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MSB is an unconventional company, so why not make our review page a little unconventional. What follows is a blog style series of reviews, comments and emails that we receive from reviewers, distributors and customers. Last names are removed to protect the privacy of the submitter. Unlike most companies, we do not solicit formal reviews, rather depending on word of mouth to spread the news. Any comments printed here are reproduced as received.
April 2013 - MSB Analog DAC
"For those of us that have enjoyed this hobby over many years, there are a few products that come along in one's audiophile life that leave a lasting impression on the listener. The Analog DAC is one of those products. It not only reproduces music with excellent detail and focus, but is one of the most natural sounding DACs I have ever heard. This DAC purges the digital artifacts that create listening fatigue and loss of interest in the music. While auditioning the Analog DAC, I also listened to other DACs at my house. In each case, I missed the beautiful bloom and ease that the Analog DAC puts out in spades. The soundstage was one of the best I have heard as was the ability of this DAC to unravel complex musical passages. Dynamic changes were well reproduced with a variety of music. I think that those of you that enjoy acoustic music, be it classical, jazz, or vocal, will simply love The Analog DAC. I know that I did."
Steven Plaskin, Reviewer,
AudioStream Magazine, April 2013
February 2013 - MSB Analog DAC
"In the two years since the Platinum DAC IV review, no other DAC to my knowledge approaches its performance. So I was ready to test a little lower quality product, but I was surprised because the Analog DAC sounds at least equal, or even better, than Platinum DAC IV that I reviewed before."
" So it happens that in the meantime, MSB released a a new clock technology named 'Femto 140 Clock', that is able to deliver 140 femtosecond jitter precision. In effect I'm really convinced that the key for good digital sound is the clock precision. What is surprising is that the gap between MSB and the competitors remains unaltered: MSB seems to have a higher gear."
"About measurements, the Analog DAC is at least as good if not even better than the Platinum IV. In short, MSB has evidently made the center again, reinforcing its position as the undisputed champion."
Marco Benedetti, Reviewer,
Fabrizio Montanucci, Measurements
AudioReview Magazine, Italy, February 2013 Issue
Full Review (in Italian)
November 2012 - Diamond DAC IV and Universal Media Transport
"The sound of this DAC is so effortless; so natural; so invisible - that the old cliche "there are simply no words..." is perhaps the most honest thing I can say."
"I suspect that the most impressive thing I can say about this DAC is that since becoming an owner, I have been going to concerts far less frequently - It is truly that good!"
"If you are serious about state-of-the-art sound and are looking for a no-holds-barred top-end DAC, then the MSB line deserves your highest consideration."
David Solomon, Reviewer,
Headphones.com, November 2012
October 2012 - Platinum Data CD and Diamond DAC IV
" I tried one of my favorite torture-test albums, Propellerheads' Decksanddrumsandrockandroll (CD, DreamWorks SKG 50031), and was surprised at how smooth its previously harsh upper midrange had become. Detail and bass galore, with pinpoint imaging and depth. "
"I had a goofy smile across my face as I pondered that if the MSB stack sounded this good after only 15 minutes, I was in for a real treat in the coming weeks. "
"The next day I talked to Michael Fremer, who had a similar MSB stack on loan, also fronted by a Meridian Sooloos Control 14. 'It's ironic that I'm starting a new analog website (www.analogplanet.com) when I've finally found great digital!' he exclaimed. We agreed that our first impressions of the Sooloos-MSB combo were exceedingly positive. MF said that it was the best digital sound he'd heard. "
"(But) Bruce noted that the MSB had better focused imaging, and I felt it brought us a generation or two closer to the original master. "
"We listened to 'Ram On' and 'Heart of the Country' back and forth a dozen times, marveling at the MSBs ability to hang each instrument and voice in space. "
"Switching gears, we also pulled up a set of remixes of Mono's trip-hop noir classic 'Life in Mono,' as well as 'Bilbao Song,' from Gil Evans's Out of the Cool. Same results. Images were better defined and appeared more naturally in space with the MSB compared with dCs. "
"The MSB stack gave me the best digital sound I've ever heard in my system. I know it's a cliche, but I was digging out music from all corners of my collection, just to hear it 'real' before the MSBs had to go back. The best recordings were a sheer pleasure to listen to. I spent many long nights going from track to track, feeling closer to the truth of each recording than I had previously imagined possible. "
" In most ways, MSB Technology's Diamond Platinum DAC IV offers the best measured performance in the digital domain that I have encountered. " --John Atkinson
Jon Iverson, Reviewer,
John Atkinson, Measurements
Stereophile Magazine, October 2012 Issue
October 2012 - MSB Platinum DAC IV and Power Base
" The Platinum DAC IV (including Platinum Power Base) reviewed here cost a smidgin over $15,000 and delivers performance that's as good--or better--than any other high-end DAC I have ever heard, even models selling at twice the price and more."
" ...as you'll see from the graphs, even the DAC IVs 'worst case' results are so excpetionally good -- in most cases better than any other DAC I've ever seen -- that this just won't be an issue.
To conclude, I have to say that I was gob-smacked by the incredibly high level of perfromance from the DAC: it truly and very effectively represents the state-of-the-art in digital-to-analogue conversion technology. "
Greg Borrowman, Reviewer,
Steve Holding, Measurements,
Australia HiFi Magazine, October 2012 Issue
Oct. 2012 - MSB Universal Media Transport
" I had to write and tell you how much I am enjoying my MSB universal media transport. I don't think most people realize how much a high quality transport will do for their system. All the hype is about DAC's and rightfully so, however if the DAC is not receiving the proper signal, all is a waste of time. Right from the first song I started laughing with excitement at how much of a change there was in my system. Big sound, the stage just opened up. Powerful, piano was in the room. Very resolving, detail in voice originated from the chest and piano notes just seem to go on forever. I was missing lots of detail and the UMT has solved the problem. I have a very tough time walking away from the music. All I can say is it is a shame if people do not get a chance to hear what one piece of equipment can do. After hearing this unbelievable change it is time to start to build my MSB stack piece by piece with great anticipation. Love your products. People really need to experience MSB. "
Sept 2012 - Impressions of an MSB System
" Now that I have lived with my MSB digital front end for the past 6 months, I wanted to give you a view of what I have been hearing. My complete MSB digital front end configuration consists of the following:
1. MSB Signature CD IV Transport
2. MSB Signature Transport Power Base
3. MSB UMT Transport
4. MSB Diamond DAC with FemtoSecond Galaxy clock and Pro I2s input board
5. MSB Diamond Power Base
The CD IV transport is powered by the Signature Transport Power Base and is connected to the Diamond DAC via the Pro I2s interface. The UMT is powered by the Diamond power base and is connected to the Diamond DAC via the MSB Network interface.
