Best upgrade I ever made

A Review On: HRT Music Streamer II High Resolution USB D/A Converter

HRT Music Streamer II High Resolution USB D/A Converter

Rated # 21 in DACs
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
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Price paid: $150.00
tdockweiler
Posted · 3866 Views · 6 Comments

Pros: See review

Cons: small soundstage, too forward sounding and fatiguing with SOME headphones

I'm not really a fan of computer DACs and prefer full sized CD players mostly. I previously had a Nuforce Icon Mobile DAC and it's ok. I believe it's the same thing as the uDAC, but I might be wrong. It seemed to be a good match for only specific headphones and I did prefer it to the E7 by far. It's very good for bass and treble happy headphones. It's especially good for the M50 and D2000. Despite poor measurements it doesn't sound that bad.

 

Once I got my Q701 the first thing I wanted to do was get a good dac. Nothing overkill and something that's a good value for the money. I'm not so serious about music to need a $300+ DAC (yet). I actually figured there would be a very slight improvement in sound quality. Boy, was I ever wrong.

 

For me, this DAC has been a bigger improvement than upgrading Amps. No joke. This really seems to improve the level of detail from all my headphones. Pretty impressive. The bass was much improved on the Q701 (didn't really add quantity, maybe a tiny bit) and the soundstage seemed to get a little larger.

 

I've heard before that this DAC might have "edgy treble", but that couldn't be any further from the truth. The treble is perfectly smooth as long as the song isn't badly mastered and sounding like garbage to begin with. It won't suddenly make any treble happy headphone worse.

 

I didn't review this right away because I wanted to figure out it's entire sound signature. I do think it's pretty much close to being neutral and won't magically change a headphone's signature. I do think it is slightly warm. It won't suddenly turn a DT-880 into an HD-650, but it does help some thin sounding headphones or those lacking warmth. I've found it especially good for my SR-325is, Q701 and DJ100.

 

I do think it MIGHT have a very, very tiny peak in the upper mids somewhere. I noticed this only with the K601 and K400. Strangely enough I upgraded my firmware and it seems to have gone away. This would be impossible right? Probably placebo. Could be just revealing to me how bad some songs are, who knows.

 

This seems to really improve many, many headphones. It's kind of ridiculous. You'd be shocked to see what this does for the KRK KNS-8400. You think the KRKs are detail monsters from a portable player? Waiting until you hear it with this. It's as if it's trying to suck every last piece of detail out of your music file and send it to your KRK. With the KNS-8400 it seems to improve the soundstage size and level of detail. Kind of add a little bit of texture to the mids and make it a tiny bit warmer sounding. Overall, just a little bit more fun to listen to.

 

The absolute BEST match I've had was with the AKG K601. It doesn't need to be any warmer than it already is, but somehow this DAC seemed to breath new life into my K601 that's been in storage for months. Feels almost like I got my K601 upgraded.

 

Here's another crazy thing to annoy the science guys. I never could hear the difference between interconnect cables at all EVER. When I upgraded my DAC to this, it's stupid easy. No, not USB cables silly. I still use cheap cables, but it's funny hearing the difference between a Monoprice cable and a Canare cable. I actually prefer Monoprice, but only due to preferences.

 

Strangely enough I like this DAC less with my HD-598 than any of my other headphones. Not sure why. Maybe it's that my HD-598 is already as warm as I want it and it does not benefit as much. Who knows. I have a feeling this would be a bad match for say the HD-650, but I'm not sure.

 

I feel that it's totally worth the $150. I'm using it with a Headroom Micro Amp and it seems to be a perfect match.

 

8/15/2012 UPDATE:

 

I've decided to part with this DAC. It's still a good DAC, but too forward sounding with my Q701 and K601. Often a tad too fatiguing. I've even compared it vs full sized cd players and soundcards and those were much more neutral sounding. It's not a case of poor recordings.

 

The soundstage is also much too small. I blamed my amp at first, but was I ever wrong. Even my full sized CD player has a larger soundstage.

 

I'll probably use the funds to buy an ODAC or a good soundcard.

 

6 Comments:

Thanks for the review! I'm quite interested on this DAC and thinking of pairing it with the E9 as my amp. Do you think it will be a good match? Also sorry for asking such a stupid question but how do I connect this DAC to my E9?
I think the E9 is incompatible with the HRT Music Streamer II due to some strange clipping issues. You may want to contact HRT to see if they know. Maybe they released a firmware update. I can try it out soon and see if the problems exists. Haven't tried it with my E9 yet.
BTW to connect it to the E9, you use dual male RCA to 3.5mm cable. The HRT has two female RCA jacks. The E9 only had a 3.55mm input on the back. The HRT doesn't come with cables, but I got mine from Monoprice for a few dollars. You also need a USB cable to your PC.
Thanks for the response! Much appreciated.
Fantastic review!
My observations mirror yours regarding the bass, soundstage, and detail retrieval. My mind was blown going from the Fiio E7 to the MS II. I did notice quite a noticeable increase in bass quantity and depth though and not just quality.
Honestly, going from MS II to the Benchmark Dac1 USB didn't yield as astounding of an improvement as going from E7 to MS II. Incredible value, the MS II is.
As for the E9, it clips with inputs above 2V and the MS II puts out 2.25V.
Please do not plug your MSII directly to the USB output of your computer. Connect your computer to a powered (yes, it must be powered) USB hub and your MSII to the powered hub. This will improve the sound greatly, most notably making it more relaxing, tonally dense, dynamic and the bass gains quality. You may very well have a powered USB hub lying around to experiment with. If not I suggest you buy one. It is cheap compared to dedicated audio gear...