ConclusionThere are no winners and losers in a test like this. That sounds lame, but it's just the way it is. It's all about what you are looking for. And which product fits best within your system. Are you looking for product with focus on neutrality and detail? Are you looking for a product with kick, slam and energy? Or a product with a balance between PRaT, detail and scale? So each system has its pros and cons. And its own unique properties. And that's what you pay for at the end of the day, as you will read.
Three top players
MSB Discrete with Renderer
We begin the stream with the MSB Discrete dac with renderer module. MSB offers a modular system with its dacs. This is very nice, because it allows you to set up the product completely according to your needs.
By default, there are just digital inputs, as well as a set of XLR outputs. Fine, of course. But if you want to stream, then there is also a Renderer module that adds the possibility to play with ROON. Do you want USB? That is possible. Extra coaxial input? You can… Even power supplies are upgradable. Very convenient.
MSB uses a dac chip they developed themselves. That is a ladder dac that they call the Prime DAC. This prime dac can play both PCM and DSD natively which is special. The dac chip can theoretically handle samplerates up to 32 bit / 6 Mhz. And DSD even up to 50 MHz. In short: there is enough headroom to continue to grow with these modules.
The question is of course: do we ever want source material with such absurd sampling rates. On the other hand: overhead and extra processing power can never hurt.
Now technology is very nice; ultimately it’s about the sound. That’s all fine with this MSB Discrete dac! The sound is robust, dynamic and engaging. We are really drawn directly into the music. It is a pleasant, not over-analytical sound that emphasizes flow. And we like that very much. All four test tracks just sound really nice. There is calmness, control, foundation and engagement.
The imaging is large, but not excessively scaled, as some hi-fi products sometimes do to impress. Larger than life / Larger than live sounds impressive. But of course the goal should be that a system is a reflection of reality. And that is what MSB aims for in our opinion with this Discrete DAC. Fine device!
|Inputs||RCA, AES, Word sync, 2 x optical, 2 x slot|
|Focus of playback||Body, flow|
|Dimensions / Weight||43 x 30 x 6.8 cm / 8.2 Kg excluding power supplies|
|Price||Our configuration: 15.000 euro|
Video and samples MSB Discrete dac
Grimm Audio MU-1 with Mola Mola Tambaqui
If there is one streamer / dac combination with exceptional technology, it is this duo. We previously reviewed the Grimm Audio MU-1. Very briefly explained, this streamer offers a special upsampling technolgy. Each input is taken to a higher sampling rate with a super powerful processor. Think of 24 bit / 192 kHz. By doing that incredibly accurately and then sending this data stream to a dac, the d/a converter has less to compute, which makes for a better, more accurate playback.
We tested this extensively in our review and it works. There is a clearly audible improvement when we turn on upsamping: more air, more “acoustics” and less harshness in the midrange in particular.
The beauty of the MU-1 is that this can therefore be done with any input; not just the streamer, as we did in this test. In addition to Ethernet, the MU-1 offers optical, coaxial and even an antenna input for FM. We used our own ROON server in the test. However, this is not necessary: the MU-1 is also a ROON server. But it can also function as an endpoint. In this test that was more practical, given the fact that we use our own playlists and therefore have to play a recording.
Then the Mola Mola Tambaqui. This is also a special device. This DAC is completely different from ‘normal dacs’ or even ladder dacs / R2R dacs. The Mola Mola is a PWM dac with a 32-stage FIR output stage. In a nutshell, all inputs are upsampled to 32 bit / 3.125 MHz to then pass through a 32 stage FIR (Finite Input Response) ‘DAC’. Very complex, very special; we have not seen it before. Except in part with Zetex’s Direct Digital technology. We don’t know if this is (partly) comparable. But Zetex also converts PCM to PWM. And also that sounds very clean. However, we assume that Bruno Putzys has taken this to the next level.
The Tambaqui dac has a series of inputs: usb, optical, aes, coaxial, Ethernet (ROON endpoint) and hdmi-I2S. There are both balanced outputs and two headphone outputs. Nice and flexible. The DAC has four buttons on the front and allows operation and configuration via Bluetooth. That’s handy for the initial installation. There is an app for iOS and Android. The app could be a bit more friendly to use, we think. Not everything is equally clear, but you will get used to that.
The sound is totally different from the MSB. Especially the midrange is different…. feels different. It is incredibly transparent and rich in detail. This makes distinguishing layers even easier than with the MSB. Also, the stereo image seems a bit larger – notably wider – than with the MSB. This is clearly the signature of the MU-1, as we also felt the space expand with our Pavane. Incidentally, this is mainly the acoustics of the space in the recording that comes loose; it is not so much that voices grow, or instruments are suddenly depicted larger.
The focus with the MU-1 – Mola Mola combination is on accuracy. Achieving the purest possible reproduction. Understanding the music. This is not surprising, if you realize that Grimm supplies gear to studios and Bruno Putzys is the (co) developer of UcD / nCore and now Purifi. All stuff that is ulraprecise. In short: mission accomplished. The MU-1 with Mola Mola is the most detailed combination in this test.
|Brand||Mola Mola||Grimm Audio|
|Inputs||AES, HDMI I2S, Ethernet, Coax, Optical, USB||AES, Optical, Coax, Ethernet, USB (storage)|
|Outputs||XLR and 2 x headphone||AES, LS1 output|
|Focus of playback||Detail, speed, honesty||Purist|
|Dimensions / Weight||20 x 22 x 32 / 5.2 Kg||35 x 8,5 x 29,5 (wxhxd) / 3.5 Kg|
|Price||10.000 Euros with options||10.000 Euros|
Video and samples Grimm MU-1 / Mola Mola Tambaqui
NAIM ND555 + PS555
The last in this round is the The NAIM ND555 with PS555 power supply. A fierce combination. Both in terms of price and weight…. That weight comes particularly from the PS555 power supply. It contains a thick toroidal core that sends the power supply cleanly and separately to the ND555 streamer.
In the Naim ND555, Naim uses (very) special Burr Brown PCM1704U-K multibit ladder dacs. These dac chips are used on completely floating pcb’s to absorb vibrations and thus reduce the noise floor. Naim does this in almost all of its products. However, completely floating suspension only happens with the top series. Such as this Naim ND555.
Naim would not be Naim if things were not put together differently. First of all, the power supply: two thick cables run from the PS555 power supply to the ND555. Then at the back of the ND555 we see a series of inputs – including bluetooth BNC and Airplay, Roon and Chromecast audio over the network – and a couple of outputs: DIN and single ended.
As mentioned in the video, we would have liked balanced. But that’s where the criticism stops. Because as soon as we press play, we forget all about it. The Naim manages to balance detail and souplesse in a beautiful way. Yes: the MU-1 and Mola Mola bring more detail (especially in the mid). And the MSB may have a little more slam. But we don’t miss it with the Naim ND555. There is a wonderful balance between detail, flow and finesse. Add to that Naim’s famed PRaT and you get why this streamer is so addictive. This is audiophile fun… And that’s definitely meant as a compliment.
|Type||ND555 + PS555|
|Inputs||Wifi, bluetooth, ethernet, coaxial, 2 x optical, bnc, usb (storage)|
|Outputs||DIN + single ended|
|Focus of playback||PRaT, dynamic, smooth|
|Dimensions / Weight||43 x 31 x 9 (wxhxd) / 12 Kg (ND555)|
|Price||25.000 Euros with PS555|