Audiophile quality streamer/server-in-one without a DAC. Does this exist?


I have a very simple system and want to upgrade my digital player which is currently my  5 year old Acer laptop.  I listen to Tidal a lot.  Sometimes I listen to high-res downloads (I only have about 20) and ripped FLAC albums (only about 100) stored on my Acer  and play them using JRiver 19.  That's about it.

My system is a Wyred 4 Sound Dac-2 plugged directly into a Wyred 4 Sound ST-500 power amp which is paired to a pair of KEF LS-50.  My Acer is my only source component.  

My question is this: is there an all-in-one digital source that can replace my computer as a server and streamer?  I don't need a DAC and I don't want several more pieces, peripherals, power supplies, etc.  I don't want to make my own.  My wife will tell you I'm not talented enough to do so.  I would agree with her.

Seriously, I just want one box that can do the same friggin thing as my computer but better.  I don't think I want a Apple computer either as I know that is a good solution for many.  

I feel ridiculous asking if there is something out there like this, but I either don't see it or my request is akin to looking for unicorns.  I'm ok with either answer.  Just hit me with the truth or some recommendations.

Thank you, Josh    


joshelston
You don't mention a budget, Josh.  And just to clarify; you want something that will rip and store CDs, or Play downloads, with no DAC?
  I myself use a Bluesound Vault 2.  It has a DAC which I bypass through it's digital outs and use my own DACs, and it has a 2 TB HD which  would be really ample for your collection.  It will play high res files and can recognize other sources such as your PC.  It cost $1100 and of course you would feel as if you were wasting some of those dollars on the unwanted DAC
Forgot to mention that the Bluesound will stream Tidal in MQA  and that may be important.  Of course you don't use a pre amp so I am not sure how you witch from one DAC to another...
I use a QNAP NAS.  I run TwonkyMedia on it and it has a DLNA server.  I use my Oppo as a DAC into my Emotiva XMC-1.  I also have some Pioneer Elite receivers that use their internal DACs to stream from it.  My Pioneers allow use of an external DAC as well.  
This is what Aurender specializes in.  They have multiple price points. Check Music Direct.
Wyred 4 Sound modified Sonos Connect
The Aurender N100 is the one without the DAC I believe.

@mahler123.  No budget specified at this point.  Just need to know where to start looking.  

Also, I want something to store my music media and be able to stream Tidal in one box with one remote and nothing else.  Riping CDs would be a cool built in would be cool but not a requirement for me.  I have an external optical drive I can use if needed.  Pretty simple, or so I thought, until I started looking.  

Everything with digital audio seems crazy complicated to me.  I have a doctorate but can't get my head around the terminology.  If I have to work that hard to understand it and define every acronym it seems less fun to me.  Hence, the requirement of simplicity.  

@dimora.  Just being honest.  I don't understand what you said, lol.  What is QNAP NAS?  I don't know what Twonky or DLNA is.  Sorry,  I know you're just trying to be helpful.  

@djohnson54  and @bubba12.  Thank you for the input.  I'll check out aurender.  I have heard of them.  Do either of you own one?  What do you think?  

@jl35 how did you get W4S to modify your Sonos connect?  I'm a big W4S fan these days.  

Thanks again, everyone.  Josh
get on their website, it's a mod they've done for a few years,  you can send them one to mod, or they can sell you a new modded one...it sounds great, huge difference over standard Connect
I think the mod bypasses the internal DAC, removes lots of jitter
Sonos has a great user interface too
Disclaimer, I am a dealer but the Bryston  bdp pi product is exactly what you’re looking for. Just add your favorite outboard hard drive and you have exactly what you specified

 I am in the same situation. I looked at the  Aurender N100 and it only has a USB digital out. It needs a converter to work with some DACs like my Audio Research DAC8. The Bluesound has a digital RCA out so it can easily connect to non USB DACs or USB DACs that require software. The  SOtM sMS-1000SQ looks interesting. The digital version has both AES and RCA digital outs as well as USB.

dimora, I have a Synology NAS. How do you get from the NAS to the DAC? Do you use a USB cable? This sounds very interesting, can you tell me more about how this works? 

 Audio Stream has quite a few reviews and comparisons of audio streamers.
 http://www.audiostream.com/category/players-streamer-reviews


+1 for Aurender.  
I read on the the Aurender N100H.  It looks EXACTLY like what I'm looking for.  Cost doesnt scare me away but it would be more than my amp and DAC combined. Finding a used one could be just the ticket...hooray for audiogon and craigslist.  Big thanks for that lead.  

