Valin's new MSB Reference dac & transport review, AS Product Year Award

last night i received my Jan 19' Absolute Sound Magazine, and there on the cover is the MSB Reference Dac.

i still get Stereophile and Absolute Sound in the mail, and must admit to mostly just scanning them here and there and rarely reading any review from start to finish. it's just not what i spend my time doing anymore. but an actual MSB review is pretty rare, and obviously as an MSB Select II owner, i was a little curious what Mr. Valin might have to say about it.

Jonathan makes no direct A/B comparisons with other digital, but does offer how he thinks the MSB Ref is somehow different than other digital he has encountered, both relative to other digital and compared to his vinyl. his points are not altogether different than my own postings on that subject relative to my Select II, which is to be expected. Mr. Valin does wade in to the whole MQA issue and comes out very positively on the side of MQA......which mirrors my own MSB <-> MQA experience. he also complains about streaming and wifi in his home which is curious since streaming ideally should be over a network and only be controlled by wifi. interesting.

overall a very positive review.

Absolute Sound also named the MSB Reference DAC and Transport their 'Overall Product of the Year'.

Congrats to the whole team at MSB and Vince Galbo, their director of sales, for the great review and the Product of the Year Award.
 
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asiufy

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#2
Cool! I saw they published the front cover, and I went straight to download the digital version, but it doesn't seem to be out yet!

JV might've not done a comparison in the review, but he did at the Buyer's Guide issue (#288):

"JV is an analog man and always will be. But when it comes to ones and zeroes, things have taken a rather dramatic turn for the better chez Valin since the arrival of the MSB Reference DAC and Reference transport. On physical media such as CD or SACD and on streaming sources, the Reference DAC is the most realistic-sounding digital source-component JV has heard in his home, including the dCS stack he reviewed years ago."
 
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jazdoc

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#3
last night i received my Jan 19' Absolute Sound Magazine, and there on the cover is the MSB Reference Dac.

i still get Stereophile and Absolute Sound in the mail, and must admit to mostly just scanning them here and there and rarely reading any review from start to finish. it's just not what i spend my time doing anymore. but an actual MSB review is pretty rare, and obviously as an MSB Select II owner, i was a little curious what Mr. Valin might have to say about it.

Jonathan makes no direct A/B comparisons with other digital, but does offer how he thinks the MSB Ref is somehow different than other digital he has encountered, both relative to other digital and compared to his vinyl. his points are not altogether different than my own postings on that subject relative to my Select II, which is to be expected. Mr. Valin does wade in to the whole MQA issue and comes out very positively on the side of MQA......which mirrors my own MSB <-> MQA experience. he also complains about streaming and wifi in his home which is curious since streaming ideally should be over a network and only be controlled by wifi. interesting.

overall a very positive review.

Absolute Sound also named the MSB Reference DAC and Transport their 'Overall Product of the Year'.

Congrats to the whole team at MSB and Vince Galbo, their director of sales, for the great review and the Product of the Year Award.
I should probably stop by and verify Valin's findings for myself ;)
 
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Mike Lavigne

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Cool! I saw they published the front cover, and I went straight to download the digital version, but it doesn't seem to be out yet!

JV might've not done a comparison in the review, but he did at the Buyer's Guide issue (#288):

"JV is an analog man and always will be. But when it comes to ones and zeroes, things have taken a rather dramatic turn for the better chez Valin since the arrival of the MSB Reference DAC and Reference transport. On physical media such as CD or SACD and on streaming sources, the Reference DAC is the most realistic-sounding digital source-component JV has heard in his home, including the dCS stack he reviewed years ago."
As far as I remember the dCS stack JV reviewed years ago was the dCS Scarlatti in 2010 - please correct me if I am wrong. See: http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/dcs-scarlatti-and-puccini-cdsacd-players/

A liitle more of the sentence you quote:
"On physical media such as CD or SACD and on streaming sources, the Reference DAC is the most realistic-sounding digital source-component JV has heard in his home, including the dCS stack he reviewed years ago. It is weird that this DAC has turned his head, since it doesn’t do three-dimensional imaging and bloom quite as well as record players do. "

Being a very biased DCS Vivaldi owner :) I would say that my Vivaldi stack does three-dimensional imaging and bloom as well or better than record players do, if you assemble and tune your system to use and complement its information capabilities. Surely it does not add vinyl induced bloom to recordings.

