pl | en



Meeting No.102:


• SIGNATURE DATA CD V– Compact Disc transport

• DAC V DIAMOND – digital-to-analog converter

System price at the time of the test: 328,290 PLN


he shadow of our previous encounter had been looming over this meeting. Before, we tested the dCS Rossini Compact Disc player. There were no fist fights, but our opinions of the tested device were so different that it was impossible to reach any consensus. After a few attempts we all entrenched where we were standing and remained there until the end.

Even though it seemed to us that a lack of a common denominator is like a half-baked cake, emails from “High Fidelity” readers and phone calls from our friends proved that it was something else: a creative process. Our argument activated many of those people, prompting them to make their own comparisons and to give the problem some thought. On the one hand, I heard that those who had tried to depreciate the dCS player were “jealous”, “deaf” and “envious”, but others suggested that, perhaps, we had reached a place within the domain of the quality of the tested products, where personal preferences influence our opinions so much that it is hard to say that either of the two opposing groups is malicious.

Anyway, they are probably both right, but each within its own “framework.” Perhaps it is also true that opinion differences at this quality level have the same weight as in the case of “budget” systems, but they do not refer to the absolute quality of a product, but to its relative quality and are, therefore, extremely exaggerated. If it was different, how could I interpret the results? Quite unambiguously: either those who like the dCS are deaf and lack any relevant knowledge, or those who do not like it are deaf and lack any relevant knowledge. There is no third option. As I know both camps (we have been meeting for twelve years now), I also know that neither of these are true.

It is even more evident since meetings No. 101 and No. 102 comprise a duology and complement one another. Having taken part in them, I am a bit wiser and I have learnt something new. The two-piece MSB CD player that we listened to polarized the listeners just as much as the dCS, but most of the participants (except for two who were impossible to convince) had more intricate opinions.


This time, the listening session was conducted at Tomek’s, in the system in which we had once listened to master tape copies using a Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorder (read HERE), where Japanese representatives of Accuphase presented the digital voicing equalizer DG-58 to us (read HERE) and where Gerhard Hirt prepared the world premiere of his Ayon Audio S-3 file player with direct transfer of DSD files (not through DoP protocol). I know and value that system. It is what each self-respecting manufacturer is trying to achieve today.

So, we listened to a Compact Disc player. Companies that offer optical disc players (mainly CD, but also SACD – e.g. Vivaldi dCS, Vitus SCD-025 and other ones) seem to be following the same trend as turntables some time ago. When it seemed that their days were numbered, the best and most interesting designs were created, as if to show that writing this format off was a mistake. We compared the MSB Technology player that costs a little less that 400,000 PLN (including power cables and other accessories) with a two-piece Ayon Audio player which costs ca. 70,000 PLN and includes Compact Disc CD-T transport and the Stratos (consisting of a digital-to-analog converter and an analogue preamp). The devices were permanently connected to the Accuphase A-70 power amplifier – the Ayon player through RCA cables and the MSB player through XLR cables. A comparison of these two inputs in the Accuphase power amp shows that they are only minimally different. Apart from that, the Stratos output is actually unbalanced – both with RCA and XLR cables we get output impedance of 300 Ω. When testing this company’s devices, I always choose their RCA outputs.


MSB, which was established by two engineers – Larry S. Gullman and Mark S. Brasfield, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. MSB is an abbreviation for “Most Significant Bit”, i.e. a paraphrase of “Least Significant Bit” – a phrase used with reference to digital signal. LSB, aka the youngest bit, is the least important bit, located right-most in positional notation. This is the official version, even though these three letters are also Mark S. Brasfield’s initials.
Anyway, a few years later Larry S. Gullman bought Mark S. Brasfield’s shares and thus the initials did not mean anything anymore in this context. The two gentlemen remained fiends after they had parted and Larry still emphasizes the fact that both the basics of research methodology and the company philosophy had been planned and implemented by Mark who is the “father” of all the subsequently launched products.

In 1986, the Compact Disc format was still at its “childhood” stage of development and most CD players were equipped with low-quality D/A converters or/and lousy digital filters. Knowing that, Mark and Larry decided to design their own DAC. Their first product was a redesigned Philips player. In this way, MSB became a specialist in the field of digital sources.

