MSB, EMM DACs

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This is a shootout between which DAC I prefer the most - MSB Select II or the EMM DA2 V2 Reference Stereo D/A. This is not a matter of the best DAC as they are both SOTA, but the most preferred DAC for my system / room and the type of music I play.

Hopefully later will be some other system changes as well - probably the PRE, Amps, Aurender N30 and Magico M3s. However, I desired to hear both DACs on my present system and then try out a new PRE on both DACs as well... EMM Labs will allow you to experience their DAC and PRE in your own home - either thru your dealer or they fly in and deliver it.

Music will be primarily female vocals (Diana Krall, Sinne Egg, Diana Panton, Elaine Elias, Jacintha, Jane Monheit, Laura Fygi, Nikki Parrot, Norah Jones, Shelby Lynn, Stacey Kent, Victoria Tolstoy, etc.) and soft rock (Albert Hammond, America, Barry Manilow, The Beatles, Bill Withers, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon, Carol King, Celine Dion, Chicago, Deep Purple, The Doors, The Eagles, Earth, Wind and Fire, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner, George Benson, Glenn Campbell, James Taylor, The Moody Blues, Neil Diamond, Led Zeppelin, Styx, etc.). I'll also play some jazz like Fourplay and Miles Davis and the gang. I'll use, CDs, SACDs, ripped CDs (ACS10), and Qobuz.

The EMM DA2 V2 Reference Stereo D/A (and EMM PRE) arrived today. It sounds absolutely glorious. My present Magicos have more in them than I ever knew - WOW what a transformation, better base, soundstage, transients, and captivating 3 dimensional music. It engages you - and emotion is present. Goosebump time ...

It's going to be a crazy good weekend.


View attachment 82074
Very nice system congratulations.
 
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Audire

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DACs matter (but so does everything in the audio chain).

Since the Select II includes a Pre Amp, I compared it to the EMM DAC + PRE (but even w/o the EMM PRE it sounds amazing and I prefer it over the MSB Ref, which I heard a few weeks back, but not in the same system). I also own a Pass 22 Pre. I liked the Select II better with my XP-22 Pre than without it. And I really, really, really enjoyed the EMM PRE more than the Pass. The EMM PRE is superb!!! IMO, the PRE can make or break the performance of a DAC. Perhaps this post should be about preamps instead of DACs, but I digress.

I could happily live with either DAC for the rest of my life. My modest system went to new heights with both DACs. IMO, both are SOTA to the extreme, and combine the very best attributes of vinyl and master tape (which I’ve been hearing a lot of at friend’s in recent months) in their reproduction. Neither sound artificial. The breath of detail reproduction on both is splendid. With both the separation of the instruments is uncanny; so real it feels you could reach out and literally touch each one in their respective locations. EMM and MSB both excel on fast complex music. IMO, and though I haven’t heard every other DAC, these two reproduce some of the very best non-digital digital music that one can hear! It’s digital but it’s not, at least this is how it seems.

I’m clearly not a reviewer, but only someone who likes his favorite music. The following statements, shouldn’t be taken that either DAC is any way poor, just that in my modest system and room and with my non-perfect ears this is what I heard or didn’t hear. I did add some classical music as someone suggested, but since I don’t listen to much of it, I don’t think my comments on it would be worth reading (but the strings and pianos esp. were amazing [astounding detail], so, I’m glad I added them).

The EMM has a wider soundstage and seems slightly (by a thread) more 3-dimensional than the MSB. The soundstage with both units is huge, they both go beyond the boundaries of the room – but EMM has a slightly more natural deeper presentation. Both seem smooth, warm in a good way (MSB a little warmer) and absolutely non-fatiguing. The reproduction of transients with both are amazing, with an edge going to EMM. However, I think MSB slightly outperforms EMM on DSD, it’s not as bright on some tracks. But with FLAC files EMM was preferred on some tracks, but on some others tied with MSB.

With the EMM I was more engaged with the music. And for me personally this is the most important! While the MSB seems to bring the venue to me, the EMM transports me to the best seat at the actual venue.

IMO, which one to choose essentially boils down to one’s taste.

EMM DAC + PRE = $60,000

MSB Select II = $105,000 w/ modules being extra

PS: Thanks for the comments concerning my health. They are greatly appreciated. Still in recovery ...
 

