Meitner MA-2 Integrated Playback System

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter/CD Player
Input: 1x USB, 1x AES/EBU, 1x Toslink S/PDIF, 1x Coax S/PDIF, RS232 serial port for wired remote control, "Service" USB
Output: 1x AES/EBU, 1x Toslink S/PDIF, 1x Coax S/PDIF, 1 pair RCA, 1 pair XLR
Weight: 9.0 kg/19.8 lbs net with remote control
Dimensions (W x D x H): 435 x 400 x 140mm
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $11,000.00
Website: www.meitner.com

"It’s the undigital digital."
That's a quote from Ed Meitner from an interview in Positive Feedback Magazine (see interview) regarding DSD. And I enjoy that, the undigital digital. For those of you who don't know Ed Meitner, he is an electrical engineer by education and has been involved in audio design for more than 30 years. Ed got his start with Olive Electrodynamics Company where he was involved in designing and building the first VCA controlled recording console in 1972. Next was a stint with Amber the test equipment manufacturer followed by his position as head designer at Museatex (which became A/D/S) [I owned the Museatex STR-55 stereo amp back in the day]. During this time he also wrote about and built the LIM detector, basically the first jitter detector. After ADS, Ed was one of the engineers behind the development of DSD/SACD for Sony. He is currently the head designer for EMM Labs and Meitner Audio which can be viewed as the more affordable arm of EMM Labs. Meitner Audio has two products—the MA-1 DAC and the MA-2 Integrated Playback System that we'll be looking at and listening to here.

The MA-2 offers a slot drive for playing back redbook discs as well as a number of digital inputs. Since the asynchronous Class 2.0 USB input is capable of playing back native DSD64 content (via DoP), I mainly focused my listening attention here. Meitner is working on DSD128 support and expect to have this update ready later this year. Mac users are good to go for up to 24/192 and DSD playback while Meitner provides Windows drivers so that PC users can get the same playback options. The S/PDIF and AES/EBU inputs can handle up to 24/192 data for those so inclined. The MA-2 USB receiver comes courtesy of XMOS but employs their MFAST technology. I asked Meitner for some more information on MFAST:

MFAST - this is an asynchronous data receiver front-end we use which does not do clock-recovery, and thus is insensitive to jitter of the clock in the incoming stream of data, a problem inherent in all PLL's. It is similar to something called data-capture, a well-proven technique which has been preferred in communications for decades. The bitstream is digitally sampled at a high rate (about a hundred MHz in our case) and then the waveform is analyzed by an algorithm to determine where the ones and zeroes are. Then we use another algorithm to decode the AES or S/PDIF frames and extract the audio data. This data is additionally buffered and read out with a precision clock.
The proprietary 5.6Mhz DACs are designed by Ed Meitner and all incoming data is reclocked using Meitner's MCLK™ "high-purity master clock modules" and up-converted to 5.6MHz DSD. From Meitner, "The Meitner MDAC is a one-bit d/a circuit (no resistor ladders) implemented not inside a monolithic chip but with precision matched discrete components. This uniquely gives us 100% control over component quality, power-supply structure, and clocking. Not having multiple bits means there is zero differential nonlinearity (DNL) error. It is currently operated at 128fs (DSD128) because that is a 'happy medium' at which performance is maximized."

The nicely spartan front panel offers some basic playback controls for the CD drive, an input selector, on/off button, and display. The included remote provides even more navigation options for the CD drive including track selection as well as input selection. The rear panel houses the inputs and outputs which are laid out with plenty of room to spare along with the IEC inlet for power and System Inputs including a RS232 communication port for a wired remote and a USB data port for software updates. I connected the MA-2 to my Pass INT-30A with the Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 Balanced ICs, and to my MacBook with the Light Harmonic Lightspeed USB cable. I mainly used Pure Music as my music player and an iPad running Apple's free Remote app to control file-based playback.

Undigital Digital
If asked to describe the sound of the MA-2, I'd be comfortable quoting Ed Meitner as uncritical as that may seem. From pretty much the first few notes I heard coming through the MA-2, my attention was grabbed, shaken, and stirred. Really? I thought as I sat listening. Really? Can it really be the case that the differences between the Meitner MA-2 and all of the other wonderful sounding DACs I've had through here would be so blatantly obvious? And the answer is yes. The MA-2 seems to gather all of the strengths of the other DACs I've heard here and corralled them together into one exceedingly musical package. This Meitner swings, baby.

