The HRT Music Streamer II: Asynchronous 24/96 for $149.95!

The Music Streamer II (MS2) is the little brother to the Music Streamer II Plus (MS2+). If you’ve read the review of the Plus model, then you know that these HRT DACs are solid performers as I found the Plus model to perform better than the Cambridge DacMagic, which was my previous favorite $300+ range DAC.

The MS2 is the entry level model to the High Resolution Technologies DACs, and it offers 24/96 asynchronous USB DAC capability for as little as $149.95. For $200 less than the bigger brother, the MS2 comes with lesser THD, SNR, and noise floor figures. But of course the question is how the MS2 performs on real world situations. Like the MS2+, I received the MS2 from Scot Markwell of EliteAV, who’s the North American agent for High Resolution Products. But since the MS2 differs from the MS2+ by $200, I thought that I should write two different reviews, with two different comparisons for the two DACs, just based on the price bracket. Throughout the review, it’s important to separate the two DACs as they only differ by a plus sign in the model number: MS2 is the $149.95 model, and the MS2+ is the $349.95 model.

The MS2 Plus in grey color, the MS2 in red color.

 

Like the older brother, the MS2 is simple to operate: USB in on one side and RCA out on the other.

 

Hadi has been very impressed with the performance of the MS2 DAC. Previously he was using the Nuforce uDAC with his Stax SR-404 Signature set up (poor Hadi, I know), and after changing to the MS2, he told me over the phone that the MS2 opens up the sound of the SR-404 Stax in ways that he never thought possible.

I played around with the MS2 as well, and I do think that the sound output is superior to what the Nuforce uDAC is capable of. The sound is much more transparent, and there is no bottom end coloration the way you get from the uDAC. What’s interesting, however, is to pitch the MS2 (a $145.95 DAC) with the Audinst HUD-MX1 (a $179.00 USB DAC + Amp), which has been our favorite sub $200 DAC unit.

Like the MS2, the Audinst also does 24/96 over USB. But that’s as far as the similarity goes. The MS2 is equipped with a PCM1793 D/A chip, which is the lesser version of the PCM1794 chip used in the MS2+. The Audinst on the other hand is equipped with the WM8740 D/A chip. Although D/A chips do matter, ultimately you can’t predict a DAC’s sound quality just by knowing the chip it uses, as there’s a lot of variables in the design of the circuitry.

Internals of the HRT MS2, with the PCM1793 D/A chip. PCB layout is a bit packed compared to the MS2 Plus.

 

Internals of the HRT MS2 Plus, with the PCM1794 D/A Chip. Notice the more spacious PCB layout with a more proper analog section out (just before the RCA jacks on the right side).


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  • Anonymous

    Would you happen to have some high resolution pictures available of the PCB pictures on page one of this article? I’d love to study them more closely!

    • Anonymous

      Hi,

      Sorry I don’t think I can post that for you.

  • Anonymous

    Hi again
    I just purchased the HRT Music Streamer II so I figured I’d do this myself; take some high resolution images of the print board.
    I’m attaching pictures of the PCB of the front and back with a resolution of about 3 MP. Note that this is the newer version of the Music Streamer II. The oval version, with the LEDs next to the USB in. It seems to be called “Revision 5″.

    Cheers!

    • Anonymous

      The image attachment feature didn’t seem to work that well, so I’ve uploaded them to megaupload.com:

      http://www.megaupload.com/?d=URFTNE4M
      (I’m not sure if there are any better sites to upload images to)
      Enjoy!

  • lee730

    Hey Mike do you think I should get the HRT streamer II insted of the II+? I currently use Dennon AHD 5000, Sennheiser IE7/IE8. I would use the HRT with my Fiio E9 amp as I hear that work great with the Streamer II.

    • Anonymous

      Hmm.. depends on your budget, Lee.. both are awesome for the price that
      they sell for.

      • carsten nielsen

        Really, how big is the diff. I mean, I need for audiobooks, thats gotta be listenable, as perception is the key.
        I need a 2. DAC and MST II+ could be an option, but is it a lot diff. from MST II?

  • Grelaz

    Does The Music Streamer II make a good dac for the Schiit Asgard?  Considering buying both the streamer and the asgard.

    • Anonymous

      Yes I think it does. HRT II + Schiit Asgard makes a very good $400 set up.

  • Brosekind

    will the hrt work well with jds lab cmoy?

    • Anonymous

      Sure it will.

    • http://twitter.com/DodgersKings323 DodgersKings323

      Good question because i just bought a CMoy!

  • Anonymous

    Audinst added features of dent does matter, ultimately. That can not predict the complete superior is just a alive the dent it uses, as there are many variables in the architecture of circuits.

