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Review: Jkeny’s modified Hiface

post #1 of 430
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Review: Jkeny’s modified Hiface

A few months ago I started a thread here: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/usb...hiface-449885/ where I compared a few usb to spdif converters. So far I had used in my system 6 different usb converters and the M2tech Hiface was my favourite.

A few weeks ago, jkeny told us about the mods he performed on the Hiface. He offered to send me for review his modded Hiface which I gladly accepted. So after listening for it for a week, I decided it was time to write a little bit more about it.

For the details about the mod, here is the link to John’s webpage: https://sites.google.com/site/hifacemods/home



System used for the review:


System Used:

Main Chain used for this review:
Foobar v1.0 --> Kernel Streaming --> Jkeny’s modified hiface --> Oyaide DB-510 --> Audio-gd DAC19 DSP --> Artisan Cables "Ultimate Silver Dream" RCA / Sharkwire ACSS --> Audio-GD C2 (Opa Earth and Moon) --> Artisan Silver Cables --> Sennheiser HD-650

Power related accessories:
Hi-Fi Cables & Cie PowertransPlus Power Cords (x2)
Hi-Fi Cables & Cie SimplePower
Bada LB-5600 Power Filter Plant
Essential Audio Tools Noise Eater Parallel Filter

Vibration Control:
E&T Spider Rack, Maple platforms, Sandboxes, Brass cones, Acrylic and Fiber carbon sheets, Yamamoto footers, Herbie's Audio Lab Tenderfoot, SuperSonic Component Stabilizer

Headphone cables: Artisan Silver Cables Mark1, Artisan Silver Cables Mark2, Revelation Audio Labs Cryo Silver Sennheiser Cable

Other equipment:
Transports: Emu 0404 usb, Musiland Monitor 01 usd, Teralink X, M2tech Hiface (stock), Purepiper usb to spdif, Teralink X2
DACs: Emu 0404 usb, Zero DAC, Audio-gd DAC 100, Audio-gd FUN, Purepiper DAC A-1
Headphone amps: Audio-gd ST-3, Little Dot MKIII, Audio-gd FUN.


Some of the reference tracks used for this review:

Natalie Dessay - Italian Opera Arias - Emi Classics
Mahler - Symphony n 5 - Decca
Puccini - La Boheme – Decca
Mozart Violin Concertos - Marianne Thorsen - 2L - 24/96
Sol Gabetta - Schostakowitsch Cellokonzert Nr. 2/Cello
Vivaldi - Concerto for 2 violins - Carmignola/Mullova
Keith Jarrett - Paris / London - Testament - 24/96
Glenn Gould - The Goldberg Variations 1981
Hans Zimmer - Gladiator Soundtrack
The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five
Diana Krall - Live in Paris
The World's Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings - Chesky - 24/96
Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
Patricia Barber - Companion
Soundrama - "The Pulse" Test CD
Head-fi/Chesky Sampler - Open Your Ears - 24/96


The Review:

Part 1: Preliminary findings

Timber & Tonal balance:


While there is no shift in tonal balance per se, there are however differences between the stock Hiface and the modified one in the way they affect the DACs.

The most striking feature of the modded Hiface is a better extension at the frequency extremes: the bass extends deeper and the highs extend higher and in a cleaner fashion than the Hiface.

In comparison to each other, the sound of the modded Hiface is fuller. But this is different from the false warmth injected by some jittery converters. While the Teralink X2, for instance, is indeed warmer than the stock Hiface, it achieves so by adding the same extra warmth and haze to all the sounds, which reduces the overall resolution.

So what to expect from the modified Hiface? With well designed and neutral DACs, the sound gain in tonal density and realism. The instruments are more easily recognized and … they gain in realism.

Another strength of the modded Hiface is the way it renders the specific timber of very close sounding instruments.
Listening for instance to the Concerto for 2 violins - Vivaldi, you can clearly hear that Carmignola and Mullova are playing 2 different violins (Stradivarius and Guadagnini if my memory serves me well). The violins are not only beautifully rendered but they also have distinct tonal signatures. While some warmer converters can make this album tolerable to listen to, they rob the inner details of the instruments and make everything sound the same.

Of course, this won’t be the case with every DAC, the better and the more transparent the DAC, the more subtleties you will be able to enjoy.


Soundstage & Imaging:

Here, the modified Hiface achieves something really interesting. It can throw a huge soundstage (if the components downstream are up to the task) while retaining a superb imaging capability.

If we take the Teralink X2 for example, it can throw a pretty big soundstage but it lacks depth and is fuzzy and blurry. After listening for a while to the modified Hiface I understood that part of what it was doing is to push the soundstage further back which is good for headphone listening and with entry level DACs. However, by doing so, there is a blurring of the layering lines and lack of depth.
The Hiface on the other hand throws a smaller soundstage in comparison to the Teralink X2 but it is a lot more defined a layered.

