I need help to select a music streamer


I am so far looking at three music streamers to purchase.
1.  Bluesound
2.  Roon
3.  Bel Canto eOne

So far, I think the Bel Canto to be the best choice.  I wonder what the members of this group would recommend in the $1,500 budget range?  If you recommend a certain brand, I would like to know why it might be a better choice.

I will be streaming this to an ARCAM AVR 550.

Thank you.
3828de89 2fa1 4a5c 8ffc 19c904e4c504larry5729
I use Bluesound Nodes for my systems-outputted to Ayre Codex's.
The Bluesound DAC isn't bad for the money, but it isn't great.
The Ayre's really open things up. Other than Ayre, I would consider Schiit Yggy's or Gungnir for an equally good match.
No experience with Roon or Bel Canto, as I have all I need.
Bob
Post removed 
Phil,

i will I’ll be hard wiring using CAT6.  I also stream tidal.  I want to be able to stream 24 bit and MQA.  I have an ARCAM AVR 550.  Wonder how good the DAC is?
Phil,  

The Cambridge is rated high, but it cannot decode MQA,
Post removed 
I Googled 16 bit vs 24 bit vs MQA today and viewed 3 technical videos and read three articles.  They said 24 bit produces less noise.  However, they all said in a blind listening test, no one would detect the difference.  I thought I heard a bigger space and the mid voicing and tweeters seemed clearer.

Who can I believe.  This didn’t make sense because 24 bit has a lot of data which must translate into greater detail.

My budget is $1,500.
@larry5729 There's a fair amount of blind testing suggesting that listeners can't distinguish resolution above redbook (CD), or even above the highest resolution mp3.

But even if you don't buy that, remember that an awful lot of allegedly high-res recordings have actually been converted from Redbook, and therefore all the remastering did was potentially add some jitter.

There's been some good discussion of MQA on Archimago -  https://archimago.blogspot.com/search?q=MQA

And this -  https://www.soundstagehifi.com/index.php/opinion/1057-mqa-one-year-later-suddenly-more-questions
Shofar,

Thanks!

You did not say where you stand on this.
larry5729
... they all said in a blind listening test, no one would detect the difference.
It's interesting how often "blind tests" are cited without providing any details of the test: who designed it, who participated, what the raw data show.
Good point Cleeds.  There is a huge difference between the public who is satisfied playing music through small wimpy speakers and Audiophiles who want to hear a recording with greater detail and the way it was designed to listen to.
Here’s a good compilation of blind tests. You could spend a solid half day going through them, and it is pretty sobering.

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/testing-audiophile-claims-and-myths.486598/

and if you want to get further on which populations have the best ears, at least in terms of detecting distortion and frequency response variations, Olive and Toole have published a few on that - http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=12206

Since that paper is gated, here's a taste of their research, explained:
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/are-our-preferences-different-in-audio.284/

Here's a large N internet-based test of resolution audibility, with very explicit methodology-
http://archimago.blogspot.com/2013/02/high-bitrate-mp3-internet-blind-test.html
(link to results at the bottom of the explanation.  Notice the demographic composition of the test group)

You can test yourself on lossless vs MP3 here - https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality
(I find I do a lot better with Orchestral music on resolution tests. Others say you just need something fairly dense. I could distinguish between levels of mp3 with 100% reliability on any of the material, but more trouble with 312k to lossless)

What do I think? (I assume you meant me). I think MQA is more of a scheme to grab licensing revenue than an important improvement in streaming audio quality. I am a fan of true Hi-Res recordings, although I think the hi-res availability is often more of an indicator of the engineer/label’s goals than a significant step up from Redbook (ie you are less likely to get an entry in the loudness wars). I certainly think studios should have hi-res masters, starting with the widest dynamic range possible. Recording quality is a HUGE variable relative to a 16 bit vs 24 bit version of the exact same recording, IMO.

I use both Qobuz and Tidal at the highest resolution tier. I browse and favorite recordings that sound good, regardless of resolution.

