Fairly new to streaming. Where to start?

$2k & under budget

Aralic Vega has streamer  and DAC. May be the easiest start?
Then there is Schiit...Yiggy or Gumby...which streamer?
Ladder NOS dac? Or Chip? I'm old. maybe I'll like the old school DAC?
Then there is  Benchmark DAC 3...I think it has streamer?
Exasound E32
Audio Mirror?
MHDT Orchid
Border Patrol?
Musical Paradise?
Whats a newbie to do? I am a classic rock fan with lots of FLAC & M4a files. I like detail & PRaT. Love a good bass line. I also play some 70's jazz. I have a Theta Miles CD player from the 1900's & play a lot of vinyl too. But I need to come into the 21st century.  Besides, I will probably become tired of the vinyl ritual and work at some point as I get older. I think I have done enough homework to be somewhat confused. Maybe the biggest question in light of how fast digital changes is the question of streamer with DAC or separate Streamer and DAC. One other question is the streamer & bridge the same thing? OK Thanks!! 
Tell us more about your amplification and speakers? Do you have a separate phono stage for your turntable? Is your cartridge a MM or MC? Best to keep these factors in mind as you narrow your choices.

Are you willing to buy used? Are you willing to try a cheaper option for a year or two and upgrade later or do you want a forever system now?

Check our John Darko’s site for a primer on DACs and the different flavors they come in. 
Folks will just toss out model names for you. But I would read more, take your time and listen to some options at dealerships if possible...

Here are couple of recommendation assuming you already have a preamp/amp or integrated amp.

Lumin D2 Streamer / DAC - $2300

Innuos Zen Mini + PSU - $1898

Bluesound Node 2i -$549

Both Lumin and Innuos will give you a very nice sound quality. Since you’re accustomed to Vinyl sound, you don’t want to settle for a subpar digital experience. The third option, Bluesound is a entry level streamer with a average sounding onboard DAC. Lot of folks, including myself heard the uptick in sound quality when Node 2i paired with an outboard DAC. This option also give you a flexibility to cherry pick a DAC of your choice. One of my favorite DAC in your price range is Ayre Codex,


All of these streamers offers app that’s very intuitive and easy to follow.

Good luck!
Thanks. My system is listed here on Agon. Pictures need update to show the tube amp, new CJ CT5 pre and the 2 sumiko subs. 

I'm always ready to buy used in good shape, especially when entering an arena. I don't want the forever DAC right now but I want to go higher than the Bluesound. My system deserves this I believe since i have good source equip now.. I've been reading for a couple weeks now but have not read the Darko article which sounds helpful. I think i know that the ladder Dac has more feel/ soul where the chip has more detail. Obviously thats a little over simplified. thanks


Thanks for the input also. I had played with the idea of a Bluesound just for streaming to a good DAC. I've read good things about all ones you mention as well. the Innuous was the last that I encountered. By that time I figured i needed a break. BTW is that just a DAC w/ power supply?
Aralic Vega has streamer and DAC
Not true unfortunately, the Vega is DAC only, albeit a very good one.
Auralic Altair is the streaming DAC unit at just $1700 brand new and about $1000 used.

Lumin D1 or D2 is a streaming DAC too, possibly all you need.
I kick myself still as I was offered a D1 for $1000 and turned it down.
BTW Many of the streamers/ Dacs in my list have a 30 day $$$ back warranty (if bought new) Obviously not when used. I'd still considered used though

Another concern is to have a digital coax out so as to hook my CDP into. Also, I only have 134 inches allotted space in my rack now. Depth is normal. The DACs on my list will fit in the space but some I have crossed off because they were too long for my space. That may have been the case with the Lumin

The Benchmark DAC3 doesn’t have a streamer in any of the variations.
Auralic Aries G1 and G2 have streamers but not Dacs, the Vega G1 and G2 are streaming Dacs.
You should spend an hour two looking into Roon in case that connects with you. There can be different hardware choices in this arena.

Do you just plan on streaming or do you think you will rip a collection of CDs and play them via some storage/delivery option?

Streaming is usually managed with an app on your phone or tablet. Some apps are better than others. Lumin makes a good one. Lumin hardware is also very solid.

