Is X Gonna’ Give It To Ya’?!?
In short… Yes! Mojo Audio’s Mystique X series is a line of D/A Converters that, at their core, are “Gonna’ give it to ya!”
Ben Zwickel of Mojo Audio has developed some of the most fun DACs on the market utilizing R-2R chipsets, high performance chokes and power supplies, and a distinct lack of processing, filters, and extraneous frills. From the conveniently sized V2s to the renown EVO line there has been a consistent Mojo house sound, a sound that centers around the more dynamic aspects of the music. The X series continues this trend but in a smaller, and easier to manufacturer package.
Streamer: Antipodes S-Stack (S20 / S30 / S60)
DACs: Mojo Audio Mystique X / Mystique X SE / Mystique X SE-ZNC
Amp: Eddie Current Studio B (Power: WE 300B Reissue, ELROG ER300B-Mo / Input: Bendix 6385 / Rectifier: ’59 Mullard 5AR4/GZ34 Fat Base)
Headphones: Focal Utopia OG (Dana Cable Ultra) / Audeze LCD-2.2pf (DHC C15 S-Mod)
Digital Interconnects: FTA Callisto USB / Snake River Audio Boomslang S/PDIF BNC → RCA
RCA Interconnects: AntiCables Level 6.2 / Kimber Hero with WBT connectors
X Series Breakdown
The Mojo Mystique X DACs are offered in 3 tiers:
– The base X (equivalent to Mystique X Fe)
– An upgraded X SE (equivalent to Mystique X AM)
– The full monty X SE-ZNC (equivalent to Mystique X NC)
Each tier provides upgraded cores for the input transformers and chokes (ferrous→amorphous→nano crystal) as well as additional anti-resonance and shielding. The X SE-ZNC unit being tested also has a special “Z” binning of the already legendary Analog Devices AD1862 R-2R ladder DAC chip. These Z-chips were offered to existing customers as an extremely limited upgrade and (while documentation is admittedly sparse) seem to originally be intended for extremely high-end Denon CD players due to the increased SNR and harmonics they provide.
All other features and functions are the same across the three X tiers.
A Solid Base (X)
To understand the Mojo house sound and what the Mystique X series offers sonically, it is best to look at the base X tier. It is a “solid base” in so many ways.
The first thing to keep in mind throughout the rest of this article is that everything builds off of this base. Unlike some brands that induce sonic changes as you go up their chain, each X is the same base but it is conjured with a little more magic at each tier higher.
The second thing is how this “solid base” sounds. It is… well…. solid! The first things that hits you is the heft. There is tons of weight to everything and music moves with a purpose. To take the words of another, the Mojo has plenty of meat on the bone. There is also an abundance of bass in this base. It can be a bit blunt, lacking texture and subtlety, but it is satisfying. Billie Eilish’s album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” is a bass bomb yet the Mojo sound just feeds into it and, along with most rap, hip-hop, and electronic music, is just a joy to bounce along with. Despite the plentiful bass, the mids demanding their fair share of attention. They’re rich, thick, heavy, and love to put forward the frequencies that the lion’s share of instruments and vocals occupy. Timbre in this region is more natural with a warmer tilt but will not fool you into realism. The treble is very smooth at this tier and there isn’t a hint of fatigue in sight. Though, it is at a point where I would caution pairings with other warmer or softer source gear as you risk making mush of it all. There are also great dynamics at play, mostly macro, but pairings with a system that indulges in those large swings is an engrossing experience. This is all presented in a stage that is smaller and more intimate than most, staying in front of you in a dense block that is wider than it is deep. All together you get a DAC that focuses on engagement and getting you moving to the base (no pun this time) components of what makes music, music.
So all that sounds great right? Well it gets better and all you need is some amorphous core chokes and power supplies.