The philosophy behind MSB products is very interesting. Its founders are, first of all, true-born engineers and, secondly, music lovers. However, they decided to combine “engineering” design (including measurements and computer software, etc.) with listening sessions during which they make final decisions concerning the importance of individual elements and the choice of specific components. For many years, Larry has been using a special place for this purpose – i.e. a church in Reedwoods. For the same purpose, he has employed an engineer who is also a guitarist. The church serves as a venue for listening sessions, including comparisons of the instrument played live and its recordings.

“The legacy continues” – a short story of MSB

1986: the first product – the modified Philips CD player
1986: the company is established by Larry S. Gullman and Mark S. Brasfield
1989: Larry S. Gullman buys Mark S. Brasfield’s company shares
1994: a demonstration of the first AC-3 output for LaserDisc players at the Dolby company
1995: the first AC-3 demodulator in the Lexicon LDD-1
1995: the first LaserDisc player with the THX certificate – Runco LJR II
1996: the first external DTS decoder – Millennium 2.4.6
1998: the first broadly sold DAC (24 bit, 96 kHz) – LINK DAC
2000: the first discreet converter (384 kHz) – Platinum DAC
2001: the first discreet asynchronous upsampler (192 kHz) – Platinum Plus
2005: the first 80-bit digital DSP filter – 16X Filter
2006: the first iPod-based server – iLink
2009: the first digital converter input for signal of 384 kHz sampling frequency and 384 kHz upsampling– DAC III
2009: the first 32-bit interface – Xport
2010: the first 384 kHz Bit Perfect USB digital input – Signature USB in DAC IV
2010: the first CD transport capable of playing audio files up to do 32 bit and 384 kHz – Data CD IV
2011: the first clock with jitter lower than 1ps – 77 Femtosecond Galaxy Clock
2014: the first DAC that crossed the theoretical 24-bit limit, SELECT DAC; 149 dB dynamics
2015: SELECT II DA, 173 dB dynamics = 28.5 real bits)

This is not the first time I have dealt with this company. At the end of 2011 I tested a (then top) company system for “Audio”. It consisted of a Compact Disc transport, a D/A converter and an amplifier: Platinum Data CD IV + Platinum Signature DAC IV + Platinum Signature Power Base. Moreover, at the end of 2013 I tested a cheaper model for “High Fidelity” – The Analog DAC.

The system which we dealt with within the Krakow Sonic Society used to be the best MSB product for two years. Now this status has been taken over by the Select. The characteristic features of the system that we listened to are: a modular design, CD transport that is a modified version of a computer CD-ROM transport and a DAC made “afoot” using resistors in an R-2R resistor ladder controlled by a DSP circuit. It is a multi-bit circuit with 28.5 bit resolution and upper sampling frequency of 384 kHz. Less “impressive” D/A modules produced by the company can also be found in the Thrax Maximinus converter. As the version that we had was equipped with an analogue volume control circuit, the device could be directly connected to the power amplifier.

As I have mentioned, it is a modular system. A user can buy devices in their basic versions and then further equip the system as it develops or in accordance with his/her needs. A full system specification is given below – the only “non-top” element was the clock, as it is surpassed by the top-end Femto clock.

The MSB player at the time of the listening session consisted of:

Diamond DAC V: DAC, S/PDIF, AES/EBU and Toslink inputs, and an analogue XLR input; price: 148,570 PLN
DAC V Diamond Volume Control: analogue volume control, price: 14,830 PLN
Diamond Power Base: DAC amplifier, price: 29,690 PLN
Isolator Base: DAC supply separator, price: 9,880 PLN
DAC V USB Quad Rate DSD: USB input, up to 4xDSD and 24/384, price: 9,390 PLN
DAC V Audio Renderer/I2S Input: input from the NAS/input from the transport, price: 19,760 PLN
DAC V Galaxy Clock Option: a better clock – 77 fs instead of 144 fs, price: 24,540 PLN
I2S Cable: signal cable for the transport, price: 470 PLN
Signature Data CD V: Compact Disc transport, price: 41,470 PLN
Diamond Transport Power Base: transport supply, price: 29,690 PLN

The cost of the whole set in this configuration: 328,290 PLN

We compared the devices by changing inputs in the power amplifier – every four tracks from four albums first, then every three tracks and, in the end, every single track. We separately conducted a short comparison of USB inputs in the MSB and Ayon. The MSB is many times better than the Ayon in this respect – the Austrian converter had no chance of winning at all. However, it was different in the case of Compact Discs.

