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Sonic Satori - HRT Levels the Field with the MicroStreamer - Page 20

post #286 of 1209

Well, I placed my HeadRoom order for a HRT microstreamer earlier this afternoon, but I just came home from visiting a local authorized dealer about 15 miles away and I am listening to it right now. I have a System76 Lemur Ultra (lemu4 model number) with Ubuntu 13.04 64 bit GNU/Linux. It works perfectly with all of the modern GNU/Linux distributions on the market today on other test PCs that I have access to. It also works with Microsoft Windows 7 and 8 64 bit. I'm using the supplied 19" Micro USB cable with the ferrite core. Let's just say that I sold some very expensive Cardas cables and I replaced them with OEM cables from Volex and Blue Jeans Cable among other vendors and I heard virtually no differences. Having said that, this HRT microstreamer is neat and it meets all of my expectations and needs. I wanted a portable USB DAC and built in headphone amplifier with a digital volume controlled by the host PC and asychronous USB 2.0 mode of operation with 24 bit word length and up to 96 kHz including the somewhat difficult to find 88.2 kHz sampling frequencies that is bus powered and it costs under $500 dollars that is guaranteed to work with GNU/Linux distributions to boot. So, I am not the typical PC user and I know it. My music source is (wait for it)...Spotify Premium with high quality streaming 320 kbps Vorbis. My headphone is the AKG K 702 and my UIEMs are the Etymotic ER-4PT with the 4S adapter. The HRT microstreamer has no problem driving either one to very loud listening levels. It is very quiet and it does not generate self noise like pops, clicks, beeps, or background hisses. It's not exactly textbook accurate in terms of its overall tone, but it is worthy of its affordable reference caliber sound performance. Playing all of the warhorses like Bach's No. 5 Violin concerto and Chopin pieces reveals a precise, linear, and highly accurate sound that has a slightly sweetened treble that is a bit glassy. It's very dynamic and it handles detail retrieval and resolution with finesse and sparkling clarity. Tonal balance is nearly perfect with a certain je ne sais quois that makes pre-recorded music sound vibrant yet approachable to new customers not accustomed to listening to high performance portable sound on the go. I like the fact that it is made here in the United States of America and I also like the fact that it is moderately priced if not sensibly priced well within reach of a larger demographic. It's dead simple and extremely easy to learn how to use. It stays fairly cool to the touch after extended listening periods and the visual feedback from listening to various audio sources and sampling frequencies is useful. This is a plug and play product and it just works right out of the box. The best compliment that I can give the HRT microstreamer is that it is destined to be a classic in its era until something better comes along to dethrone it. I expect sales of this product to be brisk for the company as they definitely have an unambiguous winner on their hands.


I tried to like my Meridian Explorer, CEntrance DACPort, and Audioquest DragonFly, but I had to return them due to either their higher price points or the refusal from each representative company to support GNU/Linux users like myself. Audioquest's DragonFly does not work right out of the box and neither does the Meridian Explorer for GNU/Linux users because it is either an unsupported operating system or the ALSA version is too old (version 1.0.23 or higher is required which means that Ubuntu 13.04 64 bit is required for compatibility with the Meridian Explorer). The closest competitor is the CEntrance DACPort, but it is priced $110 dollars higher and it does not perform better than the HRT microstreamer and it is bulkier and heavier in comparison. At this league within this niche product category, it comes down to compatibility with the host operating system of the PC and personal preferences. I took a chance with the HRT microstreamer and I am glad that I did so because I wound up saving $110 dollars by returning my CEntrance DACPort. For GNU/Linux users, choices are more difficult and limited which means that official supported products are harder to come by. We wind up paying more money when we have to go with a closed proprietary source for hardware or software choices to get something that just works right out of the box. In this case, this was not necessarily the case for me as an Ubuntu user. I wound up spending considerably less money to get an equally competant product in terms of sound performance that just happens to be more compact and portable. This is definitely a win win scenario. I feel like I'm traveling with a portable high end PC audio system that is very minimalist. I also feel like I don't miss my very high end home audio high fidelity system when I travel on the road. This is it:


Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center with C50 power amplifier

Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline HR-2 headphone amplifier

