There's nothing like a fine tuned high end audio system playing one's favorite music. Great artistry, great music, and great sound can lead to unforgettable experiences. The problem for many audiophiles is that sharing these experiences is very impractical. We can't bring 300 pound speakers and 150 pound amplifiers to a friend's place. Heck, we can't even bring this stuff to other areas of our own residences. Sure, headphones are a great way to experience high end sound, but they are incredibly isolating and don't lead to memorable shared experiences. For these reasons I'm a huge fan and proponent of all-in-one devices such as the Dynaudio Music series, Naim Mu-so series, and the Bluesound Pulse 2i among many others. These devices enable one to bring the music to others rather than attempt to get others to enter our listening rooms.
Several months ago I set out to create a better system than that offered by all-in-one units, keeping in mind that such a system had to meet several requirements. During the process of testing components, I decided to replace my bedroom headphone system as well because I was so impressed by a one component brought in for the aforementioned project. What follows is my story of identifying the problem, finding a solution, and enjoying the fruits of my labor through memorable shared experiences.
Challenges and Solutions
In my house, it's critical that I offer my family excellent sound quality wherever they want to listen. It's how I introduce my wife and eight year old daughter to good music and high end sound. Don't get me wrong, the pressure to offer quality sound is self-imposed. When we first met, my wife was happy listening to music through the built-in speakers of her 25" tube television. I won't let my daughter go down that path of settling for subpar sonics as long as I'm in charge of the audio systems.
The challenge for me was to find a better audio system than any of the previous all-in-one units my family has used over the years. The requirements for this system were many given that this new system would sit in our dining room. The dining room location is next to a table where we sit often and the first thing guests see when entering our house. With this in mind, here are the requirements I set out to satisfy.
- All parts of the system have to look good.
- The entire system must be small.
- The sound quality must be excellent.
- Cabling must be hidden.
- The system must offer features including WiFi and Ethernet connectivity, Roon Ready, iOS device connectivity, and remote control options.
- The system must be simple to use.
- The system has to be placed close to the rear wall, on a 16" x 44" table.
- The price must be reasonable.
Given these requirements, I started researching my options. I looked at loudspeakers first because it was entirely possible I'd find a powered speaker solution and not need components, and I needed to find speaker requirements before I could select amplification if the speakers were passive. I looked hard for powered speakers because these can be a simple and sleek solution, but the more I looked the more frustrated I became. The speakers were either separate versions of the all-in-one units I was trying to replace or they were ugly or they were gigantic or they were way more money that I thought reasonable.
The first passive speakers I considered were the Wilson Audio TuneTot. I absolutely love the sound of my Wilson Alexia Series 2 and wanted to bring that to the rest of my house. Unfortunately the TuneTot is just too large for my requirements. At two feet tall I just couldn't place them on the required table without the speakers becoming a focal point and covering the bottom of the pictures hanging on the wall. Remember, if this system was going to survive, it had to fit right in and not require that I change the environment to suit my audio needs.
After looking around at many speaker manufacturer's offerings I settled on the Sonus Faber Minima Amator II. This is the absolute perfect speaker for my location and I'm guessing many other peoples' locations. The Minima Amator II is pure Italian design and craftsmanship that looks fabulous in my dining room. If they didn't pass this test, there was no reason to even move forward and go down the "but they sound so good" path. The speakers are made from 20 slats of solid 25mm thick walnut with leather front and rear baffles. The speakers fit perfectly into the Sonus Faber Heritage Collection with larger sibling the Electa Amator III.
The Minima Amator II speakers are only 12.8" tall, 7.8" wide, and 10.8" deep. This is the perfect size for my folded gateleg table. Optional speaker stands are available, and were included with this review sample, but they weren't needed for my installation. Featuring a 28mm silk dome tweeter and 150mm midwoofer, these 16 lbs speakers not only fit into many environments but can also be moved out of the way, should the need arise, without a team from Manny's Piano Movers.
