Pros: Smooth extended highs, sweet mid range, powerful bass. liquid, natural, dark, clean, clear, huge sounstage, excellent instrument separation.
Cons: Built quality feels cheap, lightweight.
This particular DAC is to me unique, to my experience this DAC sounds more like vacuum tubes, specifically the British Orange Globes or Mullards and the American RCA tubes. A combination of both, being that it has this sweet, sweet midrange, very smooth, liquid and luscious sound like a British tube, as well as this clean, clear, powerful bass and very detailed like the American RCA. Before this DAC I had the HRT MS ll+ and the Peachtree Audio DAC Itx. Now there is no doubt in my mind that the MS HD is a huge, huge step up from the MS ll+ so I'll leave it out. It only took me instantly to realize the level of superiority the HD has over the MS ll+. Now with the DAC Itx although it was a very detailed DAC, it was too forward, thin and cold sounding for my set up. I think it be well suited more for studio monitoring because of it's flat response and it's accurate sound reproduction. Note that both the MS HD and the DAC Itx are in the same price range but to me neither one is better than the other, they just sound different, and I think that until we audiophiles come into the conclusion and realize that nothing is better but just different then we'll all appreciate more the things we love and enjoy, it's just a matter of preference as well. So in this case I prefer the sound of the HD.
Set up: 1. Late 2013 iMac using multiple audio players such as Amarra, VOX, Fidelia, Bit Perfect and iTunes.
2: HRT Music Streamer HD at 24/192 with Audioquest Carbon USB and Audioquest Sydney Interconnect
3: Peachtree Audio DAC Itx
4: Audioengine A5+ Speakers with Audioquest NRG 1.5 Power Cable and Audioquest Type 4 Speaker Cable with Silver BFA
Now as you can see here with my set up some of you might know that the Audioengines and HRT's have this thick sound signature and so I remedied that by using silver plated cables from Audioquest and with it comes this balanced out sound reproduction. You'll also notice that I've only used the RCA outputs of the MS HD and not the XLR's. So my review here is based solely on that. I know using the XLR's will provide better performance but at this time I can't with my current set up.
My first impression with the MS HD upon receiving it was well... I expected some kind of weight. As I lifted the HRT box of the package I was shocked! I did not feel that heft I felt with the MS ll+, this was extremely light weight. I wondered if there was anything inside, but there it was as I opened it. It feels a bit cheap to me but it does not look all that cheap, the XLR's is the only thing to me that makes it look high end. But looks can be deceiving, as this little DAC is small but terrible, as in it has a big bite! Anyway I got right to it, I immediately plugged in my Audioquest cables and played music. I pretty much listen to all types of genres such as reggae, electronic, rock, dance, pop, country and etc... you name it I listen to it, as long as it's music to my ears. The first thing I noticed was it's black background, this makes for an airier presentation and it's openness making for a larger soundstage. Definitely bigger than both the MS ll+ and DAC Itx. Then of course the bass response that most of the HRT line is known for, but this was a different beast! I heard bass notes as clear as the Hawaiian tropical skies on summer. Well... cuz it rains a lot here during the rest of the season, lol. Here the Peachtree Audio DAC Itx is weak. Then I heard something only possible with tubes, at least to what I'm aware of, I do not know of any solid state device that can render music with such liquidity as the MS HD. Female vocals and instruments sounded like a combination of a Mullard and RCA tubes as I described. With instrument separation and micro details I say the Peachtree Audio DAC Itx takes that category. Here the MS HD is balanced. As I was mesmerized by how the low and mid frequencies sounded and was drooling, I snapped myself back together and thought how about the higher frequencies? Well, here it was very much extended and smooth, not ear piercing that could cause fatigue in time, something the MS ll+ lacked was enhanced, and enhanced beautifully. But all this at a very short period of time, I have not fully burned in the MS HD, I'm down 14 hours and I know in time the instrument separation and the micro details will reveal itself. So I'll update you when I've come into the 100th hour mark, as I did with the DAC Itx.