Perhaps the most prominent feature of the Meitner's sound is an uncannily clear, concise, and immovable sound image that breathes lifelike music into your room. I'm talking about the way music emanates from nothing, how sounds form and disappear, and perhaps most striking how different instruments and vocalists exist in lifelike relation to one another. This sense of finely delineated presence coupled with an utterly believable sense of scale is in my experience unequalled and damn addicting. Music sounds as if its being made right there and then, leaving very little doubt that I am witnessing a performance.

Individual voices and instrumental timbre sound out in as natural and realistically varied a way as I've heard and there's a gentleness and forcefulness to sounds that mimics the real thing. The micro-fine nuances and subtle variations that account for music's ability to convey meaning are delivered in as full and complete a voice as I've heard. This holds regardless of the given frequency range where an instrument resides so bass is fit and fully voiced, piano rings out true from both hands, and otherwise troubling higher-voiced instruments like violins sound sweet and clear.

Another aspect of the MA-2's performance that's worth highlighting is the gap between CD-quality playback and HD PCM as well as DSD is closer than I've ever heard. While the Chord Chordette QuteHD (see review) more than hinted at this kind of convergence, and the Luxman and MSB nudged things even closer, the Meitner all but zips up the remaining loose ends. Well recorded music of nearly any resolution sounds very nearly equally compelling. That said, I would not want to give up my higher resolution music for its CD counterpart and something like the truly stunning 24/88.2 A Calm In the Fire of Dances by Deep Rumba from Kip Hanrahan's American Clavé label from HDtracks is downright dripping with flavor when played through the MA-2.

I've been very fortunate to have had a number of DACs through here of late that have been pretty much pure pleasure. These include the Luxman DA-06 (see review) and the MSB Analog DAC (see review) and while they each offered their own distinct voice, I could easily see myself living with either. As I mentioned in the MSB review, the Analog DAC struck me as offering greater resolution as compared to the Luxman and I would say that the MA-2 offers an even greater sense of resolution and an even more uncanny sense of scale and physicality. The only restraint on the perceived size of the presentation seems to be limited by the recording, with sound emanating from well behind and outside my speakers. There's also an effortless quality to this physicality and I'd say the MA-2 oozes finesse.

The Auralic Vega (see review) whose praises I've sung on more than one occasion sounds flatter in direct comparison to the Meitner. This A/B was very interesting as it really emphasizes the sonic differences between these two DACs and highlights the degree to which the Meitner offers up that uncannily solid, wide, and deep sound image that really does place a sensual sound image in-room. There's a believable dimensionality to the stuff that's making the music with the MA-2 that I've not heard to this extent from any other DAC here at AudioStream central. What this translates into in real terms, at least the way I hear it, is a musical presentation that begs for your full and undivided attention. Lovely.

I also played a number of good old CDs through the MA-2s slot drive and they sounded equally involving. The MA-2 sends your CD's data through the 2x DSD upsampler breathing new life into the redbook format. On a personal note and by force of habit I immediately rip every new CD I buy so the DAC-only MA-1 which, according to Meitner offers the same DAC as the one that resides in the MA-2, is more appealing at its lower price point. But for those people who still want to spin discs, the MA-2 is for you.

Analog's Digital Analogue
There's an internal logic, if you will, to every piece of hi-fi gear. The musical picture we enjoy is presented as a whole made up of various parts and its the relationship between these various parts that add up to provide a convincing, or not, presentation. If some part sticks out more or less than it should, this ideally seamless image is shattered. The Meitner MA-2 presents as complete and compelling a sound picture as I've heard, transforming digital data into a seemingly living, breathing, and utterly believable musical experience.



Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Meitner MA-2 review: MSB Technology The Analog DAC, Auralic Vega, Luxman DA-06

COMMENTS
Priaptor's picture

As a previous owner of the EMMDAC2X a superb dac, I would in just about every instance take the MSB Analog in a second.  While we can argue about source forever, IMHO, there is no comparing, again IMO, a properly set up CAPS or CAPS variant to get the most from your DAC versus a Mac based player.

While I ultimately settled on an MSB Diamond, in a different league altogether (at least based on price, leave it to the listener to determine if it is worth the price), I did live with the EMM DAC2x for over a year, which, again IMHO, was bested in just about every aspect of the music presentation by the stock Analog, sans possibly the upper most octaves, something I have found in so many systems, does draw one to artificially embrace it as "better" where in reality, it is nothing more than bordering on "artificial".  I have learned that lesson with too many of my past systems.  I lived with he Analog for about three weeks, testing and comparing it direct in an A v B for most of that time and was pretty startled at how good the Analog performed at 1/2 the price.  

