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]
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″
Source: Manufacturer Loan
TELEPHONE: (323) 967-7447 • FAX: (323) 466-9825
Joey Roth Ceramic Speakers Review