It's been some happy but busy days with all the holiday stuff and all this new gear! In any event, I said I would do a comparison so here it is. It won't be a formal write up as I feel I need a lot more time with the MSB The Analog DAC and the AMR DP-77 to really put them through their paces but I feel I have a pretty good understanding of what I hear and the differences that follow.
I want to start off by saying that both of these DACs are some of the best DACs I've ever heard (I've now heard quite a few in my DAC hunting). They both are packed with some nice features, although as many of you know the AMR doesn't do DSD, but that is just a minor area of recordings at this point and I won't knock it just because AMR chose not to follow suit with this gimmicky format. Both of these DACs lean more towards the euphoric, analog side of things. It is a myth that these type DACs mask, or gloss over any of the details nestled in well recorded and master music. I've heard and compared DACs with all sorts of implementation and different tonal balances with mixed results. Coloration is a totally separate area in sound than detail extraction and resolution. Of course many will disagree that a DAC should ever have its own character, but I have come to realize that coloration and what that implies isn't always bad especially if you prefer a sound that is similar to that of vinyl. Some of you already know that I tend to prefer a system that is very "musical" and analog sounding. For example, the LCD-3 is my favorite headphone because it reproduces music with such a non-fatiguing, smooth, a euphoric-like atmosphere that I have yet to find in any other headphone. The LCD-3 does have faults of its own, but I can live with those because it brings me closer to what this hobby is all about... the music.
The AMR reproduces music very similarly to the MSB. They share very similar tonality, albeit slight differences. The AMR has more emphasis in the mid-range. Vocals are sweeter, smoother, and more forward. On some tracks, especially heavy vocal tracks like Diana Krall's stuff, the added warmth in the mids was appreciated. On the other hand, the emphasized mid-range can become un-natural sounding with rock. Instruments such as electric guitar lose some of that bite and clarity due to the thick mids. I wouldn't classify this DAC as overly warm, but I feel the mid-range can be toned down some to make the tonality almost perfect per my preferences. A few areas where I feel the AMR could use some work is the bass, and the control. Mostly in the lower registers, but I feel the bass slam is lacking, and could be more extended. With well recorded electronic and R&B, the bass lines don't hit as hard as I've heard in the past. The control of the bass is slightly loose. The treble is rolled-off just enough for me. I feel the treble is one of the areas were this DAC shines. It has great extension and is presented in a smooth yet clear way. Horns and cymbals are very natural and realistic. Overall I would say that this DAC is definitely worth the money I paid. The MSB... still haven't decided on the value.
As I said the MSB has very similar tonality. The way it differs is I feel the Analog is the most natural and well balanced DACs I've ever heard. There is no portion of the spectrum that I feel is emphasized, but just enough warmth to make music natural and non-fatiguing. I've played many instruments and have attended a ton of concerts: lounge-type venues, stadiums, and arenas. (one of the perks living in SD is live music is everywhere!). The MSB brings me the closest I've ever been to live music through my system without actually being there. I can feel the bass, I can pick up the spatial queues even with the faintest ring, and of course I can toe-tap without looking like an idiot. Initial I thought the AMR actually was too close to the performance of the MSB to justify keeping such an expensive component, but now that I've run the MSB through speakers and headphones I can full appreciate the rave reviews about this DAC. From the aesthetics to the sound, this thing kicks ass. Is there anything the AMR does better? Honestly, I feel the AMR has more tube amp type qualities and because of that, also has their strengths. Dynamics and a slightly wider soundstage goes to the AMR. Yes! It does have some pros and some kudos over the MSB, but that is about it. The MSB has better detail extraction, imaging, and of course the more balanced tonality as well as other things. The MSB also is more natural sounding to me top-to-bottom. Instruments and vocals are perfect. Is there anything that you feel the MSB is lacking? I feel the MSB soundwise is perfect for me. I don't hear any faults at all. I can say I'm not a fan of their isolation spikes and the matte finish. The finish is EXTREMELY sensitive to oils and contact. I've had this DAC for a few months now and it already has a few marks, and the what makes it worse is I have no idea where they came from. Also, If one is interested in this DAC, I would highly recommend replacing the feet. They may look cool, but if ever want to move or adjust the dac you will scratch or scuff the finish.
For less than half the price, the AMR still is the better buy. It has very few shortcomings, and actually has more functionality. The dual dac chip design, the tube buffer, and all the filters really makes this DAC an all around good buy for multiple applications. The build is top notch, the design is state of the art, and the company supports their products very well. It seems like they truly value their customers and want to keep them. But if you are looking for the best of the best and your budget is a blank check, go for the MSB The Analog DAC. I haven't been disappointed with either of these. I fully plan to use them both in their respected systems, but overall the MSB is league ahead in the technical aspects of music reproduction.
DACs - MSB The Analog DAC / AMR DP-777
AMPs - HeadAmp GS-X mk2 / Firstwatt F5T v2 / McIntosh MC452 / Vintage Kenwood (Forgot the model) / Vintage Marantz 2230 / Rogue Audio Apollo Monoblocks
Sources - Mac Mini 2012 w/ Boulder PSU / Custom PC
Preamp - MSB The Analog Pre-Amp / AudioValve Eclipse / Ayre X-K5xeMP
Headphones - HD800 / LCD-3 / HE-6 / Alpha Dog / HD600
Speakers - Tekton Designs Pendragons
IMO, YMMV, etc.
Edited by Greed - 12/20/13 at 2:56pm