MSB Analog Dac – Review
I was quite happy with my system in the last few weeks. Hydra & Conductor with HD800 & LCD2 were rocking my life lately. I have bought the AG500 Power Regenerator from Power Inspired and it got my system some steps up again. Don’t worry, I will soon review the AG500 too.
So I was thinking how much better can this and in what ways? Hard to imagine at that moment.
Meanwhile I was getting “attacked” by a friend that also had Burson Conductor but got a PS Audio PWD2 instead, telling me every day what a big difference it makes. I trust his ears but didn’t have the chance to test something that let Burson Conductor far behind until now, as a dac or headphone amplifier.
As you may know, I only have a headphone system at home. Maybe someday, I will go on speakers, but only after getting a proper bigger house or something. However, when I want to hear some good speakers, I go to jack-fi and have a good listen there. Well…what can I say . They were nice to me, now they can’t get rid of me : ” Hey guys, it’s me again!”
In their main room they have a MSB Diamond DAC IV complete line. I have always been impressed by it. I’ve once heard it with a pair of Focal Maestro Utopia speakers and 2 MSB monoblocks . It was the best speaker system I have heard in my entire life.
The sound was so relaxed…so effortless, the positioning was amazing, I was staring like an idiot in the center of the room, hearing the whole music band as it was in front of me, there… The bass went so deep, so controlled, so fast, the dynamics out of this world (for me). The sound was so opened, but with a very natural tonality, so detailed and yet relaxed.
I’ve also heard the MSB Diamond Dac IV with Conductor (as amp) and Sennheiser HD700 & Audeze LCD2, but for a too little time. However, in that short time I was really impressed of it.
Well, the Diamond IV is absolutely stunning, and I was spending time with it but I knew the “relationship” between us is not possible as we are in different social classes, like a peasant having an affair with a duchess , as the price is astronomical for normal people like me. Never even thought of asking to take it for a review, as I was afraid to carry it in my car or anything happening to it.
One day the MSB Analog Dac came in. At first, I didn’t notice it, as it was a small “tray” or cover on the top of the Diamond line. This baby is starting at 7000$, and I didn’t think of it either, but Jack heard I had some questions about some better dacs, and he lent it to me to answer my previous question “can it get better than this? how? ”
“You’ll see >:)”:
So “who” is MSB? Some of the very passionate audiophiles know of it as it is known to make one of the best, if not the best dac in the world.
However the prices are very high, and it makes only deluxe products in general, so many people may not know of it because of this.
I only know of it because I have read David’s incredible review, which I consider to be the most mature and excellent headphone review catalog of all time. It is there I have read that David had the MSB Diamond IV dac. After seeing the price, I was quite sure I will have little chances to hear one in my life, and then I have discovered Jack , where they have it 😀 .
When I have seen it in the show room, I was like :
- Demonstrated first AC-3 output for LaserDisc to Dolby 1994
- First THX approved LaserDisc Player (Runco LJR II 1995)
- First out board AC-3 demodulator (Lexicon LDD-1 1995)
- First out board DTS processor (Millennium 2.4.6 1997)
- First digital output on a DSS receiver (1997)
- First mass marketed 24 bit 96K DAC (LINK DAC 1998)
- First discrete sign-magnitude 384 kHz Ladder DAC (Platinum DAC 2000)
- First discrete asynchronous upsampler (Platinum Plus 192 kHz Upsampler 2001)
- First 80 bit DSP based digital filter (16X Filter 2005)
- First iPod based digital music server (iLink 2006)
- First 384 kHz inputs and upsampling (DAC III 2009)
- First 32 bit interface (Xport 2009)
- First 384 kHz Bit Perfect USB input (Signature USB on DAC IV 2010)
- First CD transport that could play data files up to 32 bit, 384 kHz (Data CD IV 2010)
- First clock with Jitter under 1 psec (77 Femtosecond Galaxy Clock – 2011)
I have used for tests the following gear: MSB Analog Dac with stock power supply, Burson Conductor (as amp and dac), Audiobyte Hydra, Power Inspired AG500 Power Regenerator, Sennheiser HD800, Audeze LCD2, Martin Logan Mikros 90.