I went through a long auditioning process of digital front ends trying to find a digital front end that I could enjoy listening to as much as I enjoy listening to my analog front end. My previous digital front end, the Esoteric P03 transport, D03 DAC and G0s word clock was very good and served me well for almost 4 years, but once I added an analog front end and the more I listened to my analog front end, I found it hard to go back to listen to my Esoteric digital front end. So, I started on my quest to upgrade my digital and I was fortunate enough to be able to listen in my room to the MSB Diamond DAC with the FemtoSecond Galaxy clock powered by the Diamond power base partnered with the MSB Signature Data CD IV powered by the Signature Transport Power Base. I also auditioned in my room the ARC DAC8 (driven by a Windows based music server) and the EMM Labs XDS1. I also have had the opportunity to listen on many occasions to the DCS Scarlatti 4 box digital stack in a friends system.
The conclusion that I came to after this lengthy process, is that the sound of most of the digital playback front ends that I was able to audition is fundamentally a variation on a similiar theme and were very much in the same family of sound as my Esoteric front end with the exception of the MSB digital front end. Other than the MSB, none of the the other digital front ends would allow me to really relax and enjoy listening to music the way that I wanted to.
To my ears in my system, the MSB digital front end presents an extremely low noise floor, a very harmonically dense and rich sound, with deep, powerful and textured bass. Overall, the MSB digital front end presents a very high resolution sound but it presents all of the musical detail and subtle nuances that are in a recording in a very natural and coherent fashion. It does all of this better than any of the other digital front ends that I have had the opportunity to audition. When I combined the sound that I was hearing, with the ability to play both redbook CD's as well as high resolution PCM from a DVD all via the Pro I2s interface, the MSB digital was an easy decision for me. But as you know, there was still more. I needed the ability to play back SACD's.
To playback my SACD's, I decided to use the MSB UMT transport, powered from the transport power supply section from the Diamond power base and connected to the Diamond DAC via the MSB Network input. After using the UMT for the past 6 months for SACD playback, I found it to be a good SACD solution but I always felt MSB could do better given what I hear from PCM playback via the Signature CD IV. So in early August, I happened to be looking at the MSB web site and I noticed that they had posted some firmware updates regarding DSD. I read through what those were and I immediately did the upgrades to my Diamond DAC and UMT transport. I warmed up my system, popped in an SACD, pressed play and I was startled by what I heard. SACD now sounded magnificent. The sound had all of the wonderful attributes that I hear from the best redbook CD's from the Signature CD IV but with the much more natural and relaxed sound that I have been expecting from the best mastered SACD's. With the UMT now feeding the native DSD data stream to the Diamond DAC there is absolutely no comparison to the previous sound that I was hearing with SACD.
The bottom line to me is that I now feel I have the best possible digital playback sound for all formats - Redbook CD, High Resolution PCM and SACD/DSD. Now, all I want for Christmas from MSB is a 'Signature level UMT!' "
Arnie (Austin Texas)
Sept 2012 - DSD Firmware Upgrade 4.1 Letter
" I wanted to drop you a note about the recent DSD firmware update for the DAC IV series. First, general digital playback thru my Signature DAC IV is the best I've ever heard. For reference, I've owned or heard (in my own system) the following: Weiss DAC 202, Esoteric D-05 with G-03X clock, PS Audio Perfectwave DAC (version 1) with Bridge, Playback Designs MPS-5, and Meitner MA-1. Only the Meitner produced a musical flow that I could have lived with, but its lack of features was a non-starter for me.
With the DSD update, the DAC IV has taken another leap forward. Via USB, the clarity and realism of DSD files is astounding. Listening to Bluecoast Records' complimentary DSD downloads from the California Audio Show is eye (and ear)-opening. Many of these are solo acoustic tracks, and you can almost reach out and touch the performers. 2L's classical DSD samples demonstrate how well massed strings and piano are reproduced. Instruments and voices both have the same 'air' around them you experience in a live performance.
For me, another noticeable albeit subtle improvement occurs when I switch from USB to my Sonore USB to MSB Network converter. The background becomes blacker, and clarity improves yet again.
Kudos to the MSB team for this update. Frankly, I'm still trying to get my analog front-end to sound as good as my MSB digital.
Thanks, Bob "
September 2012 -
MSB Data CD IV Transport
" Martin Appel had just reviewed the MSB Technology's Data CD IV Transport and its upgraded power supply, and added them to the system. The improvement in sound compared to last year was very noticeable in the first four bars of a GRP CD. Detailed and specific imaging with lots of air and sparkle. The MSB gear is a fabulous discovery. I would own them in a heartbeat. "
July 2012 -
MSB Technology's Data CD IV Transport
" My listening started out with standard Redbook CDs. I went through my usual list and was immediately struck by the improvement in the quality of the reproduction. The improvement in detail across the board was most obvious. In CD after CD I was enjoying the increase in low level information that previously had been somewhat obscured. Subtle cues and textures were making themselves felt adding more to the realism of the presentation. Some audiophiles assume that an increase in detail rides along with edginess and/or hardness. In this case it is happily not so. This was detail done right. It added to the completeness of the listening experience.
Instrumental timbres were accurately portrayed and with an increase in air around instruments. We seemed to have gained more space and separation accompanied by greater focus and more body. This was an observation that was clearly noticeable and appreciated.
Another area where a noticeable change occurred was in bass performance. The bass had always been satisfactory in my system and most people who've heard it want to know where my subwoofer is. The IV produced a more defined, tighter bass with equal impact and an increase in overall power. It wasn't just a 'thud' but a defined musical note derived from a real instrument, with full overtones.