  • Will

    Hi Mike, is there any shop in Indonesia selling this hrt ms2?or online ordering is the only way? Thx

    • Anonymous

      Online is the only way.

    • Anonymous

      Online is the only way.

  • acquiecse

    Hey Mike, I’ve been looking around for the hrt online, and is it me or did hrt update the shape of the stream II? Seems flatter now.

    • Anonymous

      Yes they made changes to the enclosure, and I think they added a few LEDs as well.

  • UL

    The OVAL Streamer II+ is supposed to be MUCH better than the trapezoid one.  At least per Kevin, the CEO of HRT in our communications.  He did not claim just a small improvement but a huge improvement.  Anyone compared the two?

    • Anonymous

      No I haven’t compared it. I was under the impression that there is only small changes, one of it being the sample rate indicator.

    • carsten nielsen

      Man, I kicked my MST II Oval to live recently this week only and speculated if I had missed something as there seemingly is 2 verisons, flat and pyramidalike. Mine, oval, rocks though!

  • http://twitter.com/akixue Akiduki Xue

    Thanks for the review, good job Mike!
    I’m currently owning a DT880-600ohm and a K701, and I’m currently using Schiit Valhalla amp. I’m looking to get a DAC (around $200 budget), do you think MSII is a good match? How about Audinst MX1?

    I’m using DT880 for classic music heavily on CD, but for computer, I mainly listen pop or newage.

    Thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Hi Akiduki,
      Go with the HRT and skip the Audinst since you already have an amp (the Valhalla). The Audinst is good if you don’t have an amp, but DAC performance wise the HRT is better than the Audinst.

      • http://twitter.com/akixue Akiduki Xue

        Thanks Mike, I’m wondering whether the HRT is bright or dark comparing to Audinst. In classic music, I prefer the bright characteristic of DT880 pairing with the Valhalla. But I think for pop I need a little bit more punchy bass and less treble, in order to compensate DT880.

        • Anonymous

          The HRT, similar to the Audinst, leans more to a dark sound.

          Are you sure you still want a bright sounding DAC? Most DACs are neutral to dark, I’ve yet to find one that’s bright.

          • http://twitter.com/akixue Akiduki Xue

            OK, thanks again Mike.
            No, I need a dark sound DAC to compensate my DT880 for pop. So the HRT seems to be a best bet.

            • Anonymous

              Yes the HRT would be good though I do think you still need a different headphone for pop.

            • Anonymous

              Yes the HRT would be good though I do think you still need a different headphone for pop.

            • carsten nielsen

              Dark is Audioengine D1 but flat in mids and more flat in highs!

          • http://twitter.com/akixue Akiduki Xue

            yes, for pop I use K701. I generally listen a lot of female vocal pop.

          • Anonymous

            Akiduki,
            The K701 is usually a headphone for Jazz, not quite a headphone for Pop. But if you like it then I guess it’s okay.

  • Kanon

    Mike, have you heard V-DA, supposed to be very good value. I wonder how it compares to MS2 and MS2+

    • Anonymous

      V-DAC you mean? No I haven’t heard it.

  • James

    I have here in front of me both the HRT MS and MS+ and these things are TINY!!!! I thought I got jipped with miniatures or something… idk why but i just thought it was going to be bigger.

    anyways just some fyi. 

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks James. The MS and MS+ are roughly the same size as the MS2 and MS2+ right?

  • John

    Excellent review Mike and by happy coincidence I just received my MS2 in the mail today.  I thought my laptop had a pretty good soundcard and I have used it with a Superlux Ha3d amp as my bedside setup because I like to AB headphones relaxing in bed (the Ha3d as you probably no has 3 headphone outs which makes it great for ABing).  I am happy to say the MS2 is a significant improvement for a mere $149.  My bedside table is getting a bit more cluttered but it is the sound that counts.  Keep up the great work Mike your contributions are much appreciated.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, glad you are enjoying it John.

  • Chad Hadley

    Hey Mike, what are your thoughts on other dac’s around the $150-200 price range that would be a worthy competitor with the music streamer and pair well with the asgard amp.  The reason I ask is that I had bought the music streamer a few weeks ago and have had nothing but problems getting it to work.  I was able to get it working for a week and in that week it was bliss.  I have returned the streamer because I am sick of wasting so much time on it.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Chad,
      That sounds awful. I assume you get the new version (different case than the one I reviewed)?
      The second best DAC I’ve tried under $200 for now is the Audinst HUD MX-1: http://www.headfonia.com/audinst-hud-mx1-dac/

      • carsten nielsen

        So the new version is a flat case with round sides, right?!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yes.