AKG K 702 headphones

Etymotic ER-4PT with 4S adapter

Ultimate Ears Ue-18 PRO

Volex 17604 B10 power cords

Blue Jeans Cable RCA stereo interconnects

System76 Lemur Ultra (lemu4) with Ubuntu 13.04 64 bit GNU/Linux


The HRT microstreamer does not leave me wanting to return home any time soon just to listen to music on Spotify or any other source. Out of all of its competitors that I bought and tried, I returned the rest and I kept the best which is the HRT microstreamer. This is the one that tries very hard and it came up the shortest in terms of sound accuracy and PC hardware and software compatibility especially for GNU/Linux users. It makes it possible to travel in high fidelity style without cutting your trip short just to go home to listen to your big expensive rig. It is a real genuine gem.


I will not be returning mine and I will not sell it to someone else in the near future. This one is a keeper.


I do not plan to test mine with a Google Android device like a tablet or smart phone in the future. Let's just say that as a former systems administrator and security analyst working as a penetration tester, Google Android has yet to ripen to fruition upon its potential to become the most secure mobile operating system in the world. It's getting better with each successive release, but there are still too many non-starters such as security vulnerabilities and attack vectors and malware to make it a safe and secure mobile platform to synchronize my cloud accounts and my personal confidential data on any Android device. Times may change where this statement becomes moot, but we're not there yet at the time of this writing. So, I can not comment on compatibility with Android devices with the HRT microstreamer.

Edited by Leslie Dorner - 7/29/13 at 5:19pm
post #287 of 1209
Originally Posted by Kevin_Halverson View Post

I believe that I can shed some 'light' on the observations of the microStreamer with this host and IEM pairing.  So here goes:


Keep in mind that the two paths out of a microStreamer are in fact different.  The line output is from the differential output of the DAC to a set of active reconstruction filters and differential to single ended line driver.  The headphone output uses a different, path going from the differential output of the DAC to a digitally controlled analog attenuator and the low impedance headphone amplifier.  I suspect that the excessive noise floor problem is due to using a volume function associated with the media player (and hence one that reduces resolution along with level) as opposed to one that controls the microStreamer's internal analog attenuator.  


There is a test that will confirm my suspicion and and explanation of the behavior if my suspicion is correct.  


The test is rather simple; if the 'volume control' attenuates the line and headphone output, then it is associated with the media player and is the incorrect one to use.  If however, only the headphone output is attenuated, then the control is the correct one.  


My guess is the later in the case of this installation and that will impact the noise floor as the microStreamer's analog attenuator is at its maximum level at all times so the noise floor is also at its maximum level.  


In any audio signal chain, there is an optimum gain structure to provide the best S/N (signal to noise) ratio.  This is accomplished internally in the microStreamer with hardware (and a considerable amount of time to optimize that aspect of the design).  When one attenuates the signal level in the digital domain, there is no reduction to the analog self noise whatsoever; rather only to the signal is attenuated so the more attenuation (volume reduction) used, the worse the signal to noise ratio becomes.  


In addition to digital attenuation worsening the S/N ratio, it also robs resolution.  For every 6 dB of attenuation, there is a 1 bit reduction to resolution.  Consider that with only 30 dB of attenuation used (a very typical value for many), the 16 bit resolution of a CD source file (which had consisted of 65,536 possible discrete levels) has now been reduced to 11 bit resolution (and now only 2048 possible discrete levels).  Despite claims to the contrary all digital attenuation imparts resolution reduction as the magnitude of the sample is multiplied by a value of less than 1 (for if that were not the case, there would be no reduction in the amplitude).  


If this isn't clear and anyone has more questions, please feel free to contact me and I will try to go into more detail.


Kevin Halverson


High Resolution Technologies, LLC

Thanks for this, Kevin.  Makes perfect sense.  It does seem like my master volume control is digitally controlling the volume since the noise stays constant.  


Looks like until something with a physical analog volume control is going to be the only option until Android's handling of USB audio gets a little more sophisticated.


