HRT Music Streamer II
The HRT Music Streamer II is an asynchronous-mode USB audio converter, capable of high-end audio reproduction
- A great-sounding digital converter for your PC
The HRT Music Streamer II is a great-sounding digital converter for your PC. It's a costly item for its small size and simple construction, yet a great investment for its big, natural sound, bringing to life the music in your digital library.
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
Externally, the Music Streamer II is a rather innocuous lump of extruded aluminium just over 10cm long, in unassuming red paint. On one end is a Type B USB port (as used on printers). At the other is a pair of gold-plated RCA phono sockets.
A more expensive version, the HRT Music Streamer II+ is also available. The manufacturer's specifications show a measured performance of 0.008% distortion, in place of the standard HRT Music Streamer II unit's 0.01% figure for THD+N (total harmonic distortion-plus-noise); but other than being finished in black and a little longer in case length, neither designer nor distributor would be drawn on what material differences lie within.
To set up the HRT Music Streamer II, just plug into a spare computer USB port, and connect to a music system's line-level inputs. Power comes from the 5V USB bus, so no extra plug-in supplies are required.
Setup in Mac OS X, for instance, just requires selecting the device within the Output tab of Sound, from System Preferences.
In Windows, you'd go to Control Panels, Sound, and then select the device in the Playback tab.
The HRT Music Streamer II possesses great subtlety in laying out the sound of recorded and streamed digital music.
The Music Streamer II impressed most with its freedom from glassiness, along with its even, 'unshouty' midband. This DAC is a real smoothie, yet one that doesn't over-compensate for digital edginess by smothering the sound in cotton wool. Music is heard relaxed and flowing, with precious little grain to intrude.
A classic opening from the Dave Brubeck Quartet – 'Blue Rondo A la Turk' – illustrates the ease with which this device can open up a seemingly simple arrangement.
The thrum of a single repeated note plucked from double bass had believable presence, showing more fundamental below and with more overtones ringing on above. The layers that each member of the quartet contributed in the song made more musical sense here; particularly the left-hand chord shapes under the right-hand melodies of the central piano.
By point of reference, a Cambridge Audio DacMagic rendered the song with a more muted thud to its bass line, while the now-splashy cymbal was, relatively speaking, more like you'd expect of a lossily compressed MP3 file. And all the while, the upsampling DacMagic remains one of the best sounding outboard converters under £250.
Stereo imaging from the HRT Music Streamer II unit was most noteworthy. With no steeliness to overly accentuate instruments and voices, as you might find from traditional USB digital converters, instruments sat quite naturally in left-to-right panned perspective.
In rhythmic terms, the HRT Music Streamer II was heard to 'time' well; that is, to enable the musical sense of songs to be plainly heard.
In fact, the HRT Music Streamer II brought out the lucid, soaring saxophone lines with such naturalness, we were reminded of top-tier analogue reproduction. This is not the usual sound of digital you might expect of your music collection.
Best of all was the 'easy' quality of audio – film soundtracks, TV sound, as well as music – experienced through the HRT MusicStreamer II.
There's definitely something in this asynchronous mode USB audio. At the highest level, this kind of technology is now in use on some of the world's finest (and most expensive) digital audio converters from British specialist dCS Limited.
At the other end of the price scale though, the HRT Music Streamer II is currently the simplest and by far the most affordable way to hear computer audio in a natural and relaxing new way.
Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.
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