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The Select DAC II: MSB Technology’s $90,000 D/A converter

  • TLA. Three letter acronyms. What lies beneath? If you’re California’s MSB Technology it’s the irresistible coincidence of ‘most significant bit’ and the initials of founding member Mark S. Brasfield. That’s according to Melbourne’s Stuart Graeme Ralston who lends his own initials to one of Australia’s most progressive audio manufacturers: SGR. Bringing our intro full circle, Ralston also distributes MSB Technology under his Audio Fidelity banner.

    SGR and MSB have developed a close working relationship over the past five years; one that apparently enjoys some cross pollination of engineering nouse.

    Ralston explains: “We started acting as a distributor for MSB Technology in early 2010, and I’ve seen them grow and develop substantially in a relatively small amount of time. They share our strong engineering philosophy and a common pursuit of bringing the listener as close as possible to the original sound, so the MSB Technology product range is a perfect fit for what we’re achieving for our customers at Audio Fidelity.”

    “There’s a mutual respect between MSB Technology, as well as sharing of ideas and insights, particularly on the manufacturing side, which we do through Audio Fidelity’s sister company SGR Audio. Co-founder Larry Gullman and I reached the same conclusion a few years ago – the only way to achieve world class quality is to manufacture in-house as much as possible. So we’ve both been on a similar journey, in our separate businesses, with bringing all the critical manufacturing processes in-house.”

    Making its worldwide debut down under this week is MSB Technology’s new statement D/A converter, the Select DAC II.

    From MSB Technology’s website: “The SELECT DAC is more or less like a blend of the best of the Analog DAC and the best of the DAC V. It combines the Analog DAC construction, user interface and modularity with the DAC V’s upgradability and refined sound taken to a whole new level. It offers the most life-like sound possible. It has a level of realism never heard before.”

    The very first unit from the very first production run (of fifty) landed at Audio Fidelity’s door before heading straight out again for a home demo.


    Then came the twist.

    “Hey Barry – have you heard about the new US$90K MSB DAC that’s just arrived in Melbourne?” enthused I.

    “You mean this one?”, came the smart-ass reply as Barry pointed to his hifi rack.

    Unbeknownst to me, the Select DAC II home auditioner turned out to be the very audiophile pal with whom I was staying whilst down south for Devialet’s L’Original d’Atelier launch event.

    The upshot? An opportunity to take this news announcement beyond press release dissemination, to chat to Ralston who was present for the install, to shoot my own photos and – of course – to grab a quick, comparison-free listen.

    Barry’s system runs as follows: “The dual mono tube amplifiers are based on the Cymer SE-35 Southern Star but have been customised with all Dueland CAST caps and a copper chassis. A DEQX HDP-4 handles subwoofer integration and speaker correction. Talking of which: Bastanis full range drivers and Gemini dipole tweeters. The subwoofer amplifiers are Anthem M1.”

    Before we get down to brass tacks, brace thyself: the Select DAC II is the highest of the high-end D/A converters – a zero compromise solution – and sells for upwards of US$89,900. Only the US$120,000 Light Harmonic Sire threatens greater bank account demolition but does it even exist yet?

    A rare chance/close encounter with a DAC that attracts such stratospheric stickering is the reason why it sees coverage here. This isn’t a review but a proof of life.

    And if MSB Technology’s decimal point positioning has you asking WTF, poised to let off steam in the comments section below, first consider this: you’re probably not the target market. Secondly, ask yourself if you’d feel such outrage at a car or luxury watch costing a similar amount?


    The Select DAC II arrives in two separate flight cases. The DUAL Select Power Base’s two outputs independently juice the DAC’s digital and analogue sections (see rear panel photo) whilst doing double duty as an isolation platform. Both DAC and Select Power Base are milled from a single billet of aluminium.

    Listeners wanting to further separate analogue and digital power supplies can opt for the three box version in which a pair of single Select Power Bases sit beneath the decoder.

