Higher End DACs


I am looking for a DAC (potentially streamer&DAC) to be paired in a mcintosh system (c1100/611). Its my first foray into digital streaming and I have no need for a CD player.

I see a lot of love for Esoteric, however, most seems to be around their transports? Are they not as renowned for pure digital streaming and/or standalone DACs? I see DCS (for instance) often referenced for standalone DACs - how does Esoteric compare?
ufguy73

Showing 7 responses by asiufy

ufguy73,

I'm coming a bit late to the thread, and I see that @mikelavigne has already introduced MSB as a contender, being a very satisfied owner himself :) 
I can say that, having supported MSB for many years, first as an owner and then as a dealer, that it is indeed on a league of their own. 
Matter of fact, it's really hard for me to go back to a "chip DAC" (delta-sigma) now. As a dealer, I get to hear most of the products out there, and the naturalness of the ladder DAC process is something, I've found out, that is hard for me to live without. Due to that, even our other line of DACs also employ discrete ladder DACs (Aqua, from Italy).
So, at the higher end of the DAC spectrum, I wouldn't consider anything with an off-the-shelf chip, no matter how good the project, for that product will have obvious drawbacks, mostly in how natural and realistic (ie. "analog") it'll sound.
To close, I was just reading Positive Feedback's report on the Florida show, and this is how they ended their report on the MSB room:

"Then they put on a 1964 Dean Martin track "I'm Confessin' (That I Love You)"—that absolutely sounded like Dean was in the room—the realism was uncanny." 

cheers,
Alex
Alma Music and Audio


Dave and Troy,

No, Harley has not heard an MSB in his system. dCS yes, MSB no. Valin did, and guess what, he has an MSB In his system now, even though he’s a hard-core vinyl guy (like I am). And neither has heard MSB’s top of the line, imagine that...
And you mentioned Esoteric. Well, their new Grandioso products are using discrete components, instead of a chip. Call me silly, but for $35k, a DAC should have more than a $20 chip at its core, and Esoteric knows that.
In the end, it’s all about the execution, as there ARE plenty of mediocre ladder DACs out there, mostly jumping on MSB’s bandwagon. While there are decent delta-sigma DACs (the best of the lot, for me, is the Linn Klimax DSM), *my opinion* is that it’s silly to spend that much money on a product with $20 parts in it, that can’t be upgraded easily. To me, D-S makes sense on the entry-level, with a nice and warm output stage, like Luxman does with their digital products.
We don’t carry a bunch of different DAC brands like you do ON PURPOSE. Of course, if we wanted, I’d have the place littered with DACs, but we chose not to. In my view, it does a disservice to the client. I have a clear preference, and we stick with it, instead of shooting in all directions to see what sticks.

cheers,
Alex
Alma Music and Audio




@ufguy73,

I normally advise people on the appropriate MSB product based on their system. I think it's silly to recommend top of the line stuff if there are components in the person's system that will hold performance back, and thus not give 100% of what the MSB can do. 
I believe @mikelavigne described a few posts back the difference between the models. It's not transparency per se that changes, but just how "continuous" and "realistic" (again, "analog") the DAC sounds. The power supplies help a lot in that aspect, as they add the required weight for some of the music to be truly realistic. The clock upgrades are also quite significant, in that they help with that sense of "flow".
If your system is already "up there", I'd recommend starting with a Reference DAC with clock upgrade. Then, instead of adding the two supplies for the Ref, trade up to a Select. 
This is *my opinion* and *my suggestion*, it might not match other folks' or even MSB's :) That's just how I hear it and how I think the price x performance equation works.
Either way, even a Premier will sound more realistic and natural than most of the DACs out there, in my opinion. For the Premier, you do want the two small power supplies, though.
HTH :)
Alex
Alma Music and Audio



@ufguy73,

If you do want to spin discs, you can go with either MSB transports. The ProISL interface is really fantastic. MSB themselves always display at the shows with the Transports, and the show reports are usually something like "you don't need hi-res for amazing digital". 
The beauty of the MSB transports is that they can also be hooked up to a network, and work as a streamer, again via the galvanically isolated ProISL interface. Kill two birds with one stone and all that.
As the current Transports will work with all the MSB DACs, you can pick whichever one, and you'll be able to use it (and the matching ProISL module) across the entire line of DACs. So, upgrade the DAC, but keep the transport.
And I'm sorry, but even though I've heard and know well the Esoteric sound, I'd rather not comment it here.

cheers,
Alex

@ufguy73,

I believe a Premier with 2 Discrete Power supplies will be suitable for your system. Add an MSB Reference Transport, if you're that inclined to play discs, or a Innuos Zenith mk3 if you prefer to stream.
If you still have any budget left, I'd add the $5000 Femto 93 clock upgrade for the MSB. 
HTH,

Alex
Alma Music and Audio



ufguy73,

I agree that you should give Vince a call, if anything, just to talk to the man, as he's a fountain of knowledge and useful info.
But given your situation, a forum is not the best place for you right now. You should really find a dealer and work with him. He should be able not only to answer your questions (in regards to your whole system, not only DACs), as well as provide gear for you to evaluate.
We are in California too, though on the Southern end :) If there's no one local to you that you like, you're welcome to reach out and maybe i can help.

cheers,
Alex
Alma Music and Audio
Let me address a few wrong facts mentioned here...
The first major streaming DAC was not Lumin, but it was the company they copied, Linn. Linn was the first high-end audio manufacturer to ditch CD players altogether and invest in the streaming DAC category. Lumin started their company by completely copying the Linn Klimax. Of course, they've moved on from there, with their own designs, they might sound even better than Linn's, but the fact remains that Linn is the original innovator, not Lumin.
Then, MQA. Fact is, MSB was one of the very first companies to implement MQA. Why? Because it's so damn easy for them. The whole DAC is programmable via software, and since MSB controls the whole stack (no OEM stuff there), all they had to do was write code (or incorporate MQA's) and deploy a new firmware upgrade. The new hardware for USB was required only because MQA requires it for the "A"uthentication part. 
The same thing happened with DSD, way back. DSD was literally implemented in a manner of days by MSB's engineers, and deployed (for free) via a simple firmware update. 
Other manufacturers, who rely on OEMs for their USB or Ethernet inputs, had to wait much longer to deploy these technologies, as they don't have effective control over their own product.
I truly think you should definitely give Vince @ MSB a call before you do anything.


cheers,
Alex