AXPONA Part 5 from Chicago with MSB

Choices have to be made at every price point of DAC design.

The majority of budget DACs have to leave off fancy screens or pair down the casework in order to clear the hurdles necessary to turn a profit for the companies who have invested in the manufacturing.

The thing that makes an MSB room fun, if not down right entertaining, is that some of these barriers have been stripped away by (in the case of the flagship Select DAC) the $100,000 USD+ cost to play. Furthermore, it also raises a few aspirational ”What ifs?” What if a DAC could act as a no-compromise preamplifier? What if one could fully customize every single I/O to personal taste? What if? Much of this and more was put to task during my time in room 430 of AXPONA’s Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.

Aided by a pair of Magico M3s ($75,000 USD) and two MSB M205 200W Class-A Mono blocks ($38.500 USD, discontinued) the rig was a formidable one, both in performance and cost. Even through the Santa Cruz–based company has since phased out the M205, North Americian Sales Manager Vince Galbo hinted that the company was indeed working on a new set of stereo and mono amplifiers. The yet unreleased products are called the S500 and M500, respectively, which should be on full display at Munich in a few weeks. Pricing is still TBD, but commercial images of the amplifiers are already up on the company site.

The setup on display in the room was decked out with all the big options for the Select line, including the Select DAC ($84.500 USD base price) with two chassis mono power base (+$19.500 USD) and Femto 33 clock upgrade (+$9,950 USD). Sample tracks were played though the Select Transport ($18.500 USD base price) and optional Reference Transport Power Base (+$11.500 USD). The consequential effect of all these boxes was an impression that a large number of components made up the high-end stack of CNC’d aluminum and anodized finishes, but reality the front end consisted of only CD-player via DAC. As one might imagine, the transport does however, do more than Redbook parameters and supports lossless formats as well as multi-channel DSD.

In fact, according to show information, it currently plays every standard of optical disc format currently available and can even connect with DNLA and Roon options. DSD from the transport can be output directly to the Select DAC via a custom optical cable due to the closed loop.

Digital niceties for the DAC start with the incorporation of a discrete ladder architecture thanks to eight hybrid chipsets. Optional two power supply casework breaks out clean feeds along digital and analog borders while a separate wired USB unit features MSB’s proprietary Pro ISL input. The upgradeable brick is currently capable of 8X DSD and MQA unfolding and contains its own set of memory for playback. The previously mentioned eight hybrid chipsets run in parallel and drives constant low impedance output directly (without the use of transistors) to the passive attenuator.

With host Vince Galbo at the wheel, listening started with “I’m Confessing (That I Love You)” from Dean Martin. Even though you could argue the Magico M3s were a bit large for the room, the system managed to construct a tight center voice that sustained a delightfully complex presentation to Mr. Martin’s performance. Heavily nuanced, the controlled soundstage brought forth weight, but was also dressed in a manner that left the listener with all the information they needed to sit back, dial in and let the outside world fade away.

While not on display at the show, MSB does incorporate some less costly DACs into its suite of products, for those in the market. The Discrete DAC ($9,950 USD) and the Premier ($19,500 USD) both offer the same modular approach as the Select line, but less the premium pricing.

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