    The DAC box’s implementation is modular and therefore goes someway to being future-proof. Looking at the rear panel, we see the leftmost socket accommodates either a balanced or single-ended output module with the remaining four sockets to the right given over to input modules. Your choice of two modules – USB, I2S, S/PDIF, AES/EBU and network streaming – come fitted as standard with the remainder optionable as needed.

    The streaming module had me thinking about possible Roon Endpoint compatibility but here the Select DAC II’s USB input was fed by SGR’s own MusicKube file server.

    When it comes to the business end of decoding digital audio, MSB don’t do delta-sigma. Theirs is a preference for multi-bit solutions, not taken off the shelf but built in-house and from the ground up using high-precision, laser-trimmed resistors. Eight of MSB’s own ’Hybrid’ R2R ladder DAC modules can be found slotted side-by-side inside the Select DAC II.


    Those same modules not only handle decoding but allow for a direct-coupled output stage. With the Select DAC II acting as pre-amplifier via its digitally-controlled analogue domain volume attenuation, the signal moves directly from DAC module bank to power amplifier. Sharper eyes will note that the output module also features a single analogue input. Turntablists, come on down!

    Furthermore, MSB challenge the notion that a digital audio data clock is best externalised, independently powered and then umbilically-linked to the DAC via a cable. Ralston point outs that the connecting cable’s inductance and capacitance, as well as internal reflections, can introduce jitter – the very thing we’re trying to eliminate in the digital audio world.

    Instead, MSB’s Galaxy Femto clock is positioned as close as possible to the ‘Hybrid’ DAC modules. The twice precise Femto 33 clock is available as a user- or factory-installable upgrade.

    On measured performance, MSB promise an effective resolution of 28.5 bits. However, the lower noise floor’s benefits are likely to be system dependent. The DEQX in use by Barry emits a hiss that’s close to audible from the listening position and potentially nullifies some of the Select DAC II’s improvements over his existing MSB DAC V.


    That said, there’s no mistaking the Select DAC II’s talents with tonal depth and body that isn’t artificially inflated such that it squeezes out the spaces between the notes.

    The TOTL MSB sounds spectacular. Such enthusiasm is tempered by a caveat: I only get to hear this system two or three times a year. One would require a more familiar setup as well as immediate access to rivals product from the likes of dCS and Light Harmonic in order to properly substantiate claims that this is indeed the best sounding D/A converter in the world.

    However, there’s no doubting Stuart Ralston’s belief that it is. You’ll need to get FTF to find out for yourself but FOS he ain’t.

    Back to the press release: “If you want the best then look no further. The amazing musicality, resolution and clarity is too hard to resist if you’re serious about your high-end system. “Don’t miss out on your chance to experience the best conversion the industry has to offer. Your search stops here.”

    At the asking price one would rightfully hope so too. A better manufacturer marketing video than this one wouldn’t go amiss either.


    Further information: MSB Technology | Audio Fidelity | SGR









    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. John,

      Considering that Light Harmonic (or LH Labs) can’t finalise a budget USB DAC for me on time (Geek Out 2+), I wouldn’t be sure that the Sire will see the light of day.

      It is quite bizarre that they want to be both Bugatti and SEAT at the same time…

      • /!\ WARNING /!\ CAR ANALOGY /!\ WARNING /!\

        As you pointed out, LH Labs and Light Harmonic are two different brands from the same company. Isn’t that exactly how VAG manage to be Bugatti and SEAT at the same time? Maybe down the line, they’ll fill out with the Skoda, VW, Audi and Porsche tiers?

        That’s no defence of them either, though. I will continue to roll my eyes whenever I see them mentioned as long as they keep spewing out press releases and Indiegogo campaigns instead of proof-of-concepts and releasing actual products.

        Anyway, regarding the Select DAC II: on the one hand, it’s sort of comforting to know that you might be sinking $90k into actual tech and actual R&D instead of gaudy audio jewellery. On the other hand: this thing looks like two Belkin routers stacked on top of each other.

