MSB DACs

The Most Technologically Advanced DACs in the World! - "Sounds like an Analog Source!"
Creators of the world's most technically advanced DACs

With a legacy of designing and manufacturing high-end CD players and D/A converters spanning more than twenty years, MSB continues to exhibit leadership in audio technology. MSB has many firsts to our credit including:

* demonstrated first AC-3 output for LaserDisc to Dolby
* designed and built first THX approved LaserDisc Player (LJR II)
* first out board AC-3 demodulator
* first digital output on a DSS receiver
* first out board DTS processor (Millennium 2.4.6)
* first mass marketed 24 bit 96K DAC (LINK DAC)
* first discrete sign magnitude ladder DAC (Platinum DAC)
* first discrete asynchronous upsampler (Platinum Plus)
* first 80 bit DSP based digital filter (Platinum DAC III)
* first iPod based digital music server
* first CD transport that could play data files up to 32 bit, 384 kHz
* first USB DAC that could play all sample rates up to 384 kHz bit-perfect.
* MSB Technology is a world-class multimedia company, dedicated to bringing cutting-edge technologies and innovative ideas to market.
* MSB Technology: The legacy continues.

MSB RANGE CONSISTS OF:
DACs - DISCRETE / PREMIER / REFERENCE  & world leading, top-of-range SELECT DAC
TRANSPORTS (multi format) - REFERENCE & SELECT
HEADPHONE AMPS - REFERENCE & SELECT
MISC - RACKS, ISOLATION BASE & SUB ISOLATOR

Located in Silicon Valley, our dedicated engineers and production specialists work to bring you the best in high-end audio. Combining elegant design thinking with a passion for lifelike reproduction, our close-knit team, led by brothers Jonathan and Daniel Gullman, build and curate a wide array of hifi products—DACs, transports and amplifiers—setting an industry benchmark. By relying on tight integration between electrical, mechanical and consumer needs, we strive to push the listening experience further. At the end of the day, our joy comes from innovation and sharing our leading-edge technologies with the world.

Designing DACs for more than 25 years has given us keen insights for future ready products. Now, more than ever, our product range has the most flexible architecture yet. California based in-house development and manufacturing has evolved the digital front-end to a new level of playback.

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Featured

MB 03 CT SEL TRA
NZ$ 39,995.00 (incl. GST)
The Reference Transport - Unparalleled Sound in a Versatile Design High Resolution AudioImmersive sound that needs to be heard to be believed. The Reference Transport supports multi-channel DSD...
The Select Transport Includes: Desktop Supply IEC Power Cable Transport Remote Stock Colours...
MB 05 DC DIS DAC
NZ$ 16,995.00 (incl. GST)
The Discrete DAC - Refined sound. Elegant design. The Prime DAC
The DISCRETE DAC Includes: Balanced or Single-Ended Analog Outputs 2x Optical inputs Coaxial...
MSB has released a new Discrete DAC which replaces the MSB Analog DAC in MSB’s line-up. It uses two...
MB 20 DC SEL DAC
NZ$ 144,995.00 (incl. GST)
Eight Hybrid DAC’s
The Select DAC - Redefining what is possible. The world’s most revealing DAC. Eight Hybrid DAC...
REVIEW: MSB SELECT DAC 2 review part 1  

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CD / SACD / Blu-ray & Multi-Format Players

MB 01 CT REF TRA
NZ$ 31,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
  The Reference Transport Includes:
The Reference Transport Includes: Desktop Supply IEC Power Cable Transport Remote Stock...
MB 03 CT SEL TRA
NZ$ 39,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Reference Transport - Unparalleled Sound in a Versatile Design High Resolution AudioImmersive sound that needs to be heard to be believed. The Reference Transport supports multi-channel DSD...
The Select Transport Includes: Desktop Supply IEC Power Cable Transport Remote Stock Colours...
MB 04 CT SEL TPB
NZ$ 27,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Transport PowerbaseYou can’t overstate the importance of a clean power supply. A reimagined design paired with the transport reduces the noise floor even further through specialised isolating...

DACs

MB 05 DC DIS DAC
NZ$ 16,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Discrete DAC - Refined sound. Elegant design. The Prime DAC
The DISCRETE DAC Includes: Balanced or Single-Ended Analog Outputs 2x Optical inputs Coaxial...
MSB has released a new Discrete DAC which replaces the MSB Analog DAC in MSB’s line-up. It uses two...
DACs
MB 06 DC DIS 2PS
NZ$ 2,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 07 DC DIS DAC
NZ$ 22,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Discrete DAC - Refined sound. Elegant design.The Prime DAC
THIS DAC IS FITTED WIH FOLLOWING OPTIONAL EATRAS:RENDERER INPUT MODULE for SUPERIOR NETWORK MUSIC...
DACs
MB 08 DC PRE DAC
NZ$ 33,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Premier DAC - Exceptional sound. Unparalleled performance. The Prime DAC
The PREMIER DAC Includes:Optical and Coaxial Input Module Optical and Coaxial Input Module...
DACs
MB 09 DC PRE PS
NZ$ 12,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 09 DC PRE PSL
NZ$ 14,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 12 DC REF DAC
NZ$ 67,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Reference DAC - Setting the reference for Digital to Analog Converters. Four Hybrid DACs
The REFERENCE DAC Includes: Optical and Coaxial Input Module Base Volume control Output...
REVIEW: Upon the release of the mighty (also my reference component) Select DAC II many...
DACs
MB 14 DC REF PB
NZ$ 26,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 14 DC REF PBL
NZ$ 29,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 15 DC REF PRE
NZ$ 9,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 15 DC REF PRL
NZ$ 15,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 16 DC REF 140
NZ$ 8,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 17 DC REF 77
NZ$ 8,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 17 DC REF 77L
NZ$ 16,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 18 DC REF 33
NZ$ 25,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 18 DC REF 33L
NZ$ 33,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 20 DC SEL DAC
NZ$ 144,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Eight Hybrid DAC’s
The Select DAC - Redefining what is possible. The world’s most revealing DAC. Eight Hybrid DAC...
REVIEW: MSB SELECT DAC 2 review part 1  
DACs
MB 21 DC SEL PS
NZ$ 33,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 21 DC SEL PSL
NZ$ 40,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 22 DC SEL 77
NZ$ 16,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 23 DC SEL 33
NZ$ 16,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 23 DC SEL 33L
NZ$ 33,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 40 DC OM BASE
NZ$ 5,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 41 DC IM DIG
NZ$ 1,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 42 DC IM RCA
NZ$ 1,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 43 DC IM XLR
NZ$ 1,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 44 DC IM USB
NZ$ 2,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 45 DC IM REN
NZ$ 2,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
The NEW Renderer has arrived!  - Version 2 of the MSB Renderer Module for the Select DAC, the Reference DAC, the Premier DAC, the Discrete DAC, DAC [IV, IV+, V], and the Analog DAC. The MSB...
32 bit – 768kHz playback capableMQA hardware based decoding*Roon EndpointUp to 4X DSDUPnP...
DACs
MB 46 DC IM ISL
NZ$ 1,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 47 DC IM 12S
NZ$ 1,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 48 DC OM RCA
NZ$ 2,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 49 DC OM XLR
NZ$ 2,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 50 DC REMOTE
NZ$ 500.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 51 DC ISOBASE
NZ$ 3,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
DACs
MB 52 DC SW RCA
NZ$ 2,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
Sub Isolator - Block out the noise. Stop the feedback The subwoofer conundrum
DACs
MB 53 DC SW XLR
Price on application
Sub Isolator - Block out the noise. Stop the feedback The subwoofer conundrum
DACs

Headphones & Headphone amps

MB 30 HA REF HA
NZ$ 26,995.00 ea (incl. GST)

Sub Woofers

MB 55 SW ISOL
NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Sub Woofers

Reviews

“If you want the best then look no further.
John H. DarkoJohn H. Darko

SUMMARY: there’s no mistaking the Select DAC II’s talents with tonal depth and body that isn’t artificially inflated such that it squeezes out the spaces between the notes. The TOTL MSB sounds spectacular.

Making its worldwide debut is MSB Technology’s new statement D/A converter, the Select DAC II.

From MSB Technology’s website: “The SELECT DAC is more or less like a blend of the best of the Analog DAC and the best of the DAC V. It combines the Analog DAC construction, user interface and modularity with the DAC V’s upgradability and refined sound taken to a whole new level. It offers the most life-like sound possible. It has a level of realism never heard before.”

msb_select_DAC_ii_9

“Hey Barry – have you heard about the new US$90K (excl sales tax) MSB DAC that’s just arrived?”enthused I. “You mean this one?”, came the smart-ass reply as Barry pointed to his hifi rack.

Unbeknownst to me, the Select DAC II home auditioner turned out to be the very audiophile pal. The upshot? An opportunity to take this news announcement beyond press release dissemination, to chat to Ralston who was present for the install, to shoot my own photos and – of course – to grab a quick, comparison-free listen.

Barry’s system runs as follows: “The dual mono tube amplifiers are based on the Cymer SE-35 Southern Star but have been customised with all Dueland CAST caps and a copper chassis. A DEQX HDP-4 handles subwoofer integration and speaker correction. Talking of which: Bastanis full range drivers and Gemini dipole tweeters. The subwoofer amplifiers are Anthem M1.”

