Clearing the fog about streamers?

Analogous

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 17, 2017
Messages
2,734
Points
113
Location
Bangalore
As subscription based and free internet streaming services become popular we have seen a number of companies offering a range of streamers (hardware) Some are stand alone boxes/units, others are built into preamplifiers or integrated amplifiers. We had a separate thread debating on the merits and differences between very expensive and cheap streamers recently. After following and participating in a couple of such discussions I was left unsatisfied that I did not have a clear set of measures to evaluate streamers other than by cost.
Most professional reviewers online do not seem to be differentiating between the two functions in their reviews.

So…

Pondering on this I have identified and suggest a few indicators that could help evaluate and assess streamers. Scores 0-10 can be assigned for each.

1. Physical design, elegance, style, quality of fit and finish and effectiveness of display
2. Ease of set up, stability in receiving and transmitting audio streams, wired and wirelessly
3. input and output options (Spdif, optical, RCA etc) power supply.
4. Quality of App and OS, user interface, ease of use, experience, variety of streaming choices.
5. Value for money as a streamer (cost and features)

A separate evaluation of the Built in DAC would be useful as many would already have invested in stand alone DACs or have amplifiers with DACs and would like to bypass the built in DAC. This score needs to be separate from the aggregate of 1-5 above. Owners of expensive Streamers seem to be describing the excellent quality of sound from their units which I feel is ascribable to the DAC. So…
6. Quality of built in DAC

Thoughts?
I may be wrong in some of my assumptions above and look forward to learning more.
 
Last edited:
I find it really hard to evaluate DACs, modern DACs seem to sound pretty good. The most expensive I've heard is a Mytek Brooklyn and for the short time I had it, it didn't exactly blow the cheap Korg DAC out the water I had at that time. My current Allo revolution does most things right, I find it hard to find anything to complain except the thumps on start up and the ocassional static when switching from one track to another.

I have said this before, I am a bit of a DAC skeptic beyond a certain outlay. Folks who haven't tried a streamer should try it, instead of spending all the outlay on a DAC. In hindsight, something like the Boss2 and a good power supply is all I need.
 
I find it really hard to evaluate DACs, modern DACs seem to sound pretty good. The most expensive I've heard is a Mytek Brooklyn and for the short time I had it, it didn't exactly blow the cheap Korg DAC out the water I had at that time. My current Allo revolution does most things right, I find it hard to find anything to complain except the thumps on start up and the ocassional static when switching from one track to another.

I have said this before, I am a bit of a DAC skeptic beyond a certain outlay. Folks who haven't tried a streamer should try it, instead of spending all the outlay on a DAC. In hindsight, something like the Boss2 and a good power supply is all I need.
@Beast_of_burden i take your point on DACs.

However, the point of this thread was to differentiate between the streamer and DAC functions and find a way to evaluate various streamers on their merits. (All streamers have a DAC? but we can leave the DAC evaluation separate)
As we know there are so many platforms as also Apps and OS. They all seem to have their strengths and weaknesses.
This is an attempt at bringing some kind of logic (?) to help compare the various streamers. The points 1 to 5 above are suggestions for this purpose. What do you feel?
Maybe you could evaluate the Allo Boss 2 using these criteria and share?

Streamer Scoreboard


Score for each below from 0 to 10Chrome cast AudioBluesound node 2i NUCRaspberry pi based streamer
1. Physical design, elegance, style, quality of fit and finish and effectiveness of display
2. Ease of set up, stability in receiving and transmitting audio streams, wired and wirelessly
3. input and output options (Spdif, optical, RCA etc) power supply.
4. Quality of App and OS, user interface, ease of use, experience, variety of streaming choices.
5. Value for money as a streamer (cost and features)
Total score
 
Suggest you add the Yamaha WXC50 to the list.
Its not absurdly expensive, and seems to have decent reviews everywhere.

There are Marantz and Denon streamers too, though have not seen any reviews.
I assume that performance will be identical to Marantz and Denon amps which have in-built streamers.

Marantz :

Denon :

Audiolab :
 
Sorry for the long post -

I tried but it is very difficult to objectively rate these 0-10. Specially for the categories. I personally have owned all 4 and if these are the 4 choices my benchmark for 10 is all of them in some way or the other. However even there CCA is perhaps the best value for money for it does most of the stuff Node 2i does and you never even have to look at it :).

