19 November, 2009

HiFi Letter from New York (2): High Resolution Technology Music Streamer

pic from Stereophile: the red MS on top of the grey MS+

HiFi Letter from New York (2):

High Resolution Technology (HRT) Music Streamer

It took me 2 weeks to plow through my Stereophile and TAS. Both contain recent reviews of this little toy. As soon as I found out there is NO external power supply (so I can bring it back to HK) and saw the price tag of $99 for the basic model, I ordered one.

Always a sucker for a bargain, I opted for the cheaper MS. Actually, it is also because CAS (computer as server) only plays a minor role (albeit a fun one) in my listening. And because for convenience in my big system in HK I prefer the wireless route, so as not to have a computer in the LR.

In case you don't know, designer Kevin Halverson is as hi-end as you get. Some of you may remember the MUSE DAC (I think model 2) many years ago. Does my memory serve me? This DAC reminds me of the late Stanley Chu of Opera Audio HK, who swore by it (Ah, Stanley, one of the most decent fellows in audio I have ever met). More recently, Halverson is designer of the coveted Polyhymnia multi-player, which I'd love to hear (little chance in HK it seems).

I received the MS in no time. It was basically plug-and-play except for 2 issues (in my case):

(1) It does not come with any cables. The DAC end uses the smaller USB (1.1) and my computer end only has the larger one; so I went to my local ten-cent store and got a $1.99 one, and it's "gold-plated"! Solved.

(2) After plugging in, one has to select one-off the device as default player in "Audio Devices" in the Control Panel. Easily done but no sound through iTunes. I opened the Windows Media Player and got sound. I emailed to "support" at HRT and got replied by Halvorsen himself. How's that for service! Later, I found out that on my iTunes setup I had to uncheck "use iTunes as default player" to get sound. So iTunes "default" is not just for the interface, but for playback too. If you run Media Player on PC or iTunes on Mac you should not have this kind of problem, just plug-and-play.

At this point, it needs running in. . However, preliminary sound is respectable, importantly of good dynamics and it has good PRAT (unlike Benchmark, no matter how good it is in other respects). I shall post an update later, and report in details after I try it out in HK. You see, I almost play viny exclusively here in NYC and my iTunes library here is much smaller than its counterpart in HK (compromised too, as the old portable is almost out of disc space)

The unit has been reviewed simultaneously by many hi-end magazines:

6moon (good pics of innards, though current versions are somewhat different. At least in digital components I have great faith in surface-mount components.)
HiFi+ (good pics of innards too)
Stereophile (good one by Art Dudley; unfortunately in the magzine there was a half page on the cheaper MS, which seems to have been omitted on the net version)

More later.

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