The CD IV transport and the Signature Transport power base will be my new CD reference playback source. I can't let them go back. I'm nominating them for an Audiophilia Star Component Award. "
April 2012 - MSB Platinum DAC and Universal Media Player - Symphony from the New World
" This high-tech digital combo creates a new hi-fi world. You can stream music, play Blu-rays and upsample to dizzying heights. STEREO has taken it on a trip across the formats and discovered a fascinating sonic cosmos.
The Ideal High-bit Combination
... with the software update to version 4.0.2., the Platinum DAC IV had great detail, was extremely and fantastically open, authentic and moving, but also blessed with a rich range of warmth between tones. From the depth of the room each instrument has its place. This control dominates the MSB from the inside out.
With the lightest hand it conducts complex music, down to the smallest nuance and detail, yet maintains a credible whole... Like no other D / A converter the MSB is then able to present the promise of high-bit files. But normal files - whether from CD, USB device or streamed offer tight bass without any fat, and differentiate detail like fine powdered sugar. "
Matthias Bode, Editor-in-chief of Stereo
Full Review (In German)
Feb 2012 - MSB System at CES 2012
"One of the biggest surprises - and Best Sounds - at this year's CES came when I entered into the Volent room and heard their new VL-3 Loudspeakers ($11k). Driven by a slew of MSB electronics, I was absolutely astonished at the incredibly high resolution - coupled by a natural and vivid presentation - this system had going for it."
Dec 2011 - MSB Femtosecond Galaxy Clock
"Honestly, I have heard this system with many recordings, but never a performance like this. It kind of surprised me. This is the first time I have clearly heard every instrument with the correct tone and perfect positioning. The amazing resolving power of the Femtosecond Galaxy clock is clearly news"
Full Review (In Chinese)
Dec 2011 - MSB Signature DAC IV and Data CD IV
"I often listen to the Telarc CD 'Braggin in Brass' (CD-80249), and it is a great test CD. The brilliance of brass can often sound very harsh as this CD usually does. With the MSB system the brass was light, and charming, not at all harsh, kind of easy like the artist playing in the street, it sounded so true...
With the brass sounding so good I wondered about strings and percussion. I pulled out RR's 'First Sampling' (RRS1CD) to test. This CD is a long time favorite I know very well, and with the MSB system, again I was surprised. The big strong bass, the warm broad mids, and the highs are not thin, but nicely rounded. Such an orchestral performance I have never heard before. Oh God, I am becoming overjoyed with MSB!
Then I listen to the piano. I heard Saint-Saens Piano Concerto first, second, third number (Decca Charles Dutoit conductor, Pascal Roge steel Piano). Hey, the mood sounds very pleasant, the original orchestral sounds are so appealing, piano wood is there, the texture is so real I can reach out and touch the keys...
Next, I want to hear woodwind and piano so I chose to play the piano in Tianguang Zai, Jeffrey Tate directed the English Chamber Orchestra Mozha Special 'No. 22, Piano Concerto No. 26' (Philips UCCP 7064). What I heard was the 'round' sound of the wooden tube in particular instead of the 'flat' sound I normally hear. This is one of the charming charactoristics of the MSB and in this CD it was clear...
There is no doubt, MSB's Platinum Signature DAC 4/Data CD 4 / Signature Power Base is the best digital systems I have heard in the world. Why? Because everyone likes the sound even if not exactly the same characteristics. But many people still find this system among their 'best'. I believe you and I would agree that this system is the best one. Yeah!"
Full Review (In Chinese)
Nov 2011 - MSB Technology Universal Media Transport
"...the MSB UMT clearly delivers reference levels of sonic performance suitable for driving the most exalted electronics and listening rooms, while simultaneously embracing just about all of today's new digital lifestyles.
The MSB UMT clearly stakes out new territory with respect to performance, consumer friendliness, and connectivity. Think of it as a universal digital 'front end' that integrates just about every content source and transport protocol in common use today, and does so are reference quality levels. This is quite cool. While some recordings are more equal than others, and encoding techniques have their inherent characteristics and limitations, the UMT at least makes sure absolute fidelity - meaning low noise, jitter and bit-perfect transmission - is maintained between any source, and the downstream equipment. "
Full Review (In English)
Oct 2011 - MSB Technology Signature DAC IV and Data CD IV Transport
"...the MSB Technology Platinum Data CD IV Transport and Platinum Signature DAC IV sound as good as digital gets.
Dynamics were better straight-in than with my Parasound JC-2 preamp in the chain.
While listening to 176.4-kHz/24-bit hires music from Reference Recordings' HRx Sampler 2011 DVD-ROM disc, the sound was nothing less than astounding.
The MSBs let me hear more low-level (quiet) sounds in my CDs. Reverb, whether natural or added in the mix, seemed newly apparent in recordings I'd heard hundreds of times. It's always been there, but no digital playback system I've had at home boasted the resolution to reveal it. Having worked on a number of Chesky Records sessions, including dozens recorded at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in NYC, I can state for certain that the MSB Transport and DAC resurrected more of the 173-year-old building's sound than I've ever heard from the CDs, SACDs, or DVD-As."
Full Review (In English)
Oct 2011 - MSB Technology Diamond DAC IV
"This DAC will never be mass produced and will never be affordable, but for those who want and can afford the best, MSB has set a new benchmark of performance."
Hi Fi Review, Hong Kong
Full Review (In Chinese)
Sept 2011 - MSB Technology Universal Media Transport
"There was real power from the bass drum, good pitch definition, which revealed that bass was well integrated into the overall musical tapestry ... Melodies flowed energetically and percussion intruments maintained good definition throughout ... The soundstage was quite realistic without any dimension being exaggerated ... There was tons of energy, with deep bass and realistic instrumental detail ... The music on (Ottmar Liebert's One Guitar) flowed with lots of energy, dynamics were both powerful and precise, the sound was spacious without being cavernous. (Rebecca Pidgoen) sounded pristine and detailed through the UMT, which revealed nuances not usually obvious. The sound was relaxed and natural, and the leading edges of transients were well defined but not unnaturally emphasized ... (Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue) instrumental detail was plentiful and realistic. Instruments seemed just a bit more harmonically fleshed out than usual, and macro and micro dynamics were precisely rendered. Overall the sound was effortless and relaxed, with no strain or distortion. ... (Tallis Scolar's) Vocal nuances were subtle but detailed: I could hear the characteristics of each singer's voice, but they weren't unnaturally highlighted. It was if someone had turned on the lights in a darkened room. ... the sound was relaxed with none of the hardness that goes with overemphasized highs ... the UMT has an internal computer-audio file player that let's you play files stored on an attached hard drive or streamed from a home network. And it doesn't just play them, it plays them superbly."