@Analogous I really tried. Let me break it down -
1 - None of them have a display, and physical design, style and elegance are as subjective as sound. Barring the NUC - I quite liked the way all the others looked. RPIs have some beautiful cases - I loved the clear acrylic ones, CCA is "BLAH" but you never have to ever look at it, and Node 2i is pretty neutral. Most people do not even notice it (I quite like that) and nobody has ever called it ugly. Quality wise perhaps node 2i feels the most premium.

2 - Again CCA hands down is the simplest setup and almost always works. Stability wise all options are pretty stable on both wired and wireless, no real issues ever noticed.

3 - I had a pretty basic NUC so not sure - but mine didn't have as many ports as the Node 2i does. None of them have a sub out but the Node 2i. CCA has practically nothing - SO would a CCA be a 0 here and a Node 2i a 10? I am sure there is someone out there who also wanted that XLR in/out :p

4 - You can use your favourite device and the original streaming app for almost everything. You do not need to have to use the app by the manufacturer (in case of Node2i for example). User interface hence will be the same on all devices, the streaming choices are pretty much the same as far as they are available in your country. Ease of use is where they differ - for most people CCA will be the simplest (me included), but I find Node 2i the second simplest, NUC practically being a PC is same as using one, RPI being the most painful. So here - for me it will be 10/10/7/0. But that is not the only criteria for this point, so difficult to rate.

5 - CCA hands down the best value - add the cheapest dac handy with a 3.5 to RCA and it is passable in most cases for a fraction of cost of lets say a Node 2i. Features wise well I guess NUC will be hard to beat - as you can do a lot more there than any product here.

**On one of your earlier points of DAC build - I have no idea how to check/test that. Do we know what DAC is inside an NUC?
 
@Beast_of_burden i take your point on DACs.

However, the point of this thread was to differentiate between the streamer and DAC functions and find a way to evaluate various streamers on their merits. (All streamers have a DAC? but we can leave the DAC evaluation separate)
As we know there are so many platforms as also Apps and OS. They all seem to have their strengths and weaknesses.
This is an attempt at bringing some kind of logic (?) to help compare the various streamers. The points 1 to 5 above are suggestions for this purpose. What do you feel?
Maybe you could evaluate the Allo Boss 2 using these criteria and share?
“All streamers do not necessarily have a DAC” ..... there are Specialised high end as well as simple budget fitting Streamers as well as DAC”s available out there.

the few you’ve mentioned in your table are just the very basic streamers that helps you stream bits - zeros and ones from the net - and through a DAC - helps you listen to the audio. Unless you segregate them - based on some basic bench mark - and the shortlist few - comparison isn’t practically possible - IMHO
 
Had tried to do something similar between Node 2i and PW Link when I first tried. Would love to try out new streamers

 
Suggest you add the Yamaha WXC50 to the list.
Its not absurdly expensive, and seems to have decent reviews everywhere.

There are Marantz and Denon streamers too, though have not seen any reviews.
I assume that performance will be identical to Marantz and Denon amps which have in-built streamers.

Marantz :

Denon :

Audiolab :
that’s the good thing about excel or numbers sheets, we can add columns as we like. Please do add as many as you have used or experienced and score them too to share here
 
“All streamers do not necessarily have a DAC” ..... there are Specialised high end as well as simple budget fitting Streamers as well as DAC”s available out there.

the few you’ve mentioned in your table are just the very basic streamers that helps you stream bits - zeros and ones from the net - and through a DAC - helps you listen to the audio. Unless you segregate them - based on some basic bench mark - and the shortlist few - comparison isn’t practically possible - IMHO
@Pancho could you share a few names of streamers without DACs?
I was not aware this was possible.
I have mentioned a few just to illustrate. I never said it was a comprehensive list. The idea is you can populate it with streamers you have used or experienced and score them for sharing with others here.
my bad, I was not able to understand what you mean in the last sentence…
 
Sorry for the long post -

I tried but it is very difficult to objectively rate these 0-10. Specially for the categories. I personally have owned all 4 and if these are the 4 choices my benchmark for 10 is all of them in some way or the other. However even there CCA is perhaps the best value for money for it does most of the stuff Node 2i does and you never even have to look at it :).

@Analogous I really tried. Let me break it down -
1 - None of them have a display, and physical design, style and elegance are as subjective as sound. Barring the NUC - I quite liked the way all the others looked. RPIs have some beautiful cases - I loved the clear acrylic ones, CCA is "BLAH" but you never have to ever look at it, and Node 2i is pretty neutral. Most people do not even notice it (I quite like that) and nobody has ever called it ugly. Quality wise perhaps node 2i feels the most premium.

2 - Again CCA hands down is the simplest setup and almost always works. Stability wise all options are pretty stable on both wired and wireless, no real issues ever noticed.