Take everything from above and add space, separation, layers, clarity, and speed it up just a little. The X SE provides a markedly better delivery of what the base X built. The presentation space gains a bit of depth and height while also starting it’s creep left and right to wrap around you. It is still intimate, but it uses the space much more effectively as there is a marked increase in separation which is the basis of the tier. This separation infuses more air into the music to break up that once dense block and allows the listener to better hear outlines and layers. Instead of getting hit with a mass of violins, you can start to make out the individual violin players and their seat positions. These layers, along with the added speed from the upgraded cores, translate into more texture and complexity across the board. The bass has a hair less quantity but trades that for nuance and detail. The treble starts to solidify with easier to pick out tactility and detail but remains very smooth in the grand scheme. The extra air removes the dead weight around the mid waist allowing it to be much more nimble. Like an NFL linebacker taking ballet lessons, the meat is still there but it moves much better. Timbre stays natural and organic while engagement in the heart of the music remains the Mojo’s focus.
So what if you love everything the X SE does but you crave more. Not like a lot more, but just a little more, ya’ know? Oh, and you want it to come with tech that sounds like it was reverse engineered from a downed alien spacecraft? Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but…
The top tier of the Mystique X series swaps out the previous ferrous or amorphous cores with custom spec’d parts of nanocrystalline design, gaining it the Nano Crystal or “NC” designation. This increases the space, separation, air, speed, and clarity gained from the X to X SE jump, but just not in as drastic of a fashion. Stage is a little wider and wraps around your head more, a few more layers pop up between the existing set, and there is enough space between it all to make sense of and appreciate what it is giving to ya’. But where the X SE gave a whole one or two steps worth of an increase, the NC is more about eking out the last drops left. But what about that Z in the name?
The Analog Devices AD1862N-Z “Z-chip” does two things, decreases the already impressive noise floor and increases harmonics. How do you get more quiet than silent, and blacker than black? I am not sure but each time you hear it (or don’t hear it?), the blackness is very apparent. And the popped harmonics are such a lovely addition especially if you enjoy acoustic based music. The romance, texture, and depth of these harmonics comes across natural, organic and fits well with the rest of the Mojo sound.
Notes, Conclusions, & Random Thoughts
I think it is worth it to reiterate what the Mojo Mystique X DAC is and what it provides the listener…
Getting all of the ambiguous descriptors out of the way; the X DACs are fun, musically engaging, PRAT oriented, and really emphasizes the heart of the music. It does this by building from the ground up. Seismic sub-bass flows into hard punching rhythm lines, and while the X is not always as refined as other DACs, it delivers this is gobs. This leads into a sweet and romantic mid range that is toasty to the touch, but naturally so. Highs are smooooooooth and fatigue free, which allows for long listening sessions despite the DAC’s more intimate and dynamic energy. And all along you are positioned with everything right there directly in front of you. These are all qualities that do not change no matter what charcoal non-descript Mojo box you have.
What does change is the overall refinement as you go from X, to X SE, to X SE-NC (Z-chip or not). The quieter, quicker, more spacious delivery breathes air into the denser, darker block. Think of the difference between chocolate pudding and chocolate mousse. Both are rich and chocolatey, but the mousse isn’t as heavy as it is whipped up and expands outward, gaining an overall more nuanced and layered taste. Both the higher tier Xs take these steps forward, but the X SE has the more substantial stride.
But with every step up, the signature Mojo calling cards takes a step back. Aspects such as the bombastic bass start to step in line a bit more. It is still a plentiful sonic staple, but it takes just a hair off the top and the thickness is now a single-c versus double-c thicc. A Mojo is still a Mojo but just a few ticks less. For me this quality-over-quantity swap is a worthwhile trade-off. You get technicalities more in line with the pricing tier and a wider range of acceptable pairings. The base X is a good DAC but it is hard to stick with and it probably is best used as a way to sample the Mojo house sound or as an upgrade platform. The X SE is really where I see most listeners landing with it’s great balance of fun and refinement. Lastly, the X SE-ZNC may only be worth it for big fans of jazz, classical, or acoustic type genres that take advantage of the increased harmonics. But admittedly it is quite the cherry on top of one sweet sonic sundae.