But my opinion is just "another" person's opinion as is the OP but I have no issue unequiovocally stating that the Analog bested the EMMDAC2x in just about every scenario.  I now own neither, so I have no dog in this fight, but wouldn't hesitate for a second to reommend a barebones Analog at 7K over the 15.5K EMMDAC2x, Meitners premier DAC.  Even more insteresting still was the fact that I never even got the upgraded power base from MSB for a direct comparison and came to these conclusions with their stock 7K unit and powerbase.

Whether the MA-2 is better than their flagship EMMDAC2x is for another discussion that would need to compared. If the MA-2 does indeed prove to be better than the EMMDAC2X, then I am assuming Meitner has a new flagship DAC soon to be released. 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

While I get what you're saying, you are not comparing the MA-2 to the MSB or to the EMMDAC2x since you haven't heard the MA-2. So I'm not surprised your findings are different.

That said, I wouldn't be at all surprised if your take on the MA-2 would differ from mine ;-)

Cheers.

Priaptor's picture

Since the EMMDAC2x is still the Meitner "state of the art" DAC, I would expect an upgrade soon to keep it in line with MA-2 architecture.

One thing though.  I am married to no equipment and have no issue, assuming I can afford a switch or willing to take the hit, switching to something I like better-cheaper or more expensive.  I never try to justify what I own as "the best".

One thing I would recommend to you guys and I am a firm believer in, although you and others might and likely will disagree, is to try a CAPS or CAPS variant with independent power supplies "tuned" to your DAC of choice.  

For example, the lastest firmware and Win8 drivers from MSB released last month, when using it in ASIO mode has made a huge difference from just a month ago where Kernel mode was clearly superior as was JPlay.  I now find ASIO and JRiver with the Diamond (haven't tried it with an Analog and plan on doing so with my friends soon), superior to KS with or without JPlay.  

Just food for thought as I go through this crazy hobby I am finding more and more how important the synergy is with things you wouldn't think would matter so much.

bigrasshopper's picture

Priaptor, would you mind describing the rest of your system ? 

Priaptor's picture

I have an Audio Research REF10 Preamp, Audio Research REF250 monoblocks and currently using NOLA Baby Grand Reference II speakers, soon being replaced with NOLA Concert Grands.

I have had as digital front ends, PS Audio, Audio Research DAC 8, EMMDAC2x and now the MSB Diamond.

My computer of choice is a CAPS variant, which I have tweaked over time, ultimately decided on a Zuma type using Paul Pang's SATA cable, USB Cable and Red Wine Black Lightneing battery power supply.  The Acoustic Revive RLI-1 LAN isolator has been a great addition.

I had for a few months in considering a second system for another home, a Constellation Centaur stereo amp + Magico Q1s which turned out not to be my cup of tea.

I have also tried many other DACs, including the Analog and have to say I have yet to hear one that rivals MSB products.  I have also tried and continue to try, since I started with MAC based players, every new upgrade to Audirvana, Pure Music, Amarra, etc  when released and to me at least, there is no comparison; even with the newest versions.  It is pretty clear to me, but I digress as my intention is not to flame or start a war, just my opinion and experience. I have been working for close to two years to get the source down and I am very content with where I am regarding that.

What has impressed me so about the MSB products is its accuracy, openess, and amazingly real soundstage.  One of my audiophile pals asked me to rank the EMM on a numeric scale, something difficult to do, but if I remember correct I gave the EMM a 65, the Analog 75 and the Diamond 100.  Understand, I had NO intention of getting rid of my EMM and was trying the Analog for a second system and "unfortunately" tried the Diamond and there was just no going back; basically mortgaging my lungs to get one.  However, I was duly impressed with the Analog and this with the standard power brick. 

agb's picture

RE the above: "It is pretty clear to me, but I digress as my intention is not to flame or start a war,..."

Refer to the same fellow at other sites making similar comments.

My intention is to bring your attention to them.

Just to prevent war and ignore those deserving of being ignored.

And staying away from those full of themselves.

Windows-based systems rarely sound good - to begin with, ASIO or otherwise; dedicated servers are best running Linux or a souped up Mac. No digital system should have an analog preamp inserted into it. No preamp sounds better than any preamp, even an ARC preamp, no matter how much one is in love with one's preamp and no matter that one has not come to terms with having wasted one's money adding tons of distortion into a signal path that had far less distortion before the insertion.

Shortly, considering the political winds, one can marry his preamp too.

