Why MSB DAC's are truly Future Proof

Why MSB DAC's are truly Future Proof

Audiophiles have a significant investment in their systems and the individual components. They are right to worry about the diminishing value of each component as the technologies improve, both in small steps and sometimes by leaps. The digital category has the highest risk because like our computers, "digital is changing so fast". Digital audio is the most technology-laden area of high-end audio and the most important, so audiophiles rightfully believe that this category is the most at-risk. For many years MSB has answered this concern designing all MSB products to be virtually future proof. Please read on to understand why the latest MSB products are the most future proof ever and see the many ways MSB protects your investment.

MSB DACs are in fact quite simple in concept. They consist of:

  • The field-installable (in your home) digital input modules.
  • Two large (Intel-size) programmable memory devices. (firmware upgradeable)
  • An upgradable Femtosecond MSB clock
  • Upgradable MSB proprietary Ladder DACs
  • Upgradable Volume attenuator (optional)

Each will be described below.

Field installable digital input modules

One of the things we might see in the future is a higher performance version of existing digital audio inputs (like USB 4?) or new inputs altogether, (like Thunderbolt?, or Lightening?, or?). All MSB DACs can have a new digital audio input easily installed at home by the user. We cannot imagine a digital input connection that will come along that we cannot accommodate by simply sliding in a new module. Look at the great input modules already availible:

Two large (Intel-size) programmable memory devices

This is a very important future proof feature. MSB employs two very large scale processor chips (not unlike a blank computer motherboard chip). These are blank chipsets programmed by MSB in-house creating all DAC operations, format recognition, digital filters, and other proprietary processes. Everything in these programmable memories are written in-house. The digital filters are custom written to extraordinary resolution (extrapolated out to "forever"), to take best advantage of MSB's own ladder DAC modules. New formats that may not exist yet can be easily accommodated with a firmware download.

Who cares about in-house programming? Programmers are a very expensive luxury for most high-end companies. Instead, most contract with programmers in Eastern Europe, India or China to have the code written that they need to get a product released. This is cost effective and efficient, but several years later when a change is needed, it can be a huge problem. The programmer is on to other projects and a simple change can be expensive and take a long time or may even be impossible. When you call MSB with a question, the programmer who designed and wrote the code in your DAC is sitting in the next office, ready to make a change or update. That is critical to future-proofing a product.

Here is an example: A few years ago, MSB was watching DSD in its infancy. We were aware the studios were archiving in both 384kHz and DSD not knowing what the customers might want or if DAC manufacturers would ultimately support it. One day we were asked by the DSD/DoP consortium to join other manufacturers in making DSD a reality. Our general manager agreed. If you owned virtually any other brand of DAC you had to sell it and buy the next model or send your DAC in for a costly major upgrade. But one month later, MSB DAC owners simply went to the MSB support page on the website, downloaded a file to their desktop, played that file in their media player or burned the file to CD, and then played the file just like a song. A voice comes on the speakers and says "this is an MSB firmware update", the DAC runs a few minutes, shuts itself off and turns itself back on. It was truly a brand new DAC at that point playing DSD that day on all it's inputs, for free.

Another example: MSB is always researching and improving every area of our products to make improvements. As of February 2016, all Analog DAC owners were able to install DAC firmware rev 2.1. This firmware update was a free and significant improvement in the sound of the Analog DAC. The Analog DAC was already a world-beater at its price point (confirmed by the DAC reviews on MSB's website over the years). This free firmware upgrade further improved the beauty, delicacy and sound stage of the music -- it was like getting a new and better DAC for free. Most importantly, our customers tell us that the improvement is not small. They have been thrilled and enthusiastic in their reports to us.

A Femto grade MSB clock

If one looks back somewhere around 5 years into Stereophile's digital reviews, during that time it was said that (any) particular brand of digital gear that was being reviewed and measured at 100-200 picoseconds in the jitter measurements, was state of the art. MSB was the first company to get into the double digits (20 Pico seconds), then we were the first to get into the single digits (2 Pico seconds). At that point we thought digital might be nearing the end of its possible sound quality improvements. Then we made a break-through in clock technology and built a new clock would go below .1 Pico seconds. (.1 ps = 100 Femto seconds. We had a suspicion that this spec would be so close to zero that we might not hear anything different at all. We were stunned when we first heard the 77 Femto second Galaxy clock. Digital had new life and new future possibilities. It sounded like analog! Soon after all MSB DACs came with a Femto second clock. These clocks can be upgraded in the Signature, Diamond and Select DACs. In the spirit of keeping the Analog DAC simple to own and use, and as future proof as possible the Analog DAC employs a Femto second clock that is a very "generous and significant percentage" of MSB's best technologies. This simplifies upgrades to the Analog DAC needing only future input options, firmware updates (all free so far), and an optional Analog Power base.

