Reader Contribution: Musiland Review
Here is a nice review from Sam5050 on the Musiland devices
Part 1 can be found here: [link]
Just finished my review on the following Musiland devices used as headphone amps/DACs and/or PC interfaces.
- 2012 Monitor 01 USD (as USB to SPDIF interface only)
- 2012 Monitor 02 US Dragon Edition (as USB to SPDIF interface and as a DAC and as a headphone amp)
- 2012 Monitor 03 US Dragon Edition (as a DAC and as a headphone amp) [link]
- 2012 Monitor 03 USD (as USB to SPDIF interface only)
- older Monitor 02 US (used as USB to SPDIF interface and DAC and Headphone amp).
(The “D” in USD is “digital interface only”, no analog outputs)
Here are the computer systems used for testing:
Win 7.0 64bit/PC i5 Processor/ 8G Ram, 4 T of storage (2 -1T HDs and a USB 3.0 2-T WD external), SOtM CPU fan and PS filters, powering the USB 3.0 with a AQVOX linear USB 2.0 PS. Cardas Clear USB cable. Foobar2000 v1.1.8 – tried various output schemes, including Musliand ASIO, Musliand KS, JPlay, SoX upsampler, various bit depths and latencies. DAC – APL (6 AKM 32-bit DACs per channel, linear independent PS, ECC99 tube output).
Win Vista 64bit/Core 2 Quad Q9300 4G/ 4 Tbs – (2- 1T HD and a 2-T HD). Using a SOtM tX-USB Audiophile PCI to USB Audio Card/and a fan-less ultra high quality PC supply in my main PC music server, SOtM CPU fan filter. Stilnote USB 2.0 USB cable. Foobar2000 v1.1.8 – tried various output schemes, including Musliand ASIO, Musliand KS, JPlay, SoX up-sampler, various bit depths and latencies. DAC – Xindak DAC5 with NOS Siemens Cca (1960’s) tubes.
The rest of my system included Reference 3A Royal Masters (main), Dulcets (office), same Class A MOSFET hybrid amps (6922 pre section), Tellurium Q Ultra Blacks (main) TQ Blacks (Office), Synergistic Research Power Chords and Digital RCA cables on each.
I used my amp/speaker system and headphone system over many months and tweaks.
Mostly Alt, some vocal, classical and jazz. Redbook tracks were up-sampled to 32/176k w/SoX ), native high resolution played without up-sampling. Test tracks are too numerous to list but included redbook wave files (burned using EAC), Vinyl played on a SOTA analog rig and recorded at high Res (32/176K), native DxD (32/352k)(curiosity of L2) and DsD (PCM re-sampled in foobar).
Here are a few favorites: Florence and the Machine – Dog Days, David Gray – Please Forgive Me, Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark, Brand New – Degausser, Them Crooked Vultures – No One Loves Me and Neither Do I, Wiz Khalifa – Work Hard, Play Hard, Zedd -Spectrum, BOB – So Good, David Guetta – Titanium, Joseph Haydn – String Quart in D, Op 76 (DxD), From Let Us Garlands Bring – Come Away Death (DxD) etc…
APL DAC as implemented inside a Denon 3910
The AKM 4397 DAC boards
The modded Denon 3910 with the APL DAC
Tube stage and Lundhal amorphous core transformers
SOtM-PCI to USB Audiophile Card [more here: link]
Xindac DAC 5
USED AS USB TO SPDIF INTERFACE
Bottom line – the 03 USD is an exceptional Interface. In fact, it beat out the M2Tech EVO/with Acopian Linear PS (the best I have owned so far out of many)! Which I have now sold. I bought another 03 USD for my office system. It has become my reference. Wonderful sound, great interface software! So flexible and stable – surely beats the M2Tech non-interface.
Well, to summarize the sound of the Musiland 03 USD as an interface is just plain outstanding! Incredible detail, while always supremely musical. This is THE BEST value in high end audio – never even reviewed by a major publication (sad)! The sound stage is deep and wide, with a wonderful texturing of instruments – each presenting a holographic image. Great PRAT, dynamics with excellent bass clarity. Everything you could ask for.
One note – highly sensitive (especially using headphones) to settings, for example in Foobar the simple changing of bit depth or buffer length in the output setting window has a significant effect on the sound (32 bit sounds best on most recordings, 260-1000ms buffer setting sounded the best).
It was system dependent on the ASIO vs Kernel Streaming output. On the office system ASIO; on the main system KS had the greatest clarity. Somewhat a tradeoff of clarity (KS) vs smoothness (ASIO). You really need to play around with these setting to get the right blend. It is worth it…the difference between sounding good and magical!
I can not say enough good things about the 03 USD – how great this interface is when properly tweaked.
The Musiland Monitors with digital output are the best USB to SPDIF interfaces I have heard (they are the new standard). In other words better then the M2Tech EVO, Hi-face, Audiophilleo 2, John Kenny Mk 2, etc… That I had tried before. – answer = YES! Beat the best by a hair – the EVO,with a vastly better control panel.
