This review on Musiland USB devices come from a reader (many thanks!) who shared his experiences in the comments section. I appreciate this contribution as I personally do not have the skill, ears and (no longer) patience to discern sound at this level.
I added some details and photos to better organize, illustrate and add additional context to the review.
So far I am blown away by the sound of the 02 Dragon and 01, but scratching my head as to why the 01 sounds better, by a noticeable margin, over the 02 when used as a PC interface.
The 01 is the 2012 Monitor 01USD. Here is the 02 Dragon and the 2012 01USD side by side (click for larger photo). The digital side looks almost identical. The power section uses the same regulators. The only factor for the o1 sounding better as a digital interface I would guess is, “simpler is better”?. There is no analog section in the 01USD and therefore no additional power supplies, including the DC-DC switching converters. In addition the SPDIF signal of the 02 has to travel back from the FPGA to the other side of the board, whereas in the 01 the spdif signal is taken to the external connector right at the edge of the FPGA
With either unit and on both my systems KS sounded better then ASIO, so I stayed with KS for all comparisons.
One issue – just could not get either to be recognized by my windows 8 PC using the USB 3.0 cable (probably do to the CY7C68013A-56 LTXC being a USB 2.0 chip). Not really a problem, since all my better USB cables are 2.0 and worked great.
The Musiland drivers and control panel worked much better on my i5/8Gb RAM/Windows 7 machine – even running the 01 and 02 panels concurrently without issue (allowing me to switch between the two in foobar or JPlay). On my Quad4/4Gb/Vista machine the newest Musiland version choked and would not play, and FoobarJPlay would just crash the machine.
M2Tech still has much better drivers on the 4Gb RAM machine. But I love the control and flexibility of the Musiland control panel.
I myself don’t like Vista even for regular tasks. I use either XP or Win7.
Comparing Digital Interfaces:
2012 01USD vs the Audiophileo 2 (photo from 6moons) and the HiFace USB, and the Hiface EVO (photo from 6moons)
The EVO’s architecture is very close to the Musiland. The main differences is that the clocks are generated by two dedicated fixed frequency clocks rather than by the DCMs (Digital Clock Managers) in the Xilinx FPGA. The Audiophilleo (left) has a different architecture. It uses an ARM9 processor implementing the USB interface and also advanced dithered digital attenuation, ramped muting, balance and polarity reversal on the fly; the output clock is also from fixed frequency oscillators.
So far the 01, has easily beat the Audiophilleo 2 and the Hi Face USB. The EVO is still significant a cut ahead (driving my 6 – 32bit AKM DAC per channel, transformer coupled, ECC99 APL DAC). The sound has such a natural ease, perfect tone, and excellent detail – it is close to my EVO in sound. I can’t wait for the 03USD to see if it can’t beat the EVO.
Comparing analog output
02 Dragon with external supply, RCA output vs 2012 01 USD SPDIF out into the Xindak 05 (with NOS 6922s)
The 02 Dragon implements the newest TI DAC: The 32Bit/384kHz PCM5102 DAC. The Xindak 05 is based on the AD1852 24Bit/192KHz DAC and has a tube output stage
The 02 Dragon on the Analog outs, using a Acopian linear PS on the DC (this really helped) sounded really good. Only in comparison to the 01USD/Xindak 5 did I notice a bit of edge, smaller sound stage, and less natural tone.
The difference with the 01/Xindak combo was surprisingly small, but significant. The differences were an extended depth and width of sound stage, a bit more dynamics, most important – a more natural timbre to most instruments (most noticeable on violins and clarinet). But the 02 (with the Acopian linear PS) was shockingly good for the simplicity and cost (my SPDIF cable alone cost much more!)
Office system: Class A output/ Class A tube pre Hybrid integrated, Ref 3a Dulcettes, Tellurium Q Black cables, Velodyne Optimum 10 sub.
Headphone system: Sennhieser HD800/Warren Audio cable, EarMax – NOS Tele 801s tubes.
02 Dragon with external supply, RCA output vs EVO with external supply feeding APL DAC
Note: the APL DAC used in the comparison is not the off the shelf model shown in the photo below. It is a custom made model off a Denon DVD3910 unit. See the comments for additional details
The EVO/APL combination is rightly in another league entirely (yeah for 35X the price!). For money this 02 is a steal. Although the headphone amp is mediocre. But hey, what do expect for $150! I would certainly use it on the road – it’s a great portable solution (love the round digital vol control).
And the 02 Dragon played 2L’s DxD files (32/352K) flawlessly, and really sounded great.
I used the foobar/Jplay combination on both my systems – it sounds really good – beating my previous fav foobar/SoX mod2 (176k,aliasing, linear phase, 95% Passband). But Jplay is such a pain! SoX can handle anything, all samples rates, flawlessly – never a crash or lock-up. Note: JPLAY/Foobar only works for Redbook files, it choked on anything above 44k. I simply rename the foo_jplay.dll file, and reopened foobar to disable it.