MSB Proprietary Ladder DACs

Virtually all DACs and CD players use off the shelf chipsets by various manufacturers. These tiny chip sets contain the DAC and sometimes other functions like digital filters. They use the Delta-Sigma process that is quite complex and is not optimal for digital audio in MSB's opinion.

MSB does things very differently. Since 1999 MSB has been evolving the R2R (resistor to resistor) ladder DAC. These DACs are large modules custom built by MSB that contain aerospace grade resistors and other proprietary elements. These ladders are in their 6 and 7th evolution depending on the model. The design has been continually evolved since 1999 and now looks nothing like, and has little in common with, a conventional audio ladder DAC. The latest versions are far more advanced than the very few competitor's new ladder DACs recently coming onto the market, although we welcome the realization that Ladder DACs are the technology of choice.

MSB ladder modules can be upgraded in the Signature, Diamond and Select models at any time. Please scroll down to see the "Upgrades" portion of the Products page on MSBs' website. Also see the individual models and click "pricing details". As with the Femto clock, the MSB ladder DAC modules in the Analog DAC already are a significant and generous portion of our best technologies so no need to upgrade there.

Volume Attenuator

It is also important to know about the MSB Volume attenuator. Preamplifiers take in the standard analog "industry line level" and boost it over several gain stages to make a full volume signal (voltage), for the sole purpose of turning it down again! This involves hundreds of parts if not more than a thousand. By design, MSB's Ladder DAC modules put out full volume so all that is needed is to attenuate (turn down) the volume. This is done with two parts (not hundreds or thousands), in the form of a classic attenuator. But unlike an attenuator there is a robust buffer just before the output, so the output of the volume control looks to the amplifier like a premium quality preamp in every way. The pace and rhythm and dynamics are maintained with this method unlike many DAC volume controls available today. And to confirm, this extraordinary design is not a digital volume control. The simple path of MSB's Volume attenuator hints that it should sound better than any preamp and have significantly better "clarity". In fact customers bypassing a "precious" well chosen preamp are stunned at the clarity and dynamics driving their amp(s) directly from MSB's DAC outputs. Certainly one can try his preamp by simply turning the MSB Volume attenuator to the number "zero" where a soft click will be heard and it is taken out of the circuit ready to drive a preamp for comparison.

The user can add the MSB volume attenuator to the Signature and Diamond series at any time. It is a simple plug in. The Analog DAC Volume attenuator needs to be chosen at the time of purchase in keeping with that DACs simplicity. The SELECT DAC always comes with a very special attenuator as part of its design.

Future Proof

In the above categories and descriptions one can see that MSB has taken every variable into consideration with regard to upgradability. Digital filters are typically not upgradeable but they are with MSB. Analog output sections are virtually never upgradable but they are with the SELECT DAC. The DAC chip or module is virtually never upgradeable but they are with MSB. The same holds true for the ability to accept any new formats that come along or any new input connections such as next-version USB, Thunderbolt or Lightning (who knows what's next?). For this reason we cannot conceive of a new format coming along that cannot be accommodated by a firmware update or an input connection that cannot be updated with a simple plug in.

The final way in which MSB is quite unique is with our commitment to upgrades. For 30 years we have been doing trade-in deals for our customers, usually giving 100% credit for the old DAC when a new model is purchased. We have traded in hundreds of DACs over the years, and probably around a hundred DACs in the last year alone! We care!

And so one can see that while speakers, preamplifiers, amplifiers, cables, and power conditioning are rarely upgradeable, MSB has designed the most vulnerable category (digital), to be virtually 100% upgradable in your own home with simple plug-in options and firmware updates that are played like a song in your existing media player or by CD. MSB's extraordinary tech support assures success of these upgrades. The MSB customer can relax and enjoy the music without worrying about being left behind. And that is a good feeling.