@lalitk do you have an aurender?  What model?  You obviously like it.  How did you get to the aurender?  What was your previous setup?  How does your aurender compare?

I will also look into the Bryston bdp pi.  Thank you for the tip.  However, the comment about " just add your favorite outboard hard drive" deviates from my all-in-one solution I'm searching for here.  So, not exactly what I'm looking for.    

@jl35 how much was the sonos + the W4S mod all total?

Any others out there like the Aurender and the Bryston?


I think the mod itself was about $550 if you provide the Sonos. I think the Sonos is about $350
@bubba12 - I think the only one *with* a DAC is the A10.  All the rest are just player/servers (apart from the little headphone amp/DAC and the Pre/Power/DAC combo).  They get pretty pricey though. :)

@joshelton - I wish I did have one.  Still dreaming ...
for the money i think your first poster was spot on the bluesound vault 2 will do everything you need even though its got a dac just by pass it. its a good piece for future upgrades down the road. and the fact you can stream tidal from it controlled from their app which is pretty good as far as app's go.
Ditto on Bluesound

This might work for you.

http://www.resolutionaudio.com/?page_id=63

I have also been using a modified Wyred for sound Sonos connect for the past few months with an external DAC.  There is no comparison between the stock Sonos connect digital output and the modified Sonos connect digital output, the modified digital output is much better and smoother. 

I would say the modified sonos digital output is on par with my excellent dedicated cd transport which I thought would not be possible so I've been streaming tidal much more frequently through the modified connect than listening to CDs these days.

The only downside is the sonos connect does not stream high resolution files which is fine with me as I only needed it for Tidal streaming and am not interested in high resolution files.

@joshelston,  As far setup goes, I started off with SONOS connect paired to Krell processor, then Aurender N100H / Modwright Elyse DAC.  And now, Aurender N10 with Audio Research DAC9. 

SONOS connect is a very versatile player and like others say, W4S Mod is well worth it if you have no desire to listen to high res files.  

I love the Aurender sound, so much so that I end up upgrading to N10. It's the most neutral sounding streamer, IMHO.  If you're going to spend mega bucks on a streamer, I would also look at streamers from Antipodes.  

You can find used N100H under $2K. I believe you will be very happy as long as you pair it with a decent SS or Tube DAC. Aurender app is best in the business outside 'fancy' Roon app. 
For the modified sonos can you store files on it or is it just used to stream?  

I don't think that not being able to play high-res files is that a big of a deal.  The promise of high-res was really cool to me but has turned out to be a great disappointment.  I use Tidal to discover new music.  When I find new music I love I then go to high-res sites to see if it's available in high-res format.  Almost without fail the album I'm looking for is not available.  It could be my music tastes are weird.  If so, that's on me.  But, I can find them in CD form still. I've been trying to this method for 2-3 years now and have been disappointed time and again.  I haven't bought a high-res album in about a year and a half.  

The notion of a good control app seems like a big selling point that several people above have mentioned.  The aurender app sounds pretty awesome.  

Any thoughts on the Bluesound control app or the Sonos app?

Really appreciate all the thoughts here.  

Coming up on 10 years in the military and thinking about a celebration gift for myself...wife approval pending...

@mrotino , @lalitk 
Just saw this on the W4S site re: the modified Sonos
" This new custom board is installed in the SONOS and directly converts the I²S into up-sampled SPDIF. This new ultra clean low jitter signal is now available through both the Coax and Optical digital outputs. The SPDIF output's sample rate can be factory configured to 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96kHz."

You had both mentioned that high-res wasn't an option with your Sonos.  Perhaps W4S has modified their modification of the Sonos to enable high-res?  I also have a W4S DAC2 with the I2S connection (not sure of the sonic value of this connection, but I at least have the hardware).  

Is this different than what you have/had?



I owned the stock SONOS connect and did not bother to try any mods since I upgraded to Aurender N100H.  

I am not sure W4S / SONOS upgrade worthwhile unless you're able to take advantage of high resolution MQA albums now available through Tidal. Last time I checked, I did not see MQA albums accessible on SONOS app. You have a very nice DAC, I would pair with a streaming device that will allow you take full advantage of its capabilities. 