The 2012 Monitor 01 USD (as a PC interface) it was better then the 02 US Dragon, but not nearly as good as the 03 USD
USED AS DACS
Both as DACs not nearly as good, (as described above, they are much better as interfaces). The sound stage compressed, tone thinned, a bit of edginess, etc… One note the DxD native files (24 bit/352K) played perfectly on both using the analog DAC outputs (using Foobar, no re-sampling), and sounded really good. When compared to the down-sampled (176K) run through the tube DACs it was a push. The tubes more musical, richer in tone, the SS DACs more lively (and I mean lively with DxD files!!!).
As a DAC, these Musilands really can’t compete with a top end tubed DAC. Even a moderately priced one like the Xindak DAC5 with a high quality tube replacement (NOS), is in a whole other class. The Xindak can be had for $500-$600 bucks adding another $100 for a good NOS 6922 and maybe $150 for a good power cord, you have a really excellent DAC. THe Xindak also has a opamp based SS output and also a switchable upsampler.
Obviously for a lot more money you can get something like the APL – 6 32bit AKM DAC per channel, linear power supplies, (my older version has the ECC99 tube output stage), a pro quality SPDIF receiver chip (this can handle 192K inputs with ease, the Xindak is limited to 176K), Lundahl transformer coupling (no caps), etc… Now you are in a whole other league.
Sound and money wise.
I had a MiniMax DAC plus which used the ESS9018 and offered both a tube and opamp based output. It had some nice features like Sabre ES9018 DAC chip, Separate Power Transformers for digital and analog sections, M2Tech OEM 24bit 192KHz Async USB input. It sounded good, about were the Xindak 5 was (with NOS tube), but much more expensive. So I sold it. The APL is in a whole other league. So much for the cult of the “Sabre ES9018″ being the best DAC chip around!
There are many fine high end DACs, like the DCS, the Lampizator, MSB etc…
Musiland 02US Dragon Edition
The Musiland 03US Dragon Edition
USED AS DAC PLUS HEADPHONE AMP
On the Headphone side, my listening system is a Pair of Senn HD800s (upgraded Warren Audio cables). Woo Audio WA6SE (with upgraded caps, 6FD7 NOS tubes, NOS 1952 5u4g rec). In comparison the Musiland 02 us Dragon and the 03 US Dragon were not even close. The 03 US Dragon was better, but had the same flat sound stage, thin tonality, edginess in the upper frequencies, hollow bottom. I do use the 03 US Dragon with my laptop as a portable “on the road system” with some Phillips noise cancelers. Now it is not fair to compare $1000 tube headphone amp to a $200 one, but I wish I could say it was a closer match.
The sound from the HD800/Woo combination is incredible! The presentation is different from the amp/speaker system, a much more upfront (1st row vs 20th row) sound stage, but the level of detail retrieval is unsurpassed. I have heard sounds from recording that I have bee listening to for 20 years! Spooky good!
I tend to like the tonal richness, sound staging and musicality of the tube variety – best sound of the money.
MONITOR 02US DRAGON
I did own the older version of the Monitor 02 (the one hard AC wired), the new 02 Dragon beats it in every way.
I have to say I do like the design concept and functionality of the new 02 Dragon. It has BOTH the SPDIF RCA output to feed an external DAC and the analog outputs (both RCA and dual Headphone jacks). This makes it a very versatile unit. I also liked the 02 Dragon’s built in volume control knob. Great as a extremely portable unit. You also have the power option of USB or 9V DC. The Musiland Windows Control Panel, makes it breeze to switch between digital and analogue outputs, even balance L/R channels.
I really wanted the 02 Dragon to be the winner sound-wise – I really love this design -but unfortunately it is inferior to both the USD 03 as an interface and US 03 Dragon as a DAC/Headphone amp. It has a bit of a nasty edge to the treble, and a flattish sound stage. The use of the Acopian linear PS did help, but not enough to my ears.
Gave the 02 Dragon to my son in college – he loves it! It is much better then the laptop headphone output! It would be a great gift for someone not so obsessed with sound quality. Add a pair of nice amped speakers (Bose) and some good headphones, and you have a really neat little audio system.
Are the Musiland Monitors with digital output the best USB to SPDIF interfaces I have heard (new standard). In other words better then the M2Tech EVO, Hi-face, Audiophilleo 2, John Kenny Mk 2, etc… That I had tried before? – Answer = YES! Beat the best by a hair – the EVO, with a vastly better control panel.
Are they reasonably good as an analog-out DAC? With the huge advantage of being able to easily handle native 24/352K files, could they match some really good tubed DACs? Answer – definitely NO! And that would be asking too much – I agree!
Are they reasonably good headphone amps? Answer= YES and NO. They are in no way in the same league as say a Woo Audio WA6SE, or even the EarMax, but they are pretty good and very portable.