Before we get down to brass tacks, brace thyself: the Select DAC II is the highest of the high-end D/A converters – a zero compromise solution. 

A rare chance/close encounter with a DAC that attracts such stratospheric stickering is the reason why it sees coverage here. This isn’t a review but a proof of life.

And if MSB Technology’s decimal point positioning has you asking WTF, poised to let off steam in the comments section below, first consider this: you’re probably not the target market. Secondly, ask yourself if you’d feel such outrage at a car or luxury watch costing a similar amount?

msb_select_DAC_ii_7

The Select DAC II arrives in two separate flight cases. The DUAL Select Power Base’s two outputs independently juice the DAC’s digital and analogue sections (see rear panel photo) whilst doing double duty as an isolation platform. Both DAC and Select Power Base are milled from a single billet of aluminium.

Listeners wanting to further separate analogue and digital power supplies can opt for the three box version in which a pair of single Select Power Bases sit beneath the decoder.

The DAC box’s implementation is modular and therefore goes someway to being future-proof. Looking at the rear panel, we see the leftmost socket accommodates either a balanced or single-ended output module with the remaining four sockets to the right given over to input modules. Your choice of two modules – USB, I2S, S/PDIF, AES/EBU and network streaming – come fitted as standard with the remainder optionable as needed.

When it comes to the business end of decoding digital audio, MSB don’t do delta-sigma. Theirs is a preference for multi-bit solutions, not taken off the shelf but built in-house and from the ground up using high-precision, laser-trimmed resistors. Eight of MSB’s own ’Hybrid’ R2R ladder DAC modules can be found slotted side-by-side inside the Select DAC II.

select_dac2_open

Those same modules not only handle decoding but allow for a direct-coupled output stage. With the Select DAC II acting as pre-amplifier via its digitally-controlled analogue domain volume attenuation, the signal moves directly from DAC module bank to power amplifier. Sharper eyes will note that the output module also features a single analogue input. Turntablists, come on down!

Furthermore, MSB challenge the notion that a digital audio data clock is best externalised, independently powered and then umbilically-linked to the DAC via a cable. Ralston point outs that the connecting cable’s inductance and capacitance, as well as internal reflections, can introduce jitter – the very thing we’re trying to eliminate in the digital audio world.

Instead, MSB’s Galaxy Femto clock is positioned as close as possible to the ‘Hybrid’ DAC modules. The twice precise Femto 33 clock is available as a user- or factory-installable upgrade.

On measured performance, MSB promise an effective resolution of 28.5 bits. However, the lower noise floor’s benefits are likely to be system dependent. 

msb_select_DAC_ii_4

That said, there’s no mistaking the Select DAC II’s talents with tonal depth and body that isn’t artificially inflated such that it squeezes out the spaces between the notes.

The TOTL MSB sounds spectacular. Such enthusiasm is tempered by a caveat: I only get to hear this system two or three times a year. One would require a more familiar setup as well as immediate access to rivals product from the likes of dCS and Light Harmonic in order to properly substantiate claims that this is indeed the best sounding D/A converter in the world.

Back to the press release: “If you want the best then look no further. The amazing musicality, resolution and clarity is too hard to resist if you’re serious about your high-end system. “Don’t miss out on your chance to experience the best conversion the industry has to offer. Your search stops here.”

....my body feels like 'all-analog'. not 5+ hours of digital.
Mike Lavigne Premier Club Member - Sept 2017

The MSB Select II arrived yesterday, and I listened for 6-7 hours.....then this morning for another hour or so.

I removed the rubber stock footers from below the power supply and am using BDR cones on top of the Symposium Svelt Shelf. the dac is using the rubber stock footers into the detents in the case of the power supply.....for my initial listening.

right now using a generic USB cable and an Absolute Fidelity power cord with Furutech NCF plugs. settings on the SGM are 'bit-perfect' through HQ Player.

just how good is the MSB Select dac?

I'm not really ready to answer that. there is quite a bit of investigation needed to go there. but I will say that the musical experience of every track I've listened to in the last 5 and 1/2 hours is significantly improved over any previous digital experience.

and it's not so much that it sounds better, but in the ways it sounds better that so far is impressive. there is just a sense of easy musical expression without stress, and with such natural speed, separation, clarity and command. nothing forced or confused. like other digital is a bit constipated and filtered. yet the flow is hypnotic. make your audio checklist and check every box. it does it all.

and my body feels like 'all-analog'. not 5+ hours of digital.

so I'm explaining my emotional and physical reaction to an extended session with the MSB Select II. I'm not assigning any rank or attribute.....or trying to describe it's sound.

I've heard nothing so far that would limit my opinion of this product......but don't have the complete picture.....yet.

No doubt I've not yet heard the best of the Select II. there are a number of areas where the performance should improve to some degree going forward. I will say it seems to fit right into my system and my expectations of a synergy with my system appear to be right on.

Speaker completely gone. Endless space, solidity, and precise position even for piano keyboard which is physically present in space. F*cking lovely."
Michael Lavorgna

 

 

"Speaker completely gone. Endless space, solidity, and precise position even for piano keyboard which is physically present in space. F*cking lovely."

To say I was jazzed with the sound of music in the MSB room would be an understatement. I was lit up with musical joy. The MSB Select DAC with the Femto 1033 clock option sending the converted bits to the MSB M203 Class A monoblocks driving the YG Sonja 1.2 speakers (US$72,800) brought all of the power and glory of John Lee Hooker singing "I Cover the Waterfront" to Las Vegas which is quite a feat since sincerity and soul are endangered species in sin city. These were some of my favorite sounds at the show.

 

As Vince Galbo of MSB explains it, the Select DAC "is as much a program as a piece of hardware" since MSB will send new Select owners free upgrades, the Select DAC is completely modular, for the first year after purchase. The product is also covered by a 10-year warranty and owners can opt to upgrade after the initial free year "for the difference between the price you paid and the current price."

It notched my system up to a place where almost all digital sources had an organic, natural presence without sacrificing the accuracy and detail present in the best recordings—no small feat.
Jon Iverson

REVIEW SUMMARY - with a DAC like the MSB Analog, you get a sense of someone hitting Play on a big reel of wide-track analog tape, after being fed by live mikes in a room". 

".......the MSB again better separated all the parts and anchored them all down,"

."......the first one "more focused." "I prefer the first one," she finally stated. The first one was the MSB, and she was exactly right. The Benchmark produced a greater sense of ambient space, but Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor's voice floated more cohesively between the speakers with the MSB".

"I'm seriously considering how to swing the basic model with no volume control, one input, and Basic Desktop power supply (can be upgraded later), You should too."

EXTENDED REVIEW - Back in high-end audio's golden days—for the purposes of this story, the mid- to late 1980s—my audio store, Audio Ecstasy, had a service tech named Tom Hewitt. Were he still with us (and I wish he were), Tom would appreciate the radical case design of the MSB Analog DAC. Tom loved not only to fix things, but to see what happened when things were violently stressed. He tested the limits of component construction.

Tiring of dropping receivers off our building's roof or ramming TVs (tied to the back of a pickup truck) into the shop's brick wall, Tom soon discovered that one of our customers owned a machine shop with an industrial press. Pay dirt. Somewhere there are camcorder cassettes of what transpired, but let's just say that even the best casework was no match for this giant squishing machine. Tom's videos would first show the component being crushed. Then he would gleefully pan to the pressure gauge, as it rose higher and higher. Then back to the metal pancake.

Which brings us to MSB Technology's Analog DAC.

This product's design and shape suggest a typical MSB component that has been squeezed tight in an industrial press, then sanded and buffed to a smooth finish. Call it an audiophile pancake. In fact, it resembles in size and thickness the bigger-than-plate-size blueberry pancakes at Hoover's Beef Palace, just up the road from me in Templeton, California (yes, this is true!). I'll bet Tom would be challenged in trying destroy the Analog DAC, and appreciate how well it's made.

I reviewed MSB's Diamond DAC IV (since renamed the Diamond DAC IV plus) in the October 2012 issue, with Diamond Power Base and other upgrades (US$43,325), and it remains the best digital I've heard in my home system. When I spied the new Analog DAC at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, and was told that it's their new, lower-cost product, I was interested before I'd even heard any specifics. And when I did hear those specifics, they were interesting.

Best-case scenario

Let's start with that enclosure. The stealthy-looking Analog DAC is CNC-machined from a solid hunk of aircraft-grade aluminium and comes in matte silver or black, with custom colours available for $699. They leave much of the metal in, removing it only where they need to stuff electronics—what's left feels like a solid plank of 7/8"-thick metal. The case is 17.5" wide and 12.5" deep and sports curved sides, with a semicircular bulge at each corner for a little spike foot. Underneath is a hatch to gain access to the main electronics, and there are three slots on the back for the inputs. It looks like something that would fly if tossed like a Frisbee.

On the back, starting at the left, are the balanced and unbalanced analog outputs and analog input, grouped by channel. MSB recommends using the unbalanced outputs if possible—they claim that the DAC is "fundamentally single-ended." Unless the optional volume control is installed, the single-ended analog inputs are passed directly to the outputs. With the volume control, this input can be either volume controlled or not, depending on the menu settings; MSB suggests that it's ideal for adding a vinyl input, if you're using the Analog DAC as a preamp. This input should be shorted when not in use, as it was during my testing.