Full Review (In English)
Sept 2011 - Signature DAC IV and Data CD IV with Signature Power Base, UMT and M202 Amplifier
"The MSB system - consisting of the Signature Platinum DAC IV Platinum Data CD IV, the Universal Media Transport and the Signature Power Base - is so far the only digital source system that has managed to give me weeks of listening without languishing for my favorite LPs. A greater compliment I can not give a digital source. Even without the CD player the DAC creates a reference level set that can handle all the existing digital formats. The modularity and the ability to download new software updates makes a guarantee for the future that sets a very high standard. I'd almost forgotten them, the mono amplifiers from MSB. Probably because they, like their digital relatives, completely disappeared when the music sounds."
Full Review (In Dutch)
August 2011 - Signature DAC IV and Data CD IV with Signature Power Base and M202 Amplifier
"The MSB system shows a very natural sense of the whole, whether chamber music or symphony, with a clear account of each instrument and its location. On a whole, the listening experience is very similar to a concert hall. The overall three dimensional sound field and character is very close to the top vinyl system with all the ‘digital sound’ disappearing without a trace. The MSB system took me into another realm."
Tao Zhonghao ,
Audio Art, Taiwan, Issue #275
Full Review (In Chinese)
April 2011 - Platinum DAC IV and Data CD IV with Platinum Power Base
"For digitally oriented audiophiles, who seek a complete digital package, MSB is the indisputable choice. This sonic combination tested is the best available on the market today, and with its inexhaustible choices for upgrades and devoted development gives the user a unique opportunity to enjoy high resolution music, and a perfect platform with which to follow the direction digital audio technology will go in the future. In any case, this MSB combination represents one of the best and most complete digital sources which I had the chance to listen."
HiFi Media, Croatia, Issue #85
Full Review (In Croatian)
March 2011 - Signature DAC IV with Signature Power Base
"I was extremely surprised by the sonic performance of MSB’s M200 monoblock amplifier (HIFICRITIC Vol2 No6), which hinted that the company was capable of producing some of the best audio products on the planet, but I’m even more amazed by this DAC. It doesn’t sound ‘hi-fi impressive’; it’s far too subtle for that. It just sounds more like live music than any other digital source that I have ever heard."
"The bass is powerful and very well structured, It has excellent weight, and reveals detail that I hadn’t heard before even on well known recordings. The midrange sounds natural and the electronics create very little coloration: there are none of the ‘hard edges’ one has come to expect from digital audio; it just plays more convincingly what the recording engineer put on the disc."
Chris Bryant and Martin Colloms,
HiFi Critic, England, March 2011 Issue
March 2011 - DAC IV with Signature Power Base
"Just to be clear, it is a very rare event: that the measurements find a clear confirmation in the listening session... we can't hesitate facing such of performance: I think this DAC exceeded all our labs records."
"The MSB DAC IV has features that put it directly among the products that define the state of the art, and in several areas, we can safely say that at this date it is absolutely the best one."
Marco Benedetti, Reviewer,
Fabrizio Montanucci, Measurements
Roberto Lucchesi, Reviewer and Director, AudioReview Magazine, Italy, March 2011 Issue
Full Review (in Italian)
February 2011 Data CD Transport and DAC IV
" This is an uncannily revealing player that exposes the vast differences between recordings like no other digital source I've encountered."
"I very much enjoyed the way you can follow individual instruments within a mix."
Jason Kennedy, HiFi+ Magazine, UK, UK, Issue 78
January 15, 2011
I heard a lot of good sound at the 2011 CES and T.H.E. Show. But my joint best sound must go to the room at the Venetian where Convergent Audio Technology was demming the new Ken Stevens Statement tube monoblocks with a CAT SL1 Legend preamp, Vandersteen 5A loudspeakers and MSB digital front-end, with cabling from Stealth and AC supplied by The Essence Reference system.
John Atkinson, Stereophile Magazine, CES 2011 Report
January 13, 2011
What a sound reproduction, or I should say, 'recreation' of the musical event...!!! Congratulations to MSB, and thank you for giving us the unique opportunity for a unique experience!
Leonidas, Obscure Audio, Greece
January 3, 2011
This year I bought a Data CD IV/DAC IV Diamond (Monster ethernet link between the 2 units). This system is really fantastic and I enjoy hearing music like 'live music' (I told you that I go often to concert, sometimes 2 or 3 times a week). The DAC IV Diamond is huge in terms of musicality Yesterday, I ordered the 'volume option' to get rid of my Lamm L2 Ref preamp and I intend to replace my Lamm M2.2 with your Platinum 202 mono amps. Bravo and best wishes for 2011.
Philippe - Paris/France
December 16, 2010
Dear MSB, I send an email to tell you that I recently bought a Platinum DAC 3, I have never heard one dac so excellent! Thank you for your attention and I thank you to Luca (Mondo Audio) for your great professionalism.
November 29, 2010
Good morning Mr. Gullman,
The DAC III is now in my house, driving directly my Pass Labs amplifier( the DAC III has the passive internal volume control). The result it's incredible, I'm very happy with your product.
October 25, 2010
I've owned my MSB Platinum IV DAC (std) for a few months now and have to commend you guys on a truly outstanding product. I tried many DAC's before the MSB and the search came to a sudden halt once the MSB was in place!
I'm now thinking about upgrading the unit and the first thing i would like to experiment with is the filter suite, especially the mp filter as it's been highly recommended by a fellow DAC IV owner. Would it be possible to demo the filter suite? I'm in Scotland so if you can provide a direct download/email file that would be fantastic.
