MSB DAC IV Platinum Plus digital processor

04.11.2013..

For one time, let us start from the end, the price: 14,950.00 euro. A Ferrari of the high fidelity. The question is: "does it worth all this money"?

If you want to know the answer keep reading and, if you can, go and listen to it. Also, if you can, open it, as I did, since it would be an interesting experience.

 

In 1986, Larry S. Gullmann - by the way I thank him for being so kind to answer to all my questions - with other guys, founds MSB Technology Corporation, a company characterized since the beginning by a cutting-edge technology. The Californian company designs and realizes for other firms high-tech products both for hi-fi and home theatre and boasts proprietary digital discrete converters, like the ones used in our DAC IV Platinum Plus.

 

The Dac IV Platinum Plus has two chassis, one for the dac and the other for the power supply that can be piled in a simple and elegant design.

Beautiful are the light blue heat sinks and amazing is the applied system to eliminate the vibrations. At the four edges of every chassis are positioned some cylinders inside which there is a solid brass stack, with a tip on one end and a cavity on the other. The stack is plunged into an elastic cellulose in order to damp the vibrations at one hertz.

It is also possible ordering the MSB transport that can be connected to the power supply of the dac.

The writing "Plus" means a new version of the Dac IV, dated November 2012 and with remarkable newness.

With this version is available the PRO I2S digital input. As the clock is no more integrated in the motherboard, it is possible to choose between the Femto 140 Clock (series version) and the Femto Galaxy Clock. Just consider that the series version has the clock with less than 140 femtoseconds of jitter!

What's more, the Plus version can convert the normal 16 bit-44 KHz format of CDs, up to 32 bit-348 KHz in pcm format and can also provide the decoding of the 64x and 128x DSD files, not only via USB, but using all kind of digital inputs.

A DSD file (direct-streaming-digital) can go beyond 560 KHz and give a sound very close to the analogue with pleasant and not fake range extremes.

The filled space is lesser than the common hd bricks we have seen so far, although the tracks in this format are very difficult to find.

 

The three models of our converter are: Platinum, Signature and Diamond with an incredible level of personalization. Besides the clock, another optional is the USB port that can reach 348 KHz. Unfortunately, I have not tested the preamp stage, since it was not available on our exemplar.

On the front panel, the liquid crystal display is not very easy to read, and the four buttons to navigate the menu are not so easy to understand. There is a knob to select the inputs or to adjust the volume if you have chosen the optional control of the volume. Actually, an out-and-out preamplifier that seems to perform quite good.

 

On the back panel we find, together with the digital inputs, among which the PRO I2S and the optional USB, also the RCA and XLR analogue inputs. Hence, our analogist friends can connect their turntable, but with a phono preamplifier.

Last important thing is the possibility of adjusting the gains on five different values.

As we said at the beginning, MSB can make at home both the digital filter and the dac.

If you have some experience, you know very well how much money and how many engineering abilities are required, but if you read Larry Gullmann's curriculum, you can easily understand that the competences are not missing here!

 

The multibit dac of this machine comes with four D/A converters called 24 bit sign magnitude r2r ladder that can operate up to 3 MHz, in push-pull mode and with discrete components.

Yes, finally a multibit dac!

The multibit dacs, like the famous TDA 1541 that equipped my glorious Philips CD960, have always had, in my opinion, something more and they have been replaced only for their high cost of production.

Just to give you an example of how MSB has taken care of every detail, I tell you that the resistances have a tolerance of 0,001 and usually they are employed in the aerospace field.

 

In addition to the dac, MSB has also thought to make at home the digital filter called Custom 32x Digital Filter, evolution of the 16x version mounted on the DAC III, that can support dac at 27 bits. Furthermore, it is possible to select various response curves to reduce the jitter of a further 50%.

Lastly, I want to mention the reclock (removable) of the digital input data that allow us to ignore what the clock of the transport is doing.

Some machines with multibit dacs had problems of jitter, because using cheap materials, but, believe me this is not the case.

 

At this point, I have to spend a few words about the jitter.

 

To speak about the jitter, we have to speak about the clock, that is a sequence of alternated zeros and ones that transmit a temporization.

Let us take as an example a quartz clock. We know that, in the long term, the clock will tend to go back or forward: so it is about a question of "precision".

In the short term, by measuring a time interval of x seconds, in two moments x and z, we will notice, using measurement machines, that the time interval x, measured in the two time intervals y and z, is not perfectly the same.

We can then affirm that our clock has highlighted a problem of "accuracy".

In conclusion, we can say that the jitter is the accuracy error that affects every transition and every clock loop.

 

Now it is time to connect our dac to the three setups used for the test.

Let us start with my set-up. Immediately, the sensation is like staying in front of a capable chiseler with an almost cynical self-confidence.

Astor Piazzolla: his nuevo tango is a sparkling of instruments and the dac can individuate the primary and the secondary instruments, so that you can clearly recognize the marimba, while Tullio de Piscopo is getting the grips with the percussions.

To test the female voices, I chose Beautiful Female Voice in xrcd with many great artists like Emy Fujita, Dominica and Maricel Bedana and many more.

