Manufacturer's Comment

The MSB team would like to thank Steve Plaskin for his very insightful review of the Analog DAC. His careful testing allowed him to hear and write about the true essence of what we believe MSB has accomplished technically and sonically. Once MSB’s technologies had recently reached a certain level of precision in conversion from digital to analog, we felt that we had finally crossed a new threshold. My own revelation came when I was trying to figure out why my best CD recordings sounded virtually as good as my best high resolution recordings. This thinking about CD performance was supported by dealer and customer comments. I realized that even though 16/44.1 has less “data density” than the high resolution formats, it must be entirely possible to convert 16/44.1 with such a high degree of precision that it can approach and often meet the sonics of the high resolution recordings. We think this is good news for the music produced over the last 25+ years in 16/44.1. We urge customers to re-evaluate the “middle 50%” of their CD resolution recordings. Especially those that have moments of excellence but then fall apart when all the musicians jump in and things get “loud” and annoying. We were surprised that the information in all its delicacy is there waiting to be heard.

When re-constructing from digital to analog, each and every digital bit is plotted in the “cross hairs” of amplitude (loudness), and time (clock jitter). Early on, none of us had any respect for the degree of accuracy it would take in plotting the data bits, to reach a level of performance that might make digital finally sound like analog. We were not sure what we would hear if and when we got to these truly infinitesimal measurements. MSB does not use any off the shelf audio chipsets in its DAC designs. The Digital to Analog Converter modules are designed and built in house. These modules working in close combination with our custom-optimized digital filters and extremely accurate Femto Clocks result in the sonic performance that is appreciated by our customers and dealers, and supported in media reviews.

Audiostream’s review is a satisfying testament that we have reached our goal. As our mission statement, MSB continues to research, invent and test new technologies and make these new discoveries available in our existing products for as many years as possible. Our last platform that started with the Platinum and ended with the DAC III, which was upgradeable for a 9-year span.

To observe the talent, effort and passion that goes on as a team in our company is remarkable to me. Again, we appreciate Audiostream’s validation of what we do.—Best regards, Vince Galbo, MSB Sales Manager

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Priaptor's picture

Steve,

I have had the opportunity to demo the Analog with the standard power supply.  As you note, Vince is hestitant allowing people to demo the unit without their transport for fear that they are not getting the true capabilities of the DAC as a result of the variability of current "music servers" out there.  I did a comparison with my Meitner EMMDAC2X, no slouch by any standards and found the Analogue better, in all aspects with those magical qualities you refer to.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of then trying the Diamond, which as good as the Analog is, takes one to another level still.   Is the difference worth it?  Only your pocketbook knows for sure.

One caveat.  As you have indicated, Jriver with JPlay equals the quality of the transport.  I think you should really look into a dedicated Windows server, such as the superb CAPS and/or CAPS alterntives, either in DIY or already built versions.  Obvioulsy the more powerful (Zuma variant) servers would be recommended for JPlay but I think you would get an enhanced experience compared to your Mac and Bootcamp.  I was leery about leaving my Mac based players but have yet to find a server that bests the CAPS 3 variants.  

While the Analog is "expensive", if one is looking for a computer based solution, IMO, getting the standard power brick, with an included 24/384 USB input for $6,999 is the best relative bargain out there.  It easily outperformed my EMMDAC2X, at least in my system and in my opinion.  Of course the potential buyer needs to recognize this is a SE solution, includes only one input for the price and doesn't include the $2,999 enhanced power supply.  So the price, if one wants three inputs, enhanced power supply and volume control can bring the price close to 13-14K, so buyer beware if these upgrades are necessary for your system.

Lastly, despite claims to the contrary, I tried the VC on both the Analog and Diamond and wound up ordering my Diamond without.  I know Vince finds it hard to believe that a preamp can sound better, but IMO, both DACS (like all my other prior DACS) sound better through my Audio Research preamp.  

Lastly, the phyiscal appearance of this DAC is gorgeous.  I wished their Diamond had taken on this new appearance but in the end it is about the sound.  

Steven Plaskin's picture

Thanks for your fine comments Priaptor. I'm sure your Diamond is a spectacular DAC.

