• iPod Classic, iStreamer DAC, High-End Headphone Amp and Headphones: What the superb and very revealing Burson Audio electronics and HiFiMAN headphones showed was that the little iStreamer is very rich in detail in its own right, and that it is also sounds unfailingly smooth—even on difficult, high-energy treble transients that would give most other budget-priced DACs fits. The iStreamer produces bass that is taut, powerful, and well-defined, while its midrange has a certain natural warmth and seductive smoothness, augmented by the HRT DAC’s signature coherency and focus.
When push comes to shove, the iStreamer can be surpassed by expensive top-tier gear, but that in no way undercuts the fact that this superb little DAC plays way above its pay grade, so to speak.
One revealing disk that showcases several of the iStreamer’s strengths is Mary-Chapin Carptenter’s Come On, Come On [Columbia]. Put on “I Am a Town” from that album and listen carefully to the timbre and presentation of the acoustic bass that accompanies Ms. Carpenter's voice throughout the song, noting the instrument’s rich, deep, vibrant lower-midrange voice. Some DACs make the bass sound overly light and lacking in weight (more like a cello or viola), but the iStreamer gets the tonality of the bass exactly right, perfectly capturing those delicious amber midrange tonal colors that—to my way of thinking—really define upper register of the bass.
Similarly, on the title track of Come On, Come On, listen to the textures and high harmonics of Ms. Carpenter’s voice as she half sings/half whispers the song’s signature lines during the chorus, “Come on, come on/It’s getting late now/Come on, come on/Take my hand/Come on, come on/You just have to whisper/Come on, come/I will understand.” Through the iStreamer you’ll enjoy the delicate and breathy qualities in the singer’s voice as well as its higher harmonics, but without any excess treble sizzle or artificial high-frequency "pyrotechnics," and as a result you can’t help but be drawn into a more intimate connection with the singer’s carefully crafted vocal lines. What makes the iStreamer so special and so pleasing is that it sounds as if it could and perhaps should cost more, yet it is also a DAC that in a sense sounds “comfortable in its own skin”—as if it is rightly confident of its strengths and thus feels no need to convince listeners it is something it’s not.
While multi-thousand dollar disk players can and at times do outperform the iStreamer (as is only right given the huge price differentials involved), the fact is that the iPod/iStreamer combo generally holds its own, always giving you more than your money’s worth in a musical sense.
Consider this product if: you want an affordable, easy-to-use, high-quality DAC geared specifically for use with Apple devices, and that gives you a high-performance vehicle for connecting Apple portable players to desktop audio, home stereo, or home-theater systems. In particular, consider the iStreamer if you like the idea of trying a DAC that provides a jitter-free host mode interface to Apple portables.
Look further if: you were hoping for a portable device and/or for a digital Apple dock suitable for use with third-party outboard DACs. The iStreamer offers a lot of performance for the money, but it doesn’t support those two functions.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced DACs):
• Design & Features: 9
• Tonal Balance: 9.5
• Timbral Purity: 9.5
• Detail & Resolution: 9
• Imaging/Soundstaging: 10
• Dynamics: 9
• Value: 10 (the iStreamer is really the only Apple-specific DAC in this price range, and one that offers a host mode interface, to boot)
Summing Up: HRT’s iStreamer provides an easy-to-use and extremely good-sounding means of connecting Apple’s modern portable audio devices to high-end desktop, home stereo, or home theater systems. The iStreamer provides significantly better sound quality than any analog iPod dock can hope to match, while its host mode interface gives the iStreamer a coherent, well-focused sound that enables it to play with the big boys—delivering credible high-end sound from Apple’s popular portable audio devices.