I’d heard of Human Audio products before Stu asked to me review these pieces. I’d seen them too, which perhaps goes some way to explaining my excitement at the arrival of the courier. The high end Libretto HD CD player/Dac is one of my fantasy hi-fi league items, but sadly the two box, high resolution bamboo encased dream machine is somewhat out of my league, leaving me to flick longingly through images online.
The content of said delivery is a little more down to earth. The more affordable Human Audio Muto Dac has come to stay for a few weeks and it’s now unboxed, unwrapped and plugged in. Plugged in might be stretching it actually. The unit is purely battery powered as per Human Audio’s philosophy, so connected would perhaps be a more accurate comment, with just single ended interconnects running from the Dac to my trusty Audio Note Oto amplifier.
Spend some time reading through Hungary based Human Audio’s website and several things become obvious. They’ve got some clear ideas about what they want to make and, seemingly, both the technical savvy and the eye for product detail to produce it. The website mentions input from professional musicians when voicing the range and all of the products are battery powered, with even this entry level Muto Dac using two piece high-grade Lithium-Iron-Phosphate (LiFePO4) cells. The Muto can accept a digital signal of up to 24 bit/192 Khz and has an RCA and BNC digital input on the back of the neat, understated housing that measures just 100 x 55 x 130mm. Fully discrete, which describes the unique analogue output stage that operates in class A.
In use the Dac needs a good charge up and is then good for 12 hours listening. The power supply is completely isolated from the signal path and has no effect on sound, meaning the Muto can stay attached to the charger if the user finds that easier. A green light indicates good charge, with the red light illuminating when the battery runs low. The charger will kick in automatically at this point if connected and top up the battery, with full cycle charging commencing when the Dac is switched off. Pretty straightforward.
Early listening suggested a full, flowing sound that reminded me of a good NOS Dac design. With this in mind I connected up my MHDT Havana for comparison. In practice the Hungarian Dac was a good degree or two cleaner than the excellent Taiwanese competitor whilst still managing to produce the beautifully textured midband that the NOS Dac does so well. Jenny Wilson’s ‘Work’ is a superb test of background ‘blackness’ and the stop-start nature of the track is better rendered by the Muto, which manages to put a touch more air and space between sounds without compromising the timing and hit of notes. I might be looking for this ‘silence’ more as I’m aware that the unit is battery powered but it’s definitely noticeable when compared again to the Havana in a blind test – I pick it straight away. Clever circuit design or the lack of any mains nasties? Maybe both.
On to test two, and a shoot out with the Metrum Octave Mini Dac – coincidentally also non over sampling. This two box D to A is the latest addition to my home system and the clear, balanced sound this well priced unit offers has been a revelation. The lower than normal 1.2V analogue output level of the Muto means that set up is more difficult than I’ve found with other reviews and liberal use of a decibel meter is essential to ensure a fair test. Both Dacs are fed lossless files from an Audiocom modded Sonos unit.
Some Grimes first, and a few tracks from the rising stars latest LP Visions. The Muto excels with vocal expression, wringing every last drop out of the lovelorn vocal on ‘Skin’. It produces a fuller, warmer sound than the Metrum. Bass is a little slower but well defined. A once round with Wild Beasts ‘Smother’ confirms that the Human Audio piece portrays real instruments in a most natural, unforced manner with percussion hitting just as it should. In comparison the Metrum is as well balanced, but just a little leaner and a touch more “up on its toes”. It can perhaps turn a little quicker, and in my system at least, tracked dynamic shift a little more ably. I found myself acknowledging the front edges of notes when listening to the Metrum and was more ‘in the note’ with the Muto. I kept having to remind myself that both products were solid state – It felt for all the world like I was comparing a brilliant solid state Dac (Metrum) against an excellent interpretation of valve output stage (Muto). In truth the completely open nature and outright speed of the Dutch unit was probably a better foil to the valve loveliness of the very musical Audio Note amp, but that in no way detracts from the unquestionable quality of the battery converter. It could certainly add some sparkle and musicality to many ‘typical’ solid state systems I’ve heard. A brief dalliance with an Esoteric Audio Research 869 at the very end of my time with the Muto was perhaps a better exercise in component matching and confirmed that this understated little box of off grid tricks could be all a listener ever needs.
The sub 1000 Euro price point is stacked pretty deep and at 999 Euros the ‘sold direct’ Muto only just sits inside that. Other dacs offer more features, more inputs and maybe shout the message louder, but I’d urge any buyer on the hunt for a compact, clever and above all MUSICAL digital to analogue converter to spend some time with this understated little box. Chances are it’ll be just what you were looking for. Great job Human Audio.