To the right of the output/analog input section are three slots for the various digital input options. The five possible choices for the three spots are: Optical and coax S/PDIF inputs (on one input block), XLR balanced AES/EBU input, MSB network input (it looks like an Ethernet jack, so is coloured bright green), Pro I2S input, and a 32-bit/384kHz PCM/DSD-compatible USB input. I'll go over the prices of these options later; it can be a bit perplexing. My review sample came with the Optical/Coax, MSB network, and USB options.

To the right of the inputs is a jack for the DC power supply. There are two power-supply options: the linear Basic Desktop supply, with two transformers, is included in the basic price and gets the job done; a more advanced supply, the Analog Power Base, is housed in a case that looks just like the Analog DAC and makes a nice stacking companion (yes, like pancakes). It contains five transformers—for complete isolation of digital processing, clocks, and analog DAC modules—as well as a 12V power trigger for remote operation. On the back of the Power Base are an IEC AC power receptacle, a DC out jack, trigger jacks, and a teeny-tiny power switch that glows red when off, green when on. I'm wise to MSB products, so I quickly found this unmarked switchette and figured how to turn it on without help. I had only the Analog Power Base upgrade on hand for listening, so can't remark on what improvements, if any, it makes over the Basic Desktop supply.

Back to the Analog DAC. The front of its case is bare, smooth metal, but on top, at right front, the volume control and input selector sit flush with the surface. The volume selector is puck-sized with the input button a small circular indent in the volume puck and held in by gravity. How do I know about the gravity thing? When I first turned the review sample over to check out the bottom, the heavy volume knob and small input button fell out and bounced on the floor. Oops. Luckily, no dents.

To the left of the volume control is a small grid of pinholes in the aluminium; under these is the white LED display. The large letters and numbers are quite bright and let you know the software version on startup, the input selected, the sample rate, and, as you spin the knob, the volume setting. The interaction between the volume and input selector and the display have a great feel, and there's a very satisfying little clicking sound as you bounce the volume up and down. At the rear of the top panel are the MSB logo, and labels for the outputs in light coloured type.

This arrangement, with the volume control on top, worked great when I perched the Meridian Sooloos Control 15 (with its small stand) atop the DAC. However, this might prove problematic with a normal component on top, as I found when I added to the stack the MSB Universal Media Transport plus. With the UMT+ underneath, the feet lined up perfectly, and the volume control was visible again. The one ergonomic issue I had with the Analog DAC's controls was when I switched inputs in low light: I would invariably also tick the volume knob a bit. It took some skill to push the barely visible input switch and not hit the volume by mistake.

Filter King

The Analog DAC includes MSB's Femto Clock technology, as well as 80-bit digital processing and 384kHz ladder DACs. When I asked MSB's Vince Galbo for some details about the digital filter used in the Analog DAC, he said that even though the DAC IV has several filters to choose from, "while everyone wants to play with these [filters in the DAC IV], they all come to the same conclusion, that one of the default filters is the best. So the default filter is the same in the Analog DAC as that DAC IV series default filter." Which means they're using a custom-designed, linear-phase apodizing filter designed for minimal pre-ringing. Galbo explained that this is "MSB's definition of the term apodizing in that it has a stop band that starts before the Nyquist limit of the source's sample rate (for example, 22.05kHz for 'Red Book'), therefore avoiding aliasing caused by the Nyquist limit."

The Grand Total

The Analog DAC is MSB's "lower-priced" DAC, but of course that's only relative to their pricy products as noted above. The Analog DAC' includes one input module, basic remote control, and the Basic Desktop power supply. This is all some folks will need to get up and running.

You can add the volume control, turning the DAC into a preamp (if you do this, don't forget that it has just that one analog input!). Next, you can add a remote-control upgrade , RS-232 input, or WiFi control. Additional digital inputs (you can add two more). Finally, you can upgrade to the Analog Power Base supply. The review sample had three inputs, volume control, and Power Base. Note: Unlike the other inputs and power supply, which can be upgraded down the line, the volume-control option cannot be added later—it must be ordered with the Analog DAC itself.

First Attempt

I set up the short stack of Analog DAC and Analog Power Base on my cabinet and ran it overnight to settle it in. It didn't get very warm—a balmy 94.5°F was the hottest spot near the display (MSB's Diamond DAC IV ran so hot I couldn't put it in a cabinet)—so I proceeded to set the Sooloos Control 15 on top and fed the MSB via its S/PDIF input. The two products look great together, and the Control 15's smallish base left the Analog DAC's volume control and input switch right where I wanted them.

I cued up a few albums—standard rips from CDs—and settled in for some first-impression listening. Then I cued up some high-definition music. Silence. I restarted the MSB. It powered up, selected the right sample rate (96kHz), and played. No problem. I switched back to a lower sampling rate. No problem. I went to a higher rate and it locked up again.

I e-mailed Vince Galbo, who noted that a dealer had reported the same problem with the Sooloos, as had users of Logitech Transporters. According to Galbo, "some sources do not switch perfectly clean, and the sample-rate transition may contain a bit of noise. Our inputs have a fairly stringent 'window of acceptance,' so to speak." I put the MSB to one side and reviewed some other DACs.

A couple months later, an update to the Analog DAC's firmware became available and I downloaded it from MSB's website. Updating was simple with the Sooloos: I downloaded the WAV file, added it to the Sooloos, and played it through the MSB once. The DAC rebooted, showed the new firmware number on its display, then played a short snippet of music to show that all was well.

You can also update the Analog via MSB's transport, your computer, or by burning the file to a CD. The only requirement, according to MSB, is that playback of the update must be bit-perfect, with no upsampling, volume, or any other filtering added. This update fixed the problem, but there was still one small glitch: Every time the Analog DAC switched to a higher sampling rate, the volume dropped one dB increment. A second update was soon posted and fixed that.

In his e-mail, Galbo had said this about the updates: "Because the MSB DAC modules are not format specific and can convert any format, now and in the future, such firmware updates make our DACs 'all new' in any way we choose. As an example, late last year we enabled DSD 64x and 128x in all MSB DACs, even though the DAC was never specifically designed for DSD." Cool.

Serious Listening

First things first: I wanted to establish the proper volume setting for listening and all of my comparisons. John Atkinson had recently sent me Benchmark's new, highly regarded DAC2 HGC, which has a volume knob on the front, as well as the ability to operate, via a fixed output level, with a preamp. To make sure I was listening to all DACs at the same level, whether compared through the preamp or connected directly to my amps, I ran the pink-noise track from Stereophile's Test CD 2 (Stereophile STPH004-2) and found that the Analog DAC needed to be set at "–3" to match the DAC2 HGC at fixed output, and the MSB at "–2" to match my older Benchmark DAC1 USB, which was also on hand and is a tad louder than the DAC2 HGC.

That out of the way, I spent over a month using the MSB as my main DAC, driven by the Meridian Sooloos, by computer, or by MSB's own Universal Media Transport plus. I applied the MSB updates mentioned above and commenced serious listening.

I began with the Bee Gees. No, not those albums—I grabbed the ones before disco, when the band was a serious Beatles clone (which qualifies several of their songs for my ever-expanding "Not the Beatles" playlist of Beatles sound-alikes). The first half-dozen or so albums, from 1966 to 1971, were well recorded, packed with great tunes, and most have been reissued with extra tracks.

Starting with the standout song "Massachusetts," from the Horizontal CD, the Analog DAC placed everything in space perfectly, with a nice, rich bottom end and a nonaggressive midrange. One thing I love about good, honest transfers of these older albums is that you get the sound of the minor recording artefacts pretty much intact—back then, they couldn't just edit, filter, and EQ everything to perfection. The result is that, with a DAC like the MSB Analog, you get a sense of someone hitting Play on a big reel of wide-track analog tape, after being fed by live mikes in a room.

Other DACs that have been able to re-create this sense of "thereness" include the MSB's bigger Diamond brother and Ayre Acoustics' original QB-9 (unfortunately equipped only with USB). When I added MSB's Universal Media Transport plus to the mix, that "thereness" notched up a nanotad. I could easily live with the sound from the Sooloos, but the UMT+, via the MSB Pro I2S, put the Analog DAC in the best possible light.

Against the Benchmark

I moved on to some other great, early Bee Gees cuts, and brought the new Benchmark DAC2 HGC out for head-to-head comparisons. From the Bee Gees' 1st (Reprise), from 1967 (actually their third LP, if you count the Australia-only releases), "Holiday" and "To Love Somebody" are semi-lost gems of the era, complete with full orchestral arrangements—when I swapped in the Benchmark DAC2 HGC, everything lost a bit of focus. The top-to-bottom balance felt right, but Barry and Robin Gibb's melancholic voices didn't sound as solid as with the MSB.

A more recent release—Midlake's latest, Antiphon (ATO)—features thick slabs of guitar and fabulous vocal harmonies, but it's a tangled recording. Though it couldn't entirely unravel the mass of sound, the MSB again better separated all the parts and anchored them all down, compared to either Benchmark. The older Benchmark DAC1 USB, in particular, had a tougher time with the album's title track, adding a slight gloss to the voices.