3 - I had a pretty basic NUC so not sure - but mine didn't have as many ports as the Node 2i does. None of them have a sub out but the Node 2i. CCA has practically nothing - SO would a CCA be a 0 here and a Node 2i a 10? I am sure there is someone out there who also wanted that XLR in/out :p

4 - You can use your favourite device and the original streaming app for almost everything. You do not need to have to use the app by the manufacturer (in case of Node2i for example). User interface hence will be the same on all devices, the streaming choices are pretty much the same as far as they are available in your country. Ease of use is where they differ - for most people CCA will be the simplest (me included), but I find Node 2i the second simplest, NUC practically being a PC is same as using one, RPI being the most painful. So here - for me it will be 10/10/7/0. But that is not the only criteria for this point, so difficult to rate.

5 - CCA hands down the best value - add the cheapest dac handy with a 3.5 to RCA and it is passable in most cases for a fraction of cost of lets say a Node 2i. Features wise well I guess NUC will be hard to beat - as you can do a lot more there than any product here.

**On one of your earlier points of DAC build - I have no idea how to check/test that. Do we know what DAC is inside an NUC?
I think you have put it across nicely: it’s not easy to put numerical values to subjective opinions, specially for others to see, react, critique. But I think that’s the whole point; to put across opinions for others to interact?
We can experiment with this till some clever person comes up with objective measurement.
I have a CCA and I agree it’s form and function coming together in a great way. That’s probably why it is Still so admired. Maybe we should use it as a benchmark- to compare other streamers with for this experiment?
 
@Pancho could you share a few names of streamers without DACs?
I was not aware this was possible.
I have mentioned a few just to illustrate. I never said it was a comprehensive list. The idea is you can populate it with streamers you have used or experienced and score them for sharing with others here.
my bad, I was not able to understand what you mean in the last sentence…
I will certainly compile a list - do give me sometime - let me sort out some work related issues ...
 
could you share a few names of streamers without DACs?
There are several that are standalone wired or wireless network transport. A few that comes to my mind.

Allo Digione/USBridge Signature
SOTM SMS200
Cocktail Audio X50
Lindemann Limetree Bridge
Lumin U1
Auralic Aries G1/G2
Aurender N10/N20
 
Last edited:
There are several that are standalone wired or wireless network transport. A few that comes to my mind.

Allo Digione/USBridge Signature
Lindemann Limetree Bridge
Lumin U1
Auralic Aries G1/G2
Thanks @shyamv.
As you will remember I had a Allo digione signature and it had a DAC.
I checked out the Lumin U1 online and it seems to be a pure transport and streamer…perfect for this exercise!
 
Thanks @shyamv.
As you will remember I had a Allo digione signature and it had a DAC.
I checked out the Lumin U1 online and it seems to be a pure transport and streamer…perfect for this exercise!
No, Digione Signature is just a SPDIF transport. No DAC in that one. You had it hooked up to your Hegel DAC.

Added a few more to the list above
 
No, Digione Signature is just a SPDIF transport. No DAC in that one. You had it hooked up to your Hegel DAC.

Added a few more to the list above
Thanks. Do try populating the excel sheet with these and scoring them, at least those which you have used or heard.
It’s all subjective like many other opinions here, but then that’s what makes it interesting too.
 
Rating or ranking these would be difficult as the price point and feature set of these stand-alone streamers are vastly different as someone else pointed out. Also upstream partnering equipment, transport type (Coax vs USB vs Optical) etc has so much bearing on the overall sound quality that is difficult to compare objectively.

App and user experience is very subjective. Lumin's App and user experience, which is 50x more expensive, pales in comparison to something like CCA which is super simple and most user friendly. I like RPi based music software (Volumio, Moode, Roopiee etc) as these offer endless flexibility and configurability. But several, you included, hate it.

I can only say what I like the best at various price points based on what I have heard.

Budget (<$100) - Chromecast Audio
Entry price range (sub $500 USD) - Allo Digione/USBridge Signature
Mid Priced ($500-$1000 price range) - Lindemann Network Bridge
High-end (>$2500) - Lumin U1 is the only one I have heard at this price point. It's very good but definitely not 5 times as good as Allo streamers considering the price. Haven't heard anything else from my list above.

I frankly don't think a standalone streamer or network transport matters much in a digital music chain. It's overall contribution to the sound quality is relatively small in comparison to the upstream equipment such as DAC, amp, preamp, speaker. Spending anything more than 10% of total system cost on just the network transport, especially at entry/mid price points, is not going to yield appreciable gains in overall sound quality. Just get a price-matched streamer that has the desired outputs(SPDIF/USB), music service support (Spotify/Tidal/Qobuz/Amazon Music), software support (Roon, UPnP, LMS etc) and preferred app interface and stick to it.
 
