Manufacturer's Comment

The MSB team would like to thank Michael for his insightful comments about the Analog DAC’s ability to reproduce music in a truthful way. Formal reviews must describe the features and functionality of a product so less space is left to describe the music. We are thrilled that Michael focused on the sound quality in his follow up because after all, sound quality is the goal of our wonderful hobby. Michael concludes, ”The Analog DAC is also finely detailed and wonderfully textured. You get the feeling of an instrument's complete voice, of hearing things as they were originally captured in performance. This holds regardless of your music's complexity” Michael clearly describes the natural sound qualities of individual instruments that were so surprising to us the first time we heard them. Comparing to previous digital reproduction, it now appears there was always a fairly accurate presentation of the “lower half” of each instrument but as we look at the ascending frequencies of the same instrument, the overtones become too many and too dense to reproduce. And so they smear together and the “description” of that instrument hits a ceiling and is limited. I myself realized when this dense number of upper frequencies of each instrument are very accurately separated, the beauty, color, and artistic expression come together to convey the reality of the instrument. As the development of MSB’s DAC modules improved over the last 13 years, the sound was increasingly “a little better” but never quite like live sound. And so before the development of the MSB DAC IV series we had to conclude that the things we found inaccurate and annoying in digital playback, must be, in some immeasurable way, found in the original analog to digital conversion of the recordings that occurred in the studio, and the true music was lost forever. It was with the introduction of the DAC IV series that we started to hear a path toward the live music. With the further development of MSB’s ultra-quiet power supplies, Femto clocks, high precision ladder DAC modules, and those modules and other elements giving us the freedom to write insanely accurate digital filters, we felt we had crossed a threshold that we previously thought was impossible.

When I ask audiophiles how many CD’s they have they might say “over 1000”. When I ask how many they listen to they say “20 or 30”. This has been my own tendency and I finally realized that we tend to listen to the “simpler” music such as acoustic guitar and vocal, small jazz combo, etc. These recordings have fewer instruments and therefore a fewer number of total frequencies at a single moment in time (data density). It is not hard to imagine that the less-dense content of simpler recordings is much easier to convert from digital back to analog. When we think about the number of harmonics in just one vibrating string it is not unreasonable to estimate that there could be hundreds of thousands if not millions of harmonics at any single moment in time when in the presence of live big band jazz or full orchestra, (and as one customer points out: “full orchestra with full chorus”, thanks Jim…), including all the first reflections of all those instruments combining (comb filtering in air), with the new arriving information and that comb filtering making new frequencies (part of the spatial cues). Although it seems like almost chaos and impossibly complex, all of these frequencies combined in air in the recording venue in a very specific way following the strict laws of nature and physics. These dense frequencies with their dense information flow in a serial way into a single diaphragm (the microphone), and is converted to a flowing electrical-coherent copy of the total music in that room at that time. It is no wonder it is hard to reproduce. And so we tend to avoid (maybe subconsciously), all of those recordings that are extremely dense with information like big band jazz and full orchestra. Those recordings might sound excellent during quiet moments in the music but when the whole band jumps in, the sound quickly hits a “ceiling”. The instruments smear together, overtones from the mids and above are lost, the ability to hear any one instrument is lost and together they appear to be one continuous mess. Of course there is no sound stage to speak of because the spatial cues themselves are dense information just like the dense overtones of each instrument. They are gained or lost together.

Now that MSB’s total digital conversion process has passed a certain level of precision, it appears that the recordings are not so flawed after all. As I point out in my manufacturer’s comments to Steve Plaskin’s review, it is entirely possible to convert the data from digital to analog so precisely that it can yield virtually (if not exactly), the same result as the hi res formats. As Michael points out: “I can say that I was happy to listen to any recording I own through the Analog DAC regardless of its inherent sound quality”.

In theory, every time the data density (sample rate) is doubled or quadrupled, the need for any DAC to be so precise is halved and then quartered, etc. And so we think it is a revealing accomplishment to be able to convert 16/44.1 so accurately as to get virtually the same result as hi res.

After hearing our best Platinum, Signature and Diamond DACs reach this level of musicality and realism, we created a new entry level DAC giving it a generous percentage of our best technologies. We cautiously and boldly named it “The Analog DAC” hoping the reviewers, dealers and customers would agree. Steve and Michael’s comments help to further that belief.