Finally, a guilty pleasure (as if the Bee Gees weren't enough): Lorde's Pure Heroine (CD, Virgin 3751900). I didn't connect with this album at first, but after Corrina had played "Royals" a half-dozen times (and I watched Puddles the Clown's version on YouTube), I wanted to hear it again. And again. Tired of audiophile female-voice lounge-jazz Krall demos? Here's a rich female voice with a subtle electronic backing track that will test your system from top to bottom.

Corrina sat in the sweet spot as I played "Royals" through both DACs (Analog DAC and DAC2 HGC), back and forth, twice. She didn't know which DAC was which, but commented that the second DAC sounded a bit "bigger," the first one "more focused." "I prefer the first one," she finally stated. The first one was the MSB, and she was exactly right. The Benchmark produced a greater sense of ambient space, but Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor's voice floated more cohesively between the speakers with the MSB. The Benchmark was slightly more ghostlike in this regard.

Conclusion and Au Revoir

I started to write up more musical examples, but realised I was just repeating myself. Every comparison with the DACs mentioned above, and a handful of others that passed through my system in the past several months, yielded the same results: a more focused sound with the MSB, coupled with the ability to match the best qualities of any other DAC in the hot seat. There was simply more there there.

I was sad to have to send another MSB DAC to JA's Brooklyn lab for testing. It notched my system up to a place where almost all digital sources had an organic, natural presence without sacrificing the accuracy and detail present in the best recordings—no small feat. Fully decked out, it is not cheap by any measure except other MSB products. I'm seriously considering how to swing the basic model with no volume control, one input, and Basic Desktop power supply (can be upgraded later), You should too.

Audio Reference 1st in the world to receive new MSB Discrete DAC
Greg Borrowman

MSB has released a new Discrete DAC which replaces the MSB Analog DAC in MSB’s line-up. It uses two Prime DAC modules for a true balanced output derived from four stages of digital-to-analogue conversion and an ultra-low jitter integrated clock. A modular architecture allows for two digital input modules, accommodating any format or connector type available, either now or into the future.

It adopts the aesthetic, build quality, and cutting-edge in-house technology of the MSB’s Select DAC and Reference DAC and, like all MSB DACs, is built entirely in-house in the company’s facility in Santa Cruz, California. ‘The tradition of building in-house continues with these new DACs, we have not compromised build quality, and we never will,’ said Daniel Gullman, MSB Product Designer. Daniel and his brother Jonathan took over MSB in 2016 from their father, Larry Gullman, who founded MSB in 1985 with Mark Brasfield. ‘Under Jonathan and Daniel’s leadership MSB Technology has taken on a new lease of life with a fresh direction marked by a family of bold new products which push the envelope in terms of both sonic performance and elegant design languageSince taking the reins at MSB, they’ve added more in-house tech including CNC lathes and surface-mount technology (SMT). Coupled with an uncompromising eye for detail and unrivalled finesse, they are continuing to push the envelope in high end audio.’

The Discrete DAC is built around the newly developed Prime DAC module which is the result of trickle down technology from the Hybrid DAC modules used in both the Reference DAC and Select DAC. MSB now has a range of four state-of-the-art digital-to-analogue converters which are able to drive the analogue outputs directly. ‘This means that there are no op-amps, transistors, or vacuum tubes between the collective DAC modules’ output and the input of your power amplifier or your active loudspeaker’s electronic crossover,’ said Ralston. ‘The result is the most natural, life-like, high-resolution audio available from any digital source. In fact, the overwhelming observation from listeners is that these digital products sound uncannily like the very best analogue sources.’

The new MSB Discrete DAC is powered by a completely separate external power supply (pictured below). A true balanced design, the Discrete DAC has an in-built volume control, no analogue output buffer and a 300Ω output impedance. Measuring only 50×300×450mm it has a four-character LED front panel display and is now available in New Zealand at Audio reference, the 1st in the world to receive one.

I'm wholeheartedly already giving out the Mono & Stereo Upper Echelon Product Award!
Matej Isak

CONCLUSION: The MSB Technology, now under the baton of Daniel and Jonathan Gullman managed to deliver a mighty performer, that will change many paradigms connected with the digital audio.
Classical music represents a pinnacle reference when it comes to music reproduction. Especially the complex passages and the complexity of the orchestral formation challenges any audio front end. The MSB Technology Reference DAC possess a unique ability to render the overload of the notes in a veritable way,   beyond anything typical.
The Reference DAC delivers extraordinary and wholesome orchestral scenic sense, but also share the same potency when it comes to the rendition of solo instruments and the blending of the two.

REVIEW: Upon the release of the mighty (also my reference component) Select DAC II many owners of the Diamond DAC IV DAC were wondering, when the worthy successor, that will incorporate the trickled down technology from the flagship Select DAC will appear.

And last year MSB Technology finally released the Reference DAC. This ignited the non-surprising interest of both MSB Technology fans and digital audio aficionados across the world. As you'll read on The Reference DAC is more than just a worthy successor, but a product that marks something very special and pins the Reference DAC on the permanent MSB Technology heritage time table.

 
 MSB Technology Reference DAC knobs coming off the CNC. The unique detents and double bearings gives a smooth and quality feel to every DAC. 
 
Before the emails start coming in again let me assure you... The owners of the flagship Select DAC need not to worry. Yes, the Reference DAC uses same proprietary technology, but its trickled down to an extend, that keeps Select DAC safely up in its own upper echelon realms.

The Reference DAC is fully compatible with all of the Select DAC modules. This allows MSB Technology easier developing of the new universal modules for both platforms with a future proof concept, that will make and keep the owners of both DACs happy for years to come.

The modularity, future expanding ability, as well as easy upgrading of the software was one of the major attributes in my decision to purchase my Select DAC. Digital Audio is changing so fast and so rapidly, that one can too quickly fall behind with all the new, exciting and upcoming feature. And if we're considering the prices for the top tier DACs, many would triple check the sanity of such premium purchase. 

 
As far as future proofing goes, the MSB Technology already has proven their up to date track record with the introduction of MQA QUAD USB module as well as with the renderer module. The new Render was released and allows full Roon support with a direct ethernet connection for the simplest and straight forward operation. More on that soon, but rest assured, that Daniel and Jonathan Gullman will deliver something that is worthy of waiting.
 
THE STRUCTURE
 
Most of you will want to know all the details associated with the new MSB Technology Reference DAC. Here are the highlights and main features, that makes its a true gem, special and so different...
 
Four Hybrid DACs
 
 
The Reference DAC is equipped with MSB’s new Hybrid DAC technology.  Originated in the Select DAC, MSB has pushed the technology further, making it more compact and robust and above all – affordable. Unlike the Select’s eight-module design, the Reference DAC only needs four modules to anchor eight high-powered channels for an unrivaled output. The Hybrid module can be reconfigured to accommodate PCM or native DSD, ensuring to take a challenge for the most dynamic DAC on the market.
 
Simplicity
 
 
Smooth chassis lines. Few controls. Focused modularity. High-end quality. As MSB Technology set out to create a new level of digital-to-analog conversion, the design statement ensured the best usability and quality. "The resulting product has set a new, previously undiscovered reference in the listening experience."
 
A display for the listening chair
 
Designed with an easy-to-read display, our discrete LED installation is both stunning and practical. Our display is big enough that you can stay seated in your chair. No standing necessary – sit back and become immersed.
Designed in-house from the ground up, the display is assembled in its own CNC pocket in the uni-body, separate from the DAC. Along with targeted electrical isolation, the LED display is refreshed in between data points to reduce noise interference.
 
The Dual Powerbase
You can’t underestimate the importance of a clean power supply. A re-imagined design paired with the DAC reduces the noise floor even further. Referenc DAC comes with a single supply for the digital side of the DAC, along with an isolated supply for the analog side, yielding an unprecedented level of performance.
 
The Mono Powerbase
 
 
Upgraded with two dedicated power supplies, it provides increased isolation and electrical performance for both the digital and the analog power. With the increased space, each Mono Powerbase possesses a much lower electrical noise design.
 
Completely modular
The MSB Technology modular design encourages innovation. The DAC modules, clock, input and output modules are all user-replaceable. As these technologies changes, MSB Technology will update your DAC to keep it current and operational.
 
Engaging with the Future
 
 
MSB is constantly developing new input modules for every application and technology. With the release of MQA, MSB has prepared a new module and a streamlined software update. This augments the DAC with the most up to date technologies. Put simply, your DAC is ready for the future.
 
The last preamp you will ever need
Upgrading from the Base Output Module delivers a cutting edge constant impedance passive volume control preamp. Using this remarkable preamp will reduce system complexity and ultimately improve the audio quality of the entire system.It’s a remarkable feat of electrical design that sets a new benchmark in the industry. The output modules are individually tuned for maximum quality balance or single-ended audio.
 
Even without the upgraded preamp module, the DAC still has built in volume control.
 
Expand your analog audio
With sideways expansion, the preamp can accommodate additional analog inputs, isolated sub outputs, and extra analog outputs.
 
