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 07 DC DIS DAC
NZ$ 22,500.00 (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...
MB 12 DC REF DAC
NZ$ 67,995.00 (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...

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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 Select Transport Includes:
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)

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$ 2,500.00 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)
                                                 Redefining what is...
The SELECT DAC Includes: Optical and Coaxial Input Module Standard Output Preamp Module Femto...
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

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
 

Videos

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