Session I

  • The Stockfisch DMM-CD/SACD, Vol. 2, Stockfisch SFR 357.5902.2, SACD/CD (2016)
  • DIRE STRAITS, Brothers in Arms, Vertigo/Universal Music Japan, Platinum SHM-CD
  • JANUSZ MUNIAK, Contemplation, Universal Music Polska 5903111259013, CD (2015); the CD released under the patronage of “High Fidelity”
  • MEGADETH, Dystopia, Universal Music Japan UICY-15449, SHM-CD (2016)


Actually, I do not know what to say. Or, I rather know what to say, but I do not know how… When we first played the Stockfisch CD, the musical message was unambiguously better with the MSB. There was no shadow of doubt and I could hear that it was genuine sound. Vocal separation was excellent, really outstanding. The vocal was one with music, but at the same time it was separated – it is a phenomenon which occurs only in the best systems. In the case of the Ayon system it was shown together, everything on one plane. It was still very pleasant and good, but it was the MSB system that demonstrated what it should all be like.

However, things changed later and the Ayon system produced better sound. It was absolutely amazing when we listened to Muniak’s saxophone. We know how it sounds in a club, as we have sat two or three meters away from it a few times. I am sure you remember we were there with John Tu who played the percussion with Muniak. The Ayon rendered that club experience – it showed the saxophone in the foreground – live and present, and the rest in the background. With the MSB system, the saxophone merged with the rest and faded.

Saying that the Ayon system was always better is a bit exaggerated – when it comes to Dire Straits, the MSB system showed its first-class qualities again, in my opinion, but the difference was not overwhelming. As regards things that were better with the MSB system, I would mention, for example, the depth of really nice guitars. However, in the case of Megadeth rumble, the musical message as a whole was worse with the MSB system. Blimey, I will contradict myself again, but the vocal in a track from the Megadeth album was much better with the MSB. That was, however, already apparent when we listened to the Stockfisch – vocals are outstanding with the MSB.


It must be said – the Megadeth album is extremely badly recorded, as if all metal bands were gradually losing their hearing with time. Perhaps this is the reason why the MSB did not play it too well. I would use something else to play metal music. The system made the sound milder and lost the energy of the guitars somewhere. Sound with the Ayon system was perhaps harsher and less refined, but truer, with the right power and beat. It had the claws that were hidden when the same music was played by the MSB.

However, the Stockfisch album sounded much better with the MSB. The vocal was beautifully shown in the foreground. I also liked Dire Straits more with the MSB. It showed what this kind of music is about: planes and colors. However, I agree with Janusz that Muniak souded much better with the Ayon. I do not know whether it is not about the fact that even though Ayon produces more vulgar sound in comparison to MSB, it is not as elaborate and multi-colored. It has the drive, energy and something that “powers” individual tracks.


My opinion is similar to what Janusz thinks, which surprises me a bit, as when it came to the dCS, we could not disagree more. As regards Stockfisch, which provided us with very nice music, the MSB system was much better and it was no use negating that. Everything was clearer and more vivid here. However, then it was worse. I am talking about that Dire Straits vinyl album – I know it is recorded a bit “sharply” and sometimes brightly – and this is what it is supposed to sound like. The MSB system is more detailed and brighter, because of which it “exaggerated” the musical message a bit, while the Ayon showed everything with the right balance. When it comes to the Muniak’s album, the difference was not big, I think – nothing to argue about, while Megadeth can be played on anything and there will be no difference…

Rysiek B.