CNC Billet chassis
Starting with an 65lb plate of ‘Kaiser Select Precision Plate’, material is machined in MSB own in-house CNC shop. After more than four hours of machining, 60% of the aluminum is removed, resulting in a 18lb finished product. The integration of our CNC shop allows for design optimization to create the best possible product. MSB Technology use the high quality premium ‘Select’ metal, giving us the best anodized finishes on the market.
 
Anodized Finishes
 
 
Available in matte silver and matte black anodized finishes. Replaceable foot guards are included to protect the chassis from damage. Any standard M6X1 foot can be installed.

THE MUSIC

The hardest thing for any high-end audio DAC is to deliver the music in a wholesome, harmonic way. There are quite a few high-performing DACs out there, but the transcoding of the music for what it truly is was and will never be an easy task."Ears become the back door of truth and the front door of deception" - (Baltasar Gracian) 

The above quote describes the initial highly ecstatic impact of most of so-called high-end audio DACs. This particular d(effect) materializes quite easily into a factual reality after few listening. There are underlying and lingering phenomena that could be described with multiple names. For some, it comes as a subtle breeze. For me, as a ladder DAC fan with constant exposure to this particular approach, the differences are not either small or subtle. They're of constitutional degree...

And this is where the Reference DAC differs. It allows the entrance into the prolonged listings, where time and space lose its forte and music ignites its mighty interactive potency.

So far this was a highly distinguished occupancy of the analog mediums. Yet, this too often mystified domain is finally making its breakthrough onto the digital side.

Classical music represents a pinnacle reference when it comes to music reproduction. Especially the complex passages and the complexity of the orchestral formation challenges any audio front end. The MSB Technology Reference DAC possess a unique ability to render the overload of the notes in a veritable way,  beyond anything typical.

The Reference DAC delivers extraordinary and wholesome orchestral scenic sense, but also share the same potency when it comes to the rendition of solo instruments and the blending of the two.

Take any Midori, James Ehnes, Michael Rabin, Shlomo Mintz or Ossy Renardy's saltato and staccato momentums and you'll instantly understand, why I'm talking about something extraordinary.

The Reference DAC is not focusing at either harmonic tail or dynamic edge of the violin note. It goes beyond both focusing and avoids both warm and utterly brittle traits...

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (Georg Solti, Birgit Nilsson, Wiener Philharmoniker, Fritz Uhl) is always among the favorites for that extra challenging gravity. The Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90 / Act 1 - Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90 - Prelude - Langsam und smachtendencapsulates the drama with the spirit that continuously incites me to return for another take! Anyone ever in doubts of being an audiophile (in the best sense of the word), here's the key... If you can continuously listen and enjoy both music and technical qualities of a particular recording, you're guilty as charged! A true, fool bloodied audiophile!

Classical music always adds a layer of confronting complexity and the MSB Technology Reference DAC's distortion-free playback ensures the absence of fatigue, embracing the kernel qualities of analog reproduction. That alone is a factor worthy of the acclaim. Since the publishing of the first part of the review, I've been asked via many emails if I can recommend the MSB Technology Reference DAC to the utmost demanding classical music connoisseurs and the answer is a BIG yes! The Reference DAC is able to handle and provide the essential transients and subtle traits without emphasizing any particular sonic attributes.

The track Village Swallows from Peter Guth, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Johann Strauss II: Voices of Spring joyfully expand by each note with an overwhelming sense of authority and the momentum that summons much more than a conventional digital potency to illustrate the full potential. Especially the resolution. Lacking the proper resolution translates to the absence of the attributes of the real world drama. This is what sets apart the "big boys"! While quite a few of the DACs out there can form a convincing orchestra scale and somehow picture the proper size of instruments, most of them are lacking the required capacity to present the noise-free rendition that provides the presence factor. And in this particular regard the MSB Technology Reference DAC scores above the usual top grades. It's exemplary!

Bliss - Quiet Letters. Fantastic music and a reference track I'm always happy to play. There is so much going on with this Song for Olabi (new version). The mind needs to be in a sharp mode in order to follow and grasp all of the sonic attributes. There is a certain holographic quality that exposes itself only with the right digital inner nucleus.

One of my latest visitors had a hard time grasping the sound coming out of the speakers, beyond the usual three dimensional extents. On the state of the art system a lot of the music, that we might think we know profoundly, exposes more layers and a different dimensional ambiance providing a refreshing encounter, that confronts even the aficionados' strict beliefs. The Reference DAC has exhibited a remarkable, grain free portraying without disguising anything and without attaching any sonic hue. While a lot of people and even audiophiles with impressive mileage want some level of warmth added the real endeavor should be converged on the opposite side. Reference DAC (like the Select) has a unique capacity. It's translucent at its core. With the Reference DAC, the resolution succeeds in the best way as it will acknowledge the natural warmth (being recorded) to develop naturally. What we should seek in the 21st century is the real ability to decipher what's really on the record.  A true high-end audio DAC with the potent core can reveal this spontaneously. This is what yours truly expect from upper echelon DACs. The MSB Technology team has managed to do this beyond of just right.

The highly impressive sense of the space and atmosphere extended with the beautifully mesmerizing Paolo Fresu/Richard Galliano/Jan Lundgren - Mare Nostrum III. I'm always smitten with the opening track Blues sur Seine (Label Act Music). An excellent interplay of piano, trumpet, and French accordion.

The music on this album really has a life of its own and Reference DAC has manifested the unprecedented purity of tone and timbral resolution, that easily produced a tangible and palpable rendition. While many DACs can deliver a certain level of resolution, the inadequacy to render a proper tone and color leave them quite a few steps behind.

Truism and realism are among the Reference DAC's fortitudes and what set it far apart. On the grander scale isn't this what we are all looking for? Getting closer to the real thing and not immersing in the saturated and artificial augmented reality!?

CONCLUSION

The MSB Technology, now under the baton of Daniel and Jonathan Gullman managed to deliver a mighty performer, that will change many paradigms connected with the digital audio.


Yes, there is a hefty entry price into the upper echelon of the MSB Technology DACs. Reference DAC surely won't be for everyone... Still, there is a surprisingly big enough market for this kind of digital audio gems. And based on what've seen over at social media, it's not as small and niche as you might think.

As with the Select DAC, the Reference DAC delivers familiar lightness and natural flow with one of the-kind-density. There is something very different in the way Reference DACs four modules (eight high-powered channels) delivers both raw and feather like nuances of the sonic energy. Music's energy is distributed without the felling of parcelization, that is too often associated even with other top tier DACs. The Reference DAC intimately follows the sound consistency, closely reflecting the phenomena of the real music impact.

The above mentioned density and dynamic stress free rendition might be closely connected with the Reference DAC's 145dBAFS (20Hz to 20kHz) dynamic range... Yes, I know. This is the topic, that can quickly sparkle more than just warmed up discussion. Still, even even in pro-audio you'll quickly found, that 120dB are quoted as the starting point of the undistorted sonic delivery....

The upgraded (from basic) constant impedance (1dB steps) passive volume control preamplifier is capable of driving the power amplifiers directly without the need of an amplifier.

Yes, I agree. We've all heard this strong statements before. While yours truly had his own reservation previously, even with the Select DAC taking the role of pure preamplifier, I've finally found a few matching amps, that truly highlight the Reference DAC (and Select) remarkable internal preamp. But more on that in due time. The most important thing is, that after numerous testings I'm really starting to appreciate this unique feature "passive" volume control feature, that allows truly ultra high-end performance in the absence of the outboard ultra-high-end-preamplifier. We all know, that worthy contenders briefly starts with the 20k+ price sticker. Take this in consideration and suddenly many of the audiophiles and music lovers will look at the given price from very different perspective.


The Reference DAC deliver the same DNA revelatory impact as its bigger brother, the Select DAC. The grander insights into the music's inner mechanics are on the level of its own as the Reference DAC has the ability to decipher and unmask impressive level of informations. These are usually well hidden inside the original digital audio file. The magic lies within MSB cutting edge ladder DACs and with the implementation on all the proprietary MSB Technology in-house technologies. MSB Technology is secretive for a reason when it comes to the implementation of their own solutions and IP. They've invested enormous time and effort over the three decades to gain their unique position in the digital audio. The very leading edge has its own rules to follow and momentum to keep...

As the MSB Select DAC, the Reference DAS is a vertex of science and art. When it comes to the music such juxtaposition seems too far out, yet as with the Select DAC, the Reference DAC expertly blends them both.

Like the Select DAC the MSB Technology Reference DAC is blurring the line of analog and digital. Digital has come far in past decade and Reference DAC is among the few of the proud examples of the digital audio done right. While some nit-pickers while want to dig out the particularisers the bar was risen so high, that even a non causal and trained connoisseur can immerse in the music without turning on the mind machinery!

There is no doubt, that MSB Technology deserves a special highlighting and for remarkable and stand out performance. For what it represent technically and musically, I'm wholeheartedly already giving out the Mono & Stereo Upper Echelon Product Award!

