I don't think there's turning back to CD. If anyone knows anything about the future about digital streaming for music, it's PS Audio. There are always old school people who like the imperfections for many reasons such as analog sound, nostalgic memory of growing up, natural ambient ...etc. There's nothing wrong with that; however, if you like clean sound with minimal noise and best of all, the convenience as well as cost to have access to millions songs at your finger tips, it is impossible to beat streamers. Unless it's LP, almost everything nowadays are digital and DAC has come a long way from development to cost.
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My priority is to “preserve option value”.
I agree that DAC technology has reached a point where you can confidently have high conviction in your investment.
for me, that was a Chord Qutest with a 3rd party power supply.
I believe streaming technology will continue to evolve then hit a plateau much like CD transports did and then, with the exception of the super tweaked mega $ stuff, you can get 90-95% of the uber hi end at an affordable level.
For me, that was a Bluesound node 2i.
Yes, there are better DACs and, yes, there are better streamers, but my combo delivers satisfaction to me inside my budget that also allows me $$to upgrade my amp soon currently a Belles Soloist 1 int amp.
What also has been covered here extensively is the issue of a control APP that runs your streamer and music library. I personally don’t get the whole Roon thing and am very happy with the Blous app on the Node.
if you change streamers, you need to change how you manage your music unless you just use the native app.
Unless you have ample discretionary funds or you are a super tweaker with cost no object goals, just wade into streaming as water is fine. It works.
Just like I didn’t spend $4k on a CD transport in 2005, I ain’t paying that for a streamer head today. You may...and that’s cool.
$500 -$1000 for a streamer head and $800 -$2000 for a DAC will get you “there”. Yes, you can do it for less and, yes, you can spend more.
for me, I think I have found the sweet spot.
It’s interesting that although music streaming is low on the priorities of Raspberry Pi’s designers, they still took the trouble in version 4 to improve the USB out and reduce noise. And the HATs which give us excellent SPDIF out are now measuring as good as anything out there at any price. The diminishing return after $150 is now vanishingly small.
No. If the steamer streams the stuff you want you are good to go. Has been that way for over 10 years now, longer than with DACs. It started with early Roku and Squeeze system products that can still hold up with a good external DAC. Streaming hi fidelity audio is not hard technically on the grand scale of things. Streaming high res audio and video is much harder and even that is commonplace and high quality from many sources these days.
Don’t let audiophile nervosa or analysis paralysis stop you on this one. Choose a streamer, any streamer and Jump on in, the water is great!
I would add with commercial computer technology and applications that are still always evolving best to stay away from the grandest most expensive offerings. Anything of mass value there will come down in price over time. But if you must have the best... then you must.....it is what it is. Just do it if you can.
Great answers so far! Thanks.
From my perspective, it’s impossible to "get ahead". One either make a choice to be frugal, or one makes a choice to buy the best one can afford knowing both will be bettered relatively soon.
Agreed, but "frugal" exists on a sliding scale, for each of us. So my question is about how "relatively soon" servers and streamers are "bettering" now compared to DACs. Your comment about the rapid change of computer processing speed does address that.
Perhaps the "choke point" is the availability of content at that higher density. If it’s "not much" then it makes sense to stick with older formats -- but of course, DACs can now make a large difference with those older formats, so they remain a better investment than new streamers.
@ianrmack or others -- How great a difference does upgrading to a separate power supply make for a DAC?
this device category is limited by the DAC chips available and interstage or intermediary devices that control clocking rates and stability of clocks. Software protocols for running said aspects.
the rest of how to build one properly - is all well covered. (in the given engineering talk and data points)
The sound of the DAC is THE most important component of the scenario, to me.... I’d hope it is for others as well. This is high end audio and the search for perfection in reproduction, so it is core to all in hand. This is not the ’good enough’ camp, that’s down the hall or in some other building ---that the people here should not care about one whit. Don’t know the address of that location, don’t care. (Special DAC forces in an armored car. We don't care, we don't care...)
A crap implementation is going to sound like crap, no matter how sexy the interface, is the point.
IMO and IME, a streaming device with a clock stabilized output into a proper R2R or ladder DAC is going to be the way to go and that’s how I did it for the past decade plus.
If the interface and software is awful but the DAC is great, then that’s what I had as I won’t accept a poor signal quality over a tasty or simplified or intuitive interface.
Depends on one’s sensitivity to DAC quality, IMO and IME.
