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Andover Audio Songbird Streamer Review Part Deux: This is the Way

In part 2 of our review we compare the Songbird hifi streamer with some affordable DACs and speakers.

Andover Audio Songbird Hi-res Music Streamer front

Part 1 of our review is available here.

With only a few weeks left in 2020, it feels appropriate to spill some additional ink on the Andover Audio Songbird streamer. We have plenty of reviews forthcoming on some exceptional equipment from Yamaha, Naim, HiFi Rose, Theory Audio Design, Rotel, and others – but I really want to focus on the Songbird, and a few other pieces of affordable equipment that have made the last weeks of 2020 a lot more normal. At least for me. 

The year started with the unexpected passing of Neil Peart, before moving on to the global pandemic, an embarrassment of a national election, a diagnosis of cancer in the family, peace deals in the Middle East, more global pandemic, and is ending with the hope of a vaccine for all of us in 2021. 

Anyone else really tired?

Music has been really cathartic this year. That’s probably a good word for it.

It hasn’t been as much fun listening with life turned on its head; there have been too many distractions in regard to working remotely, educating 3 children living in two different countries, shopping for relatives who are medically compromised, and just keeping all of the bills paid. 

One almost feels guilty sitting down and listening critically to so many products and trying to convince people to spend a lot of money right now on stereo equipment. 

So, when the $129 Andover Audio Songbird streamer arrived, there was a feeling of rejuvenation in my daily listening routine.

My mission in the final days of this miserable year would be to spread the word about a fascinating little black box that can deliver musical joy, not break the bank, and help rebuild the Jedi Order.

This is the way. 

As I mentioned in the original review, the Songbird features both an analog stereo output (Andover supplies a 3.5mm splitter cable…I used my own), and a single optical Toslink digital output on the rear panel. A coaxial S/PDIF or USB digital output would have been better, but how many Songbird buyers are plugging this streamer into an expensive DAC?

Listeners are going to connect this to soundbars, integrated amplifiers, receivers, and even active loudspeakers.

I really like the sound quality of the Songbird out of its analog output into the NAD C 316BEE, Croft Phono Integrated, Cambridge Audio AXA35, and Naim NAIT 5si. 

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I like it even more when connected to the Schiit Audio Modi Multibit and Topping D50s DACs.

Neither combination will run you more than $380 which is borscht in today’s audio world.

The Topping D50s offers a lot more functionality than the Modi Multibit with its own volume control, support for 32-bit/768kHz PCM, DSD 512, MQA, Bluetooth 5.0, 7 selectable PCM filters, and a remote control. 

The Schiit Modi Multibit DAC offers USB, optical, and coaxial digital inputs, supports up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM, but does not offer support for DSD or MQA.

We’ve discovered from a reader and update on the Andover website that the digital output does not support anything higher than 16-bit/44.1kHz. I still preferred its performance with the Schiit DAC but the analog output sounds excellent as well.

For those looking to assemble an affordable desktop headphone system, either combination will work with a variety of headphone amplifiers like the Schiit Audio Vali 2 or Topping A50s. 

Like my father before me…

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. 

Listening to both DACs with the Songbird revealed that they sound nothing alike. 

If you prefer a neutral sounding presentation that is laser focused and very spacious sounding – the Topping A50s will be a good option for you. 

But only if the rest of your system is on the warm side; loudspeakers and amplifier. 

It’s not the most colorful presentation and you will immediately notice that it doesn’t give as much weight to the human voice. I’m not sure if “detached” is being overly harsh, but it lacks a certain degree of midrange punch if the rest of your system is on the more neutral side.

On the plus side, the Topping has incredibly tight and extended low end performance; bass notes are clearly defined and articulate regardless of musical genre. 

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Detail retrieval is excellent. There is an airiness to the treble that will be fine for most systems but I would not use this DAC with overly neutral headphones or loudspeakers.

The Modi Multibit

The Schiit DAC offers a very different presentation; much warmer sounding in the midrange, smaller soundstage, and far more punch in the upper bass. Detail retrieval is not as abundant as with the Topping DAC, but the top end will work better with a wider range of loudspeakers. It doesn’t have the same degree of extension but it will never sound strident or hard.

The lack of support for DSD and MQA will matter to some; especially those who use Tidal as their primary high-res streaming platform and want to hear MQA Master versions of their music. 