Mike Lavigne

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hi Audire,

glad you are in recovery. thank you for taking the time to describe your impressions about this comparison. i do have a few of questions so i can understand the context just a bit more. from reading your pre-compare notes i had assumed you had a server of some sort as you referred to using Quboz streaming as one source. can you describe which server, and what interface you used with the MSB Select II. if it was the USB was it using the MSB Pro USB module? and which USB cable? did you listen to files and were they hirez PCM and if so how high a rez did you go (you only mentioned dsd which could have been SACD discs). and did you use the Esoteric transport? what interface with that?

did the server feed the MSB a bit perfect signal, or with 'HQ Player' or some other tweaked stream?

i know you stacked the three MSB boxes and assume the stock footers. was the EMM on aftermarket footers or stock? were the power cables the same? which clock (77 femto or 33 femto) did the MSB have ($105k price indicates the 77)?

i know i'm getting deep into the weeds here but dacs at this level really respond to optimization. i know what that means for the MSB but not for the EMM.

your comments certainly stand on their own without answering any of my questions; so ignore or answer accordingly. i really appreciate the trouble it takes to do something like this. it's a big effort. :)

thanks,

Mike
 
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Audire

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hi Audire,

glad you are in recovery. thank you for taking the time to describe your impressions about this comparison. i do have a few of questions so i can understand the context just a bit more. from reading your pre-compare notes i had assumed you had a server of some sort as you referred to using Quboz streaming as one source. can you describe which server, and what interface you used with the MSB Select II. if it was the USB was it using the MSB Pro USB module? and which USB cable? did you listen to files and were they hirez PCM and if so how high a rez did you go (you only mentioned dsd which could have been SACD discs). and did you use the Esoteric transport? what interface with that?

did the server feed the MSB a bit perfect signal, or with 'HQ Player' or some other tweaked stream?

i know you stacked the three MSB boxes and assume the stock footers. was the EMM on aftermarket footers or stock? were the power cables the same? which clock (77 femto or 33 femto) did the MSB have ($105k price indicates the 77)?

i know i'm getting deep into the weeds here but dacs at this level really respond to optimization. i know what that means for the MSB but not for the EMM.

your comments certainly stand on their own without answering any of my questions; so ignore or answer accordingly. i really appreciate the trouble it takes to do something like this. it's a big effort. :)

thanks,

Mike
hi Audire,

glad you are in recovery. thank you for taking the time to describe your impressions about this comparison. i do have a few of questions so i can understand the context just a bit more. from reading your pre-compare notes i had assumed you had a server of some sort as you referred to using Quboz streaming as one source. can you describe which server, and what interface you used with the MSB Select II. if it was the USB was it using the MSB Pro USB module? and which USB cable? did you listen to files and were they hirez PCM and if so how high a rez did you go (you only mentioned dsd which could have been SACD discs). and did you use the Esoteric transport? what interface with that?

did the server feed the MSB a bit perfect signal, or with 'HQ Player' or some other tweaked stream?

i know you stacked the three MSB boxes and assume the stock footers. was the EMM on aftermarket footers or stock? were the power cables the same? which clock (77 femto or 33 femto) did the MSB have ($105k price indicates the 77)?

i know i'm getting deep into the weeds here but dacs at this level really respond to optimization. i know what that means for the MSB but not for the EMM.

your comments certainly stand on their own without answering any of my questions; so ignore or answer accordingly. i really appreciate the trouble it takes to do something like this. it's a big effort. :)

thanks,

Mike


Hi Mike,

Many thanks. I used both an Aurender ACS10 and N100H for streaming and ripped CDs. I used the ACS10 by itself and the N100H run thru the ASC10. These were connected with Venom Shunayta cables.

I was a little under the weather, so I didn’t participate in the setup. But a MSB Pro Module was used with the MSB (excellent craftsmanship). I’m not sure which USB cable was used. I assume it may have been Transparent as that was the cables the guy who actually owned it uses thru-out the rest of his system. But a separate cable was included with the EMM (same Company as their power cords are made by I think). So they may have used that. The rest of my system uses Shunyata, so they may have hooked it up with my Venom USB cable - I’m not sure.

