High-performance USB-powered DAC
Open box return. Regular price $179. Sold as-is. Please note that we cannot ship these outside the US.
As more and more of our customers turn to their computers as music hubs—both for listening and recording—there's a piece of equipment that has become increasingly important to getting good sound: The Digital-to-Analog converter, commonly known as the DAC. Every digital device you use, whether it's a CD player, laptop computer, or iPhone, has a built-in DAC to convert MP3s, AIFFs, and other digital formats into analog audio so you can listen to it through speakers or headphones. The catch is, the built-in DACs in nearly all of these devices are mediocre at best.
There's good news, though: One of the easiest and most affordable ways to bring all that digital music to life again is to use a high-quality external DAC. Sure, a good pair of Grado Labs headphones will prompt you to re-listen to your entire music library just to hear it as it was meant to be heard, perhaps for the first time. But a good DAC can have a similar effect, even with your existing equipment. Have you ever tried to learn a guitar part, only to find that your MP3 of the song doesn't convey enough separation between instruments? That's where a good DAC comes into play. While you can of course pay $1000 or more on a top-of-the line DAC, my favorite entry-level DACs are those offered by High Resolution Technologies. HRT's design is simple, and the sound is fantastic, with noticeable improvements in detail, clarity, and imaging. Combine an HRT Music Streamer II with a pair of Audioengine A2s or A5s, and you have an ear-opening experience for a lot less than you'd expect to pay.
The Music Streamer II is HRT's basic model, and you're not likely to find a better DAC even spending twice the money. With 96k / 24 bit resolution—standard on all HRT products—you'll hear details in your iTunes library you've never heard before (it is of course compatible with Windows Media Player and other audio programs, too). Almost unheard of at this price point, the Music Streamer's USB connection operates in asynchronous mode to eliminate jitter. Plus, all Music Streamer models are small (this one is 5" x 2"), so they can sit unobtrusively on your desk, and they're all USB-powered, so they don't require an external power supply. I would recommend the Music Streamer II simply because of how easy it is to set up and use. But since it's also a great addition to anyone's computer sound setup, I recommend it without reservation.