Budget Music Streamer

I've been trying to get my head around best sound out of a budget streamer. All my CD collection is now in my portable 2TB hard drive as FLAC files and I also have subscription to Apple Music (large playlist). Currently using Apple TV and Airport Express (airplay limiting to 16 bit/44.1kHz) and Apple TV streaming at 48kHz. I have a revealing system and know I can get better sonics by upgrading my digital source. Unfortunately I have been blessed with a good ear for music.  

There are quite a few options out there, each having it's limitations, specially the ability to play Apple music directly from iTunes using a remote without limiting the sampling rate. Do I consider a Mac Mini or build my Raspberry Pi source? Will I get a spdif connection (preference) out of the two? Is there remote control capability to view playlist (I don't intend to hook up a monitor). Or is there a better solution out there for both listening to FLAC files on hard drive and streaming Apple Music? I plan on selling my OPPO player - no use to me, to fund a better DAC (schiit Yggdrasil or BorderPatrol) - hence the digital source is on a budget. Experts chime in..

Simaudio W5 poweramp
Von Schweikerts VR4 
OPPO 105 
Apple TV (using Kanexpro HDMI de-embedder to extract audio - coax in DAC)
Airport Express (optical in DAC)
Benchmark DAC1 (no USB) - used as preamp
Marantz AV7701 preamp
Morrow Audio interconnects 
I am really now torn between Allo DigiOne signature or a Mac Mini set up for my digital music streaming. Understood Mac Mini will need some additional cleaning up front - a USB to spdif converter (my Dac does not have USB) and a reclocker to begin with - but aim is best sound and a nice GUI to play Apple Music and Tidal.

Apple TV currently set up direct to my DAC (using OPPO as de-embedder) sounds terrific - but feel updating the source will really optimize the sound and take it to the next level. Help is needed to narrow down my choice. 
Forgot to mention/answer your other question about services. There are different formats of loadable (or preloaded) software that can offer plugins through the app (GUI) like Spotify (paid) YouTube (free) or radio. I think there is a roon option that might now get it interfaces with Tidal? Not sure, need to research some more. 

Also, this is a new player from Volumio that looks promising:

Sorry for the different handle!...I had accidentally logged in as jwricci before.

I love the Digione! I don’t think tidal is available through it currently? At least not with the Volumio app I’m using. I need to get back onto forums and see what plans are being made there. It doesn’t process DSD or super high res, but is designed so well that all my tracks, from red book up to 24/192 sounded wider, more detailed, livelier, dynamic, low volume super-clarity ...you name it. I’m running it through a Schiit Audio Uber 2, then NAD C316, into Tekton Lore. You can use WiFi storage or simply plug a standard portable HD into one of the four usb slots. I’m currently just using flash sticks and sounds great. Can’t believe the sound I’m getting from such a (relatively) cheap set up, which has been my pursuit from the get go. Can only imagine how it would sound through your system! Also using an Ifi power walwart, where I did notice an improvement over the Raspi standard plug. The signature is supposed to sound even better with the power supply separation. 
Once a certain minimum price is achieved, SQ is excellent.  What becomes more important for me isfeatuures, the quality of the app that controls the experience, reliability and ease of use
There are some really great options in the budget streamer market now - Raspberry Pi (Allo Digione signature), SOTM sms-200, MicroRendu, MAC Mini and I am sure others. Any suggestions as to which one is sonically superior? 
@ghulamr I don’t have a specific write up but I can put one together. I have not compared my setup(s) to Mac Mini. I like building this stuff. Especially with an excellent end result.
@audioguy85. Yes analog is great but I’d love to change my music by my pool using my phone with very very good quality.
Would not analog solve all these issues? Less fatiguing, warmer etc whatever else mentioned, lol. Kidding of course (sort of), but to me, trying to change something that is inherently digital to sound like or more like analogue seems like a lot of work and expense, when you could just go analog, but hey that's just my reasoning, I'm an analog junkie🙄
@pc997 do you have a write up the build? I am hoping there are advantages building one than buying (easier)? Do you have a write up. Have you compared the sound to Mac Mini? Thanks. 
If you put together a DAC (either ALLO or HifiBerry), it is important to have a good and quiet LSU (Linear Power Supply) with a toroid or R-Core transformer.  You will need to supply Analog part of the DAC separately than digital side.  I can give you more details.  It sounds complex but it really is not, and the satisfaction you'd get from building it yourself is priceless..
I put together a digital streamer using Raspberry PI 3B, Hifiberry Digi+ Pro and a good linear power supply.  This is streaming my FLAC files (in my home SAN on WD MyCloud) over WiFi to Rotel RDD-150 DAC.
Sound is great.
I also have 2 additional Raspberry PI 3B DACs using ALLO Boss 1.2 and HifiBerry DAC + PRO for Bedroom and Pool areas.  All these are running Volumio on my IPhone and IPad.
A nice Raspberry based Streamer (or a DAC) will cost you around $150 including Raspberry itself, DAC or Digi Power Supply, and a nice case.