I probably will build a varient of the CAPS 3 ( I need Thuderbolt) in the future. But the MAC is a great reviewing tool allowing me to change between OSX and Windows easily.

And yes, at $6995, I agree that The Analog DAC offers amazing sound quality for the money.

 

 

earwaxxer's picture

Nice review... A lust worthy piece for sure! I have one of the old Link DAC lll's. I use it for subwoofer duty, and occasionally switch it in for my Gungnir for front end play just for the jollies of it. Its very 'analog' sounding considering its about 20yrs old.

IndianEars's picture

Thanks, Guys for your comments.

I agree with Priaptor that in my book, a Good Pre amp is hard to beat ( yes, i too have an AR Pre and love its sonics).

Would appreciate your comments on :

1. How does this DAC's sound relate to the Sound of the Playback MPD-5 ? ( Which I have heard ?)

2. Any comments on the Bass power and slam from The Analog DAC ?

Steven Plaskin's picture

Sorry, I have not heard the MPD-5.

The Analog DAC has excellent bass power and slam. I have been listening to some of the new Reference Recordings 176.4/24 and they sounded very impressive on The Analog DAC.

t30lse's picture

Hi Steve.

Great review of the Analog Dac. How dose the Auralic Vega compare to the MSB Analog Dac specifically in terms of lack if hardness in complex passages and bass slam, etc? Any other comparisons that come to mind would be appreciated. The main reason for this request is to determine if the Auralic Vega is in the same league as the MSB Analog or is the MSB on totally different level. Thanks.

Steven Plaskin's picture

I just sent The Analog DAC to Michael with the same question as  he has the Auralic Vega. The ball is in Michael's court!

tbrads's picture

As always, Steve, you reviews are broad in scope and well-worded.  I like your perspective as a vinyl collector, too.  Nice job.

This Analog DAC has always been on my watch list; even more so now.  I have the Vega inhouse to compare to my Meitner, but look forward to Michael's comments.  A $3500 DAC compared to a $7-12K DAC, though, is already a bit skewed.  It wil lsay great things about Auralic if it can keep up in some departments.

Priaptor and i chat almost daily.  As he stated I will reitierate; I would love to help you move toward a CAPS design, but make sure it is nearly Zuma-sized, especially if you end up like me, smitten with the idea of a dual pc hibernating setup with Jplay.  :)  THAT would be amazing with the Analog DAC (as I guess the Win 8 driver issues with the DAC IV are not there with the Analog?)

Ted.

Steven Plaskin's picture

Thanks for the comments Ted.

I had no issues with the MSB Tech Windows drivers after I reinstalled them. I was able to play DSD 64 and 128 with JRiver / JPlay.

IndianEars's picture

Hi Steve,

How would you compare the sonic signatures of the MSB Analog Dac Vs Playback's MPD-3 ?

Thanks

Steven Plaskin's picture

The Playback Designs MPD-3 has a more "up front" sound that is somewhat highlighted compared to The Analog DAC. The Analog DAC has greater front to back depth. The Playback Designs sounds faster, while the Analog DAC is more "relaxed" sounding. Both are excellent  sounding DACs but quite different sounding.

fmak's picture

a computer transport with all the complexities that you indulge in is not any better than a good laser based transport.

Now you have proved it to yourself!

''My computer transport sounded a little blurred and not as fast with a slight thickening of the bass. The soundstage reproduced by my computer simply did not compare to the CD IV. This really bugged me and set me on the path to see if I could improve the sound of my computer transport.''

 

 

 

Priaptor's picture

after using Bootcamp and JPLAY using a Windows solution that he was able to get the sound equal to the Transport that the manufacturer wanted him to use as a basis for comparisons.

What I think, more than anything, Steve proved to himself as well as those of us who have done similarly is that Windows based solutions are better than Mac based solutions.  In fact, if and when Steve moves to a CAPS based solution he will take another step, that I believe can surpass the transport.  

The transport/Analog is a great solution, for those who want to play physical media and get up, change CDs, etc.  It takes all the computer hassles out of the equation but introduces a variable, namely having to get off your rear end to change media, store media, find media, etc.  That is not what I got into computer audio for.  

