Digital to analog converters are, without any doubt, the devices of the moment. They are more and more popular and are invading the houses of audio lovers. Until few years ago the separate converter was only for those that wanted to upgrade the characteristics of their CD players or for those that wanted a two chassis device by one brand, or by different manufacturers. The boom of separate converters is due to the enormous success of "Computer Music" (in Italy the expression “liquid music” is used a lot but it's a name I can't stand). There are many components right now that can transform the sound that comes out from our computers into an analog sound. I know I should not include in this review my personal opinions but I can't stand to listen to music that comes out from a computer. There are many reasons for my idiosyncrasy and here is a short list of them: I spend the greatest part of my day in front of my PC at work; when I sit in front of my system I don't want to have another monitor in front of me. Furthermore, Personal Computers and laptops have a noisy cooling fan. I don't like the idea of exchanging Terabytes of music stored in Hard Disks, music downloaded both legally or illegally. Music is a work of art and I'd like to see it treated thus. Once, we used to count titles and now we count Bytes. I may be old and out of date but I don't like all this. I know people that have computers loaded with music, music they don't even know. They collect Bytes and not music. Well I don't want to mess with these people, I can't have a connection with them. During the years, I have bought some music online. I also have music I downloaded from sites that give away free compilations, and I think this is enough, I have what I need to test and review systems. I must admit that high resolution files sound much better than the Red Book CD, but I am satisfied also with SACD or the almost disappeared DVD Audio. Leaving alone analog music. Now we have many formats available, 32 bit/384 KHz are available for everyone, even if there are not enough files to reproduce. And I am wondering if all this is really necessary or if it's just another way to occupy more internal memory in our computers and to sell files at a higher price. I am really appalled in front of all this technology, beyond 24/88.2 I cannot hear any improvement. Well, what really bothers me is that sometimes we treat music just like a software that is craving for spaces and processors' speed. I can't stand it , it's not my world. All this Computer Audio rush has complicated life to many audiophiles. I read in online forums that many people complain about the settings of analog systems and then fight with reproduction softwares and drivers to add or with audio card programming. Very few are convinced and/or satisfied with the perfection of the settings they have done and remain with the doubt that they may adjust things in a different way to have the best possible signal. A computer course may be useful but may be not enough. I must admit though that a high resolution file with a very good converter - and the one we are reviewing is amazing - can match up with the analog and exceeds the defects of the vinyl long playing.
Let's talk about the converter we have here now, we have tested it using both the technology of our dCS Puccini as a converter, and my personal computer.
MSB was born in 1986 in California and designs and produces its products in the Monterrey Bay. It produces with its own brand and also high tech audio components for clients around the world. MSB, since a few years, is well known worldwide thanks to its products committed to process the digital signal, that have enthused all audiophiles and critics, all over the world. I am really happy to have the chance to test one of these components in my listening room, with the necessary concentration and - thanks to the distributor's patience - with no hurry. Three weeks have passed between the arrival of the DAC and its departure from our room. In these three weeks I've had the chance to listen and get to know "The Analog DAC", one of the latest products of the Californian firm that has already had good reviews. We, in Audio Activity, do trust our colleagues but we are happier if we can test equipments in our room with our own system.
Let's start with the description of the DAC. It has a very original shape, it's thin and measures less than 3 cm and it's carved from one piece of aluminum; it rests on 4 sharp spikes. Its shapes are original and sinuous. In the four slots of the spikes that come out of the chassis, there are also conic shapes designed to host other MSB components that may be put on the DAC; The upper part of the DAC we have here to test, has a rotating volume knob with a switch inside it, for the manual selection of the inputs. With this option, the DAC can work as a pre amplifier, for an additional analog source. On the left, the display shows alternatively the selected input and the volume level. Volume can be adjusted also with the remote that comes with the DAC. The back panel has the power input connector that comes from a separate power supply - the parallelepiped that you see in the picture - or by another one that is optional and has the same shape and dimension of the DAC. There are also the RCA analog inputs and one digital input that can be chosen among a optical/coaxial, one XLR, one Pro I2S or one USB working up to 384 KHz. It's also possible to have 2 more digital inputs, optionally. The available colours are black and matte white, that looks almost like silver. The characteristics of this machine are noticeable, digital processing at 80 bit, Femto Second proprietary clock technology, 384 KHz discrete ladder DAC. We want to underline that the optional modules can be added with the utmost easiness by the user, there's no need for a special assistance.
MSB has been connected to the following system: turntable Basis 2001, tonearm Graham 2.2, cartridge Scan
Tech Lyra Helikon, phono preamplifier: Einstein "The Turntable's
Choice", CD/SACD player dCS Puccini + Puccini U-Clock, preamplifier: MBL
4006, power amplifiers: Bryston 7B ST mono, loudspeakers: JBL 4350B,interconnect cables: MIT Oracle MA-X Proline,
MIT Shotgun S2 RCA, Transparent Super XLR, Transparent Super RCA, LAT
International XLR, loudspeaker cables: MIT Magnum MA, Vovox Initio, power
cables: MIT Shotgun AC 1, Black Noise Pearl and others DIY, mains distributor:
Lector Edison 230/8, mains filter: Black Noise 2500.
