The Musiland 02 will appeal to two types of buyers: the first type is simply for those looking for an affordable and relatively good sounding DAC/Amp box within the $100 price bracket. The second type is for those who already own a good desktop DAC, but is looking to add features to it without having to spend an exorbitant amount of money.
MUSILAND 02: DAC & AMP
For the first type of buyer, the Musiland 02 is just another offering in the sea of entry level $100 DAC/Amp boxes. The DAC is pretty good sounding for $100. Based on the popular PCM1793 D/A chip, it is quite warm and natural sounding. There is no noticeable distortions, colorations or flaws that gets in the way of the music. However, it really doesn’t give you much in terms of detail extraction from the source or soundstage performance. While the DAC is pretty good for $100, I really wouldn’t promote it as the new giant-killer DAC or anything like that. Not having the other popular $100-level DACs around, I would roughly rank the DAC section on similar levels to the uDAC2 and the Fiio E7, while being a bit below the Audinst HUD MX-1′s or HRT Music Streamer II’s DAC section. Having a need for propriatery drivers is a bit of a down side here, seeing that the other offerings run natively on Windows, OSX, or even Linux. While the Musiland 02 is only supported on the Windows platform (at least for the time being).
If there is one thing that the Musiland 02 package offer that I don’t seem to find on the other $100 DAC/Amp boxes is the built in headphone amplifier. The headphone out turns out to be potent enough to drive the HD650 headphone with some authority on the bass–an area that I feel the Fiio E9 to be lacking at. The headphone out gives the most authoritative bass performance among all the $100-$200 DAC/Amp boxes that I’ve auditioned, and it sort of reminds me of a poor man’s Burson HA-160 because the bass punch and the PRaT. For a $100, I consider the Musiland 02 the most fun one box set up I’ve ever used with the HD650.
One thing that’s worth noting about using the Musiland 02 as an amplifier is that it doesn’t come with an analog potentiometer, or any knob of any kind that you can rotate to adjust the volume. Instead, the volume level is controlled entirely from the Musiland application from the computer, and this will give you an excellent control over the volume without having to worry about channel imbalance issues with sensitive headphones or IEMs.
MUSILAND 02: DIGITAL STUFF
Now, the Musiland 02 happens to come with additional features that makes it an interesting choice for potential buyers in the second group: you already have a good $1,000 DAC, but it comes with limited functionalities (such as a mediocre USB input, lack of upsampling, lack of volume control), and you’re willing to spend some more to expand the capabilities of your DAC. Unlike other USB DAC boxes that rely on the standard USB receiver chips, Musiland had installed an MU1010 I/O controller chip and an MU6010 audio processor for superior data transfer reception over the USB. Having a custom controller chip like this gives the Musiland the extra oomph that perhaps no other $100 DAC/Amp boxes offer:
- Support up to 24/192kHz files over USB.
- User selectable upsampling on the following rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz.
- Digital out up to 24/192kHz.
- Digital volume control on the line out and on the digital out.
I couldn’t get any information on the MU1010 and MU6010 chips, other than what was posted on Musiland’s website about their implementation on the Musiland 02:
Applying DSP implementation, MU1010 supports a real USB 2.0 high-speed transfer which reaches instantaneous transmission of 480Mbps. Working with MUSILAND’s dedicated drive, it supports two-way transmission of 16-channel raw data to be proceeded by the APU via high-speed parallel bus. High-speed cache and multilayer machine processing mechanism for state enables MU1010 to acquire a system priority equivalent to that of PCI equipments, bringing genuine real-time quality to high-speed USB transmission.
MU6010 applies general field programmable gate arrays (FPGA) implementation. It supports genuine 24Bit audio data processing which reaches a sample rate as high as 768KHz. Loaded with professional clock synthesis algorithm to revert audio files via audio clock generated by the DCM inside APU, it creates harmonic distortion that is close to the limit of human hearing. The integrated precision S/PDIF transmitter is capable of popular digital signal output such as PCM, Dolby Digital and DTS. Drived by precision clock, the S/PDIF transmitter has a very low jitter of signal output, which perfectly meets the precision of the test equipments in an audio lab.
These features are probably the stronger reason to why we should be looking into the Musiland 02, as the 192kHz upsampling feature was what first got me hooked to the Musiland 02. I hooked up the Musiland to a typical Windows-based laptop (in this case an Acer with Windows 7 Ultimate). After installing the driver, I was able to access the control panel that provides selection for the upsampling sample rate, as well as volume control levels for the digital out, analog line out, and headphone out (the Musiland has got no analog potentiometer in its circuit). If you happen to have a 24/192kHz file laying around, you can send it to the Musiland directly over the USB without having to meet any restrictions on the receiver end. I’ve confirmed this using a 24/192kHz reference file, playing over Foobar. But if most of your files are standard CD quality files (16/44.1 or 16/48), then the upsampler can convert it up to 16/192kHz resolutions.
Playing around with the different sampling rate options, I find 96kHz to give the most ideal sound, as it has the best balance between detail extraction, tonal balance, and the overall ambiance. Going up to 192kHz gives me the highest amount of detail extraction, but the music becomes more metallic, harsh and digital sounding. While the difference is noticeable on the 02′s headphone out, the upsampling feature would give more impact if you’re using it in conjunction with a separate, higher quality DAC (in my case it’s the Grace m902, which also happens to have a pretty bad USB receiver circuit). One thing to note is that with Foobar, WASAPI has a conflict with the sample rate converter on the Musiland’s control panel. And so you’ve got to go with the standard DS driver to be able to use the sample rate converter.
Another thing that excites me about the Musiland is the lack of potentiometer in the circuitry. As we all know, volume attenuators and potentiometers are a necessary evil. They degrade the signal, but without them you have no means of controlling the volume. With the Musiland, not only are headphone out and analog out levels controlled through the control panel, but digital out level as well. This means that you no longer have the need to install a volume pot on your amplifiers (for you DIY guys), as loudness levels can be controlled through the Musiland control panel. But if your amplifier already comes with a volume pot, what you can do is max out the volume on the pot and as long as there is no issue with noise or hum, controlling the volume through the Musiland should be able to give you a better and more open sound.
It’s probably hard to recommend the Musiland 02 just based on the performance of its internal DAC alone. There are simply too many choices out there these days, and personally I’d use the uDAC2 for its compact form factor, or the HRT MS2 for its DAC performance, or the Audinst HUD-MX1 for a good DAC and Amp package. However, it’s a good thing that Musiland went the extra length to include a good USB > S/PDIF converter that supports up to 24/192 resolutions, a fairly potent user-selectable upsampling circuitry that can be used with another external DAC, and the volume control over the control panel. I would probably recommend the 02 more to people who owns a good higher end DAC and wanting to try out the upsampling feature, or is looking for a good USB > S/PDIF converter. Questa who is a DAC addict got interested on the Musiland 02 the moment I told him about its 24/192 USB capability and upsampling feature. I also offered him to try out the digital volume control on the Musiland as he was losing sleep over what attenuator to use on his upcoming LM3875 Audiosector amp. Well, let’s see what he says about the 02 when he gets it.