@headphonedreams better to buy the Allo Digione Signature or build one. Building one will not be all that cheaper but more fun. Can you share your build? 
Not sure what "budget" is for you, but a $900 Project  Sound Box S2 Ultra was highly recommended to me.  Supposed to have excellent sound for the money.
@jwricci2 Nice find with the Allo!

I have just bought a Raspberry Pi with a spdif card and will try to assemble it and try it out with my dac. Cheaper but much more work. Next step for me would either be a better dac or a re-clocker.

I don't use AirPlay or or AppleTV and have no idea if those works on it. As long as it handles local files, Spotify and maybe Tidal I am happy. 
@jwricci - how do you like the sound of Allo DigiOne? Can you connect an external HD to it? Can you play Tidal or Apple Music - if so how? I love the fact that it’s prebuilt for you. Interesting that it’s compared to be better than Aurelic Aries and I am certain Mac Mini. 
This may or may not fit the type of player you might want, but you should check out the latest iterations of some of the raspberry pi-hat players from Allo. I got the Allo Digione, for the reason that it was reviewed a few times to out perform the Aries Aurelic and bluesound node 2, and can be purchased for under $200 with player software installed that can be managed via phone app. 


It can be managed via WiFi, has both rca coax and BNC outputs to send to your already excellent DAC. 

And it REALLY sounds great. 

A decent review about the Digione:


And review of the next version, the signature series:




I have the Pro-ject Stream Box S2 Ultra that will stream from USB to the USB DAC in my Oppo 205. 
Thanks lowrider57. Any recommendations for a good cable without breaking the bank? Both coaxial and TOSLink. I am using cables by Morrow Audio in my system. 

Also - I think I will need a more long term/better/scalable solution to my streaming than Apple TV gen4 or AirPort Extreme. Does the Node allow to stream Apple Music - not AirPlay but direct connect to DAC and play music via remote app? 
Great that you're moving forward. Now try an audiophile cable, you only need a 12 or 14 gauge.
I'm a real believer in the difference cables can make.

I played around a little with my system in the last 2 hours and I think I have hit a sweet spot.

I switched to using OPPO as the em-bedder from my Apple TV - tweaked the Audio Format set up to point coaxial output to Bitstream in OPPO and my oh my the sound changed to a perfect balance. Not too ‘digital’ sounding and not too warm. Just perfect. When I changed the setting to 192k LCM the sound sounded too sterile and ‘artificially digital’ - I guess it tried to upsample - which I did not like. Bitstream was perfect. 

I compared the sound to Airport Express (TOSLink to DAC) - the coaxial sounded a tad bit airy, just rightly detailed with better lower end punch. 

Also called Benchmark and they recommended against any mods like fuses or power cable. I think cables make a difference - we have our opinions. They also said no to re-clockers which is valid as the DAC has a solid clock and jitter reduction. 

Not sure if I see value in the aftermarket digital streamers like Auralic Aries or Node2. First I plan on using an external DAC and secondly they all use Airplay which down samples to 44.1kHz. So where's the value unless you are using Hi-Res streaming?
The Node 2 can play FLAC files and does MQA.  You don't _have_ to use Airplay (I don't).

A reclocker will always help. And good idea trying the OPPO.
  Also, I strongly believe in using a high quality digital coax to the DAC, either from your source or from the reclocker.

Also, it's possible an aftermarket fuse may relieve some of the digititis and provide smoother sonics, but it won't change the sonic signature of the DAC.

@ghulamr - I have been streaming 3 systems wirelessly for 8 years and added a fourth for my wife over a year ago and I have never observed a dropout with either an Airport Express or Apple TV. My router is an Apple Airport Extreme.

My wife's system is a budget system using an integrated amp with a built in DAC. In my 3 systems I am using Emotiva XDA-2 DACs. I know many people on this forum will trash them but to me these were a great buy at $200 each new from Emotiva. 
@lkgerens - what DAC are you using? Do you have drop outs using Airplay airport express? 
I too believe the kanexpro might be the weakest link. I have Apple TV gen4 and have to extract sound out of HDMI. Will try using OPPO as de-embedder with HDMI in and Coax out. 

I think the end goal is to get the best sound. Not sure if I see value in the aftermarket digital streamers like Auralic Aries or Node2. First I plan on using an external DAC and secondly they all use Airplay which down samples to 44.1kHz. So where's the value unless you are using Hi-Res streaming? FLAC files can be played out of OPPO NAS or Mac Mini. 

Before getting a new DAC I want to see if replacing the fuse with HiFi tuning supreme will make any difference. Also want to try a re-clocker at the digital source like W4S remedy. Wonder if benchmark will like the cleaner signal or would not really care since it's got a decent clock to begin with. 
The Kanexpro may very well be part of the problem. Using HDMI is not the best quality for 2 channel audio. 
As for the Benchmark, it is revealing and does have a forward presentation, but has a very good clock to correct jitter.