Soon, a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

Priaptor's picture

And SIR may I ask what is your major malfunction. More nonsensical rhetoric. 

Two questions:

What is "Michael falling for"

What is a "souped up Apple server"

So "no digital system should have a preamp"?  

Get a life and learn to ask questions rather than spew nonsense.  

Regor Ladan's picture

Pripatchatori or whatever is obviously a merry go rounder with too much time on his hands, but give him credit for full disclosure, you aksed him to list his system (du jour, lol) and he did.

[flame deleted] but at least he took the time to hear a bunch of things.

Listen there the music guys, and the equipment swappwers. It is is what it is.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

No preamp sounds better than any preamp, even an ARC preamp, no matter how much one is in love with one's preamp and no matter that one has not come to terms with having wasted one's money adding tons of distortion into a signal path that had far less distortion before the insertion.

"sounds better" is a subjective valuation so I prefer to leave it up to the individual to decide what kind of sound he/she prefers in their own system.

Regor Ladan's picture

There can be no arguement that no preamp is more transparent to the source. One less gain stage, power supply, set of cables, set of connectors, and power cord. This is not up for debate. The shortest signal path is best in this regard.

But..as you said...wheter one likes this BETTER...is subjective.

We know in audio what is technically better might not be as pleasing.

Priaptor's picture

First of all it is spelled "argument".

Second....well the rest is self-explanatory as illustrated by your banal comments.

Regor Ladan's picture

Okay.....Prophiator....err I have been called MANY things...but not banal...lol.

bigrasshopper's picture

Since Priaptor system is so resolving it is probable that he is hearing things that he could not if he were listening at Micheal's, so it's possible that he is on to something when he says that high frequency noise can be misinterpreted as greater detail or air.  It's possible that this is the case.  In the context of Priaptors system, Micheal might agree with him, it's possible.  But he might not.  It would be interesting to get a second review on this Dac as well.   The Audio Reseach components are certainly resolving, but they could also account for an exagerated soundstage or forwardness that may be providing Priaptor with sense of "air " that when combined with the EMM is too much ?  Micheal's system may be in need of some " air ".  That is of course only a guess.

Im not sure if I can contribute anything of value, I have not auditioned either, though I am aware that systems have huge and sometimes unexplainable effects on individual components.  When I listened to the Audio Reseach Dac 8 with my little  Boulders and pre  and B&W 802 Daimonds, I was ducking my head to get away from the onslaught of high frequency and dynamic bombast.  But at the dealer, with other AR, no such problems.

By the way, some measurement wouldn't hurt.

Priaptor's picture

It is superb and one of the best I have heard. 

I think it is an incredibly well balanced DAC and one has to listen for themselves as to choice. My preference is the MSB Analog which I do not own over the EMMDAC2X which I did own for over a year and as both Michael and I point out I have not heard the MA-2. I don't think either of us can comment as to the MA-2 versus Meitners flagship EMMDAC2X which is what I was using for a reference. 

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

;-)

agb's picture

Anyone who has had extensive experience with bypass testing understands that every component inserted into a presumably clean system will alter/color the sound, no matter how good the component happens to be. There are many experienced reviewers and professional audio consultants who have come to this conclusion - I happen to be just one of them.

Most modern DACs provide for a 1.5 to 2 volt output, adequate to drive most power amplifiers to full output. Most modern DAC's output impedances are appropriate for driving even longer wires (properly chosen interconnects.)

Many audiophiles love the look of stacking one component on top of another or one next to another - the more the merrier. Many audiophiles are under the vain impression that owning a $10,000 preamp or $5000 interconnect that detracts sonically from the whole will impress their friends. That may be true. It just is not likely to impress prefessional reviewers like Lavorgna and his mates and people who can hear.

In any event, LESS IS MORE in any system - analogue or digital - and even less than less is better. Less amplification stages, less resistors, less capacitors, fewer tubes, less switches, less jacks and plugs, less interconnects, shorter interconnects, so forth. Less food is also better for one's expanding girth.

Arguably adding analogue gain stages to a digital system will detract from the overall transparency and transient performance and add distortion, no ifs, and no buts.

Many professional reviewers have come to the conclusion - if not publicly, at least amongst themselves - that a significant number of audiophiles are undereducated and overopinionated.

As I said earlier - full of themselves.

As for getting a life, I am reminded of the great philosopher Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum's poignant questions in her INTRODUCTION TO OBJECTIVIST EPISTEMOLOGY - epistemology being the science searching for the roots of knowledge:

What is important?

Her answer:

Reality.

