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HRT Music Streamer II vs HRT Music Streamer II+ (MSII vs MSII+) Comparison / Review

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

Disclaimer: The thoughts and comparisons within this review are my own subjective experiences using these DACs. I have done my best to flesh out the most obvious differences between these two DAC's, and others' experiences may differ slightly, as we all experience sounds differently.

 

Intro

 

The HRT Music Streamer II and HRT Music Streamer II+ (aka MSII/MSII+) have been on the market for a few years now but everyone that has used them still praise their exceptional price-to-performance value. While I was looking for a good sound comparison between the two units, I was unable to find any real significant information, other than a few sentences here and there. Already an owner of the MSII, I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on the MSII+ and do a side-by-side comparison myself, to the best of my ability, to help others that may be pondering which unit best suits them.

 

As of the time of this writing, the units brand new cost $149.99 for the MSII and $339 for the MSII+. However, I was able to get my hands on both units in very gently used shape for significantly less than retail, making the overall value of both DAC’s simply outstanding.

 

I’m not going to get into the technical aspects of each DAC, as I’ve never been into numbers and graphs, only how they both sound. For those seeking the technicalities, there is a plethora of info elsewhere (headfonia and HRT homepage has all the technical info you’d need).

 

MSII vs MSII+

 

First off, for those wondering if there is a noticeable change in sound quality going from the MSII to the MSII+, the short answer is definitely, absolutely, yes. I have A/B the two DAC’s extensively, streaming both FLAC and 320kbps MP3’s at 24/96 resolution and below is a detailed comparison.

 

Right off the bat, the most obvious difference between the two DAC’s is that the MSII+ is much louder. I found myself immediately turning down the volume from my “comfort zone” from where the MSII was previously hooked up. Not sure why this is, it just is.

Now for the bass and midrange, the MSII+ beats out the MSII by a significant margin. The MSII holds it’s own in the bass department with nice extention and clarity, but with the MSII+  it really was a “wow” moment. The bass on the MSII+ is much more resolved and powerful. It’s tight and punchy, not at all bloated, and it doesn’t even come close to bleeding into the mids. It just has a great presense, and the impact of kick drums and synth stabs in electronic music are full and powerful throughout the track. I also noticed that on two particular Lana Del Rey songs, where before her full, sultry voice almost overpowered the bass on the MSII, the bass didn’t budge an inch on the MSII+.

 

The bass is definitely my most favorite improvement coming off the MSII to the MSII+, and with a powerful enough amp, even the K702 has some pretty nice bass kick to it.

 

The mids are also much fuller and detailed on the MSII+, and vocals are placed much more closer to your ears. It should be said that both DAC’s have very smooth, warm mids but the MSII+ also shines brighter in this area as well. Many tracks that I have heard many times over on the MSII, I was able to pick out even more subtle details I didn’t hear before on the MSII+. It could have been because I was looking for that detail, and being more critical, but I think because the resolution is that much greater on the MSII+, it makes it that much easier to point out. Even on older recordings or albums that were never mastered very well to begin with (such as NIN’s Broken album I just listened to) the music is full sounding and easy to pick apart the elements.

 

The treble is smoother and more balanced on the MSII+ compared to the MSII, but it is also more sibilant. It’s not to the point where it’s painful or annoying, but there is definitly more sibilance on the MSII+. If you’re using headphones that are already very sibilant, then just keep this in mind. I believe that this is a effect of the vocals being more forward and prominent on the MSII+. Regardless, the treble on both DACs sparkle and have nice extention as well. High hats and cymbols on the MSII+ are wonderful, though, and again, you can really feel them throughout the music keeping the energy high.

 

The MSII and the MSII+ both have great soundstage that extends out in width and height. This is one department where the MSII and MSII+ are nearly neck and neck. The MSII+ may just barely edge out the MSII, but the difference is not huge. The MSII+ does however, have noticably better imaging. Everything just pops out, and instruments that could be lost within the recording are clearly audible and full sounding, and makes the music that much more “3D” when compared to the MSII. Either DAC you go with though, you will definitely be pleased in the soundstage department. That’s where HRT really nailed it with the MSII and MSII+.

 

One thing I would stress is that either DAC will make an outstanding edition to any rig, whether entry or mid-level. Is the MSII+ worth the extra money over the MSII? In my opinion, definitely yes, if it fits your budget. I was fortunate enough to get my MSII+ for $85 more than what I paid for my MSII, so for me it’s an absolute no-brainer. I am now saying goodbye to my tried-and-true MSII and the MSII+ is definitely staying for a long time to come.


Edited by dxanex - 3/26/13 at 4:46pm
post #2 of 11

My experience with the two is similar, but slightly different.  Like you, I got them both used at decent discounts.  Like you, I noticed an instant and obvious difference between the two.  (In both cases, the oval and not the trapezoid models.)  Where my experience differed:

 

  • I didn't really notice a volume difference between the two.
  • You said that the II+ has noticeably better imaging but the soundstage was about the same.  For me, the soundstage was also noticeably improved for the same reasons you pointed out when talking about these two points.  It feels more 3D... like there's more depth and things are more clearly defined.  Clearly the imaging... but I feel that's also a soundstage improvement.
  • While everything is better defined, I didn't note the changes in the bass and treble as much as you said, but I'm just using the HD650 (which from your profile, I'm sure you tested... but you probably also tested others).  The HD650 with their laid back sound don't extend too greatly into the bass or treble, so they could be hidden from me in my testing.

