Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Articles

Best Digital Music Streamers: 2023 Buying Guide [Updated]

Looking for an affordable way to get into hi-res streaming this year? We have 10 digital streaming options from $219 to $2,200 that offer the best for less.

Cambridge Audio CXN V2 Network Audio Streamer

Digital music streaming accounts for 85% of the market in 2023 and that level of adoption is not getting any smaller. Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music HD, TIDAL, Qobuz, and Deezer are the preferred gateway drugs for hundreds of millions of consumers around the globe and there is pretty much something for everyone at this point.

Classical music fans received a huge boost with the launch of Apple Classical Music and we have already started using the app and will be discussing our experience as part of a upcoming podcast covering the current state of music streaming.

The vast majority of consumers use their smartphone to stream and that’s a perfectly valid way to go.

Streaming does drain your battery; it gets even worse if you utilize a Dongle DAC to drive a pair of headphones or a pair of active loudspeakers on the desktop.

Another drawback is that the DAC in your smartphone does not compare favorably to the DAC inside of a dedicated music streamer.

You also require a better quality system downstream to truly appreciate the improvement that a music streamer can make.

One can spend anywhere from $99 to $20,000 on a music streamer with very little effort — but does it make sense to do so?

High-end manufacturers have awakened to the reality that consumers might be willing to add a dedicated music streamer to their home system (something that became very popular with CI folks during the pandemic who were very busy with multi-room audio systems), but there are limits to what they might spend.

But understand that there isn’t a single affordable digital music streamer that can do it all and offer support for every platform, casting technology, MQA, DSD, or 32-bit/384.

Tip: MQA Files For Chapter 11 Protection

That dilemma also applies to high-end digital streamers as well. A high price does not guarantee support for every streaming service like Qobuz or TIDAL, or support for AirPlay 2, Chromecast, TIDAL Connect, Spotify Connect, Dolby Atmos Music, Bluetooth aptX or aptX HD.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

For example, if you want to stream Dolby Atmos Music (aka spatial audio) via Apple Music, then your only option is currently the latest Apple TV 4K.

Tip: How (and Why) To Listen to Dolby Atmos Music on Your Receiver, Speakers or Soundbar

Another feature to pay close attention to is the quality of the control app. They are not created equal and some of them are quite rudimentary in their functionality and often wonky from an operational perspective. Firmware updates often fix one problem and create another.

Our guide covers products between $219 and $2,500 USD which we’ve used, purchased, and even reviewed recently.


WiiM Pro Plus – $219

WiiM Pro Plus with Remote Control

Following this success of the $99 WiiM Mini and $149 WiiM Pro, the WiiM Pro Plus offers a number of significant improvements that are worth the higher asking price.

The WiiM Pro Plus offers better DAC and ADC technology. It features an AKM 4493SEQ premium DAC with support up to 768kHz PCM, and DSD512, with PCM/DSD automatic switching. Meanwhile, its TI Burr-Brown Audio PCM1861 ADC supports up to 192kHz/32-bit digital output.

Compatible with AirPlay2, Spotify Connect, TIDAL Connect, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Deezer, TunIn, iHeartRadio; the Pro Plus also sports a 10-band digital EQ, a graphic EQ and more.

You can stream YouTube Music, TV audio, radio stations, podcasts along with local content directly from your favorite Chromecast-enabled app.

WiiM Pro Plus Rear

In addition, Roon Ready and Parametric EQ features are expected to be added to the Pro Plus via firmware update. 

The new Andover Songbird HR and WiiM Pro Plus are aimed at the same customer and there’s no question that the WiiM Pro Plus offers greater flexibility and more connectivity options.

Which one is better? Our reviews of both are forthcoming this month but one thing is certain — both offer an upgrade when it comes to connectivity options, sound quality, and platform support.

Having spent time listening to both, the new WiiM Pro Plus impresses me more from a connectivity perspective, and there is an uptick in midrange resolution, clarity, and timbral accuracy that is very appealing at this price point.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Where to buy: $219 at Amazon


Andover Audio Songbird HR Music Streamer – $299

Andover Audio Songbird HR Music Streamer

The original Andover Audio Songbird offered high-resolution digital audio playback for the paltry sum of $149; making it one of the least expensive digital streamers available. The digital output of the Songbird was limited to 16-bit/44.1kHz and would not pass 24-bit or higher to an external DAC. The analog output, however, sounded better in our honest opinion and that is how we used it for the better part of two years.