Here, I shake for a moment. I have never loved, in the digital, the extreme pursue of the range detail with an often-fake outcome. The analogue friends know very well what I am talking about! Luckily, after few notes, I realized I was wrong. The DAC IV gives back very natural high notes, rarely tiring or cool, and you want to turn up the volume.

 

In the same days, I have also received the Gato Audio AMP-150 and the CDD-1 CD player that I will use in this test as a transport.

After having changed the setting of the dac in order to use the balanced connection of all the devices, I start the listening test.

With the XLR connection, the sound seems cleaner and the dynamics benefit from it definitely.

The first album is Time Control by Hiromi Uehara, in DSD format: a young talented Japanese jazz pianist, whose mentor has been Ahmad Jamal and who has collaborated with another great pianist, like Chick Corea.

Let us start by saying that four hundred mega for a file with this resolution is a godsend for my hard disk. Maybe the era of the bricks with several gigabyte is ended, so it is necessary to have hard disks with mega capacities to store the files.

I have been able to listen to this record with both dsd files and normal file in cd format. Besides, I have used the Gato Audio as an integrated source and as a transport connected to the DAC IV.

What I have noticed is that the musical message reproduced by the DSD file is more usable. The brain is carried away with more ease and the differences we have noticed using the DAC IV, are now less marked with the dac of the player.

 

I want to try another set-up. The set-up of my friend Roberto with the Eam Lab HA600 power amp, the Audiosolution Davina tube preamp, Bit4sound Proto HRT1 source, Bergelmir DIY loudspeakers: a three-way in pneumatic suspension.

Among the tracks I want to play, there are Molly on the shore by Dallas Wind Symphony and Guarda che luna by Musica Nuda.

The first one is a very demanding piece that the DAC IV can reproduce with a wide dynamic excursion and, most important, respecting the execution times of the musical message.

The reproduction is with high contrast and stresses the difference between pianissimo and fortissimo. Besides, we can notice some details that we did not catch in Roberto's set-up. The extreme in the low range is powerful, the big 25" Peerless woofer is contained with an articulation and an extension never heard before. Maybe sometimes is too powerful, but really material.

In Guarda che luna by Musica Nuda, the voice of the talented Petra Magoni reaches the highest top with a variegate, never tiring and rich of nuances high range.

Ferruccio Spinetti's double bass is perfectly placed and material.

Lastly, a great soundstage with the singer in the middle of the speakers and at the right height.

 

The only regret is the impossibility of making operate Foobar via USB port, maybe just for my fault.

In conclusion, it is an expensive state-of-the-art device with the possibility of being personalized depending of your tastes.

I suggest inserting the MSB DAC IV Plus in systems that can valorise and make it perform at best. That does not mean high prices but good balance, because it is easier that an expensive system can perform badly in comparison with a consumer one.

In my opinion the MSB DAC IV Platinum Plus is a good answer to the overpower of the more expensive analogue sources.

I have been able to catch nuances never heard before but it is the future purchaser that has to value if these nuances worth the price.

 

 

SCHEME SUMMARY

top score ✳✳✳✳✳ ReMusic Sparks

Tone colour: ✳✳✳✳1/2 -✳✳✳✳✳ | Natural and never tiring high notes, fluid mid range and a very articulated low range. The instruments are perfectly intelligible.

Dynamics: ✳✳✳✳✳ | You can see and hear the excellent job made on the power supply. The reproduction of some passages is impressive.

Tonality: ✳✳✳✳1/2 -✳✳✳✳✳ | Neutral, without coloration, just some trend to coolness in some matches.

Manufacture and Packaging: ✳✳✳✳1/2 -✳✳✳✳✳ | Impeccable the manufacture and the matches: all has been thought accurately, the clothes to cover the devices are very fine, good is the double package, although for this price I would have been expected a wooden case.

Price/quality ratio: ✳✳✳1/2 -✳✳✳✳ | The price/quality ratio is not shocking. To get that "something more" you have to pay quite a lot.

Pre-sale service: ✳✳✳✳✳ | Very good. Firstly, for Larry Gullmann's helpfulness who answered my questions, also on Sunday. Besides, the website is full of interesting and well explained technical ideas. Lastly, the reliability and availability of the Italian importer and his website. Great job!

 

Official technical specifications:

Inputs: All 384kHz. Coaxial (RCA and BNC), Toslink, Balanced AES/EBU, MSB PRO I2S (32bit) and Balanced Analog input (<600ohms)

RCA Outputs: 3.6V RMS (10V pp)

Balanced Outputs: 7.5V RMS (20V pp)

Output Impedance:50ohms at 0dB

Optional Volume Control: 2dB Stepped Attenuator (34 steps, 0 to -68dB)

Sampling Frequency:1.5MHz up to 3MHz 64x and 128x DSD

Digital Filter: 32x Digital Filter by MSB Technology

Slew Rate: >1000 V/Microsecond

Settling Time:<90 Nanoseconds

Dynamic Range:136dB A Measured

Noise Floor:<-145dB

THD+N:.002

Signal to Noise Ratio:140dB

Channel Separation: >130 dB

Dimensions: 450x70x90mm (WxHxD) x2 (DAC AND Power Base)

Weight: 6,150kg DAC, 7,5kg Power Base

 

Official Italian dealer: to MondoAudio website

Official current price in Italy: 14,950.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Francesco Taddei's system

 
by Francesco Taddei
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