106 Source Blu-ray/SACD-Player A Stroke- OF GENIUS It’s something that multimedia fans have long been waiting for: an all-in-one product that plays Blu-ray and SACD – and even grabs music from hard drives. Has the patience been rewarded? 108 Source Blu-ray/SACD-Player The MSB links to the network via computer LAN. Alternatively there is a USB WLAN adapter in the box. The Universal Media directories and tracks on hard drives. by Hans-Ulrich Fessler I n digital technology circles MSB generally stands for ‘most significant bit’, i.e. the most important binary digit in digital audio signals. A Californian-based company has also become immortalised under this acronym: MSB Technology, which has been writing groundbreaking chapters in digital history for 25 years. The Americans were heavily involved in a multi-channel AC 3 output for laser disc players, developed one of the first 96kHz / 24-bit D/A converters and built one of the first upsamplers to reach production standard. They also launched the first USB D/A converter to handle sampling rates of up to 384kHz. Their latest coup: a two-channel combined player/converter that plays and converts all standard disc and streaming formats. For the player the Californians relied on third-party support. Their developers’ high specifications could be met by only one Blu-ray player: the Oppo BDP 93. On specialist Internet forums Oppo has for a long time been regarded as an insider’s choice. The players can do prac- tically everything (including playing back music from data DVDs, SACDs and DVD audio) and have excellent video processing. The specifications for the BDP 93 come from a young team of developers in Silicon Valley and it is assembled at BBK Electronics. MSB Technology has incorporated the Oppo player, complete with Qdeo video chip sets (also found in the latest Philips Blu-ray players), with no modifications. Naturally their Universal Media Transport also processes video from DVD in high definition (at the touch of a button One of a kind: As well as DVDs, Blu-ray, SACDs and DVD audio, the player also plays back music files saved on data DVDs. Transport links via RS 232 to a computer monitor, grabs music via USB from a memory stick or instantly opens even in the original 24 frames per second film format), can relay 3D images and can also go online to get, for example, additional information on the Blu-rays being watched. This is where the friendship with Oppo ends. For good audio MSB take matters into their own hands. As a measure against jitter – data transfer problems – the player initially hoards the audio data in memory. It resynchronises MP3, DivX, WMA, FLAC, WAV or DVD audio and only then pushes it through to its digital outputs. The player’s main menu: In terms of music files, it reads every format (including SACD) from MP3 to 192kHz / 24-bit high resolution from disc or via USB. From any attached hard drives it displays with lightning speed the contents and relevant directories. Picasa is Google’s free photo software, while Netflix is a pay-TV download site for films that is likely to also be available in Germany soon. With SACDs’ vast amount of data MSB takes a two-pronged approach. The Media Transport converts the dataflow to PCM and directs it likewise to the optical, wired or symmetric digital output, which communicates with each converter. In order not to lose any of the large volume of data, it sends the proprietary 1-bit SACD dataflow via a proprietary MSB network connection to MSB’s own converter. And the developers also set very high specifications for the switching unit. They extracted the Oppo’s – the disc driver is now fed from an external transformer (included with the converter) that is fitted with no fewer than six toroidal transformer coils. The Californian digital experts’ pièce de résistance is the converter. The DAC IV pools together every trump card from digital audio’s recent history. And it adapts to the aspirations of its owner. Owners with volume control on their wish list can, for example, plug into the slot on the motherboard a passive volume level controller (available as an option for €1,900), which adjusts the level > Source Blu-ray/SACD-Player in 1-dB steps via a relay-switched resistor network. Naturally it can also be used to define the cut-in level and the maximum volume. The great thing about the volume option is that it includes an analogue input. Also available as an option, the upsampler (€1,100) is probably only worthwhile for audio fanatics, who want to further fine-tune the sound. Depending on input data rate, it increases the frequency to 352.8 or 384kHz and extends precision to 32 bits. The USB 2 add-on (€550) is of greater use. This is the interface that accepts music data from a computer or laptop. USB 2 allows data of up to 384kHz to pass to the converter at 24 bits. To avoid any hum from ground loops and to suppress any electromagnetic interference MSB allows the port its own supply voltage and galvanically isolates it from the outside world. On the inside the DAC IV first uses a proprietary digital filter to free all data of any high-frequency ballast. Traditional filters were not good enough for MSB. The calculation specifications for a proprietary filter become so extensive that they keep two digital signal processors and a micro-controller busy. An intended side effect is that the memories Larry Gullman, Network administrator „Our Universal Media Player reproduces all audio formats in full resolution. Even SACD.