We didn’t use an Esoteric transport or EMM transport (which use to be made by Esoteric). We only used the two Aurenders in the listening sessions. The MSB clock was Femto 33. The prices were taken off the web, but Alma lists the Select II at $105k with Femto 33. https://almaaudio.com/products/msb-select-dac

The EMM boxes weren’t stacked for the actual listening sessions. They were each on a separate shelf (the pic only shows the system before they went up into the attic to get two other shelves). The MSB was stacked during the system. The EMM was on stock footers.
 
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Yuen A.

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The EMM PRE and DAC came with power cords - pretty goos ones, but I forget who they are made by (Cardas?, I’m not sure). The MSB hd Shunayta Alpha 1 cables.
Hi Audire,

The stock power cords provided by EMM Labs are the Kimber Kable PK10. The Shunyata Alpha power cables are definitely better sounding than the Kimber Kable (Previously, I used the Shunyata Alpha power cables before switching to the Sigma power cables).

Thank you so much for the great review!
 
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Yuen A.

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Hi Audire,

I hope you will get well soon.!

As you said earlier, every component in the audio chain matter. May I suggest that you upgrade your components rack and amplifier stand as well - such as the Critical Mass Systems Olympus - V12 rack and amplifier stand. Also upgrade your signal and power cables. I am now using the Ansuz Acoustic d-tc supreme and dtc2 signal cables. These upgrades are essential in order to hear the full potential of your reference DAC.
 
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Audire

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Hi Audire,

I hope you will get well soon.!

As you said earlier, every component in the audio chain matter. May I suggest that you upgrade your components rack and amplifier stand as well - such as the Critical Mass Systems Olympus - V12 rack and amplifier stand. Also upgrade your signal and power cables. I am now using the Ansuz Acoustic d-tc supreme and dtc2 signal cables. These upgrades are essential in order to hear the full potential of your reference DAC.
Many thanks. The CMS rack would definitely be nice, at least so I’ve heard.

Since I’m now pretty sick, I may not upgrade anything. It depends on what all the tests come back and show.

However, if I do upgrade the plan is to do the entire system (except the ACS10), including the cabling and rack and amp stands. The cabling is down to three - Synergistic Research, Nordost or Transparent. I hope to use the Cable Co to sample them…A new power conditioner will probably be a Synergistic Research. The rack would most likely be an Adona Reference Rack.

Again many thanks.
 
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gds7368

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Hi Mike,

Many thanks. I used both an Aurender ACS10 and N100H for streaming and ripped CDs. I used the ACS10 by itself and the N100H run thru the ASC10. These were connected with Venom Shunayta cables.

I was a little under the weather, so I didn’t participate in the setup. But a MSB Pro Module was used with the MSB (excellent craftsmanship). I’m not sure which USB cable was used. I assume it may have been Transparent as that was the cables the guy who actually owned it uses thru-out the rest of his system. But a separate cable was included with the EMM (same Company as their power cords are made by I think). So they may have used that. The rest of my system uses Shunyata, so they may have hooked it up with my Venom USB cable - I’m not sure.

We didn’t use an Esoteric transport or EMM transport (which use to be made by Esoteric). We only used the two Aurenders in the listening sessions. The MSB clock was Femto 33. The prices were taken off the web, but Alma lists the Select II at $105k with Femto 33. https://almaaudio.com/products/msb-select-dac

The EMM boxes weren’t stacked for the actual listening sessions. They were each on a separate shelf (the pic only shows the system before they went up into the attic to get two other shelves). The MSB was stacked during the system. The EMM was on stock footers.

Many thanks. The CMS rack would definitely be nice, at least so I’ve heard.

Since I’m now pretty sick, I may not upgrade anything. It depends on what all the tests come back and show.

However, if I do upgrade the plan is to do the entire system (except the ACS10), including the cabling and rack and amp stands. The cabling is down to three - Synergistic Research, Nordost or Transparent. I hope to use the Cable Co to sample them…A new power conditioner will probably be a Synergistic Research. The rack would most likely be an Adona Reference Rack.

Again many thanks.
I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughtful review! I can't help but make a comment that I would strongly recommend demonstrating different servers/sources as the next step on your musical journey. I have demonstrated and owned several Aurender pieces (N10, W20 and W20SE) and I have owned multiple DACs during those periods (Berkeley Alpha DAC 1, Alpha DAC 2, and Reference 1; Boulder 2120; MSB Select). While each had DAC its own sonic signature and strengths, improving the source (and I just added a transport, another layer of clarity) has been the absolute key to better sound in my room, so much so that the previous DACs - now long sold - were never heard in their full glory. (In my room, to my ears, etc.) Enjoy in good health.
 
