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An Interview with Ben Zwickel of Mojo Audio

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LB: Computer audio is obviously a rapidly evolving field. How are you able to accommodate future upgrades?

BZ: No one can predict what the future may bring. On the other hand, Apple has shown an unparalleled commitment to providing universal compatibility and free or reasonably priced software upgrades. We feel that as long as we are Apple-compatible, we are creating products with the most potential, despite the ever-changing digital world.

LB: Let’s switch now to your DAC, which, if I understand correctly, is still in the prototype stage. Is there a projected release date? What elements do you consider to be of primary importance in designing and building a DAC? How much emphasis do you place on particular chips?

BZ: Since the release of our original AD1865 nonoversampling DAC, we have been working on a better version. Our new Mystique DAC nonoversampling AD1865 tube DAC was shown for the first time at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012. We are taking orders for our new Mystique DAC with an expected delivery of our first production run in December 2012.

We’ve found that the power supply makes the biggest difference in any component. Even the most modest of chips and circuitry can have exceptional performance with the right power supply. Performance is influenced to a greater extent by the power supply than by any other factor. When it comes to DAC chips, however, this is a bit of a complex topic. To oversimplify, DAC chips can be divided into two major categories, modern single bit closest approximation DACs and vintage multibit R-2R ladder DACs. In my experience, each does different things better, and I have not yet heard a DAC chip that does all things correctly. The modern closest approximation DACs have better extension, better dynamics, and lower background noise, whereas the vintage R-2R ladder DACs have better time, tone, timbre, and emotional content.

A significant part of our recent prototyping has been about searching for a modern DAC chip that would give us the best of both worlds. So far we have not found one that does.

Of course modern DACs play modern formats like DSD and native high-res files. However, I would estimate that over 90 percent of all recorded music available today is only available in 16-bit digital, so personally I prefer a DAC that is optimized for 16-bit as opposed to one that sounds amazing with a handful recordings done in modern high-res formats.

LB: Which DAC chips served as your benchmarks?

BZ: For many years I listened to the famous 16-bit Philips TDA1541 DAC chip in nonoversampling (NOS) mode. Many consider the TDA1541 to have the best midrange of any DAC chip. Then there is the more modern 24-bit Burr Brown PCM1704, which can also be run in NOS mode. The PCM1704 is gaining popularity since it is the only R-2R ladder DAC that can decode 24/96 files. We’ve found the most balanced and natural sound comes from the 20-bit AD1865 DAC chip we currently use. The only major manufacturer we know of that is still using the AD1865 chip is Audio Note, so we feel like we are in good company.

LB: Last but not least, please share with us where you see the field of computer audio heading in the next few years. Do you have any plans to release additional products?

BZ: Computer-based media servers are certainly the direction digital media is going. The big questions for the future have to do not so much with hardware but with media formats and what will become the new standards.

There are several high-resolution formats, but not everyone agrees as to which is the best, nor do they agree that the new formats even sound better than 16-bit recordings.

I have no doubt that in the next decade there will be new digital formats for all aspects of media, optimized for both the mass market and for the uncompromising ultrahigh performance consumer. It will be interesting to see what market leaders decide regarding the new standard formats and what storage media for digital recordings will be.

Mojo Audio is constantly looking for new interfaces and DAC chips that are capable of sounding musical as well as capable of decoding modern high-res media format. We are also working on amplifiers and speakers that we hope to release in 2013.

I have always told customers: “If it doesn’t come out of your source, it can’t come out of your speakers.” For that reason, you can expect that Mojo Audio will always be putting a major part of our R&D efforts into digital source components.

LB: Ben, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to tell us about your company and products, and generously sharing with us your knowledge of computer audio. On behalf of dagogo and our readership, we wish you continued success.

BZ: Thank you, Larry. I hope to see you again at events I regularly attend, including Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and Capital Audio Fest.
BZ: Thank you, Larry. I hope to see you again at events I regularly attend, including Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and Capital Audio Fest.

One Response to An Interview with Ben Zwickel of Mojo Audio

  1. Rich Davis says:

    There is some misleading information. OS X is NOT based on Linux, it’s based on Unix. There is a difference, albeit not that much, but OS X is NOT based on Linux. Ben might want to change his response to the question.

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