The new Songbird HR music streamer looks oddly similar to the Andover SpinStage Phono Preamplifier that we just reviewed — that is because both products are part of new series built to be stacked, and use the same chassis design.

The internal DAC and ADC are 32-bit SABRE designs sourced from ESS and the HR Music Streamer now works with Alexa (via separate Alexa device) and Siri (via Apple AirPlay 2).

Gapless playback is supported and the digital input supports 24-bit/192kHz PCM; the single-ended AUX analog output still only supports 16-bit/48kHz output.

Andover Audio Songbird HR Music Streamer Rear

The S/PDIF coaxial digital output, however, does support 24-bit/192kHz PCM and that might be the best solution for those looking to use the Songbird HR with an AVR (with S/PDIF inputs), external DAC, or integrated amplifier with digital inputs.

Spotify, Qobuz, iHeartRadio, TIDAL, Amazon Prime, Napster, Deezer, and Apple Music (AirPlay 2) are all supported.

Two-way Bluetooth support (Bluetooth 5.0, SBC/AAC) is also part of the new package.

The $299 USD price doesn’t feel like a huge bargain anymore with the new WiiM Pro Plus running only $219 but this is still a very capable streamer below $300 that would make a great addition to a lot of legacy systems with older receivers or AVRs.

Where to buy: $299 at AndoverAudio.com


NAD CS1 – $350

NAD CS1 Network Streamer Front

Before you get your knickers in a twist and start complaining that the new NAD CS1 Endpoint Network Streamer is nothing but a Bluesound NODE without the touch panel and fancy control app — take a quick look at the price. Smile and be very grateful. 

Not only does the $349 (USD) NAD CS1 offer everything you might need to add hi-res streaming to any integrated amplifier, receiver, or pair of powered loudspeakers, but it is very easy to setup and offers support for all of the major streaming platforms that matter to audiophiles. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

If you own the NAD C316BEE V2 (that would be me) Integrated Amplifier and were looking for a high-end network streamer for under $350 that could turn the award-winning amplifier into a killer system — the CS1 is what you have been waiting for.

Employing audiophile-grade components, the NAD CS1 can play high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/192kHz. It features Bluetooth, Ethernet, dual-band Wi-Fi and supports the most popular streaming and casting protocols, including Apple AirPlay 2, GoogleCast, Spotify Connect, TIDAL Connect and Roon. 

Certification for network sharing via DNLA/UPnP protocols expected to be complete with retail available of CS1 in March 2023. That means listeners don’t have to install a dedicated app to use the CS1; they can control playback with the music apps they use every day.

Listeners can use AirPlay 2 to stream CD-resolution audio from any app on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, or from an iTunes library on a Windows PC.With GoogleCast, users can cue up music in any Cast-enabled app on a mobile device or personal computer, then transfer playback to the CS1.

Spotify Connect and TIDAL Connect users can cue up music in the apps for those services, then easily transfer playback to the CS1. Roon subscribers can play music from their digital libraries and from streaming services with resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz.

Does it make sense to spend the additional $250 USD on the NODE?

They do share some sonic similarities but we would still give the edge to the NODE when it comes to features and multi-room capabilities.

Running the S/PDIF coaxial digital output into a good DAC made a believer out of us with the CS1 — this is one affordable music streamer that offers more than enough flexibility for years to come.

Where to buy: $349 at Amazon


iFi Zen Stream – $399

iFi ZEN Stream Lifestyle

iFi Audio does a great job with its entry-level hardware and the Zen Stream might be the best value in the entire collection. Not only is it one of the least expensive Roon endpoints on the marker, but it works with with everything from your AVR to the DAC/Headphone Amplifier on your desktop.

The iFi ZEN Stream connects to a router via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable, and outputs to an external DAC (or an amp with digital inputs) via USB or S/PDIF. It utilizes an open-source architecture making it flexible and future-proof…mostly.

The Zen Stream supports up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256, and MQA, and features a 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex microprocessor, synchronous 1.6MHz power-supply controller, and audiophile-grade capacitors and inductors.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

iFi ZEN Stream Rear

Digital inputs include a USB-A input, giving the option of playing music from HDD and solid-state storage devices, and a USB-C programming port to upload software/firmware updates (an alternative to OTA updates via Wi-Fi).

