My HRT Music Streamer HD DAC is a game changer

I haven't started a thread this long for years, I think, so you have a hint right there. The truth is that I can't say enough good things about the new inexpensive DACs that seem to appear every week. I have only tried two -- the Audioquest Dragonfly is the other one -- but when I decided on the HRT Music Streamer HD, I knew I had hit gold for not much dough. I have been an audiophile since the early seventies, now retired, and my audio system is just appropriate for a small room, but forget the system --I don't remember enjoying music as much as I do now-- perhaps during my Thorens/ADC analog days, but that was a long time ago. A few years back I settled on a Squeezebox with Bolder power supply, but there is no comparison between it and the new DACs. My decision on the HRT HD was heavily due to its (true) balanced outputs, since my system is on the opposite side of the room from my computer. When the HRT HD is "correctly fettled," as Alan Sircom rightly puts it in Hi-Fi+ (meaning for me KingRex battery power and Elijah Audio Isolaate BL USB cable magic), it is awesome and then some. Ambience, natural timbre of instruments and voices, performers and instruments that have real body (not paper ships on a paper sea), huge soundstage, the feeling that you are there with the performers. Audio Nirvana!
Hi Vlad,
Thanks for the review. I just recently acquired the Streamer HD and had a listen this weekend. Alan Sircom mentioned that without being "correctly fettled" the Streamer was very "meh". I have to completely agree. Now mind you that my current reference DAC is a dcs 954 (pro DAC retailing over $7k) so it's a bit unfair comparing the two. Just merely stating my point of reference. I've got an ifi iUSB on order so we'll see how it elevates performance, but by itself, the Streamer HD is a very run of the mill budget DAC.
Vlad, did you listen to the Streamer by itself? What was your impression?
Yes, I used it by itself for about two weeks and it was better than the Dragonfly and much better than my Squeezebox. Battery power makes a lot of difference, though. I had to buy a BIX550 as a backup because the KingRex only plays for 4-5 hours and then needs 7-8 hours to recharge.
I just read that hi-fi+ review and was wondering if he was over the top by saying it could keep in Bricasti and dCS company.

Unusually with these budget dac's they just say its good for the money - but he was very enthusiastic, and Alan Sircom is not prone to this sort of hyperbole.

So thanks for a 2nd opinion Vlad !! Now what does this DAC sound like via SE outputs?
Art Dudley reviewed this DAC in the June Stereophile. He found that the top end was a little harsh but praised its openness clarity. I believe he used the DAC without any additions. In the end he preferred the Hadide DAC HD.
Dtc, I don't hear treble emphasis or harshness of any kind, but then again I'm an old guy and perhaps my ACI Sapphire XLs soft-dome tweeters need some help there too. Now that the DAC is fully broken-in, the sense of ambience, instrument body and depth layering is something to enjoy, even listening to Pandora. I am so happy that I'm now going to try some system isolation with Herbie's Fat Dots and maybe Redpoint Blakhole feet.
I posted about the Stereophile review in another DAC thread and my thoughts remain that, for the manufacturer, there is a lot riding on a review by one guy who listens to the gear in one system. If I didn't already know the quality of Kevin Halverson's work, and if I hadn't already seen the very positive reviews by Alan Sircom at HiFi+, Tom Gibbs at Positive Feedback, and Neil Gader at TAS, I may not have purchased the HRT HD after reading Art Dudley's negative portrayal of the high frequencies.

I just received the HRT HD and I will be trying it with the new ifi USB power unit based on Alan Sircom's helpful review comments. In his review, Tom Gibbs stated, "Music Streamer HD - through it, everything just sounds more like music," and I have always found that to be true of Kevin Halverson's digital offerings.
In my previous post, I listened to the MS HD "unfettled" and found it good, not great. I've recently tried it with the iUSB and improvements can be heard across the board but it still can't beat my reference, which isn't really a fair comparison. For one, the dollars don't add up. And second, I am using a TVC passive preamp. Although the specs suggest no impedance mismatch, there may be a synergy mismatch. With that caveat, I found no glaring faults with the MS HD. But compared to my reference dcs 954, it was missing that elusive "3D holographic" quality.
I have a Streamer II in my office system and like it, although the system is not for critical listening. I also have one in a system in Europe and again like it a lot.

