MSB 32/384 DAC, Disc Transport, ADC, and Monoblock

MSB Technology made a splash at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last weekend with several new digital-audio products that can handle resolutions up to 32 bits and sampling rates as high as 384kHz. Also on hand was the company's newest monoblock power amp.

The DAC IV is MSB's latest digital-to-analog converter, shown here with the optional iLink II iPod dock and sitting atop a Data CD IV disc transport and Power Base 12V power supply (which is included with each MSB DAC IV and Data CD IV). The DAC IV is available in three versions—Platinum, Signature, and Diamond—with increasingly improved performance as you move from one version to the next. The base prices for these DACs are $8000, $17,500, and $26,000, respectively.

Then there are the options available for each DAC IV. Aside from the aforementioned iLink II iPod dock ($2000), perhaps most important is the upsampler ($1000) that converts 44.1, 88.2, and 176.4kHz audio data to 352.8kHz and 48, 96, and 192kHz data to 384kHz, all at 32-bit resolution. Also available is a USB port that can accept a 384kHz input from a computer ($1400).

The Data CD IV reads standard CDs as well as high-resolution audio from CDs and DVDs, including HRx discs from Reference Recordings that currently use 24-bit resolution at 176.4kHz. In fact, it can read and output digital-audio data up to 32-bit/384kHz, though no such commercial discs are currently available as far as I know. Lower resolutions can be upsampled to 32/384 with an optional module ($1000), which is not required if you plan to use a DAC IV with upsampling. The Data CD IV's base price is $4000.

Of course, there is virtually no content recorded at 32/384—at least, not yet. To fill this void, MSB offers two analog-to-digital converters (ADCs)—one model with two channels and another with eight channels—that digitize balanced analog inputs at 32/384. Both start at $16,000, which seems a bit odd until you learn that the 2-channel model uses four converters per channel for improved performance.

At the end of the signal chain, it all comes down to analog, which is where the new M202 monoblock power amps enter the picture. Priced at $17,500/pair, these cylindrical beauties can pump out over 200 watts into 8Ω, and they are capable of driving 1Ω loads. They feature fully balanced circuit paths, and they include balanced and unbalanced inputs that are treated separately.

These 32/384 products lead me to wonder, as I often do, at what resolution does digital audio become indistinguishable from analog? Or is analog always distinguishable from digital no matter how high its resolution? I don't know, and I don't know of any scientific studies that address this question, but it sure is interesting to contemplate. I'd love to read your thoughts on this, so please post a comment here.