Doug, United Kingdom
Aug 19, 2009
I was first introduced to MSB about 18 months ago. I was casually walking around a show at the Park Inn when i bumped into Sodders and Papa who mentioned there were some very nice sounds coming from a certain room. So in i went . The speakers used in the demo were Maarten Miles (iirc) and the source was an MSB transport and DAC . As my own speakers use ceramic drivers i took a keener interest in what was happening. The sound was extremely clear and maybe a bit too dry for some tastes but i was duly impressed. Well when the next show came along i managed to bag a trade pass from ABC Audio and was very impressed yet again from the sound that was coming from the room. Paul Benge was very excited showing me the innards of the Platinum DAC but my eye took a fancy to the rather strange looking amplifiers. He mentioned the price ..i had a heart attack and that was that . They were and still are out of my league . Anyway i managed to borrow a MSB transport and DAC combo for an up and coming bake-off at my house. So not all was lost. :D So it is with great gratitude to Paul and Tony at ABC Audio that after a throw away comment by me they are now sitting in my lounge. Paul mentioned that there had been a new review in Hifi-Choice by Sir Paul Messenger:^. I knew of the review and with no disrespect to Mr Messenger said it was bit short :shock:. Well i should of kept my big mouth shut because its a case of see if you can do better. I know i can't but the chance to have a play with these was too great. So last week they were dropped off at Chez Duvet and the game began.
Heavy . Heavy . Heavy. These won't fit in any conventional rack . They come supplied with a round receptacle with spikes which raises them a couple of inches off the floor. There are no grab handles so you better be sure to place them where you want them ;-). They basically look like two enormous circular heat sinks in a touching shade of blue with a gold plaque on top with a blue led and a key slot . At the back is a cut out for the connections with an iec inlet ,speaker connections, balanced connection and single ended plus a toggle switch. Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder and to be honest they are a bit of an eyesore and would look more at home in a factory than a modern lounge. On the top of them is a gold plaque as i have said and a key which you have to turn ninety degrees to ignite them :cool:. Turn on the power and a blue led is all that lets you know that they are operational . The design according to MSB is a case where function defines form. This cylinder shape allows the shortest signal paths in the design. The guys designed this because they felt there was not an amplifier out there that could showcase their products. A bold claim but could they back it up. Well lets see.
Like most people i always think of an amplifier as adding to the party . A better amplifier will always add more quality .more dynamics, more detail, more tone and on and on .Are you getting the picture. Well how about we look at it from a different angle where a good amplifier actually takes away less from the signal being sent to the speakers. Its only when you hear these amplifiers that you grasp that concept. I could simply run out of superlatives if i tried to describe these amps but lets try. First off one has to accept that i could have been extremely lucky and that i happened upon some real synergy here so please bear that in mind . What at first seemed eerie was the detail that the amps deliver from your source and pre to the speakers. Play any cd or vinyl you think you know well and i guarantee you will hear stuff you never knew was there. And when i mean hear stuff i mean crystal clear. Up close to the amps there is no audible hum or noise. The only way you'll know they are on is the prodigious heat haze being generated.:shock: After 10 minutes from cold do not touch any part of the casework . Unless of course you are planning a robbery and want to erase your fingerprints. They are extremely hot . In winter you could turn off your radiators if these were in the same room. Ok they're hot. This was the distributors demo pair and the bias is set to the max so if you order some you could have that changed but they will still get very hot.
Like most good things in life they managed to make everything sound effortless . From a hush to a roar and back again with no fuss whatsoever. They control your drivers perfectly. Your ears will bleed well before they run out of juice. They don't distort or sound shrill at any point . The aural image they project is not the widest i've encountered but its certainly precise . Sounds do not wander unless they were meant to. Basslines are neat, tuneful and nimble . No thickening whatsoever . Mids are to die for . Female vocals have a lovely silky quality and that holographic presentation into the room that gives you goosebumps. Arieal by Kate Bush was a joy to listen to. Top end which is often the bug bear of solid state were clean well defined but no nasties. I couldn't get enough of playing Stevie Ray Vaughan , Gilmour, Clapton, Pink Floyd or Waters. A choral version of Adagio for Strings was about as emotional as i could take. Simply stunning .
If you ever get a chance to demo these amplifiers take it . If you are thinking of dropping £13000 on a pair of amps you must audition these as well. Quite simply i will cry myself to sleep when they have to be returned . I drink a lot so need my kidneys but if i didn't ;-)
Downside are the looks and the phenomenal heat output. Thats it .
More may come to me so i might insert further ramblings but i'll say it again . In any system i have listened to or owned, these are the best amplifiers i have ever had the pleasure to sit down and listen to.
August 2009, Published in Hi-Fi Choice
July 15, 2009
Amazed that no one has written any type of a review of the Link Dac III for years, not to mention a later date review of the extraordinary version, 'Nelson,' I will attempt to give input to the present day (circa 2009) usage of a Link Dac III with the Upsampling board installed.
The Link Dac III replaced a Link Dac I (which is still in use in another part of my system); I use a separate power supply for each unit. I bought the Link Dac III with the upsampling board from a friend who happens to be an incredible audio engineer/repair technician. From my standpoint, this unit functions with the utmost simplicity toward reproducing 'honest' sound quality from a recording. More or less, I have utilized the Link Dac III to decode the coaxial signal from a Tascam recorder transport into an NAD T773 analog input, which has adjustable gain up to + 12 db in analog format; this has allowed me to truly hear the recording being made of my phonograph records (played on a Linn LP12 Valhalla, KAB Electroacoustics Technics 1200 MK V or Maplenoll Cleo), as well as truly hearing other media formats that have been recorded to CD (often, I use the Tascam recorder as a transport to play CD discs).
I find, still, the Link DAC III with upsampling to be one of the most enjoyable pieces of equipment I have ever owned. Music is represented with good tonal balance, especially bass, and soundstage never changes ---- even over the time the unit has been used ----- the depth of image remains incredible.
Having reviewed the latest version of the MSB Technologies website, I've noticed the higher priced components 'taking over' the more affordable ones; This is inevitable, after my comparing the affordable components to the top of the line Link DAC Platinum ----- 'You can see God through that unit.' In these troubled times of recession of economy, only the very wealthy can afford to 'dabble' into the MSB territory;this brings me to my point.
For any of you who haven't experienced the Link DAC III with upsampling (or the Nelson), you will be amazed at the tonality of this DAC compared to the one installed in your favorite disc changer, receiver, single CD player or CD recorder. For the kind of money MSB is asking for this unit, buy one if you can hear a soundstage and can distinguish timbre in music. The Link DAC III is honest. The Link DAC III with upsampling is amazing; for the price, there is no other DAC on the market that will touch it.