Two digital outputs – asynchronous USB and coaxial S/PDIF – provide connection to an external DAC or amp with digital inputs. Both these outputs are regulated by iFi’s femto-precision GMT (Global Master Timing) clock circuitry to eradicate jitter from the digital signal.

It also supports Spotify Connect, TIDAL Connect, Apple AirPlay and Chromecast.

Where to buy: $399 at Amazon

________________________________________________________________________________

Cambridge Audio MXN10 – $499

Cambridge Audio MXN10 Network Player Angle
MXN10

Cambridge Audio launched the AXN10 and MXN10 music streamers in February 2023 and the only difference between the two is the case size.

The full-size AXN10 joins Cambridge Audio’s introductory level AX Series of hi-fi separates, adding a dedicated music streaming option alongside the AX series’ popular integrated amplifier, CD player and tuner models.

The MXN10 offers the same features and functionality in a more compact form factor, making it a discreet and easy way to add streaming to any music system.

Both players offer strong performance for the money, benefiting from Cambridge Audio’s significant ongoing investment in streaming technology R&D, which has generated multiple award-winning products including the CXN V2 network player and Evo all-in-one systems.

From internet radio to music streaming services to your own digital music collection, the new dedicated players serve them up in style, with simple control via the StreamMagic app.

Cambridge Audio MXN10 Network Player Rear

The internal DAC is based around the ESS Sabre ES9033Q chip and offers hi-res support up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512.

The MXN10 offers so much resolution and refinement for $499 that it might become a genuine headache for the NODE. Also, since Cambridge Audio’s AXN10 offers exactly the same functionality as MXN10, except in a larger chassis, why not save $100 and go with smaller MXN10?

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Where to buy: $499 at Audio Advice


Bluesound NODE – $599

Bluesound NODE Wireless Music Streamer Front

The NODE is one of the most comprehensive streamers with support for MQA, all of the major streaming services, AirPlay 2, voice control through Amazon Alexa, and now comes equipped with an internal 32-bit/192kHz DAC which means that you can run it directly into your amplifier as a source.

The new NODE carries over the TOSLINK and Coaxial digital outputs from the previous Node 2i streamer, but we’re more curious about the addition of a USB digital output for the first time. Bluesound and NAD have included USB on other components but they’ve only been used previously for firmware updates.

There have been promises before about USB on the NODE so we’re not commenting on its performance until Bluesound enable it with a firmware update.

The NODE now features an HDMI eARC input on the back panel, to keep your setup flexible and future-friendly. Designed to be as comfortable in a two-channel TV system or gaming console as it is in an audiophile’s dedicated listening room, the NODE provides a hi-res experience no matter where it’s used.

Bluesound NODE Music Streamer Back

Wi-Fi connectivity, a Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 input, and support for two-way Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD makes the NODE a very comprehensive solution for most users. This Roon-ready device also plays well in the sandbox with other ecosystems aside from BluOS and sounds decidedly analog for a digital component. New compatibility with TIDAL Connect is just additional icing on your Vachon cake. 

The NODE may not deliver the same degree of resolution as some of the more costly digital streamers in our survey but we’re big fans of this unit for its functionality, access to almost every single music streaming service available, and how easy it is to make this work with all types of systems. The more expensive POWERNODE ($949 at Crutchfield) network amplifier from Bluesound sounds better, but the NODE is a very well-designed product.

Where to buy: $599 at Amazon | Crutchfield


Cambridge Audio CXN V2 – $999

Cambridge Audio CXN V2 front view

The Cambridge Audio CXN V2 is one of the best music streamers below $2,000 right now for a number of reasons. Being a Roon-ready endpoint is a great feature but that’s only relevant for those who want to be locked into that specific ecosystem. Cambridge offers the StreamMagic app for iOS and Android which works just fine with streaming services like Tidal, Spotify, or Qobuz. The CXN V2 has a very readable display which is sufficient for viewing album art, and the app is quite responsive.

Cambridge Audio CXN V2 rear view

From a connectivity perspective, the CXN V2 offers USB, TOSLINK optical, and S/PDIF coaxial digital inputs which means that you can run a CD player or other legacy digital device through the network player and utilize its 24-bit Wolfson DAC. With support for Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2, the CXN V2 (aptX Bluetooth requires an adapter) offers a comprehensive way to connect to the world of digital streaming. The unit is easy to operate, reliable (it doesn’t freeze very often – something I can’t say for every network streamer), and it feels like you’re getting a solid piece of audio engineering. 