I want ’peak quality’ and will accept no substitutes. Thus, great interfaces and ease of use.... don’t tempt me whatsoever. Hold my ground, don’t go backwards. To know enough about DACs and internal aspects of dacs to know that any streamer in the $1500, or even $3k range is highly suspect and there’s about a 100% chance that it’s DAC is inferior..
There’s no price range really, only the one aspect as questions go: does the streamer have a R2R DAC for an output? The answer is no, I’m not aware of any streamer system having a discrete, ladder or R2R DAC in them. (discrete, ladder and R2R is three names for the same type of ’pinnacle’ in DAC quality, essentially)
Thus all streamers are off the list as primary dacs, where their digital outputs have to be up to the job of feeding a good high quality R2R DAC.
This means to get the DAC right, and then wait for or search for a better and well priced human interface device that is separate from that scenario.
Of course, this is a ’peak quality’ approach and does not fit any ’good enough for me’ scenario that others might come up with.
I feel that this is part of the question that the OP is asking, but is at the peak quality quest end of the pool, and should be spoken about when talking on the subject of looking for ’good enough’. It helps frame the range of potential.
There is zero new chip development the the R2R DAC area and the past 20 years of cheap chip implementation has been a fruitless search to try and get back to what we had with the better old school chips that pushed the limit, but were too expensive to be economically viable for large (quantities of) chip fabrication situations.
CD is dead. But, i would personally like for multichannel SACDs and blu-ray audio to explode, since i am a big time multichannel music connoisseur. As more mastering engineers get educated on mastering Atmos/3-D soundfields and folks get exposure to correctly mastered Atmos music, good ol’ stereo is going to sound like AM mono radio. LOL
@teo my question was not implying “good enough” or at least i didn’t meant to. It was simply about the rate of change. Only people with limitless amounts of money are able to waste it on a technology that is about to have an improvement only a couple of months later. We have all experienced the buyers remorse of buying a computer just before the same model got a chipset upgrade. But there are other things besides chips in these things and I appreciate the answers I’m getting because it is explaining the various elements that could change within the horizon of a buying episode.
It sounds like we disagree about one thing you mentioned. I believe that to be an audiophile means to seek out music that gives enjoyment within one’s budget and Steve Guttenberg has pointed out there are many ways to put together a delightful sounding system that is not “peak quality”. I think the hobby of audio has turned a lot of people off because they think they can’t afford it. But I think most of us know that smart investments can come at different price points and not all of them require some thing that is “peak quality.” You can do what you like and live as you like.
My Teddy Pardo power supply just made my Chord Qutest better at what it does. For $400, it was worth it.
Back to OP’s question...
I think streaming technology has hit a current plateau but may again improve.
Just hope things like the Lumin U1 mini come down to sub-$500 levels. That may be ineviable as streaming should be a commodity task.
Servers? Crap, that means PCs or Macs or a devive with NAS...Some people are into it and swear by it. But many also believe that the instant access of streaming and now availability of full rez music, just makes it a more efficient option.
After so many years in this hobby, and as i get older, Im just not chasing that last 5-8% of audio fidelity. More music and less tweaking and that’s why I am a big proponent of streaming over servers and CD/LPs.
Seeking that last 5% gets you on the AudioFool merry go round.
Just makes you dizzy, that’s all.
Here is the thing about streamers, they are digital networked devices and software driven. So just like your computer/phone/ipad getting updates from Microsoft/Apple etc your streaming hardware company does the same. Or should do the same. I have a 5 year old Auralic Aries Mini, a model they no longer make and got an firmware update a few weeks ago. My device is now completely current some changes were noticeable others "under the hood". So don't think of your streamer as a static piece of gear it's not.
The hardware is fairly stable but it’s the software that’s rapidly changing. Tidal connect is still fairly new, Spotify HiFi is coming soon, who knows what else. Find a streamer where you trust the manufacturer is going to continue supporting firmware updates for years to come or you’ll be upgrading regularly.
I agree that a high quality DAC is essential. I don't agree that you need a purpose-built streamer at all. I run Roon (and Tidal) on a fifteen year old MacBook Air. The resulting sound quality is terrific. I find the sound to be indistinguishable from what I would hear were I to use a dedicated streamer.
@millercarbon No, it's you who are missing the point. The OP explicitly asked for the analog snobs to keep their yaps closed if they couldn't contribute. But no, you have to chime in with how analog is so superior. Why are you even in the "digital" category? Trolling. Go see what's on TV. Go to another thread. But give a hoot -- don't pollute. Begone.
