Musiland Devices: Reader Review
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” .
Acopian PS: http://www.acopian.com/single-l-goldbox-m.html (9V yellow Box B)