I'm using a Bluesound Node 2i and it sounds terrific thru my Audio Note dac. It even sounds good on it's own. Setup was plug and play and it's performed flawlessly.

Is there any difference in the SQ between your Airport Express and Apple TV? If the Apple TV is not as good, it might be the Kanexpro. I have 4 systems, 2 using an Airport Express and 2 using Apple TVs (the 3rd generation using the optical output). I can't detect any difference between the SQ using either the Airport Express or Apple TV, they all sound wonderful. The SQ on all 4 systems is neutral to slightly warm with no harshness at all, I can listen all day without fatigue.

A while back, I auditioned a Node2 and found no difference in the SQ between my Airport Express or Apple TV and the Node2 using my external DACs. I did find that the SQ was not as good using the internal DAC on the Node2. This was wirelessly streaming lossless ripped CDs  on my Mac. 
Speaking of a budget system, I’m running a Chromecast Audio through a Schiit Modi Multibit in one of my systems and I think the sound quality is pretty decent. I recently added an ifi ipurifier in the loop and it smoothed out some of the rough edges. Aside from the user interface, I think the overall sound quality is on par with my Node2 except for MQA encoded content. Don’t know if it’ll sound better than what you already have.
Auralic Aries or Aries Mini should work great.  Roon, Spotify, and AirPlay all work great.  Multiple digital out choices too, so it'll be nice to have those options when you upgrade your DAC.

Ethernet or Wifi, and both work wonderfully, with no drop-outs in my experience.
I've been really happy with my BlueSound Node 2.  I have 2 of them.  I'm using one with my Auralic Vega DAC and I have the other connected to my Oppo 105D so that I can use its DAC if I want.  You might consider that option. 

Since the introduction of the Node 2i, used Node 2 units seem to be popping up for around $300. 

The main improvements in the 2i according to whathifi.com are:

"What’s easier to understand are the bonus features Bluesound has added to its streamer, including the dual-band wi-fi, Apple AirPlay2 and two-way Bluetooth, which means you can use wireless headphones via the BluOS 3.0 app, as well as a faster processor for a more seamless user experience."

The DAC is the same, but there is a claim that the sound is better because of the way the circuits are laid out in the new unit.  

I'm using a wireless access point and don't use Airplay or the bluetooth, so none of the "improvements" mattered to me.  I can't speak to whether the 2i actually sounds better, not having one to compare to.  

Using the Oppo and the Vega's DACs definitely improves the sound quality.

Unless getting like a tube DAC or something, most all high end DACs try to sound as “digital” as possible, meaning all they do is convert digital to analog, no colorations added (or minimal as possible). If you can can add EQ/tone control, try bumping the bass up a bit, if you don’t listen at reference levels (peaks of 105dB+), then you are hearing less bass than intended (our ears hear less bass at lower volumes, and to some degree treble, look up the Equal Loudness Contours).  
High end digital cables are not any better, a short generic USB/optical cables will have less jitter than a longer $1000 USB/optical cable, so you use the shortest length possible.
@mahler123 .. surprised to read of Bluesound's customer service decline. That's really a shame. I've had the Node 2 for almost 3 years and it's worked without issue for all that time. (I have 2 Pulse Flex units as well.) That being said, I recently moved on to a Sonore microRendu and the Node 2 is now in my work space streaming mostly internet radio streams and occasionally Spotify. BTW, I've read the DAC is the same in the 2i and the sound quality improvements have everything to do with an upgraded wifi module and some circuit board changes. Haven't heard it myself though. 
If it works well, the Bluesound Node 2i will fill all your needs.  I have the Node2, which has an ok DAC , but the 2i is supposed to have a better DAC still.  My problem with Bluesound has been reliability issues, most of which stem from problems after one of their frequent updates.  Their customer service used to be very good but has really deteriorated recently.
btw, have you tried using the Network part of your Oppo to control your NAS?  That’s what I’ve been doing with my Bluesound dead in the water.  I also have been using my MAC Air with Audirvana +.and this sounds truly excellent.  
Take a look at the Bluesound Node 2i streamer. It should prove to be a good option for you and scales nicely when you add a better DAC to the mix. As to your DAC, I think you're on the right track, IIRC the DAC1 was known to be somewhat bright and "digital" sounding (I never heard one). 
It does measure well but sounds digital and a bit forward. I am still trying to tweak it more - may replace the fuse with HiFi tuning supreme. Using Pangea AC-9 cord. Room for improvement adjusting the jumper settings and maybe replacing to better digital cable. Want to take the edge of higher frequency and make the music less fatigue and more warm. Maybe its the Kanexpro that’s adding jitter and noise - the source maybe the weakest link. Thoughts..
Don't waste money on a different DAC! The Benchmark is as fine a unit as you will ever need! It measures and sounds excellent!