Using the EVO (Acopian PS)/APL the differences were much, much larger.
Width and depth of the sound stage were greater, but more importantly, the realism of the position of the players in the sound stage. Think cardboard 2D cutouts staggered, versus realistic 3D holographic images positioned into the 3D sound field. Each point of music emanating it’s own realistic front, side and back wave. The front stronger, but back and side providing the really important ambient clues, it’s this ambient “presence” that helps create a lifelike realism. Very hard to achieve, but very rewarding. The 02 was more 2D then 3D, the EVO/APL extremely 3D.
The 02 had a hardness, almost metallic quality to the tone. The EVO/APL was supremely natural, rich and detailed, with the natural decay of overtones. This is especially noticeable on acoustic instruments, i.e. acoustic guitar, violins, piano (big time), etc… The APL with it’s tubed output (internal linear PS) and transformer coupling excels here. The effect of opamps (even the best) and coupling caps has a major effect on this part of the sound. I have heard many solid state DACs, and none can produce this kind of natural tonality. Even ones with really good discrete output stages (Burson, Meridian, etc…).
Lastly dynamics, here it was closer. The edge still with the EVO/APL combination. It’s not as much the macro dynamics as the micro dynamics that count. The the impulse response issue (and ringing). The Hi Res recordings are so good here. I mean, how realistically fast and accurately can a system response to a plucked guitar string? It’s the difference in sound good versus realistic sound.
Main system: Class A MOSFET amp/Class A NOS tube pre-amp hybrid, Reference 3a Royal Masters, Tellurium Q Ultra Black cables, Velodyne DD-12 sub.
Test tracks on all my reviews included (Redbook- Foobar/JPlay)): David Gray – White Ladder, Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark, ColdPlay – Mylo Xyloto, Florence and the Machine – Lungs, Brand New – Brand New, Mozart Symphonies – Berlin Phil, Arcangelo Correlli – Concerto Grossi.
Hi-Res tracks (foobar only): Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman (HD tracks 192k FLAC), 2L – (DxD resampled to 176K) Annar Folleso – Ole Bull Violin Concertos, Vivaldi:(192K FLAC) Recitative and Aria from Cantata RV 679, “Che giova il sospirar, povero core” .
(9V yellow Box B)
If your are looking for a 33.8688 MHz oscillator, you are pretty much out of luck. I looked at the usual shops and they are not in stock. Such frequencies were used for CD players and they are not widely manufactured anymore. Modern disc players derive all the necessary frequencies (including the 33.8633 MHz frequency) out of a 27 MHz oscillator or crystal and an integrated multi-frequency clock generator.
I have a couple of Denon SACD/DVD players and wanted to see if the clock can be improved. On the DVD2910, The audio section of the player derives the 33.8688 MHz frequency from a 27 MHz crystal, generated by a SM8701 clock generator. The specification of the clock generator indicates that the output jitter for the 33.8688 MHz frequency clock is 150 psec. On the DVD1920, the audio section of the players uses a 33.8688 MHz clock derived from the SM8707H clock generator. To my surprise, this lower end model jitter specification is better than the higher end model DVD2910 (and also the DVD3910 and top of the line at that time DVD5910). The DVD1920 is a newer generation device and thus uses newer parts. The SM8707H part has a jitter specification of 70 psec (2X better).
The published jitter figure is “period jitter” and in order to compare it with a standalone oscillator one needs to compare the phase-noise plots. For example, the popular Crystek C33xx oscillators are specified at around 1 psec Jitter RMS if measured at the 12kHz~80MHz phase noise band (this is the accepted norm for telecom applications). However, if one uses the “audio band” which starts at 10 Hz, the jitter measurement results in around 30 psec. Under similar measurements the top-of-the-line CCHD-950 measures 0.5 psec. I can’t find any reference as to how the jitter numbers were measured for the clock generators, but if one assumes that they have been measured within the “audio band”, then these numbers are not too bad.
Update: I figured a good rule of thumb when comparing period jitter (what is specified from chips) and phase jitter (what is specified from oscillators): period jitter ~ 10 X phase jitter [link]. Thus 150 psec of period jitter is the equivalent of 15 psec of phase jitter.
THE “TRADITIONAL” MOD
The traditional mod recommends replacing the crystal that feeds the clock generator. This is typically 27 MHz crystal connected to the clock generator. As can be seen from the above analysis, replacing this crystal with a low jitter oscillator will do nothing to lower the jitter of the generated clocks because of their inherent jitter. Thus if reducing jitter is the goal, the clocks to replace are the generated ones out of the clock generator chip.
I wanted to explore the option of discarding the derived clock and using a separately generated 33.8688 MHz frequency. Note: the derived 33.8688 MHz clock is synchronous with the 27 Mhz master clock which is used elsewhere. At this point, it is not proven (or dis-proven) that a asynchronous 33.8688 MHz clock would work in the device. I cannot find any report on the success or failure of this proposed mod.