    • carsten nielsen

      I think there aren’t any competitors. I just had the D1 home, got 4 out of 5 stars i what hifi. Then I bought the MST II, which got 5 out of 5 stars. But really, the D1 is big in the bass, but blurry in the rest and without nuances in the mid/highs. Whereas the MST Ii is bloddy fine all over, but without beeing big in the bass though.
      Americans are starting liking small cars too, so maybe the preferation for big bass on cost on fine nuances is on return in USA?!
      Nature like energyconsumazionminimizationing, using the least amount of energy possible that is, and as this has only one USB and 2 phono out, all is used and non is unused and energy is beeing used at optimal levels. MST II rocks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003311010983 Lucca Cecin

    Mike, is the MS2 a significant improvment towards the FiiO E7, mine is burned and I don’t think the guarantee will work, so I’m thinking in buying it(the ms2), I will use it with a LD MKIII + HD600.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Lucca,
      The MS2 is a huge improvement from the E7.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003311010983 Lucca Cecin

        Nice, but I don’t know if is worth to buy a U$100,00 model I’m considering buying an U$300 model, but I dont know if they are really worth the money, i’m considering DACs like bifrost, ms2+, etc. What do you think mike?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Ahh.. these worth the money questions are always hard to answer. ;)

          I’m a reviewer so for me source quality is very evident and I’ll always try to get the best source.. but I know some people who can’t seem to hear a difference. So, I really can’t tell you what to do here. :)

  • http://twitter.com/boonhh boonh

    Hi Mike, nice to see this article!
    I wonder which system matches Ultrasone Pro900 better: 1. HUD-MX1; 2. HUD-MX1+Little dot I+; 3. HRT MS2+Little dot I+?

    Thanks for the advice.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I’m not sure about the Little Dot 1 part. I think the HUD-MX1 alone is good for the Pro900. The HRT MS2 is a better DAC than the HUD, but you need to find a different amp.

      • http://twitter.com/boonhh boonh

        Thanks for reply!
        I just read another article about Matrix M-stage in your website. And I found you used HRT MS2 with Matrix M-stage, do you think this combination suits Pro900 well? How is it compared with HUD-MX1 alone?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          The M-Stage, I honestly have never used it with the HUD-MX1, but the M-Stage is a much more powerful amplifier. Still, the Pro900 is not that difficult to drive so Im not sure if you’ll gain much from the M-Stage’s power output.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.loke.7 Stephen Loke

    Hey Mike,

    Can this DAC work in a portable rig with an Ipod Classic and a JDSlabs C421? Or must it be on a computer system?

    Thanks.

    • Trent_D

      Computer, USB DAC only.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        What Trent said. Thanks, Trent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

    Brought mine back yesterday, when I first used it I was completely baffled; how could my room be filled with so much different sounds? Sounded pretty amazing through my E11 and DT990 too… But after a week I noticed that somehow the flow was missing in my listening experience. It was waaay to analytical, musicality seemed to have had left my sound completely.
    So yesterday I rigged it up with some Musical Fidelity amps in the Hifi store and it was the same ball game. And it wasn’t just the headphones either, I’ve tried the set up with HD 600, 650, 700 and 800, some grados and nothing happened for me. And when i switched to de Dacmagic Plus everything dropped into place, especially with my own DT990.
    Too bad though I really liked the idea, portability and the level of detail on the Streamer. Gonna save up for a Dacmagic (Plus), it somehow does miracles with every aspect of the sound in my Beyers.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I don’t know what’s wrong with the set up, but I think the HRT are among the most musical sounding DACs I’ve listened to.
      But hey, if you don’t find it to be good then just go with your ears.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

        Haha, well something’s probably wrong with my ears, seeing i find the HD 800 one of the most boring set of cans ever. But I will indeed go with your advice and stick with what my gut tells me. By the way I don’t know if anyone here listens to Jamiroquai, but it’s one of my main three artists that i listen to. The thing is that I can’t seem to be able to find any good headphone-amp-dac combo’s on which it sounds as good as it does out of my speakers…

        • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

          What are the other two artists ?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

            George Michael and Simply Red ;)

            • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

              You need to explore more !

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

                Explore?

                • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

                  Music and musical genres.
                  1920s Jazz, 1960s Blues, 1990s Techno, 18th Century Classical. For starters.
                  Not that I don’t like those three artists, I do.

                  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

                    My music collection covers everything mentioned above ;), the only things I don’t listen to is Hardcore and many of the relatively new artist don’t seem to get on the right side of my judgement. I just mean that these are the three artists that are the core for me, I always fall back on them after a while they sort of haunt all my playlists haha.

