Playback Designs MPD-3


I am looking for any feedback regarding the sound of this DAC, and how it stacks up against the current top-tier. It's been out since the middle of the year, but there isn't much info out there regarding its performance.

Thanks!
soundqcar
I own the MPD-3 and installed it in my system this summer. For a short time, it was side by side with a Berkeley Alpha DAC. The Berkeley is now gone although to be fair, the Berkeley was fed via a Wireworld glass toslink cable and the MPD-3 via a Locus Polestar USB cable. With that disclaimer. It is the best DAC I have ever heard in my system, having owned most recently in ordera a Wadia 581i, a McIntosh MDA1000, a Berkeley Alpha, an Audio Research DAC8, a Naim and a Berkeley Alpha again.

Sound wise out of the box it was very good and to my ears matched up nicely with the Berkeley but then a break in took hold the Playback Designs began pulling away by a small margin, which began to be a large margin. Characteristics you should expect. Very analog, deep and wide sound stage, frequency extremes continue to stretch beyond my expectations and the bass delivery is excellent and deep. Dynamics seem to be much better but that may be a result that I am occasionally playing back natively DSD files recorded from vinyl, so that may be part of the perception.

I can't recommend highly enough...it is a plug and play setup.....mac mini via USB is my source and I use the single ended rca outputs. I am not a pro reviewer so please ask specific questions and I will do my best to answer them. If you are shopping in this price range you owe it to yourself to demo one....the ARC, Berkeley, Wadia and Naim are all superb DACs but the Playback Designs is in a different weight class altogether.
It seems like there's not much info on it, all i find is info about the MPS-5.
Ghasley,

Thanks for the response! You said more in a few paragraphs than I was able to find on the entire internet.

There was one for sale just a few days ago that piqued my interest, but it appears to have disappeared just as quickly.

Considering this DAC appears to have all the bases covered regarding possible future resolution advances, I thought there'd be more articles/comments about it. Playback's website is sorely lacking any real info on it.

Again, I appreciate your comments. Sounds like a real player in game.
Ghasley....one more thing: How does it sound vs something like the Berkeley on redbook and 24/96?

Thanks
It kills the Berkeley on rebook but again, it's apples to oranges. The playback designs upsamples everything to 6.1 MHz DSD so it sounds amazing, spacious, ALOT of air around the performers.
Ghasley, how do you playback DSD from computer file? PC or Mac and which software? I am in the process of getting may be a Korg MR-2000s to digitalized my LP and am debating about 24/276 vs DSD/DSD2 format. My understanding is that, at least for PC, all software pretty much much convert DSD to PCM first so you can't stream native DSD to Playback and there was a question whether PureMusic on Mac does the same thing or convert it to PCM first as well. I am using my computer server with MPS-5/ USB-X currently.
Signalyst HQ player plays native DSD files on the PC. JRiver is in the process of building in native DSD playback on the PC too. Both players can play native DSD (as well as PCM up to 24/384) over USB using the Playback Designs ASIO driver.
10-17-11: Ghasley
The playback designs upsamples everything to 6.1 MHz DSD so it sounds amazing, spacious, ALOT of air around the performers.

too bad there isn't an option for Native playback. I find upsampling to degrade the sound of redbook.
Rockitman, I was in your camp as well....a bona fide play it back in its native sample rate kind of guy.....until I heard the MPD-3. the playback designs upsampling all the way to DSD is something of a revelation. You should listen for yourself, you might change your opinion. One simply can't make a blanket assertion until you hear it for yourself.

Suteetat, I too use the Korg to archive vinyl in 5.6 mhz DSD. I then use the supplied Audiogate software and create the song files in 2.8 DSD, a Mac mini (snow leopard) and Pure music software. You drag and drop the files into Pure Music once and they create an itunes bookmark.....then play them back like any other itunes music.
10-19-11: Ghasley
Rockitman, I was in your camp as well....a bona fide play it back in its native sample rate kind of guy.....until I heard the MPD-3. the playback designs upsampling all the way to DSD is something of a revelation. You should listen for yourself, you might change your opinion. One simply can't make a blanket assertion until you hear it for yourself.


I have the PS Audio Perfect Wav system that allows me to compare playback natively or upsample to whatever sampling frequency, bit rate I want. Perhaps the MPD-3 is different...on the PS Audio I found native to be more true and pure to the sound...especially in the treble region. Perhaps I will look into the MPD-3 down the road, especially if I could get a trial and do a head to head comparo with my current system. I am mostly a vinyl guy now, but have a large collection of live digitally recorded music....In most cases with studio recordings, I will stick with my turntable/vinyl.
Rockitman, indeed the Playback Designs is entirely different. I may be splitting hairs here technically but upsampling on your PS Audio(which I have heard although not in my system) and the MPD-3 resampling from whatever the native sample rate directly to DSD is simply crazy good. The PSAudio (and most other DACs) will upsample in PCM to a higher rez PCM format....basically just moving the noise into a different frequency spectrum. Resampling from a native PCM sample rate directly to 1 bit DSD removes so much of what we dislike about digital rather than just moving it. My opinion only, but it is so different and analog like that I believe you would be pleasantly surprised.

best wishes and happy listening.
Thanks Ghasley...the DSD conversion sounds very compelling. Now you are starting to get me to think about spending more money...LOL
How funny.....it would be less expensive over the long haul if we had a different hobby/passion/addiction. Are you near a dealer? It's worth a listen, whether you are in the market or not. I think as more and more hear what's possible, more manufacturers will be going back to the drawing board.