I would recommend Aurender or Blusound Node 2 / Vault. 
" I don't think that not being able to play high-res files is that a big of a deal.  The promise of high-res was really cool to me but has turned out to be a great disappointment."

I agree. High rez is better, but you have to invest some time and money to get it right.
Def looking into aurender and bluesound.  Does anyone know the country of origin for each?  I think I read Aurender was German.  Have not come across that for Bluesound.  However, Bluesound price suggests "Far East".  Can anyone confirm?
Bluesound is under the Lenbrook umbrella which includes NAD and PSB and is based in Canada.
Re Bluesound app
it isn't perfect.  It is constantly being updated and the updates do improve it.  I think that you have to put some effort into creating playlists because that makes it much easier to find an album.  I can't compare it to Sonos because I haven't experienced Sonos
I am using the Lumin U1.  It is outstanding. 
@mahler123: what other equipment are you using with your blue sound?  Would call the blue sound on the cool side of neutral? I would say My wyred 4 sound system is.  Read that the bluesound was cool while the aurender is warm.  Any thoughts?  

@wardl :  I'll look into the lumin.  Haven't heard of it before.  Thank you for the suggestion.  
@wardl : $5900?! I'll bet it is good.  And not for me.  That's more than my whole system combined.  Please enjoy it for me.  
Josh, I use a Mytek Manhatten DAC, Parasound Preamp and amp, and Oppo 105 as a transport system.  I also use a Bryston BDA-3 DAC for SACD only.  I also have a MacAir connected to the FireWire input of the Mytek.
i would not describe the Bluesound as cool.  It does not sound significantly different than any other digital input into the Mytek
I looked at most of the streamers that are mentioned in this thread and ended up with the Auralic Aries, I thought it had better sound quality than all of those mentioned without some of the gimmicks like 128/256G of flash. The Aries app DS Lightning is fantastic. You can hook up an external drive to it or what I did was to access a disk 100ft away that was hooked up to my old music server. I also used the Lumin iPad app to control the Aries up until the DS Lightning software was updated. 
I would no way have a spinning disk in my audio room again. Also, using ssd for a music server is also way over kill. I had the Aries hooked up to my W4S Dac2 DSD thru the USB. For the money this was a very good sounding setup.
i since upgraded to a directstream dac with the bridge II, much better sounding streamer/dac setup but it's also more expensive. I'd rather not use USB to the dac and using the bridge II inside the unit is using a i2s interface which is a better way to connect to a dac. 
I too have a Bluesound Vault II and could not be happier with it. It does have a built in DAC that is decent but I use the digital out to go into a Cary Audio DAC-100t tube DAC. I would not call it he Bluesound DAC cool, but straight up neutral. 

With the Bluesound not only do you get a streamer, but it can also expand to handle your home theater with the addition of their soundbar, sub, etc. 
If you can find a Logitech Transport, buy it, with one caveat; mine is a bit rachitic - two seperate power-supply problems. It sounds very, very good, it's attractive and it's versatile. Mine runs a QNAP NAS with 2.2 Terabytes of music through an Arcam DAC with alacrity, something an Aurender N100H didn't do
It does Tidal, TuneIn yadda yadda. You'd like the original with the "Transnav" knob, but the SE is identical apart from lacking the knob, which is a 'damned handy way to find a particular bit of music quickly.  
You may want to have a look at Naim servers like UnityServe or UnityCore, the come without Dac.
I build the Music Vaults which are complete server streamers.
They are made in Colorado :>) www.musicvaultcat.com
They come with the worlds best customer service too.