I have used the MSB mainly with the usb input. I have tested Audiobyte Hydra on coax too, but I found the usb input from Analog Dac to be better than it. It had more details, more energy, better impact, better soundstage, etc.
I have also tested the usb input with a cheap usb cable vs Chord Silver Plus. I didn’t find any differences between the two.
Well, the first minute I started to listen to it, I was stunned on my chair. There were some songs that just got my hair up on my hands and tears in my eyes!
I will write my impressions on some songs:
Sara K – Stars (Stockfisch Vinyl Collection)
The sound was so natural, the voice so well textured and detailed, the details & micro-details incredible. The guitar’s extension is hard do describe in words. The plucking and chord extension just tickles your ears to maxim audiophile pleasure.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Soun Classical Great Perfomances) – Scofield: “Battle of the Republic”
Ok with this one I have made a trip to the Opera. I really felt there. The voices were amazingly layered and positioned. I just had a “black out” moment here while writing this, as I was listening to the song and I forgot what I was doing and where I am, as I was completely transposed into the song. The positioning of the instruments and the air between the instruments are out of this world for me. You can hear the strong transient response of the instruments in the back.
Murray Perehia – Piano ( Sony Classical Greate Perfomances )
The first thing I heard when I got Hydra that had a better clock than Conductor was the crisp and detail notes of the piano. I really think that it is one of the way to tell if the clock is very good or not. With Analog Dac the piano was the closest I have heard to real life experience. The notes were just flowing which such ease, clarity and musicality that it just gets to your heart and soul.
Luigi Boccherini (Sony Classical Great Perfomances) – Minuet for string orchestra and various instruments in A major
I have ran out of words, really. The naturalness of the sound is just something I will never forget in my entire life. It flows effortless and with ease like a crisp mountain river. The voice was so real that i felt it here in the room with me. At the end of the song I felt like applauding the artist and orchestra.
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas – Going Home ; Lullaby
Ok, after this song I have to make a pause. I am getting too emotional, to involved into the music, I just might overload. At the end of the song I felt like I know Leonard Cohen personally, that we are old friends. God, the voices are so natural and with such texture , with such naturalness that you just cannot not get emotionally involved into the song. The guitar again is just tickling your ears, while Leonard and the the female chorus sing and warms up your feelings.
Gino D’Auri – Ida Y Vueta (Flamenco Guitar)
I’ve been recently to a flamenco show in Barcelona, Spain and just loved it. With Analog Dac, this song transposed me near the stage, in Barcelona again. The transients of the instruments, the tactility make you really get involved in the already emotional flamenco song.
Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of The Moon – Time
I have heard things in this song I’ve never heard before. Because of the extensions of the ringing, I could see the metal bells from the clocks vibrating, feel the frequency of the vibrations till the end. The positions of the drums pinpointed with extreme accuracy. The chorus and main voice extremely well layered and very textured while the guitar in the back was telling it’s story like never before.
Jen Chapin – Songs of Stevie Wonder – Pastime Paradise , Big Brother
I’ve never been in so many places in one day before. Every song transposed me in a different concert hall, recording room, mood and place. Again I felt there… near the artist, the band. The percussion had incredible detail and impact. The trumpet was so well extended, so palpable, so real, so well placed. The tactility of the instruments is beyond everything I have ever heard before.
Gothart – Ketri Ketri
The bass is incredibly deep, and extremely well textured and controlled. Again the impact and tactility of the instruments were out of this world.
The Cranberries – Linger
I haven’t ever put accent or really noticed the first part where the small violin plays far in the back. Now I felt every detail, every note from it , it’s whole extension, even though it was far in the back and very subtle. The sound is so energetic, so dynamic, yet so smooth and effortless that is kind of hard to get a grip of what it’s going on and how :)) .