To me, streaming has changed the music world (what seems like) overnight. I have spent years collecting CDs and putting together physical CD mixers. I didn't anticipate that streaming could be as good as it is (at least on Tidal) and that I would embrace it so quickly. I almost feel like I've stepped through a door into a whole new way of enjoying this hobby.
@hilde45 -- you and i have been together on many of these digital streaming/tech threads here in the past year
just to recap where i am on this, after investing much time and $ during calendar year 2020 figuring all this out as a new, addiitonal front end for my system, i would summarize my key beliefs/observations at present as follows
- dac technology is quite stable/mature... r2r (whether discrete or on-a chip) has been around for many years, ds conversion can now be made to sound really excellent - so long as the digital receiver can handle the modern input sample rates/bitrates it is the power supply and output stage design that drives the sound quality - the most recent development is that very good sounding dacs are less expensive than ever, from chi-fi and other makers -- this brings very good sound to the budget audiophile, and puts alot of pressure on makers of 3-4-5-6 grand dacs on really delivering something superior... they are really making super high quality output stages as in megabuck line stages with excellent circuitry, isolation, parts quality, often with tube buffering to get purity and beauty in tone to go along with the excellent resolution that can be gotten out of the d/a conversion stage...
- streamers are also fairly stable as pieces of equipment, but the key here is that streaming services are still shaking out, and this will continue for the next 5-10 years i believe... and they are each offering new interfaces, sampling rates, higher resolutions, specialized content, each trying to lock each other out from the user’s eyeball range with proprietary u-i’s, dedicated software wrap-arounds (witness tidal connect, spotify connect, and so on) -- this tough and evolving competition creates some level of instability (and risk) in streamer purchases, as these are basically dedicated computers that will need updating when the streamed sources change the game, their interfaces etc -- to me, the resulting indicated action is to buy a good low to mid priced streamer (that sound excellent, btw, so long as proper internet connectivity is provided) so as to keep options open and don’t end up owning an expensive brick down the road that are no longer supported/updated
my 2 cents
I understand this is a question about technology evolution. My feeling and in some way my experience is as follows:
DAC's: I think they have reached the technological maturity and what you get is what you pay for. Finally and because the power of the market, USB has consolidated as the best option despite of its many technical inconveniences and therefore costs and price increase to solve them. I think that there will not be major changes in the next years, except perhaps the DSD ratio. Anyway, you can solve them with the many manufacturers that offer some kind of upgrade guarantee or, at least, path.
I would buy, and I have already bought, the best DAC I could pay.
SERVERS AND STREAMERS: From my view, this is just the opposite: you find many different technical solutions rapidly evolving and many commercial solutions trying to cover "everything": you go from "dedicated computers" for storage and streaming to totally separated solutions: server + streamer + renderer
indeed more, you have to consider your "music manager software" going from proprietary and closed hardware integrated solutions (Aurender) to proprietary solutions accepting external ones (dCS with Mosaiq, accepting Roon) to full open hardware accepting "music managers" using UPnP or Roon that is based in a network proprietary standard (RAAT).
Indeed more, companies like the very expensive Innuos or the much more realistic Denafrips are offering tweaks like USB reclockers at annoying prices as a must.
My experience when comparing what I presently use (Mac mini dedicated and configured only for music) with a basic Innuos is that I can clearly hear differences but they are not significant while my experience with the DAC was exactly the opposite: the differences were huuuuuge.
My opinion is to wait and see (two or three years minimum) and use a commercial computer or some specific but CHEAP one (Intel NUC, Green .....) or the very basic line of the dedicated hardware solutions if and only if they work with non proprietary software (Antipodes, Innuos, 432Evo, ............) and when market and solutions consolidate and start to be "similar" to spend the big buck.
An illuminating thread with many viewpoints. Any old streamer will do if the DAC is great? Vice-versa? A question I'm trying to answer for myself, allotting $5k for the experiment. Could turn out the new front end is no better sonically than the Macbook Pro + streamer/dac combo, nor even more convenient. But then the learning of costly lessons is often a major narrative in our lives, and whether these even count as errors is a purely subjective assessment. Worth a run, wot?
...how about faster than you can spend to keep up with it? *L*
It's likely that by the time you've heard about X; investigated, considered, decided upon and purchased, plugged it in, decided 'yay' or 'nay' about it.
Laugh and sneer all you like. One can literally 'process' digital to 'sound' analog at the studio. But even given that, that output goes through digital processing at some point on the way to your ears.
