MSB Technology’s Data CD IV Transport

MSB Technology has been a company that has been at the forefront of digital audio for over 25 years. ‘Perfect Sound Forever’ is still in need of being perfected. With a history of developing ground breaking products it is no surprise that their latest line of electronics continues in that same tradition. The DATA CD IV Transport was designed to continue in that tradition. It plays standard Redbook CDs and Hi-Resolution CDs up to 32bit/384khz. Of course, to realize the benefit of higher resolution recordings one must have a DAC that can handle them. The IV has various outputs, Toslink, Coaxial, Balanced digital (AES/EBU), and MSB’s PRO I2S Network. There are 3 additional future outputs that are presently undefined.

The construction of the unit is appears to be very solid and is designed to minimize vibration by having four integral footers comprised of an elastomeric compound as part of their construction. It is also provided with four protective discs that receive the footers and protect your shelving. All the units they make have this design and can stack on top of one another.

A typical CD drive, no matter how robust its construction, depends on the pick-up laser to accurately, read the high speed spinning disc. Any errors that are on the disc or in the reading thereof results in negatively affecting the sound quality. The IV is a true memory player and uses a computer drive to get all the bits. It includes an aggressive process to get those bits that may slow the disc, speed the disc, focus the laser high, focus the laser low, and reread again and again. Thus, staying ahead of the stream that is already determined to be bit perfect. The IV loads this corrected signal into the playback buffer memory, which is what you are actually listening to. This results in sending a bit perfect, jitter-free signal from its playback memory to your DAC.

The IV comes with a desktop 12 volt power supply. You’ll know it as the non-descript black box that accompanies a computer or printer. We all know or should know how important a good power supply is to contributing to the quality of the sound. MSB offers several levels of upgrades of power supply choices. Upgrade to The Signature Transport power base ($3,495.00) which is designed for use only with a transport and comes with their premium Diamond umbilical cable. The other power bases, the Platinum ($2,495.00), the Signature ($3,495.00) and the Diamond ($4,495.00) will operate both an MSB DAC and an MSB Transport. They all come in matching chassis to the CD IV Transport and they sit underneath it making for a very handsome stack. Add one of their matching DACs and you’ll have their complete package. They all have the same chassis design and matching aesthetic which I think is very cool looking. MSB also offers a variety of color finishes that will fit most any color scheme. In this review I evaluated the IV with the supplied desktop power supply and then followed up with the Signature Transport power base.

Rear of the units.

Rear of the units.

Before actual listening started, Vince Galbo, National Sales Manager at MSB, graciously walked me through the set-up procedure for optimizing its performance. I think I could have figured it out from the manual but he wanted to forestall any possible problems. Onward.

I also felt that I should use the Kaplan Cable GS MK II power cord with the Transport since it is what I was using with my reference CD player, The Marantz SA7- S1. I used the internal DAC of my DEQX hdp-3 processor which operates at 24/96 via the SPDIF input. My reference digital cable, the Antipodes Audio Kokiri carried the digital signal.

The manual states that a 100 hour burn-in period is required to optimize the unit’s performance, which I followed. My listening started out with standard Redbook CDs. I went through my usual list and was immediately struck by the improvement in the quality of the reproduction. The improvement in detail across the board was most obvious. In CD after CD I was enjoying the increase in low level information that previously had been somewhat obscured. Subtle cues and textures were making themselves felt adding more to the realism of the presentation. Some audiophiles assume that an increase in detail rides along with edginess and/or hardness. In this case it is happily not so. This was detail done right. It added to the completeness of the listening experience.

Instrumental timbres were accurately portrayed and with an increase in air around instruments. We seemed to have gained more space and separation accompanied by greater focus and more body. This was an observation that was clearly noticeable and appreciated.

Another area where a noticeable change occurred was in bass performance. The bass had always been satisfactory in my system and most people who’ve heard it want to know where my subwoofer is. The IV produced a more defined, tighter bass with equal impact and an increase in overall power. It wasn’t just a ‘thud’ but a defined musical note derived from a real instrument, with full overtones.

With Signature Transport Power Base

I was enjoying the presentation through the CD IV so much that I wondered what the Signature Transport power base could do to the performance that I wasn’t already getting? Well, I was prepared to hear minor improvements but was surprised and impressed with what I now heard coming from my system. The sound had a more dynamic quality. It seemed like my system had gained in power and explosiveness which brought it closer to a live music experience. I think part of the reasons for this is in the perceived black background the unit develops. Some ‘black’ backgrounds can be described as flat, or two dimensional, some, velvet-like or soft. The MSB Signature Transport power base provides a black background that is alive with energy, anticipation and three-dimensionality. You just feel it. Instruments gained more substance and body while the soundstage grew in depth with more apparent air, possibly also a result of the quality of the background that the Signature Transport power base provided. It was also apparent that an even further increase in low level resolution had occurred, bringing greater verisimilitude to the sound.

The addition of the Signature Transport power base to the CD IV transport has taken the already excellent performance of the CD IV to even greater heights. And this was with standard CDs. The sound with higher resolution CDs (the few I could obtain) had a more analog sound quality. I’m still not crazy about down loading Hi Res files and converting them from FLAC files to WAV files and then burning a CD. As of this writing Reference Recordings, Chesky and MA Recordings are the only companies that produce hi resolution discs. I can only hope that more join in.

I hear all the time, especially from the younger crowd, how physical media will be disappearing and everything will be ‘on line’ streaming. Besides computer glitches, drop-outs, different formats and file conversions I’ll stay with the physical media. [As I hear more, me, too! – Ed] There is something about holding the media in your hands, and reading the info booklet in the jewel case and inserting the disc that makes the listening experience more complete. It sounds like the venerable CD is still going to be around for awhile. Just look at the resurgence in vinyl. Vinyl requires even more care, more handling and has its own quirks and drawbacks, but people want it for the sound quality and are willing to put up with all that. With the CD playing system that MSB has created one can surely understand keeping the venerable CD around quite a while longer. They made “Perfect Sound Forever” a whole lot better.

The CD IV transport and the Signature Transport power base will be my new CD reference playback source.

Further information: MSB Technology