Therion – Deggial – Enter Vril-ya
So does it rock? Hell yes, it does. The energy just blows you out from the chair. The strong guitars are so deep and extended that you can feel them in your lungs, as you would be listening to a speaker system. The chorus again is amazing and the voices are beyond excellent.
Infected Mushroom – Becoming Insane
With this DAC, I sure am. I haven’t found any weak spots in it, just extremely strong points that gets all the emotion out of any song I have thrown at it. The bass is incredible with it. It goes very low, it hits hard and is very energetic, fast, and controlled.
Let’s make a little recap and study the sound a little closer.
The bass is incredible with both Audeze and HD800. It goes extremely deep, it is fast, controlled and full of energy.
The mids are the best I have ever heard in a DAC until now, but who am I kidding, every aspect of this dac, is the best I have heard so far. The instruments have an incredible extension, detail and presence as the voices are so natural, so well textured that you get to feel like you know the singer at the end of the song.
The treble is excellent too, very well extended and detailed but smooth even on HD800. I’ve never heard such extension and energy in the treble before.
The transient response is breath taking. Every pluck is felt, every instrument has impact even though it may be far, far in the back, you can still feel it.
Dynamics & Micro-dynamics
The Analog Dac takes this area to another level too. You can hear the voice that sings intimately in your ear, while the guitars chords are plucked in a way that you feel in you’ve plucked them yourself, hearing and feeling all the vibration and extension of the chord, while a very subtle violin or trumpet plays very far in the back and you can still feel it’s whole extension.
Details & Micro-details
The Analog Dac made me hear somethings for the first time in many songs that I know intimately, and this is available on the whole audio spectrum from very low bass to high treble. In Leonard’s ‘”Going Home” song, I have heard how he touched his face with the microphone or with his hands, the sound showing that at that moment he hadn’t shaved for a day or two.
Instrument separation, layering and positioning
You want to go get transposed into music, to close your eyes and see every instrument and it’s position. Well the Analog Dac really gets you into the music, transposes you, making you forget where you are and what you are doing. The layering and positioning are incredible. The air between instruments is so natural, as in real life. You are not listening to stereo any longer. 3D would be more accurate to say.
Tonality and Naturaleness
The name of the DAC wasn’t picked randomly. The sound is extremely natural, flowing smooth and without effort. Don’t get me wrong. Even though it is smooth, it is full of energy and very good PRAT, a combination very hard do reach.
The soundstage is very wide, deep and incredibly holographic.
As I said before the Audeze LCD3 were the most tactile headphones I have yet heard. The analog dac made the HD800 very tactile headphones as well. It is amazing how HD800 scaled with it.
Well, you can imagine what the conclusions are.
This was the most emotional musical experience of my life.
As I told you, a few days before I was very happy with my new Hydra and the AG500 Power Regenerator, which both improved the sound of my Burson Conductor substantially.
Is it better than Conductor? I’ve made a little test to see:
What do you think? The comparison is quite useless and would have no point, as these two are in different worlds. Don’t get me wrong, the Conductor is still a wonderful piece of hardware, but in completely other league.
The Analog Dac is the best DAC I have yet tested and heard properly. I just fell in love with it:
With it, I got transposed inside the music. I forgot about myself, what I was doing, where I was and after the song finished got out of the wonderful journey it took me, and felt like I was waking up from a long sleep, not knowing where I was and who I was for the first second, and I am not kidding about this.
- excellent dynamics & micro dynamics
- extremely well detailed but still smooth sound
- explodes with energy but again still smooth
- excellent instrument separation and positioning
- very opened sound
- excellent transient response
- natural decay
- the sound has very very good tactility
- natural and analog sound
- price ( and this is just because I can’t afford it :)) , not because it doesn’t justify the price)
The Analog Dac dissolved my theory that over Burson Conductor you get diminished returns in audio quality compared to the prices you pay.
I really hope that sometime in my life I can look with pride at my table and see an Analog Dac of my own.
Or there might be some other way… Guys, you may stop hearing from me for a while. I think I am going to make a run for it with the Analog DAC (the peasent has kidnapped the duchess ) :))