And yes, I have to read the review when it becomes available before commenting on it.
 

asiufy

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#6
Francisco,

You really should go listen to an MSB. I appreciate your defense of the dCS, it is a great product, but you definitely should get first-hand perspective on this.

Mind you, Jonathan heard the $40k MSB Reference. Not the SELECT. And he has what, $500k worth of "record players"? Besides the obvious analog bias, that he doesn't even attempt to hide.

Besides, I've long found out what these comparisons are pointless, and can be skewed either way. I have expensive rare vinyl that sounds way, way worse than a regular CD. And vice-versa, $5 LPs that sound better than every single digital version, hi-res/DSD included, on the MSB SELECT even.

That's why my stance on the MSB stuff is that it's the best digital, NOT because it's like good vinyl, but because it allows you to enjoy standard CDs and even Tidal streams as best as I've ever heard them. From the start, that was the one shocking thing with the SELECT. These DACs made me go back and re-purchase a whole lot of 80s CD pressings, which, as it turns out, sound way, way better than the "remasters" or high-res downloads.
 

Elliot G.

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#7
That's why my stance on the MSB stuff is that it's the best digital, NOT because it's like good vinyl, but because it allows you to enjoy standard CDs and even Tidal streams as best as I've ever heard them

Dear Sir,
making statements like that are not really true. I am sure you have not heard every DAC and therefore these statements on any product are just false.. If you want to say its the best you have tried that is fine but the ABSOLUTES are just plain wrong. Mr. Valin can like the MSB but him saying its the best in a vacuum has some meaning but not exactly a quality study in digital is it? I know when you own something or sell something that you are invested in that item.That is good and fair however making far ranging statements with no basis of backing them up is wrong and useless.
I have heard the MSB select version 2 and the latest dCS stack with all the pieces and I own the CH Precision C1.1 mono with 10 mhz clock and 3 X-1 power supplies and I think its great but how would anyone know which of these 3 giants is the best? I don't believe that anyone has all three or would even attempt to directly compare them. My two friends that own the MSB and the dCS and I all would like to think they have the best and maybe we do but to blindly make that statement makes no sense and to me holds zero validity.
I have heard the MSB extensively in a system that I am know very well its an amazing device. I have heard the dCS in a system I am familiar with but I don't have the speakers, amp or cables and it sounded really good and I have my system.
I appreciate your opinion and I respect it but please do not make statements like that.
Audio is system dependent! we do not listen in a vacuum and there are many factors to be addressed in order to produce the end result!
Great Sound comes not from one item but rather requires a total and comprehensive approach to all the factors to make it sing,
Best regards,
Elliot
 

asiufy

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#8
Elliott,

Please read again: "Best as *I HAVE EVER HEARD THEM*. I, me. Alex. That's my opinion, my stance, not a statement of fact.

While I haven't heard the C1 mono, I've had the regular C1 in the store for a good while, in our regular system, and I've heard Vivaldi extensively in client's as well. Both good products, and I completely understand if folks are happy and truly satisfied with either. But, to MY EARS, the MSB products are in a different league altogether, for the reasons I exposed.

Thanks,
Alex
 
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#9
Francisco,

You really should go listen to an MSB. I appreciate your defense of the dCS, it is a great product, but you definitely should get first-hand perspective on this. (...)