The CXN V2 sounds very impressive on its own which will make it a practical option for a lot of listeners, but when you connect it to an external DAC that can put some additional meat on the bones while carving out a very defined soundstage – this network streamer will quickly make you question the need to spend anything more. 

Where to buy: $999 at Amazon | Crutchfield

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.


Roon Nucleus/Nucleus + 

Roon Nucleus front angle view

Roon Labs have introduced two generations of music servers based around its playback and library management platform and there is no question that it’s the best choice if you utilize multiple streaming platforms like Tidal, and Qobuz and want to use Roon exclusively. The Linux-based server is set-up and managed through your smartphone, tablet, or computer and the learning curve is not too severe. Technical support offered by Roon is excellent and there is a growing community of users online to help you based on their own experience with the product. The Nucleus and Nucleus+ come pre-loaded with Roon’s software, but you still have to pay to activate your subscription. Roon is now offering a 1-year subscription included in the price.

Roon Nucleus rear view

The library can hold more than 10,000 albums, and the server can handle up to 6 simultaneous zones of playback.

The Nucleus+ also includes PCM and DSD upsampling and multi-channel support.

We do wish that the Nucleus included an internal CD ripper; listeners with a large CD collection that has already been ripped to an external HDD can connect it via the USB port. If you own a large CD collection that is not already ripped to an HDD, you may want to consider the next model in our list which offers that level of functionality. 

For more details check out our full review of Roon Nucleus.

Where to buy:


Innuos ZENMini S – $2,049 (1TB) – LPSU adds $949

Innuos ZENMini MKIII Music Server 1TB + LPSU

Designed and manufactured in Portugal, the ZENMini S (which is an upgrade of the existing ZENMini MKIII) is both a music server, Roon-endpoint, and Roon Core platform if you require a hub for a multi-room system. This two-box system will rip your CD collection, organize your metadata, and give you enormous long-term flexibility running Roon along with streaming services such as Tidal, and Qobuz. The ZENMini S can be run as a music server into an external DAC, via its analog outputs directly into your amplifier, or from its Ethernet output into your router for distribution to Roon endpoints scattered throughout your home.

Innuos ZENMini MKIII Music Server 1TB + LPSU (rear view)

The ZENmini S brings all the benefits of an SSD, including quieter operation and no moving parts to the venerable ZENmini mk3, whilst also increasing system RAM from 4GB to 8GB, achieving even greater performance from an already established, award-winning music server and streamer. 

Connected to something like the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil or Holo Audio Spring KTE DACs, the ZENMini S is capable of delivering outstanding digital sound quality for under $4,500; which is not inexpensive but you would have to spend a lot more in the high-end space to achieve a lot more. If you prefer a more analog sounding presentation – this is the combination to consider. 

Where to buy: $2,049 at Alma Audio & Music


HiFi Rose RS201E Network Streamer – $2,195

Rose RS201E Professional HiFi Media Player Apps Screen

The HiFi Rose RS201E has to offer a lot of performance, features, and connectivity options to be competitive in this space – and for the most part it succeeds quite well at all 3 tasks.

Its ability to stream and play back video will be of obvious value for people who want an easy way to connect a media player to a HDTV. It’s very easy to run a HDMI cable and one set of loudspeaker cables from the RS201E to a television and pair of loudspeakers and you’re done. Yes — it can power loudspeakers as well.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

The unit demonstrated superb Wi-Fi stability in a home filled with wireless devices that are always competing for bandwidth. That might sound trivial, but I’ve reviewed far more expensive media streaming devices that struggled with such a task. 

HiFi Rose RS201e Back

The decision to include both USB and S/PDIF digital outputs was the smart choice with the RS201E because many users are going to consider connecting the media player to an external DAC, A/V receiver, or active loudspeakers with digital inputs.

The HiFi Rose supports MQA, 32-bit/384kHz PCM (with native support for DSD 256), and is Roon-Ready.

The HiFi Rose RS201E’s touch screen interface is one of its strongest features and it was not far behind the Naim Uniti Atom in that regard. Album art when streaming from Tidal or Qobuz looked quite impressive on the wider screen.

A very compelling digital music streamer that only continues to improve with each firmware update.

Where to buy: $2,195 at Crutchfield


Related reading:

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. ORT

    February 27, 2022 at 3:41 pm

    I own two and have given as gifts to friends and family 4 more of Grace Digital’s excellent Grace Link.

