balanced 4.4mm, 1 x unbalanced 6.35mm, 1 x unbalanced 3.5mm headphone outs, and 1 x Pre-amp RCA
  • Dynamic Range: 147dB (A-weighted)
  • Volume Control: Premium 27mm analog ALPS attenuator
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: -150dB min
  • Headphone output power: 6 watts
  • Power Supply: Built-in oversized 60W linear toroid with automatic voltage switching
  • Dimensions: 1/3rd Rack Sizing – 5.5″ (W) x 1.740″ (H) x 8.8″ (D)
  • Weight: 4lbs.

What comes in the box?

Mytek Liberty DAC II:

  • Mytek Liberty DAC II
  • USB 2.0 Cable
  • Aluminum Apple remote
  • Power cord
  • Owner’s manual

Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA:

  • Mytek Liberty THX AAA HPA
  • AC power supply
  • Owner’s manual