At $4,000 per pair, the Sonus Faber Minima Amator II is more expensive than all-in-one solutions, but it checks all the right boxes and puts me on the right path to creating memorable shared experiences.
After selecting the Minima Amator II speakers, it was necessary to select electronics to both power the speakers and to convert my digital audio into enjoyable analog for my family's listening pleasure. Given that my table is only 16" x 44" I was hesitant to place on full size component or two between the speakers. It just wouldn't have worked very well without dominating the space and squeezing the lamp and speakers tighter together. If this was my college apartment I would've done without the illumination of a lamp if that meant a better amp. But, that won't fly at this point in my life.
The best solution for my needs, given the above requirements, was a two-piece system from Mytek. I'd heard that the company recently updated its Brooklyn Amp to the Amp+ version and its Brooklyn Bridge component features everything I need for this system. In addition, I could stack the components into a footprint of 9" long, 8.5" wide, and 4" tall.
The Brooklyn Bridge has been on my mind since it was first announced because of its feature set and the talent of designer Michal Jurewicz. The Bridge looks great, is small, sounds excellent, and offers features that make it simple to use. After the initial setup, scrolling through the menus on the device's display, the only thing my family needed to know was that its volume could be controlled via the front knob, Roon app, or the included physical remote control. On the rare occasions my daughter wanted to listen to audio books through the system, she connected my iPhone to the USB port of the Bridge using the camera connection kit, and all was good.
I was initially skeptical about WiFi support because some products really struggle playing high resolution audio via WiFi. Sure, I could have Roon resample everything, but I just wanted anyone to be able to press play on any tracks and have it play as it should. Given my family would likely only be laying 44.1 - 192 kHz or DSD64, the wireless worked perfectly.
The Brooklyn Amp+ has the same great looking front panel as the Brooklyn Bridge and also supports changing the color of the Mytek logo. This feature thrilled my daughter who selected Aqua as the color we had to have on both units. The Amp+'s dual mono 300 watts into 4 ohms was plenty of power for the 87 dB efficient, 50Hz-35kHz, Minima Amator II.
One other aspect of selecting the Mytek components that's very underrated, is the fact that I split the often-changing digital section from the much more stable analog amplifier section, but keep the chassis size very small. If I would've selected an all-in-one component with digital and amp in a single chassis, I would've had to swap the entire component to change just one aspect such as the DAC. Using a split architecture of the Brooklyn Bridge and Amp+, I can change either component independently.
To get much more into the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Amp+, and even a bit about the new Mytek Empire, here's a video interview I conducted of Mytek's Michal Jurewicz a couple days ago. I originally planned on a short and sweet interview, but Michal and I got talking and he kept offering up great information about his products and why he designs them the way he does.
Lest we forget that cables are a requirement, even though my family members would rather do without them. This system's presence in a very visible and often used part of our house meant that cables had to be a bit different from my normal garden hose audiophile fare. This requirement seems like it should be pretty easy to meet, but the reality is a bit different. Most audiophile companies just offer cables as thick as garden hoses and/or cables that are so difficult to bend they might as well be solid pipes. Neither trait was compelling to me, so I called up AudioQuest's Stephen Mejias to discuss my options. AudioQuest is a pretty large company compared to most HiFi cable companies and offers a huge range of products. I figured AQ had something that was both flexible and fairly skinny.
Stephen knew exactly what I was looking for and understood the requirements very well. A week or so later I received one pair of Rocket 11 speaker cables and a pair of Robin Hood SILVER (ZERO) speaker cables. The Rocket 11 cables satisfy my requirements, especially the reasonable price requirement at less than $300 per pair. The Rocket 11 cables are what I used most of the time and in the photos for this review. The Robin Hood SILVER (ZERO) cables are in a different league with respect to everything, and I plan on using these cables for my review of some high end integrated amps from Parasound, Boulder, and Constellation.