    $179.99 and every time they get in they are soon SOLD OUT. The last time I bought a couple, Grace Digital said they had 500 hundred arrive and they sold out in a day or two. Why? Because this is an excellent product that makes (Buddha but I loathe this term) “streaming” easy and affordable.

    I have no doubt that Andover Audio’s device is nice, I have three of their Spinbase turntable platorms and have given away one to my daughter and her family. They make an excellent product.

    At this moment I am listening to one of my all-time favorite albums – The 50th Anniversary Edition of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass”. It is being sent from one of my Grace Links to an affordable DAC my S.M.S.L. (no stoopid MQA allowed!) and from there to an S.M.S.L. SP200 and then to a pair of Sennheiser HD6XX from Drop. What does this more than affordable, more than competent set up sound like playing George Harrison?

    George Harrison.

    People do not want to (Paraphrasing Alert!)”…strain at a bit to swallow a lie”. They desire to listen to the soundtrack that IS their lives.

    The Grace Link does that. That is really all any audio device need do. I do not count bits. I do not look in on the sampling rate. I do not want MQA. I could give an airborne intercourse about what I shall now call Romper Roon Ready.

    What I do want is to see the Album artwork (if available) and the artist’s name along with song and album title. I am now well in to being a seasoned citizen and on weekends I often go and mount TVs for friends and family. I even did one for a Buddhist Temple a couple of years back as a friend is Buddhist. I also set up modest home theaters for a great many folks. I do not charge people as it is a pleasure being of service to these folks.

    What this has shown me is that people, young and old alike, want simplicity in their entertainment. They want to push a button and turn on their personal musical WayBack Machine (Mr. Peabody and Sherman!) and hear their music. They want to see the artwork and associated information if available. They don’t give a hoot about the sampling rate, the number of bits or what frAudiophile (NOT you guys and you know that) feeeeels about a circuit that neither they nor said frAudiophile understand.

    Push “ON” button of WayBack Machine, select preset and volume – ENJOY! My older brother used to be more in to audio and he is now on his third AV which I have given him. He had some problems with the internet tuner and when I visited him and his wonderful wife, I fixed it and showed him how to do so. Then to make certain that would never happen again I sent them a Grace Digital Grace Link to hook into one of the digital (coax) inputs.

    He and his wife really like it. I also sent them two of Grace Digital’s stand alone radios for use in other rooms.

    Trust me on this. I am not come to make waves, I am here to simply state what I know. Exempli gratia? I used to own and use a Squeezebox Radio. It was great but is now kinda sorta OOB. Out of Bidness. Some folks will go on and on (kinda like I am doing here, LOL!) about how the Squeezbox was “light, airy, full of presence, blah, blah, blah… ad nauseam. I call B.S. it is just a box of parts and has no genie inside. It either works as advertised or does not.

    I am certain every thing you mention in your list does just that. So too does the Grace Link. I think, not feeeeeeeeeeeeeel, it is as good as any device you noted above and far more affordable than many and easier than all of them.

    Do I have to order one (when they are available again – SOLD OUT!) and send it to you? I may just do that. I know some of the folks at Grace Digital and have met them face to face. They are good people who work hard to make a fine product and sell it at a very affordable price.

    Let me know, brother. By the belly of the Buddha, I can ramble on, eh? I do not expect this to make it to being posted but I do hope you do me the honor of reading it. I am sincere in my words and as they sang in “The Music Man”, “How can there be any sin, in sincere”.

    In all ways and for always, be well.

    ORT

    • Geoffrey Britain

      April 2, 2023 at 3:57 pm

      I agree with much of what you say and I have an earlier Grace Link which I use in the Garage. Where we disagree is in your assertion that the Grace Link is sound wise the equal of any of the above mentioned units. The overall fidelity of your system will determine whether the increased fidelity of the more expensive units is detected.

      • Ian White

        April 2, 2023 at 4:11 pm

        Geoffrey,

        Having never listened to the Grace Link, I can’t comment on its performance. Having listened to everything in our guide, I would agree with what you write 100%.

        “The overall fidelity of your system will determine whether the increased fidelity of the more expensive units is detected.” — 100% this.

        Best,

        Ian White

        • ORT

          April 3, 2023 at 3:40 am

          Well, to be honest I have never “listened” to the Grace Link but I have listened to music played by it. It sounds like music. Sinatra is Sinatra not an artificial “Simnatra” ala Beatlemania…”Not the Beatles but an incredible simulation” mind you, but to be frank, the real Frankie.