At the end of the day, the way that the Modi Multibit reproduces the human voice is the best reason to select it for the Andover Songbird; it adds just enough (but not too much) warmth without sacrificing resolution and transparency.

The Topping D50s is a very good DAC but the rest of your system needs to be darker sounding, or you’ll find the forward nature of the presentation too much.

I’m just a simple man making his way through the galaxy…

Having selected the Modi Multibit as a better match for the Songbird, I decided to connect the combination to the Acoustic Energy AE1 active loudspeakers that have been making gorgeous sounding music for the past few weeks in my office system. 

Our review of the AE1 will be published later this month, and it’s been an experience trying them with different DACs, pre-amplifiers, and sources. 

You could connect the Songbird/Modi Multibit directly to the AE1 loudspeakers and use its volume control (inconveniently placed on the rear panel of each loudspeaker), but that’s not the best method in this scenario. 

For maximum flexibility and the best possible sound quality, you need to connect the streamer/DAC to a pre-amplifier, which doesn’t have to be really expensive. 

The Acoustic Energy AE1 are very neutral sounding loudspeakers that are powered by two separate class AB amplifiers inside each enclosure. There is no DSP at all to contend with. Your choice of pre-amplifier, DAC, and sources will have a huge impact on the overall tonal balance and presentation of the loudspeaker. 

With that in mind, I connected the Songbird/Modi Multibit combination to both a Schiit Magni 3+ headphone amplifier/line-stage, and Croft Acoustics Micro 25 pre-amplifier. 

There’s a pretty substantial difference in price between the two pre-amplifiers ($99 vs $1,300), but they both illustrated that the Andover Audio Songbird streamer has a lot more potential beneath its hood when connected to a DAC like the Schiit Modi Multibit. 

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Everything about its performance improved in this scenario; transparency, resolution, midrange punch, top end purity, and low-end punch. 

Electronic music sounded completely different through the AE1 (in comparison to the Q Acoustics 3050i used in the initial review); the spaciousness of the sound was enough to make me wander around my office to marvel at its off-axis performance. 

Bass notes had far greater heft, articulation, and speed.

It’s not a stretch to say that the Andover Audio Songbird hi-res streamer is one of the biggest surprises of 2020. 

To learn more or purchase: $129 at AndoverAudio.com

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Roy V Bertalotto

    February 2, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    Fantastic piece right here! I ordered a Modi and a Songbird after reading your review. Thank You!

    • Ian White

      February 4, 2021 at 11:29 am

      Hope you enjoy it and thank you so much for reading us.

  2. Roy V Bertalotto

    February 7, 2021 at 12:23 am

    OK, here’s the deal…and it might be a deal breaker for some…The digital output only outputs CD quality…16/44….Therefore, running it into an outboard DAC might sound worse than using the inboard DAC which is out of the analog output. The onboard DAC will transcode 24/192. Most of the reviews I’ve read have this backwards or totally wrong. I spoke to a tech at Andover to be absolutely sure about this….I bought a Schiit DAC Modi3 to use the digital output. Now I might not need it. I’ll try it both ways, but I’m betting dollars to donuts that higher bit rate and higher frequency out of the analog output will win out over the digital output through a more expensive DAC…..

    • Ian White

      February 7, 2021 at 2:33 am

      Hi Roy,

      I’ve run it both ways and in my system (YMMV) the DAC scenario sounded better. I do wish companies would get their story straight with us. Sigh.

      I do agree that it sounds excellent out of the analog output. I’ve tried it that way recently with additional amplifiers and it does work well that way.

      I’m going to reach out to Andover and get the story. I’ll probably do a follow-up column this week.

      Appreciate you reaching out.

      Ian

    • Ian White

      February 7, 2021 at 2:46 am

      Roy,

      Reached out to the PR people. You are correct. Website looks like it was recently updated as that information was not what I used for the review. Nobody from Andover corrected us either after reading both articles.

      I do like the sound with the Schiit DAC but could easily live with the analog outputs.

      Thank you for catching that.