I often hear differences in uncontrolled listening that, I’m afraid to say, are unlikely to be replicated under controlled conditions. Of course I don’t listen under controlled conditions, so contributions from factors that may not be strictly audible are important and worth understanding.
The main problem I see with blind tests is that negative results from a single test have very little meaning or significance since there are so many things that can go wrong with a given test. E.g., the tester could be all thumbs or the system could be miswired.

Positive results for a single test, on the other hand, are more credible since positive results were obtained in spite of any problems or errors that may have occurred in the test. As tests are repeated in the same system and are performed in other systems independently results begin to have more meaning and credibility.
I know you said budget is $1500 and I don’t have a recommendation at that price, but if you can stretch to $2k then Teac nt505 with dual ak4493 dacs is best value out there. 
Geoff,

You sound extremely knowledgeable and you certainly bring up a good point.  I am a beginner in the hobby and I have dug deep over the past three years to learn as much as I can.  There are people in this group that are so impressive and they are willing to share some of the best knowledge in the industry.  

Thank you for your input.  Wonder what your background is.  Sounds like you too have a scientific mind.
@geoffkait not quite, it is also possible for bad test design or mishandling to effect one component and not another, so a positive can also be false.

Positives, whether false or not, are awfully hard to find.  That has to mean that it is difficult to demonstrate audible differences (for amps, cables, digital sources/resolutions) in a controlled environment. If it was easy, cable and amp manufacturers would be yelling it from the rooftops, no?

On a related matter - there are very few speaker distortion comparisons as well. Yet speakers, I'm told, introduce the majority of the distortion in the chain. That's also interesting.
ahofer
@geoffkait not quite, it is also possible for bad test design or mishandling to effect one component and not another, so a positive can also be false.

>>>>But that case would be a negative result, not a positive one, for the component that was mishandled. That falls under the heading “error in system.” It wasn’t a false positive, it was a negative. I only gave two examples of things that can go wrong. Obviously there are many others such as operator error, unfavorable weather, system not revealing enough, cables or components not broken in, etc. In any case, this highlights why it’s important for multiple blind tests to be performed on multiple systems by multiple testers. 
Does the Bluesound have the capability to play MQA?  Would the Bluesound sound better or as good as the Bel Canto if I added expensive digital coax cable like Chocolate Audioquest?  This would cost $1,000 less than the Bel Canto.
Bluesound does a partial decoding of MQA, if I recall correctly.
FWIW, I find higher resolution to be just as good or better than MQA.
That 'secret sauce' recipe is something that I don't want to touch.- Like Dolby.
B
Is there really much of a difference in sound quality between different music streamers?  A Bluesound costs $499, a Bel Canto eOne costs $1,600 and PS Audio $6,000.  Does it all have to do with the quality of their processors?  So far, I think Roon to be gimmicky.  If I used either a Carbon or Coffee Audioquest digital cable using the Bluesound, wouldn’t this sound good enough and better than steaming TIDAL through my Apple TV using Coffee Audioquest HDMI cable?

Does the Bluesound truly stream MQA.  If so, how much difference in sound quality will I hear?
Positive results for a single test, on the other hand, are more credible since positive results were obtained in spite of any problems or errors that may have occurred in the test.


Most blind tests are simply to hear a difference.  So you are defining positive results as one where the user heard a difference and we are sure there was no error that produced an audible difference where there otherwise would not be one.  But if you knew there was operator error, you'd throw out those results, so, if there's error, it's unknown by definition.  

I would describe both a)hearing a difference due to unknown operator error, as well as b) the well supported bias towards hearing a difference* as false positives, and difficult to quantify.  

Anyway, legit or false, positive results (blind tests of cables, amps, hi-res vs redbook) remain vanishingly rare, so there's not much to be credulous over.  

* See the Stereophile tests in the link, particularly the devastating footnotes, for a hilarious read on this.
ahofer.....please include Stereophile link.  Thanks.
Well, for one thing blind tests are used for a number of reasons, including testing a single component or audio device or tweak. So don’t hand me a whole load of horseman knew her. Furthermore, if there is a problem with a component and it flunks the test, the test result is negative, not a “false positive” as you claim. Follow?