          I listen via headphones and have two such set ups with the Grace Link. I have Grace Digital table radios too. I like the radios as they visually remind me of ’60s table radios and again, I hear music.

          But yes, I under stand what you are both saying. I think speakers are probably the most important part of the equation but I could be wrong. I have Klispch for my two main listening/viewing areas. But NOT their subwoofers. I do not much care for those, especially so the front firing ones. YUCK!

          ORT

  2. BobPM

    February 27, 2022 at 4:32 pm

    If you are not looking for it to be a DAC, then the key to choosing the best streamer is the software and the extent you believe that software will be maintained and upgraded into the future. I am a fan of the Bluesound OS since it is comprehensive in its access to services (unlike ROON that only has two streaming service choices), has a intuitive interface, and is with a company that has been around awhile and appears committed to maintaining the software.

    I will reserve judgment on how the streamers actually “sound.” A competent DAC should clean-up and problems with the digital signal. This is one of those areas where sound quality differences are likely pretty subtle.

    • Ian White

      February 27, 2022 at 5:03 pm

      Bob,

      BluOS is excellent. I’ve used it daily for almost two years and it only continues to get better.

      I have 5 different streamers at home and they all sound “different” but I think that has more to do with the design of the output stage and choice of DAC chip than anything else.

      Best,
      Ian White

      • Bob

        February 28, 2022 at 5:03 pm

        Couldn’t agree more. The sound of the streamer, in my opinion, is mostly dependent on the DAC/output and not the streamer itself. I use an excellent Schiit DAC that I prefer over the MQA enabled internal one on the Node.

        My real point is that steamers should be evaluated more as software than hardwware. Is it functional, stable, and what are the features.

        • Ian White

          February 28, 2022 at 5:36 pm

          Bob,

          The Schiit DACs are really nice. And I have zero use for MQA.

          Ian White

      • GordM

        March 4, 2022 at 1:36 am

        Likewise…I have used BluOS since 2017, and I should add that for a computer audio neophyte like myself, it was great to have available Bluesound’s excellent support, which is unfortunately now getting somewhat less responsive to both increasingly strong sales and the fact that it is handling all of NAD’s support issues as well.
        I just recently acquired the new NODE which has a distinctly improved physical interface, although I don’t use that so much since my iOS devices are everywhere. I have lost count of how many updates Bluesound has issued in the past five years.
        Be forewarned though, my 2017 Node 2 bricked and I was informed that the repair would be too costly to consider and the manufacturer offered me the new NODE at a discount, which I went with. Hopefully the defective power supply problem is a thing of the past. Meanwhile, avoid buying a used Node 2 because it probably will be a doorstop before long.
        I also have a Nose 2i expansion card in my C388 integrated amp for a backup 🙂
        I tried out a Cambridge EVO 150 a while ago which was a terrific amp, but I ultimately rejected it due to the cheesy app and returned home to BluOS.

      • GordM

        March 4, 2022 at 1:37 am

        Ditto re MQA. I have a handful of MQA files on my drive…whoopdedoo

      • Drew

        May 20, 2022 at 10:10 pm

        The streamer does matter a bit. The typical way to hear an amp is to use a full range speaker without a driver. The typical was to hear a dac or streamer is to use headphones. You can follow the logic for order of importance.

    • Stéphane

      February 13, 2023 at 7:25 pm

      Hello ! Will a Bluesound node plug into my Sugden A21 se signature will give me great sound using tidal mqa ? Or should i look for a better one like the CXN V2 , arcam st60 , or a Lumin…? Thanks a lot !

      • Ian White

        February 14, 2023 at 12:24 am

        Stephane,

        It really depends on the tonal balance of the Sugden (great amp BTW) and the speakers. The NODE is rather warm sounding. The CXN V2 from Cambridge Audio is a really strong choice.

        Best,

        Ian White

        • Stéphane

          February 14, 2023 at 1:36 pm

          Thanks a lot ! Ecoustics rules !!! 👌

          • Stéphane

            February 14, 2023 at 7:17 pm

            I have just read that the CXN V2 does not fully support MQA masters from Tidal…by the way my Loudspeakers are Kudos C20 ( Sugden + Kudos + all Chord company cables ) Now is my only choice under 2k the Bluesound…?