I'm done now.
Stanley R. Stephens, MEd. Early Childhood Education
June 27, 2009
I have been putting down digital recorded music since the early digital-to- vinyl days of the early 1980s. The idea of using the iPod, iTunes, and a common, household computer to deliver a near bit-perfect data stream to a DAC intrigued me, so I took the leap. I never had a chance to audition the iLink before purchasing. It seemed to me that spinning CDs had to go from high end.
The bold boasts by MSB that it matches or betters any other data stream source seems to hold up. Even using my modest, old X-24 DAC, the clarity and precision of the music is obviously improved. Spacial cues from the recording venue are more present than I have ever heard, even from my upgraded LP-12 playing new Speakers Corner, Chesky, or Classic re-issued LPs. Instrument separation, even in large, complex ensembles is also the best I have heard. The greatest surprise has been the enhanced beauty of massed strings in symphonic music,and the richness and weight of concert grand pianos. My speculation is that harmonic overtones are much better preserved through the iPod-iLink system than reading off a spinning disc on the fly.
The device that transmit wirelessly from the iPod to the iLink station works better than you could believe until you use it. Try it, you'll LOVE IT!
I agree with MSB that a head-to-head comparison with dCS, Wadia, Theta, Meridian disc spinners would be fascinating.
The only downside with this innovation is that the iPod-iTunes component does not handle any of the higher resolution (NO, NOT HIGH REZ - I'M STILL A VINYLPHILE) digital formats. I would love to try it with DVD-As which my X-24 can decode.
NEXT INNOVATION I WOULD LIKE TO SEE FROM MSB - A PCICIA card for laptops that will take the digital data stream directly from Music Giant premium downloads on the laptop's harddrive and transmits them wirelessly to the iLink docking station. Now that would be beyond a Killer Application. Such a product could cause my Linn LP-12 to gather dust.
Oct 10, 2008
The review was made by Riccardo Mozzi for the magazine Fedeltą del Suono n. 154, October 2008.
Please find the highlights in English, translated by Luca at MondoAudio:
'... the performance is absolutely stunning. This DAC approach the Music better than other products recently appeared in my listening room'
'...the soundstage is proposed in an extraordinary way: all the players stay in the right place, very stables, correctly defined and placed in a board completely released from the speakers. (...) is quite its uncommon deep that amazes, with the soundstage width that definitely exceeds the speakers width. (...) there is more air around the players, and it's more clear than my reference (...) The music genres that have great breath is correctly reproduced with proper reverberation time (...) all is reproduced in the right way that you don't need to point out some other characteristics like dynamics, contrast and speed.'
'... without any doubts the Platinum DAC III deserves a commercial success due to its highest qualities: to buy and to hold for a long time.'
Sept 3, 2006
I have been an audiophile since 1976. I later became a collector of vintage high end audio equipment. In the 30 years I can honestly say that until I installed the CD station III with signature DACs I never herd just how good CDs and all this equipment really is. I have since sold my entire album collection of over 3000 albums and now strictly listen to CDs only. We all know how hard it is to become completely content with our systems. We also know that if the source is not RIGHT we cannot make fair judgement on any component in our system and will never experience that feeling of contentment. SIMPLY PUT THE MSB PLATINUM CD STATION III HAS PUT EVERYTHING IN A NEW LIGHT AND IN MY OPINION IS THE FINEST SOURCE AVAILABLE TODAY BAR NONE AT ANY COST!!!
Feb 21, 2006
Ever since the Platinum DAC got volume control it has replaced my preamp.
As Einstein supposedly remarked: 'Keep everything as simple as possible, and as complex as needed'. I agree wholeheartedly. Sound in digital form (ie numbers) has to be brought along from a storage medium, be it CD or PC or you name it, to the DAC (Digital to Analog Converter), where it's converted to the voltage that eventually moves your speaker membranes.
This has to be done error free, but today's technology is quite capable of producing stored numbers correctly - otherwise you'd had little chance running your computer software reliably, which consists of numbers that have to be correct!
The DAC is the crucial point where one can spoil efficiently the reconstruction of the original music signal. Remember: The stored numbers of a sine wave are just points taken EXACTLY on the sine wave, at certain intervals.
Interlude: Here you see btw, that when generating these numbers from the microphone voltage when recording it's essential to have the very best ADC (Analog to Digital converter) - otherwise even the ultimate DAC (Digital to Analog converter) will regenerate perfectly only the wrong voltages corresponding to the inaccurate numbers ... Hence a new CD made with state-of-the-art ADCs and professional master tapes will probably sound much more like the original music than old DDD recordings (done with ADCs of earlier less accurate technology).
So let's assume the stored numbers on a CD DO represent faithfully the music signal, because a perfect ADC process generated them; let's assume furthermore the numbers have been brought without error to the DAC's input - then the DAC's task of 'repainting' the sine wave or the music signal in general can be tackled.
Think of a picture of a sine wave with some dots on the curve - these are the points represented by the stored numbers. If these points are inaccurate, say moved to the right or left from where they should be (that means jitter in the DAC clock) then you get an indented sine wave - bad! Distortion (graphically and audibly) results. Or the points may be perfect in horizontal position, but slightly off vertically - again distortion, this time caused by a DAC that is not outputting the correct voltage.
So: what you want is a DAC that runs off a perfect stable clock (NOT from the usual CD laser pickup derived clock, that jitters as a result of the principally analogue laser working ? NOT from an inherently jittery SAT radio signal) that instantly generates perfectly correct voltages... Then your reconstructed dots lie exactly where they should be on the music signal curve - and that means: the original audio signal can be truthfully restored from the stored numbers.
That is exactly where the folks of MSB technology laid their focus on. They designed a DAC that cares utmostly about these requirements... and little wonder, listening to the sound from a Platinum Signature DAC to a state-of-the-art amplifier with neutral speakers (you might want to try LINN 320A active speakers or LINN Solo amps with KOMRI speakers) will just make you smile...
Sure, people have listening habits, and that's just fine, and in High End Audio there is a range of possibilities for personal preferences; but if you are just into faithful reproduction of music (which may sadly often sound as bad as it was recorded!), then you will educate your ear to like the music as it was originally produced.