OK, I'm even behind Josh in my understanding of all this. Does "app" mean you have to have a smart-phone or iPad to control your music server? What *is* a music server? We have about 2,000 CDs of mostly classical music and three or four good stereo systems in our home (our Rowland system is currently not set up). I think I understand what ripping a CD means - you "copy" it to the SSD or hard drive on your computer. Then what? I used to edit for people with doctorates ;-), and I too feel extremely foolish asking these questions. I'm trying to grasp the advantages of owning a music server. I already own four outboard DACs, so that won't be an issue unless I'm missing something. I assume streaming is something like Netflix for audio. Does a music server connect wirelessly to the internet via a home router? Does it require a monitor, mouse and keyboard like a regular computer? What type of software does it use? Is the sound at least equal to Redbook CDs? Please point me to further reading if you can. I don't expect any of my colleagues here to write me a book-length response. Our systems are currently Wadia > Audio Research tubed line stages > Levinson amps > various good speakers, subwoofers, etc. Would it make sense for us to add a music server? Thank you for your patience!
Mark
You have great gear in your home already.  You don't 'need' a music server unless you want to have one.  It is a matter of convenience.  If you wish to eliminate CDs and acces your albums with something like an iPad then get a server.  In general, it will not sound any worse than playing the album through the CD player unless you rip the CDs with a lossy format such as MP3.
  I also listen to Classical.  Music server software doesn't work that great for Classical.  If you don't mind rifling through your CDs to find your disc, then you are fine
A music server like the Music Vault will sound better plugged into your DAC than the overwhelming majority of CD players and transports.  
The Music Vaults come with a optical drive (blue ray) that allow you to insert your CD and copy it.  Once copied the data from your CD is played back through RAM which lowers the digital jitter to vanishingly low levels providing analog like sound with superior dynamic range and fatigue free listening and great imaging.  They are mechanically silent during playback allow you to create playlists of your favorite music for any occasion etc. the lists goes on and on. Better sound better convenience and a selection of music that far exceeds most peoples personal library.

Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
neal@soundsciencecat.com
720 308 4000 








In terms of replacing a computer as a file server with a built for purpose audio device that includes a bit perfect ripper, I would recommend Antipodes.  Looked at others and found it was the best in my hunt.  I have the DX and it is excellent.  Operates with Roon and has Tidal.

Ray
@thiefoflight  glad to hear that you are happy with the Bluesound. what did you have before you had the Bluesound?  

@cyanii Naim makes both streamers and servers but not one combined.  Which is the criteria for my search.  

@rspyder:  Thank you for the suggestion.  I have heard of them and they are generally out of my price range but maybe I'll be able to find something used.  

@ mark_hubbard.  For me, computer audio is really all about convenience.  When portable audio become so popular music quality went down.  However, more and more good online content is now available (Tidal, as an example) and higher end audio companies are making stuff that optimizes online (think streaming, like your netflix reference) and computer based audio (think server, files stored locally on your hard drive).   To have multiple systems throughout your house, putting all your music onto a server that you can access from all your systems without having to carry the same CD from one room to another could be a fun-er way of doing things.  If carrying CDs and Vinyl around the house doesn't bother you and the sound you get from your systems cranks your cheese-wheel then no need to dive into this.  

I will say this about computer audio.  Because it is more convenient, and the quality is quite good I find that I listen to more music.  For me, that's a win.  
Aurender W20 
simply awesome 
Three years ago, I had no clue about computer audio. I got a used Benchmark Dac-2 with a USB input, and set to work doing research. There is a learning curve, but it really isn’t hard.

I would find a local dealer who sells Aurender, he can explain it all to you, help pick out the right model, and show you how to use your laptop for ripping, and transferring them to the Aurender.
Don’t buy anything that does not do hi-rez and DSD, you will find music that is only available as downloads, or by buying the download you are able to get the higher rez version. A good example of this is Jerry Garcia Band Volume 8. I was able to get the 24/88 download. That is just one example

Aurender, Antipodes, or one of the Brystons would all be good choices. Beware of small niche companies, if the owner dies, that might be the end of the company, so no more support or firmware uprades.
I have seen and heard the Music Vault, although in an unfamiliar system. I thought the operating system was more like a PC, than a strict music player.
If you are not in a hurry, PS Audio is working on a music player that will output I2S to their DACs. I don't know  about price, but it should be a very good piece, and I think it will include a transport for ripping.

If I read correctly you have four systems, are hoping to play on all of them? That would require a network accessible player. Do you move the laptop around to the other systems?
If not, an Aurender in the "100" series will be ideal.
I would buy an Aurendert, or wait for the PSA player, if my budget allowed.
With with due respect to our dealer at soundscience, and to others that think a music server sounds better than a CD player as a transport, I think most of the sound will be determined by the DAC.  I use 2 DACs, the Mytek Manhatten and the Bryston BDA 3.  The Bluesound and the Oppo 105 sound equally good in both DACs.  There are  slight difference for both DACs between the 2 sources, but not enough that I care about.
   This of course depends on the DAC manufacturer devoting equal attention to the respective inputs.  I have had some DACS that have poor sounding USB inputs compared to the other inputs
@joshelston Before I had Bluesound I used to have a 2012 Mac mini that would run JRiver as a server. I could then use my iPad or iPhone with the JRiver app to connect and stream my music. Doing that, though, I always felt it to be a pain to add files since I didn't have a monitor for my Mac mini. I would have to use Remote Desktop to get in, and boy, was that slow.