One last note….it has always been MSB’s mission statement to offer upgrades and try our very best to not leave the customer behind. The DAC IV series and the Analog DAC are a new level of upgradeability having “core hardware” consisting of the DAC modules with their open ability to convert any digital format now and in the future with only firmware changes. The other core elements are the clock and two very large scale digital signal processor (DSP) chips (sort of like a blank Intel or AMD chip). With the extreme precision ladder DAC modules capable of speeds far beyond what we need for audio and our Femto clock technology, the MSB DAC’s are designed to become “all new” DACs with firmware upgrades that are simply played like a song at home with voice over the speakers instruction. Such was the case when we put up a free download on the MSB support page for all MSB DAC IVs to natively play all DSD formats. Very few companies offer such deep upgrades of any type of audio equipment. The fact that MSB is able to offer future proof upgrades in the complex and every changing world of digital preproduction is a testament to MSB’s in house-design abilities and our commitment to enjoyment and value for our customers.

We thank Steve and Michael and all of our MSB customers for appreciating our passion and commitment to music. — The MSB Design and Production Team and Vince Galbo-National Sales Manager, MSB Technology

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
t30lse's picture

Hi Michael. Could you share your thoughts on how the Vega dac compares with the Analog dac? At twice the price is the Analog dac on another performance level?

Thanks.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...The Vega and Analog DAC certainly sound different and I would say that the Analog DAC adds to positive traits of the Vega. The MSB sounds as resolving while adding a more natural and relaxed overall presentation and there's a greater sense of the dimensional quality of instruments. A more analog-like presentation ;-)

That said, I still enjoy the Vega and think it offers a lot of performance for the money.

Steven Plaskin's picture

I just got the Analog DAC with the Analog Power Base on Saturday. I will review the Analog Power Base ($2995 power supply upgrade) in the near future. 

I think Michael did a great job on this review as I totally agree with his findings.

Priaptor's picture

The analog is the best "deal" in my opinion, IF, you go with the base system.  I unfortunately was given a Diamond to listen to shortly after and went the Diamond route.  However, I was extreme and could easily recommend the Analog as a Diamond alterntive as the unit is that good.

I at the time had a Meitner EMMDAC2X which I lived with for a year and felt the Analog was superior by a legitimate margin.

Where I disagree with the OP, is the source.  I have never found any Mac player to equal a CAPS server with JRiver (and/or JPlay). I have and continue to try them all. Additionally MSB has recently updated their firmware for both their DACIV and Analog including a new Win 8 driver which has, IMO, significantly raised the bar.  Whereas prior to this new firmware I found JPlay was better, the new firmware + Win8 driver shines with JRiver when using their ASIO driver.  In fact, as I told Vince from MSB, I believe my new server (a modified CAPS ZUMA) outshines their cherished transport.

My opinion the amazing sound of the MSB is even better than expressed in the OP, when using CAPS + new firmware + new ASIO driver + JRiver.  In fact, the small "nits" picked at in the review, I can almost guarantee would be eliminated

Give it a try, you will like it

bigrasshopper's picture

Priaptor, would you mind clarifying your opening remark ?  Are you suggesting a base model that is not the analog ?  Meaning that the best deals are at the the two extremes? 

Steven Plaskin's picture

Thanks for your comments.

The Firmware update you mention for the Analog DAC is for the USB module  to work with the new Windows 8 Signed drivers. I have not had a chance to evaluate JRiver using just the MSB ASIO driver compared JPlay.

Priaptor's picture

Steve

I was sold on a dual PC JPlay setup until the new firmware and driver. 

Now using a modified CAPS Zuma single PC JRiver ASIO only configuration. Sounds fantastic. 

 

 

 

Steven Plaskin's picture

I'll give it a try! I just got the DAC last Sat. PM, so not much listening time yet.

bigrasshopper's picture

I guess Atkinson has his hands filled with Stereophile measurements, but this Dac has now been reviewed twice and there's going to be further comments from Steven, it would be interesting to see some objective investigation of this highly praised unit.  We could then at least have some comparisons from the Sterophile Diamond Dac review.  ( I don't know if Fremers review will come with measurements. )

