At $349.95, the HRT Music Streamer II+ becomes a natural competition to the Cambridge Audio DacMagic. Moreover, since the DacMagic did very well on the review, where I compared it to the Audiotrak Dr. DAC2 DX and Matrix’s Mini-i DAC, I thought that the MS2+ should be judged in reference to it.
The MSII+ in general is very neutral, but when compared to the DacMagic, it comes out sounding livelier and naturally more engaging. The treble is very open and extended, and has a clearer upper treble than the DacMagic’s smoother sounding treble. Soundstage width is quite similar to the DacMagic’s, but the deeper depth on the MSII+ will give a larger and more three dimensional sound than the DacMagic. Each element of the music, either vocal or instruments stand out better on the MSII+, and there is a better sense of individuality on the MSII+. Bass and midrange clarity is also better on the MSII+. There is also more bass presence, and bass punch is stronger and deeper on the MSII+ than it is on the DacMagic.
Paired with the 2-ch Beta22 and the HD800 with Whiplash’s TWAg cable, which is a very neutral system, I very much prefer the MSII+ for anything from Rock, RnB, Blues, and Jazz. For classical music, I do like the DacMagic’s and smoother treble, but I can happily live with the MSII+ better resolution and livelier sound as well. Even with the DacMagic on the steep phase filter setting, which is more agressive and lively than the linear phase setting, the Cambridge still can’t quite match the MSII+’s liveliness and bass performance. The DacMagic is a very good DAC for the price, but the Music Streamer II+ does make the DacMagic look really bad in this comparison. And speaking purely on the sonic qualities, the Music Streamer II+ scores a solid win.
I guess it’s time to bring up the DacMagic’s fuller list of features to even out the fight. The MSII+ is strictly a USB DAC and nothing else. It supports a high resolution 24/96 USB compatibility on asynchronous mode transfer, but that’s about it. Yes, the DacMagic is quite limited for a USB DAC, maxing out at 16/48 resolution. However, users would find the DacMagic to be friendlier with its abundance of connection options that include coaxial and toslink S/PDIF connections, as well as support for a balanced analog out — which is a big deal today in the world of headphones. So, there is a certain benefit in going with the DacMagic.
On lesser transparent systems, the difference between the two DACs may not be so obvious, and the fuller featured DacMagic may be the better option. But on my test system, which is the Beta22 with SCSCAg silver wiring and a Whiplash TWAg equipped Sennheiser HD800, the difference between the two DACs is quite audible, and the Music Streamer II+ may really be the best DAC I’ve ever heard in the $300-$400 price range.
Anyway, as manufacturer are coming with more resolving headphones, it’s always good to have more DAC choices out there. And if your need is strictly for a good quality USB DAC, I would highly suggest the High Resolution Technologies HRT MS2+. It’s very simple to use, and give a very high quality digital to analog conversion that I enjoy even on a very revealing system as the Beta22 and Sennheiser HD800 combo.
System used for review:
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, Whiplash TWAg cable.
Amplifier: AMB Labs 2-ch Beta22
Source: Cambridge Audio DacMagic, HRT Technologies Music Streamer II+
Transport: MacPro (24/96 digital out for the MS2+, 16/48 digital out for the DacMagic)hrt_streamer_IIplus_