Monarchy Audio Digital Interface Processor 24/96

Sorry to empty your wallet this month, but here's a must-have if you want to get the most from your upsampling MSB Link DAC III: Monarchy Audio's Digital Interface Processor 24/96 (DIP for short).

Remember my writeup of the original DIP, back in June 1997 (Vol.20 No.6)? No? C.C. Poon? Monkey-picked tea? Go read it, if you have the back issue. I fell for the "monkey-picked" business hook, line, and sinker, and then learned from several readers that tea-picking monkeys is a good story. Good tea, though, and I wish I spoke Chinese—I haven't been able to find any more.

What does the DIP do, dippity-doo? (Stop it, Sam, or J-10 will slap you!) It reduces jitter—that form of distortion created when a CD player or transport reads the disc and transmits the data. Jitter, the great bugaboo of digital, can give you the heebie-jeebies—the more you do to banish it, the better your digital playback system will sound.

To do just that, the DIP uses a Phase-Locked Loop to recover the master clock, suppresses as much of the jitter (yes, Lars calls it "yitter") as possible, then encodes the new data and clock into a fresh datastream. (There's isolation so the incoming datastream doesn't foul the outgoing datastream.)

This Mk.II DIP 24/96 handles 24/96 signals and passes all digital surround formats, including AC-3 and DTS. And it includes a new AC input filter that Monarchy claims blocks "all" external noises from the AC line. All? If you say so, C.C.

That's not all the DIP-da-dip-da-dip does.

As C.C. Poon explained, the standard signal coming out of a CD transport is a feeble 0.5V. When the DIP reclocks the datastream, it boosts the signal to 5V. "The stronger output ameliorates some of the deficiency of the digital cable, which has to carry a very complicated signal," said C.C.

The DIP done did it, all right.

For starters, it allowed me to use a coaxial cable going into the DIP and an AES/EBU cable coming out, which in turn allowed me to use the AES/EBU input of the Link DAC III and engage the MSB Network. Whew!

But even with two coaxial cables, the DIP substantially improved the sound of my Link DAC III, especially when upsampling was engaged. The sound became cleaner, clearer, smoother. Transient definition improved. The harmonic presentation—already superb—went up yet another notch in quality. No edginess whatsoever!

And the music sounded louder, more dynamic—almost startlingly so, as if I'd cranked up my preamp's volume control. Could boosting the digital signal to 5V have such an effect? I heard C.C. smile over the phone.

I tried TosLink into the DIP and an AES/EBU cable out of the DIP. I preferred coaxial in, but only marginally so. This is very good news for those whose CD players—like several CD changers I've seen—are equipped with only a TosLink optical digital output.

I suspect that the results in my system were particularly gratifying because jitter suppression becomes critical with upsampling. (The Link DAC's upsampling board has a quartz-crystal oscillator to reclock the signal and suppress jitter, so it's not as if MSB has ignored the issue. The more jitter reduction the better, it seems.)

I found the DIP difference to be less dramatic with the Link DAC's upsampling disengaged, but I still liked the added smoothness, the freedom from edginess (jitter is aptly named), and the more dynamic sound.

I highly recommend the Monarchy Audio DIP 24/96 for owners of the Link DAC III with upsampling—for $249, it's almost a no-brainer. To prioritize, I'd put the DIP even before the P1000 Power Base, because cleaner sound is more important than more dynamic sound.

Remember, the DIP will let you use the Full Nelson Link DAC III's AES/EBU input and, thus, the MSB Network. (Most CD players lack an AES/EBU balanced digital output.) The DIP could be very useful if your data source is a computer. Use an optical TosLink cable into the DIP (to electrically isolate the DIP from the computer), then use an AES/EBU cable into the Link DAC III.

Just for laughs, I used a RadioShack Optimus 3400 portable CD player into the DIP—damned if I could tell the difference between the 3400 and the two full-sized players!

I'd consider the DIP for any system. Buy it with a money-back guarantee, try it out, and see how it cures the jitters. Beats having to buy an expensive new transport! Beats adopting a new digital audio-disc format, too. If upsampling is the cat's meow, the DIP is the cat's whiskers.