Creating Memorable Shared Experiences
It's time to get down to business and discuss the end results, my success with the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system. This system enabled me to bring a much higher quality sound to my family, where they are, not where I am, in my listening room. Bringing music to others doesn't necessarily mean portable. It means placing music in one's dining room, living room, or wherever and creating music memories together.
I set the Brooklyn Bridge into Roon Ready mode, placed an iPad Pro on top of the Bridge, and opened the system for business. By business I mean every kind of music imaginable from Itzhak Perlman to the Frozen soundtrack to Rage Against The Machine. The Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system had to be capable of playing everything or I would've failed. Based on the past several weeks, I can unequivocally say this system is a success. My family and I have listened to more music together than ever before and it sounds better than ever. In fact, while eating breakfast this morning, my daughter asked me to put some music on. Not only are we sharing more memorable experiences together, my family is asking for music! What's better than that.
My wife and daughter have their short list of favorites that get played through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system. This list includes Beyonce's Homecoming live album, a couple spins of Beyonce's Run The World (Girls), Taylor Swift's 1989, and many other pop classics. I call them guilty pleasures as I listen, while they dance and sing. There are few things better than watching my family enjoy music and enjoy music that sounds good through a proper HiFi system. It brings the things I love into one place.
The Sonus Faber Minima Amator II go down to 50 Hz. That's pretty low considering the small size of these speakers. They certainly won't shake the walls like some of the cars that drive through the neighborhood, but the bass they reproduce is tight and accurate. Beyonce and Taylor Swift sound great on this system. Much better than any all-in-one system, by a long shot.
When I'm at the controls of the system, I like to expose my daughter to what I call real music. Given that Sonny Rollins turned 90 years old on Monday of this week, I played my favorite album of his for my daughter, Way Out West. I have the Analogue Productions version of this one and it sounds spectacular. It's hard to believe this album was recorded in 1957. Through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system both Rollins' sax and Ray Brown's double bass sound wonderful. I've never had music this good in my dining room. This system blows away the all-in-one speakers.
This year my daughter is in 3rd grade at a Waldorf school and this means she's required to learn a violin, viola, or cello. I remember what I thought of those instruments when I was 8 years old, so I do my best to make them cool. Through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system I play both new and old music showcasing the stringed instruments she can learn at school.
Violinists I play for her range from David Oistrakh to Itzhak Perlman to Hilary Hahn. These are the classics that sound fantastic through the system. Oistrakh's violin on Bruch's Scottish Fantasy sounds like sweet nectar of the musical gods through the Minima Amator II speakers. However, my daughter can only take so much of this "sleepy" music.
My challenge, to play interesting violin music that also sounds good, was actually fun. I found music from Julien Ando and Eduard Freixa that's very relatable. Ando's cover of Dance Monkey from Tones and I, is a great way to show kids that stringed instruments can be cool. Along the same lines is Freixa's cover of Sia's Chandelier. This track has some bass from the original and it comes through the Minima Amator II speakers very nicely. Mixing pop bass with violin is a great combination and it holds the interest of kids very well.
Playing some of my favorite cello based tracks for my daughter on this system was enjoyable as well. I'm a huge fan of Yo-Yo Ma, especially this album Solo. I have the DSD version of this with a dynamic range score of 17. Of course I'm the only one in my house who truly cares about dynamic range scores, but I enjoy playing music with wide dynamic range for my family. If they don't hear it, they'll never know what they're missing.
Anyway, Yo-Yo Ma's Solo album has been played through a number of breakfasts at our house. It's a relaxing album that also sounds wonderful through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system. Just like the Oistrakh and Perlman music, it isn't the most exiting for a 3rd grader, but it's good to plant the seed of what's possible both musically and sonically.
