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."


@jjss49  Very nice comparison and interpretations!


While I don't have the experience of your comparison, I pretty much agree with your evaluation of 005. I certainly hear the relative forward sound stage, and that has always stayed consistent over many changes. The greatest depth increase was when I upgraded Coincident Statement linestage to MKII status and Amtrans dual selector switches. This is only upgrade that provided more depth, and that not dramatic increase, although easily noticeable. Based on my experience I'd believe depth could be improved on. Still don't recall, depth being any less vs Auralic Vega, LKS 004, Okto Dac8 which were all in house simultaneously.


I've never sensed a closed in sound to 005, but then I've not heard your particular comparison. Compared to same dacs above never noticed this. I can understand how relative lack of depth could be perceived as sounding closed in, although I hear fine sense of height in my system, very close to lifelike size images, voices generally at about 4' 6" H, this probably helps to provide a less closed in sound, I also use diffusers centered behind speakers so not too finely image outlines. I've found a large speaker like my Klipschorns help greatly in providing more life size images, Maggies do same. I'm also quite sure horns and the particular mods I've done to my Klipschorns (Volti mid horns and tweeters on dedicated baffle) are providing maximum openness.


I too agree that small increments of volume attenuation MAY not do harm to sound quality due to bit stripping. I constantly use 005 as fine volume control due to my Coincident having dual non remote volume selectors, not getting up and down constantly from listening chair for fine volume changes. The thing is I can never be sure on this front, generally our perceptions of sound change as volume changes, louder sounds better up to a point. I can only say splitting fine hairs here.


So, that leaves the other liability you heard vs Briscati, namely the slight digital signature of 005. This is the single aspect of 005 I've yet to come to final conclusion on. When first inserting 005 I found it pretty much dead neutral, over time and many incremental and more substantial upgrades I sometimes heard slight slides to analytical side. Finally came to end of nearly every single upgrade to system, so system static over perhaps last  75 hours or so, everything burned in and I'm adjusted to static state of system. So, over all these hours I've experienced far greater sense of analog sound previous to ANY digital I've heard previously (agree with slow filter vs fast).  Still, I do hear a slightest hint of what may be digital signature coming through on certain recordings, audiophile recordings have great sense of organic, natural sound, its with the lesser recordings I hear this sense. I'd likely not notice this without comparisons provided by my present vinyl setup and aural memory of multi 100K vinyl setups, so slight but its there. The question I'm still answering is this signature due to dac or rest of streaming setup. Your comparison to Briscati forces me to assign more blame to 005 vs the streaming setup. Now, I will say, my long evolving and continuing streaming upgrades have been helping greatly in providing more analog like sound, especially adding the OpticalRendu vs SOTM SMS200Neo. LPS, best power cords on every steaming component, all going through power conditioner, FMC PRIOR to server, all these upgrades have helped greatly here. And more streaming upgrades on way, so presume even greater analog signature coming.


Still, the question remains, all things being equal, is 005 the last word in providing sense of analog like sound, the ease and sense of luxury of analog at it's best? Comparison to Briscati makes it seem not. Generally, its thought jitter responsible for the digital sound signature, it could also be something inherent to Sabre chip, or something else? I'd agree this signature very subtle with 005, almost a non-factor, even with the admittance it exists for me. As I stated previously, only hear this with lesser recordings, and still easy to hear past as the holistic system presentation is entirely life like, performers in room experience. It seems many criticize lesser recordings far more than I, my listening sessions four to six hours with no fatigue, only tiring for bed time. Overall, I'd continue to judge 005 as natural, high resolving dac, this extremely small deviation from optimum not a serious liability. I'd also say I'm not at an end with possible improvements here, more streaming upgrades on the way, I fully expect greater analog, less digital presentation in future.

Forgot to add one point.


Ok,  being mindful of the increased analog like presentation I'm getting via continual streaming upgrades. The difference between Briscati and 005 could be due to SOLELY due to streaming chain differences. I'd expect Briscati streaming chain optimized as streamer integrated, so presume maximum optimization and voicing as integrated unit. 005 subject to far greater stream chain variability, The results could be as much about differences in  @jjss49  streaming chain vs. dacs as stand alone devices.


Keep in mind I also hear a slightly digital signature with 005, so it may be inherent to the unit.


Thanks for reporting your comparison and doing the necessary work.

 You post is thorough and well done. It certainly helps answer the questions that 005 fans are so curious about: How good is this dac compared to the high priced ones.I look forward to future installments. Again, thanks.

That was a major effort and excellent writing.  I appreciate it, especially as your own system is definitely at the very high end and you were not, yourself, looking for a new DAC here.  In many ways the Musetec has been a mystery DAC with lots of favorable comments by owners, but without a comparative listening review from the usual commercial sources.  Together with @dbb  you have taken the mystery out of the DAC and placed it accurately among DACs I think.

A minor comment.  The bulk of my own listening is to classical music.  I find the front to back depth to vary very considerably from recording to recording, and especially from label to label.  Sometimes it appears quite true to life.  I am, though, happy to accept your observation that there may be an even a greater distinction as one goes up the DAC ladder.

@lordmelton  Really not comparing $11k to $3k here. Briscati or any other streaming dac may have better price/performance ratio than perceived at first glance. For instance, I have around $6k in streaming exclusive components, brings my actual cost of 005 up to around $9k in apples to apples Briscati comparison. Add in analog volume control which may be superior to lesser preamp and/or preclude the need to purchase one, in which case the Briscati could be seen as a screaming deal.