The first two albums provided a recommendation for the MSB system. It was beautiful. I would mention better separation of planes, better spatiality and vividness, as well as incredible fill of the sound stage with sound. Problems appeared, which has already been mentioned by other participants, with the Muniak’s album. I do not know what happened, but it simply sounded bad with the MSB. I cannot believe it! This is the first time I have heard something like this. When it comes to Megadeth, I had no doubts – Denon equipment costing 1000 PLN would have done an equally good job.


I do not agree with you at all – I have an Ayon player at home and I know how it plays music. I think that the price of the MSB system should be ten times lower. I came late to join the respectable circle of listeners when the Megadeth album was being played and, in my opinion, the Ayon system did a better job in that case.

Tomek Ś.

I will repeat what others have already said – the MSB system really played the Stockfisch better. Listening was much more pleasant with it – I do not want to, however, talk about audiophile details here. When it comes to Muniak and Megadeth, the Ayon was much better. As regards the Megadeth album, the MSB system made the guitars blunt and suppressed them, which is not something that this kind of music is about.

Tomek (the host))

As we had set up the system at my place on Thursday, I spent two days listening to it all the time. I selected tracks at random, but subconsciously I probably wanted to demonstrate how great the MSB system is – I wanted to confirm a thesis, but I got an antithesis. In my opinion, on the one hand, the MSB system produces extremely natural, pleasant sound, which is really beautiful. However, it sounded bad with Muniak’s music. That is, not bad altogether, but worse than the Ayon.

On the other hand, the MSB system intelligently fits the acoustics of my room, as if it was trying to remove all its drawbacks, with one strong bass resonance that I cannot get rid of. I remember how it wonderfully vanished with the Accuphase DG-58 correction device. The MSB system did something similar, even though it does not include any sound correction . It is as though such high quality of sound also provides other benefits than sound itself, completing the system and the room. Of course, it works only up to some degree. With acoustic music, the MSB system sounded beautiful, but in the case of electronic music and metal it appeared that it makes music much more pleasant and smoother, which is not necessary for these kinds of music.

Session II

  • WŁODZIMIERZ NAHORNY, Jej portret, Polskie Nagrania Muza/GAD Records GAD CD 006 (1965/2013); review HERE.
  • JERZY MILIAN TRIO, Baazaar, Polskie Nagrania „Muza”/GAD Records GAD CD 017, „Polish Jazz | vol 17”, CD (1069/2014); review HERE
  • RYSZARD SYGITOWICZ, Bez grawitacji, Wifon/GAD Records GAD CD 029, CD (1985/2015);review HERE


Having listened to the second set of recordings, I know I would buy the MSB system. In the case of these albums, there was no doubt that its sound is incredibly pleasant, dense, “analogue” and, which is surprising, more lively. In the case of these specific remasters, the Ayon system put everything in a cocoon and did not let many sounds out. It was not bad sound, but the MSB system was simply much better.

Tomek Ś.

The MSB system was more lively, it had better energy and was much more pleasant. It played really well. There is nothing to add, it was top class.


Finally, I understand why the MSB system costs so much – here it simply played much better than the Ayon. Its sound was audibly incredibly elegant, for which you have to pay. This makes it harder for me to understand what happened earlier with the Muniak’s album. If I had started listening with the second set of recordings, I would not even have looked at the Ayon system.


Having listened to the first four albums, I had preferred the Ayon system. The MSB has a lot of good features, but they had not justified its high price at that point. Even though gentlemen do not talk about money, but just have it, we cannot avoid that topic in the audio domain. After listening to the next three albums, I totally changed my opinion on the sound of the MSB. It was better than the Ayon in every respect – it was no use comparing. Even if we remember about the price difference, the Ayon simply “died.” The sound stage with the MSB was better organized and saturated, everything was engaged, full and sophisticated. I must say that the longer I listen to this player, the better I understand its sound and the more I like it. What I had considered to be its drawbacks before, I then perceived as its advantages. The Ayon system simply “was” there, when compared to the MSB.