 

Like you, I'm done with the MSII and completely moved to the MSII+.  My MSII is sticking around for now for an example that a DAC upgrade isn't snake oil, which I need to demo to a few friends.

 

Of course, this all opens a can of worms for me... do I keep on the upgrade train?  What's my next stop?  Is the Schiit Bifrost a noticeable upgrade from the MSII+ or do I need to aim higher?  One thing I do know is that I'm much happier now with the MSII+ than I was with the MSII.

 

On a related note, I did an A/B between an ODAC and the MSII with a friend one night.  My friend felt they were virtually identical.  I felt it was really close, but that the MSII won by a hair in terms of presentation and musicality.  I haven't hear the Modi, but I would expect it to be in the same league as those two.  For anyone reading... If your budget is the $100-$150 range, then any of them should be fine... but if you can aim higher, do so.

post #3 of 11
I have the MSii+ and I'm thinking about upgrading to the new Music Streamer HD. The balanced out ability for less than $500 is pretty cool!
Edited by disastermouse - 3/28/13 at 9:25pm
post #4 of 11

Nice comparison review! I'm also considering upgrade from MS II to MS II+

post #5 of 11

I have an ODAC and my old dac was Fiio E10. Upgrading from Fiio E10 and comparing with the ODAC, I found out that I like the dark warm and fuller of the Fiio E10 than ODAC. However, ODAC gives me more accurate sound-stage, details, imaging, separation in instruments but somehow I can not enjoy the ODAC at all. It hurts my ears for long listening especially when hearing treble. Moreover, I missed the full warm midrange that Fiio E10 gave me.

 

Saving money to buy an old HRT Music Streamer but after reading this topic. I really want to buy MSII+ but what about MS Pro. It would be perfect for me if someone can compare the Pro version too.

 

One question. Are MSII and MSII+ warm, dark, analog tonal? I do not think ODAC is muscial at all. It looks like a reference dac when I want to check the recordings and watching movies.


Edited by LoveKnight - 4/24/13 at 9:36am
post #6 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by LoveKnight View Post

I have an ODAC and my old dac was Fiio E10. Upgrading from Fiio E10 and comparing with the ODAC, I found out that I like the dark warm and fuller of the Fiio E10 than ODAC. However, ODAC gives me more accurate sound-stage, details, imaging, separation in instruments but somehow I can not enjoy the ODAC at all. It hurts my ears for long listening especially when hearing treble. Moreover, I missed the full warm midrange that Fiio E10 gave me.

 

Saving money to buy an old HRT Music Streamer but after reading this topic. I really want to buy MSII+ but what about MS Pro. It would be perfect for me if someone can compare the Pro version too.

 

One question. Are MSII and MSII+ warm, dark, analog tonal? I do not think ODAC is muscial at all. It looks like a reference dac when I want to check the recordings and watching movies.

To me, MS II is warm and analog tonal.

post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by boonh View Post

To me, MS II is warm and analog tonal.


I'm not really sure what you mean by analog tonal...do you mean less digital, and warm toned more like tape or a record? Neither the MSII or II+ are colored at all, very neutral and somewhat dark sounding due to very little noise floor.

I also found them both to be warmer than other DAC's I've heard, but again it also varies from recording to recording. Older recordings that were mastered on tape definitely still retain that sound, if this is what your asking. Newer stuff like electronic music isn't as warm, but still very musical and not at all sterile or cold sounding. If you enjoyed the FiiO E10 (I used to own an E7) you will be very pleased with either Music Streamer.

 

As for the jump from the MSII+ to the MS Pro, I can't say from experience but I've read others say that the leap is not as big as going from MSII to MSII+. But as happy as I am with the MSII+, I'd rather save my money for some new headphones anyway! L3000.gif

post #8 of 11

Yeah, by meaning analog I mean the old sound comes from tapes, old records. I read on headfonia that Mike said MSII and MSII+ have that kind of sound sign. The problem I have now is to buy a dark, warm, full mid dac or dark, warm, full mid amp with around $300. On my mind now is the MSII+ or the Matrix M-Stage. Somehow I do not like the treble range of ODAC pair with C421 2227 and my HD598. Look like I like the dark, warm, sound. Searching and finding more information of M-Stage now.

 

Look at this signature I think you like color dacs and amps pair with dark and bright headphones.

HRT MUSIC STREAMER II+ -> DARKVOICE 3322 -> SENNHEISER HD650 | AKG K702 | AKG K550


Edited by LoveKnight - 4/24/13 at 9:16pm
post #9 of 11

LoveKnight, referring back to my earlier post in this thread, the ODAC and MSII are very close... the latter being a hair better, but not enough that it'd be worth getting. The MSII+ is a noticeable step up from them.  I haven't heard the Pro.

post #10 of 11
Quote:
Originally Posted by uzi View Post

LoveKnight, referring back to my earlier post in this thread, the ODAC and MSII are very close... the latter being a hair better, but not enough that it'd be worth getting. The MSII+ is a noticeable step up from them.  I haven't heard the Pro.


Yes, thanks. So the MSII+ is a better DAC than ODAC but I remember MSII+ was just $300 brand new on Amazon but now it is little more than $300. Hope HRT is going to low down the price or I am going to have a look at trade/sell section.

post #11 of 11
They're fantastic little DACs. For headphone use I don't think you need to go any higher than the Music Streamer ii+. I use one with my T1's and PS500's and have never been let down by it.
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