2023 DAC comparison: MSB Select vs dCS Vivaldi Apex vs Wadax Atlantis Reference

Hi everyone,


Title says it all - can anyone provide any insight/feedback in regards to these DACs? Yes, I understand their price points (especially the Wadax) are on the level of ridiculous.


I am coming from an EMM Lab DA2 with PRE setup (Shunyata power and cabling). I have only heard the Wadax Atlantis from a dealer near by me. From a sound presentation, it was impressive to say the least. I am wondering how the MSB and dCS compare.


I will probably attempt to update and give my perspective on these as time passes and I'm able to listen.


Mike Lavigne ran the MSB Select before moving onto the Wadax and has given a full write up of it on WBF. I wouldn’t be surprised if he replies to this thread he still participates here on occasion. 

Looking at DAC’s on your list, why not line up a home audition through your dealer. While opinions and direct experiences of others may provide some perspective, a home audition at this level is the only way to go IMHO. 

we have a demo t+asdv 3100which ranks up therewith rhe best of the bestdacs we had a meitnertrade in dac2  and the t+a was far  superior


Dave and Troy

audio intellect nj

former t+a dealers

compares are not trivial to do. to start out you need a system sufficiently sorted out to give you good feedback, and maybe some analog references in the system for context. then you need a very trusting dealer, or dealers, to loan the gear. helps if you already own one of the products, so you only need to acquire one other product.

in the case of dacs and servers, you need the ideal server for each dac, fully optimized, or you won’t get a true result.

it is a lot of work. if.....you desire a reliable result.

which is why you rarely see properly executed direct compares, even by reviewers, for dacs and servers at the tip top of the food chain.

i did do a direct compare in my system, with my own MSB Select II using the Taiko Extreme server, compared to a loaned the Wadax Reference dac and Reference Server. at the end i did buy the Wadax combo, and sell the MSB and Taiko Extreme.

i did a through job and had plenty of analog references on hand for checking things. i also had multiple other listeners participate in various stages of the compare. i compared the Wadax dac and the MSB dac both using the Taiko Extreme server. then compared the MSB and Extreme to the Wadax dac and server. then i compared the MSB dac to the Wadax dac both using USB into the Wadax server. then the MSB dac on the USB into the Wadax server compared to the Wadax dac into the Wadax server with the Akasa optical interface.

left no stone unturned. if i was going to go big $$$’s for the Wadax i needed to know the score.

and the MSB had been in my system for 4 years and was fully optimized, the Wadax was the new kid and not optimized, until some months after the compare was long over.

read about it here. 1010 posts. the first 20 pages (of 51) are about the compare, the rest is about my optimizing the Wadax over a number of months after i owned it.


others have done more casual compares with Wadax combo to the MSB and other dacs including the dCS Vivaldi Apex with similar but not as clear cut results.

and know that the MSB now has a new piece, the MSB Digital Director, which likely does for the MSB what Apex did for the dCS. and you have Intona, and Lampi Horizon, and Merging Technologies NADAC to consider. and maybe some others.

i’ve heard them all as stand alone products and my 2 cents is that none of those does what i hear the Wadax combo does, but this is just my casual opinion.

all these products are worthy, and will do a fine job of making great music. no losers here. for myself, i wanted digital that can look my very excellent vinyl and tape in the eye and be fully satisfied in that realm. now 15 months later, i’m very happy with the Wadax. it's 60-70% of my listening even with 3 great turntables and 2 great tape decks.

YMMV. good luck.

FYI: the wadax combo along with some $150k reference loudspeakers were in one of the worst sounding rooms at last years Axpona according to multiple reviewers/sources. 
In the past, years ago, I preferred other dacs to the at the time best dac MSB offered for quite a bit less money. 
I would never use the faulty usb protocol into a dac. Every review I have read and in my own experience, usb sounds worse than i2s or Ethernet.

FYI: the wadax combo along with some $150k reference loudspeakers were in one of the worst sounding rooms at last years Axpona according to multiple reviewers/sources.
In the past, years ago, I preferred other dacs to the at the time best dac MSB offered for quite a bit less money.


as i mentioned above, it’s not trivial to do a proper compare, and it starts with a sorted out room. when i go into a room at an audio show and don’t care for the sound i don’t associate the gear with that perception other than the most slight data point. maybe it’s a Friday and i return on Sunday.

