MSB Technology The Analog DAC Follow Up

Analog
Since Steve Plaskin has already done a wonderful job with all of the heavy lifting in his review of the MSB Technology Analog DAC (see review), I will point you to it as essential reading. This follow up consists completely of my listening impressions, subjective as they are, of the Analog DAC within the confines of my system and listening room (for the most part).

The system context for this review remains consistent with all of my other reviews. The speakers at work are my DeVore Fidelity The Nines driven by my Pass INT-30A integrated amplifier. I used a number of different USB cables during the review period including the AudioQuest Diamond USB cable, Kimber Kable Select USB, and the new Light Harmonic Lightspeed USB cable. I settled in on the Lightspeed as it seemed to offer the best of all worlds in this context. I used both Pure Music and Audirvana running on my MacBook Pro and music was served from my Synology DS212 NAS over AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cables.

The Analog DAC's linear power supply

Analog?
To say that digital sounds analog is to my mind the same as saying digital that doesn't sound digital. After all, everything we hear is analog but some DACs sound digital. And that's not a good thing. The Analog DAC does not sound digital and that is a very good thing. Music played through it sounds relaxed and natural with an overwhelming sense of ease. Music flows smoothly and sweetly nearly pouring out of your speakers. There's an uncanny sense of space, a layering of sound from front-to-back that the Analog DAC just nails to an extent I have not heard before in my humble abode. This layering also accounts for a nearly 3-dimensional quality to the sounds of music, pulling you into the performance as opposed to being kept at a distance by a flattened, less natural-sounding sound image.

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. As I said in my review of the silky smooth Luxman DA-06 (see review) the Analog DAC is also silky smooth. As I also said, I would give the Analog DAC the upper hand in terms of resolution over the Luxman which to my way of hearing also sounds completely not-digital. With the MSB DAC, I get more of a sense of hearing into the performance, of a finer grained level of reproduction while avoiding any kind of harshness, edginess, or etch endemic of digital playback.

I've also had the opportunity to hear the Analog DAC at a few hi-fi shows and even though we're talking very different room and system contexts, I would say that the Analog DAC's main traits travel with it. That is to say it has always sounded smooth, detailed, and completely natural. It is very easy to like and very easy to listen to over long periods of time as I found myself never tiring of listening to music through it regardless of how much time I had already spent just listening. So people who find themselves concerned with digital replay's tendency to sound overly etched, bright, and ultimately fatiguing can rest assured that The Analog DAC has done away with digital's unnaturally hard edges and replaced them with a natural sounding ease and an easy musical flow.

I listened to all manner of music through The Analog DAC including CD-quality, HD PCM up to 32/384kHz, as well as single and double rate DSD and perhaps more than any other DAC with the exception of the silky smooth Luxman and the soon to be reviewed and more costly Meitner MA-2, the MSB delivered convincing and lovely music. 16/44.1 recordings sounded nearly as rich and rewarding as higher definition fare yet at no time did music sound glossed over or unnaturally sweetened. So if you have recordings that you simply can't listen to because they're recorded so poorly, the MSB is not going to turn your dross into gold. However I can say that I was happy to listen to any recording I own through the Analog DAC regardless of its inherent sound quality. But better sounding recordings certainly sound better just as you'd expect them to.

Since the MSB DAC handles up to 128x DSD through its USB input, we don't have to fret or fight over the efficacy of DSD. We can just enjoy the DSD recordings we have and enjoy them I did. The DSD versions of Todd Garfinfkle's fantastic recordings on his MA Recordings label sound, even in their CD form, better than most recordings and their HD and DSD versions delivered via DVD-ROM sound better still. Será una Noche's La Segunda in 24/176.4 and DSD sounded simply stunning through The Analog DAC as if they were meant for each other. Todd manages to capture a sense of the place of the recording as well as the unique voices of every instrument and that dimensional quality and front-to-back layering that the MSB DAC does so well took La Segunda to new levels of visceral involvement.

Another aspect of the MSB's performance that's worth noting is its way with dynamic swings which are conveyed with a convincingly natural ease. Plucked strings startle with their sudden presence, horns blurt, and sounds resound and decay into silence just like they do in real life. This translates into a sound picture that feels as if you can reach out and touch it and all of these things add up to one involving and musically engaging experience. I suppose I can find some nits to pick if I sharpen my critical pencil but that would be calling attention to things that never really captured my attention unless I went looking for them. So could I wish for even more resolution, a bit more flesh on the upper frequencies, and perhaps a slightly bolder and tighter bass response? Sure. But do I find these things lacking in The Analog DAC? No, I don't. And in my experience if you want more you'll have to spend more.

I used the MSB's volume control for the majority of my listening time and would recommend it for people looking for a simple system. That said, I can also see how some systems and listeners would prefer their own preamplifier in the mix which is not necessarily a knock on the MSB rather we're simply talking about a matter of system and listener preference. Ultimately if you are looking for a definitive answer, listen for yourself. And if I've left out any other sonic check list items that you wished I'd ticked, take that as a check in the plus column as the Analog DAC does not invite a sonic autopsy presenting your music with so much life.

I also took the single-ended and balanced connections for a spin and found that I preferred the single-ended RCA outputs and their greater sense of air and ease. I also used the MSB Platinum Data CD IV Transport and compared to my MacBook running Audirvana or Pure Music I found that I preferred my MacBook Pro as much for its ease of access to my entire music library as for its sound qualities. But for those people who still want to spin discs, I would recommend this dynamic duo without reservation.

Analog Indeed
Steve Plaskin put it perfectly, "For those of us that have enjoyed this hobby over many years, there are a few products that come along in one’s audiophile life that leave a lasting impression on the listener. The Analog DAC is one of those products." I share in Steve's enjoyment of the MSB Analog DAC and found that with each listening session the only thing I was left longing for was more time with more music.



Associated Equipment

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

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.

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