Another option is Linn, a Scottish firm that makes high end stuff. The Linn app is called Kazoo. This is what I use. I stream Tidal, Qobuz and my favorite radio stations via TuneIn. The entry level Linn Majik DSM is a one box streamer, DAC and 90 watt amp. It is small, does not get hot and is well supported with updates. It costs $3000 new but there are used ones for less. Just connect an Ethernet cord and your speakers and you are good to go. You can also get the matching floor standing speakers M140s for $3000 which sound great with the Majik DSM. The benefit here is you can also use Linn’s great room EQ system called Space Optimization. 
Cheaper options are SONOS or Bluesound...
I’d recommend the Bluesound for your streamer, then spend the rest of your budget on a good DAC.
 I like detail & PRaT.
Then stick with R2R dac regardless of what streamer you go for.
If you want streamer and dac in one box the you’ve made your bed a long time ago with Naim "PRat" sound, get a Naim ND 555 a PCM1704 based R2R dac

DON"T!!!! ditch all your CD's, I've seen too many now want to reverse and can't and they just give up on audio as a hobby.

Cheers George

The Innuos Zen Mini + PSU is a two box, streamer with built in DAC and external power supply. You can start with single box (streamer w/DAC) but it does sounds better with external power supply.

If you want to hook up your CDP into a DAC then you would need to pick up a DAC with at least two COAX Inputs. Benchmark DAC3 does offers two COAX inputs.

One of the very important consideration outside sound quality is the app interface. Lumin, Aurender, Innuos and Bluesound offers the best App experience that allows end users viewing and playing high resolution music collections a breeze.

I own both Aurender and Bluesound and never felt the need for Roon App. Roon also requires a subscription, $119 per year or $699 for a lifetime subscription.
The original Auralic Vega is DAC only.
The Vega G1/2 are totally different animals and do indeed stream as well.
And cost a lot more....

Agree with lalitk on Roon.
In fact the Aurender Conductor app has a very Roon like look and feel without the cost.

BTW. I started with a Bluesound Vault2i and progressed through various items and now use an Aurender N100 streamer feeding a MHDT Orchid R2R NOS DAC via USB.
Pretty darn happy so far....
Thanks for all the input. Its very helpful. So, it looks like I should go with separates which makes sense. I think maybe I don’t understand some of the terminology used by the mfgs. Though somewhat new to streaming high quality music, I do have 30 yrs experience with computers and stream video via Roku. I also have a laptop to stream from if that is good. But I think its best not to use a computer...Right?

BTW, I only have 13 inch width available. NOT the 134 my big fingers put earlier

You can certainly use a laptop to stream  audio files but it won’t sound as good as dedicated ‘audio’ streamer from aforementioned brands. 
One advantage of seperate items is if you decide you want a better DAC, well that's all you need to replace.
Or streamer only etc.

One advantage of streamer/ DAC is fewer cables( power and interconnect).
Less shelf space taken up.

But less flexible as opposed to seperates.
@crn3371  @lalitk 

Can I use the Bluesound Node 2i as a streamer only with another DAC?
What are other lower cost streamers ie Node 2i? Seems that I have looked mostly at the DAC portion of the equation.

Yes you can use the Node2i as a streamer with a different dac, you can always just start with the Node2i using its dac to get your feet wet for low cost. 
Yes, you can use another DAC with the Node 2i. You should also take the app interface into consideration. This is an area where Bluesound excels.

I wasn't sure if simplicity might come with Streamer Dac combo? I appreciate simplicity. but I understand the lack of flexibility. IO guess the only real thing to learn is the streaming interface. And I'd have to learn it no matter which way I go.

Good idea. But I most always jump in the deep end right off. Then I complain a while til I figure it out.  LOL

Don’t stress too much about the interface or feel overwhelmed by so many options. Pick up Bluesound, get acclimated with streaming and app (use a iPad for best experience and ease) and continue to explore DAC options.

For the price of Node 2i, look at this listing, you get CD ripping capability as a bonus.


If you want to hook up your CDP into a DAC then you would need to pick up a DAC with at least two COAX Inputs

Why so? Can’t I use the coax for CDP and USB ior another input for streamer?

For the price of Node 2i, look at this listing, you get CD ripping capability as a bonus.
Is that easier than ripping on computer. BTW I don’t have Ipad. I do have android phone though. That will work for interface though won’t it?