If you do this, you'll end up treasuring a Platinum Signature DAC.
Sure, you'll notice all those horrible recordings that float around; but you'll start to enjoy the craftsmanship of true audio recording engineers that produced wonderful honest recordings. Thanks to the MSB people I for my part can enjoy a live concert recording easily at home. I just can't go to every good concert in persona!
March 1, 2003
I fell in love with the original Link DAC, as was obvious from my review in the January 1999 Stereophile. I said that 'the Link redefines entry into high- quality digital sound,' as it provided excellent sound and 24-bit/96kHz conversion for the remarkably low price of $349. It is as firmly ensconced in Class C of 'Recommended Components' as it is in my weekend system, where it tames the digital signals from my DMX receiver and my trusty old Pioneer PD- 7100 CD player.
Since that review appeared, everyone seems to have gotten on the Link bandwagon, even as the price has inched up to a still-remarkable $399 for the Link III. The Link II rearranged the circuit and afforded some opportunities for onsite upgrades. The Link III continues this process by providing for user- installable enhancements, including upsampling (with rates of up to 132kHz!), HDCD decoding ($199), virtual 3D Surround Sound ($149), and, in the near future, the ability to handle 192kHz-sampled signals, one of the standards for DVD-Audio. On paper, this makes the seemingly modest Link III as prodigiously potent as any DAC on the market.
Not content to rest on their technical laurels, MSB has also revealed a deep- set tweako streak. The Full Nelson version?named after Carol Nelson, the MSB sales rep who arranged to get the mod into production?transforms the unpretentious Link III with wholesale component swaps that preempt much of what the cottage-industry modifiers do for a living. The major effort is put into the analog stages, including using 2% Wima PP caps in the output filters, 75-ohm low-inductance Caddock ceramic resistors, and ultra-high-speed AD827 precision op-amps. Signal-path resistors are replaced with Roderstein 1% helical metal-film resistors, and the internal PS rails are upped from 8V to 12V. Finally, an AES/EBU digital input replaces the TosLink of the stock Link III.
The Half Nelson version ($385) includes all of the above enhancements except for the AES/EBU input. Unlike the user-installable options referred to above and below, the Full Nelson and Half Nelson upgrades are done only at the MSB factory.
In addition to the $485 Full Nelson treatment, my review sample of the Link III came supplied with the Upsampling Option, plus, as the icing on the cake, a large and optional external power supply. Although it has the same footprint as the Link III, MSB's $299 P1000 Power Base significantly outweighs the DAC.
A fully tricked-out Full Nelson Link III with P1000 Power Base seems to be as far as MSB's imagination can push the basic circuit. Beyond this, MSB offers full-credit trade-ins of the Link III against their admittedly non-budget, multiple-D/A-processor Gold and Platinum DACs.
The Full Nelson Link III arrived in the now-familiar pizza box looking very much like its predecessors. A new LED on the front indicates the potential for 192kHz sampling, while another, labeled Option, indicates the presence of an HDCD signal (full brightness) or the selection of upsampling (half brightness), if these options are installed. A new toggle switch on the back selects Normal or Upsampling operation, and an XLR connector for AES/EBU input replaces the TosLink jack.
Basic setup and operation are as simple as possible: Connect an input or two, connect the outputs, plug in the power supply of your choice, and power up. There's auto-switching of inputs and no power switch, so the Link III is always ready to go.
My experience of the Link III just out of the box was fine, but MSB insisted that the upsampling daughterboard be returned for a revision. This gave me an early excuse to open the chassis and see that the original Link's clean, compact layout has been retained, with lots of internal space left for other add-ons that MSB might think up. It also confirmed the presence of the fancy parts that are the basis of the Nelson upgrades: Because many of the upgraded parts are larger than the standard ones they replace, the overall appearance of the board is not as tidy as on the No Nelson versions. (My only cavil is at the flying leads for the rear-panel switch.) The daughterboard came back from the factory in a week, was installed without problems.
Theme and Variations
As with any device offering so many options, it was difficult to determine how each of those possibilities contributed to the end result. How much of the Link III's performance was due to the improvements to its design, how much to the Nelson mods? I haven't auditioned a No Nelson Link III or a plain-vanilla Link II, so I can only say that, even with the stock power supply and upsampling defeated, the Full Nelson Link III was an advance on the original Link DAC.
The charms of the original's transparency and immediacy were retained, joined by a newfound smoothness and sense of ease in the upper frequencies. The midrange seemed unchanged, but, allied now with an improved top end, was better appreciated. For example, while I preferred the California Audio Lab Sigma II DAC's rendition of female singers to that of the original Link (see my review in the July 2000 Stereophile), I would now give the nod to the Link III.
There's been some discussion in the general press, including the New York Times, about the sound and balance on Dave's True Story's second album, Unauthorized, in its Chesky release (JD189). Played on either of my systems via the Link III, I found a richness and immediacy in Kelly Flint's voice that was significantly better than on their first album, while the balance of voice and instruments was near ideal. (I can't vouch for how it might sound on a $100 boombox.) The CAL Sigma II's midbass made the album's rendition a bit fuller than the Full Nelson Link III's. Consequently I preferred the Link III as barely more natural and balanced on my main system, and the Sigma II for my slightly leaner weekend system. The differences were that system-dependent; they weren't much. On the other hand, the added fillip of upsampling did put a little more daylight between these two.
So I pushed the hot button and invoked the Upsampling Option. The upsampling daughterboard comes with a 25MHz oscillator and will upsample input signals to 96kHz. The Option LED is illuminated at half-brightness when the switch is flipped, but the '96kHz' LED lights up only with an active source. (An alternative 33MHz oscillator, also provided, allows for upsampling to 132.3kHz. With this oscillator, there is no appropriate LED indicator: Only the Option LED and the lack of a frequency LED to accompany the music signals the oscillator's operation.)
Because switching is graceful and quiet, one can A/B between normal and upsampled operation on the fly. I usually left the switch up, as there was no downside to the upsampling. All the felicities of the original Link, the Nelson tweaks, and the P1000 Power Base were conserved, and augmented by the now-familiar enhancements of upsampling: a greater sense of the unity and discreteness of individual instruments and voices. Unfortunately, I must grope into the inner reaches of my equipment rack to do this: the switch is on the back of the chassis. Not only is such placement annoying to us obsessive assessors, it is inconvenient for anyone who wants to decode HDCD discs?the Upsampling Option is not simultaneously compatible with the HDCD option! Either/or is what you get, and the switch in the back doesn't make it easy.
