MSB Link DAC III D/A converter Page 3

The opening brass-and-drum irruption of Bernstein's Candide Overture (Eiji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra, Reference Recordings RR-87CD) was startling in its impact, the bass tight, clean, and palpable even without HDCD decoding. The original Link, itself no slouch in the bass, also benefited from the addition of a P1000. The Power Base is the most cost-effective option, as it elevates the performance of any Link DAC.

Final Variations and Coda
Three loose ends to tie up:

First, MSB offers the option of manipulating the amount of analog filtering on the outputs. Stock Link IIIs come with two jumpers per channel and "rather heavy filtering [of] the outputs to achieve perfect measurements." My Full Nelson version had only one jumper set, a suggested option for "those who prefer greater dynamics and attack." I found two jumpers in my computer-parts bin and confirmed MSB's prescription: One pair is just right for the Nelson version, but may not be for the plain-vanilla Link.

Second, I briefly auditioned the optional 33MHz oscillator for the upsampler, but its effect was marginal. I used it for a while, then switched back to the 25MHz chip, noting no appreciable differences.

Third and most significant, I connected the balanced output of my Z-systems rdp-1 digital preamp-equalizer to the AES/EBU input that distinguishes the Full Nelson from the Half Nelson Link III. At first, this simply did not work. The DAC would not reliably switch from the S/PDIF input, and when it did, there was a cacophony of buzzes and zizzes, but no music.

Had I tried this earlier, I might have sent the whole thing back to MSB, but by now I was in the final countdown. I powered down the Link, disconnected it completely, and ran off to the country for the weekend. When I returned, I connected the AES/EBU input, the analog outputs, and, finally, the P1000 Power Base—no S/PDIF. On power-up, the Link III buzzed and zapped for two or three seconds, then, miraculously, locked on to the signal. Gorgeous sound pealed forth.

Wow and double-wow! I had left this feature for last, as my experience is that the audible differences between AES/EBU and S/PDIF are at best minor, and usually irrelevant. Not so here. By far, I obtained the most musical and impressive performance from the Link III via AES/EBU. I reveled in a wonderful live recording of Handel's Messiah (Anders Ohrwall, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, FIM XRCD 2000), a performance recorded in 1982 by Bertil Alving, who was responsible for the famous LP Cantate Domino. The transfer of the analog masters to XRCD is breathtakingly beautiful, and the AES/EBU input revealed it in the integrity of the voices and their individual and combined placements in the reverberant space. It was also nice via S/PDIF, but AES/EBU had more power, life, and space. Upsampling was simply not needed. Who'd a-thunk it?

I thought the original MSB Link was an unbeatable value. I was wrong. The Link III is even better, and more exciting. The sound qualities of the Full and Half Nelson versions are excellent and fully justify the prices. As for the other sonic goodies, the P1000 and the Upsampling Option are both desirable and cost-effective. Add them all up, however, and the price approaches $1400, so a little prioritizing might be called for. If you're thinking about plonking down all that cash at once, there are many other DACs to consider, including MSB's own Gold Link and Bel Canto's DAC 1.

But few products short of a Swiss Army knife offer the versatility and options of the Link III. I recommend that you start with the Full Nelson version if you want to realize the full potential of the Link III. Unless you're sure you'll never have an AES/EBU source, pass up the Half Nelson and go all the way.

As for upgrades, the P1000 is the mandatory next step because it lets the AES/EBU Link to really sing. Upsampling? Nice but not essential. HDCD? Useful but not urgent. Virtual 3D? Not for me. 192kHz processing? I can hardly wait.

You make your own choices with the Full Nelson/P1000 version of the MSB Link III: a great DAC that can play anything today, and is adaptable for the future.

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