What the modified Hiface does is to throw a bigger soundstage than any other converter. To be more specific, the soundstaging is upfront like the stock Hiface but it has a tremendous depth which makes a lot bigger overall. While listening to the modified Hiface, you just feel like having a open window into the representation.

I have previously described the stock Hiface as having a holographic imaging. Here the modified Hiface goes a little bit further. Thanks to its greater tonal density and to its more accurate timber, you get not only a holographic imaging of the performers, but you get a greater sense of realism. You feel there are real persons breathing and performing in front of you.
From a technical point of view, the stock Hiface was already very good in that regard. But whatever, the modified Hiface is doing, it seems to be more convincing emotionally speaking.

Overall, the modified Hiface makes it a lot easier to mentally “reconstruct” the place where the recorded event took place. It just makes more sense.


Dynamics:


I first thought that I wouldn’t have much to write about in this section of the review. When listening to the modified everything was fine, I had huge macro-dynamics and beautifully rendered micro-dynamics but I assumed that was coming from the rest of the chain. It was until I reverted back to the Teralink X2 and Stock Hiface that I noticed the difference.
When trying new gear, we get accustomed sometimes too quickly to the benefits and it is only until we revert back to the old gear that we realize how far we have come from.

Here, the modified Hiface was actually a pretty big step up in dynamics. In fact, reverting back to the stock Hiface (or worse to the Teralink X2), the sound become duller, with slowed transients.
Once again, since the modified Hiface is only a usb to spdif converter, the limiting factor in most situation will probably be the DAC itself. But in comparison to other converters, the modified Hiface gave the most dynamic results regardless of the Hiface. So my bet is that is this characteristic will be audible in all DACs.


Transparency & Definition:

The Hiface has an excellent analyzing capability. It can dig very deep in the recordings but renders the information in a very natural way. While the stock Hiface is slightly more upfront with the details, the modified Hiface has a lot more low level details. With the right associated DAC, you can get a very detailed and relaxed representation.
Personally, I have never heard in my system a converter as detailed and at the same time as analog like as the modified Hiface.

On interesting thing I also mentioned in my review about the dac19dsp is that with the modified Hiface it is the first time I can clearly hear a big improvement on 24/96 files.
Before that, I used to have a hard time distinguishing properly upsampled 16/44 data to 24/96 from the native 24/96 ones. In fact what I had realized is that most differences we hear going from 16/44 to 24/96 are due to the poor filtering at 44.1. Even with my entry level dacs (emu 0404 usb, audio-gd dac100, audio-gd FUN, Purepiper DAC A-1, Zero DAC), I can hear the differences between 16/44 and 24/96 but simply because their digital filters are relatively poor at 16/44.
With the modified Hiface associated to the dac19dsp, it was something else. I really heard an increase in resolution by going to 24/96.


Preliminary conclusion:


Contrary to what I am used to, I have made very few musical examples simply because it is very dependent on the associated DAC.
The modified Hiface is a very transparent device. It doesn’t have a sonic signature of its own. As far as I could tell, the overall sonic signature will depend more on the associated equipment and the recording itself than on the modified Hiface itself.
For more details about musical examples, I invite you to read my review of the DAC19DSP for which I used the modified Hiface as a transport. (See here: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/rev...ection-483899/).

While the modified version that jkeny sent me is still a prototype, I can say that it by far the best converter I have listened to in my system. I was expecting a small improvement (since I considered the stock one being excellent) but I was totally surprised by the level of performance of the modified Hiface. Its effect on the sound was not subtle at all.

jkeny described the sound of the modified Hiface as similar to that of expensive analog and I couldn’t agree more: his modified Hiface make the other converters sound broken.

Personally, I have already asked jkeny if I could send him my stock Hiface to have a similar mod done to it.


Part 2: using the modified Hiface with different DACs

Work in progress


Part 3: Jkeny’s special usb cable

Work in progress


Part 4: The ESS DAC

Work in progress


Some pictures of my system:
LL
LL
post #2 of 430
Hi slim.a,

Another nice review from you. Will Jkeny modify for other people? If M2tech can release a similar version, it would be great.
post #3 of 430
Great review
post #4 of 430
Excelent review, thank you slim.a
Interesting findings, maybe I should try a modded one too..
post #5 of 430
Thanks for the review. Jkeny has taken the hiface to another level, well done.
post #6 of 430
nice review slim
did I understand correctly that this modded hiFace is still using the usb as a power supply or is it already running on batteries?
best regards
André
post #7 of 430
Quote:
Originally Posted by reverendo View Post
nice review slim
did I understand correctly that this modded hiFace is still using the usb as a power supply or is it already running on batteries?
best regards
André
I think his modify version is something like this:

M2Tech HiFace USB – jkeny modded | TÃ*rNaHiFi.org
post #8 of 430
What a way with words, painting the picture, making sense of the intricate world of audio. You have a gift slim.a, keep giving.

