The HRT Music Streamer II USB DAC

by admin on January 23, 2011 · 8 comments

in Digital, Stars

by Anthony Kershaw

There’s something insidious going on with musical sound in the name of convenience. Sound with roots that are lifeless, emanating in 0s and 1s from computers everywhere. Musically, they need rebooting. Fidelity is of the cheap and nasty variety, and worse, many ears are getting used to it. Some young ones think that this is top sound. Well, thank the Lord for companies like High Resolution Technologies. They offer inconspicuous little boxes that can transform the way you casually (and not so casually) listen to computers.

I originally read about the grandly named High Resolution Technologies High Performance Streaming Audio Interface (USB DAC) somewhere on the web during a lengthy surfing session, and included it (mainly because of some serious buzz and good word of mouth) in one of our popular Top Tens. Enter Mike Mercer, indefatigable promoter of HRT. He has been bugging me (more like very pleasant, high energy emails and Twitter messages) about the benefits of HRT’s products in a computer system. Even with lots to review in the ‘pile’, I asked for a unit. He sent me the II and II+. The II is the subject of this review.

The small (10 cm in length) aluminum block is described by HRT as , ‘…a high performance audio interface that allows a computer and home entertainment system to become perfect partners’. There’s that ‘perfect’ word again! HRT continues: ‘…with its unique topology, [it] will provide a completely isolated path between computer and audio system.’ Unique AND perfect. I was in for a treat!

Operation could not be simpler. Plug the unit into the computer via USB (Windows and Mac are supported). Power is derived from the USB bus while completely regenerating power for all its internal circuitry using a sophisticated set of proprietary circuits. The self install takes but a moment (no software needed). The business end gets plugged into any analogue input and you’re set. (You supply the cables — as with all high end manufacturers, the suggestion from HRT is to pair with the best cables you can afford).

I won’t beat around the bush. The sound that came out of the speakers with the Music Streamer II in place was revelatory. In perspective? It transformed the computer sourced bits into real music. Music that had flesh and bones, music that breathed with life, music that made for unfatiguing and enjoyable listening. For an inexpensive, simple, unaffected, easy to employ high end device, yes, revelatory.

One of my favourite computer/MP3/digital/Flac/iTunes/downloads/Ape/Apple lossless/256 kHZ/whatever-your-flavour file is the knockout Haitink/LSO Live/LSO Beethoven Seventh Symphony. I love this performance — no matter what type of file is used (yes, the CD copy through the big system is still best. Of course). It marries period instrument practices (cue amazing timps with hard sticks and natural, but fast, tempi) with the best of the Western orchestral tradition. The LSO’s performance is second to none and I await the opening, granitic A major chords with anticipation every time. The HRT Streamer II added so much air in and around these famous chords, I jumped with excitement. My son, who, at this moment ‘appreciates’ classical music rather than shares his father’s adoration, commented on both the wonderful sound quality and the dynamic sounding chords (he’s been hearing them for 20 years, since before birth). The comments offered by him were much the same as I was thinking. Open, broad, detailed, smooth. Yes, smooth from a download, the most unsmooth of digital places.

I listened to hours of files various from my well spaced, toed in Joey Roth speakers (my review link below). The music was airy, spacious, with excellent depth and width to the soundstage (well recorded opera was especially impressive. Callas/Tosca and Lear/Wozzeck, in particular). Interestingly, the bass, not a strong point of the small ceramic speakers, ’sounded’ deeper and certainly had more substance. For the High Resolution Technologies styled improvements to these very good, stylish speakers, think Natalie Portman before and after a visit to the salon. Pretty damn good before, spectacular after.

I did try to hear the difference with a few mainstream downloads — you know, favourites like Akon, sexy Katy Perry, less sexy Lady Gag(a) and the super starlet of the two chord strum, Taylor Swift. Not fair. The crap sounded like clean crap. But, crap. That said, if the little HRT magic box can make a difference to self loathing, homogenized, disposable music, think what it can do for Miles, Bill, Stan, Ludwig, Wolfgang, Johannes and Steely’s Dan? A hell of a lot!

I confess! I went whole hog for an afternoon and placed the HRT Streamer II in the big system — fabaudio Model 1s with factory installed Murata Super tweeters, Audio Research, Transparent, Cardas, etc. Yes, it was lovely, but it made far less of an impact compared to the rocket in my pocket I got when it was installed between the Apple MacBook Pro (Mr. Jobs, invest in High End audio, please. kthxbai) and the Joey Roth Ceramic speaker system.