Given, there still exists 'pure' process extant. But, like the gramophones of the past, all things pass. And that passing is accelerating daily...
May as well enjoy the ride, as you can't stop the vehicle. You can opt to jump off, though.....;)
Happy Sunday, J
This DAC, the Khadas tone board, derived from a chip designed for mobile phones.
I’ve got one. Sounds great. And it objectively measures very well indeed. They publish their own figures and some verifications are here;
@surfmuz....*G* Precisely....I've got Bluetoothed hearing aids that have eq (although not enough bands for my tastes, but...) that can actually be 'focused' so I can hear 'behind' me as well as F2F....
...so talking behind my back isn't 'safe territory' anymore...*L*
They're decent ear buds, loud enough...They even work with headphones, although that seems a tad silly. I can duplicate the correction they apply to headphones, but swapping things out is relegated to 'serious listening hours' only.
But I will opt out when offered implants that run on my body heat.
Anything I can't shut off easily (or can't) would make me mildly paranoid.
What happens if one's late with the monthly installment?
What sort of 'other connections' would the devices 'require'?
I've got a Watchman implant that monitors my heart, and it's TAVR valve.
Pacemaker and an 'on-board' defib functions; instead of a major 'zap', it gives little 'taps' to ensure that I 'keep the beat'. ;)
Late Payment? Let's make J 'skip a beat' or 3....
The implant's in your head.
You go 'blank' for awhile...how long?
No concept, no clue....
You're doing some process you've Never Done Before.
Somewhere you've never been.
With people you don't know, in the same clueless state.
No idea as to how long you've been There, doing That.
Welcome to the Collective.
Work might set you free...maybe....*evil L*
I like the Future, as long as I can pick and choose the bits 'n pieces. ;)
Sleep well, J
I have not compared enough streamers to really say how fast they are evolving, this is more based on what I've read.
I think streamers may improve a bit more but the biggest change will be the trickle down effect, cheap streamers a few years from now will probably sound closer to the expensive streamers of today. The manufacturers already know that good clocks help, good power supply helps, lowering electrical interference helps and so on. When they sell more the parts will go down in price and they won't need as much R&D as now.
So, a $5k streamer may be a risky purchase today because in 3 years there might be equally good streamers for $2.5k.
I think the OP is answered. Here's where this thread seems to dead-end for me.
Thanks to @jjss49 @corente @headphonedreams for offering detailed answers with justifications about where things stand. Plus, your sense of what that implies for the best ratio of effort/reward ratio at the moment.
From what I see here, no one has offered a good reason to think that the streamer/server side of things is as stable as the DAC side. Many have argued well that this side of things is still changing rapidly (tied, as it is to the technological churn of the computer industry) and "investments" is a word deserving of quotation marks.
These edited comments from above will stick with me:
- dac technology is quite stable/mature...very good sounding dacs are less expensive than ever, from chi-fi and other makers -- this brings very good sound to the budget audiophile, and puts alot of pressure on makers of 3-4-5-6 grand dacs on really delivering something superior... they are really making super high quality output stages as in megabuck line stages with excellent circuitry, isolation, parts quality, often with tube buffering to get purity and beauty in tone to go along with the excellent resolution that can be gotten out of the d/a conversion stage...
DAC's: ...have reached the technological maturity...there will not be major changes in the next years, except perhaps the DSD ratio.
Completely missing the point. But whatever. There's a lot to be said for, "Get off my lawn." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NelBNtNm8l0.
Most appropriate funny reply in a dogs life. Not exactly PC. Right on Clint.
We often talk about "as good as we will ever need". 24/192 really is as good as we will never need. Arguments can always be made that properly implemented 16/44.1 is already as good we will need (given that people can't reliably tell the difference), but 24/192 is so far beyond that, and so far beyond our hearing range, that yes, 24/192 as a data format, for stereo at least, is really as good as you will ever need.
Pick a lowish cost PC or MAC, somewhat modern, and it is going to run whatever version of server software you are ever likely to need for many years.
