Subjective grading of DAC that I had heard during last one year period.
My first serious audio system was Garrard turntable, Fisher Int(SS), ADS bookspeaker bought on 1978.
I bought Technics CD player on 1984.
It sound harsh and bright compared with vinyl.
I gave up vinyl when I moved from Berkeley to Chicago on 1988 since I had no room to carry in my small car.
I upgraded to California Audio Mark2 on 1989.
It was way better than Technics CD player with refined treble and better dynamics.
I had used passive pre, Krell KSA 150 to drive Apogee Duetta Sig.
On 1999, I upgraded to DCS Elgar and upsampler using TEC Tl0x transport.
Wow, I got the feeling that it could match good vinyl system.
But after using DCS Elgar for 6 years, it got out of order and I gave it up with uncertain repair cost and shipping to UK.
TEC Tl0x transport also had kept failing to read some CDs.
Thus I had chnaged to Accustic Arts CD transport and Dac which was a downgrade from DCS Elgar and upsampler using TEC Tl0x transport..
On 2010, I had got EMMLab Dac2 to replace Accustic Arts Dac.
It had excellent dynamics, details and soundstage which made me enjoy the music again with Lansche 4.1 speaker and Silbatone 300B SET amp.
On 2019 I had got Jay Audio CDT2 and Lyngdorf 2170 to use it as Room correction, Dac.
But after using it for 4 months, I found that Lyngdorf 2170 falls slightly short of EMMLab Dac2 on bass slam and details.
Thus I had auditioned several Dacs to upgrade from EMMLab Dac2.
Point 100 There is nothing to criticize over MSB Select II except its high price around 100K$. It has magical relaxed texture similar to top grade vinyl.
Dynamics, details, soundstage are all excellent.
Point 95 Kalista Dreamplay transport and Dac It is excellent matching MSB Select II on almost every aspects.
The only down side is that it does not have relaxed texture similar to top grade vinyl although it still sounds silky.
Point 91. Trinity Dac This one is also all round player with hard to criticize. But it falls slightly short of MSB Select II on details and relaxed texture.
Point 90 Lampiziator Pacific Dac I had auditioned this Dac with same setup with MSB Select II.
This one is also all round player with hard to criticize. It falls slightly short of MSB Select II on dynamics and relaxed texture. But this one has a nice bloom and full bodied sound, which make some people prefer this one to MSB Select II
Point 85 Chord Dave and Mscaler(or Blue II transport) This one give transparent and 3D soundstage with excellent details. But it need good system matching. It could sound analytical or hot coupled with bright combination of speaker and amplifier. Without upscaling using Mscaler, its sound is mediocre around 75 points.
Point 84 MSB Premier with one more basic power supply I had auditioned this one side by side with Lampiziator Pacific Dac. It matches Pacific Dac with Dynamics, details, soundstage but fall short of Pacific Dac in magical bloom and full body. With improved power supply or clock, its performance have room to improve further.
Point 80 Formula XHD Dac I auditioned this one side by side with Trinity Dac This one is a very musical player with full bloom. But it falls short of Trinity Dac by one notch in dynamics and bass slam.
Point 79 TotalDac 6 tube version This one is also a very musical player. But from the point of audiophile, its dynamics, details, soundstage are all one notch below the standard set by MSB Select II.
Point 78 MSB Discrete Dac with one additional basic power supply. This one has similar sound signature to MSB Premier But it is half notch below MSB Premier on dynamics, details, soundstage.
Point 75 EmmLab Dac2 I paid 9K$ for this on 2010. It matches Chord Dave and Mscaler on dynamics with slightly more bass slam. But Chord Dave and Mscaler give more transparent and deeper soundstage than EmmLab Dac2 while soundstage width are comparable to each other. This one has slight fuller sound than Chord Dave and Mscaler. It is still working fine after 10 years of use.
Lyngdorf 2170 This one has Dac, pre and power amp, active crossover and room correction functions. It’s Dac sounds very similar to EmmLab Dac2 but with slightly less details and bass slam.
There are many Dacs to audition but I could not audition all of them.
I had bought Chord Dave and Mscaler late May.
Recently I play musicals and operas very often enjoying excellent 3D soundstage.
But I do not believe that I can live with Chord Dave and Mscaler for my life.
If some innovative Dac better than MSB Select II come out under 50K$ in the future, then I will upgrade to it.
Otherwise, I expect to use Chord Dave and Mscaler for 3 years or longer.
I open the possibility of upgrading to excellent music server like SGM Extreme in the near future.
Hi from down under. Loved your subjective rating system. I too started with a Garrard turntable, a tangential tracking one with a Shure cartridge in the 70s and went through several turntable upgrades until my Linn LP12 and sold this in 1990 when it was hard to buy vinyl. Have been through many DACs and heard several of the ones you listed. I sold my Weiss DAC 202 18 mths ago after 2 years of trialing and settled on the Mola Mola Makua DAC and it provided a way more relaxed sound than the DAVE but very transparent and dynamic.
Since buying the Mola Mola I have had several friends who also compared the DAVE and bought the Mola Mola. Cost is under $20k. I recommend you talk to the USA distributor Bill Parish, who loant one to a friend of mine in LA and he was gob smacked and bought it. I recommend the Makua version over the Tambaqui stand alone DAC with digital volume control. I find the Makua is just a little more relaxing. Cheers Mark
I am very interested by a critical evaluation of the Starting Point System Dac NOS tda 1543...
Most people dont have the money to buy a very costly one and are interested to look for decent one...I think that at his price the S.P.S. is a miracle for peanuts...The designer Christophe Mariac sell it on Ebay with a thousand positive reviews...The main point of interest for you is a selling point in dollars around 200 hundred bucks, easy to resell, and perhaps you will be surprized, and you will help the crowd that look for a good low cost dac, a very rare animal indeed...I am pleased to own one...The reason for the high quality of this dac I was able to pinpoint is the minimalistic implementation of the TDS 1543 chip and the internal battery that lower the noise level...
I would love to read your impression...If they are relatively positive that must help many people in my situation with not the money to go top of the chain... Anyway thanks for this interesting thread...
Someone claimed that Nagra HD DAC X is his favorite DAC right now. It sets the reference line under his preferences of resolution, dynamics, soundstage, neutrality, transparency, midrange and bottom end.
The Nagra DAC is the only one he heard matching the best turntables.... and a lot cheaper than the overpriced MSB Select.II