 
Matej Isak
 
MSB SELECT DAC 2 review - part 1
Matej Isak

SUMMARY: "What struck me from my first encounter with MSB Select DAC 2 was sense of ultimate timing, absence of any signature sound, submarine like depths, enormous sense of space and instant ability to lock into the music. On my path I’ve encountered on some attributes that pointed toward something special, yet never under one “roof”..... MSB Select DAC 2 refreshingly comes with vivid presentation, absence of technology imprint (or what usually happens specific  brand imprint), filters sonic DNA etc. Its by far most fatigue free DAC I’ve had pleasure to listen. Comment like this are coming from the guy who few years back didn’t even want to lurk back into the digital universe for many obvious reasons.......The Select DAC manifested exemplary gradients of the sound, with impressive flow, that I’v yet to encounter in digital. Same goes for non fatigue, stressless aural composition.......Being struck with the unrivalled, life/feather like consonance of Select’s macro/micro scale and overarching narrative kept me dumb struck.".

REVIEW: MSB SELECT DAC 2 review part 1

 

“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.”Johannes Brahms

 

"It is my belief that music is great if, at some moment, the listener catches 'a glimpse of eternity through the window of time'... This, to my mind, is the only true justification for art. All else is of secondary importance." — Einojuhani Rautavaara

 

Before even getting into the whole “hot” topic of vultures dealings let me refer to other Über products, industries and most importantly followers. Utterly expensive spirits, cigars, sports cars, paintings are unlike in high-end audio, not a subject of constant critics from those who cannot afford them. 

 

Presently, state of the art comes with price. Hefty one I know, sadly not always (or almost mandatory) justified. Still… Some of the products do carry a “burden” of mighty R & D, funds and time being invested into their creation. Top fliers like MSB Select DAC 2 are not magical, one day magic wonder carvings of some alchemist. In MSB case, three decades of constant evolution assured their steady pace of innovation and push forward mentality. Yes, minority of people are capable of affording such gems, but in the grander picture these gentleman might carry a different torch then they are usually associated with. Select few, surprise-surprise comes as supporters of the broader public. What!? 

Like in other industries, a lot of state of the art features and solutions are coming to a wider public in due time as trickled down technology solutions, being implemented to much more affordable products. A sobering reality…

 

Let us reflect military high-tech for a minute. Ether we like it or not, being pacifists, anti military corporation establishment  activist, industrial revolution critics etc.. Every day contemporary tech manifestations like internet, mobile phones, communications etc. are “side” products of military giants. Big devil corporation’s devices are embraced even by the most passionate critics. Hmmm… I’m not comparing military industry to high-end audio, but making a point. In the long run we do benefit from something that might not be our raison d'être and in our particular situation money is not coming from tax payers pockets… 

 

 

Like with some others high tech products, true to its high-end given name, MSB Select DAC 2 represents technologically profound intake and result of a lifetime pursue for perfection. I for sure, like many of you out there would love if this extravagant machines would hit us with much lower price tag, but the reality is what it is. 

 

On that note. Even far crazier priced high-end audio products are hauling in our niche industry, firmly falling into the expensive jewelry category rather then trademark high-end audio. 

 

THE RACE

Digital audio is changing rapidly. To fast to handle one can say. While one can feel much safer with investment in reference preamplifier and power amplifier on the digital front things are changing to quickly. Logically it surely feels more sane to not bet on one horse at such fierce digital race. 

 

 

Is there a solution? One of the things that act as a strong advocate for device like MSB Select DAC 2 is modularity. This changes a game. Select, like even their lover end models offer a true modular structure. This means easier future upgrades and safer investment. Easy and cleverly designed locking system at the back side of the DAC offers instantly exchangeable modules, that can bring different inputs, outputs, renderer input etc. 

 

 

And second thing? The company! Considering investing into a brand, with team of almost twenty people, doing what they do  best for almost thirty years surely gives more confidence in the long run. Larry is/was always the driving force behind the company, but MSB got also a life of their own. With two Larry’s sons being fully and proudly engaged in the company this gives completely different longevity even if Larry retires.

 

 

At present global affairs and especially in our beloved high-end industry people are planning their purchasing differently, by more rethinking, monitoring and evaluation. They want their investments to be safer, worthy of given money, ready to be serviced for a long time and keeping the value over time. Delusion? It shouldn’t be!

 

IMPACT

 

I’ve had a luxury to hear and try quite some of top tiers. Its always impossible to do a complete, full scale ground zero testing, comparing and evaluating, but I’ve “forced” my self to get out and try to listen to what I’ve felt it was worthy of the sin and what I could stress out critically. I wouldn’t call it a disastrous quest. Let me me rather stick the disappointed label on to it.

 

 

Moving from subjectiveness to objectiveness. 

 

What struck me from my first encounter with MSB Select DAC 2 was sense of ultimate timing, absence of any signature sound, submarine like depths, enormous sense of space and instant ability to lock into the music. On my path I’ve encountered on some attributes that pointed toward something special, yet never under one “roof”. 

MSB Select DAC 2 refreshingly comes with vivid presentation, absence of technology imprint (or what usually happens specific  brand imprint), filters sonic DNA etc. Its by far most fatigue free DAC I’ve had pleasure to listen. Comment like this are coming from the guy who few years back didn’t even want to lurk back into the digital universe for many obvious reasons. 

 

 

So, what happened along the way!? Vincent Brien’s Totaldac and Stavros Danos’s Aries Cerat Kassandra DAC’s changed my mind with a huge impact due to their approach digital conversion and technology used. On the other side of ladder DAC fence only Nagra HD DAC managed to get my guards down, but this has to do with Nagra’s electronic wizard Philippe Chambon little secrets in play. More about this in different, upcoming article… 

 

 

MSB Select DAC 2 explores the uncharted realms of abstract thinking and dealings where one forgets about mathematical equations, formulas and all technical paraphernalia and simply immerse into the music. 

 

 

At this level of operation and sound reproduction one must deliberately avoid typical dogmas and astray ways of established dogmas. Select brings the sound without colourations. It surely wont suit the followers of the saturated sound. I’m not talking merely about the tubish golden era warm sound, but any scent of coloration added in the signal path to address certain personal quest for sound. Yes, this can be attached to both solid state and tube designs these days. Generally, ultimate quest for sound perfection should embarks technology that follows no signature sound regardless of circuits implemented. 

 

 

In any given ladder DAC the sonic outcome is directly connected to the precision of the ladder as R-2R converts the digital stream direct to voltage. Eight DAC’s in Select DAC 2 ensure enough voltage for the proper gain and absence of Opamps. There is no output buffer, no amplifier stage and zero active circuitry. You can even drive headphones like Sennheiser HD 800 directly from the XLR outputs. By such approach horizon of feather like lightness, natural sense of atmosphere and stressless music reproduction is taking 

 

 

Getting these ladder resistors laser trimmed and expecting the miracle is an utopian dream. Picking the best ones up with selected tolerance and avoiding to destroy them suddenly translates into $$$$. Heavenly transparency comes with price… 

 

LADDER DAC?

Envision the task of transferring the flow of the water. There are two ways to conway such flow in digital world. Delta Sigma acts like a little measuring cup distributing the water. There is huge amount of the water needed to be transferred via the cups and such endeavors is always under or over shooting. 

 

On the other side ladder DAC comes with whole range of measuring cups ready to be used at any time. You can decided which size of the jugs is right for certain momentum. Standard ladder DACs by default always fills jugs starting empty, at the place where music is at full level, but with sign magnitude ladder DAC you start half full, at the place were music is quiet can adjust the transfer of the water and chose appropriate jug. Thins analogy-process can be very accurate for each bit and at any time largest cups can be used when larger energy flow transfer is needed. For example with the large Kodo drum. At such occasion bigger jug can transmit needed energy in much more optimized way then other processes.

In theory this translates to analog like process that is instantly adaptable, reacting more on the level of minute change  of the music’s pace, rhythm and speed, rather then working constantly with the larger frequent flow of smaller package transfers.

 

Delta sigma is by nature fast switching device. If you don't filtered it's just a multiple processing hash. On the other side ladder DAC operates at voltage change and it doesn't require any type of filtering, translating to much more vivid and fluent rendition of the music.  See link for details here.

 

Ladder DACs requires a precise resistor to be accurate. That why makes it much more expensive solution and the sole reason why Phillips moved away from ladder DACs.

 

There is a lot of philosophizing in the digital audio world with very little practical sonic results. Sadly even with some if not most old “players”. For Larry the most important thing is factuality and real world accomplishing of the elaborated and contemplated ideas. Without objectifying and materialization of even most wildest ideas and out of the box thinking all seems like a dream.

FEMTO 32

Femto 32 is the MSB’s lowest jitter clock and one of the brand's most important breakthroughs. Effect of the jitter is directly connected with the clarity and harshness and one can heart the difference instantly. Most interestingly and intriguingly, the refinement of the Femto32 clock resulted with a sudden change of gain level. On the white paper this shouldn't happen, but the lower phase noise gave to the ear the effect of sounding 2 db quieter. The lower jitter resulted in the extended headroom, dynamic range and most importantly in the absence of the listening fatigue that affects directly un-disturbed listening.

There are a lot of confusions regarding the clock and jitter. It's hard to understand the real science and tech behind with every company claiming of manufacturing their Femto clock. In reality most of them are just using the Femto clock designed for some other application and different industry.

MSB clock is actually running on audio frequency and not on 10 mhz (rubidium clock etc.) as the clocks designed for satellites and other equipment. There are two clocks being active and running on t the correct multiple of 44 and 48 kHz, namely at 22.5792 and 24.576 MHz.