As we go forward, The HRT Music Streamer II will be an integral part of my office/casual listening system. I’m so glad Mike Mercer and I connected via the social networks. The company’s products he represents so enthusiastically have served my music well. I feel there is no higher praise from an audiophile who makes his living in music. Very highly recommended.

[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the HRT Music Streamer II. Congratulations! - Ed]

Specifications

Electrical: Full Scale output 2.25 Volts RMS
Frequency Response: (20 Hz/20 kHz) 0dB /-.5 dB
Noise Floor: (DC to 30 kHz) 20 uV RMS
S/N Ratio: (DC to 30 kHz) 101 dB
THD+N: (1 kHz FS) 0.008%
USB to Audio output isolation: > 20M Ohm
Interface Data Rate: up to 96kS/s
Bit Depth: up to 24 bit
Transfer Protocol: asynchronous
USB type: 1.1 or above
Power Requirements (USB buss): 350 mA
Dimensions (L x W x H) 5.1″ x 2.1″ x 1.2″

website
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Source: Manufacturer Loan
Price: US$149.00
TELEPHONE: (323) 967-7447 • FAX: (323) 466-9825

Joey Roth Ceramic Speakers Review

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The Search For Better Sound — Audiophilia
01.22.11 at 6:16 pm

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

narcis tenas 01.04.11 at 5:16 am

Thanks Anthony for this great and honest review. Sometimes we all think this little, not very expensive tech. gadgets, will make only a very limited, slight difference to the quality of the music we most love. I am glad to read this is not the case here. This is a a notable product –at the price– if you get those results. I hope it will work also with well recorded pop music. Cheers!

Mike Mercer 01.04.11 at 1:51 pm

Thanks Anthony! I thoroughly enjoyed this review, and I’ll be forwarding it along to Kevin Halverson (Chief Engineer and Designer at HRT, and, for those who didn’t know - Muse Electronics is also Kevin’s company). We’re off to CES, and I look forward to seeing you there!! I also appreciate the personal props! I work very hard to spread the word, and I wholeheartedly love your site (thus the pleasant bugging). We look forward to getting you more products to cover in the future!

and @Narcis - not to worry: I play mostly pop music (well recorded, and honestly sometimes not so well recorded, as I’m a music ADDICT) through my Music Streamer II, and it always exceeds my expectations! It’s why I’m so excited to share about it, and this coming from Harry Pearson’s former set-up man (I’ve heard ALOT of stuff, lets puts it that way, expensive too).

Yours in Sound,

Mike Mercer
Director of Marketing
Elite A/V Distribution

admin 01.04.11 at 1:57 pm

Thanks, Mike. We’d love a Manufacturer’s Comment to add to the bottom of the review.

Have fun at CES. Not this year for me, though some of the Audiophilia staff will be there.

Cheers, a

Dean S. 03.30.11 at 5:27 pm

This HRT Music Streamer II, a MacBook Pro,and a pair of AudioEngine A2’s have been holding me hostage in my home office for a week now. To think I splurged a whopping $350.00 plus tax for the HRT Streamer and the A2’s and am being treated to some of the finest sound I’ve heard is both rewarding and distressing.
I don’t even want to discuss how pissed I am that I have missed products like this in the past simply because they don’t cost enough to sound this good. No mo’ audiophool……………….

admin 03.30.11 at 8:26 pm

Welcome, Dean.

Congrats. HRT produces some magic little boxes.

Cheers, a

Steve 04.24.11 at 12:38 am

Great review. I picked up the $99 HRT about a year ago. I long ago ran out of room for CDs and had archived several hundred on the hd. But listening through the laptop? Horrible. I tried several streaming options (incl a music bridge) and interference put paid to that. After reading many audiophile mags I came across an ad or article about this product. The single best product I have purchased in years! Even my wife loves the sound. I recently purchased a laptop dedicated as a component, with a decent Audioquest USB cable hooked up to my Denon AVR. So good and easy, we haven’t pulled out a cd in weeks, simply shuffle the entire collection and good to go. Plus very nice people run that company. I am slowly upgrading my system, and when I upgrade the DAC it will be HRT.

Michael Mercer 05.10.11 at 11:44 am

We need to get you the updated version of the HRT Music Streamer II A!! I’ll be emailing you ASAP. Thanks for you Support as always!! The site looks terrific

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