If you like vinyl, I haven't heard anything that comes closer to my ears. To those who have been raised on MP3's, there is a "listening curve"....my niece sat and listened for a while and then it just snapped, playing some of her music for her through my system and the Playback Designs she was totally digging it. Then through the turntable she understood why it was so different. Good luck.
10-19-11: Rockitman
10-17-11: Ghasley
The playback designs upsamples everything to 6.1 MHz DSD so it sounds amazing, spacious, ALOT of air around the performers.

too bad there isn't an option for Native playback. I find upsampling to degrade the sound of redbook.
Right on. Fortunately there are alternatives, such as a DAC that has dual DAC chipsets, with automatic detection and no performance degradation, for the best of both worlds, with no need for conversion.
10-19-11: Ghasley
How funny.....it would be less expensive over the long haul if we had a different hobby/passion/addiction. Are you near a dealer? It's worth a listen, whether you are in the market or not. I think as more and more hear what's possible, more manufacturers will be going back to the drawing board.

If you like vinyl, I haven't heard anything that comes closer to my ears. To those who have been raised on MP3's, there is a "listening curve"....my niece sat and listened for a while and then it just snapped, playing some of her music for her through my system and the Playback Designs she was totally digging it. Then through the turntable she understood why it was so different. Good luck.
I live in upstate NY...A high end doldrum...I would have to go to NYC to audition, yet store auditions don't necessarily give you the whole picture when we are talking about high end dac's where sound quality differences become more subjective....it is critical to hear the dac in your system. It would behove dealer's to buy said DAC themselves and loan it out demo with credit card security of course. If hi-end dealers got that through their heads, they would sell a lot more units...Not marketing rocket science considering the intelligence level of people with $$$ to spend on expensive gear. My Pass dealer does this and he probably sells the most Pass gear in the country. The Boutique Mfg'd/Distributors are hurting themselves by not providing this level of service and disclosure of technicalities on why their equipment is conceived in such a way and constructed better than said competition...OK rant off. :-}
I got a chance to listen the the Playback Designs MPS-3 (CD Player version of the MPD-3) at RMAF 2011. I was both very impressed and slightly disappointed at the demonstration setup.

They had an Ampex ATR-100 Tape Deck, an MPS-3, as sources. They were hooked up to darTZeel CTH-8550 integrated amplifier and Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne Speakers.

They played Harry Belafonte, Live at Carnegie Hall on tape first. It sounded absolutely amazing, with excellent dynamics. I'd say it sounded as good as, if not better than some very good record setups.

They then played the same track, using a 24/196 version, upsampled to DSD, through the MPS-3.

While it didn't sound as good as the tape, it wasn't that far off. The presentation was perhaps a little bit more forward than the tape version, more detailed in some areas, yet perhaps a little less "analog" and warm.

My main concern with their setup was that they chose not to use regular CD Playback in their demonstrations. They only used high resolution files, so I didn't get to observe how good it could be for regular CD's.

Secondly, it didn't seem that the gain between the tape deck or the MPS-3 was matched or equalized. So the MPS-3 seemed a little bit "hotter".

The speakers were also very impressive and super high resolution.

- I'd love to hear more from those who've had a chance to test out MPS-3 or MPD-3 capability on regular Redbook files...

- Is it forgiving of bad recordings? Is upsampling the true magic bullet?

My ideal is if bad recording sound listenable and good recordings sound great.
Disclaimer: I have not heard a cd played back through a MPS3 using its in board transport, only my computer to a MPD3 DAC. I'm probably splitting hairs but I consider the MPD3 taking the data fed from a source as RE-sampling to DSD, not upsmapling. Since this is the first DAC to attempt this, the semantics of the terminology will probably cause a few to roll their eyes.

In my preious DACs, with few expections, i preferred playback in its native sample rate. I found upsampled 16/44.1 files sounded better to my ears without upsampling. I found 24 bit files upsampled were sometimes better, sometimes no, when utilizing upsampling.

I have experimented with the MPD3 and i prefer native sample rate files fed to the MPD3 and let the DAC RE-sample the data from PCM to DSD. As far as the sound, i could not be happier but then again, i don't have a Studer Reel to Reel for comparison. As far as level matching...the output from the MPD3 is a bit "hotter" than my vinyl rig....but I compensate by just turning the volume down a bit.....;)
I am not sure if it is accurate to say that PD is the first DAC to resample PCM to DSD2. At least EMM and Esoteric can do the same thing, converting PCM to DSD whether it is the same resampling, upsampling or whatever, I am not sure.

