Musiland 02: 24/192 for $120

musiland_02_04

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.

END WORDS
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.

USB digital in, and S/PDIF toslink and coaxial digital out. Toslink only supports up to 24/96, while coaxial supports up to 24/192. Notice that the Musiland accepts AC voltage input from 85V to 265V — that’s as universal voltage as it gets!

 

The PCB layout. The big square chip in the middle is the audio controller chip. The big rectangular chip on the right side is the USB controller chip. The smaller rectangular chip, left of the big square chip is the PCM1793 D/A chip.

 

This is a Xilinx Extended Spartan®-3A Field-Programmable-Gate Arrays chip for the audio control functions.

 

And this, the CY7C68013A-56PVXC is the USB Microcontroller chip.

 

The Burr-Brown PCM-1793 D/A chip, next to it is a standard OP275 op-amp.

 

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  • Earfonia

    Tx for the review Mike! Does the dedicated driver from Musiland includes the ASIO driver for M02? If yes, than it is make sense why it needs to have dedicated driver :) It will be useful for those who want to start audio engineer and looking for ASIO supported DAC.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, the Asio driver is included. However I’ve been unsuccessful in trying to run ASIO or Wasapi together with the control panel.

      • Earfonia

        Thanks!

      • cregan89

        I own the Musiland Monitor 01 US, it’s exactly the same as the 02 US except that it doesn’t have a built-in power supply, it uses the 5V directly from USB. I can confirm that I have ASIO working in foobar2000 on both Windows XP and Windows 7. I’m using the foo_out_asio plugin, works perfectly. Not sure why you are having issues as I’ve never had a single problem?

        Also, I noticed from your screenshots that you’re using an older driver. The driver you use with the Musiland Monitor series is critical since the device uses an FPGA. The driver actually changes the programming inside the device and therefore has a direct impact on the sound quality.

        According to your screenshots you’re using the 1.0.7 driver which is unfortunate because the 1.0.9 driver introduced a new clock generation method which Musiland calls “Precision”. There’s been a lot of confirmation on the web that the 1.0.9 drivers provide substantially improved sound quality. The drivers can be found directly from Musiland here (the Monitor drivers are the MlCyMon… executables): http://www.musiland.com.cn/downloads/drivers/

        I’m using the 1.0.13 drivers right now. Musiland releases driver updates fairly frequently as well which is nice. Do you think you could update your review using the newer drivers? Thanks for the review though, one of the first in depth Musiland Monitor reviews I’ve seen.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks, cregan for your inputs. I will try the updated drivers and get back to you. :)

          • Muzy

            Still no updated review with the updated drivers? How about a review on the new Musiland US 03 as well?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/George-Vichev/1813100485 George Vichev

    Thanks for the review! I have this little guy for about 6 months now and it’s a great little thing. I think to pair it with M-stage in near future. Thanks

    • Anonymous

      Sounds good, George!

  • wullymc

    Hi Mike,

    Just wanted to let people know that there are problems with the Monitor 02 with people running Win7 on an AMD system. It sounds okay for alittle while and then starts crackling. I have updated to the latest driver and still does the same thing.

    I ended up using the Monitor on an old WindowXP Intel system and things sound great except that the drivers are exactly made for XP and I have noticed that the settings for the SR cannot be changed.

    Just wanted to give a heads up for anyone wanting to buy this to avoid it if you run an AMD system.

    Take care and thanks for the reviews!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, wully for the update.

      You sure that the SR cannot be changed? I had to use the standard DM
      drivers on foobar, but SR change works on that driver.

  • 9homme

    Hi Mike,

    Could you give me some recommend for best DAC which have optical and coaxial input with the price around 200$?

    I want to use it for my desktop setup with CD Player as source.

    Best,

    9homme

  • http://www.facebook.com/erwin.it Erwin Lee

    Hi Mike your review is great as always! I want to ask you something..
    I want to have a portable DAC+HeadAmp for use with my laptop..
    What do you think about Musiland compared to NuForce UDAC2, from size to audio quality..

    • Anonymous

      They are both neutral, and the uDAC2 is much much smaller in size. The uDAC is like the size of two HeadAmp Pico slims stacked together.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/hahariz Hariz Razali

    After reading this review, I was curious about the limitations of my motherboard audio sample rate.

    Lo and behold, after I messed around with the packaged drivers it seems like it can read up to 24/192. I’ve tested around and I agree with you on going up to 192Khz, it does sound harsher and metallic.

    • Anonymous

      An onboard audio that does 24/192? That sounds good.

      What motherboard is it?

      • http://www.facebook.com/hahariz Hariz Razali

        Asus P7H55.

        It’s a consumer level motherboard, I’m quite surprised it can do up to 24/192. I’m sure the sound quality is not as good as using a good soundcard or external DAC,. Then again it’s nice to have this feature.

        • Anonymous

          Nice.

          Have you tried 24/96?

          • http://www.facebook.com/hahariz Hariz Razali

            Yes, it definitely sound smoother than 192 but on some recordings I can’t really hear any differences or it’s the other way around. I think my ears are confused or I need a better DAC.

            • Anonymous

              Well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If you can’t hear the difference then practically there is no difference. :)

  • Guest

    hi mike, how much improvement or what improvement do I get by upgrading to the Fiio E10 please ?
    thank you in advance.

    • Anonymous

      From the Musiland, you mean? Maybe not an ugprade, just a different sound in a smaller package. And the E10 works driverless so in a way it’s also simpler to use, but you’re not going to get the upsampling or the 24/192 feature of the Musiland.

      • Guest

        oh okay, thank you for your detailed response.

      • Guest

        but what about the soundstage, bass and midrange. sort of similar and prat too ?  thanks in advance.

        • Anonymous

          The Musiland is more linear, the E10 is warmer and is thicker on the mids and lows. The PRaT is roughly the same.

  • Laughingbuddha 01

    Mac compatible ?? Are there Drivers for a Mac available ?

    • Anonymous

      No, no Mac drivers unfortunately.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OHPNMY46FZ2NQJ2IHDXDKPSDRM David

    Hi Mike,

    I have the Musiland 02.  Will it be able to drive DT 880 600 ohm headphones?  

    Thanks!…Dave

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I haven’t tried it with the Beyer, but I think yes since it drives the HD650 very well.

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