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.
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