    2. I wonder…will the jitterbug improve this DAC’s performance? And if do, what do we learn from this….?

    3. Insert outraged price related comment here:

      Now that’s out of the way…kinda ugly, especially noting the price tag. The MusicKube and those speakers (sans the stands) look the goods.

    4. RE: “ask yourself if you’d feel such outrage at a car or luxury watch costing a similar amount?”

      I dunno. Never been into watches, but I reckon a $100K car would get me a truckload more pussy than this DAC. 😛 …. Then again, I wouldn’t spend that kinda money on a car, but would on a motorcycle, and those things don’t attract much women either (I wouldn’t even have a pillion seat on any of my bikes anyway) so I guess we’re back at the beginning again. :/

      • RE: get me a truckload more pussy
        I am sorry to hear that you are having difficulty attracting members of the opposite sex. I suggest that as long as you continue to refer to them as ‘pussy’ this will remain the case and that pillion seat will remain entirely academic.

        The Duck Dynasty grammatical affectations show probably go too. If you were fortunate enough to receive an education then it would make sense to make use of it. The chicks dig it!.


    5. Hi John, would you be able to share the rest of the associated equipment of Barry’s used for your listening sessions? The last picture in particular intrigued me. Beautiful setup!

    6. A $90,000 DAC is a very long way from your usual beat but nonetheless an opportunity not to be passed up by anyone interested in audio. Would anyone looking at this site pass up a chance to take a Ferrari or Porche out for a spin? I certainly wouldn’t, even though neither is on any shopping list for me. Just like discussions about those two fine marques I find them of interest to the extent they reveal what’s possible with enough time, effort and (inevitably) money. In my experience many of the genuinely good ideas these projects uncover make their way into ‘lesser’ or at least less expensive examples. Sometimes very quickly. Looking at a $90K DAC is just a peek into the future.

      $90K is a heck of a lot for a DAC or indeed a car but to focus on the “what kind of moron would pay that when Product X costs a fraction of that and is just as good” is to miss the point. Enjoy the fact that the enthusiast 1%ers are doing us a huge favour by subsidising this sort of R&D.

    7. Piffle. If it were $900,000, I’d order one tomorrow. I mean, half the people who work under the people who work under me will buy a couple of these. I need a DAC that makes my hedge fund managers soil their Hermes boxers.

      Any talk of trickle down technology is just dissonance reduction. True fulfillment is to be found in “trickle on” technology, of which this DAC is a plebeian attempt.

      Ask me about my speakers some time. The price even made Donald wince. Wimp.


      The Audio A-hole

      • Yeh man, I hear ya. But as I keep tellin’ ya, ya gotta play some decent music.
        Ya could at least upgrade Spotify ta Premium

    8. Still wonder if you actually tried to apply the JITTERBUG onto this ultimate USB DAC machine ..

      It’s clear to me that the Audio Industry made a HUGE mistake by embracing this crappy computer architecture interface. That is something much more worthwhile to discuss and review than such totally out-of-line and snobistic jewelry stuff which will be easily outperformed by a smart designed short signal path I2S-I2S DAC system

      • Care to exemplify on that MSB-beating “smart designed short signal path I2S-I2S DAC system”, Peter?

        And no, the JitterBug wasn’t applied to the Select DAC II. As it obvious from piece, I wasn’t expecting it and I to cross paths.

    9. Well John, please check if the Jitterbug will have an influence on this ‘best’ DAC on the market.. It will not surprise me.

      Unfortunately I cannot exemplify my statement, since I do not have access to a A-B comparison. I am merely challenging you to do such a comparison. I do have a very positive experience regarding A-B comparison of a high-end DAC made by Pink Faun over here in the Netherlands where they clearly demonstrated the superiority of the I2S interface compared to the USB interface (their unit has both interfaces)

      To my surprise and disappointment, not many A-B comparisons are being made and only few streamer – DAC manufacturers stil believe, understand and hear the advantages of the I2s-I2S interface compared to USB.

