Mytek Digital Brooklyn Bridge II Roon Core preamplifier
The concept of streaming digital music files over distances great (as with internet-streaming services like Spotify, Qobuz, Tidal, etc.) and small (from a home-PC hard drive, NAS, or networked music server) became mainstream only recently. But it was already brewing during the late 20th century, with people illegally downloading low-bitrate MP3 files made from CD rips and coming close to killing the recorded-music industry.
That wasn’t streaming exactly, or not in the current sense, because the files needed to be downloaded, stored locally, then either played out of a computer or loaded onto a portable player, but from that point forward it was a steady march to the streaming-dominated present.
Never mind Napsterthe first subscription audio “streaming” service was one you probably wouldn’t think of: Audible, the audio book service now owned by Amazon, which started up in 1995. I did beta testing and editing work for early-days Audible, and around that time, I started loading up home-ripped MP3 files on a pocket-sized Rio MP3 player (which by then had replaced Audible’s proprietary player), using it in place of a portable CD player. This led to experiments with a PC music library/player running Linux, controlled by a Handspring PalmOS device connected to the stereo system via a Sound Blaster 16 card.
In the 1990s, downloading a CD’s worth of data would have taken forever, and storing a big library of lossless tracks required a serious investment in hard drive storage. Over time, internet service got faster and storage got cheap enough that lossy compression was no longer necessary. Over the last few years, I’ve built up a massive digital library of CD rips, content from HDtracks and other download services, and my own HD digital transfers from LPs and tapes.
Then came lossless and high-rez streaming. To my thinking, this new world, which provides access to most (but not all) of the music ever recorded plus my own collection, all available on-demand via my cellphone and played back in high fidelity, is a dream come true. I don’t think the young mea card-carrying member of the 1980s Walkman Generation, saving my money to buy records, putting up with commercials and FM DJs’ questionable tastes, and prowling the LP stacks at local libraries for home-taping opportunitiescould have imagined this world of near-limitless, near-instantaneous musical exploration.
Many software and hardware options are available today to the avid streamer. Roon is at the forefront of music-server software, but until I started this review, I hadn’t tried it. Alternatives exist: Audirvana, BluOS, HEOS, JRiver, Volumio, and proprietary systems produced by server manufacturers for use with their own streaming appliances. An example of the latter is Mosaic, from dCS. I own a dCS Bartók streaming DAC and routinely use Mosaic, which, while not as feature-rich as Roon, makes it easy to find and play files stored on my NAS and streamed from Qobuz.
Which brings us to the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge II Roon Core, a self-contained, complex music machine capable of a wide range of connectivity and listening options and with a small footprint. Provide it with an internet connection and a Roon account, and plenty of ventilation (it runs hot), and the vast music world is open for exploration.
By “self-contained,” I mean that, to the extensive feature set offered by Mytek’s original Brooklyn Bridge, which has been discontinued for a while, the BBII adds server functionality, specifically the ability to serve as the core of a Roon-based system. It can manage the flow of music from its own internal storage, locally and network-attached storage, and streaming services, providing an information-rich environment and sending it on to music-endpoint devices in any room in your house (or, via Roon ARC, outside the house). Like the original Brooklyn Bridge, it offers a high-quality headphone output and even a phono preamp. A line input lets you play your tapes or connect a tuner. And so on.
That’s the promise. The reality is close to that, with a few caveats.
“The Brooklyn Bridge II is basically … a Brooklyn DAC with a Roon core attached. … You can think of it as a self-contained system that can do all the functions of a Roon core, Roon Nucleus, and more,” Michal Jurewicz, Mytek’s founder and designer, says in a video online. It’s also a full-featured DAC with USB connectivity, for use with computers, as well as coaxial S/PDIF and (TosLink) inputs (footnote 1). “You have a computer inside the box,” Jurewicz said. Later, he told me the computer is an Intel NUC boardthe heart of a compact PC, similar to that found in Roon’s own Nucleus. The BBII runs a Mytek-customized version of Ubuntu Linux called MytekOS. The NUC board runs the user interface, the software that controls the functions of the DAC and preamp, the Roon-core server software, and the Roon playback/interface software. The system is powerful, flexible, and upgradable. Mytek sends out regular system updates: The BBII updated three times during the time I had it here for audition. These updates fix the occasional bug and can add meaningful functionality: new preamp functions, DSP (room correction, equalization), or graphic visualizations (level meters and so on) on the BBII’s small high-resolution display.
“Essentially, this is the only piece of equipment you need to play music,” Jurewicz said. “You can add an amplifier and speakers and have a very nice stereo system.” There is one hitch: Even after you’ve paid for the product, to use all the BBII’s functions, you need an internet connection (Wi-Fi or Ethernet) and a subscription, at least to Roon. You’ll also want a subscription to at least one of the streaming services Roon works withcurrently Qobuz and Tidal, with more to come if the rumors are true.
With the BBII as with any Roon server, Roon integrates local files with streaming subscriptions for seamless search and playback. You can control some functions from the front panel, but except for setup, you wouldn’t want to. It’s a much better experience on a tablet, smartphone, or laptop computer running Roon’s Remote app. The BBII can also act as a Roon Ready endpoint if you have Roon core running on another device (for instance a PC with your digital files on an internal or attached hard drive).
So, the BBII is a device for the digital-centric audiophile whose music collection is mostly on a hard drive or server or whose musical life is streaming-centric. Or both. Standard DAC functions are here if you still have a foot in the world of physical digital media or like to play music from your computer. With its TosLink input, you can connect the audio output of a flatscreen TV for better sound to accompany video. I almost forgot to mention the Bluetooth 5.0 receiver, which lets you send music from your phone. And don’t forget the phono preamp, those analog inputs, and on and on.
A useful way of thinking of this device is as a 21st century integrated preamp on steroids, where Roon (plus streaming services) is the new tuner (footnote 2) and a way to play records, with the possibility of endless future improvements via software updates.
The first thing I did after unpacking the BBII (then waiting a few seconds for it to boot up) was connect the unbalanced outputs to my office system (a McIntosh MA6500 integrated amplifier and Amphion One18 speakers near-field to my desk) and test out the Bluetooth connection. Without RtFM (footnote 3), I easily navigated to Bluetooth setup on the BBII’s touchscreen and quickly paired it with my iPhone. In another few seconds, I was enjoying music streamed from Qobuz.
Next, I plugged the BBII into my office computer via a USB cable. Windows 10 recognized and loaded drivers for the BBII automatically; in less than a minute, it was connected and ready. Now I could play tunes from either my NAS or the master library mirrored on the NAS, which is directly connected to my office computer.
Mytek provided me with a Roon account, which took me some time to figure out; experienced Roon users won’t have any problems. After getting the BBII signed into my LAN via Wi-Fi, I set it up as the Roon core and installed the Roon app on my phone and computer desktop. All these devices found each other. I could now control what was playing from either my desktop or my phone. I linked my Qobuz account to Rooneasy. Now, streaming and file search and playback were integrated. I never was able to get Roon to recognize my NAS, but I didn’t go too deep into it for fear of screwing up the NAS’s seamless integration with my dCS Bartók and the home network in general (footnote 4). Instead I opted to direct-connect my music-library backup drive to one of the two USB sockets on the back of the BBII. The Roon core software “saw” the drive immediately and began the lengthy process of integrating its contents into the searchable database, which lives on the same device as the Roon core (footnote 5).
The most powerful feature of Roon is its universal search; you type a search term corresponding to the music you’re looking for, and if it’s available in your library or at a streaming service you subscribe to, it locates the music, often in several versions, then offers them up according to your priorities as stated in the Roon settings: preferred streaming service, format, and so on. A “Versions” tab shows all the different iterations you have access to. An example: I have HDtracks downloads and rips of some older MoFi gold CDs on my NAS (and the locally connected backup drive). Both were offered for playback alongside whatever versions exist on Qobuz.
This all requires a powerful database, one of the reasons Roon needs a full-fledged computer. (Another reason is Roon’s DSP options.)
As for MytekOS, Jurewicz says the software is constantly evolving, and the company is interested in user feedback. Here are some suggestions. The touchscreen and menu tree for setup needs work. Better still, there should be an app to control all the device’s functions à la dCS’s Mosaic. (Roon settings allow you to control some things, but not everything.) The touchscreen is too small for man-sized fingers, and there are too many submenus. The touchscreen swipe-scrolls too slowly, making it easy to touch the wrong virtual button or switch. To turn the BBII off or reboot requires too much scrolling.
The BBII does not currently display the sample rate and bit depth for music played via a USB connection; that should be easy to fix with a future software update. I’m also hoping Mytek provides level meters and a spectrum display for the screencool eye candy at least, and useful in some circumstances (footnote 6).
Downstairs, with my desktop system, I noticed some low-level noise and hash, the kind that can sometimes leak through a computer soundcard, and also some hum. The hash was not audible from the balanced or headphone outputsonly the unbalanced. At normal listening levels, with no music playing, the hash was audible but low in level. Further investigation, including consultations with JA1 and JCA, revealed the hash source: RFI from my Linksys Mesh Wi-Fi network leaking into the audio, likely through the BBII’s Wi-Fi receiver. When I navigated through the Network menu, disconnected from my Wi-Fi network, and connected via hard-wired Ethernet, the hash disappeared. The hum remained, however (footnote 7).
Footnote 1: This Mytek image details everything packed into this small chassis.
Footnote 2: Speaking of radio: Recall that Roon offers internet radio, and also Roon Radio, which streams music from your collection and streaming services chosen based on music you selected.
Footnote 3: Read(ing) The effing Manual.
Footnote 4: My network has evolved over many years and may be more eccentric and difficult to configure than starting from scratch in a typical home network.
Footnote 5: Roon keeps track of your files in its own database, honoring whatever filing system you use; it does not rearrange your music.
Footnote 6: I’m sure the old Mytek DAC+ has this feature, and I think the earlier version of the Brooklyn Bridge (a streaming DAC without a Roon core) did, too.Jim Austin
Footnote 7: Note, on the one hand, that Tom has never heard such hash before in his systems with any other component. On the other hand, when JA1 and I tried the BBII in our own systems, neither of us heard it, and Mytek says they’ve had no reports about this in the field. A bit of research leads to the conclusion that mesh router systems may be at fault, especially at close range. So, this noise is probably rarechances are you won’t hear itbut apparently, something about the BBII’s design or execution makes it susceptible.Jim Austin
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