Lastly, as someone who has been playing around with this stuff for awhile, a hardcore Mac believer in the past and who has tried all of MSB variables, I can attest that I was blown away by the Analog with the transport and can happily report that my CAPS based server was the better solution.  My CAPS solution uses Red Wines Black Lightening battery solution which really adds to the experience.

Steven Plaskin's picture

Welcome to AudioStream Fred. The CD IV was excellent sounding, although it is different than the typical CD/SACD/DVD-A player as I described in the review. I'm looking forward to your future comments here at AudioStream.

luiscesarsaiz's picture

Thanks Steve for your great review. I have been waiting the review of the Analog DAC with a lot of expectation as the review of the Auralic Vega.

I rip all my CD collection almost 10 years ago (wav first and after again to flac), and start using slimdevices (v2) via coax to my Mark Levinson nº 39 that i still use today as a DAC. But last 4 years ago I forgot my interest to CD due a presentation of several LP playback systems. ( I purchased and analog front end -Project RPM 10.1/Blackbird/EAR834 and a reference preamp the AudioResearch Reference 5). What a sound gave me the LP, not the sterile CD!.

And know I'm very interested in finding a good DAC that RESTORES my CD collection, and it is open to new formats like the interesting but not so popular DSD with the promise of very analog sound.

I think most of us is still having a good collection of music on CD VS high quality files. So My questions are:

- could you give a more detailed explanation that how it sound with a CD quality files?.

- The Analog DAC have filters or Upsampling method to better our CD collection?

- How it sounds compared to the Auralic Vega

- How it sounds compared to a DCS Debussy DAC?

Thank you very much and thanks for your work !!

Priaptor's picture

I have had many DACS in my system, the last reference was the excellent EMMDAC2X which has garnered incredible press and enjoyment by many of us who have owned it.  No doubt that DAC, is arguably state of the art and I loved it.

As a point of reference, in the old days, I owned Wilson WATT/Puppies and later their X1s.  I am not looking to beat up on Wilson, just to point out that their overly detailed approach, albeit with pretty good soundstage, was in my opinion, excellent on first listen but somewhat fatiguing overtime.  The point I make is that it is easy to get caught up and even confused by an overly etched sound, that at first listen can allure the listener as he/she hears a cymbal that makes your eardrum vibrate.

When I put the Analog and later the Diamond into the system, while the Meitner did everything well, including detail, timber, imaging, etc, this was one of those 5 minute moments I have only experienced a few times in my life.  It took 5 minutes to not only hear the superior sound but to comprehend just how much better it was.  I was so taken aback by just how well MSB implemented their digital I almost immediately made up my mind to buy the Big Guy, something just 6 months ago I was saying one must be nuts to do.

The MSB is so effortless, so accurate, with a depth like I have never experienced.  We can call it analog like or anything you like, but I have owned many great vinyl setups in the past and have never been so moved by a source, truly.  The cymbal won't make your eardrum vibrate or be overly detailed BUT will be incredibly accurate, with a soundstage you have never experienced (at least with a digital solution) bringing the source material and the location it was recorded in, directly into your room-without any fatigue.  Understand I am not a person that tries to rationalize what I own and had no desire to find a product that bested my EMMDAC2X, but bested it did.  My quest started wiht the Analog as a solution for a second system but where I ended was much poorer financially but incredibly richer every time I turn on my system. 

Steven Plaskin's picture

I can only comment on CD playback quality as I haven't experienced the other DACs. 44.1/16 playback quality is excellent with the sound quality I described in my review. I am familiar with the Levinson 39. The Analog DAC is in a totally different place than the Levinson. 

MSB states that filter selection is available with the WiFi option. This option was not on my review DAC.  The Analog DAC plays music back at the native sample rate.

silvertone's picture

Good review and I appreciate the effort in the detailed observations.

However, in this day and age, reviews without measurements are really obsolete in my book.

There's no way I could make a purchase at this price range, even at a lower price, without having concrete digital and analog measurements.