Too bad, as I really like everything about the MicroStreamer.

post #288 of 1209
jazzman7, does your iPad Mini still have the old 30-pin connector ? I've lost track of which iPad has the Lightning connector and which doesnt - I seem to recall that the Mini came out before the Lightning ?
post #289 of 1209
@Leslie Dorner, as a Linux user I can see where you are coming from, but I dont get too hung up on OS wars when it comes to putting a rig together that sounds good. I would add that I worked with various *nixes over many years, both as an applications developer and as a Unix sysadmin - right now, I'm happy to work with whatever gives me the least grief. While I'm not a fan of the Windows 8 interface, my next machine will probably be a Win8 box, simply because that gives me the greatest likelihood of getting someone to take a look at my email if I encounter problems with a given firmware release on something like NAD's M51 in a year or so from now. No question that the Linux community is massive and incredibly supportive, but there is just so much noise on many of the forums now that I rarely bother to seek 'enlightenment' on a given issue - YMMV. A great deal has changed since I first fumbled my way through a Slackware install almost 20 years ago, but regardless of the 'installed base' statistics, I suspect that companies like HRT will remedy a Windows/Mac issue before looking at any support request that features the word Linux - happy to hear otherwise. When you think about, can we really blame them - how many Windows/Mac users can customise the kernel of their operating system or run with some obscure branch of Debian / whatever ? It's a support drone's worst nightmare ;)
post #290 of 1209

HRT clearly states that the MicroStreamer product uses Audio Class 1.0 device drivers that are native to every desktop operating system. I never mentioned the other HRT products yet. I also clearly specified that I wanted up to 24 bit 96 kHz support regarding the USB DAC. Getting 24 bit 192 kHz support requires Audio Class 2.0 device drivers which are not yet available with the current Linux 3.8.x.y kernel on Ubuntu 13.04 64 bit. To be clear, most human beings can not hear below 16 Hz and above 20,000 kHz and there are plenty of double blind listening tests comparing standard 16 bit 44.1 kHz resolution versus high resolution 24 bit 192 kHz audio samples that would indicate that a decent percentage of the test sample pool could not distinguish between either resolution using either loss less or lossy audio codecs with any degree of consistent statistical differentiators. I also made it clear that the HRT MicroStreamer just works with Ubuntu 13.04 64 bit out of the box. There is no need for me to contact HRT to create a support ticket as a new customer.


I think it would be beneficial to this community in future search results to point out that at the time of this writing, the Meridian Explorer and Audioquest DragonFly do not work with Linux kernel 3.8.x.y 64 bit and Ubuntu 13.04 64 bit GNU/Linux. The CEntrance DACPort does work, but I made it explicitly clear that it costs $299 dollars whereas the HRT MicroSaver only costs $189.95 dollars which is roughly a $110 dollar price difference for essentially the same features set. I also want to emphasize the fact that the HRT MicroStreamer is a cut above the FiiO E17 Alpen in terms of sound performance especially if you own reference caliber headphones or in-ear monitors that are known to be highly accurate and neutral like the AKG K 702 or Etymotic ER-4S. Unlike the FiiO E17 Alpen, the HRT MicroSaver has very few defective units and its reliability and performance are par excellence. The FiiO E17 Alpen has had its fair share of defective units that require a two month service repair lead in and lead out window in order to be return shipped to China. If you live in the United States of America, then return shipping to Southern California is much faster and less expensive for repair or replacement services from HRT for their products. So, you will pay a considerably higher price for the HRT MicroStreamer compared to the FiiO E17 Alpen, but it will be compatible with virtually any desktop operating system and it is more reliable and it sounds superior.


One last point that I wish to make is that the HRT MicroStreamer is the class leader in its niche category and it proves the fact that prices do not always reflect quality in this audio hobby. I would not characterize it as a giant killer, but it is no slouch per se compared to significantly more expensive products in its range. I think it is accurate to say that I have yet to purchase and try a more suitable and compatible portable USB powered DAC and headphone amplifier in its category at the time of this writing. The market is well represented with industry titans, but it is not well saturated now. There is not enough competition for these niche products as a whole in the market right now and it is equally important to emphasize that professionals and consumers alike have not voted with their purses and wallets in large volumes to further advance this niche product range with a more robust selection at more diverse price points. In essence, it is in the nascent stage and one key factor that will make or break the portable USB DAC and headphone amplifier market will be device compatibility and official support for mobile operating systems including current generation Apple iOS 7 and Google Android 4.3 tablets, smart phones, and smart watches. PCs are not dead, but they are becoming secondary devices for content consumption. Requiring special USB powered adapters and cables that can be pricey is going to shunt mass adoption of this niche product category. At some point in the not too distant future, desktop operating systems will not matter as much as they do today as mobile operating systems and supported devices will take on prominence. I am also expecting that Bluetooth 3.0 or higher devices with APT-X/SBC codec to replace old fashioned USB cables, dongles, and adapters which will eliminate the necessity to carry the right cables and wires while traveling without compromising sound performance with future technological advancements and breakthroughs in the audio, computer, and electronics industries.


