Musetec (LKS) MH-DA005 DAC

Some history: I was the OP on a four year old thread about the Chinese LKS MH-DA004 DAC. It achieved an underground buzz. The open architecture of its predecessor MH-DA003 made it the object of a lot of user mods, usually to its analog section, rolling op amps or replacing with discrete. The MH-DA004 with its new ESS chips and JFET analog section was called better then the modified older units. It has two ES9038pro DAC chips deliberately run warm, massive power supply, powered Amanero USB board, JFET section, 3 Crystek femtosecond clocks, Mundorf caps, Cardas connectors, etc., for about $1500. For this vinyl guy any reservation about ESS chips was resolved by the LKS implimentaion, but their revelation of detail was preserved, something that a listener to classic music especially appreciated. I made a list of DACs (many far more expensive) it was compared favorably to in forums. Modifications continued, now to clocks and caps. Components built to a price can be improved by costlier parts and the modifiers wrote glowingly of the SQ they achieved.

Meanwhile, during the 4 years after release of the MH-DA004, LKS (now Musetec) worked on the new MH-DA005 design, also with a pair of ES9038pro chips. This time he used more of the best components available. One torroidal transformer has silver plated copper. Also banks of super capacitors that act like batteries, solid silver hookup wire, 4 femtoclocks each costing multiples of the Crysteks, a revised Amanero board, more of the best European caps and a new partitioned case. I can't say cost NO object, but costs well beyond. A higher price, of course. Details at

The question, surely, is: How does it sound? I'm only going to answer indirectly for the moment. I thought that the MH-DA004 was to be my last DAC, or at least for a very long time. I was persuaded to part with my $$ by research, and by satisfaction with the MH-DA004. Frankly, I have been overwhelmed by the improvement; just didn't think it was possible. Fluidity, clarity, bass extension. A post to another board summed it up better than I can after listening to piano trios: "I have probably attended hundreds of classical concerts (both orchestral and chamber) in my life. I know what live sounds like in a good and bad seat and in a good and mediocre hall. All I can say is HOLY CRAP, this sounds like the real thing from a good seat in a good hall. Not an approximation of reality, but reality."



This post comparing the Musetec and the Holo May was by teknorob23. He had earlier written here that he preferred the Musetec to the $13,400 Mola Mola Tambaqui. And, of course, I’m certain based on a lot of reading on the subject that some will prefer the Tambaqui.

I’m beginning to think even more seriously seriously about what he and others have written that there are a number of DACs in this "class" and the choice will very much depend on preferences and associated components.

There are no winners; there are no losers.

The May verses the 005 seems to be discussed on a few threads here. I just posted this on one of those threads:

@Technorob said: “I currently have both 005 and May. The May just edges it in most areas by a small margin, with the exception of layer separation, stage width and depth where the May is significantly better.”

I will throw in my thoughts. I can definitely see Technorob’s point of view on “layer separation, stage width and depth” being different on the May, but not better. (To my old ear, the other aspects were not “just edged[s]” out by the May but  too close to call.)

It is a matter of perspective, double entendre intended. Many, if not most audiophiles, highly value layer separation, stage width and depth. The underlying frame of reference for most is probably amplified non-acoustic electronically produced music that exists only in recordings, not in real space. Big clear layering and sound stage sounds great with a lot of non-accoustic recorded music and will be preferred by many.

In my opinion, the May does, compared to the 005,  provide an unreal feel of spacial separation and distance at the same time. This is like seeing an image get bigger as you walk further away. As a real concert goer, this is a distortion, even though many will love the effect. It also gains separation by missing natural sound between instruments

I will explain. My perspective is what I hear at a live unamplified concert. If you want maximum separation of instruments and voices, you would have to be very close to the stage if not actually on it. Even then the sound would only be sharply separated and layered if you were listening with your head physically in between instruments. 

Realistic perspective is similar in both sight and sound. When you walk closer to a destination the visual details in you visual field naturally become more visible and separate. It’s the same with sound. When you walk closer to the stage, the sound field gets bigger and instruments sound further apart in space. There is some layering partly depending on your elevation, but nothing in the realm of “audiophile” layering. Sound naturally blends together in the real world. Yes, 3-d palpability exists in the real world, but not in the way many audiophiles love or imagine. 

I said this in my review:

. . . I said in the review I would report back after a few weeks. I hesitated to do that because the more I listened the more it confirmed my initial impressions stated in the review. I would not change my basic conclusions. I have very little to add. I would add this. Over time I felt I was missing musical information when I listened to the May. At times the May seemed to allow more space between instruments or musicians which at first I believed to be a good thing. I came to realize that this was because the May was omitting sound to get this effect. Much like an artist using charcoal shade to create a 3d effect. I decided to sell the May. Not because it is objectively inferior, but it does not satisfy my preference for realism which comes from concert going experience. Different strokes for different folks.



Your post is, as always, enlightening.  As you write, it is a matter of perspective.  I remember old posts on Audiogon suggesting that the Holo May R2R provides a middle-of-the-hall sound rather than the up-close sound of a SD chip.  This is suggestive of a more blended sound and might seem at odds with any exaggerated sense of space and separation.  I guess my point is that no one is evaluating a DAC in isolation.  The DAC exists in an environment of the digital chain preceding it, and of the analog components following it.  The other half of the environment is the musical genre.  Change any of these and a DAC evaluation or comparison will change.

In any event I'm glad the thread you initiated is out front again.  You have demonstrated what a review might be.  This Instead of simply throwing out a few conclusory words. 

@melm Thanks for the kind words. I agree with your comments on the effect of the entire chain. Still, in a nut shell, I would say the May tends to make a small ensemble sound big by adding seperation and a big ensemble lacking in detail. Again, my perspective is realism, not untethered pleasure. I do not mean to imply those who go for the euphoric sound are misguided. They just have different priorities, perspective and musical preferences.

After having owned this product a solid 3 weeks, I fail the see the hype. I see what it does to the audio and how it does clean it up a bit, but I don't see it leaps and bounds ahead of what other 1k$ priced dacs offer. In fact, ive had nothing but problems and misery since I've bought this dam thing. Glitches in audio, random disconnects, random desyncs and other problems that don't fix themselves until unplugging the usb. There are times when I watch a video, hit pause, and the audio buffer decides to keep playing on a loop non stop. Super annoying. I think there's something wrong with these Amanero drivers. I'm tempted to return this dam thing. For 3k$ it was supposed to make my life so much easier, but instead its been nothing but troublesome. Furthermore, the Amanero board does NOT remotely come close to removing all the noise from a PC. I still have some mild background static. Its  better than my previous dacs, but its built in galvanic isolation is really mediocre at best. I was really expecting much better filtering out of it, but I guess theres no avoiding having to buy a 3rd party isolator. Oh well. So yeah, who else has usb driver problems with this thing?