On the upper plane of state of the art digital audio second biggest requirement is the integration of the clock with the DAC. This usually introduces many other problems and timing wise one femto seconds at the starting path morphs into one pico second once it reaches the DAC, consequently showing not so little audible shift in the performance.

Those two principles mentioned above eliminates 90 percent of the typical industry claims. MSB was the first company that manufactured Femto second clock and its the company best kept secret. MSB was also first company that embraced discrete sign magnitude ladder DAC back in 2000. 

 

SONIC MARVELING

Select DAC manifested exemplary gradients of the sound, with impressive flow, that I’v yet to encounter in digital. Same goes for non fatigue, stressless aural composition. 

 

I’m prone to sense any tension in higher spectrum. Event a tint of brittle hubris instantly spotted via cymbals, rides, and other percussive instruments for some reason pushes my inner ear to start ringing like a hell. Imprint of real world metallic instrument and their tension is deeply written in my DNA, going back to my time of vocal/orchestra ensemble concerts. 

 

 

Luckily, or stressfully I’m not fooled even by best so called digital filters. Its not a matter of ego tripping, more of a heavy burden to carry around, especially visiting different systems, audio shows and events. People sadly embraced unnatural, squashed and distorted sound as reference. In real world metallic instruments do get loud, but in the way of rising amplitude and not by imposing hiss, brittle character and screaming sound. 

 

 

MSB Select DAD 2 reflect analog sound in the way its supposed to sound. Not by embracing typical false attributes mirroring impressionist painting. It comes as an avid rendition of reality that is not easily effaced.

 

Ultra high end reproduction demands an juxtaposition of opposites in order to create believe scale of reality. On the upper echelon of audio affairs performance should leave something to the listener. That's what separates ultra high end audio from hifi or to often appraised high-end. Select DAC professes music for what it is avoiding digital Ad nauseam too often connected to even most regarded digital machines.

 

 

By default we might still strive to understand mechanics of the ultimate performance. As a human beings we want/need to be in complete control. As long as clear establishment of musical emotions act with life like motion, we don’t always need to understand all the logics. Its actually impossible to do so. 

 

 

Harmonic structure, rhythmic revolt and emergence of a subtextual musical rendering encapsulated my enthusiasm and I’m not trying to keep it bottled. Profound tension should be mandatory on the ultimate plane. Without experiencing compulsory sublimely ecstatic interaction and call-response exchange with music on an earthly plane, natural sense of motion will always be far away from the revelatory impact. 

 

Select DAC 2 profound, insistent and cathartic ability to evoke incantations harmonics, so far unheard level of focus and atmospheric anchor points is so far beyond anything else experienced by yours truly in digital realms. 

 

BATTLE OF THE OPAMPS

Select DAC started as a battle of the Opamp. Larry wanted to explore ability to drive power amplifiers directly without the Opamps and that led to the prolonged researched. After all calculations and explorations they did the math and concluded that 8 DAC’s per channel would provide enough gain, that could server the variety of power amplifiers directly with no output drivers, output stage or opamps involved with the output stage.

 

After years of R & D they MSB team was ready to start the all new challenging project with completely new proprietary architecture. There were many high expectations and with the rising demand of DSD this was a mandatory addition. MSB engineers went back to the drawing board and put their efforts into developing new and unique hybrid DAC module that was dynamically reconfigurable to do the best possible job with DSD and do the best possible job with PCM. There is no compromise with ether music format andDSD module  integrates directly within the Select ECO system. 

 

After developing ground base for the Select DAC next step was materialization of the DAC running on the lowest possible jitter. This was not easy task and everything needed to be revisioned and upgraded. New DSPs with faster speeds were implemented and the select DAC was treated from the ground up as RF device rather then typical DAC. MSB forward thinking was always about refining all the little details and creating a seamless synergy between all parts and modules. By cleansing up the menus and simplifying the operations in Select DAC it was possible to finally focus on cleanest and simplest possible signal path. 

 

New input modules offered much better isolation and pushed the performance of each format. The module format also makes the DAC future proof. Each of this modules has I2S connector and only one module is active at the time. By rediscovering some of the old technologies and adding some new approaches MSB moved few steps further.

 

Select sports two power inputs for both the analog and digital sides. Power supply comes in dedicated chassis and this can be upgraded with additional mono power supply for even greater performance. 

 

As Select DAC is completely modular,  output modules can be both balanced or single ended. All of the modules are interchangeable and can be optimized to work in the best possible way. Larry’s philosophy always follows the simplistic, yet highly refined approach avoiding the unnecessarily features being there just for sake of it. 

 

For example, stepping further into the realms of complex digital audio world… Every DAC on the market comes with SPDIF receiver with its own clock. This adds it's additional noise and jitter to the internal clock and in most of the DACs clock is usually running all the time, producing amount of noise and jitter that shouldn’t really be there. Which brings us to the hearth of the matter…

NUT JOB

My reference gear was selected step by step, during countless hours of listening, comparing and is based on the actual performance rather then marketing mumbo jumbo and self proclaimed industry throne positioning. I’ve chosen to pursue Mono & Stereo venture with different pace, where little to non compromises are being be made. 

 

 

People always look upon your choices and even more importantly on your actions. If music is truly such s precious, transcendental thing then ultimate quest carries the weight of utopian space travel. For me, musical universe comes as unique, rewarding and in almost still unattainable good, going beyonds mortal compassion and holding sacred place on the throne of divinity. 

 

In the era where’re were pushed to take an idea of constant future hunts and pleasure delaying, reality check of right here, right now comes as mandatory logical process.

 

 

The problem!? My last week experience with Ubiq Audio power amplifier prototypes blew my preconception up in pieces. Synergy and magnitude of sonic outcome still lingers via perplexed  daily contemplation. 

 

 

I’m still trying to fathom  and this insurmountable impact and I’ve incentivize myself to find a proper langue without loosing facts with ungrateful task conveying the exact conclusion into words. Too much, to easily is lost in translation.  

 

Being struck with the unrivaled, life/feather like consonance of Select’s macro/micro scale and overarching narrative kept me dumb struck.

 

Stay tuned for part two… Matej Isak

Absolute Sound also named the MSB Reference DAC and Transport their 'Overall Product of the Year'.
Mike Lavigne 

last night i received my Jan 19' Absolute Sound Magazine, and there on the cover is the MSB Reference Dac.

i still get Stereophile and Absolute Sound in the mail, and must admit to mostly just scanning them here and there and rarely reading any review from start to finish. it's just not what i spend my time doing anymore. but an actual MSB review is pretty rare, and obviously as an MSB Select II owner, i was a little curious what Mr. Valin might have to say about it.

Jonathan makes no direct A/B comparisons with other digital, but does offer how he thinks the MSB Ref is somehow different than other digital he has encountered, both relative to other digital and compared to his vinyl. his points are not altogether different than my own postings on that subject relative to my Select II, which is to be expected. Mr. Valin does wade in to the whole MQA issue and comes out very positively on the side of MQA......which mirrors my own MSB <-> MQA experience. he also complains about streaming and wifi in his home which is curious since streaming ideally should be over a network and only be controlled by wifi. interesting.

overall a very positive review.

Absolute Sound also named the MSB Reference DAC and Transport their 'Overall Product of the Year'.

Congrats to the whole team at MSB and Vince Galbo, their director of sales, for the great review and the Product of the Year Award.

“Don’t miss out on your chance to experience the best conversion the industry has to offer. Your search stops here.”
Stuart Ralston
“It’s time to discover how much of your music you’ve been missing while using lesser devices,” says Director of Audio Fidelity Stuart Ralston.

“Be prepared to be absolutely astounded by this DAC. Respectfully, I believe it is quite literally the best in the world.

“With the ability to drive the output directly from the DAC stages, without the need for any output op-amp or buffer stage, the SELECT DAC II is designed to be the last component in your system before the amplifiers. There isn’t anything else on the market that offers this feature. The result is unprecedented fidelity and transparency,” Mr Ralston says.

The particular unit on display in Melbourne is the first SELECT DAC II off the production line, displaying the special serial number 001.

The SELECT DAC II is stellar in performance and appearance, with captivating features which include 8 new MSB Hybrid DAC modules, low noise display, and a DUAL SELECT Power Base, containing independent supplies for both digital and analogue, with built-­in Isolation Base. For the ultimate experience, the power base can be upgraded to a pair of single SELECT Power Bases, completely isolating the digital and analogue supplies.

“The SELECT DAC II easily surpasses its competitors and exceeds high-end expectations,” Mr Ralston says.

“The design and construction of MSB Technology’s range offers unprecedented resolution, an unbelievably low noise-floor, and the lowest levels of digital jitter of any such product.”

The DAC and Power Base are milled from a solid billet of aluminium and the modular design makes future upgrades easy. The added 10-year upgrade guarantee seals the deal, with owners given the option of improvements as they become available, paying only the difference in price and the return postage.

Earlier this year, MSB Technology released measurements which provided solid proof of the DAC’s performance. The results were astonishing, revealing an effective bit depth of 28.5 – exceeding the already full 24 bit resolution of MSB Technology’s Diamond DAC V. This previously unheard of result means that the SELECT DAC II easily surpasses the performance of its closest competitor, a discrete delta sigma DAC, which only came in at 22 bits.

