The Music Streamer+’s specifications boast 21dB better signal-to-noise, a 100uV RMS lower A-weighted noise floor, and 0.04% lower THD. Because the standard Music Streamer is so quiet, meaning I heard no noise whatsoever even at maximum listening levels, I wondered if these better specifications would translate into better sound. In level-matched comparisons (made easier because the two Music Streamers have the same output levels) I quickly noticed that the Music Streamer+ wasn’t noticeably quieter or higher in resolution or inner detail, but it did deliver greater three-dimensionality and more precise image specificity. While the basic unit hadn’t quite matched the imaging capabilities of the Stello DA100 D/A, the Music Streamer+ delivered every bit of the dimensionality of the Stello. In matched-level tests between the Stello and Music Streamer I could not reliably tell one from the other.
Near the end of the review period I replaced a pair of Bel Canto Ref 500 monoblock amplifiers in my desktop system with a “new old-stock” Dyna Stereo 70 I had purchased at the Denver Vintage Voltage Audio Show. This Dyna has a stock circuit, but new tubes, resistors, and capacitors. The system signal path was as simple and straightforward as possible—it went from the Music Streamer to a Reference Line Preeminence One passive pre to the Stereo 70 and finally to the speakers. The signal chain didn’t have a single transistor in the circuit except for the op-amps in the Music Streamer+ itself. I was floored by how good it sounded. No, not good, stunning.
I’ve been using various solid-state Class A, B, and D power amplifiers for the last five years or so. Perhaps that was a mistake. In the interim I had forgotten how electronically grainless a tube amplifier can sound. I’d also forgotten just how much depth a solid-state amplifier removes from the soundstage. Even the “lowly” Dyna Stereo 70 tethered to the Music Streamer+ delivered so much additional spatial information that the expression first used by Harry Pearson (with a bow to Coleridge) to express the depth characteristics of solid-state power amplifiers— “paper ships upon a paper ocean”—was still very appropriate. Even commercial pop recordings on MP3 files displayed spatial characteristics that I’d never heard before. Soundstaging details jumped out and virtually slapped me in the face, as if to say: “Stone, you ignorant ninny.”
After a couple of days I went back and compared the Stello DA100 D/A to the Music Streamer+. Again in matched-level tests I couldn’t discern any sonic differences between these two D/As. On Hal Ketchum’s latest CD, Father Time, which was recorded live in studio without overdubs, the soundstage width and depth through both units went well past the outer edges of my monitor speakers. On my own live concert recordings it was easy to separate out the directly radiated sounds from the reflected sound coming off the back of the stage.
The Music Streamer+ may be an even bigger value than its little brother, the Music Streamer. Couple it with transparent electronics and a pair of good speakers and be prepared to get closer to your music than you ever thought possible from a $299 USB DAC. It may not support 96/24 or other higher-resolution digital files, but what the Music Streamer+ does for 44.1 and 48kHz 16-bit music files must be heard to be believed.
MacPro Dual core computer with iTunes 8.1, Meridian 518, Meridian 561 pre/pro, Reference Line Preeminence One, April Music Stello DA100 D/A, Spender SA1 speakers, ATC SCM7 speakers, Paradigm S1 speakers, Earthquake Supernova Mk IV 10 subwoofer, Goertz M12 Veracity speaker cables, Goertz TQ2 alpha-core interconnects, MIT AVT1 interconnects.
SPECS & PRICING
Blue Circle Audio USB Thingee
DAC: Internal 16-bit/44kHz (can transfer up to 16/48)
Analog output: 0.775V RMS
Price: $169 and up (varies with output options chosen)
BLUE CIRCLE AUDIO
Innerkip, Ontario, Canada N0J1M0