Disclaimer: I paid for materials for each of these mods and nothing for the labour. You can get ahold of Mr. Ryuzoh via his website: http://info.m-s-tech.jp.
Report – A case for the Cowon Plenue D
Mezzo Hifi MS-AK100 And MS-AK120 – Perfect Nipples
Review: Chord Mojo – The Chosen One
Review: Balancing Mojo with MST Audio’s Mojo-Kai
RMAA: MST Audio Chord Mojo-Kai (balanced) 24-bit
From the mundane, to the sublime, M.S.T. have something for everyone. In my possession are three mods, one of which marks a market revolution and another of which soups up Cowon’s entry-level DAP. The most mundane of Ryuzoh’s mods is a straight parts swap, that, while offering audible and measurable improvements to the now-classic AK100, you’d be forgiven for passing over. And yet, that is only where Ryuzoh’s mods begin.
The thing with his mods is that they come with choices for almost every price point.
The AK100 unit MST-modded for me outputs similar amounts of hiss noise vis-a-vis stock, but pushes a mean stereo separation of -95dB under load, while stock makes it to -73dB. Both THD and IMD measure 10x less than stock under load. In this respect, it is like an RWAK100. Different to it is that you can also add a bunch of stuff. I paid for the most intrusive mod, and which tips the scales at 74.000¥. Ryuzoh added coaxial to the AK100’s digital outputs.
It is a brilliantly conceived mod, and one I wish Ryuzoh would pursue even further.
It pairs beautifully with Mojo-Kai, the revolutionary Mojo modification about which I wrote this article: Review: Balancing Mojo with M.S.T. Audio’s Mojo-Kai. While Mojo-Kai delivers few single-ended measurable performance gains vs. stock, its high-performance balanced output returns performance far and away better than any high-end balanced DAP I’ve tested. And, because it’s a Mojo, its USB input can turn any any computer into a lightweight, balanced powerhouse. Mojo-Kai is one of a kind.
Then there is what I will call Plenue D-Kai, a mod that due to space constraints in the compact DAP, and comparatively prohibitive costs, Ryuzoh deems unmarketable. And I understand why. Spending $300 to modify a player costing less, on first blush seems silly. But then again, a full Mojo-Kai goes for 74.000¥, or about what you pay for a new unit. And used AK100ii’s go for 35.000¥, which is roughly what Ryuzoh’s high-end mods of it cost. In other words, it’s not out of the question. And, given that there are notable improvements in THD in both %s and sweeps, it is an interesting mod. The only downside I’ve found that stereo crosstalk may be lower than stock. I don’t hear a difference. It is the stealthiest, and least externally intrusive of Ryuzoh’s mods. But perhaps Ryuzoh is right: stock, the Plenue D is so good that pipeline improvements reveal themselves with less pomp against the AK100’s mods.
Back in the late 1990s in suburban Toronto, souped-up and lowered Honda Civics and Pontiac Sunfires pooted around every street corner. At the time, I held nothing but contempt for them. But their market was real. Their owners were enthusiasts. So are many of us. Paying for an expert to drive the last performance out of our products is a tangible improvement many are willing to pay for.
A souped up Plenue D is, in its own market, every bit the equivalent of a Honda Civic with a new exhaust system and firmed-up chassis. Mojo-Kai? A 2×2 Audi modded into a Quattro. The AK100-Kai? I’ve not found a car analogue to the addition of another SPDIF output and firming up of its general output. But, for fans of the AK100, it is a real boon, although nowhere near as much an overhaul as the MZAK100.
Which makes me wonder: when will Mr. Ryuzoh do to the AK100 what Mezzo Hifi did?
I am confident that buyers intent on the long view realize that mod expertise so applied could breath new life into players and DACs both hi and low-end, and could transform out-of-circulation gear.