This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

During the course of this review, I ripped several CDs to two different laptops - an HP running Windows XP and a Dell running Microsoft’s truly wretched Windows Vista via Exact Audio Copy. I downloaded 24/96, 24/176 and 24/192 tracks from several music sites. Wherever possible I compared 16/44 versions of the same music against their higher resolution ones. While I did not have an outboard hard drive to house my music tracks—which I understand can offer superior sound quality—I did defrag my laptop hard drive and optimize Windows as much as possible via the msconfig utility program.

I played back 16/44 tracks with a Cullen-modified PS Audio DL III DAC which has both USB and S/PDIF inputs. However, the USB input is limited to 16/48 while S/PDIF can handle 24/192. I also used my recently acquired 24/192 capable Audiomat Tempo 2.6 DAC, which does not have USB input. Then again, I bought it for its wonderful musicality, not its connectivity options. I experienced no serious difficulties with the hiFace. The only issue was some clicking and popping noises when playing back 24/192 files from my HP laptop. I eliminated this by adjusting the buffer length and temporarily disabling unneeded Windows features.

Over the course of this reviewed I was shocked to hear that everything from the make and model of computer, CPU, RAM, hard drive, operating system, music playback program, file format— FLAC, WAC—plus the myriads of system and program settings all affected the sound to some degree. I suspect that storing music files on an external hard drive or on one of the new SSD drives just hitting the market would have exerted their own further variables. If you are coming into this with the belief that bits are bits, prepare for an ice-old shower. Computer audio is just as tweaky and unpredictable as traditional hifi was.

Playback of 16/44 music on my HP laptop/DL III combo over a standard USB cable was listenable for brief periods only and wasn't nearly as natural or involving as my CEC TL51 transport. Not close at all even with a $30 Belkin digital cable. Worse still, instrumental and vocal timbres consistently sounded slightly off which I have previously noted with several USB-based systems. To date I have been thoroughly unimpressed by USB-based audio.

I then tried 16/44 playback with the hiFace and a digital cable running to the S/PDIF input of the DL III. I was surprised just how much better it got. The music was full-bodied, rich, dynamic and plain more enjoyable. The noise floor lowered to such an extent that I could hear more subtle and delicate musical details than the straight USB feed offered. Even low bit-rate Internet radio outperformed the direct USB input. After going back and forth several times, I still preferred spinning discs in my CEC transport however. While the hiFace was quieter and perhaps more transparent, the CEC was a tad more fleshed out and vibrant. Granted, a more tricked-out computer with perhaps one of the new SSD drives might have swung the pendulum the other way. However, sound quality became absolutely stunning when I played back high-resolution tracks especially once I swapped in my Audiomat DAC.

Listening to Reference Recordings’ 24/176 WAV of Tchaikovsky’s Hopak from Mazeppa was unlike anything I have heard before. Ditto various 24/192 FLAC bleeding chunks from Wagner’s Ring Cycle as performed by Jonathan Darlington and the Duisburg Philharmonic Orchestra (Acousense Classics ACO21309). After several weeks of experimenting, the high-resolution tracks stood out from their 16/44 counterparts—be those CD, FLAC or WAV—in several areas. I heard a far more realistic sense of space especially in image depth and placement. The frequency extremes displayed greater extension and articulation. While more extended, the highs were also silkier and more natural and open while bass was deeper, more defined and propulsive. The presentation was essentially grain-free and more robust and visceral while the sense of listening through a pile of electronics was greatly diminished. 24/192 certainly seemed to be this music lover’s Holy Grail. Now that I had a glimpse of it, I wantz it. Having said that, I cannot say how the hiFace compares to other high-resolution solutions. Considering the improvement I heard over 16/44, recommending such an elegant and inexpensive product is a no-brainer however.

While I found my CEC TL51 CD player a tad more musical with 16/44 audio, the laptop/hiFace combo was damn close. Then it went to a completely new level at 24/192. Hard-drive based audio is still in its infancy and so fluid, I see little sense to invest in ridiculously priced $20,000 music servers. You can get there at a fraction of the price with a laptop or desktop, a decent 24/192 capable DAC, perhaps an external hard drive and M2Tech’s hiFace. I am surprised that so few dealers have computer-based audio in their showrooms. They are missing a great opportunity. Customers could bring in their favorite tunes on a USB memory stick, play them back on a hiFace-equipped laptop with any DAC. With the laptop’s portability, it would be a snap to audition any component or system configuration. What better way to show off a set of loudspeakers or amplifier to a customer than demonstrating them with 24/192 tracks?

In the few years since I started reviewing, I cannot think of another product that offered so much for so little. If you have a DAC regardless of input options and contemplate getting into computer-based audio, a hiFace would be a terrific place to start. Just prior to submitting my review, I learned that Mutine has secured exclusive distribution rights in Canada while Tweek Geek handles the US and several other countries without local distribution.

Quality of packing
: Excellent.
Reusability of packing: Reusable several times.
Quality of owner's manual: Included on CD-ROM. Easy to understand.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Completeness of delivery: Perfect.
Website comments: Excellent. Plenty of info, FAQ, trouble shooting guide etc.
Human interactions: Professional and friendly.
Pricing: A plain awesome deal
Final comments & suggestions: Driver software is updated periodically so remember to check M2Tech’s website regularly.

M2Tech website