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."


I posted this at ASR:

I’ll try to state my view as clearly as I can now to avoid endless repetitive back and forth. I am not looking to be a troll or be trolled. I have only occasionally read this forum, but the impression I’ve gotten on this Musetec “review” is that not one comment was from anyone who has listened to it. How much time did Amir spend listening to it? I have owned this dac for over a year and spent many hours listening to it and also comparing it to the Holo May.

My thesis then is the tail is wagging the dog here. Why do we even care about audio equipment if not to listen to music? Please read that sentence twice.

The interesting and important question is: why do measurements of audio equipment sometimes differ sharply from what is subjectively heard by the listener? Even John Atckinson the measurement guru of Stereophile magazine has commented on occasion that his listening impression differs from what he has heard.

So, since musical enjoyment is primary, the significant question to examine scientifically is: why do measurements of audio equipment sometimes differ sharply from what is subjectively heard by the listener?

This is a scientific question, though not one confined to physics and electronic date exclusively. As far as I know at this time we do not know the answer. It is not easy to explore, but it seems to me we should look to the fields of psychology and neuropsychology. For now, again, it seems we don’t know. Clearly enjoyment of music is a mental phenomenon.

To emphasis my point, when we go to a concert, do we bring a microphone, computer, and oscilloscope? No, of course we go to listen and enjoy the music. Again, the tail is wagging the dog in this forum.

What’s going on here appears to be neither science nor a review, but a measurement report. My conclusion is that this forum might best be called not Audio Science Review Forum, but Audio Equipment Measurement Report. The data measured is of interest but ultimately only a footnote since the most significant question is: how does it sound?


Fwiw, I find the difference between what I hear in some cases (including this one), and the measured results quite interesting.

If anyone knows of a place (specific forum/threads, website, etc.) where an _open minded_ discussion and exploration of this topic is taking place, I'd be interested.

Not wanting to derail this thread with either my thoughts on the matter or the ensuing discussion, please feel free to PM me with the name and/or URL(s) if you know of any. Or post it here if you think it might be of interest to this community.

I wrote to the designer and manufacturer, Jinbo Li, this morning to tell him of amirm’s review. He responded though it was late at night for him. I have never known whether it’s in his English or Google translate:


Thank you so much for sharing. I read this post carefully.

I can explain the content of the subject test through our design experience.

It took me more than three years to design DA005. Roughly estimated, I had done nearly ten different designs. In the test, I found that if all the parameters were set according to the "best" of the instrument test, the final sound was not what I wanted.

Our development process also confirmed the widely debated idea that hiFI systems are generally not sound good or bad through test instruments. Any experienced electronics engineer can do it well, and it doesn’t require much effort or musical awareness. I don’t really want to argue too much about that. The customers who have heard about our products have the best say.


I am not an electronics expert at all but do offer some comments on what he wrote.

It sounds like he’s not surprised at all, nor disappointed about the findings.

Jinbo says that it is relatively easy for an experienced electronics engineer to design a DAC that measures well. I believe him. We have seen many DACs from all over the world that seem to measure very well in the amirm tests. Some are relatively inexpensive. Their audio quality? Often, not so much.

I have thought, from the beginning, that this DAC was developed with a lot of listening. It motivated my early purchase. My reasoning was that there were a great many expensive parts inside. Those two GAD gold and silver foil capacitors, for example, cost about $95 each. I don’t think a designer puts components of that quality (and expense) into a unit without careful listening and a determination that they make a difference. For unlike a popular DAC chip, perhaps, they will not add to the marketing potential. The same may be said of the O-Ring transformer with silver-plated windings, or the bank of super-capacitors, or the . . . . there’s lots of stuff listed on the 005 web page. Truly, a designer’s DAC.

He goes on to say that maximizing measured results often resulted in a reduction of sound quality in his estimation. Given the result, it’s hard to take issue with that assertion. One of the interesting aspects of the Musetec 005 design is that it achieves a very high level of audio performance with a very conventional design. By high level I mean (besides our listening) it has been compared with some very expensive DACs and while some have preferred one over the other it has never, it seems, been embarrassed by the comparison. And by the conventional design, I mean just ESS chips, no FPGA digital to analog function, no discrete R2R, no "Ring DAC", etc. Just a design that can be seen in dozens of other DACs, but refined to bring the audio that it does. An exception though for the super capacitors and associated circuitry.

My only disappointment is that he does publish technical specifications that one should be able to replicate with technical tests.