Nahorny’s Jej portret was really much better with the MSB system. When we listened to the Jerzy Milian Trio album, I was not so sure about the MSB advantage over the Ayon, while when it came to Sygitowicz, the Ayon system was much better than the MSB. The 12-string guitar which sometimes appears there, never sounds live the way it is presented by the MSB! The MSB system makes high tones higher, while the Ayon played the guitar more naturally, the way I know from live concerts.

Rysiek B.

After two sessions, I will say, anyway, that for me the choice is simple – the Ayon system is more musical. I do not know what you hear, perhaps you have to grow up to understand this kind of music, but the Ayon system is warm and pleasant. This time, I did not like the MSB at all. It was grey, subdued and one-dimensional. There was no depth, everything was in line. I have no doubt, I do not like the MSB system. To conclude, I will add that without listening to classical music my opinion is not objective. To make things more complicated, I will remind you that the Stockfisch album was one level better with the MSB system. Finally, I will say that I have attended 98 meetings of the Krakow Sonic Society, I think, but this session has been the most surprising of all.

Tomek (the host)

Sygitowicz was spectacular, I have to borrow the album from Wojtek! I totally disagree with Rysiek – I do not know what he hears, but for me the MSB system sounded fantastic, much better than my Ayon. The MSB has this special ability to build music in my room, with my system. Having listened to the first two albums in this session I was not completely sure whether these were changes for the better, but Sygitowicz convinced me they were. Now I am sure that if I were to listen to music using one source for many years, I would definitely choose the MSB. The Ayon is a bit worse and the MSB is the winner from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ in this session. I was especially impressed by all the percussion instruments from Sygitowicz’s album – it is a really great recording – that were spectacular with the MSB system.

Session III

  • GRUPA ABC ANDRZEJA NEBESKIEGO, Idę dalej, Kameleon Records KAMCD 37, CD (2015)
  • Music For A While. Improvisations on Purcell, Christina Pluhar, L’Arpeggiata, Erato 4636203, CD + DVD (2014)
  • INFECTED MUSHROOM, Army Of Mushrooms, HOMmega Productions HMCD79, CD
  • DIRE STRAITS, Borthers in Arms, Vertigo/Unicersal Music Japan UICY-40055 Platinum SHM-CD

After the first two sessions we organized a shorter third session and then moved on to other comparisons, a bit at random. We also listened to, a few times again, a track from the Muniak’s album. It all made us more established in our opinions and no one changed their mind.

Even though you cannot see it in the transcript of conversations, opinion differences concerning the player were no smaller than in the case of the dCS, or perhaps even greater. The thing is that everyone was more relaxed and there were no such emotions as during the previous meeting. However, the words were even stronger, but since they were spoken during breaks between the sessions when we were having something to eat (ladies – thanks for all the food!), I did not write them down. An example of what was said is:

- Gentlemen, you either have no idea about it or you are too young – when you are as old as me, you will see what is important. Listen to music, not to sounds – the MSB produces sounds and the Ayon is Music!
- You have probably become too old and you do not know what you are talking about – what sounds? I do not know how possible it is not to hear what the MSB system is about. This is sophisticated, beautifully arranged sound – much better than what the Ayon has to offer. Another thing is that the Ayon is many times cheaper and, as such, is simply a “bargain.” However, if you want something that is the best, you do not talk about money. However, that does not allow you not to listen to things and you seem not to hear anything!
- What are you both talking about, come on! The MSB does not sound at all, it is some kind of a joke!
- I do not know, perhaps I am in an insane asylum – what joke? You really have to know something about sound to appreciate the MSB. Otherwise, listen to music from Denon devices, perhaps they will suit you!

It is a real dialogue that I overheard. Even though the words were spoken while we were having something to eat and drink, they were still true. The most important question here is: what fd it all up? Not when it comes to the MSB, which I am going to return to in a moment, but when it comes to people from the Krakow Sonic Society. As I had a lot of time after the dCS session, I could compare my observations with reactions to the MSB system. I have a hypothesis which explains the differences. Of course, it is a provisional makeshift hypothesis, but it is ideal for a starting point: we are getting more and more attached to our own vision of sound (i.e. our own system), considering it to be THE right one and we are not open to accept other people’s views. There is a difference in defending our opinion and closing our ears to what others want to say. It is as if we no longer care about reaching a consensus.