Thanks, but I am not defending anything, just clarifying an ambiguous statement that you quoted. Surely I sin the same way all audiophiles in WBF do - most of the time we consider magazines a waste of time and ignore their opinions, except when they say good or bad things about our owned gear. :)

I have listened to MSB only a few times in shows and demos. Nothing I have listened there pushed me to listen to it at home, the systems were not my cup of tea. Surely if I was not happy with the Vivaldi my interest would be different, but currently I have no reason to try it.

Considering reviews and advice, I could locate and read several excellent, detailed and well written reviews of reasonable length of the DCS Vivaldi by people who have shown to share my preferences and I can understand. Unfortunately all I find about the MSB Sellect II are clamorous claims that it is the better, lacking any substance and almost no technical information, just vague descriptions. In an hobby ruled by owner preference with a very large offer of equivalent high sound quality products my choice was the DCS Vivaldi. Surely others thing differently, it is part of this hobby.

My interest for the DCS products was triggered long ago by an exceptional and moving exhibition at a show of the old Elgar/Purcell stack playing my common Deutsch Gramophone and Sony CDs. Andiophile life is most of the times directed by these happy hazards, and IMHO we should not try to swim against the tide.

And you can be assured that as long as people do not make claims involving gear I know pretty well and have large experience or technical objective affirmations I will not post on threads concerning MSB gear.
 

asiufy

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#10
Francisco,

As I said, I can fully understand you being happy with your dCS, it is a phenomenal product after all.
I also understand how our audiophile "paths" lead us in a certain direction, and we tend to stick with that direction once we're satisfied with it. I'm just too curious to sit still for too long, and my mind always wonder about what else is out there...
I only mentioned you should have a listen to the MSBs, as I consider sitting down and LISTENING much better than reviews (magazines or online) and "technical information", which, frankly, only goes so far.

cheers,
Alex
 

Elliot G.

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#11
Elliott,

Please read again: "Best as *I HAVE EVER HEARD THEM*. I, me. Alex. That's my opinion, my stance, not a statement of fact.

While I haven't heard the C1 mono, I've had the regular C1 in the store for a good while, in our regular system, and I've heard Vivaldi extensively in client's as well. Both good products, and I completely understand if folks are happy and truly satisfied with either. But, to MY EARS, the MSB products are in a different league altogether, for the reasons I exposed.

Thanks,
Alex
Alex
A C1 is not what
Elliott,

Please read again: "Best as *I HAVE EVER HEARD THEM*. I, me. Alex. That's my opinion, my stance, not a statement of fact.

While I haven't heard the C1 mono, I've had the regular C1 in the store for a good while, in our regular system, and I've heard Vivaldi extensively in client's as well. Both good products, and I completely understand if folks are happy and truly satisfied with either. But, to MY EARS, the MSB products are in a different league altogether, for the reasons I exposed.

Thanks,
Alex
thats fine but I quoted what you said and those were not the words you wrote.
BTW a C1 is not a C1.1 mono just like an entry level MSB is not a select two
that;s what i said with no hyperbole.

That's why my stance on the MSB stuff is that it's the best digital, NOT because it's like good vinyl, but because it allows you to enjoy standard CDs and even Tidal streams as best as I've ever heard them

your words not mine. Get rid of the best digital and i would have never said a word.
You have all the right in the world to express your opinion and I totally respect that and the MSB its a wonderful piece.
I just have no patients for anyone making statements that are hyperbole, just my pet peeve, nothing personal.
I saw pics and you have a nice store and carry excellent gear.
Best of 2019
Elliot
 

DaveyF

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#12
Having just read Valin's report, I see that he mentions something that I think is actually very important..and yet he skims this issue. He states that digital fails to deliver 'depth of image' like analog, which IME is absolutely 100% correct. The MSB falls down here, like ALL digital! ( Yes, Valin acknowledges this). While Valin goes on to say that this issue doesn't really bother him that much, i would suspect for others it might. ( it does for me!)
Question becomes, why is that digital still fails to deliver this aspect of reproduction, one that analog gets so very right?? Maybe a question for a new thread?
 

asiufy

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#13
That's why my stance on the MSB stuff is that it's the best digital, NOT because it's like good vinyl, but because it allows you to enjoy standard CDs and even Tidal streams as best as I've ever heard them
This is PRECISELY what I wrote. Where's the hyperbole in me saying I've never heard other product do standard CD and Tidal streams better, and that's why I consider it the best of its category?