With the Bluesound, I wanted to start with the Vault II to centralize my collection. I love that it finds artist files and album covers and rips cds automatically. I then wanted to buy a Bluesound Pulse II for the kitchen so I could enjoy music around my apartment. That led to a Node in the bedroom, another Pulse II in the dining room, and now I can hear music around the house when I need to walk around while being interrupted from a serious listening session. It also makes my library accessible in other rooms even when it's not a serious listening session.

To be honest, I'm not sure why people pay so much more for streamers and servers like Aurender. I feel like you get so much more innovation, quality and improved user experience with Bluesound. It does play MQA, streams lossless files up to 24-bit 192Khz with no downsides, and extends to other applications like Spotify, Tidal and a ton of others.
I just want to thank Mahler123, Neal, Jeff, Josh, Ryspyder and everyone else who responded with such helpful and patient advice to my questions. I will further research all of your suggestions. This makes much more sense to me now. I truly appreciate your time, thoughtfulness and generous collegialiity. 

With kind regards,

Mark Hubbard
Eureka, California

I am working in audio for almost 19 years of time. The knowledge in music and in how music sounds in real is a lot less than it was in the past.

When I speak to my clients and the things we hear from dealers and distributers is that digital audio is in many situations not the quality people hope to find or hear.

I sold my Meridian 800Daxv4 in 2012 (over 20.000 euro new) and I wanted to buy a networkplayer/streamer.

But....everything I auditioned had almost no diversity in sound. I a period of about 6 months I auditioned a lot. At the end there was not even one I wanted to buy. I thought, if this is the quality it offfers I prefer not to buy any streamer/networkplayer.

Now in 2017 it is not a lot better. Many shows we visit have demoes that all systems have no diversity in sound.

When the people who buy audio have no idea what diversity in sound is and what it does, they have no idea what is missing.

So What is missing?

The most important part to create emotion for all human beings is DIVERSITY. This is the layering in sound, what influences our emotion for the biggest part.

I wrote with people who develope and create dacs and streamers. They said; USB is not a great choice for audio. The facts proof that the level in diversity is very poor.

When people who work in audio have no idea what diversity is and does they can easily sell digital audio without diversity.

When you let people hear the difference between digital audio with a stunning level in diversity in sound and with almost no diversity in sound, I can garantee that no one will choose any digital source with a low level in diversity.

Music is all about emotion, most dacs/networkplayers are not able to reveal the emotion of the music. This is F. insane that it is even being sold. The emotion is only inside the music.

What audio needs is to show people how music works and sounds in real. And to show what diversity does to our emotion.

Bluesound is like Senseo coffee. But when you want the full emotion and taste you want and need an italian coffee. This will give you so much more flavor and intensity.

When I would sell Bluesound to my clients, it would be time to look for another job. I see it as my task to create and sell emotion. And give people a system what sounds like how music sounds in real.

And never sell any kind of digital audio without diversity. The facts proof that people will rather stop after a matter of time using their audio system.

People need quality and you need to give them emotion. Most digital systems are not able to reveal the emotion the music possesses.
What digital do you like bo ? Or all analog ?
We are a different company in audio. In the last 2,5 years I did a lot of research in many different aspects of audio.

In 2016 I started to focus on diversity in sound as well. Most digital sources have no emotion and lack of diversity in sound. This is a serious problem. It is not possible to reveal the emotion of the music when a source is not able to create diversity in sound.

In 2016 we visited an audio show. There were over 30 rooms with audio. All rooms proved that there was no diversity in sound. I spoke with many distributers and people who visited the show. Many said; all sysems had no emotion. There was not even one system what made real music.

It is very clear that there is a main reason why people react this way. Because they are so right. The thing is; nothing will be changed next time. They are not able to correct it. When you don’t understand music you never will understand audio either.

We always want to create the best quality for the money. The focus is on creating audio with a heart. So people can experience the emotion of the music.

Digital can be exceptional good these days. We modify streamers and powersupplies to create a more diverse sound. Everything we sell needs to outperform in sound and quality each other product in it's price level.

We are Lumin dealer and we modify Onkyo networkplayers. And we also modify SBooster powersupplies.