I am very
conventional, so I start with the dCS transport, using its S/PDIF output. My first listening is Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of
Love", while I long to attend his live concert in San Siro Stadium, in Milan,
in a couple of days. Music comes straight to me, with all its load of emotions.
If music emotions, it means that there's nothing in the middle, so we have
started out in the right way. I listen to something very well recorded, the CD
Siria by Antonio Placer (Harmonia Mundi). Few notes are enough to understand
that this DAC is superb. Placer's voice is well present in the space between
the loudspeakers and shows details that were almost unknown before. The quality
of double bass and guitar reproduction is amazing. I listen to Telarc's CD
"Basie's Bug", played by the Count Basie Orchestra and directed by
Frank Foster. I immediately find myself among the audience of the Detroit Hall
Orchestra, in the rear of the hall. No sound of the Big Band is lost. All the
instruments play together, thanks to a recording done with few microphones put
skillfully in the right places.
Pogorelich's piano in the CD "Klaviertsonaten KV
283&331" by Mozart (DG) is very balanced and dynamic, just like one
expects it since the Croatian piano player has an impressive technique.
I listen to dozen of records with great satisfaction, but
alas, now it's time to connect the computer. After few hours in which I had to
fight with computer and software - things seldom work at the first try and
there's always something different from manual procedures - the signal that
comes out of the PC is correctly sent to the loudspeakers. The Analog DAC recognizes at once the sampling
frequencies of the files and everything goes smoothly. The doubts about a
possible configuration mistake disappear at the first listening. A sound like
this can't be made any better; not with a audio managing software, or USB cable
or any other possible change you can think of. The file - file ... how sad! -
by Béla Bartòk, Concert for Orchestra, SZ 116 (APEX), performed by the
Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, strikes for the sensation of silence between
the notes, a silence that shouldn't be disturbed not even by the cooling fan of
the PC that is our source. The first track, the introduction to the concert, is
characterized by the transients dynamic and speed. The orchestra's breath is
clearly audible and the sensation of digital sound is missing. But the real
quality leap comes with a file of the “2L The Nordic Sound" Label. It
belongs to a compilation that can be downloaded for free from the website of
this label. These are classical pieces, sampled at 24/96 KHz but recorded in
DXD 24/+352.8 KHz. The sound is really smooth, with a quality that is unknown
by the digital sound as we are used to listen to it and witha low range - the range that in my opinion
suffered more from the Red Book digital conversion - that is now comparable to
a high class analog signal. I have had the chance to listen to the Gregorian
chants in the Chiaravalle Abbey (Milano), several times. The song "Crux
Fidelis", recorded by 2L and performed by the Consortium Vocale is very
close to that of a real choir. This song does not have the echoes that are
present in the Milan Abbey, may be because of the positioning of the
microphones in the Nowegian Ringsaker Church. 2L records are really outstanding.
The recording of the piece "Confutatis" from the Requiem by Sigurd
Islandsmoen is a clear evidence of this; the strings in String Quartet in D, Op
76 No.5 by Haydn are nearly perfect. The violins are striking, but never too
much andthe bottom range of the cello
is great. It's a low range that only a very good quality analog reproduction or
a high resolution digital can offer.
"Big Band Bond" is recorded at 24/bit/96 KHz. It's
a Marco Lincetto’s recording. He knows that for some reasons I don't love this
record but I must admit though that in high resolution and with this MSB it
comes to new life, completely. I immediately grabbed the remote to turn up the
volume, and this is with no doubt a good sign. The reproduction gives sense to
a high quality audio system. The importance given by Marco Lincetto to the
voice of the talented Fabiana Martone can be shared. I proceed to the Brahms’ 2°
Symphony, from a Pentatone file at 24/88.2, in which Marek Janowsky conducts
the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. I try not to be overwhelmed by this work of
art and to keep intact my ability of judgment. I think to myself: why should I
want more? To go beyond so much beauty seems to be a sin, it's something that
doesn't have to be ruined, one of those "holy shit moments" that
belongs to music anthology and music reproduction. It's a one of a kind
listening, believe me! The wonderful Third Movement ofthe Brahms’ 3° Symphony is the last piece on
my listening list. I notice an amazing attention to details of the MSB, and
this attention puts him right on my podium, among the best. No doubt.
The sound of this converter is extremely pleasant, it has a
medium range a bit forwarded. Maybe is thanks to this detail that the emotion
that springs from the Analog DAC reproduction has no equal. Not in any of the
many peers of the MSB we've had the chance to listen to in many years of
The price is high but if compared to competition it's not so
high. If you have in mind to buy a DAC, listen to this MSB or you may regret it
for a long, long time.
Testi e grafiche di questo sito appartengono al proprietario e non possono essere utilizzati senza autorizzazione scritta. All contents and graphics on this site are copyright and can not be used without permission. Audio-activity è un marchio della MGP Srl - PI 01839210158