By the same token, I have no problem in you saying that Gobel makes the best speakers you've ever heard, if you ever say that in public. That's your opinion, and there's nothing wrong with that. I don't need to see measurements, proof, or validation from X other folks. It's your opinion, based on your experience, and I respect that.

cheers,
Alex
 
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asiufy

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#14
Having just read Valin's report, I see that he mentions something that I think is actually very important..and yet he skims this issue. He states that digital fails to deliver 'depth of image' like analog, which IME is absolutely 100% correct. The MSB falls down here, like ALL digital! ( Yes, Valin acknowledges this). While Valin goes on to say that this issue doesn't really bother him that much, i would suspect for others it might. ( it does for me!)
Question becomes, why is that digital still fails to deliver this aspect of reproduction, one that analog gets so very right?? Maybe a question for a new thread?
I haven't read the review yet, so I don't know exactly how he JV put it, but in general, I don't agree the MSB does "depth of image" any worse than analog. This might be one of those instances where the digital source material is just not up to snuff, compared to the same music/release in vinyl form.
But I've plenty of modern (digital) recordings with extraordinary depth and amazing soundstaging, even with non-MSB DACs. There's nothing that "falls short" there.
DaveyF, please do start a thread, and tell us which albums/songs that deficiency manifests itself more clearly, as I want to give that a try. Thanks :)


cheers,
Alex
 
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DaveyF

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#15
Alex, what JV specifically states in his review is as follows: “ The MSB gear doesn’t sound real in all the same ways that my Walker Proscenium Black Diamond V turntable does ( and vice versa). For one thing, like every other digital source component the MSB DAC doesn’t do bloom or the third dimension like the Walker”.
Nonetheless, he does go on to say that the MSB is the best DAC he has heard and that he cannot recommend the MSB DAC and transport highly enough!
Pretty good endorsement for a digital product, from a known analog lover.

Alex, I won’t start a thread, but if you want to listen to a recording with exceptional depth on analog, listen to the test record by Opus 3..called exactly that... test record 1,depth of image. Then do the same with the digital version of same, I think you will immediately hear what Valin and I are talking about.
( except I don’t think you need a Walker to hear this!)
 
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Mike Lavigne

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Alex, what JV specifically states in his review is as follows: “ The MSB gear doesn’t sound real in all the same ways that my Walker Proscenium Black Diamond V turntable does ( and vice versa). For one thing, like every other digital source component the MSB DAC doesn’t do bloom or the third dimension like the Walker”.
Nonetheless, he does go on to say that the MSB is the best DAC he has heard and that he cannot recommend the MSB DAC and transport highly enough!
Pretty good endorsement for a digital product, from a known analog lover.

Alex, I won’t start a thread, but if you want to listen to a recording with exceptional depth on analog, listen to the test record by Opus 3..called exactly that... test record 1,depth of image. Then do the same with the digital version of same, I think you will immediately hear what Valin and I are talking about.
( except I don’t think you need a Walker to hear this!)
as far as holographic performance, or depth and scale, or however you want to express it.......i've heard the MSB Ref and MSB Select II at shows in the same system, and then the Select II with a single power supplies and then with 2 power supplies in my own system. there is a significant difference in MSB goodness as you step up the rungs and this area is one that does get noticeably better. in my room and system, which excels at these things in all formats, the MSB Select II with dual power supplies 'resembles' how analog can do these things, if ultimately falling a little short.

whatever differences Mr. Valin did perceive in this area, he did not hear all MSB digital is capable of. and i could easily see the ultimate MSB Select II surpassing many very capable vinyl set-ups in many systems in this area......if not the very top rung of vinyl. which is remarkable when you think about it.

i can switch back and forth between my digital, vinyl and tape......and not skip a beat in terms of musical enjoyment. they all deliver the connection and involvement with the music.
 
