High Resolution Technologies MusicStreamer
If youre at all like me, you grew up with the LP as
your primary format for commercially available music. Other formats have come and gone,
including 8-Track tape, cassette tape, DAT, CD, DVD-A & V, SACD, and now Blu-ray. Some
were skipped over so fast they were barely blips on the radar, and some lasted a while but
eventually fizzled out. Two, CD and DVD-V, are still hanging on while two more, LP and
SACD, have become strong niche products. Blu-ray? Well, the jurys still out on that
These days there is a new format climbing steadily up the ranks -- digital downloads.
They offer many benefits, such as no physical media to take up precious space in our
crowded homes. Downloads also offer the opportunity for music on demand -- if you want to
hear it, you visit a website and download it, anytime day or night. No more sorting
through stacks of LPs or CDs until you find what you want and then play it with a special
player. Plus, you can create play lists to hear only what you want without having to
change discs or sit though songs you might not care for. So whats not to like?
Well, nothing really, unless youre an old curmudgeon like me. Ive reached
the point in my life where change becomes harder and harder to accept, especially when
Ive spent a lifetime building a music collection that fits both my sonic and
financial requirements. Plus, I kind of like my LPs and CDs for the artwork and liner
notes. I also like having something tangible to hold and admire. But downloading looks to
be the wave of the present and future, what with the cost being lower due to not having to
make any sort of disc and its companion artwork, and both high-resolution and multichannel
audio either here now or on the horizon.
I already have a laptop packed with music that Ive ripped from my CDs for my iPod
in my iTunes library. Therefore, all I really need is a way to go from the laptop's USB
output to the RCA inputs on my preamp. A quick Google search unearthed more suitable
devices than I would have thought available. However, most cost more than I would want to
spend, at this point in time anyway.
That was the case until I discovered High Resolution Technologies, maker of the
MusicStreamer for a miserly $89.95 USD. It has a USB input on one end and a pair of analog
outputs on the other. Its biggest selling point, after its low price, is its size: a mere
2 1/8"W x 4 1/8"L x 1 1/4"H. That would make it extremely small and
unobtrusive while still possessing the necessary features.
High Resolution Technologies refers to the MusicStreamer as "a high-performance
music interface that allows a computer and a home-entertainment system to become perfect
partners." The MusicStreamer derives its power from the computer's USB port, so you
dont need an outboard power source. The company claims it "completely
regenerates power for all internal circuitry using a sophisticated set of proprietary
circuits." An e-mail to High Resolution Technologies was answered by, of all people,
Kevin Halverson of Muse Electronics, a company that has been designing well-respected
digital players and power amplifiers since 1989. Kevin is the chief technology officer for
High Resolution Technologies, so it appears that this company has a fair degree of design
sense behind it. His reply indicated that the MusicStreamer uses a Texas Instruments
PCM1744 digital-to-analog converter. Texas Instruments makes fine DACs, though this one is
on the lower end of the scale to help keep costs down. But its inclusion here demonstrates
that Halverson intends for the MusicStreamer to perform far above its modest price.
Of the specifications for the MusicStreamer, the one that matters most for the
application Im discussing here is its bit depth -- 16 bits, which makes its output
the equivalent of Red Book-CD quality. No high-resolution audio here, which is rather
ironic for a product from a company called High Resolution Technologies. The MusicStreamer
has a USB 1.1 connection, which I find a smart move because it allows older laptops to be
used as music servers.
Connection was pretty straightforward. The only fly in the ointment was that I had to
go into the Windows Control Panel to tell my computer to use the MusicStreamer as the
audio card. It wasnt a big deal, but a hitch to keep in mind.
Having now had the chance to listen to the MusicStreamer connected to my main system
with a generic USB cable and a length of Analysis Plus Solo Crystal single-ended
interconnect going to my preamp, Ive come to a new appreciation of both the ease of
use of a computer-based system and the sound of this little inexpensive DAC that was
giving access to my computer's music library. How did it sound? Pretty good, pretty darned
good for only $90. I set my iTunes to shuffle play, kicked back and began to enjoy the
music. Wow, this was the best radio station Id ever heard! It only played music that
I wanted to hear. No, the sound wasnt quite as polished as that of my
25-times-as-expensive CD player, but the MusicStreamers shortcomings were more
subtractive than addictive in nature. Plus, the music sounded far better than any FM
station in my area.
In particular, the MusicStreamer's top end was a tad soft, with a distinct lack of air.
Bass also was soft and a little more ill defined than Im used to, though still deep
enough to satisfy. But the midrange was excellent. Vocals in particular were very well
handled. They were reproduced as solid and fully fleshed out. Acoustic guitar also sounded
natural, abundant with both plucked-string and wooden-body sound. There was a good sense
of soundstage width, a bit less in terms of depth. Image placement and solidity were on
the upper end of the scale. All in all, this was an impressive showing for such an
inexpensive product. While the MusicStreamer may not be where many audiophiles stop on
their journey into computer-based audio, I can see where it might be as far as some will
either need or want to go, so well does this little box aid in the reproduction of one's
This old dog can still learn a new trick or two. The MusicStreamer was just the ticket
to a fine source of music -- music that I fully enjoyed as much as any CD in my
collection. Plus, the ease of use, the almost instant access to whatever I felt like
listening to was addictive. While not the last word in resolution, the MusicStreamer
allowed me to experience many of the benefits of computer-based audio. And if you're so
inclined, High Resolution Technologies offers the MusicStreamer+ ($249.95) with a more
expensive TI DAC (the PCM1794), a lower noise floor, and higher signal-to-noise ratio for
presumably a more audiophile-approved sound.
If youve been holding off giving the rip-and-download scene a go due the cost,
check out the High Resolution Technologies MusicStreamer. It may open up both your ears
and your living space.
|High Resolution Technologies
MusicStreamer Digital-to-Analog Converter
Price: $89.95 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
High Resolutions Technologies, LLC
1027 North Orange Drive
Los Angles, CA 90038
Phone: (323) 967-7447
Fax: (323) 466-9825