MSB Analog DAC – Quad USB Input – Review
I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while now and I’ve finally found some time to do so. Some time ago I managed to get my hands on a MSB Analog Dac for a review. I was absolutely stunned by this dac and fell in love with it. Nothing seemed to sound as good after I gave it back. but after one year of day dreaming I managed to buy one for myself.
After spending some time with the DAC and getting to know it better I’ve put an order for the Quad USB2 Input upgrade.
When I bought the input I didn’t know too much about the technical improvements, just the very basic info MSB gives us on their website, and mainly that it will support both DOP transmission and direct native DSD bitstreams up to 256x, and that it provides super shielding and isolation for lower noise operation.
I didn’t expect a huge leap in sound quality but mainly a gradual improvement. Waiting for the upgrade I sent an email to Larry to ask for more details.
I found out that the USB was not their favorite input and protocol as it has some limitations compared to other solutions like i2s, network, etc.
They seem to be working for some time at a solution to bypass most of the limitations of USB and wanted to make an input that is very close or on par with their transports like the Platinum Data CD IV.
MSB said that the USB protocol is a complicated 2 directional protocol that was mainly designed for transfer data in computer use and not optimal for audio usage.
Larry said that with Quad Usb2 input they are finally happy with the sound quality you can obtain from USB, making it a viable playback choice at last.
This input is not an upgraded design of the old one as it is a completely new one which uses PRO I2S scheme. That means that the Quad USB Input has a playback memory of its own. The very precise femto clock requests the data directly from the quad usb input’s memory.
Listening impressions and tests
The tests were performed with MSB Analog DAC with quad usb, Custom LPS for Analog DAC made by Volent Audio, AG500 Power Regenerator, Audio Gd Master 10, Xindak A600 Integrated Amplifier , Piega Premium 5.2 Speakers, Audio Gd Master 9 Headphone Amplifier, Sennheiser HD800, HiFiMAN He-560, Schiit Wyrd & Sotm TX-USBexp , Neotech Pure OCC Silver XLR interconnects, Kimber Kable Silvear Streak RCA interconnects.
Before getting to business I also want to mention a very important fact. MSB has released 2 major firmware upgrades a few months ago, the 1.6 and the 1.7, which is necessary if you want to install the Quad USB Input.
Both firmware upgrades showed a very noticeable improvement in sound quality but the latest was unexpected in its magnitude. At first I thought I was mistaken but after more listening I came to the conclusion that that firmware upgrade improved the sound quality in a major way, mainly in details and soundstage, but also in dynamics and tactility.
Having the old usb input for quite a while I learned some tricks to improve its sound quality. While the usb input was optically isolated from the mainboard from analog dac, it still used the 5V from the usb line, so I decided to give it clean and steady power.
I found this tweak to improve the sound in a substantial manner as well. Read all about it here.
The Quad Usb input also benefits from this tweak by quite a lot and this is why it responded very well to Schiit Wyrd and Sotm as well.
The first thing I noticed was a considerably better sense of space and air. Then, the other improvements struck me as well. It was like a veil was taken off the sound. Everything became considerably clearer sounding, letting every instrument to vibrate and live to its full potential. I felt like in the concert room. Hell, I felt like I was part of the orchestra!
Again the improvement in the soundstage was amazing. The sounds seemed to go and go in a huge room, but also reflecting better from the walls giving an even better sense of space. The guitars had more energy and tactility, showing incredible attack and transient response. Hugh’s voice was incredibly detailed, textured and also very cursive.
Damn it! This was like an adrenaline shot. The energy transmited by analog dac with this new usb input is just amazing. The bass is faster, better detailed and considerably punchier compared to the old usb. The sound is faster with considerably more explosive attack and faster decays leading to more energy and better PRAT.
This song starts in a romantic and mesmerizing way with a piano that is further away in the scene and grows gradually. When I closed my eyes I felt like I was there, I saw the piano and the artist in a huge concert room with a spotlight on them and magically closing in the main scene.
When the piano notes storm in with speed, the song managed to strike tears of enjoyment in my eyes but also shivers down the spine. The way every note was so well defined, so sparkly so alive… was just incredible.
I just get hypnotized by this sound quality. I stop from doing anything and I just loose myself into the music. The sound is so clean, so pure, the background is so dark that the sound just appear out of nowhere. Listening to this song was like it was just me, the guitars(and other instruments) and the singers. Nothing else existed. The voices are so cursive, so clean and pure that it’s like they are flowing directly into your soul.
I felt like the king was still alive, there in the room with me. This DAC is like a portal into time and lets you live and relive moments with the greatest artists of the world. The finger claps were incredible real and you could hear the flesh on them, it’s like it somebody there in the room with you.
The bass is a little less bloomy than with the old usb. It gained considerably better speed, detail and impact.
The midrange was always great on the MSBs but now it was taken to another level once more. Everything comes to life on this DAC from instruments to voices.
This was another great improvelent brought by the quad usb module. I’ve never heard such detail and extension on the treble before. This also helps in giving a very nice sense of air to the scene. The treble incredibly detailed but also unforgiving. If you have a sibilant recording, Analog DAC with Quad USB won’t hide that at all.
The voices are so cursive, so clean, so detailed and well textured that they hypnotize me every time. This DAC brings artists to life or it teleports them in the room with you.
The soundstage improved substantially as well as it became considerably bigger in all directions but also got a better sense of holography. Amazing!
Instrument Separation & Imaging
The instruments have even more space between them and the leading edges are considerably clearer. Every sound is located with pinpoint accuracy.
Transparency & Background
The sound is amazingly pure and clean. It was like a veil was taken off the sound leaving everything even clearer and closer to reality than before. The background is pitch black and it’s like the sounds appear out of nowhere.
The details with this upgrade are incredible. If I remember correctly, I think that MSB Analog Dac with the Quad USB2 input is considerably more detailed than the Platinum Dac IV with the old usb input.
The transient response also improved substantially. The attack is considerably stronger and the decay is faster but still well extended. This makes the sound even more energetic, faster and more tactile.
The sound is not as mellow as before. It is more aggressive, more energetic, faster and more engaging but also more analytical than before. It still has a very natural tonality and I like it considerably better than before and closer to real life, but I think that some people may like the mellower/darker sound signature of the older usb input better.
Does the Quad USB input improve the sound quality? It sure does! MSB really hit the spot with this upgrade. I never expected this level of improvement with this input. It was like I bought a considerably better DAC. Analog Dac remains the best DAC I’ve ever tested/reviewed until now. It’s always a pleasure and a whole journey when listening to music with it.
- Excellent faster, more detailed and punchier bass
- Superb midrange
- Excellent treble
- Mesmerizing voices
- Amazing soundstage improvement
- Excellent imaging / instrument separation
- Detail monster
- Excellent transient response
- Excellent transparency and pitch black background
- Very engaging and energetic
- The treble detail is very unforgiving with sibilant recordings
- Not as smooth analogue sounding as before (both can be fixed with e better power supply)