A Stroke - WBS Acoustics
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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