Pick a good DAC with a USB input, and you are now immune to data transmitted jitter, and contrary to popular opinion of those who have never designed electronics of any sophistication, creating a local clock for audio D/A conversion, of low enough jitter to be well below other noise sources, is not terribly difficult, and you certainly don't need an uber expensive 10MHz external clock, that is not an even multiple of the data conversion process and introduces jitter from cable transmission and edge detection. If you want to read an article that shows total ignorance of digital audio, clocks in digital audio, and follows with an obvious stretch to say something positive, though quite clearly, there probably was no difference, read this drivel: https://audiobacon.net/2018/09/26/sotm-sclk-ocx10-a-high-purity-10-mhz-master-clock-generator/2/
So what is left w.r.t. good sound? Electrical noise on the USB I/F. Invest in a good USB 2.0 High Speed Isolator (that does 480mbps), and a low noise power supply for the DAC side. Problem solved.
Assuming you have a good DAC, with a small outlay of money you now have something that has the ability to deliver audio quality that will match any server/streamer, and will keep doing so for many years. The only downside is the physical I/F, i.e. the computer, can be a pain to remote.
They are evolving at the speed of sound!
Seriously though, I've thought about this, to the point where I sometinmes think about just giving up analog altogether.
My digital front end sounds every bit as good as my analog front end already.
The cost ratio of analog to digital is ridiculous if you stop and think about it, not to mention the convenience factor of digital.
I've spent at least an order of magnitude more on the analog side. I don't feel any need to upgrade my digital gear at this point, but I just bought a new (to me) turntable yesterday because I want to see if I can take things a little further.
When I talk about what I've spent, that's before media, cartridges, etc. I have thousands of dollars in cartridges and often spend more on a single vinyl record than I do on a month's subscription to four streaming services.
Unless there's some dramatic change in the source material itself, I'm not sure how much more digital can improve.
As a photographer, I saw a similar evolution... Digital isn't as good as film. Well, now it's getting pretty close. Now it's as good. Now it's better. Now it's getting incrementally better.
With a visual media, we can zoom in to the pixel level and see the tiny differences between a 16 megapixel image and a 24 megapixel image, but that's now how people normally view photos. From four or five feet away, it's virtually impossible to tell the difference. At some point things like dynamic range and sensitivity (how well you're able to capture what's there) matter more than how many pixels / bits are there.
At some point, it comes down to how much you can actually hear and how well the rest of your system is able to convey the level of detail captured by your source components and how well the recording was made.
At the end of the day for me, it's the emotion of the music, not how pretty something looks or sounds. Certainly, being able to hear the nuances of a singer's voice, or the talent of a musician wringing everything they can out of their instrument adds to that experience. There are those goosebump moments where you hear something you never did before and I can get that with both digital and analog.
I love how vinyl sounds, I love being able to touch and look at physical media and the artwork, and I love the ritual of cleaning and playing records, so for now, vinyl stays.
Maybe you were looking more for thoughts on how far digital technology can go. I think we're very close to the point of diminishing returns as far as digital goes.
When it comes to streamers I care more about the user interface, and compatibility with streaming services.
It is exactly for the issue of keeping up that I decided to subscribe to Roon. They do keep up. They have yet to embrace Amazon Music, but otherwise have a pretty advanced iPhone/Android/PC control ecosystem.
I have no freakin' idea how to address this post.
I just have my latest story. While going through LPs to find candidates for today's ultrasonic cleaning gig, I found a Stackridge disc. In the same amount of time to drop the needle on it I made a playlist of 9 releases. Listen while I work.
Speaking of keeping up with latest updates with streaming services and user interface, it is exactly the reason I chose Aurender as my prime source of streaming...5 plus years of single device (N10) trouble free ownership and here’s to five more years on my recent purchase of N20. How’s that for longevity, reliability and priceless enjoyment :-)
Right now, I don't know why anyone would get off their chair to load a CD in the player? Especially when Tidal streams hi-res up to 24/196. I find it very convenient to sit down and select artists and albums with the touch of a finger. When I purchased my BlueSound Node 2i, it would have been nice to have been able to hear more expensive streamers to find out if they are worth the extra money. A dealer suggest buying a BelCanto. Can you hear a noticeable difference by spending extra money? Are these more expensive streamers also capable of unfolding MQA on Tidal completely? I for some reason do like the quality of their MQA master recordings. However, this depends upon the quality of the original recording to begin with. Are special edition recordings better or worse than the original recording. Go easy on me because not all of us have the experience and knowledge of this incredible group.
In the last 3 months I purchased an Innuos Zen 3 and a Audio Mirror DAC. My final decision became simplified when I realized I wanted
a one box solution-Stream/Burn/Store. Not that many choices.
I managed to get a new one from James at Choice Audio MN
without waiting for it to be built. And at a good price.
So if box management plays a role in your decision making
here is an option.