      Even DCS with their proprietary ring DAC technology does not apply I2S and that disappointed me a bit.

      BUT I checked the picture of the back of the MSB technolgy Select DAC2 and I notice that besides a USB input the also apply a Pro I2S interface ! that is very interesting and I might have to come back to my statement..

      Question: did you have a change to listen and compare this DAC’s performance in USB mode compared to I2S mode?

      • So you’re comment “such totally out-of-line and snobistic jewelry stuff which will be easily outperformed by a smart designed short signal path I2S-I2S DAC system” wasn’t based your own experience (and therefore baseless)? That’s quite the opinion bomb to drop without any substantiation to back it up.

        • Hahaha.. nope..not with regard to this piece of jewelry and yes it was intended as a bomb, mainly out of frustration of giving this product attention at all..

          Sorry if I you or MSB might feel insulted by my statements..but I still regard the price tag of this piece of ‘trophee gear’ as a snobistic marketing approach, rather than a true high-end product. There are more such products on the market and the number seems to be increasing. Potential end users are located in China and Middle East or elsewhere in the world, where cost is no object.

          So I was quite surprised to find it between your scope of reviewing material..
          The contrast of your review of the jitterbug compared to to this product is immense, so for that reason I asked you if you noticed an audible improvement if applying it on the MSB dac.. If it would have give an audible improvement, it would potentially reveal that even the best ‘cost no object’ DAC is handicapped by the inferior USB interfacing technology.

          Yes, I did have the pleasure to experience the impact of the much better sounding I2S interface on other high performance DAC’s as mentioned erlier. This aspect should, to my opinion, be of more interest than reviews of unaffordable products like this one.. But it is off course your blog and your decision what your focus and interests are. I do appreciate however that you offer readers the opportunity to share thoughts and comments.
          Looking at other responses besides mine, other readers seem to have the same impression to this review..

          So, let me reframe mt statement: I am convinced that a much more affordable solution will be able to outperform this product sooner or later.

          • I’m not offended Peter but this isn’t the first time you’ve dropped unsubstantiated claims into these pages only to backtrack afterwards. If you’d said you’d heard X DAC side by side with the Select and preferred the former then fair enough. And yes, I too think a more affordable solution will outperform this *eventually*. That’s the nature of progress. But MSB hopefully aren’t immune to progress either.

            I live in Sydney. This DAC is in Melbourne. I chanced upon it whilst visiting Melbourne. Yes, it IS outside of my usual scope but when press release and physical encounter collide on the same day I’m gonna cover it as ‘proof of life’. This is NOT a review. Apologies if this wasn’t made clear in the piece.

            • Thanks John,
              Yes you are correct, I did make a claim which was unsubstantial.. But I was not expecting that you would take it that serious.. will take care the next time and phrase differently 🙂

              Somehow I get an allergic reaction when claims are made by manufacturers or reviewers that the most expensive product is also the best with regard to performance..

              Sometimes it is true, but sometimes it is not and to my opinion, one of the tasks of critical reviewers is to benchmark price and performance with other solutions and look behind the glimmer and glitter and marketing tactics.

              I checked MSB’s video and I noticed some friendly people who truly love the product they develop and manufacture. So their passion to manufacture the best achievable seems to be not only driven by sales. It is a pity though that their technolgy is wrapped up in such an expensive pckage and can only be purchsed by the happy few.. But it is their right to focus towards their potential customers and do their thing.

              I have to admit that I have much more respect for companies like iFi audio who are offering high audio solutions in a different and affordable package ‘for the masses’

              With regard to future product developments, I have been asking around why DAC manufacturers are not focussing that much towards the development of DAC’s which offer beside streaming capabilities, also the option to play direct from memory.

              It seems logical to me that with all the hassle we are undertaking to avoid RFI and jitter influences and developping expensive ethernet or USB cables and jitterbugs that the problems are caused by the choice of the horrible USB interface standard. A computer standard which transports both signal AND power is doomed to insert intrinsic flaws from the beginning.