Whether the source was my ancient Pioneer CD-7100 or the Meridian Reference 800 CD player, the upsampling Link III was a delight. With the Pioneer, I re- experienced the feeling, with greater delight, that the Link is the obvious upgrade route for all the aged but functional CD players still doing yeoman's duty. This young/old combo made a respectable and enjoyable source. With the support of the Meridian 800, the Link III was even better. (Anyone surprised?)
But better than the DACs in the megabucks 800? Wishful thinking. There was a consistent advantage to the 800 in terms of the perceived delicacy of details, the richness of the voices in the rear of the soundstage, and the closeness of the sound as the volume was raised. At low levels, both the Link III and the 800 were similar in perspective. But, as I turned up the wick, the Link III output seemed to loom forward from the speakers, while that from the 800 stayed where it belonged.
This was particularly noticeable playing an excellent recording of Mahler's Symphony 3 (Glen Cortes, Manhattan School of Music Symphony Orchestra, Titanic Ti-252), a concert recording in the huge Riverside Church. Recording engineer Jerry Bruck has achieved the nearly impossible in balancing the impact and clarity of the direct sound with the hall's monumental ambience. Via the Link III, it was glorious, but the instruments and voices bloomed and the ambience lost some specificity as I approached lease-breaking levels. The Reference 800 handled it with aplomb.
Of course, there's more available to Link users. When I unplugged the hefty but ordinary stock power supply and connected the P1000, the Full Nelson Link III took another step up. I can't fault the noise performance or the tonal balance with the stock power supply, but the P1000 seemed to extend and reinforce the Link's lower reaches. I know, I know?there probably was no actual extension (unless John Atkinson measures it, of course!). But the impression of greater power and weight was considerable.
The opening brass-and-drum irruption of Bernstein's Candide Overture (Eiji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra, Reference Recordings RR-87CD) was startling in its impact, the bass tight, clean, and palpable even without HDCD decoding. The original Link, itself no slouch in the bass, also benefited from the addition of a P1000. The Power Base is the most cost-effective option, as it elevates the performance of any Link DAC.
Final Variations and Coda
Three loose ends to tie up:
First, MSB offers the option of manipulating the amount of analog filtering on the outputs. Stock Link IIIs come with two jumpers per channel and 'rather heavy filtering [of] the outputs to achieve perfect measurements.' My Full Nelson version had only one jumper set, a suggested option for 'those who prefer greater dynamics and attack.' I found two jumpers in my computer-parts bin and confirmed MSB's prescription: One pair is just right for the Nelson version, but may not be for the plain-vanilla Link.
Second, I briefly auditioned the optional 33MHz oscillator for the upsampler, but its effect was marginal. I used it for a while, then switched back to the 25MHz chip, noting no appreciable differences.
Third and most significant, I connected the balanced output of my Z-systems rdp-1 digital preamp-equalizer to the AES/EBU input that distinguishes the Full Nelson from the Half Nelson Link III. At first, this simply did not work. The DAC would not reliably switch from the S/PDIF input, and when it did, there was a cacophony of buzzes and zizzes, but no music.
Had I tried this earlier, I might have sent the whole thing back to MSB, but by now I was in the final countdown. I powered down the Link, disconnected it completely, and ran off to the country for the weekend. When I returned, I connected the AES/EBU input, the analog outputs, and, finally, the P1000 Power Base?no S/PDIF. On power-up, the Link III buzzed and zapped for two or three seconds, then, miraculously, locked on to the signal. Gorgeous sound pealed forth.
Wow and double-wow! I had left this feature for last, as my experience is that the audible differences between AES/EBU and S/PDIF are at best minor, and usually irrelevant. Not so here. By far, I obtained the most musical and impressive performance from the Link III via AES/EBU. I reveled in a wonderful live recording of Handel's Messiah (Anders Ohrwall, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, FIM XRCD 2000), a performance recorded in 1982 by Bertil Alving, who was responsible for the famous LP Cantate Domino. The transfer of the analog masters to XRCD is breathtakingly beautiful, and the AES/EBU input revealed it in the integrity of the voices and their individual and combined placements in the reverberant space. It was also nice via S/PDIF, but AES/EBU had more power, life, and space. Upsampling was simply not needed. Who'd a- thunk it?
I thought the original MSB Link was an unbeatable value. I was wrong. The Link III is even better, and more exciting. The sound qualities of the Full and Half Nelson versions are excellent and fully justify the prices. As for the other sonic goodies, the P1000 and the Upsampling Option are both desirable and cost-effective. Add them all up, however, and the price approaches $1400, so a little prioritizing might be called for. If you're thinking about plonking down all that cash at once, there are many other DACs to consider, including MSB's own Gold Link and Bel Canto's DAC 1.
But few products short of a Swiss Army knife offer the versatility and options of the Link III. I recommend that you start with the Full Nelson version if you want to realize the full potential of the Link III. Unless you're sure you'll never have an AES/EBU source, pass up the Half Nelson and go all the way.
As for upgrades, the P1000 is the mandatory next step because it lets the AES/EBU Link to really sing. Upsampling? Nice but not essential. HDCD? Useful but not urgent. Virtual 3D? Not for me. 192kHz processing? I can hardly wait.
You make your own choices with the Full Nelson/P1000 version of the MSB Link III: a great DAC that can play anything today, and is adaptable for the future.
May 14, 2003
HP's Super Component List
Burmester Reference CD System: 969 CD Turntable & 970 DAC (upsampling) Prices: 969: $26,995; 970: $29,995 See Issues 113, 116, 117, 124, 130, 137
The original reviews, I believe, say just about everything I have to say on the subject. I can tell you this: You haven?t heard pulse-code-modulated 44/16 digital until you?ve lived with these components.
They are obscenely expensive, and they remain the reference standard for CD playback. They do have some competition, particularly from the MSB Technology Platinum CD player, which I will be evaluating in A/B fashion in an upcoming issue.