When I had Esoteric D05, I agree that playing at native sampling without over sampling sounds best and conversion to DSD sounded the worse.

However, since there is no way to hear PD playing PCM without resampling to DSD2, all I can say is that it sounds significantly better than other DACs that I own previously regardless of whether oversampling, resampling or whatever else was used or not used.

Bigamp, thanks for information regarding software for DSD playback. Once I start ripping my vinyl collection, I will have to look into those.
JRiver MC17 now plays native DSD without converting to PCM on the PC. It uses the Playback Designs ASIO driver.
Ghasley, how does the sound of the MPD-3 differ from dCS gear which converts the data to 5 bit 2.8MHz or 3.07MHz rather than the 1bit 6.1MHz rate of the PD gear?

I much preferred the ARC DAC 8 in native resolution to an expensive dCS stack but haven't heard the MPD-3.
Khrys, such as this hobby is.....i have not heard the DCS gear lately....nor when I did hear it was it in a system with which I was familiar. Sometimes we take a pass on all of the equipment in a given system that doesn't strike our fancy, which was the case when I briefly demoed the DCS gear. I dont even remember what else was in the system at the time.....the whole thing was too analytical for me at the time....very unfair on my part but nonetheless....

The DAC8 is very good. I owned one and enjoyed it. It was in a system fronting Shindo amplification. I would not consider the DAC8 in the same league with the Playback Designs MPD3 but everyone has different taste and priorities. To be fair, I have had both Naim and Berkeley dacs since I had the ARC and each was different. If I had never heard the Playback Designs, I would be happy with the ARC or the Berkeley, with the ARC getting the nod for its USB performance over the Berkeley(havent heard Berkeleys new external box usb adapter). I believe the MPD3 is clearly superior to the above units. If you want all of the audiofile hyperbole, take the warmth of the ARC, the PRAT of the NAIM, the precision and flow of the Berkeley and combine all of these positive virtues and you get to about 80-90% of the Playback Designs MPD3. Go listen to one, arrange a demo, you may love it but YMMV. Regards.
Thanks for your input Ghasley. Your reaction to the dCS gear you heard was very similar to mine when I auditioned it in my own system: very good but too analytical overall.

In retrospect, I did hear the PD MPD-3 or at least something close at T.H.E. Show in Newport earlier this year but did not pay much attention to it. Now I wish I had. Your previous experience with some excellent DACs and your preference for the MPD-3 is certainly a resounding endorsement. I will try to arrange an audition.
The Berkeley has a whole new thing going on as of this month (not just the asynch usb, but a new unit which is more tailored to accept info from the asynch usb and lower noise through the connection) which is supposed to be pretty incredible - people are saying it is resetting what DACs can do.

However, Berkeley doesn't do the whole DSD thing, which Meitner and PBD do. And Meitner has been at the level of the new Berkeley for many years :), people making the above comments just haven't heard them because of cost.

So people know, PBD is from people who left, or at least who had strong affiliations with EmmLabs, so a lot of the core technology is the same, but now both have their own spin on what is going on.

Excellent units, all of them, the new Meitner, and the PBD MPD-3. For now only the MPD-3 does DSD (.dff file playback) but the Meitner is supposed to add that in a while via firmware.

I hate to mention it, but in terms of DSD, Mytek is shaking things up a bit, ridiculous prices for something that might sound 98, 99 or 100% as good as the Meitner or PBD units, I'll let you guys decide. But crazy-low prices at around 1600 on what 4 years ago could only be purchased at around 12,000 or more.
Ghasley, did you sell your MPD-3? What did you replace it with, and why? Curious to hear your current thoughts - thanks!
So what did Ghasley sell the MPD3 to upgrade to? MPD5? :)
I use a Playback Designs MPD3, I finally posted my main system for those keeping score at home.
Have any mpd3 owners heard the hissing and background 60hz type oscillation noise coming from your unit when no music is being played through the xlr connections? I have heard this in 2 separate players now , one I had in my home the other at my local dealer who had the other unit hooked up to AR pre amp amp and 180000 Wilson speakers, both units did this and the dealer was shocked when I pointed this out. Would like to know if anyone else hears this when you turn your volume control up a bit without music playing. Thanks
No hiss here, dead quiet. I had my MPD3 connected via XLR (currently running single ended) and it was a black background to say the least. For your reference, I use a Cardas clear M power cable into a Running Springs Audio Jaco conditioner. The problem is likely elsewhere although I guess anything is possible with electrical components. Do you live in an area with difficult power delivery? Especially when summer is concerned, sporadic voltage fluctuations could trigger a number of anomolies. Peace.
Nope Detroit Edison pretty reliable on power front but as I said 2 different units two different locales two diff systems same result..very curious..thanks for the feedback though