MSB Technologies has been one of the leaders and innovators
of digital playback for years. They have
a lineup of DAC’s ranging from eight-hundred dollars all the way up into the
twenty-one thousand dollar range. *Wowsers*. I personally do not have the
financial ability to indulge in such pricey sources as the latter, but when my
dealer came a calling with a used MSB DAC for a great price, I took the offer.
The entry level MSB DAC has been around for years now, and
is still sold at MSB’s official online store here, http://www.sound4sale.com/products/nelson.php. That’s right, the model I am speaking of is the
MSB Full Nelson Link III. A Stereophile
class “A” recommended product, the Nelson Link DAC III has been around for
roughly a decade now. Can it still live up to the latest DAC designs on the market
today? In my opinion, the answer is yes.
The sound of the Nelson Link III I would describe as
neutral, airy and smooth. When receiving
the MSB DAC I was currently running through a few DAC’s in my system such as
the Cambridge Audio DACMagic and HRT’s Music Streamer “Plus” USB unit. Both of
these units hold great price to performance value, so I was interested to see
how the MSB Nelson Link III would hold up.
When I first hooked up the MSB, I was worried. It sounded thin, recessed
and downright bad. “Oh Oh” I thought. I
have a few amps that need a good twenty
minutes of warm-up to really start to shine, so I left the MSB powered on for
half a day as I had other things to attend to. When I found some time later
that day to do some critical listening I was simply shocked. Was this the same
DAC I originally heard? What the heck!!! The quality this DAC had introduced
into my system was outstanding. Diana Kralls- Little Boy Blue had detail I had
never heard, air around each piano key and Diana’s voice was pouring out into
the room like someone had taken their ear muffs off of my head. Never have I ever owned a piece of equipment
that benefited this much from a simple warm up.
I leave the MSB DAC on all the time, as it has no simple on/off switch.
Plug in the power, and it’s on. This
unit needs a good twenty to thirty minutes of warm-up to start to come alive.
At the current time of receiving this DAC I was using a
Bryston 3B with Monitor Audio RS6’s. I
love Bryston gear but it wasn’t the best fit to be matched up with the RS6’s in
my opinion. This pairing was a little too forward for my liking but was very
detailed and really revealed the source at hand. When replacing the current DAC’s I had with
the MSB, the sound opened right up, in a good way of course. It was almost like the DACMagic was filtering
the music through a strainer while the Nelson Link III was pouring it into the
room keeping it much closer to its original state. To Note, I also compared this unit to the
Rega Apollo that I had owned for quit sometime, and it was also no match
sonically in the current system as the MSB.
The highs were more refined, bass slam greater and more controlled, and
the soundstage was much larger and even.
I also received the Bryston DAC for a few months which I thought for
sure the MSB would be no match for it, especially in an all Bryston system I
owned at the time. Boy was I wrong, the Bryston DAC edged the MSB only so
slightly, and when I moved into a NAIM setup, the MSB provided better synergy
with NAIM and due to money invested in the Bryston DAC, it was a no brainer to
sell the Bryston and keep the MSB.
The MSB Full Nelson Link III DAC has outlived every piece in
my system to date. I moved into a NAIM
amp, then to Totem speakers, and now it lives happily with an 840a V2 amp with
great synergy. Throughout owning this
amp I have fed it using a SAV Technologies Media Center Server through Optical,
Coax and now balanced connectivity. The
best results by far have been through the balanced input on the MSB, which I
believe the Stereophile gentlemen found as well. The only down-fall to this DAC is it’s a one
source DAC. What I mean by this is, although the connectivity is there, the
unit can only be locked onto one input at a time. No button to switch between
inputs. So if you have a Media Center hooked up to the optical, and a CD
Transport hooked up the coax, one has to be stopped in order for the DAC to
lock into an input. For me, this isn’t a problem, but for people wanting to A/B
source feeds this will make it difficult.
There is however, a switch on the back to defeat upsampling. To also add, I have been using the DAC mainly
with its stock Power Supply. MSB has a power base called the P1000 that is
apparently a substantial upgrade. Some have said you lose some smoothness the
DAC presents, but I will be seeking one out to test for myself.
Although every DAC has its favoured system and will shine
while paired properly, the MSB Full Nelson Link III DAC has shined in every
situation and system I have thrown it in. For me, at this price, it’s a real
keeper, and if it is ever bested in my system, it will find a happy duty somewhere else in my home.
Rating : Solid A
Pros: -Punches way above its weight with an airy, punchy
smooth musical sound
robust build quality to last
support and upgrades still available for this DAC
-At this price
point, hard to find. Perhaps the auto selectable inputs would be annoying to
some. Upsampling is not as good as some, although I never went into this, as I
have not liked it on any DAC I have heard. 44.1 All the way.