I'm seeing the wider adoption and official support for GNU/Linux distributions especially Ubuntu among ODMs, OEMs, and independent software vendors with each passing year. The other important factor to consider is that GNU/Linux tends to iterate more quickly with each release cycle to add new hardware and software support for a wider range of devices and drivers. Upgrading to the latest GNU/Linux distribution version is often the recommended best practice to resolve persistent hardware and software incompatibility issues over time if the affected users must work with newer devices. This is especially true with the bring your own device policy directives at various companies or organizations in the modern workplace. More employers including C-level executives and mid-level managers and supervisors are choosing free libre open source hardware and software products or services to reduce cost structures while meeting specific requirements that demand flexibility, customization, and specialized installation or configuration settings. More desktop users are choosing GNU/Linux especially Ubuntu or Linux Mint or Red Hat Fedora to replace older desktops, laptops, or workstations or they are buying newer Linux certified systems or thin clients because their customers or clients are demanding official GNU/Linux support for their company's products and services. The Linux ecosystem is in a state of rapid growth and mass adoption. Companies like HRT realize this modern reality just like CEntrance, Meridian, HeadRoom Corporation, Meier Audio, HiFiMan, etc.

post #291 of 1209

The Meridian Explorer was the most problematic and the most romantic sounding USB DAC and headphone amplifier that I have purchased and returned yet. It sounded nothing like my Meridian 808v5 which I sold not too long ago after I downsized and moved into a smaller apartment. Technically, it was both the most advanced in terms of features set and it was the most vexing to troubleshoot as a Ubuntu user because of the proprietary Meridian software that controlled the ALSA sink and Pulse Audio system. The volume sounded too low or too high and noting in the middle. When I finally fixed the issue, it reproduced the sound in an overtly rich, romantic, and lush presentation that was very seductive at first blush, but it proved to be a pair of rose tinted glasses. In comparison to the HRT MicroStreamer, the differences were quite easily distinguishable and I decided to keep the lesser expensive MicroStreamer because it reproduced pre-recorded music more faithfullly. Ultimately, the transparency and clarity of the HRT MicroStreamer coupled with its high definition resolution and excellent detail retrieval sounded more natural to my ears. The problems that I did encounter with the Meridian Explorer will eventually rectify themselves with a future Linux kernel version and Ubuntu release version over time, but I did not want to wait until the end of my 14 day return window to find out when exactly that day would come for me.


I do not believe that any burn in was necessary for any of these said products, but I did give the Meridian Explorer a full week to settle in before comparing it the HRT MicroStreamer. I think that a large portion of that time was spent doing my own technical support to make it work with Ubuntu 13.04 64 bit after extensive research and editing various configuration files and settings or values. I would not recommend the Meridian Explorer if you own the Etymotic ER-4S or AKG K 702.


Let me be clear: the HRT MicroStreamer requires higher quality headphones and in-ear monitors that are widely considered to be reference caliber with an almost dead neutral and transparent character downstream. Getting this relationship inversed will prove to be befuddling if you prefer accuracy over euphony so be sure to do the requisite auditioning and component matching carefully. Grado headphones need not apply with the HRT MicroStreamer as an example. Get the Grado RA-1 to pair with your Grado headphones and some Grado Signature Series interconnects to complete the signal chain, but do not pair them with the HRT MicroStreamer.

Edited by Leslie Dorner - 7/28/13 at 9:43pm
post #292 of 1209
Originally Posted by estreeter View Post

jazzman7, does your iPad Mini still have the old 30-pin connector ? I've lost track of which iPad has the Lightning connector and which doesnt - I seem to recall that the Mini came out before the Lightning ?

