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 last week 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.
Our focus shifted more than two years ago to more affordable high-end audio products and the music streamer category is starting to really make strides in that department. Our guide covers products between $99 and $2,500 USD which we’ve used, purchased, and even reviewed recently.
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. And that’s perfectly fine.
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, Bluetooth aptX or aptX HD.
The Bluesound NODE has become one of the most popular all-around affordable digital music streamers and as we discovered recently with our first listen to the Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i and Pulse Flex 2i wireless speakers — it is also a fantastic digital hub to support a multi-room system in your home.
The introduction of Apple Music with lossless streaming, and the eventual release of Spotify HiFi (any day now…) will force manufacturers to make a choice (and pay a hefty licensing fee) in regard to which streaming platforms they want to support natively with the best possible sound quality.
Will existing digital streamers support Apple Music with Spatial Audio? Will they require firmware updates for that to happen and when will that support show up?
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.
Andover Audio Songbird – $99
Affordability is one of the best ways to get new people interested in high-end audio and this streamer delivers. It doesn’t do 24-bit/48.1kHz or higher but it sounds so good for the money with almost everything that who really cares.
The Andover Audio Songbird (review) offers 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 is limited to 16-bit/44.1kHz so it will not pass 24-bit or higher to an external DAC. The analog output, however, sounds better in our honest opinion and it’s what we use to listen to Qobuz or Tidal through a number of excellent integrated amplifiers.
Another useful addition to the Songbird is the Optical TOSLINK input which users can connect to something like a Roku streaming box.
Wireless connectivity includes support for AirPlay and Bluetooth. The Songbird does not offer gapless playback with Tidal or Qobuz just yet through its own control app. AirPlay is also limited to 16-bit/44.1kHz.
The best way to use the Songbird is with a hardwired Ethernet connection and using the Andover app; which offers support for Tidal, Qobuz, and Spotify.
The Songbird isn’t a very forward sounding streamer which I think was a smart move on the part of the manufacturer. It gives you some wiggle room when it comes to selecting a DAC.
Andover Audio has a new 24-bit/192kHz music streamer coming in 2023 but the release was delayed and until we’ve had an opportunity to put the Andover Songbird HR Music Streamer through some testing — we are not in a position to recommend it. It will retail for $299.00 USD when it launches which places it closer to other products on this list.
- Where to buy: $99 at AndoverAudio.com
WiiM Pro – $149
In 2014, Linkplay Technology was established by a core team of high caliber technology entrepreneurs from Google, Broadcom, InterVideo, & Harman. Developing cutting-edge wireless technology, software, hardware, and user-experience features for a variety of voice and smart products in multiple markets was the goal.
Realizing there was a void in smart products, since many customers still had older, functional legacy audio devices (think two-channel) WiiM developed the Mini for $99. Legacy users did not want to give up their two-channel system, the WiiM Mini afforded the connection of those legacy devices to the net for streaming purposes. The best of both worlds.
Following this success, the release of their new streamer, the Pro builds on the many positives of the Mini, while adding the newest technology out. Adding an ethernet port as well as Chromecast compatibility, the Pro also combines many streaming platforms with ease of use and integration with the users existing system.
Capable of 24-bit/192kHz audio output with a TI integrated stereo DAC, the Pro provides high-quality analog audio output with 106 dB SNR, -92 dB THD+N performance plus connectivity via ethernet, WiFi, RCA cables, Toslink and Coax output options for bit-perfect gapless playback.
Compatible with AirPlay2, Spotify Connect, TIDAL Connect, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Deezer, TunIn, iHeartRadio; the Pro 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.
A straightforward in-app guide allows easy setup in pretty much any system in less than two minutes, once connected. Frequent software updates keeps the Pro up-to-date with the latest, ensuring it will not be out of date.
The existing Andover Songbird and WiiM Pro are aimed at the same customer and there’s no question that the WiiM Pro offers greater flexibility and more connectivity options.
Sonically, the Songbird is a darker sounding unit with slightly less detail; the WiiM Pro trades some color for greater clarity which some might prefer. Our review will be published on April 15th.
- Where to buy: $149 at Amazon
NAD CS1 – $350
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.
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
Cambridge Audio MXN10 – $499
Cambridge Audio launched the AXN10 and MXN10 music streamers in February and the biggest difference between the two is size.
The full-size, limited edition 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.
I’ve been listening to the MXN10 for almost 3 weeks and you will be able to read my formal review after Passover; the larger ANX10 will have to be a lot better to justify the additional $100 USD.
If the only genuine difference is the full-sized case — the MXN10 is the better option in our opinion.
The internal DAC is based around the ESS Sabre ES9033Q chip and offers hi-res support up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512.
Our early take on the MXN10 is that offers so much resolution and refinement for $499 that it might become a genuine headache for the NODE.
- Where to buy: $1,099 at Amazon | Crutchfield
Bluesound NODE – $599
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.
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
The CXN V2 is the least expensive network streamer in the Cambridge Audio line-up, but don’t let that get you down because it’s one of the best 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.
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
Roon Nucleus/Nucleus +
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.
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:
- Nucleus: $1,459 at Roon
- Nucleus+: $2,559 at Roon
Innuos ZENMini S – $2,049 (1TB) – LPSU adds $949
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.
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: £1,249 at Amazon.co.uk
HiFi Rose RS201E Network Streamer – $2,195
The HiFi Rose RS201E (review) 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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
April 2, 2023 at 4:11 pm
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.
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!
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.
February 27, 2022 at 5:03 pm
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.
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.
February 28, 2022 at 5:36 pm
The Schiit DACs are really nice. And I have zero use for MQA.
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.
March 4, 2022 at 1:37 am
Ditto re MQA. I have a handful of MQA files on my drive…whoopdedoo
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.
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 !
February 14, 2023 at 12:24 am
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.
February 14, 2023 at 1:36 pm
Thanks a lot ! Ecoustics rules !!! 👌
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…?
February 14, 2023 at 11:27 pm
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.
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.
February 27, 2022 at 11:44 pm
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.
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.
March 8, 2022 at 11:17 pm
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.
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.
March 8, 2022 at 11:39 pm
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.
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.
March 10, 2022 at 6:57 am
so few streamers offering Chromecast, but more than half the world using Android phones. What gives?
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.
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.
March 11, 2022 at 12:02 pm
Short answer is yes.
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.
November 3, 2022 at 1:38 pm
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.
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.
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.