HRT Music Streamer+ USB D/A Converter Page 2

The MS+ combined solid musical basics—very good timing, momentum, and drama—with a sound that softened rather than spotlit the flaws in weaker recordings. It also had less openness and air than either the Wavelength Cosecant or my Sony SCD-777ES disc player, and its sense of spatial depth was modest rather than abundant.

That said, the Music Streamer+ was consistently satisfying in its own right. On "Queen Jane Approximately," from Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited (CD, Columbia CH 90324), the HRT converter played the song with good musical flow—the rhythm section retained a sense of leaning into the music rather than plodding along—and without a trace of the top-end glare that has, in my experience, followed that particular disc to other players. By contrast, the Wavelength Cosecant widened the range of various sonic distinctions: The vocal emerged a good deal farther from the mix, as did various nuances of playing—the arpeggiated electric-guitar chords in particular—and spatial depth was distinctly greater.

The same sets of qualities followed the products through other types of music. When I listened to Hilary Hahn's recording of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra (CD, Deutsche Grammophon 28947 48732-6), the sound through the MS+ was flatter overall: dynamically, spatially, and even texturally, the solo instrument in particular seeming a bit veiled when compared with the performance of the Cosecant. Notably, however, the MS+ did a fine job with low-level details, and very capably retrieved most of the room sound attached to Hahn's violin. In a similar vein, the MS+ uncovered all of the exotic percussion and other soundscape embellishments from Pink Floyd's "Remember a Day," from Relics (EMI/Toshiba TOCP-65737), and did a consistently good job of unraveling lyrics from pop music of all styles and pedigrees.

As with so many other music lovers, poor-sounding records account for a large part of my collection; thankfully, the Music Streamer+ served most of them well. The glaring flaws of early digital found full flower in that first wave of CDs by the Beatles, of which A Hard Day's Night (Parlophone CDP 7 46437 2) was surely the worst. (Just listen to the high-frequency artifacts that pile up around the cymbals in "I'll Be Back"!) The MS+ rendered those and similar recordings as tolerable as I've heard, without too much softening of vocal and instrumental timbres. Only when dullness was itself the record's flaw—Richie Havens' recent and otherwise superb Nobody Left to Crown (CD, Verve Forecast B0011631-02) comes to mind—did the HRT converter confound rather than enhance my enjoyment.

Incidentally, on some pop-music recordings in particular, the Music Streamer+ seemed to have a shade more bass content than the Wavelength Cosecant. Plucked cellos and harps throughout Joanna Newsom's Ys (CD, Drag City DC303CD) sounded weightier with the MS+, as did the electric bass on the aforementioned Dylan and Beatles albums. The effect was slight, and without such penalties as timing errors or a lessening of detail.

Four final notes: The Music Streamer+ did not invert the polarity of its output signal; its output voltage was slightly lower than that of the other USB DACs I've tested so far; it was blessedly free of hum; and it required a week or so of frequent use before sounding its best.

So much for an objective description. Now for an unabashedly subjective conclusion: Buy it.

If you own a computer, if you don't already own a USB DAC, and especially if you can't afford the state of the art—either because you've already spent too much on a high-end CD player or you just plain don't have that kind of money for hi-fi gear—then stop whatever you're doing and buy a High Resolution Technologies Music Streamer+ right now. Given the musical pleasure it can bring, this moderately imperfect device is immoderately underpriced.

Certain levels of performance can be had only for tens of thousands of dollars, and that's as it should be. The HRT Music Streamer+ offers something that can be had only for less: a peaceful refuge from the expensive storm of digital progress. The MS+ is a well-made product that's also enduringly effective. That may not be as sexy a word as powerful or rare or exclusive, but it's one whose significance is likelier than most to increase over time.

Would I spend $299 for access to exponentially more music than I have, played back with good if not great sound? You bet. If there's another way in which so little money can bring so much music to an existing system, I haven't heard it.

High Resolution Technologies, LLC
1027 N. Orange Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 967-7447