BTW Thanks

+1 for Innuos Zen Mini!
I have the Zen MK 3 and couldn’t be happier the ability to also rip CD’s to FLAC files is a plus.
“If you want to hook up your CDP into a DAC then you would need to pick up a DAC with at least two COAX Inputs

Why so? Can’t I use the coax for CDP and USB ior another input for streamer?”


Yes, you can provided streamer has USB output. The Node 2i or Vault 2 has no USB output. So you’re stuck with using its Coax or Optilink output to a external DAC.
If you pickup a Aurender, Lumin or Innuos streamer without the internal DAC, then you have an option to use USB output to a external DAC.

Vault 2 offers easy ripping. I use my Vault 2 for CD ripping only. And yes, you can use Android phone but a tablet makes it so much easier to browse / navigate. 

Yes simple is good at times and I have been down that road.
Then I desired flexible, well you know how that goes, wholesale equipment changes.

IMHO the Bluos app is very easy to use and navigate, the Aurender Conductor app is also pretty intuitive.
Cannot comment on Lumin but I really did not like the Auralic Lightning app very much.
OK, Maybe I don't know as much as I thought which.......
Do I need to run a network wire from my router to the Streamer? OR Can it run on wireless? I have good enough signal to stream video. I also have 1-3 GB usb hard drive which I can put near streamer.  Can I download necessary files for streamer to a USB hard drive and have streamer read it off hard drive plugged via usb into streamer? 
Time to go get my head clear now, THANKS to all for your help!


I think Node 2i or Vault 2 (used) is a safe and logical choice given OP’s $2K budget. Even if he decides to take the same upgrade path as you, he can still use Vault 2 for ripping CD’s. You and I both know CD players are going to be extinct in next few years. I certainly don’t plan on replacing my CD or SACD players once they stop working. My ripped CD’s stored on my Aurender N10 sounds terrific.  

I agree with you on Auralic Lightning app, its probably the most unstable app. 
If you can audition at dealers I would do so.

Try listening to a kit that is below your budget, like a Sonos maybe? Then listen to a kit that is 2x or 4x your budget. Doing so will give you a better idea how digital sounds at different price points.

If you enjoy the sound from your turntable system it is not guaranteed that you will enjoy the sound when streaming digitally as much? Sometimes the difference is minor and other times trying to improve the digital performance can send you down the proverbial rabbit hole. I like the sound from my vinyl station more than my digital system. But the flexibility, variety and ease of use that digital offers is just awesome.

As you move up the ladder for better sound quality the expense becomes out of wack. This is not linear but exponential in a way. Chasing those final percentage points can cost a ton of money. Listening to a variety of systems will train your ears to the sound quality vs dollars equation. Trust your ears and don’t rush this...

Do I need to run a network wire from my router to the Streamer? OR Can it run on wireless? I have good enough signal to stream video. I also have 1-3 GB usb hard drive which I can put near streamer. Can I download necessary files for streamer to a USB hard drive and have streamer read it off hard drive plugged via usb into streamer?
Depending on streamer you might have to run hard wire. For example the Vault2i is hard line for internet only.
A lot of other units are both wired and wireless for internet, Auralic for sure.

Just as matter of habit I have always run hard wire to ensure no dropouts on signal.

Most good streamers can read a USB HDD as well, the vault and Aurender definitely can. Both will allow you to browse the contents of the USB drive just like it was on your computer.

Do I need to run a network wire from my router to the Streamer? OR Can it run on wireless? - You can run it wirelessly but hardwired is better as it rejects any RF noise interferences and dropouts. 
Can I download necessary files for streamer to a USB hard drive and have streamer read it off hard drive plugged via usb into streamer? - Yes, that’s what USB input is intended for on a streamer.

+1 innuos
+1 Roon 

make sure your hardware is Roon compatible and factor in the subscriptions for Roon and either Qobuz or Tidal. 

nothing worse than a poorly designed app to manage your music. Roon is just amazing.

Auralic also have a good app and i hear good things from Aurender but that’s not Roon compatible and more expensive.