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Audire

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I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughtful review! I can't help but make a comment that I would strongly recommend demonstrating different servers/sources as the next step on your musical journey. I have demonstrated and owned several Aurender pieces (N10, W20 and W20SE) and I have owned multiple DACs during those periods (Berkeley Alpha DAC 1, Alpha DAC 2, and Reference 1; Boulder 2120; MSB Select). While each had DAC its own sonic signature and strengths, improving the source (and I just added a transport, another layer of clarity) has been the absolute key to better sound in my room, so much so that the previous DACs - now long sold - were never heard in their full glory. (In my room, to my ears, etc.) Enjoy in good health.
Thanks. One new source will be an Aurender N30. Another a TT. My dealer is also looking for a used EMM SACD if we go the the EMM route.
 
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Ian B

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Aurender is good stuff, but wait until you try the Optilink input with the Aural Symphonics cable from either the TX2 or NS1 streamer.

BTW, to my taste Shunyata Sigma interconnects more transparent than the TA Reference I was using and really highlighted the speed and detail better. I've heard SR stuff is similar, and if so I would choose that over TA. I'm also pretty happy with the Shunyata Sigma V2 power cables and Denali.

Wishing you good test results and a speedy recovery.
 
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Audire

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Aurender is good stuff, but wait until you try the Optilink input with the Aural Symphonics cable from either the TX2 or NS1 streamer.

BTW, to my taste Shunyata Sigma interconnects more transparent than the TA Reference I was using and really highlighted the speed and detail better. I've heard SR stuff is similar, and if so I would choose that over TA. I'm also pretty happy with the Shunyata Sigma V2 power cables and Denali.

Wishing you good test results and a speedy recovery.

Many thanks. I'm going to try the Optilink input with the Aural Symphonics cable. This sounds exciting.

I'm unsure about Shunyata at this point. I've heard some different cables in my system in the last few months and Nordost, Transparent, and even something called Swiss Cables (a new one to me) out performed the Shunyata ones I own. But things may change with the EMM ...
 

Ian B

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Oct 20, 2020
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Many thanks. I'm going to try the Optilink input with the Aural Symphonics cable. This sounds exciting.

I'm unsure about Shunyata at this point. I've heard some different cables in my system in the last few months and Nordost, Transparent, and even something called Swiss Cables (a new one to me) out performed the Shunyata ones I own. But things may change with the EMM ...
I would recommend checking out some of the Sigma v2 interconnects and power cables as they are quite different than the Venom series. The Cable Co lending library has them, and they perform at a very high level, and definitely higher for their price point than some of the others. It's a very fast, low noise, and transparent sound, but not thin. I wouldn't rule them out yet, but your mileage may vary.
 
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Audire

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I would recommend checking out some of the Sigma v2 interconnects and power cables as they are quite different than the Venom series. The Cable Co lending library has them, and they perform at a very high level, and definitely higher for their price point than some of the others. It's a very fast, low noise, and transparent sound, but not thin. I wouldn't rule them out yet, but your mileage may vary.

Thanks. I will try them. I called my dealer to inquire further (pricing) and I have a person near me that has some higher end Shunyata - but I’m not sure of everything he has (it’s just better than what I presently have). Thanks again.
 

Yuen A.

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Thanks. I will try them. I called my dealer to inquire further (pricing) and I have a person near me that has some higher end Shunyata - but I’m not sure of everything he has (it’s just better than what I presently have). Thanks again.
Hi Audire,

The Shunyata Alpha power cable is much better in all areas than the Kimber Kable power cable provided by EMM Labs, especially in dynamics, soundstaging and immediacy. The Shunyata Sigma power cable sounded even much much better! Hence, you have not really heard the full potential of the DA2 V2 yet!
 
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Audire

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Hi Audire,

The Shunyata Alpha power cable is much better in all areas than the Kimber Kable power cable provided by EMM Labs, especially in dynamics, soundstaging and immediacy. The Shunyata Sigma power cable sounded even much much better! Hence, you have not really heard the full potential of the DA2 V2 yet!
I have my dealer checking with Shunyata. My old dealer handled Shunyata, my new one doesn't yet, but is attempting to become a dealer. Hopefully this will work out. However, I'm also trying Synergetic Research as well.
 
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