I have often felt our great headphones are limited by our sources ( bar those that are lucky to have exotic and super expensive front ends), finaly we are getting practically and realistically closer to the intended quality attainable.

Yes, M2tech has made a grand product in the Hiface, John Kenny has done a grand job showing what it can do and you, slim.a a grand job at telling us about it, well done.

Thankfullshade.
post #9 of 430
Quote:
Originally Posted by t/sound View Post
What a way with words, painting the picture, making sense of the intricate world of audio. You have a gift slim.a, keep giving.
I agree completely - slim.a has a great way with words & might consider (if he hasn't done so already) writing for one of the existing audio journals.

I'm of course, delighted with the positive review that he has given the modified hiface & the time he spent & the comprehensive analysis he has done. Full credit to him & to his contribution to this forum.

Quote:
I have often felt our great headphones are limited by our sources ( bar those that are lucky to have exotic and super expensive front ends), finaly we are getting practically and realistically closer to the intended quality attainable.

Yes, M2tech has made a grand product in the Hiface, John Kenny has done a grand job showing what it can do and you, slim.a a grand job at telling us about it, well done.

Thankfullshade.
Thanks fullshade, I fully agree with your statements about getting the best from headphones - as with all audio the source is the foundation/limitation to the sound - now I believe, we can get high end sound for little money with the Hiface & with my modifications can raise the bar significantly.

Quote:
Will Jkeny modify for other people?
Sure, see my site referenced by slim Home (Hiface USB Transport Modifications)


Quote:
did I understand correctly that this modded hiFace is still using the usb as a power supply or is it already running on batteries?
The modded hiFace uses batteries for some critical parts of the hiface supply & this is the review of that modified device. It is still using the 5V USB supply to power other parts of the hiface. Slim will be doing a report on the modified USB cable I sent him that allows the substitution of an external 5V supply for this USB power.

Quote:
I think his modify version is something like this:

http://tirnahifi.org/reviews/?page_id=9
That is an unboxed modified hiface; the one slim has is a boxed version. There's no difference to the actual modifications though, just in the packaging.

post #10 of 430
Thanks Slim.a
Slim.a you've got to compare the Jkeny modded hiface vs original hiface?, Short, to define the Jkeny hiface better than the original you rely on memories or fact?
Thanks
post #11 of 430
Quote:
Originally Posted by gattari View Post
Thanks Slim.a
Slim.a you've got to compare the Jkeny modded hiface vs original hiface?, Short, to define the Jkeny hiface better than the original you rely on memories or fact?
Thanks
I don't wish to answer on behalf of slim but I believe you missed the comparison that the stock hiFace is back from M2tech after repair & is being compared not from memory but in situ.
post #12 of 430
Quote:
Originally Posted by jkeny View Post
I don't wish to answer on behalf of slim but I believe you missed the comparison that the stock hiFace is back from M2tech after repair & is being compared not from memory but in situ.

Thanks Jkeny
I missed .....
post #13 of 430
Well I have really enjoyed my M2Tech HiFace and if it can be modified to sound noticeably better, I have got to try it out. jkeny you got PM.
post #14 of 430
Nice review Slim.

US
post #15 of 430
Well as Mr Keny has pointed out relieving the Hi Face of it's dependency on the USB bus for power pays huge dividends and it is likely the main reason for the improvement over the stock unit although implementing the I2S interface is also highly desirable..... I still contend the PSU mod to battery power or an outboard linear supply is the reason why the unit gains are so dramatic vs stock.

He is simply following the old maxim that PSU quality is half the ball game (in some cases 75% of it). That being said it's commendable of him to bring this mod to light and to make it available for low cost !

Slim.a I am really impressed by your growth as a reviewer, you manage to break down the subjective in terms anyone can understand (which is not easy) while remaining objective about the gear you analyze. Staying away from flowery verbiage is also to your credit and another noteworthy hallmark of your style. At times it's very difficult to purposely steer away from the all too often used phrases and word combinations that the mainstream rags seems to use over and over and over () but you manage to do it with regularity (much to our benefit). I've read well over 1000 audio publications from cover to cover over the decades and I must say I enjoy your stuff over the pro rags by a fair margin.

My only hope is that you stay here and keep up the good work

Double thumbs up on this review and the C2/DAC19DSP review you recently posted which was also an excellent thoroughly well thought out and covered piece of work.

Head Fi is a richer place.

Cheers

Peete.
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