“ temporarily store the bits of data in the DSPs before they are shifted out using quartz correctly synchronised to the converters. Inexpensive off-the-shelf 1-bit converters that stitch the analogue signal back together like a sewing machine were too suspect for MSB. The developers argue that while at full and minimal volumes they offered satisfactory results, only multi-bit converters that compile the signal slice by slice from the individual words are consistently good in all areas. Sadly this species of converter has all but died out. That left MSB with no other choice than to build up the multi-bit ones from the ground up using an ultra-precise resistor network. There is only one other company I know of that has ever dared such a mad project. That was Accuphase, many years ago. The Japanese optimised their converters to 16 bits and 44.1kHz. Modern high-resolution formats demand at least 24-bit resolution – and sufficient reserves in terms of the sampling rate. MSB focussed on the SACD with 2.8224MHz and guarantees a bandwidth of 3MHz. The converters can thus face the audiophile future with confidence. The (optional) USB input is standard for all high-bit formats from a PC; the Universal Media Transport feeds the DAC IV with all data formats saved solely on DVDs and Blu-rays. Only from discs? Not at all! The player’s USB input accepts practically all storage media: from USB sticks to MP3 players all the way to high-resolution audio from hard drives. The player is equipped with a browser and the Foobar 2000 media player. In no time at all it reads the contents of hard discs, provides on-screen navigation to the musical items and plays practically everything back. And how! Alone in terms of it measured readings this combined player/converter is absolutely perfect! The frequency response paths end as they should. Using a measuring signal of Sensational: four multi-bit DA converters with hand-fitted ultra-precise resistors under the covers 192kHz, they run as if drawn by ruler and do not terminate until just before 100kHz. It is also sensational how the player restores DVD data dropouts of up to around four millimetres to perfection. The jitter rates, too, practically set new records. The extremely low rates are appreciably less than 180p – no matter whether from USB, CD or network. In the measuring lab a model pupil, the combined player/converter also proved top of the class in the listening test. Even from CD it played in a breezy, easy style and an unashamedly vivid feel. Via a reference system it made the differences between MP3, CD and high resolution more than audible. With all kinds of music and every format it sounded totally natural and free of stress, almost addictive: the MSBs extract from low-bit formats and even CDs facets that defeat comparable players and converters. The competition was barely able to hold its own against the DAC IV’s effortless vivacity. With high resolution it brought instrument bodies and strings fully into harmony and produced pinpoint acoustic mapping without relegating any single instrument to being the chance source of sound. Complex acoustic structures felt significantly clearer and better than from CD. When comparing SACD to CD the testers noted more atmosphere, more aura and appreciably more intermediary tones. And precisely for that reason one wish remained unfulfilled: the desire for an equally natural and emotionally charged multi-channel player. Especially as the Universal Media Transport reproduces video data with all its facets. Seldom had the testers seen such natural pictures, rarely had camera pans been brought to the screen so smoothly. The Transport did not exaggerate anything and the image was pin sharp. The verdict: anyone who above all else wants multi-channel sound will need to be patient for a while longer. For stereo fans, however, there is no need to look further than MSB’s Universal Media Transport. It bowls you over with fabulous full-HD video, while from MP3 to SACD it will thrill you with natural, fine sound from all formats. > 110 Test-BD Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto The diagram: Frequency response The MSB produces fabulous readings all round. The frequency response paths run as if drawn by ruler. High resolution (192kHz) gets relayed, as it should be, with a bandwidth of up to the Nyquist frequency of around 90kHz. MSB Technology Universal Media Transport List price: €3,950 Guarantee period: 2 years Dimensions WxHxD (cm): 44.5 x 6.3 x 31.8 Weight: 19.5kg (incl. mains adapter) Finish: Silver / black Connections: Video: Comp./HDMI/RS232 Audio: LAN/USB/TOSLINK/ RCA/TRS MSB DAC IV with volume control, analogue input and Power Base mains adapter unit List price: €10,350 Guarantee period: 2 years Dimensions WxHxD (cm): 44.5 x 6.3 x 31.8 each Weight: 19kg Distribution: WBS Veilchenweg 21 D-65366 Geisenheim Germany Telephone: +49 (0)6722 4092860 Internet: www.WBS-Acoustics.com Pristine recording by Norwegian label 2L on a pure audio Blu-ray disc. The set made up of a Blu-ray (with 5.1 and 24-bit / 192kHz stereo) and SACD sounds out the differences between the formats. The author Ulrich Fessler Came into the hi-fi world for financial reasons. To fund his studies he signed on as a specialist advisor for trade shows and events with Karl Breh’s team at the German Hi-Fi Institute. After university, he then achieved the seamless transition to ‘stereoplay’ magazine. AUDIOphile Character Effortlessly spacious and soft Grippingly emotional and dynamic Neutral and authentic Immediacy high resolution AUDIOphile Potential Recommendation Unique combination, capable of reproducing all current high quality discs types. There is no compromise neither in stereo reproduction nor in picture quality.
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