          • Ian White

            February 14, 2023 at 11:27 pm

            Stephane,

            MQA support should not be the benchmark for a streamer. I use TIDAL all the time and I don’t think the differences are that huge. The NODE is really good but I think the Cambridge sounds a lot better with most hi-res PCM tracks.

            Why not use your phone with a Dongle DAC that supports a full MQA pack/unpack? Cheaper and something you can also use with headphones.

            Best,

            Ian White

  3. Daron

    February 27, 2022 at 8:54 pm

    What about the Wiim Mini for $99? Stream Qobuz and everything else at 24/192 without buying a PC or spending 500+, and an expected firmware update to output optical at 24/192 to an external DAC. Shouldn’t cost thousands just to use a streaming service on your gear.

    • Ian White

      February 27, 2022 at 11:44 pm

      Daron,

      I have one. It’s on our to-do list for early March. Along with another 20+ reviews coming in the next 2 weeks.

      It’s decent. Not awesome but certainly ok from the digital output.

      Ian

  4. Steven Denfeld

    March 8, 2022 at 9:27 pm

    The field of streamers is a confusing one; too many devices focusing on wireless and other over complicated future-fi’d hoopla. I want a simple device that plugs into my Ethernet and streams Qobuz at its highest resolution into my DAC while I remote-control it from my iPhone. I have zero need for multi-room wireless, no Bluetooth, no file storage, just simple high quality streaming into my system. The Andover is hardly enough but the Node, excellent though it may be, is maybe too much. Anything in between? A Raspberry Pi feels a little too project-y at this particular point in my life.

    • Ian White

      March 8, 2022 at 11:17 pm

      Steven,

      That’s a fair question.

      I own both the Songbird and NODE and consider the Bluesound streamer to make the most sense for me personally.

      I don’t think there is a better option below $550 if you don’t want to build your own. Sonore get rid of the microRendu which was quite solid once it was properly configured.

      Best,
      Ian White

      • Steven Denfeld

        March 8, 2022 at 11:23 pm

        Thanks for the reply, Ian. Seems there’s a sizable hole for some manufacturers to fill but they’re all too busy chasing the not-quite-there promise of wireless.

        • Ian White

          March 8, 2022 at 11:39 pm

          Steven,

          I think Andover or Schiit Audio are the most likely to fill that hole. I’ve heard rumors about a forthcoming one from Schiit. We will see.

          Best,

          Ian White

  5. Errol

    March 9, 2022 at 11:31 pm

    If you don’t mind a little DIY Raspberry Pi running MoOde Audio (or another similar OS) into your DAC of choice is hard to beat from a purely sound quality perspective. I spent $100 to set up an RPi streamer that runs into my CXA81 DAC I can’t justify paying 5x,10x more for a streamer. Seems like the DAC is a bigger factor in SQ based on my testing of the RPi into other DACs I own.

  6. Alex Bennett

    March 10, 2022 at 6:57 am

    so few streamers offering Chromecast, but more than half the world using Android phones. What gives?

    • David Rogers

      June 28, 2022 at 3:50 am

      I have an audioengine B-fi that I like. But recently switched from apple to Android. The audioengine app works for tidal, but I can’t get radio options. All my searching and I can’t find a decently priced chromecast streamer, which is annoying because Spotify connect can see the audioengine B-fi from the app, so it’s a software not hardware issue.

      I’m an inch away from a raspberry pi and schiit dac. But I am not certain that’s the direction I want to go. As a network admin by day, I don’t want to mess with crap at the end of the day. I just want to hit “cast” and go at the end of the day.

  7. John

    March 11, 2022 at 11:38 am

    Any plans for testing windows systems I too am looking for a simple streamer that just works.
    What about windows based systems. I look on amazon and I see little windows mini pc’s,I would also like to run app’s like Kodi,and a small pc seems like my best option,not mention that I already know how to operate it.

    • Ian White

      March 11, 2022 at 12:02 pm

      John,

      Short answer is yes.

      Ian White

  8. Kellen

    November 3, 2022 at 11:21 am

    Good grief. Omitting the IOTAVX NP3 was rather dumb. I have the Node 2i, which is the same price, and the NP3 does a great job streaming while doing so much more (CD, radio, USB input, Bluetooth, etc.). Compatible with all major streaming services — I use it with Qobuz and love it. Plus the NP3 has an excellent remote. Best of all, I don’t have to keep going through the constant hassle up updating the BlueOS software like with the Node 2i, which honestly has made that unit a borderline nightmare. If I had to do it over again I would jettison the 2i in favor of a second NP3. Like I say, it was dumb to omit the NP3 from this list of music streamers.

