Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

MSB Technology: Can Entry Level Be Near State of the Art?

I’m forever counting my blessings as an audio reviewer. Despite having been with SoundStage! for over 23 years now, I’m always mindful that I get to do something most audiophiles only dream about: listen to, enjoy, and assess a wildly varying array of stereo equipment from talented designers and forward-thinking companies from all over the world. I got my first stereo system from my parents on Christmas Day—Santa bought it from Sears—when I was 12 years old. Back then, I could never have dreamed of listening to the system that is set up before me today.

There’s no better example of my fortunate position than my latest journey into the products of MSB Technology, a company based in Watsonville, California.

Back in 2020 I became the owner of an MSB Technology Discrete DAC with Premier Powerbase (mine included the $1980 Pro USB module and the $1950 Network Renderer V2 module for a total price of $21,380). Despite the optioned-out Discrete that I own, the base price of that unit is $9950, which comes with a single Discrete power supply, RCA or XLR outputs, and two input slots that include two TosLink inputs and one AES/EBU digital input, along with one coaxial digital input.

Yeah, ten grand is still a lot of money for a DAC, but the MSB products represent an assault on the state of the art. These things are just plain good. My view is that the Discrete is a fantastic value.

MSB

So when MSB introduced the S202 stereo amplifier (200Wpc into 8 ohms, 90 pounds, $29,500) as a follow-up to its larger, more expensive S500 stereo power amplifier ($58,500) from early 2019, I couldn’t help asking what soon became a burning question in my audiophile mind: could MSB’s entry-level pairing of Discrete DAC and S202 stereo power amplifier come close to the state of the art for under 40 grand total ($39,450, to be exact)?

MSB

It’s a fascinating question. Think about this: how many of the super integrated amplifiers of today are approaching or even priced over $30,000? And here is a complete system of separates—remember the Discrete can drive the S202 directly without an additional preamplifier—that can serve as the heart of an all-digital setup, made by one of the premier manufacturers of electronic components in all the world. How good could the combo be?

MSB

Vince Galbo, MSB’s national sales manager, heard my question loud and clear and has agreed to assist me in answering it. In my possession right now is the company’s S202 stereo power amplifier, which I will shortly connect to my Discrete DAC so I can find out just how good MSB’s entry-level pairing is. You’ll read all about my experiences with MSB’s S202 in a full review on SoundStage! Ultra in the coming months.

Is That a Premier DAC I See?

Yes! MSB’s Premier DAC ($24,950) arrived for review, too. Although it looks similar to the Discrete DAC, there are many differences. The clock is more accurate, the display is higher resolution, and the number of Prime DAC modules increases from two to four. Even the . . .

MSB

. . . machining of the casework is different. One huge question remains . . .

MSB Premier

. . . Is the Premier DAC better than my fabulous Discrete DAC? I’ll soon be able to report on that. I’ll audition the Premier in the context of my usual reference system, and also with the S202, in a full review coming to SoundStage! Ultra.

MSB

Stay tuned for lots of MSB Technology coverage.

Jeff Fritz
Editor-in-Chief, SoundStage!

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