 I'll stick with one streamer so you don't  get confused you can research others, the Node2i can be wired or wireless it has 2.4G or 5G, it has a good android app which should work on your phone unless it's more than 3 or 4 years old, it has all the major streaming services as well as radio services, you can connect a USB drive to it, you can also simply share a file with your music in it on a computer or have a NAS. You can use it's internal dac or attach external. If you can stream video seamlessly wireless then you should be able to stream audio but if your network is busy someone is streaming video at the same time you might have problems.
I recently upgraded from a RPi streamer to Node2i and couldn't be happier. I especially like that you can use as a Roon endpoint and use Spotify Connect for the occasional song not on Tidal without switching anything. Would recommend running an external DAC with it.
I was investigating this question recently and the people on this forum were very helpful. I decided to go with the blue sound node2i because I think this is the technology that is going to change quickly and I wanted to reserve a big amount of money for the dac, which makes a bigger difference, and is a more evolved kind of component, compared to streamers. I will also use the DAC with my CD transport. I like the idea of keeping these two things separate because one of them is going to become outdated much faster than the other.
If you do a bunch of research, you will see that the blue sound gets excellent reviews just about everywhere, even though it is entry-level. I do not plan on relying on the Dac inside that unit for very long. I picked it up, open box, from Crutchfield for $440. Quite a great deal and an excellent interface that I find it easy to use. I think it is a easy solution and now you could focus on the DAC.
Artemis- I went digital 5 years ago - bought a LUMIN D 1 and never looked back. Please go hard wired only to a LUMIN from your router - the quality will amaze you - I stream Tidal Hi Fi with MQA. Cost $25 per month . Sound is amazing - I retired my turntable. Music selection is amazing - discovering new music all the time. Just upgraded to the LUMIN T2 - a definite step up in quality. The difference from the D1 /D2 to the T2 is the DAC ( wolfson vs Sabre)  and the T2 has better Streamer / DAC interface. The software interface with LUMIN is very easy to use. Save the headaches and go with a Streamer and DAC integrated in one  unit.

just my 2 cents

Happy Listening!
I built a Raspberry Pie as streamer, using volumio software, stream Tidal into a Shiit Modi 3. Sounds great. 
I recommend a Mano
~$750 delivered.
They finally got long awaited cases from China on Thursday and have some units available.
This gives you a SPDIF AND a i2s output.
Some other brands require MacOS for control. Be aware.
Then you have plenty room for a DAC choice. You should get one that sounds great to you, not only to some one else.
Start here and then listen: 
Audition with your system for synergy.
A $70 S.M.S.L. DAC sounds better in my system than the internal BluNode DAC.
But of course both streamers bloom through my FPGA.
Then get a 1T portable SSD ($110) for local files to plug into it. This is quicker loading than my Synology server which requires foldersort for each file update.
I recommend Qobuz for $12 to $15/no depending on sales.
I have been happy with the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge.  DAC (good quality), streamer, phono preamp (MC and MM), headphone output).  Worth a look. 
Here is another option for a good streamer to start with. Pair it with any dac för $1500 to jeep your budget. 

Lindemann limetree bridge (streamer) + RME ADI-2 DAC.

<2k $. Pro quality. Excellent value. 

Not to hijack OP’s thread, but along the lines of getting started streaming:

this thread had me do my first quickie stream to main music system: laptop/preamp/amp. easy, it works, I’ll listen later.

IF I like it, find I will use it, then, ’easy’ better quality? I will not pay for streaming service, that’s the first limitation.

how see to pick content?

better signal to preamp?

My Quickie test;

Pandora (basic free) to discover artists I don’t know about, one of my specific stations/similar artists; or shuffle stations. I would never pay for streaming.

1. laptop so I can see and pick what I want.

2. Pandora for test.

3. sound from audio chip, audio software on intel motherboard, no sound card

4. headphone mini-rca out of laptop to preamp aux in, preamp to amp.

Ouality Stages

a. initial limitation is free Pandora’s signal's quality to net
b. next is speed/quality of nearby wireless router (no lag, strong signal)
c. audio from intel motherboard to headphone out
d. mini-rca to rca cable
f. preamp mcintosh mx110z, tube, aux input
g. amp cayin a88t integrated line in
h. speakers are terrific, hence let’s hear pandora here.

I already stream Pandora via darn good home theater, ethernet to smart tv to home theater typically changed to 2 channel to avoid pseudo surround av receiver may try.

Also streaming Pandora thru home office system, ethernet, pc headphone audio out, also from intel motherboard, Carver amp, B&W speakers and Velodyne sub.

Also streaming youtube music videos on home theater.

Weakest links in this chain?
Easy ideas?

^^^“Weakest links in this chain?”
Pandora Basic Streaming, if you don’t want to pay then Pandora streaming quality sounds fine in your home and office system.