There are only a few possible (reasonably priced) candidates for a 33.8688 MHz oscillator:
1- The eBay solution (around $30). There is a review in diyaudio on these oscillators:
2- The famous Tent Labs oscillator (available in many frequencies including 33.8688 Mhz), >$30:
The Tent is the only one that is backed by a phase noise plot (just happen it is the phase noise plot of the 33.8688 frequency):
If we calculate the RMS jitter from the plot at 10 Hz forward (which is what Crystek uses for their measurements), we get: ~0.32 psec RMS (see sidebar for link to jitter calculator). This is an impressive number! Equivalent to the Jitter figure for the Crystek CCHD-957 oscillators. Note the figure from the chart gives 0.9589 psec jitter RMS because it is measured from 1 Hz.
3- The next option is the Silicon Labs programmable oscillator Si570. These are also non-existent in the usual parts distributors, but you can find them from Ham Radio web sites, in particular KM5H.com (~$20) and SDR-Kits (~$23).
The Si570 is a favorite of Ham Radio aficionados because it allows you to “dial-in” any frequency. There is a ($40) diy kit that lets you do just that:
And it is amateur radio people like it because of its low phase noise. Clifton Labs has done an extensive study on phase noise for the Si570 and other oscillators. These guys are even more serious about jitter than audio people
The only potential “disadvantage” of this oscillator is that it requires a local uP to program the oscillator every time it is powered on.
4- DIY discrete oscillator from the diyaudio group buy (~$25). This is a differential Colpitts design with dual shunt regulators.
In terms of performance (noise), the diy discrete oscillator is probably not the best, but also not the worse. Although the designer of the oscillator has not measured its phase noise performance, there is some measurement on phase noise for a the discrete Colpitts oscillator from Clifton Labs:
My home brew Colpitts oscillator, designed without paying particular attention to low phase noise, has slightly lower phase noise than the Raco oscillator module, most noticeable when viewed with 1 and 10 KHz spans.
The designer further says:
Unfortunately I don’t have the equipment necessary to produce a quotable figure for jitter. I have taken both objective and subjective measurements (comparisons of the jitter at a CD player’s output and listening tests) that indicate that it has significantly lower jitter compared to a stock CD player master clock.
Further, there is also the fun factor in building your own oscillator.
Seems the best choice for this mod, based on jitter specification is the Tent clock. However, I have already bought the diyaudio discrete clock kit and whether it is better or not than the published 70 or 150 psec jitter of the 33.8688 MHz clock remains to be seen. I would guess it is probably better than a derived clock, so worthwhile to implement.
INSIDE A CAN OSCILLATOR, CAN CRYSTAL
Inside a can crystal
- HP oven controlled oscillator:
- HP 10811A/B Quartz Crystal Oscillator Manual:
- Discussion on clock selection:
- This is how Ham Radio people build their oscillators [link]
Such type of design have been found to provide good noise figures as described by this site: [link]
A reader alerted me that all Apple Remotes have the same code (I’d mistakenly assumed there were two sets of codes)
Download here: [link]
Notable is the direction the company is taking with respect to new DACs:
- No more investment in “ultra high end” DACs
- Development is concentrated in the new 32-bit Vout DACs and USB DACs
- Adding “miniDSP” into the DAC
As the product map indicates, the latest generation are the PCM51xx family of DACs. The first one, the PCM5102 was released last year and has been implemented in devices such as the Musiland 02 Dragon, the Jundac XI, and diy projects.
According the the TI product manager,
… it uses a next generation architecture based on the PCM1792 (The flagship 132dB DAC that TI has)
So the “flagship architecture” is now in the PCM51xx family. The new devices are incorporating good features such as I2C control and integrated DSP functions. Prime candidates for Arduino interfacing, and possible digital crossover filters.
Update (6/13/12): Soomal has a posting with high-res photos
Update (5/11/12): Released. Performance-wise, a small improvement over the regular 03US. However, the new version completely overhauls the power section
Summary of improvements:
- Limited edition (9500 units) to commemorate the Year of the Dragon
- Price is 999 RMBs (compared to 868 RMBs for the current 03US model). At the current exchange it is US $160
- External looks identical to the regular 03US model except for a silk-screened “dragon” icon
- I/V op-amp upgraded from MC33079 to LME49740
- All new digital power section similar to 03 USD
- All new analog power section boosting the headphone amp section to 18V
- “Greener”: 95% efficient at low volume, 90% efficient at max volume (for headphone)
The digital power section of the 03 Dragon is exactly the same as in the 03USD
Power section of 03 Dragon
Power section of 03USD
The PHKI is an adjustable switching regulator from TI: TSP62200 (or one of its variants) switching regulator. Thus the use of large inductors. This is certainly an innovation. Switching regulator technology has developed tremendously especially driven by by mobile device industry segment. If indeed this configuration is more effective and lower noise to what they were using before, then the jitter performance can be somewhat improved by providing cleaner power to the FPGA.
The I/V opamp has been upgraded to “audiophile grade”
LME49740 in the 03US Dragon
MC33079 in the original 03US