Meaning I presume, that anything less than reality deserves to be ignored for it is a distraction...or a waste of time. I've just wasted five minutes of mine.

Regor Ladan's picture

agb:

AGREE COMPLETELEY>>>>>>>>

Priaptor's picture

said, "judge a man by the questions he asks rather than his answers".

Your obsequious and sycophantic comments are laughable.  "It is just not likely to impress prefessional (sic) reviewers like Lavorgna and his mates who can hear".  I love you guys, you give me a good laugh.

How do you know they can "hear"?  Based on what data are you making your ludicrous comments.

By the way, here is a question for you:

Do you know what the MA-1, MA-2 (subject of this review, and the findings of the reviewer you so vehmently defend-you know, that guy that can "hear") or the EMMDAC2X (subject of my comments) use for volume control to justify your assertion that the "insertion of every component into a presumably clean system will alter/color the sound, no matter how good the component happens to be"?  

There seems to be some loss of coherency in the logic you profess and the review under debate.

Incidentally, do you go by the title "professional audio consultant"? If I were you, I think I would change the title.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

And there was someone there (our dogs bark louder than the doorbell and usually before a person gets a chance to ring it so I actually heard the dogs bark first). So I assure you, I can hear.

;-)

Priaptor's picture

it would be nice if you address your sychophantic audience (such as Regor and agb) regarding the use of the dreaded preamp.

I mean, you wouldn't use a preamp now would you, particularly in light of all the enlightening evidence to the contrary by Regor and agb, those self-proclaimed experts in "hearing"

Regor[deleted flame]:

"There can be no arguement (sic) that no preamp is more transparent to the source"

agb[ibid]:

"Anyone who has had extensive experience with bypass testing understands that every component inserted into a presumably clean system will alter/color the sound, no matter how good the component happens to be"

Mike, so tell the sycophants how the MA-2 (or any other Meitner DAC for that matter) can sound so good when the dreaded preamp is required for its use.  OMG!!

I guess they must be questioning the veracity of your hearing.  

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...on a (bad) movie half way through.

As I said, the choice of whether or not to have a preamp in ones system is just that, a choice. I don't understand all the hystrionics associated with this topic.

Priaptor's picture

and I do like and trust your opinions and conclusions.

The only point I am trying to illustrate for the sake of the sycophants so quick to put me and my beliefs down while endorsing you and your review is to point out that your opinion on this piece had to be done with a preamp which the sycophants believe to be sacrilege. 

Regor Ladan's picture

[deleted stuff]

I never said a preamp was "dreaded" but i there is no arguement that an EXTRA component in the signal chain is going to add its own signature to the sound.  Now wheter this is a good or bad thing is for each listener to decide. Capice big boy?

[deleted more stuff]

malvrich's picture

For a new episode of

The real housewives of audiostream.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

hotsoup's picture

That driving persona mixed with TV-watching persona is basically the internet commenter, in a nutshell. I know I'm guilty.

malvrich's picture

Gentlemen, please accept my apologies for the trollage. I was admittedly out of line and couldn't resist a snarky remark. I honestly do enjoy the passionate, informed discourse that you experts provide into my beloved hobby. Oh, and thanks, Michael for having a sense of humor.

Happy listening all!

Beetlemania's picture

I was really struck by this line:

"Well recorded music of nearly any resolution sounds very nearly equally compelling."

After spending some time with the new Ayre QB-9 DSD, that's exactly what I was hearing. In direct comparison, 24 bit files have a bit more texture, especially in the midrange, but 16/44 files sound excellent. Very musical, engaging, even mesmerizing. And hi-rez files sound stupid good. Better than my very best vinyl! Digital seems to finally be living up to the hype from 30 years ago.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'd like to get my hands and ears on that new QB-9....

wisnon's picture

What you describe is what we Lampizator Dac lovers have been saying for 2 years. Now with Gen4 its simply divine. Read up on the thread over at AudioCircle to see people dumping their old Dacs amd converting over.

So yeah, I amglad to see other makes are having similar enthusiam.

deangeli's picture

One imagines that the listening room, the other components, and what one likes to listen to significantly affect how one responds to a new piece of equipment. I saw a review of both the MA-2 and the DAC 2x recently (can't remember where, sadly). The reviewer lived with the MA-2 first and liked it a lot. Then he listened to the DAC 2x and said something that was very impressive to me: he said that all the time he was auditioning the MA-2, he was shopping for a turntable, but when he listened to the DAC 2x, he stopped trying to find a turntable and decided that he no longer needed an analogue front end.

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