I tried to hear this unit at the 2012 RMAF but was only able to listen to the Diamond Dac, which as nice as it sounded with the Rockports is more than I really want to spend.  The Analog Dac was out of commission, but because of that, it was not hooked up, so I picked it up and gave it a thorough visual.  I really like the fact that MSB used a single billet of aluminum that has been machined out from the underside for discrete placement of the various components.  That is usually reserved for pricier products.  Also, I actually prefer the simplicity of its aesthetics to the more buisy look of the more expensive gear.  I mean do those side grills actually do anything ? Or are they there just so they will match their amplifiers ?   There is something suspiciously 70s'ish in the tubularity of their main line.  But if they called them Groove Tubes people might not be willing to pay as much.  If they didn't sound so good I wouldn't care.  I would just like to see them move in the billet direction with the rest of their stuff.   So the peeve I have with Analog's construction is that the bottom, that is open for machining is covered with a very thin sheet of polycarbonate plastic.  That certainly isn't going to provide any shielding.  If you placed it on top of the power supply, that casing might shield it, but then it might not. The machining of those billets is so deep that on top the remaining thickness of those areas is not more than 1/32" maybe less.  For aluminum that is very thin.  Also, the same plastic is used in the construction of the optional input modules.  There isn't really a back on this Dac, they are just sort of slid in to more plastic grooves.  Would a 1/4 " thicker billet really driven the price up much higher ?  And maybe a metal bottom ?  Maybe if they can sell enough of these they could afford to extend the solid construction throughout this device and not just where it looks good. - Watching and waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

Steven Plaskin's picture

I believe the design was not so much for shielding, but for controlled heat dissapation and thermal stability.

bigrasshopper's picture

Do you mean that the thin surfaces fully integrated with thicker walls of the cavities helps move more heat away from the thermally sensitive components than a uniformly thick enclosure ?   I guess that makes sense.    But I can't see the plastic bottom playing a role in moving heat.  That seems more like the result of cost cutting were it won't be noticed.  Which on a product that is much cheaper can be justified.  I just don't want to pay for plastic in my casework, that's all.  If I'm  going to end up spending $10,000 on an object, it needs to exude uniform quality on all fronts.  On a positive front, the Analog Dac's visual simplicity  is reflected in it's pricing that is so much more streamlined.  I had to spend 45 minutes  online trying to figure out why I needed nuts and cherries on top of my pure organic vanilla ice cream.  Ala-cart  makes me suspicious.  I always end up paying more.  Is that me over reaching or them under-offering ?  You can tell their engineers by their marketing.  Their product are for the initiated only.  In that sense the Analog Dac is refreshing.

Bob Walters's picture

COSMETICS. I don't know how anyone can disparage the looks or build quality of this unit. I have had the EMM DAC2x, MSB DAC4, Exosound, Teac, and several others in my system recently. The Analog DAC looks and feels much more solid and/or luxurious than these units. In the flesh, it looks and feels like a solid slab of aluminum. Mine is polished black, which is dope.

HEAT DISSAPATION. While I'm sure that the weighty chassis helps rid the components of heat, the outside of the case only gets mildly warm.

STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY. The talk of 1/32" panels (measured?) is one of the oddest criticisms of a piece that I have seen lately. The polycarbinate bottom ditto. But I will agree that the plastic I/O modules and their connectors are a step down on look/feel from the rest. Of course, you neither see nor feel these very often.

A LA CARTE OPTIONS. I agree - these can be maddening and expensive. But MSB is an engineering-run company, not sales & marketing. To an engineer, options (flexibility) are always good. I see this in my day job too.

Finally, I am not a shill nor have I been asked to comment here. I just think it'd be unfortunate for someone to not consider this unit because of conjecture and non-issues. And by all means listen to it - that'll likely dispell concerns about these other things.

Bob

bigrasshopper's picture

Thanks Bob, it's nice to get  feedback from someone who owns it.  I admit to being hyper critical on build quality, I'm a cabinet maker, so I'm  always looking at this issue, and a reason I purchased my Boulder gear.  RMAF was not a good place to vet my personal concerns.  I'm glad your found them to be non - issues.

Steven Plaskin's picture

I have to agree with Bob. The build quality and appearance are first rate. This is the first component that has received my wife's compliments on the appearance.

junker's picture

Any chance to compare the AnalogDAC with the new power supply?

 

Very curious how much it improves SQ, if it worth the rich premium, and if it possibly helps close the performance gap to the mid-range of their DAC IV line?

Steven Plaskin's picture

I will be releasing the review of the Analog Power Base with The Analog DAC very soon.

X