The iPad mini has the Lightning connector.  I use the Lightning-to-USB CCK with it.  I also have the older iPad 2 and use a different 30-pin-to-USB CCK with that.  Both work great with the microStreamer.

post #293 of 1209
@jazzman7 - thanks for the feedback on the Mini. @Leslie Dorner - While I dont automatically agree with DiYers that an amp shouldn't cost 10 times the cost of the individual parts, the RA-1 is a notorious example of a company trading on it's name to sell a very basic amp at a massively inflated price. That amp retails for 55O AUD here in Oz - ridiculous. http://www.ecp.cc/ra1.html It's a glorified CMoY - simple as that. Some would extend that criticism to the Grado headphone driver, but how many other companies build a 'grado headphone' ? They have put many years into the development of that driver - not so the amp. If I do find myself wanting a CMoY at some stage, I know exactly where to go: http://www.jdslabs.com/
post #294 of 1209
Originally Posted by Leslie Dorner View Post


Let me be clear: the HRT MicroStreamer requires higher quality headphones and in-ear monitors that are widely considered to be reference caliber with an almost dead neutral and transparent character downstream. Getting this relationship inversed will prove to be befuddling if you prefer accuracy over euphony so be sure to do the requisite auditioning and component matching carefully. Grado headphones need not apply with the HRT MicroStreamer as an example. Get the Grado RA-1 to pair with your Grado headphones and some Grado Signature Series interconnects to complete the signal chain, but do not pair them with the HRT MicroStreamer.

i disagree, i really enjoyed my somewhat "mid-fi" grado's, the sr225i, and the alessandro ms1, and ms2, with the microstreamer, not needing any portability, i did move up to the music streamer II+ for my dac in my desktop system., just my experience

post #295 of 1209

This is why I did not recommend that the HRT MicroStreamer be paired with Grado headphones or headphone amplifier. It's not a good fit together.


HeadRoom sent me my US Postal Service tracking number today. I should receive it at my apartment this Thursday on August 1st, 2013 or sooner. I'm listening to my HiFiMan HM-101 and it is kind of basic. It's a modest step up from my built-in audio and headphone jack, but not by much. I returned the HRT MicroStreamer back to the authorized dealer earlier this morning. It was glorious while it lasted and I now know what to expect when mine is delivered later this week. HeadRoom has a 30 day guarantee with no restocking fees and they will do replacements for defective units without any charges. I found that the best combination during this hot and humid summer is my Etymotic ER-4PT with the 4S adapter with the HRT MicroStreamer. It allows me to block out noise from the local traffic or air conditioners and telephones so that I can listen at a lower volume with bliss. This has got to be the best affordable high end portable PC as a source audio right now. I don't have to worry about taking out a loan just to listen to music and I don't have to lug around tons of components and stuff when I do travel on the road. Switching back to my Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center and Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline HR-2 is a profound improvement. That's where the HRT MicroStreamer fits in. It's right smack dab in the middle between a budget portable USB DAC and a ultra high end home reference system. This is my portable reference system. It's so convenient that it makes travelling during the summer bearable if not tolerable.


I would go so far as to say that with my Ultimate Ears Ue-18 PRO CIEMs, the HRT MicroStreamer was just perfect. It was my perfect portable reference system. I forgot to add it to my list of audio components earlier so I'll make that edit later.


Yes Sally, you do get what you pay for most of the time.


I do find that cables and power conditioners along with mega buck systems to be mostly snake oil. The upper mid range is where the sweet spot is between price, features, and sound performance for the dollar. That now represents my ambitions and my list of audio components save for a few exceptions. Remember, I had top of the line audio components before I sold my mansion and downsized to my apartment. I did it to save on long term costs and I wanted to be closer to my family.


What I have now represents the upper echelon in this community and I'm grateful for it. I will say the ER-4S is the best bang for my buck in IEMs and they are industry classics. I love them to death and I use them almost every day.