I have not heard the HD. I just thought I would pass on the Stereophile review so people were aware of it. As I said, Dudley really praised it for its openness and clarity. And high frequencies issues can often be system (and ear) dependent.

I would say that if in fact the HD really needs the extra power supply, HRT should probably at least make one available as an option or recommend an option.

They also seem to imply that providing drivers for 24/192 on Windows is a rarity, whereas I think it has become pretty common. I understand that they do not have the driver ready yet, but just admitting it is coming without making it sound like a rarity would be nice. It is just a wording issue, but something I noticed.

Again, I have not heard the HD. I just wanted to pass on the information.
Dtc,no offense toward your post was intended. My issue is with this particular review. I have not yet heard the HRT HD, but I own one and I just received the ifi iUSB IsoPower system today. I am just getting my computer audio up and running and not quite ready to play music.

I do however have extensive experience with Kevin Halverson's digital players having owned the MUSE 9, 9 Sig, 10, and his last and best player, the Erato II, which in comparison made my Ayre C-5xeMP sound a touch sterile, and that's saying something because the Ayre is no slouch. Point being, the man knows digital and how to make products that make music. He has had like 4 chances to get his Streamers right and indications were that he was well on his way with the Streamer II+. I doubt he would all of a sudden come up with a "statement" design that would make ears bleed.

Art Dudley's Stereophile review pointed out the following on various tracks;
"sibilants were overcooked,"
"a bit too much bite,"
"vocal sibilants were a bit too much,"
"a bit too much wheeze,"
"a little too much scrape in the fiddle,"
"ride cymbal was just a shade more ringy than usual,"
"saxophone was slightly more piquent than real,"
"distracted by a bit of upper frequency hardness,"
"a little too much glare in the high notes,"
"too much bite in the violins," and
"still too much sibilance in the vocals - a disappointment."

Does the same issue really have to be repeated 11 times? Either the device totally sucks (something three other professional reviewers did not hear), or perhaps there was a gremlin in the system somewhere, a cable issue, a ground issue, or perhaps a cracked solder joint. I find it hard to believe that a second opinion was not obtained by a different Stereophile reviewer in a different system, and a second review sample was not requested of HRT and listened to, before the review was posted - a disappointment.
HRT DACs are just a few of the relatively inexpensive ways to get into computer audio. To make the fight more competitive in this segment, M2tech just came out with a new 32bit/384kHz flash-drive size DAC, the $295 HiFace.

I also think that any computer-powered USB input would improve if driven by batteries or dedicated linear power supplies, because it bypasses the electronic grunge in the computer.
Mitch2 - no offense taken. As I said, I am very happy with my 2 Streamer IIs and I do agree that Dudley is the odd man out on this discussion. I do wonder if there was something else going on in his system that was adding to the problems he reported. It is also possible that his PC was struggling to provide adequate clean power to the HD. In any case, the HD seems like a good option, although once you add in an outboard power supply it reaches a price with a lot more competition.

I do agree that reviewers with the influence Dudley has should take extra steps before reporting a poor result. I remember when Chris over at Computer Audiophile panned the M2Tech HiFace when it first came out. People were dumb founded, since most people found it a very good product at the time. I always thought he should have gotten another sample and tried other systems before his poor review. I know it can be a lot of work, especially for a low end product, but I still think reviews should go the extra mile in that type of situation.
I am curious about this dac. Can anyone comment on what devices are available to use in powered usb sircom mode. I see mention of the iusb. Anything else. I wonder if we could convince dudley to do another listen with just suvpch a device
Kbuzz, I can see three choices right now for getting cleaner power to a bus-powered USB DAC: a simple and cheap way is to separate the DAC from the computer by a hub as Sircom suggested (however, the hub has to get its power from the grid and won't be particularly clean); an external power supply like the iFi-Audio iUSB which is competitive in price ($199 I believe) to my KingRex U Power; or a rechargeable 5V regulated battery supply such as I'm using. Given the choice between an external regulator like the iUSB that is still connected to the grid by a switching wall wart supply or battery power, I would choose the latter every time.
I bought this dac out of curiosity, and actually liked it better than AMR 777 which I then had the home for evaluation, but sent back!

HRT HD plays "music" in an engaging, fun and musical way. I also think it sounds quite analog and natural, something I value very much.

I use an external 5V power supply from German Aqvox with brilliant results.