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And that again is the main reason why one could use the warm/cold descriptive tactic. This DAC seems to pull the music away from the listener rather than push it forward. The minimal upward shift of the tonal center which slightly lightens the lowest bass (the mid and upper bass are fantastically rendered) plus a very gentle withdrawal of the midrange all add up to a presentation which, lacking imagination, one might call cold. Or even bright. If you're read me for a while, you'll of course realize the fallacy therein. But it remains a potent misdirection regardless.

Source: audio file player, 16/44.1 – 24/192 WAV/FLAC, RCA input. To be honest there's not much to add. The sound was better than from CD whilst having a very similar signature. Changing resolution improved stage depth and image size. Dynamics increased well beyond CD but only by comparison to hi-res material does one finally know the reason. I won't go on here as M2Tech's obvious pride and joy is the USB input.

Source: laptop, 16/44.1 – 24/192 WAV/FLAC, USB input. Do you frequently tire of all the hype surrounding computer audio? I do. There are so many problems to overcome and still so much can go wrong where picking up a CD, powering up a CD player and pressing 'play' seems real bliss. And that's not all. I'm under the impression that a great number of D/A converters with USB trying to catch up don't show even a shadow of what the computer could theoretically provide as a digital source especially with high-resolution signal. The mere presence of a USB input really signifies nothing at all and the Vaughan mercilessly reminds us of it.

It is one of the very few USB-enabled DACs which fully deserve the title. I had no doubt whatsoever as to the proper positioning of the coaxial and USB inputs based on the performance with even standard 16/44.1 Redbook material on WAV and FLAC files. The clear and outright winner was USB. Based on the usual descriptions of CDs played on high-quality separate transports, it's easy to conclude that such a transport remains a worthy device. It is only after we plug the Vaughan into a laptop with a decent software player (for me invariably JPlay) that we fully appreciate the efforts of the engineers who created the Vaughan. No doubt about it, the USB input is its sole raison d'être.

The sound via USB has a lower tonal center of gravity and superior saturation. Images are bigger and more tangible, the latter due to a denser lower midrange. The low bass however remains attenuated and not as well controlled as with my Ancient Audio reference player. As there is not much vital info below 60Hz, it should not bother us too much. Everything above is another story altogether. Without the usual hairsplitting, it must be said that this sound is very 'alive'.

Listening to select songs and entire albums including hi-res material, I swear that I often had goose bumps to bodily react in a similar fashion as I do to vinyl. Still not the same, the depth, saturation and dynamics nonetheless formed the impression that a CD spun in an equally priced CD player sounded shallow, boring and dead. Naturally silver discs played on a truly first-rate player can rock but the Vaughan showed still more particularly with hi-rez source material.

This came from superb differentiation of what distinguishes various albums and makes them different—their mood, production values, recorded venue details—without invoking vivisection mode. I would nearly venture to say that the sound over USB had warm-ish traits. Obviously this merely seemed so. The upper treble remained forward but the general calmness and control of the midrange produced exactly such an effect.

That said the top end was very crystallized as had become evident early on. It simply stayed clear of the particularly irritating range of sibilants to not negatively impact the listening experience. Only with the most demanding of material like David Sylvian's or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's voices this effect became indirectly audible as a hardening of 't' consonants. With all other material it simply added up to an effect of stronger performer auras and more evidence of recorded background noise.

But these minutiae aren't important. The core takeaway from this review should be that computer playback can be fantastic. Starting the review with a legacy CD transport didn't quite convince not because anything was wrong but because I had a slightly different memory from the Warsaw audio show 2012. Once I listened to USB the memory was suddenly matched and I had to reconcile that the music at the show had played from a computer slightly hidden behind the right and emphatically old-school widebander Bodnar Audio speaker. Here I had to forget the means and mechanics of reproduction with their associated myths and preconceptions and simply focus on the sound which filled up the space between the speakers.