Finally, I am giving serious consideration to purchasing the AKG K3003i. I don't have an Apple iDevice nor do I wish to get one soon either. I really do love the AKG house sound and brand quite a bit more than Sennheiser. The AKG K 702 is a reference grade product that exudes the house sound that I have become accustomed to in choosing full sized open design headphones. The Etymotic ER-4S is the reference product for IEMs for me because it eschews gimmicks for simplicity and it also has the best passive sound isolation NRR rating of 42 dB. The AKG K3003i is more of a collector's piece and I do collect this stuff for very long periods of time.


I'm shifting my focus away from home playback systems to portable and mobile audio systems. I wanted to give more attention to building a portable PC as a source reference system without a care for costs. I have purchased and owned the Sennheiser IE-800, Ultimate Ears Ue-18 PRO, Etymotic ER-4PT with 4S adapter, and I have auditioned the AKG K3003i for a week. I also have the new SHURE SE846 for this week. I owned the Westone 4R and the Ultimae Ears Ue-900. I would say that my preference is for the Etymotic ER-4PT with 4S adapter followed by the AKG K3003i at the extreme end for UIEMs. I was disappointed by the Westone 4R and Ultimate Ears Ue-900 as I thought that they were too expensive given the sound performance. The SHURE SE846 is probably going to be one of the most popular UIEMs on the market for a long time because it is a direct competitor to the Sennheiser IE-800 in terms of price, but it features the classic hallmark features of the former SHURE UIEMs with a much more focused and precise sound that sounds powerful yet tonally balanced and finely textured. Out of all the other SHURE UIEMs, the SE846 has the most definition and it is also the best in terms of PRAT. It's also very transparent without necessarily sound bland like the ER-4S. I can easily see it winning some editor's choice awards in a few weeks time once the audio rag reviewers come back home from summer vacation homes and estates to write their reviews.


As good as the SHURE SE846 is, and it is par excellence, the AKG K3003i has that extra gilded refinement, polish, and headroom that makes listening to any type of IEM almost identical to listening to full sized open design headphones. It has deep reverberations and an expansive concert hall sound stage that is peerless. If you want to be transported to the venue in which the music happens, the AKG K3003i is the only choice. It is probably the best sound performing UIEM that I have had the privilege of listening to and I am eyeing it with keen anticipation. There is probably not going to be anything quite like it for a long time and it is superior to the SHURE SE846 and Sennheiser IE-800 by a definitive margin. It makes the convincing case that the higher price is justified if you want a classy and elegant UIEM that just sounds gorgeous. I wish I had them when I had the HRT MicroStreamer, but I may very well get the opportunity to own both of them in a few months this year.

post #296 of 1209
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by jaywillin View Post

i disagree, i really enjoyed my somewhat "mid-fi" grado's, the sr225i, and the alessandro ms1, and ms2, with the microstreamer, not needing any portability, i did move up to the music streamer II+ for my dac in my desktop system., just my experience

I also really enjoy my Grado SR225i's w/ the microStreamer

post #297 of 1209
I have been listening to the microstreamer with my Philips fidelio L1 for a couple of days now and i'm loving it! I have been playing flac files ripped with dbpoweramp and using Jriver as the player. The microstreamer is an excellent little dac/headphone amp and it makes me listen to song after song, album after album!
post #298 of 1209

This DAC needs more threads! It must just be very new - even the Dragonfly and Meridian threads are quite alive

post #299 of 1209
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by jarrett View Post

This DAC needs more threads! It must just be very new - even the Dragonfly and Meridian threads are quite alive


I'm just psyched this one is still going!  I got up the guts to share my review as a thread and we're still talking about 

the microStreamer.  NOT because of anything I did, but because the MS connects you to the music not in a polite,

audiophily-kinda way - but rather it's dynamic, airy, and has serious balls when it needs it, and finesse when it needs is.


IMO: The microStreamer as a DAC/hphone amp package destroys both the Dragonfly and the Meridian Explorer.


Now, I believe the Dragonfly as a DAC is a hell of a piece of kit for the money (I'm using it ahead of my DarkStar right now - because we just moved and

my MS got packed - it's doing really well actually).  I also carry it with me for quick listening on-the-go w/ my MacBook Pro.  So these other products have

their place for sure.


But there's just something magical about the HRT microStreamer.

post #300 of 1209

I'm planning on a purchase in a couple weeks. I already ordered a USB cable and 1/8" to stereo RCA in advance tongue_smile.gif

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