        • carsten nielsen

          Maybe because on the stereospeakers (ext.), the sound is interactive with objects in the room and so making the digital sound analouge vs. direct analouge converted from digital (even when converted in a DAC) going into ones ears directly from the headpone speakers without worldly influence.
          In my opinion, digital can never become truely as analouge, once the cont. is broken, it cannot be restored. The best DAC will never be able to reach the qual. of my cassetteplayer Beocord 5000! It is truly amazing listening to this system with Beowox 5000!

          • NubTAM94

            Okay you can stop spamming and bragging about how great cassettes are. The reproduction of digital to analogue has been debated over and over again, and I’m pretty sure it is why we have something called “lossless” file formats I believe, don’t you think so?

            • carsten nielsen

              You know what the greatest thing is? They are dirt cheap in orig. good qual!
              How can loosless ever restore a process that was dynamical. Once nature is punked up, we may plant threes and clean water, but evolutions harmonic, dynamic presence is gone!
              By the way, I use cassettes as a reference guide only now, just to remember how stuff are to sound, my B&O does not have autoreverse and that is a bitch!

              • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692862021 Nick Tam

                But cassettes are disappearing obviously. Yes digital could never fully reproduce the glorious sound of true analog, but we just have to get as close as we could. But at the same time, cassettes may or may not be technically superior, but it is that warm analog sound about them that makes them more preferable choice over digital.

                • carsten nielsen

                  I am not sure you are entirely right.
                  “The man” writes:
                  “But after a week I noticed that somehow the flow was missing in my listening experience. It was waaay to analytical, musicality seemed to have had left my sound completely.”This tells me, that the continioutivity that are supposed to flow (in the unsubconsiously reference that one relate to), is too clearly not flowing when the DAC is good.OK, there can be preferences, but if one is to listen closely, one will find, that the MST II+ is warmer, but allso more muddled, much more muddeld as a matter of fact, and this is what I find, makes II+ more “warm” or flowing as the analyticalness here is more or less gone but so is detail. It is actually quite muddling to a point where, I am thinking of returning it as it is kind of more effective to listen to HRT MST II for audiobooks, but then again, it is “warmer” and hits ones emotions deeper so, it seems.
                  I think it is the continious unbroken flow that is wanted, rather than the warmth, which for me seems like an indicator of the contious unbroken flowING. And this can be manipulated with, making us paying big bucks for a better faked copyversion of reality.

                  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692862021 Nick Tam

                    I do use the HRT MS2+. I’m not quite experiencing the overly warm as described here…

                  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

                    I believe it has something to do with the way in which my DT990 reproduces the high-low and high frequencies. some sounds are being emphasized this way and probably Jamiroquai music becomes a bit sibilant because of the amount of percussion in their music and also too bass heavy since the bass is mixed in quite thick. Likewise it might be that the sound signature of the MSII throws the frequencies further off balance.

                    • carsten nielsen

                      Well, according to my theory above described just now, then DAC’ed signal can be warm on expense of detail and sharpness will probably never be found with deep bass?!

                    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rogier-Schreurs/565592241 Rogier Schreurs

                      You mean that it’s either warm OR sharp and rich in bass?

                • carsten nielsen

                  I belive, that “warmth” is a descriptive analogy, that can be used to define something, but it is impossible to 100% describe the undescribeble (analouge without words), which is why “warmth” is only a reconstruction of something comparable to analog signal. We need to look through and grasp the entire picture and see, that warmt, when decreasing sharpness and detail, CAN be muddleing sound (HRT II+ very much so I find).

                  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                    Thanks, Carsten.

      • carsten nielsen

        I think, i am diggin it. He means, that he does not get carried through his musical experience. I think, that when observing music as an interactive process, the listener beeing needed to look into the diff. aspects to find musical likeness, then one will find, that “open” neutral is as close as you get to analouge. I listen to cassette tape, old audiobooks and music on my B&O system. Here the MST II is the closest you get for small money. The tapes still rule and run in my system, but 2. prio and for cont. play over several hours, MST II is a good alt.

  • carsten nielsen

    So, if changing the 1793 in my newbought MST II to a 1794, I got a winner?!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Not sure if you can plug and play the 1794.

      • carsten nielsen

        Thanks, but if testing this out, first on another cheaper Aune version, I can just go back and – again – replace the 1794 with the orig. 1793 and so get same set up as original, if not working or ….?!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Sorry, what do you mean?

          • carsten nielsen

            I was talking changing chip from PCM1793 to -74 as in II+, would do the job. But I found out, that the legs are entirely different aligned reg. their jobs, so it is not psosible to change chip!

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Yes, thanks for checking out the legs alignment.