The Music Streamer from High Resolution Technologies (HRT) is an external D/A converter that connects between a computer and an audio system. This $99 device overrides the digital to analog (D/A) converter that's built into the computer, to provide improved audio reproduction of computer music files and streaming audio from Internet radio and sites like YouTube.
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• See a review for High Resolution Technologies' iStreamer USB DAC.
I listen to Internet radio while working, which means I do the majority of my music listening via computer, mostly with a circa 2003 iMac (and occasionally with a newer MacBook). Over the years, I've connected my computer to a plethora of audio systems, receivers, speakers and headphones in an effort to get the best sound from Internet radio, but had resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to enjoy high-quality music reproduction from low-bit-rate Internet radio stations, and compressed MP3 and AAC music files.
Since music is one of the most important things in my life (you too?), when I found out about the Music Streamer, I simply had to audition it. Measuring a compact 4.1 inches long by 2.1 inches wide by 1.2 inches high, the Music Streamer has a metallic red, solid-feeling metal casing and incorporates a built-in 16-bit D/A converter. The unit is powered by the computer's USB connection, and is USB 1.1-compatible.
Hooking up the device is simple--just connect a USB cable from one of your computer's USB jacks to the Music Streamer, and run a set of audio interconnects from its RCA jacks to any analog audio input, such as a line-level input of a receiver. My Macs immediately recognized the device, and once I went into System Preferences and switched the audio output of my computers from the Built-In Audio to the USB port, I was good to go. (I'm a Mac guy but I am told that setup with a PC is equally straightforward.)
Well. The aural improvement the Music Streamer provides over my iMac's built-in D/A is dramatic. Without the Music Streamer, the sound is spatially flat and seriously lacking in resolution and imaging--the music sounds like "sonic wallpaper." With the Music Streamer in place, the audio quality became so much better that it was one of the rare times in my 20-plus-year audio reviewing career that I was honestly and truly taken aback. Suddenly the music had presence and depth, and subtle details like reverb trails on vocals and instruments and low-level background sounds could be heard that were literally inaudible before. The sound went from bland and blah to having presence and a sense of tangibility to individual instruments and vocalists. Even when listening to my favorite Internet radio stations, 3WK Classic Underground Radio and 3WK Underground Radio which are streamed at only 96 kbps, the sound was transformed from being flat and "stuck to the speakers" to musically involving. Read about the high points and low points of the Music Streamer DAC on Page 2.