MSB Platinum Link Plus D/A processor Page 2
DAC on the Block
I seem to experience a feeding frenzy of DACs every year or two, and the Platinum Link Plus arrived while I was in the midst of the latest one. On the one hand, these frenzies make it easier to set up comparisons that emphasize specific differences; on the other, they make it hard for me to keep an undivided mind in my time with a single product. In the case of the MSB Platinum Link Plus, such extended and exclusive auditioning was even more important, since it has so many options that demand individual comment.
My first listening session involved using the coax S/PDIF feed from a Meridian 508.24 CD player and the MSB's XLR analog outputs connected to the Sonic Frontiers Line-3 preamplifier. MSB offers minimal guidance with regard to the various options, leaving the user to choose what he thinks works best. I began with 4x upsampling, 16x interpolation, and the steep filter on. This seemed to work fine, so I settled in to become familiar with the MSB before pushing any more buttons.
My initial impression was of great midrange clarity and good dynamics, but with greater harmonic fullness in voices, and the extension of this purity well into the treble compared with the less-expensive Link DACs. The bass extension and spectral balance were unexceptional in the best sense: They didn't call attention to themselves except when musically warranted. The bass and low percussion on "Jailbird Love Song," from David Johansen and the Harry Smiths' Shaker (CD, Chesky JD236), was potent and well-defined but appropriately resonant, as it should be—it was recorded in an old wooden church.
Keep in mind that the Platinum Plus incorporates MSB's PS1000 power supply, which I concluded in Vol.23 No.9 was the most important option available for the original Link DAC. Since there's no stock wall-wart for swapping, I couldn't tell how much the PS1000 contributed to the solidity and tightness of the Platinum Link Plus's bass or, indeed, to its overall lack of grunge anywhere. However, I'm sure that it made a mighty contribution to the processor's ability to drive long interconnect lines, balanced or unbalanced, with rock-solid grip and without noise. I briefly ran the Platinum Plus driving my amps directly, using the Z-Systems rdp-1 as the system controller. This experience showed that the Platinum Plus, along with the Weiss Medea, is one of the few DACs that can handle long lines and demanding loads as well as the best line preamps.
The Platinum Link Plus's spatial presentation was better than the Link III's, extending well beyond the speaker positions laterally and longitudinally. But here was where I found the imperfection in the Platinum Plus's performance. Progressively more distant sounds, regardless of level, were progressively softer and less detailed. This appeared to correlate with a concomitant softening of treble detail at low levels.
When I listened to Colin Davis and the London Symphony's recent recording of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique (LSO Live LSO0007), paying attention to strings toward the back of the stage required a bit more effort unless I turned up the gain somewhat more that usual. This was not due to a lack of treble extension or, it seemed, to any graininess at these levels, but the low-level treble was characterized by a marginally audible uncertainty. In fact, this presentation was quite natural in that it reminded me of a mildly reduced treble signal/noise ratio—except that I couldn't hear the noise itself, just the effect. The upside was that I never heard the Platinum Plus make an ungraceful sound. Those who have groped for gadgets with which they can filter out digititis from their systems will never need them with this DAC.
Those observations in mind, there was nothing to do but see if the use of the Platinum Plus's many options would affect my impressions. The general answer: The MSB usually sounded as good as possible with all its options invoked. As a result, I couldn't find a consistent reason not to upsample or interpolate, except to convince myself of the value of these features. Sure, there were specific instances where I was motivated to try because I didn't find the sound perfectly satisfying, but the fault in those cases was, ultimately, the source material.