Streamer is basically just name of a fancy computer with software. Like a computer it’s age also seem limited. After all we see many people using old amplifiers and speakers,but how many of them use old streamers? one day company won’t update the software and you will be forced to buy new streamer. I would use a laptop instead if I got a good dac. I also won’t prefer dac to be inbuilt in a streamer for these reasons. Only place where a streamer becomes important is when you nee absolutely clean signal to feed to your dac for audiophile purposes, like allo digione or lidenmann or above.
 
So coming back to the original question/challenge/fog in this thread: How do I choose a streamer? After the discussion so far has the fog cleared sufficiently for someone trying to make a choice and decide on a budget while buying a streamer?

We have arrived at the conclusion that all standalone streamers are not the same even as they all essentially stream audio signals. And some do it better than others. Some are less expensive, some have better software, some have fewer options, some are easier to set up (if you are not technically challenged in network connections), etc.

I have tried to include the criteria mentioned by @chander, @argho, @firearm12 and @shyamv in the subjective evaluation table above. (Thanks, brothers)

The one criteria I had not included is “clean signal” mentioned by @firearm12

Here is my Streamer Scoreboard (with edits as suggested)
Score for each below from 0 to 10 (add streamer name) ->Chrome cast AudioBluesound
node2
Digione
signature
add any streamers that you have used in this row
1. Physical design, elegance, style, quality of fit and finish, presence of and effectiveness of display573
2. Ease of set up, stability in receiving and transmitting audio streams, wired and wirelessly682
3. input and output options (Spdif, optical, RCA etc) power supply, clean signal.275
4. Quality of App and OS, user interface, ease of use, experience, variety of streaming services..584
5. Value for money as a streamer (cost vs features)855
Total score263519

Again, yes it is not objective but subjective opinions do matter and can be quantified. But let’s not forget many popular reviewers (whether we are fans or not) give ratings (star or strong recommendations etc) and do comparisons. The detailed comparison between PWLink and Bluesound node2i by @fLUX (link above) is worth a read If you haven’t already.

Statutory warning: Some of us may feel a bit lost or uncomfortable as there is no question on the audio quality here as that would lead us into the quicksand of DAC, Amps, speakers, cables, headphones etc.

The big challenge in this exercise is that we can only do comparisons if we have (or had) two or more streamers. But those who have had this privilege are in a position to clear the fog and help others choose a bit better. I feel this issue and question is going to stay for a while…
 
Cambridge CXN V2

Just adding my experience of CXN v2 on these parameters. Not a relative rating (I haven’t used other streamers) but my absolute and subjective rating (10 would be fully satisfied) based on usage of over two years now. I can’t see a link to add a column to a shared sheet, so writing below. Kindly append to your sheet.

1. Physical design, elegance, style, quality of fit and finish, presence of and effectiveness of display - 9/10

Comment: Wish it was heavier than what it is. Otherwise it is sheer ‘understated elegance’ and would delight most users.

2. Ease of set up, stability in receiving and transmitting audio streams, wired and wirelessly - 8/10

Comment - Faced some connection issues in early days and had to factory reset a 2/3 times, but the operating software seems robust enough now (regular updates) with no issues.

3: input and output options (Spdif, optical, RCA etc) power supply, clean signal - 10/10

Comment - All the options one could ask for, including XLR, USB et al. It has a digital pre as well if you chose to use. Just wish there was a way to connect Apple device through USB, but that might be constraint from Apple’s side, so didn’t deduct marks.

4. Quality of App and OS, user interface, ease of use, experience, variety of streaming services - 6.5/10

Comment - Significantly improved with the new app design introduced few months ago, yet the weakest aspect of the product. Nowhere in comparison with apps such as Roon, Tidal et al. Basic user conveniences that could have been easily built in are still lacking. Wonder why the company can’t have one intuitive and empathetic chief UI/ UX designer.

5. Value for money as a streamer (cost vs features) - 6//10

Comment: I feel the product should have been priced around INR 60k. But then, though the V2 itself is over three years old now, it has not only retained, but increased its price while still maintaining its demand, In general I feel streamers manufacturers are still skimming the market, once it becomes a mass product (soon) like CD players became in late 90’s/early 2000’s, they might be priced more attractively.
 
For excellent sound that won't break the bank, the 5 Star Award Winning Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 Bookshelf Speakers is the one to consider!
Back
Top