Analog DAC USB Options

Analog DAC USB Options

Technology Leadership - The USB Solution

MSB has lead the industry with the perfection of new playback technologies. We produced the first high-end CD player using Ladder DAC technology in the 1980s. Then the first AC3 player and first THX approved laser disc player in the 90s. Our XPORT upgrade finally gave access to SACD and high resolution music on discs and our groundbreaking iLink digital iPod system introduced in 2007 made the iPod a part of a truly high-end system for the first time. In January 2010 we introduced the MSB Platinum DATA CD IV Transport, an optimized player for standard CDs and high resolution audio from DVDs up to 32 bit, 384 kHz sample rates, another industry first. Next we did it again with the first USB input that can play every sample frequency file on your computer up to 384 kHz bit-perfect without resampling. Now here is a new USB input that can handle native DSD up to QUAD RATE!

This accomplishment is ground breaking, as the USB interface has been a teaser for audiophiles. Simple plug and play connectivity was a dream, but it always fell short where hi-res music was concerned. MSB now has user installable input options that provide a USB input that takes charge of your computer and accurately clocks in the music files, allowing you to play hi-res files bit-perfect in their native format in PCM up to 384 kHz and DSD up to 256x sample rates.

USB 2.0 is a very robust interface that allows the receiving device to talk to the computer and tell it what it is capable of doing, and to make it's capability available to the user. For example when I go to set up my audio output settings, the highest sample frequency my MAC supports is 192kHz. There is no higher sample rate in the menu. Plug in the USB cable to the MSB DAC and voila, there is 352.8 and 384 kHz on the list. Wow. Select it and play that 384 kHz file bit-perfect. No new drivers or fiddling around.

DSD Issues

DSD can be played two ways. In each case we start with a DSD File. In most cases, the server packs the DSD data into a standard WAV file and sends it to the DAC. The DAC then unpacks the file and plays the native DSD stream. This is called the DOP method and is very flexible in that the file can be handled by all kinds of players. The other method is to play the native DSD stream directly. It is routed directly to the DAC. The Basic 384 USB only makes use of the DOP format. The QUAD USB supports BOTH methods. Quad rate DSD is so fast that only the native DSD Bitstream can be used.

Which Model to Pick?

There has been some confusion about the differences between Premium Quad Rate and Basic 384 USB. They are quite different approaches to the USB problem and the big difference between them is sound quality. The added quad benefit is minor in comparison. Here is an enthusiastic customer quote:

"@######@ ABSURD!!
You guys hit the HOME-RUN! Congratulations, this is it.
This is so much better than what was already awesome and it takes the DAC to such a new level I wouldn't even offer the other modules... It's really amazing. This is one of the greatest upgrades in my audiophile history.
It really is startling.
I am rarely speechless but this is just amazing! " Howie, April 2015

Two Models

USB2 Basic 384 - $995

The basic USB 2 input module supports bit-perfect, jitter-free, noise-free opto-isolated playback on both MAC operating systems and Windows, up to 384 kHz, 24 bit for PCM, and Double DSD (128x) DOP playback.

Premium QUAD USB2 - $1595

The QUAD USB 2 goes further. It provides super shielding and isolation for lower noise operation and also supports sample rates up to 384 kHz. The sound is just amazing.

For DSD, this input will support both DOP transmission and direct native DSD bitstreams up to 256x.

The good and the bad with the Apple OS.

The news is very very good with Apple. With the Apple OS the MSB USB 2 is literally plug and play all the way to 384 kHz. (Snow Leopard 10.6.3 or higher) The MAC will recognize the USB DAC and its capabilities and will allow the output to be set to any sample rate desired. The bad news is, with certain programs such as iTunes, the output sample rate has to be set manually when the file sample rate changes. So if you set the output for 192kHz, and played a 192 kHz file, it would play perfectly, but if you then played a 44.1 kHz CD, the MAC OS would upsample that file to 192 kHz. The sample rate would need to be changed in the MIDI settings and iTunes would have to be restarted to get it right again. Fortunately there are programs available that take care of this limitation. One of them is Pure Music, which when installed transparently takes care of the whole hardware sample-rate management problem. An even better option is an app called Bit Perfect that you can get in the app store. Just use iTunes to play any sample-rate music you like, and Bit Perfect takes care of the rest. With a MAC and bit perfect, everything plays without effort, with bit-perfect playback up to 384 kHz. This is really quite amazing, and with iTunes ability to be externally controlled with an iPad or iPhone, a MAC based music server with the MSB USB 2 interface is perfection itself.

The Apple Audio MIDI Setup screen is shown to the left. Notice that the presence of the MSB USB DAC can be selected as the output device and it now allows the 352.8 and 384 kHz sample rates to show up on the menu. Normally they are not present. iTunes will play at whatever sample rate you select in this setup, but with Pure Music, it will always play at the native resolution.

The other bad thing with a MAC is as of the current time, the MAC OS does not support direct streaming of a quad rate native DSD file. This can only be done on a PC. We will keep looking at this and welcome any ideas on how to do it.

The good and the bad with Windows

The amazing thing about the MSB USB 2 input with Windows is that once you get it set up it works perfectly, with every file playing bit-perfect at its native sample rate up to 384 kHz with no user intervention. Just pick the song and play. The rest is automatic and works perfectly. The bad is that MSB drivers will have to be installed, and your music must be played with a properly set up player program like JRiver. Its a small price to pay for perfection, and MSB will help walk you through the process.

First, install the supplied MSB drivers from the included USB 2 drivers CD or from our website. So with a PC, there are two possible play modes. The advanced speaker properties window lets you set up Windows output sample rates up to 192k as shown to the right. Any audio played by an audio program would be output at this sample rate. Specialty programs like JRiver to interact directly with the MSB DAC to play every music file at its native sample rate bit-perfect. JRiver over-rides all windows settings and is quite amazing.

The Bit-Perfect Test

Perhaps one of the most useful features of DAC IV for computer users is the bit-perfect test. A series of files can be downloaded here. Warning! These files contain 0 db content. Turn your volume down before playing. Now there are two category of files. The standard files are files that the USB2 Basic 192 model can play. Each file has an audio intro identifying the file. The Signature files are higher sample rate files that only the USB2 Signature 384 upgrade can play. Only specialized sources will be able to play any of these bit-perfect such as the MSB DATA CD IV and this USB input.

These test files are .wav files that when played, will be identified by the DAC IV and every bit will be checked. The result of the test will be reported on the display. You will see the sample rate, bit depth, and if they are bit-perfect. The message will stay on for about 6 seconds. If there is a problem with the test, the file will play and a burst of static like sound will be heard but the display will not indicate any change. This means that your source did not play the file bit-perfect. This system will allow you to easily test your source, especially computer sources to see if all your settings are correct. There are files at all sample rates for both 16 bit and 24 bit operation. This exciting and useful feature comes with every model of DAC IV.

Upgrading Older DACs

The Signature USB 2 upgrade with a 384 kHz input can be installed in any DAC III that contains the 384 upsampler option. For DAC IIIs that contained the USB 1 input, the upsampler board can be removed and upgraded with USB 2 by MSB and easily installed by you. For older DACs, including Platinum DAC, Platinum plus, DAC II and all DAC IIIs without the USB 1, the upgrade can be installed along with the 384 upsampling upgrade, but a hole will have to be made in the back panel, requiring the return of the DAC to MSB. The USB Power DAC can be upgraded with the USB 2, 192 kHz upgrade only and must be returned to MSB.