Just my opinion about the way I go about my purchases.  It doesn't make any sense to purchase something strictly on listening tests.  I'll leave those type of purchase decisions to the mad men of the 60's and 70's. 

ST

Priaptor's picture

I believe it was Atkinson who did it and said it was the "best" he has ever seen.  I am assuming, although possibly erroneously so, the Analog would be close. 

junker's picture

I also have a fully balanced amplifier with a very nice Kimber Select XLR connection for it. This is one aspect of the Analaog Dac that concerns me vs. the Berkley Alpha 2 (being internally balanced).

Just wondering if you had a chance to compare the balanced to unbalanced outputs on the MSB into your balanced amps? I was trying to convince myself that either the amp side or source side would need an unbalanced to balanced conversion so why not just do it on the source side and use my one very nice cable and balanced inputs on the McIntosh MC452. Do you think that would still make any sense, or would I just want to get an unbalanced cable to go into my amp?

Very interesting product in that it is at a similar price point to the BADA Alpha 2 + USB, but with the added bonus DXD, DSD, one analog input, and an analog volume control...and only lacking a true balanced configuration.

Little dissapointed in their extreme al la carte configuration menu, however. For example, why not include the metal remote instead of the limited plastic model? And include digital filter setting with the remote.

Oh, and before I forget they call that color "Matte White". Is it white, or a light silver? I can never tell in pictures. Grr..

Thank you very much for another great review. It was funny becuase I was independently looking into this product last night when I ran across your review fresh of the press. Have a nice weekend Steve!

 

Cheers,

Josh

Steven Plaskin's picture

Yes I tried the Balanced and Single Ended outputs. For me, the Single Ended outputs sounded better. If one wants true Balanced outputs for an MSB DAC, I would consider the DAC IV. Now the Balanced outputs on The Analog DAC might just sound as good as those on the Berkley Alpha 2. The only was to be sure about this is to try The Analog DAC in your system. 

The white color is really the natural aluminum color. It looks really nice.

IndianEars's picture

Thanks again Steve for your comments on the MPD-3 vs the The Analog DAC. I guess the MPD-3 is more up my street. I now need to go out and hear the MPD-3.... I have heard the MPD-5 and found its HF a touch too Rosy tinted and its Midrange a touch too polite. Else its bested every DAC I have heard. (I am looking out to purchase a top notch DAC).

What Steve presented as a Superb review has blosoomed into a Very informative thread ( Caps Server and comparision to other DAC).

A Huge THANKS to all.

Steve, I willl certainly be seeking out all your reviews and absorbing them.

Cheers ! 

fmak's picture

If you decide to build one, I would suggest that you do not go for the low height case. this looks sexy but restricts what you can fit into it now and  in the future. The deeper Streacom cases would seem to be  better.

Why do I say this?

One of the reasons why the Zuma may be better is because of the dedicated USB card and the isolation of the SSD power supply. More improvements/changes to sound quality can be had after even more isolation such as the suppression of spikes in individual power supply rails, and for this, one needs space. Also, spacing components and wiring apart, rather than bunching them together, can be beneficial.

I personally allow for adquate enclosure sizing for my audio pc builds as this allows for expansion, modifications and experimentation.

 

 

IndianEars's picture

Thanks for those pointers, fmak. I completely agree with you. I have always built my own PCs for more than a decade, and extra cabinet space is invaluable.

However, its unlikely that I will go in for a self build, simply because all the parts ( Specific Bands and components recommended are just not available in my country, and imports do not always reach destination angry

On the brighter side, the premium charged for a completely built up unit is quite reasonable.

On the other hand, the Red Wine Battery price seems Over-The-Top. A quick seach shows that a a similar generic battery as that supplied by Red Wine can be had for as little as US 250 against the Red Wine price of US $ 1800... yes the Red Wine battery pack does have a couple of built in Regulators... which cost peanuts .  Or am i missing something ?

hulubao's picture

Hi Steven,

You have reviewed both the MSB Analog DAC & AcousticPlan DigiMaster DAC with very favourable conclusions.

Could you elaborate how these 2 DAC compares with regards to the musicality?

Thank you.

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