      Ian

  3. Long Audio Beard

    February 28, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    Nice review, I think that Schitt’s Modi Multibit version is superior to most delta sigma DACs in terms of making voices and many midrange instruments sound more real. You mentioned electronic music, for music with analog synths the multibit differentiates them better than most other DACs which make all synths sound like synths regardless of whether they are analog or not.
    Running a songbird through a modi multibit like you and even though the multibit can do more than 16 bit I suspect it is not great for that and that it would not be a real audible difference anyways.
    Surprised to know Songbird is 16 bit out on digital (toslink) output, sure you were not feeding it a 16 bit source? And if sure, where you able to verify digital output bitrate etc with the Topping? (modi multibit has not screen so it tells no secrets lol)

  4. Long Audio Beard

    February 28, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    sorry just read “its digital output is resampled to CD quality resolution of 16 bit/ 44.1kHz” from Andover, so that’s that. Probably implements open source version of Airplay to do it’s multi-room thing like other devices that use the same basic app, Airplay is basically lossless 16 bit, so maybe that’s why? a lot of higher bitrate stuff is 16 bit that is just repackaged anyways

  5. Jeff Parker

    March 9, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    Hi, curious if you’ve compared this to the Auris unit that is similarly priced and has received some good reviews?

    • Ian White

      March 9, 2021 at 2:30 pm

      Hi,

      I have not but we have 3-4 more affordable streamer reviews planned for Q2 so I’ll add that to the list.

      Best,
      Ian

  6. Steve

    March 22, 2021 at 11:45 pm

    Hi,
    Sorry but I want to make sure I get this straight. The Toslink output is 16/44 quality only. So I would be fine to run directly into a high end Dac (such as a Schiit expensive Dac) that has a Toslink input. So when streaming from Qubuz is downsampled to CD quality you can still use Toslink digital output to the digital input of the Dac of choice thus hearing that Dac’s sonics.
    Do I have that right? I assume that is better than running the analog output to a preamp line input? From a sound perspective.

    Is the Bluesound 2i sound better than the Songbird?

    Thanks
    Steve

    • Ian White

      March 23, 2021 at 1:46 am

      Hi Steve,

      The Toslink is limited to 16/44 and it would work perfectly fine into the Schiit DAC. It would downsample everything to 16/44.

      I’m not sure “better” is the word that I would use after a few more months with it.

      It will sound different. The bass will be tighter and you will hear more detail.

      I bought a 1m run of AudioQuest 3.5mm to RCA cable (Big Sur) and I’m running it from the output on the rear of the Songbird to my Croft Acoustics Integrated and it sounds really great with Qobuz and Tidal. I use it almost daily and I have far more expensive stuff to play with.

      The Songbird app isn’t bad. It need a slicker interface.

      BluOs app on the Bluesound 2i is in a different league and it’s Roon Ready.

      Sonically – the Bluesound Node 2i is definitely better. Better quality DAC inside. I do wish it had a USB output. The coaxial output is running into (I own both streamers) the back of my Schiit BiFrost 2 and it sounds really nice. Is it worth $400 more than the Songbird?

      I think you’re paying the extra money for a better quality DAC, much better interface and app, and it’s a very stable platform. I’ve owned the Node 2i for awhile and have it running into a NAD C 316BEE V2 and the combination is excellent. I have zero intention of changing that anytime soon.

      Ian

  7. Roy V Bertalotto

    April 1, 2021 at 2:02 am

    OK…I’m back again…Having lived with the Andover Songbird for a number of months now, listening through a Schiit Modi DAC / Schiit Saga Preamp, VTA ST120 Dynaco clone tube amp and Magnapan MMGs…..I’m here to tell you the Songbird is amazing. Hard to tell the difference between the onboard DAC and Toslink into the Modi…On very demanding, HiRes Qobuz jazz and classical, the SB/Modi combination has a slight edge over the onboard DAC. A bit smoother, tighter base a bit more “air” around the instruments….But Com’on Man…Were talking a $129 device! Many folks spend that much for one foot of speaker cable! BUT, I recently stumbled into a Bluesound Node2i….Huge difference…Through its own onboard DAC or through the Modi…It brings tears to my eyes! Amazing device…But it is $550!….It now lives in my system and the Songbird is hooked up to a DOUK TwoTube preamplifier ($109) as a headphone setup…With a set of Phillips 9500 ($79)…you can’t beat it for a inexpensive headphone system out in the sunroom….And it sounds amazing!

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