              Even with the best re-clocking tricks and cable shieldings, the digital signal is in fact an analog signal and the DAC ‘computer’ has to be able to reprocess it all in perfect, jitterfree order to be able to process a perfect analog signal out of the mess which it was forced to consume..

              I did try some tricks with upsampling ‘of-the-fly’ and stream these 32/192 for example bits from a hibernated laptop and noticed some improvements last years.
              Nowadays some DAC manufacturers like PSAudio seem to proces all incoming signal ‘on-th-fly’ towards 2x DSD and re achieving excellent results end-of-pipe.

              So, if incoming signals are being truncted by either the jitter from the source , as well as the jitter during USB transport and internal DAC jitter, caused by many electronic soures and computer algorhythms, why can this not be solved by a smart short-signal path design to begin with?

              Audiophiles are music lovers and do not mind to do some preparation and work before playing their beloved software in ‘ultimate mode’ Cleaning a record or a CD has never been an obstacle, it was and is part of the hobby.

              So my largest frustration is actually why so little DAC manufacturers understand that a large part of interference problems can be solved by developping a DAC which allows the owner to play direct from memory…!? Is it an illusion or a misconception to recognise that at the end, the digital data stream should be a perfectly isolated CLONE of the data on our NAS , without any jitter block error rates etc..?

              I took a USB stick with me to the latest audio show overhere in The Netherlands and asked several of the DAC manufacturers which were present during the show if my music data is bit perfect or not. Some tried to make it clear that the data are potentially not perfect due to ripping errors or otherwise.. But we all know for a fact that this is untrue. Bitperfect is bitperfect, since in the digital domain, data are CLONED 100% correct.

              So it annoys me very much that so much money is being wasted while I posess allready bitperfect, noisefree music on a USB stick or (much better !!!!) on an SD card or other form of RAM memory. All that needs to be achieved is to bring these cloned data in bitperfect form towards this memory, either physical ( by hand) or in a batch proces: stream, load, oversample to triple or quad or octo DSD? downsample towards the required DAC spec, check bitperfectnes” ISOLATE from all incoming disturbing jitter RFI etc. and apply minimalistic software which is able to toggle very fast and with lowest possible latency and stream from this specific memory chip by I2S-I2S point-to-point to the DAC processor.. Is this a bullshit fantasy John? Do we really require all these high-end streamers and cables and DAC solutions like this MSB total DAC and other products to achieve a perfectly isolated, noise-free feed and transport of data ..?

              I have large doubts to be honest.. less is more and I hope for sure some small innovative manufacturer will apply this logic and use cheap and abundant computer power and memory capacity to design something which will outperform this concept and others for a much more acceptable price tag..

              Thanks for letting me share thoughts and frustrations!


    10. Peter,

      Firstly, you must have too much time on your hands!

      Secondly, get off the drugs my friend. How exactly did you expect anyone at that show to confirm the data on your USB stick was bit-perfect??? That’s ridiculous! Clearly, bit-perfect can only be verified if the original data is known and available for comparison. Did you also take the CD’s you ripped along with you to the show? I’m guessing you did not. Bit perfect evaluation of your USB data would require a bit-perfect rip of your source CD and a binary comparison of the data files. Just what DAC manufacturers want to do right in the middle of a show for a random smart-ass who walks in. Not!

      And by the way, not all ripping software’s are equal. Not all drives are equal. Putting aside any issues related to read and caching errors, bit-perfect ripping can fundamentally only be achieved with correct setup of drive offsets, for which many drives have a + value resulting in the fact that they cannot actually read a number of bytes at the end of the disc. So technically, 100% bit-perfect ripping is impossible with such a drive. In reality though, these missing bytes represent a minuscule time-frame and are considered in-perceivable in the music. So these issues are practically ignored. Plenty of information on the EAC website, you might want to soak up some of your free time by having a read:

      Regarding your other ramblings, and comments about memory playback, spend some time on the MSB website and you’ll see that they are already doing everything you have asked for. You might also find this page enlightening, where they actually provide you files to verify if your setup is playing bit-perfect:

      John, great article. Keep up the good work!