    • Ian White

      November 3, 2022 at 1:38 pm

      Kellen,

      Why do readers assume that we get to listen to everything in a category? It doesn’t make the list until we get to try it ourselves.

      Best,

      Ian White

  9. Fred

    May 9, 2023 at 10:36 pm

    I am running Chromecast audio pucks around my home to play Roon/Tidal. Performance has been rock solid everywhere for me, but I’m considering attempting to upgrade on my large rig. I do have my nucleus hardwired as an option there via HDMI, but I prefer optical out on the Chromecast to my DAC to avoid using my AVR.

    I have no need for DAC I streamer or a screen or software bells and whistles, I’m just not sure how much I need to spend to get appreciable improvement over digital out on Chromecast audio.

    Is there a meaningful measurement spec for comparing streamer performance? Or is it more about sound coloration like with different DAC designs?

    Thanks for the great listicle here.

  10. Bryan

    June 9, 2023 at 2:16 pm

    Seems the Cambridge meets most of my needs. Just not comfortable coming up with a grand to buy it. Anything out there that can read/play a variety of formats from an external drive via USB or sd card AND has a display and is $500 or less. I don’t really care about streaming via Tidal, Spotify etc. I want to access all my digital files without having to use the computer. Smartphones don’t have enough storage. I have close to a couple of TB worth of music.

  11. Amos

    August 20, 2023 at 5:47 am

    The NAD C658 streamer is for me the best streamer I’ve listened to. Compared to the above mentioned Cambridge Audio and Node. I’ve also compared it to the Rose 150b and the Nad sounded better by a mile.

  12. Ed Brumbaugh

    October 1, 2023 at 12:21 pm

    Nice review, thank you. I’ve been looking at streamers for awhile now, but I’ve not pulled the trigger yet because I started streaming to my 2-channel system with my iPad Pro using Apple Music or the Qobuz app, and I don’t know what I’d be gaining by replacing the iPad with a streamer?

    2-channel setup: I stream via USB into a Denafrips DDC to provide a cleaner signal to a Denafrips Venus II R2R DAC, then into a PrimaLuna EVO300 Tube Integrated Amplifier, and into a pair of Triton One Reference speakers … great sounding setup

    • Ian White

      October 1, 2023 at 3:18 pm

      Ed,

      If you’re happy with the iPad Pro (using Lightning to USB?) into the Denafrips equipment (which is excellent stuff)…there is no reason to change.

      A dedicated streamer with a good control app (Bluesound BluOS as an example) makes it easier to access all of your streaming platforms in one place and also stream using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to other wireless speakers in the house if you have that kind of set-up.

      You’re not using the DAC in the iPad so you’re really listening to the Denafrips Venus II which would provide a better listening experience.

      Not everyone wants to use their smartphone as their dedicated digital player and want something that is a permanent part of their system.

      Best,

      Ian White

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

You May Also Like

HDTV 4K & 8K TV

The TV Shootout returns to its roots with six top TVs competing for the crown of the "King of TV."

Reviews

Does Sony's advanced new wireless home theater system earn its lofty price tag?

Daily Deals

Prime Day 2024 has some great discounts on top performing soundbars. Here are three of our favorites.

Daily Deals

Today is a good day to score a deal on some of the top-rated ANC headphones.

Daily Deals

Apple's flagship AirPods Max over-ear ANC headphones just got a rare discount for Amazon Prime Day. Grab a pair while you can.

Gift Guides

Coinciding with Amazon Prime Day, Crutchfield is offering huge savings on some of our favorite hi-fi, headphones and home electronics.

News

The kiosk DVD and Blu-ray disc rental service Redbox is shutting down. Is physical entertainment media doomed?

Floorstanding Speakers

Steinway Lyngdorf's new Model C MK II loudspeaker system claims flagship level performance within a smaller, space-saving design.

Advertisement

ecoustics is a hi-fi and music magazine offering product reviews, podcasts, news and advice for aspiring audiophiles, home theater enthusiasts and headphone hipsters. Read more

Copyright © 1999-2024 ecoustics | Disclaimer: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.



SVS Bluesound PSB Speakers NAD Cambridge Audio Q Acoustics Denon Marantz Focal Naim Audio RSL Speakers