Pandora Audio Quality - 192 kbps AAC
Tidal Audio Quality - 1411 kbps FLAC

Anything less than 1411 kbps, you’re listening to a compressed file.

The Altair deal that uberwaltz mentioned sounds pretty good, especially since it has the optional ssd installed....one less cable to need.  Makes it a complete server.  Plus the older Altair allows for a different dac, if you like, but its internal one is excellent.  I've owned one for over two years and love it.  The Lightning DS is fine and like most other apps, gets improvements.  For myself, I like simplicity and this is a great one box solution.
Yes, the BluOS app is available for Android phones.  It's a very good interface.  Also, the Node 2i can stream both via Ethernet and wirelessly.

Last year I was where you are--listening for many, many years to vinyl and CDs. Then I ripped most of my CDs uncompressed to computer and fed to a variety of DACS to my system.

I added the Bluesound Node 2i last year.  It's opened a whole new world, so I agree that it's a good place to start. It's feeding the internal DAC in a Devialet right now.  But I gotta say when I fed from the Bluesound internal DAC I detected no difference.  Then I tried my Bryston DAC.  No difference.  Then my Berkeley Alpha.  No difference.  Wish I could do an ABX test to hear the difference.

In any case, have fun!

Got a Node 2i for 419 refurbished
Got a $30 coax cable
got a Topping D90 DAC for $630
I get good sound from this.  The functionality of the Amazon HD music ap is much better but the sound more than makes up for it.  You could save money if you want to try this out first.  I started with a $95 streamer and you could get a 300 DAC and for less than 500 you could get your feet wet.  I would skip that step because the sound of the above setup is much better and still reasonable. 
I WAS (at one time 3 years ago) going to use a MAC-MINI hooked into my (very good) CDP and use WIFI to receive HD-tracks, etc. This set-up is no longer desirable from what I gather. Still, the MAC has a 4Tb upgraded hard drive to store files. I still have all this gear but haven't tried to set it up (due to circumstances). Anyone care to comment? 
Artemus_5I am on the same journey. I currently stream with a yamaha wxc-50,  which is not mentioned much here but is a very versatile little device with quality on a par with the node 2i for just $350. I have been evaluated all the upgrade options too and here is the one I'm leaning towards which fits your budget and should be on par with the solutions mentioned in this discussion. Consider a Sonore UltraRendu augmented with a quality power supply. I plan to use an older Mac mini running either Audirvana or Roon to stream my ripped cd collection and access streaming services. It can be controlled from a iphone or a ipad remotely. This can all be done for $2000 or less depending on what you may already have.
If you won't pay for streaming you are not serious. Commercials suck. Hundreds of free streaming radio stations have better SQ than Pandora free. And play a better variety. Even Spotify free radio is better for discovery. Not that you could tell the difference through a PC headphone jack.
I won't let any of my PCs in the same room as my big HiFi rig. Except for setting up DSP.
Wow guys. Thanks very much. This has been a good learning process. I think I will go with a streamer for now. Most have suggested Bluesound Node or Vault 2 or 2i.  I have messaged one seller but have not heard back yet. I'll do another. I'm also wondering if I should spring for $250-$300 more for a Vault 2i. I know it has some updated streaming codecs and better Bluetooth. It may have updated menu selections too, but I'm not sure. I know the menu and interface are very important and thank you for reminding me of that. I can get the 2i for a little over $800. The only rub is that its "Factory Refurbished". But it still has a 1 yr warranty. Since its factory I may do that if its worth the extra  At some point I will put an upgraded DAC on it.. I really do like the vault  so I am leaning that way.

FWIW, I was cranked up Saturday from steroids for my back pain. It was the 1st day and I had 6 that day. At some point I was in a state of not knowing if I wanted to sleep or fly. LOL. Never been there before. Then I didn't sleep at all on Sat night and therefore was in quite a fog yesterday. But it is nice to be rid of the low back pain. And again I thanks you all for the help. I'm sure I will ask other questions such as if I should spend the $800 new 2i vault ? 

Have you a//b the Yamaha against the 2i? I’m just curious. The audio shop here in town sells & uses one to demo their speakers (Watkins Gen 4). The music sounds great. He’s been trying to sell me one.

Then too, I've read that all streamers are not equal in their ability to hand over the 1's & 0's over to the dac. I don't know if this is correct though.