Testing also revealed that the SELECT DAC II produces the lowest level of ultrasonic noise of any DAC on the market, preserving the fidelity of the sound in an unmatched capacity. The SELECT DAC II epitomises Audio Fidelity’s dedication to and fascination with assembling playback systems which reproduce audio with the highest possible fidelity.

“If you want the best then look no further. The amazing musicality, resolution and clarity is too hard to resist if you’re serious about your high-end system,” Mr Ralston says. “Don’t miss out on your chance to experience the best conversion the industry has to offer. Your search stops here.”
Cutting-edge digital-to-analog conversion continues to chip away at achieving that analog liquidity that many of us strive for in our own systems
Hans Wetzel

Digital-to-analog conversion has come a heck of a long way in a couple of years, and while today's offerings, from affordable on up to the cutting edge, are very, very good, the performance envelope continues to be pushed. MSB Technology and dCS are two of the oldest and most respected names in the digital business, and both brought some rather interesting new products to Munich this year.

Hans and Raveen
Hans with dCS’s Raveen Bawa

The four-box, $100,000+ Vivaldi system from dCS continues to be one of, if not the, most comprehensive assaults on state-of-the-art digital performance to date. With its new Rossini £15,000 DAC and £18,000 Player, dCS is replacing the Puccini models in its range of electronics and bringing Vivaldi's advancements to a more affordable price point. As with any dCS product, Rossini's casework is conservative, with a simple flourish expanding from left to right on the front panel. The only difference between the two models is the Player models' addition of a high-quality Compact Disc transport (note that SACD is not supported).

Rossini DACRossini DAC

The products are deeply flexible, as they're able to stream music from NAS drives as well as streaming services such as Tidal, Spotify, and Deezer. Inputs include the standard fare of USB, AES/EBU, and S/PDIF, as well as Ethernet and Apple's AirPlay. The company has integrated its vaunted "Ring DAC" into the new workhorses of its line, while also introducing the latest generation of its digital-playback system. A variety of DSP filters are offered, and support for all resolutions up to 24-bit/384kHz and DSD128, as well as DSD in DoP format, is built in. The power supply is multi-stage, with a separate transformer dedicated to the analog and digital circuitry. With a digital volume control for use as a digital preamp, easily updateable firmware, and a bespoke control app, the Rossini DAC and Player models offer a taste of Vivaldi for a far more palatable hit on your wallet. There is no shortage of digital front ends out there, but cost-no-object, this is what I'd probably buy for myself.

MSB Technology has brought something quite a bit different to the Munich Order Center. The company is one of a select few that eschews the ubiquitous delta-sigma oversampling architecture in favor of a resistor-ladder configuration. The advantage of MSB's ladder DAC, according to company cofounder Larry Gullman, is that the topology does not require the aggressive filtering that a typical delta-sigma DAC does. The company's new flagship, the Select DAC, retails for $89,950, and is one of the most unique digital products I've ever seen.

Hans with LarryMSB's Larry Gullman explains the Select DAC

The two-chassis design is milled from solid billets of aluminum in MSB's shop, with the DAC itself resting on a matching Power Base power supply. Far from simply a pretty piece of aluminum with a generic, off-the-shelf DAC chipset shoved into it, the Select uses eight of MSB's own Hybrid two-channel DACs in a user-replaceable setup. Each of the Select's inputs, including USB, optical, and coaxial, as well as the Select's XLR analog outputs, is modular in nature. So, too, is MSB's Galaxy Femto 77 clock, which has less than 77 femtoseconds of jitter. An optional Femto 33 (predictably, offering less than 33 femtoseconds of jitter) is also available and easily replaceable. The flagship MSB DAC can support pretty much any existing digital format, and it decodes PCM and DSD natively -- no conversions one way or the other like so many DACs do. So if it's not future-proof, it will certainly stay up-to-date longer than most anything else on the market. Finally, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Select is its direct-coupled output stage, which has enough current to directly drive a pair of headphones, modulated by the built-in digital volume control.

MSB's Select DAC

The Select comes with a ten-year warranty and a guarantee whereby any and all future upgrades will be performed by MSB for the retail cost of the individual components. With a stylish appearance, simple interface, and high-quality display, the Select will be relevant long into the future.

Cutting-edge digital-to-analog conversion continues to chip away at achieving that analog liquidity that many of us strive for in our own systems, and it sounds like dCS and MSB Technology are, if not already there, within a stone's throw of achieving that.

Hans Wetzel
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!

 
This is true state-of-the-art stuff.
Doug Schneider

Last month, I highlighted my picks for the 5 best loudspeakers at Munich High End 2015, held May 14-17 in Munich, Germany. This month, it’s the best electronic component:

Best of High End 2015

MSB Technology Select II digital-to-analog converter

At the other end of the price spectrum is MSB Technology’s Select II DAC, a two-box digital source -- D/A circuitry in the top box, power supply underneath -- whose retail price begins at a mind-boggling $89,950, and can stretch to a beyond-belief $130,000. The higher prices depend on which options you add: subwoofer outputs, additional digital inputs, a better power supply -- or the Femto 33 Clock, which MSB says is the most accurate digital clock in all of hi-fi. As far as I know, the Select II is the most expensive DAC on the planet.

I think that any component, whether electronics or speakers, whose price approaches or exceeds $100,000 is a bit ridiculous. Can any single piece of audio gear really be worth so much? Perhaps in rare cases . . .

MSB Technology Select II

What impressed me about the Select II is that it’s so unlike the many high-end, high-priced DACs that are chock full of off-the-shelf parts but nothing really innovative.

The folks at MSB seem to have gone all out by using in the Select II a boatload of bespoke parts -- including their own discrete DAC boards, which are huge -- in an original design that, if the company’s specs don’t lie, push the limits of DAC performance far past anything I know of.

This is true state-of-the-art stuff. For instance, MSB claims for the Select II 28.5 bits of resolution (173dB of dynamic range), which not only far exceeds what’s required for 24-bit sources, but is about 6 bits better than most manufacturers’ flagship DACs. My jaw dropped when I read that, and I’m still not sure I believe it -- I’d always thought that 22-bit resolution was as much as any electronic circuit would allow.

I remember thinking, “Well, if it does that, maybe they can justify the price, because that’s really pushing the envelope.” After all, serious R&D costs a lot of money, and creating something that performs that far beyond the competition might justify so high a price. The Select II DAC is also beautifully built, fully modular, completely upgradeable, and its warranty of ten years is longer than most.

I have finally found the answer in the Select II DAC. I strongly urge you to try and listen to it with the dual power supplies, it lifts the performance to out of this world musical quality.
Simon

MSB Select DAC II impact/letter

 

Its always reviving to receive letter like this one from Simon. He’s conclusion about MSB Select DAC II are mirroring my experiences so far. I did hear SELECT II with two power supplies, but this will be summed up in the upcoming review. Below are his comments...

“I have been an avid reader of your site for some time. I thoroughly enjoy it and it is my go to place for up to-date high end Audio news, I particularly love the photographs you supply with each story.

I am writing to you about the MSB Select DAC II, I have one, I use it for Headphone use only and have built a ultra high end system around it. I have my Select configured with two of the power supplies, Femto 33 clock and both Balanced and Single ended outputs. It was not an easy decision to spend a lot extra for the dual power supplies so I had on loan the local distributors Select DAC II with a single power supply and the same Femto 33 clock. I was lucky enough to be able to directly compare my DAC with the dual power supplies with the same spec with a single power supply. 

Putting it simply there is no comparison it is a major upgrade and when I read how enthusiastic you were about the standard Select I thought it was appropriate to write to you and let you know my experience. My next upgrade is going to be the Headphone amp for the Stax SR-009’s. 

I have experimented a lot with different cables and inputs and was easily able to discern that the Aurender W20 with the additional word clock being directly fed off the Select’s clock and using AES 110 ohm produced the optimum sound. I used Gen 5 Transparent Ref XL BNC 75ohm for the Word Clock and the same cable in 110 ohm for AES. I also use the I2S connection for a MSB Transport, the Optical cable directly into my Mac Pro running Roon, I also have the USB connection so I have been able to compare it to the other outputs. I did not believe MSB when they told me that there would not be any difference at all between the outputs, however this is largely correct, the only difference being in the quality of the cables.

I have owned a succession of very good DAC’s, Audionote DAC Signature, Gryphon Kalliope, Nagra HD, Light Harmonic DaVinci Dual with seperate DAC’s for DSD and PCM, I have auctioned at length the full dCS Vivaldi stack and I found that not at all to my liking and frankly it sounded like something was wrong with it. I was assured that nothing was, however the 3 other people listening with me had the same reaction. 

I have been a vinyl lover all my life, I am now 50, so I have been searching like you for a DAC that finally could close the gap between what digital has been promising for so long but unable to deliver. I have finally found the answer in the Select II DAC. I strongly urge you to try and listen to it with the dual power supplies, it lifts the performance to out of this world musical quality. 

Videos

The long awaited SELECT DAC is shipping. Here is a video about how it is made with a facto