“Terminological” problems occurred here. While listening to what some of the participants were saying, I did not believe my own ears – I heard “black”, they heard “white”, I – “long”, they – “short.” Unbelievable! However, as we elaborated on what we meant, having answered some questions, it appeared we hear the same thing, but we understand some terms in a different way. While the MSB was characterized as “bright”, it did not mean it was sharp. The Ayon provided more contoured sound attack and Megadeth guitars were sharper with it. The point was that the MSB shows much more information in the treble and upper midrange, which makes it seem bright.

We had similar problems with talking about spatial arrangement. When incredible Ayon space and one-dimensional MSB musical message were mentioned, the point was that the Ayon shows many fewer elements, moving background planes away from us, while stressing foreground planes. The MSB shows “unified” space, like in a top-class recording played from an analogue studio tape recorder – we do not talk about planes there, either, as it is unimportant and does not constitute an element of the equation. There was also bass, more emphasized and shown more unambiguously, but also quite simply by the Ayon. The MSB had better control of this range and was not so one-dimensional, which made it seem lighter. In this way we come to the conclusion, i.e. to what I gathered during the whole listening session.

Wojtek, or “the conclusion”

The MSB player is, in my opinion, a very sophisticated source. The way it showed the Stockfisch and then GAD Records albums was impressive. It was big, internally sophisticated sound in which everything “went together.” Janusz said that he understood better and better what the MSB is about with each album, which is true. At some point, Tomek noticed he is sure that 99% of people from the street asked to choose one of the sources would take the Ayon. Its sound is simpler, with a bit blunt upper midrange, there is much less “life”, thanks to which the system does not cause any adaptation problems, it simply kicks off.

The MSB does not yield simple answers, it is not a zero-one system. Rysiek and Wiciu would definitely disagree, but I think it is a player which shows a complex world which we have to take in and assess. Our assessment does not have to be positive, but the system cannot be denied a position in the pantheon where it belongs. Its sound is internally incredibly soft and it is also very rich inside. Thanks to that, the sound is big, rich and dense. There is no space as such, i.e. we do not understand it as space in audiophile terms. There are sound “sources” that speak and together create something “above it all.”

One thing I agree with is that the MSB may be not energetic enough for strong, electronic and rock music. Such music requires, as it seems, simpler means and not complicating the message. I think it is not a problem with the MSB, but with something in our head. However, ultimately, it is our head that “listens” and we have to face that, we need to choose. The choices of participants in the meeting seem to be unambiguous. The only problem that I cannot solve at the moment is the one with Muniak’s saxophone. With the MSB it really merged with the background and was not as tangible as with the Ayon. However, perhaps it was recorded this way, perhaps it was not meant to be in the foreground, but was to be part of the band shown from a perspective? It will have to be explained.

So, is it a success or a failure? Dear Reader – you have to answer this question yourself, best by confronting our opinions with your own listening experience of the MSB player. And this is what you should expect when people write about the audio domain – ferment and some encouragement to carry out your own experiments. If you need a simple crib or directions, you will find them in cheaper product tests in which evaluation is easier to make and where we have fewer possibilities. In high-end, especially top high-end, what matters most is the context, i.e. expectations, the system, people’s views on music played at home. Although audio magazines have been making us used to a completely different vision of the world, i.e. that there is some “golden mean” on top, reality appears to be much more complex, unless we are really deaf, which is also possible.


  • Compact Disc transport: Ayon Audio CD-T
  • Preamplifier/DAC: Ayon Audio STRATOS
  • Power amplifier: Accuphase A-70, test HERE, read also HERE
  • Speakers: Dynaudio C4 Signature
  • Speaker cables: Acrolink 7N-S8000 ANNIVERSARIO
  • Interconnects: Acrolink 7N-DA2090 SPECIALE, test HERE
  • Power distribution strip: Oyaide MTS-4e, test HERE

MSB brand distribution in Poland:


Romanowska 55e, pasaż lok.9,
91-174 Łódź | Polska

  • Płyta Megadeth nie wszystkim przypadła do gustu…