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Talking tunes. In the broadest sense the HRT is better suited to electronica (Deadbeat, Arovane, FSOL) and crisply produced jazz rock like Steely Dan. The Herus lends thinner recordings tonal mass to be a better choice for MP3s of dubious origin or weak-as-piss 80s masters like Prefab Sprout or Television. However my nod to the Herus doesn’t come from its sonic beef. The qualitative differences between it and the microStreamer make it tough to call out ‘best’. Instead the Resonessence Labs accessory earns its stripes and sticker through 1/ a 1/4" headphone jack and 2/ a full-size type B USB socket to make it easier when rolling USB cables.
Another A/B quickie. Astell&Kern’s AK120 is primarily a portable media player but its sound in USB DAC mode doesn’t have the jump factor of the HRT. It’s smoother but more laid back.
In the dongle DAC space the HRT microStreamer hits biggest in the price/performance stakes. Some audiophiles might see the $50+ difference which separates the HRT from rivals as chump change. I don't. For newcomers to the 'better sound' game, $50 is significant. Think of the younger head-fier who is yet to earn enough to spunk $500 on a pair of interconnects. Under the $200 threshold the HRT microStreamer is without peer.
Driftin' back. The sound quality that spills from the HRT dongle would have been inconceivable a couple of years ago both in this form factor and at this price. Existing owners of Cambridge Audio’s 2009 DACMagic, Maverick's TubeMagic D1, Firestone Audio's Spitfire et al could find themselves in upgrade territory should they take the opportunity to compare their existing unit to the microStreamer. It’s that good.
To ensure my enthusiasm didn’t run away with itself I pitted the microStreamer as DAC against Schiit’s Bifrost Über in what turned out to be a somewhat one-sided dog fight. The latter is a house-bound solution. It requires mains power and 3 x the cash. As one might expect from one of 2013’s most definitive budget DAC solutions, the Schiit sounded meatier and more tonally accomplished. But you’d need to drop another $250 on an Asgard2 amplifier to bring headphones into the Schiit heap. For some that math will stink.
Whilst that’s a wrap on the microStreamer as USB DAC with a computer, there’s still more to report as we'll see when this review heads into iDevice territory. The HRT microStreamer is a go-anywhere do-anything solution. And not just in headphone land.