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DaveyF

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#17
as far as holographic performance, or depth and scale, or however you want to express it.......i've heard the MSB Ref and MSB Select II at shows in the same system, and then the Select II with a single power supplies and then with 2 power supplies in my own system. there is a significant difference in MSB goodness as you step up the rungs and this area is one that does get noticeably better. in my room and system, which excels at these things in all formats, the MSB Select II with dual power supplies 'resembles' how analog can do these things, if ultimately falling a little short.

whatever differences Mr. Valin did perceive in this area, he did not hear all MSB digital is capable of. and i could easily see the ultimate MSB Select II surpassing many very capable vinyl set-ups in many systems in this area......if not the very top rung of vinyl. which is remarkable when you think about it.

i can switch back and forth between my digital, vinyl and tape......and not skip a beat in terms of musical enjoyment. they all deliver the connection and involvement with the music.
Mike, assume for a second that I agree with you...and that the MSB Select DAC does allow for depth of image and bloom, and that the MSB Reference is as Valin states, what would you say accounts for the difference between these two DAC’s?
 

Mike Lavigne

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Mike, assume for a second that I agree with you...and that the MSB Select DAC does allow for depth of image and bloom, and that the MSB Reference is as Valin states, what would you say accounts for the difference between these two DAC’s?
reading the gear list at the end of the article, as near as i can tell........Valin's MSB Reference had the dual (single) power base, the mono base option would add authority and scale to what Valin heard. it also had the 140 Femto clock. there is a 77 Femto clock option (std on the Select II) and then there is a 33 Femto clock option (what i have). the clock makes a difference.

the jump from Reference to Select II is profound, you have 8 hybrid dac chips as opposed to 4 hybrid dac chips. my understanding (but don't know the details) is the circuits are different, there are different levels of memory, and the chassis is built differently.

adding the second power supply (mono power bases) in my system really was huge, and was like a supercharger in many ways. this gives the analog and digital sections each their own power supply. it improved everything. bigger, more scale, more authority and weight in the soundstage. tonality was more solid and involving.

when you are playing at this level of execution it's hard for me to know where the magic beans are exactly. we observe the obvious differences and then start connecting dots.

vinyl and tape still have higher ceilings. but living with the MSB Select II in it's highest configuration means never assuming the analog will be better. more that it might be different, and that things are very recording or even mastering dependent. i just go for the music and know the format will deliver.
 
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KeithR

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#19
18 months ago I heard the Ref dac in my system and it utterly changed the way I think about digital. so much so, that I purchased a trickle-down Premier dac this year.

in almost 20 years of being an audiophile no dac has done this. the analog quality of MSB is without peer imo. in fact, i heard the latest dCS Bartok a few weeks ago and was disappointed.

i know DaveyF finds it hard to believe, but i've done vinyl vs digital swaps on my Brinkmann rig and its really a toss up on most recordings. also, our resident analog tube-only audiophile, Ron Resnick thinks MSB is the only digital he can listen to for a period of time.
 

asiufy

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#20
Thanks for the input, guys. Being a dealer, I'm the easy target. But I'm the dealer that has been talking about MSB DACs here for years now, so I'm used to the flames. This is not a new thing to me. And I still count listening to the MSB SELECT II as one of those revolutionary moments in my audiophile life.

DaveyF, as you probably know, having been to our room, we like depth in our music :) So I would've noticed if the presentation with the MSBs (or any other DAC) was somewhat flat in relation to the analog. And I can tell you, I have never noticed it. I do have the Opus 3 in digital, but I will seek the LP and do a comparison, just for kicks. We do have the MSB Reference, same basic config as Valin's, but we did upgrade our clock to Femto 77, which was a good step-up in performance towards SELECT-level.


cheers,
Alex
 

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