Making the cello fun, I turn to the Portland Cello Project and the Brooklyn Duo. The Portland Cello Project has covers of Jay-Z and Radiohead that I really like. But, it's the Brooklyn Duo's cover of Pearl Jam's Better Man that I really love. The album was recorded in the Duo's home studio at 24/96 and sounds really great. Better Man on Cello and piano is ethereal in ways that the original just can't match because it's a song that rocks. Through the Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest system Patrick Laird's cello has texture and sweetness that a typical dining room system can't hold a candle to because this system is a true high fidelity system.
Based on my experience with this system as a whole, I'd use use it as is, and I'd also use each piece individually with other components or speakers. Each piece is terrific in its own right.
The more I used the Mytek Brooklyns Bridge, the more I liked it and realized it's very stable. I thought that It'd be the perfect system to use next to my bed as I listen to headphones every night while falling asleep. Two things totally sold me on the Bridge for my bedroom. It's analog volume control and its front panel configuration capabilities. Don't get me wrong, the sound quality had to be excellent before I even considered anything else, but it's these two items that put the Bridge over the top.
The Bridge offers both analog and digital volume control. Users select which one to use on the front panel. The difference between the analog and digital volume controls on the Bridge is so large that I don't bother with the digital control anymore. The analog is far superior.
The headphones I use are Alclair Electro custom IEMS. These are electrostatic in ear monitors that are very sensitive to upstream components. When switching between the analog and digital volume control on the Bridge, without any music playing, the noise floor of the analog control is so far below the digital control it's incredible. Switching between them makes the digital control sound like white noise. Yes, this is an exaggeration for illustrative purposed but it helps make my point that the analog control sounds like silence compared to the digital control. Nice work Michal.
The other aspect of the Bridge that's fantastic is its front panel configurability. What I mean by this is the granularity given to the end user over its lights. My bedroom has to be dark, else I'll wake up my wife and be "that guy" with the bright lights. The Bridge enables me to disable all front panel lighting, so the unit is 100% dark while both sitting idle or playing music. In addition, I can set the illumination to almost off when I adjust the volume and I can set it to shut off after only a couple seconds, once I'm done with volume changes. All around it's a perfect system for darkness.
I mustn't forget to mention that the Bridge enabled me to remove a Sonore MicroRendu that I had connected to the Mytek Brooklyn DAC I previously used. The Rendu was required so I could stream Roon to the system. Now, the Bridge is Roon Ready so I can remove one component and power supply from my bedroom system. This isn't much of an issue in a dedicated listening room, but a bedroom is another story.
Listening to my Electros and the Bridge every night is really nice. The headphone amp in the Bridge is the same as the Brooklyn DAC series and it drives these custom IEMs very well.
Putting together a real HiFi system, given several difficult requirements, to raise the level of playback for my family and create some amazing shared experiences was a fun project that will keep giving in the future. The Mytek / Sonus Faber / AudioQuest combination worked perfectly in all aspects. Size, aesthetics, and sonic performance were all top notch, and I have the data to prove it. This morning while driving my daughter to school, she told me the audio quality of the podcast we were listening to was a little off. She said something wasn't right about it. She was right! Something was up with my car stereo and she noticed. She now has a new respect for high quality audio, and we both have a system with which to crate lasting memories at home. Mission accomplished.
All images shot with Hasselblad 503CW / 50mm CFi and Fujichrome Velvia film
- Sonus Faber Minima Amator II ($4,000 /pair)
- Sonus Faber Minima Amator II Product Page
- Sonus Faber Minima Amator II Owner's Manual (1.3MB PDF)
- Sonus Faber Minima Amator II Leaflet (2.7MB PDF)
- Mytek Brooklyn Bridge ($2,995)
- Mytek Brooklyn Bridge Product Page
- Mytek Brooklyn Bridge Manual (3.7MB PDF)
- Mytek Brooklyn Bridge Quick Setup Guide (481KB PDF)
- AudioQuest Rocket 11 Speaker Cables ($284)
- AudioQuest Rocket 11 Product Page
- Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40')
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream.