We Ask 10 Questions For High-End
During Enjoy the Music.com's very special 25th Anniversary we're asking various high-end audio manufacturers to answer the same ten questions. Their answers may surprise you! This month we're featuring Marco Manunta. M2Tech is an award winning consumer electronics manufacturer enabling computer audio playback, DAC / ADC, Class A headamps, phono stages, pre / power amplifiers, and USB to S/PDIF signal converters. M2Tech pioneered high resolution PC audio playback with the innovative USB to S/PDIF "Hi Face" adaptor and the Hi Face USB to S/PDIF 24-bit/192kHz DAC with line output / mini amp. M2Tech continues to evolve with technology to deliver some of the best high-end audio gear.
Question: What is your first memory of falling in love with music?
Answer: I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by older friends and relatives who loved music. First of all my mother and her father. I was used to listen to The Beatles Yellow Submarine at the age of three or four and a lot of classical music while spending evenings at my grannies' home. Then I was about eight and my cousin Marcello came out with The Rolling Stones "Satisfaction" and Neil Young, plus some friends with Pink Floyd, Genesis, Kate Bush, Yazoo, Ultravox, and The Police to name a few, but also a lot of great Italian music like Edoardo Bennato, Pino Daniele, Sergio Caputo and the classical songwriters: Lucio Dalla, Francesco de Gregori, Antonello Venditti... I was continuously immersed in music, therefore it was natural for me to love it. And of course there were commercial stations...
Q: How did you first get introduced to high-fidelity audio gear?
A: In quite a strange way. I was 11 and the older sister of a friend of mine was a DJ in a small commercial radio station in my hometown. One day my friend took me to meet her at the station and I could see a lot of hi-fi stuff, rearranged for broadcasting: turntables, reel-to-reel tape recorders (a wall of them, all controlled by timers for overnight broadcasts), cassette tape recorders... I became aware that hi-fi was the means to listen to good music. More or less at the same time, I discovered that some relatives had hi-fi systems at home. My oldest cousin had an impressive all-Pioneer system with graphic EQ, very large speakers. I dreamt of it for long.
At that time I was too young and too poor to buy expensive gears, but my father managed to buy me a small Pioneer amp, a turntable, a cassette recorder and a pair of DIY speakers from a relative. That was my system for a few years, I was actually attracted by girls and mopeds at that time, therefore hi-fi remained a "second choice" hobby for a few years, until a motorcycle accident forced me to stop riding the bike fro some time at 16. I had plenty of time to spend at home, therefore I started reading a lot. One day I also bought a hi-fi magazine and I soon discovered that hi-fi was evolved considerably since my early teenage. I learned that the true hi-fi was only obtained by the so called "esoteric" equipment: Naim Audio, NAD, Merrill, Linn, B&W, KEF... In a while, my Pioneer / TEAC / Aiwa system become crap to me.
In that same magazine I found a Linn/Naim ad listing their Italian dealers: one was in my hometown! I soon visited it and in a few weeks I got rid of my old system to make a minimal "esoteric" setup with NAD 3130 amp, Ariston Audio RD-20 turntable and DIY speakers made with ScanSpeak tweeter and Focal mid-woofer.
Q: What is your favorite piece of vintage hi-fi, and why?
A: It's hard to tell. The teenager in me still longs for Nakamichi decks (I own a 700ZXL and a RX-303, the one with unidirectional auto-reverse) and Marantz tuners with scope, but I own and still often use a Technics RS-1700 reel-to-reel deck with Nakamichi NR-200 Dolby unit.
Q: When did you decide to start a high-end audio company?
A: At 16. I was studying computer science at high school and involved in electronics, often assembling kits sold by the pioneer Italian magazine "Nuova Elettronica", therefore I joined the two and decided to study Electronics at University to design hi-end equipment. I remember I was a fan of Musical Fidelity (it was the time of the P170 and the A370, right after the Preamp and the MVT) and decided that my company would be called "Sound Reality", an awful name which means nothing in English but sounded pretty cool for a teenager with bad English knowledge.
It took a while before getting my degree, but in 1995 I was a Telecommunication Engineer (it's a branch of Electronics, including some Computer Science and Networking) and in 1998 I founded North Star Design together with the present owner. I left the company in 2000 and worked as a freelancer for a few years, designing audio and other stuff for many companies. Then, in 2007 I decided to found M2Tech together with my wife Nadia (M2 stand for Manunta and Marino), who is also an engineer.
Q: What, and when, was your company's first product?
A: In September 2009 we released the hiFace (the name stands for "hi-fi interface"), a small pen-like USB audio card with only a S/PDIF output, but a very good one. The hiFace was capable of delivering very low jitter 192/24 in asynchronous mode while all competitors at that time were only able to offer jittery isochronous 96/24 interfaces.
It was a killer product, we sold more than 22000pcs so far, including the more recent hiFace Two with XMOS interface and ASIO support, and it sill sells well. It quickly become quite successful, also because many manufacturers offered it together with their DAC's or suggested their customers to use it to listen to music files. There was no alternative at that time. I still remember my wife and I prepared the first 100 units by hand, soldering a lot of tiny SMD components on the PCB's, to be ready to release the hiFace during the most important audio show in Italy back then, the Top Audio Show. We sold all of them before the end of the show. And what an excitement when, after a couple days, we read a post by an Italian audiophile on DIYAudio: "A new fun toy from Italy"...
Q: What challenges did you face during those early years?
A: Looking back at the beginning, I can't but realize how ingenuous and naïve we were! Things were always easy and we had the impression that we could design, manufacture and, most important, sell everything. Alas, managing a company is far more that designing a nice product. Now we know that customer support is the most important asset a company needs to stay on the market. Also, it takes a while to turn from innovators to followers: you can release an innovative products, but bigger companies, with more financial power, can quickly take your idea and overshadow your brand.
One thing was always clear to us: we have to leverage on the Italian fantasy and style to make products that pleasant to the eye and to the ear.
Q: How have your products evolved over the years?
A: We always tried to offer products with something more than the competitors. We were the first company to offer a low jitter USB-to-S/PDIF interface, the first to offer a consumer 32-bit/384kHz DAC, most probably the first to propose an ADC with phono EQ in the digital domain to rip vinyl.
We also improved the look of our products while keeping the minimalist approach that makes our units so appealing for wives...
Q: What is your company's most popular product(s)?
A: At the moment, without doubt the Young MkIII DAC/Preamplifier, but the Koplin MkIII ADC/Phono also sells well, particularly in Japan.
Q: What is your next planned product offering and its' features?
A: We're working on streamers. We are finalizing our own streaming platform. We didn't want to use a commercial one for various reasons. First of all, they're either free and heavily lacking features for a good commercial product or they cost too much for a small company as M2Tech.
Secondly, working hard to develop the platform allowed us to acquire a lot of knowledge which is the most valuable asset (after customer's trust) for a company which claims itself to be innovative.
This streaming platform will be used for a standalone streamer in the Rockstars series to be used with the Young MkIII (or any other DAC, with or without USB input), as well as for an all-in-one unit which will be the first one in a new "Lifestyle" series.
We have some other designs in the oven, but I can't tell much right now.
Q: What advancements do you speculate high-end audio will offer ten years from now?
A: It's hard to tell. The basic technology is quite mature, therefore most of next claimed "revolutions" will actually offer few innovation. Moreover, we're now in an age of ebb for hi-fi, with LP, reel tapes and maybe cassette tapes regaining market shares, therefore I can imagine one possible true innovation will have to do with these formats.
I think the only potential source if true innovation in hi-fi will be digital processing, now that high computational power is available at everybody's fingetips for few money. I can imagine music being processed by AI devices based on each user's personal tastes to be enjoyed everywhere while retaining the basic "flavour". Think of the same sound at home, in the car, by earphones...