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 wonder how you can hold to your position when we consider your excellent integrated tube amplifier, the Ars Sonum.  I have searched the 'net and can find no review of the Ars Sonum that provides detailed measurements of it.  The maker provides very little by way of specs.  So how is it possible to like it?

I suggest you do yourself a favor and send it to Amir for testing.  Yes he tests some expensive components.  He didn't like the Chord DAVE at all, yet it is a reference for some.  I'm certain he'd be happy to oblige if you send him your Ars Sonum, for that's how he gets almost all of the units he tests.*  The problem is that we all know that it would come out far behind the Topping LA90 integrated amp that he tested recently.  The harmonic distortion specification of your Ars Sonum is about 4000 times greater than that measured in the Topping.   The Topping SINAD is 30db better than the Ars Sonum s/n.**  Amir concluded that the $900 Topping amp engineers "have outdone every amplifier I have measured . . . getting ahead to capture the #1 position with a large gap to #2 choice."

So for US$900 you can have it all, with a bit more power as well.  Why would you continue to listen to all that noise and distortion from the Ars Sonum when the Topping is only $900 away?  The answer probably is because you know that the Ars Sonum integrated tube amplifier in all likelihood sounds better than the Topping.  And how it sounds is the only thing that really matters.  Bottom line: isn't that where it's really at?

*Topping units, though, are all sent by the manufacturer.  An ASR review is a evidently a major part of their marketing plan.  The suggestion, therefore, that they are designed with Amir's testing in mind is not exactly off the wall.

**I concede these are not precise equivalents, but they are close enough.



I am happy with your answers, it is just what I expect from the followers of poor amir.

it is easy for me to be able to reiterate the gaps that your reasoning presents, let's start.

We know that the poor amir, in his own right, reviews DAC: the new products come from Chinese low cost (Topping in the front row), the remaining products (with costs much higher than low cost) are provided by the readers of the forum and no one can guarantee on their actual goodness.

This first aspect already casts doubt on the goodness of comparisons.

as for the measures you say that they describe the goodness of conversion from digital to analog, I wonder are you just ignorant or are you a gullible?
without using complicated metaphors, it is as if, based on the technical data of a car, you could establish how it behaves on the road without ever trying it.

going back to the origin, if you don't have a MUSETEC what are you doing here?

are you jealous by chance?

Would you like someone here to say that the filth that Topping produces is better?

know that it will never happen, not because we are followers of MUSETEC, but because it actually sounds GREAT!

You are taking me away from listening to music - I will respond to you but not americanspirit as he/she makes no logical sense. I have listened to enough gear to know that I like sources and speakers that are "straight up" but amplifiers that add a little cream to the coffee - either big class A or tubes. 

You're right - there were no measurements of the Ars when I purchased it - I relied on the speaker designer himself using this amp to voice the speakers and present them at shows. I am fairly confident that in my nearfield setup, moderately sized room, and easy load speakers, this 30W amp pushes out the requite 5-10 watts needed for 75-85 db listening with low distortion and a little room left over for dynamics. I recently brought home a lovely sold state Luxman integrated for comparison and got to experience all I am missing and gaining from this tube amp.

IF measurements showed this amp to have an obvious engineering flaw - frequency modulations, gross distortion at moderate power, excessive power supply noise - then I would be pissed. It bothers me that expensive gear may come with "scratches and dents." A $10,000 amp recently measured in Stereophile had a 2 db channel imbalance and other measured anomalies that were linked to a cold solder joint. 

Can audio components be designed entirely by ear- exchanging capacitors in the circuit based on the sustain of a piano in one recording or the input jacks based on one singer's voice? I don't think so. Maybe there is a rare unicorn with the requisite skills, absolute perfect pitch, and access to reference recordings. Otherwise,  engineering and measurements are important pieces to this puzzle. 













Can audio components be designed entirely by ear- exchanging capacitors in the circuit based on the sustain of a piano in one recording or the input jacks based on one singer’s voice? . . . . Maybe there is a rare unicorn with the requisite skills, absolute perfect pitch, and access to reference recordings.

Well, not a unicorn exactly. Just a trained engineer--caring more about audio design than marketing--with a fine ear, a love of music, and the requisite skills. Perfect pitch not required. He would not be the only one in the history of high-end audio.

You seem to have put together an audio system that deserves better than the Topping as your source. Sooner or later you’ll want to trade up. By your selections, I’m guessing that you look for good value. Having hung around here for a while, the Musetec must be tempting. The testimonies here and elsewhere surely suggest that it is in the category of DACs costing far more. I’ll leave it at that.