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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.

Sound stage

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)

  1. Sam5050
    June 1, 2012 at 01:39

    Really great details and pictures added! One note – the APL DAC I use is an older version, based on a modded Denon 3910. It uses a ECC99 tube output and the larger Lundahl transformers like on the $20,000 NWO-M. It has six AKM 4397 32-bit DACs per channel versus 20 of the newer AKM 4399 for the NWO-M.


    The Acopian PS I use is the 9V yellow box B version.

    The Audiophilleo I had was under a 30 free trial they offer, so I did not want to open it up. And back it went – the 01 beat it handily, at 1/7th the price!

    The 03 Dragon and USB should be here soon…

    • BlogGeanDo
      June 1, 2012 at 19:39

      Hello, what do you mean “based on a modded Denon 3910”. Isn’t that a CD/DVD player? Looking forward to your 03 tests. How much did the 03 Dragon cost?

      • Sam5050
        June 1, 2012 at 20:48

        “Hello, what do you mean “based on a modded Denon 3910″. Isn’t that a CD/DVD player? ”

        Yes – but also has a high end SPDIF receiver, Alex Peychev of APL was a modder extraordinaire before making his new lineup. With this unit he almost completely guts the thing then rebuilds it, leaving only the transport. So it will play SACD/DVD-A/CD discs or accept a digital signal. It even has a switch to activate the AKM DAC built in digital vol control, with the ability to drive amps direct.

        After the 3910 he moved to the Esoteric players with the VRDS-NEO transports. Since I only really use mine as a DAC with some occasional SACDs (most now digitized on my server anyway). I didn’t need the VRDS-NEO.

        He built/modded these in many versions, I have the last version made with the ECC99 tube stage, the 32-bit AKMs, and the hi res Spdif receiver.

        It is something else to see inside! No one I’ve shown it too can figure out his wiring scheme, but you guys are as sharp as I’ve seen. He has boards and transformers glued and strapped everywhere! Maybe you can figure it out.

        I’ll post pictures with the rest of the 03 review.

      • Sam5050
        June 1, 2012 at 21:14

        “How much did the 03 Dragon cost?”
        It was a bit expensive – $220 shipping included. I used the same fellow I bought the 01 and 02 Dragon on e-bay.

        The 03 USD was $215 shipped

        Here is his contact info:
        Clark cxqmcu@cxqmcu.com

  2. June 1, 2012 at 04:30

    I agree with your estimation for why the 02 sounds worse – the switching regs contribute a lot of noise and this is perceived as digital hardness. I find noise also compromises the soundstage. Interestingly I’d never seen inside the Audiophileo before but it looks as though they’re using a DC-DC converter brick. Those are famous for being noise generators, and the AP2 has generally bad listening reports.

    Perhaps someone will come up with an after-market fix for the power supplies in the 02, that DAC has potential when switched to the minimum phase filter.

    • Sam5050
      June 1, 2012 at 15:12

      “I agree with your estimation for why the 02 sounds worse – the switching regs contribute a lot of noise and this is perceived as digital hardness.”

      I believe the use of an outside linear regulated PS on the 02 side steps the internal switching regs for the analog section.

      The 01 vs 02 was compared as a PC interface – and the 01 was better in each case. The digital PS looks the same for each. It could just be issues related to the my units. I tried plugging the external PS for the analog section in and out while just using the 02 as a PC interface, it made no difference as expected.

      “Those are famous for being noise generators, and the AP2 has generally bad listening reports.”
      Actually the AP1 won a head to head face off in a review in Hi-Fi World (April 2012) magazine. They tested against the KingRex UC192, Halide Bridge, Musical Fidelity V-Link, SOtM DX, and the Audiophilleo 1. The AP1 came out first. Musically the AP1 and AP2 are the same, the main difference in the two is the AP1 has an OLED display and a jitter generator for testing purposes.

      I also used a AQVOX PS on the AP2, which helped the sound a bit.

      The Hi-Fi World reviewers are very good, even using a very expensive Rohde & Schwarz UPV digital analyzer to do the jitter measurements. The AP had one of the lowest measured signal generated jitter levels at 18pS.

      The Hi-Fi World did not include the Hi-Face USB or EVO, or the Musiland Monitors unfortunately.

      • BlogGeanDo
        June 1, 2012 at 19:37

        Thanks for the added details. There is an internal DC-DC converter in the 02 which that works up to 21V input and I don’t know whether its input is the USB power or the external DC input power. I doesn’t seem a good engineering approach to NOT regulate external DC. You could fry the circuit if you plug-in the “wrong” DC🙂
        Update: I read some of the posts in the Musiland forum. The external DC is regulated and can provide more current than the USB power. Basically benefits the headphone amp section, but overall it can be of lower noise than the USB power.

  3. Anonymous
    June 10, 2012 at 16:21

    Have you compared new musiland with new Hiface two(x-mos)?

    • Anonymous
      June 22, 2012 at 16:28

      “Have you compared new Musiland with new Hiface two(x-mos)?”
      No, I don’t have one of the HiFace USB two on hand. But I did compare it to the Hi-Face EVO which is a better sounding unit the the USB two – according to M2Tech.

      The major improvement in the HiFace two over the one, from what I understand, is mainly the naive support for Apple’s OS. That has always been a nuisance for MAC owners.

      In any event, I tested my HiFace with a AQVOX linear PS, which really improves the sound over a stock HiFace. The 2012 USD 01 was better in every regard, without a AQVOX PS!

      I ordered a AQVOX PS for use with the Musilands (they require a B type connector, different form the HiFace which uses a A type). I will be evaluating that as well.

      Update: I had received the 03 USD and the 03 Dragon. Unfortunately the 03 USD died on me after a few hours of playing. I’m sending it back to China for a replacement. My PC just stopped recognizing it as an attached USB device when plugged in. I tried with multiple cables and other PCs and not luck. These aren’t fused from what I can tell. Maybe a bad USB receiver chip?

      My initial impressions were – more detailed then the 2012 01 USD – but less musical. But this is not nearly broken-in so comparisons are not fair.

      I really like the 03 Dragon as a PC interface/DAC, better then the 02 Dragon. This is really good for the money! How it stacks up against the much more expensive tube DACs, we’ll see.

      I’m breaking it in for 150 hours before doing any serious evaluation.

  4. Cosworth
    March 14, 2013 at 18:16

    So… what is the best possible setup (reasonable money) with a PC – Musiland Dragon 02 via SPDIF – (which dac?) – (which headphone amp) – (HD800?)

    • sam5050
      March 14, 2013 at 20:18

      >So… what is the best possible setup (reasonable money) with a PC – Musiland Dragon 02 via SPDIF – (which dac?) – (which headphone amp) – (HD800?)<

      I would say a Musiland 03 US Dragon is a great buy and an excellent place to get started. It has both the DAC and Headphone amp.

      If you have more funds a Musiland 03 USD with SPDIF output to a nice external DAC (tube or solid state), like an Eastern Electric Mini Max, or one of my favorites Xindak DAC5 (with a good NOS tube). For headphones a Schiit Lyr is really good for the money.

      BUT a new contender has arrived that pretty much does everything – the Oppo BDP105. It's $1100 new, but what a versatile player. I have not heard one, but have read many great reviews. Since it has a USB 2.0 Asyn input, no need for a Musiland. And it has TWO Sabre 32 bit DACs built in! One dedicated to the Headphone output. I'm waiting awhile until they
      start showing up used on Audiogon.

  5. September 14, 2016 at 16:03

    do you agree

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