The Music Streamer HD is HRT’s top of the line USB DAC. You might assume this is the go-to streamer to use when you’ve tired of HRT’s microStreamer? Not really. Do not, I repeat do not even consider tossing the little micro to the nearest teenager in the family unless it’s just to share. These are terrific little devices for the long haul, travelling and the like, but the HD is another animal altogether.
At six inches in length the Music Streamer HD is not all that tiny and certainly not for constant pocket transport. It really falls in the zone between portable (which it is) and permanent, like a dedicated audio system component. And like that dedicated component it features both full-sized XLR and RCA outputs, rather than the pocket-sized mini-plug to RCA cable) which makes the Music Streamer HD compatible with any audio system–even those high falutin jobs that are fully balanced from stem to stern. And it allows you to experiment with interconnects to your heart’s content. Unlike a full chassis design however it derives its power off the computer rather than an AC outlet.
The Music Streamer HD uses high performance asynchronous USB transceiver, differential current mode conversion, and a fully differential signal path. Getting up and running is a breeze. Since it employs native Audio Class 1.0 or 2.0 drivers (available in all modern PC, Mac & Linux computers), just select the appropriate audio class via the Music Streamer HD's front panel switch, connect it to your computer via the included USB cable and connect the audio outputs to your audio system (RCA or XLR). Then select the HD as the default audio output in your computer’s audio sound preferences. LED indicators display the current sample rate (44k1, 48k, 88k2, 96k, 176k4 & 192k), the bit depth (16 or 24), and the state of the mute circuit. On my MacBook Pro I typically go into the Audio Midi setup and select the resolution I’m using. The same goes for PureMusic’s audio setup program where after selecting the sample rate I always restart the software.
It may not fit in your pocket, but that’s a small quibble compared to the really BIG things the MS-HD does sonically compared with the HRT’s microStreamer. Predictably the tonal balances between these two remains predominantly neutral, as they tend to be with digital playback, particularly 16-bit/44.1kHz. But there’s significantly more transparency as it fishes out smaller and smaller dynamic gradations and instrumental minutiae from Norah Jones’ “Wish I Could” [Blue Note]. Each note of her vocal is established with a combination of the air expended joined to the weight of the singer’s throat and chest resonance. The sound is specific and instrumental timbres are palpable.
In terms of space recreation and ambient resolving power the MS-HD is simply another ball game altogether. As the 24-bit/176.4kHz high resolution performance of Rachmaninoff “Symphonic Dances” [Reference Recordings HRx] unspooled, my engagement with the music grew by leaps and bounds. It comes down to the fact that a general sense of soundfield constriction, a lack of oxygen in the recording if you will, begins to vanish. The orchestral imaging in this superb recording seemed to find just a little more breathing room. A sensation of space constriction across the plane of the soundstage seems to relax and there’s a great realization of front to back relationships. The HD revealed string section layering, the rows of players assembled from the front of the stage and all the way back to the furthest percussionist. The effect was not unlike throwing a fictitious preamps’ front panel 3-D switch. An exaggeration sure, I’m not implying instant surround sound. But, the HD did present a more immersive and freely dimensional musical experience–the realization that the players creating the performance are not in a single flat line across the stage but are actually occupying specific physical locations.
Do high resolution files outputted via the Music Streamer HD achieve the same fluidity and micro-dynamic nuance of of the best in SACD playback? For me, not quite. And how does it compare with the high resolution Meridian Explorer streamer? Ah, that's another story which I will report on in the next blog. However this I will say; the Music Streamer HD is sonically worthy enough to replace many full chassis designs in the market today. It's a terrific value at a price that would have been unthinkable even a few short years ago. Stay Tuned.
Price: $449.95. highresolutiontechnologies.com