      • And something else Steve..

        What happens if I will send my accurately ripped music files to you by e-mail? Would you doubt if the copy one your PC would be different to the original on my source?

        We all know rthe answer.. But interesting the audiophile scene, there are suddenly many doubts and audible differences between cables, sorces etc.

        So maybe a new or separate protocol will be required to transmit and store music files from location A to the RAM memory chip near to the DAC chip… Send, receive, store, isolate from crap interferences and play in most audiophile form.

        Yes, I know some software is required within the DAC architecture to select and make commands to play, pause, stop etc. but this can be light software with minimum latency.

        Let ‘s wait and see..

    11. Ahaa…finally someone replies with some knowledge regarding bit integrity during ripping and storage process.

      I do rip my CD’s at normal speed with DBpoweramp in ultrasecure mode. the CD drive is calibrated via the accurate rip methid and is able to detect C2 errors. ‘Bitperfectness’ is checked via the accuraterip internet database, so if MSB is able to do all that in their DAC as well, I will be surprised. But I will indeed check both links.

      But bitperfectness of my data on the memory stick was actually not the most important point of discussion. It is much more related to the fact that during the last piece of transport from NAS or pc or streamer, these preciously cloned data are undergoing much audible deformation due to USB protocols, RFI influences, jitter introduction from source, cable, computer algorythms, etc.etc

      Why does everyone seem to neglect the pure logic that a shortest signal path solution potentially will outperform all other ‘solutions’ …?

      That is also the reason why I was teasing John a bit when I asked him if the MSB select DAC II sounds better with the jitterbug..

      The ‘bits are bits’ discussion is to my opinion to much focussed towards influences of digital interface cables, jitter, RFI etc, while the bits stored on digital memory are intrinsically integer, clean and ( hopefully..! ) bitperfect.

      So why accept contamination and risk of damaging the data at all? Introducing all these analog induced disturbances, USB conversions, asynchronic clocking tricks etc. etc. While a proper and robust memory to memory transfer should be as good as during the download process when purchasing a CD or HD file via the internet..

      And if this is not feasible, why not enable bitperfect ripping and storing from a PC onto a SD card, which afterwards is transferred manually into the DAC, very close to the DAC chip which solves all clock, conversions and cable transfer problems. On top of that, the data can be transferred in the superior native I2S-I2S form from memory to DAC chip.

      So explain me ‘ mr. smarter ass ‘ what is wrong with this picture and what is keeping lean and mean DAC manufacturers to apply such a sensible and audiophile approach?

      • Peter and Steve – please try to keep this conversation civil and also on topic: the MSB DAC.

        • Yes John, you are correct.

          Regarding MSB DAC i was wondering what MQA will do with the unit, as soon as it will ve available.
          I also question if the MSB DAC will reveal difference in sound of streaming or pc or other sources, or if it is actually intrisically inert to source and cable influences..

          If so, what does it mean..?

          • That’s investigative territory for anyone doing a comprehensive review of the unit (which won’t be me).

            • Yes, I understand.. let’s wait and see…

              But it still annoyes me that it is possible to send high res pictures and complete CD wave files back and forth to the other side of the world wihout any problems or loss of information. Even when using aluminum foil or other inferior cables, any digital package will arrive in good order and 100% bitperfect. This can easily be proven, but as soon as such logic or comparisons are made, audiophiles and cable and DAC manufacturers etc. have lots of technical explanations that within our audio chains at home this is all different.. I do understand these explanations, but cannot grasp why analog transport problems are blocked out 100% by using a completely robust transfer nethod from source to DAC memory before the data are used for playback..

              All the best John, I will stop repeating myself in this thread. Thanks for listening 🙂

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