I would never use the faulty usb protocol into a dac. Every review I have read and in my own experience, usb sounds worse than i2s or Ethernet.

of course, those who pay attention would know the Wadax does not use the USB interface, it uses the Akasa optical interface. it can use USB, but it’s not ideal.

OTOH i happen to strongly disagree with your USB comments relative to my time with the MSB Select II. early on i was using the MSB Ethernet interface, the Renderer v2, then i tried the MSB Pro USB interface and that was clearly better. it’s a mistake to generalize about digital interfaces. it’s all about execution. and a moving target.

now with the Digital Director, MSB might have a different ideal interface. don't know about it.

and reviewers rarely have state of the art servers for the dacs they review. so i would be careful what you read. better to investigate for yourself at the top level. maybe at more modest level gear USB is less effective than Ethernet. that might be true, but i don’t personally know about it. again, it’s about execution more than dogma.

I spent two days last week with an old friend in the Bay Area 

who has been selling the best hifi lines available for many years.

His store carries the DCS line because it is the best sounding product available.


Wadax is the best Dac that I had ever listened.




Select II, Ideon Absolute, Lampi Horizon, Vivaldi full stacks are almost in the same league just below Wadax.


Vivalidi sounds rather anayltical while Horizon is on the musical side.

Ideon sounds robust with balanced while Select II sounds analog like.

The choice of one of four will be dependent on system and personal taste.

If you can afford it, you had better audition Wadax, it is in another league.



His store carries the DCS line because it is the best sounding product available

According to who ? High End Audio is about as subjective and personal as an endeavor could possibly be. That’s terrific if you like it but proclamations aren’t applicable to audio and music .






Matiching of Wilson and Vivaldi full stacks is the worst combination.


But with neutral  speaker like YG or MBL, Vivaldi full stacks can do better.



thanks for posting that, @shkong78

Fred Crowder is a very credible listener. and a good guy. not had the dCS Vivaldi Apex in my room for a direct compare, but agree with Fred about the Wadax. for 18 months i've been saying it resembles good vinyl/analog. it's special.

Thank you for the input everyone.


@mikelavigne - I will read through your review. 

@shkong78 - Didn't see that article. Goodwin's is my home store and I have been starting to compare the Vivaldi Apex


My baseline reference is for better or worse the Wadax. I agree with Mike that doing these reviews and comparisons are very difficult due to all the variables. Look forward to further listening

The Wadax DAC and server seem extraordinary, per Robert Harley. In the stratosphere costwise, but if price is no deterrent...
WADAX server


Most of us have experienced the thrill of hearing a favorite album in a fabulous remastering. The best remastering jobs are transformative. You hear a newfound clarity; each instrument or voice is distinct and sonically separate; the bass suddenly has depth, texture, pitch, and nuance; the treble is smooth and liquid rather than hard and metallic; a murky haze gives way to crystalline clarity; and there’s an ease and warmth that draw you into the music. As a result, you experience the music in a different and more profound way.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to conjure up any album we choose for the remastered experience; we must rely on whatever titles the reissue companies provide. But I have discovered a device that performs the astonishing feat of making any digital file sound almost like it had undergone a high-quality remastering. I would not have believed such a thing were possible unless I heard it for myself. 

That device is the Wadax Atlantis Reference Music Server when driving the Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC. Quite apart from the Reference Server’s revelatory performance is the surprising and happy realization that many of digital’s sonic limitations are the result of decoding on playback rather than flaws permanently embedded in the music files. To say that this bodes well for the future of digital audio is an understatement. 

The unfortunate news is that, at $221,495, the Wadax duo is astronomically expensive. That’s a breathtaking number for a digital front end by any measure. Nonetheless, it took a device of the Wadax’s sophistication to reveal the true sound quality hidden within our digital files. The Spanish company spent four years researching the techniques for extracting this musicality and for making even standard-resolution files vastly more enjoyable. Although it took a $200k+ pair of devices to prove the concept, it is my fervent hope—and Wadax’s intention—that the company will apply its technology to lower-priced products accessible to a wider range of music lovers. For those of you who object to the very existence of a such an expensive digital front end, consider that those wealthy customers who can afford the Wadax pair are subsidizing the R&D for the rest of us. 

The Wadax Reference DAC, which I reviewed in Issue 312 and named our Overall Product of the Year Award-winner in 2020, set a new benchmark in digital sound quality in my experience. But it turns out that the $145,000 Reference DAC is only half of the equation; Wadax has been developing proprietary new music-server technologies that go hand-in-hand with the DAC to elevate the sound of digital audio to unprecedented heights.