In addition positive results of blind tests of cables, tweaks, hi res vs Redbook, etc. are vanishingly rare because of all the things that can go wrong as I already pointed out. There is also the issue of the person’s hearing ability or skill or experience. But I wasn’t going to go there. 😬
Here is the stereophile test I was referring to (It was linked in the head-fi compilation earlier in the thread) -  https://www.stereophile.com/features/113/index.html

It's one of the only tests in the head-fi compilation (or Archimago's many tests) that indicate an audible difference (in amps/cables/resolution), but, as you'll see if you read the footnotes and letters, that conclusion was far from justified, and the null hypothesis (no audible differences) remains unchallenged after properly controlling responses.

But it did suggest something interesting - an overall tendency to hear a difference between options, revealed by the results when the two options were identical. I've observed this in myself.

A good discussion of the flaw in the test design, and how it potentially revealed a bias towards hearing difference is in the letters on this page, particularly the second letter (also obliquely discussed in a footnote):

https://www.stereophile.com/content/blind-listening-letters-part-4

In the absence of a basic flaw in your experiment, the above statistical analysis suggests to me that Stereophile's amplifier test may have neatly pinpointed a key element in the high-end audio business: a propensity (is compulsion too strong a word?) on the part of aficionados to hear differences.

footnote 8 reveals that Larry Atkinson had also realized the problem, but the letter explains best the flaw in the data analysis that invalidates the (badly overstated) conclusion of the main article.
@geoffkait

Well, for one thing blind tests are used for a number of reasons, including testing a single component or audio device or tweak. So don’t hand me a whole load of horseman knew her.

Heh, interesting spelling variation there. 

Well, right, but every test I've seen has either been a) can you tell a difference with or without the device or tweak, or between the options or b) rank order several options, with a) being more prevalent.

Let’s go to the definition of false positive: " a test result which incorrectly indicates that a particular condition or attribute is present."  Or if you like, the type 1 error, the rejection of a true null hypothesis (components sound the same).

Happy to end the discussion, but "you just don’t get it" is the run of the mill insult when you can’t prove or even adequately support your claims.
You’re not paying attention. If there is something wrong with the component you throw the whole test out. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s simply one of many things that can go wrong with kind tests or any tests. That is why tests have to be repeatable and transferable. One test doesn’t mean anything.
Geoff, I explicitly referred to the possibility that a problem exists *of which we are unaware*.

Once again, this semantic discussion has little bearing on the evidence at hand.

Evidence is not proof. That’s precisely why one test proves nothing. Preponderance of the evidence requires multiple tests as I be already said at least twice. To be strong evidence a test must be repeatable and transferable.
Evidence is not proof. That’s precisely why one test proves nothing. Preponderance of the evidence requires multiple tests as I be already said at least twice.


I agree with this statement entirely.   All we can say is that these tests have failed to reject the null hypothesis - listeners can't tell the difference between cables/amps/resolutions using only their ears.  The point here is that there have been lots of tests, and they all fail to reject the null hypothesis.  If there were a reasonable volume of tests that could, with reasonable confidence, reject the null hypothesis, I would be, in fact, pleased to accept that as (colloquially) 'proof' of strictly audible differences.

I'm working with the compilation I've linked.  I'd love to include others if readers can bring them to my attention.

ahofer
... these tests have failed to reject the null hypothesis - listeners can’t tell the difference between cables/amps/resolutions using only their ears. The point here is that there have been lots of tests, and they all fail to reject the null hypothesis...
It’s not even remotely true that all tests "fail to reject the null hypothesis."

Perhaps one of the most famous examples is the infamous Carver challenge published in Stereophile. Its entire premise was indeed that the amplifiers sounded different, but that Carver could get his to mimic the sound of the other. He succeeded, but apparently couldn't replicate the results in actual production.
 I think Stereophile's listening  before the Carver match was sighted (ie not only with ears). Only after he matched the amps was some blind testing done.   

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Carver#Amplifier_modeling
https://www.bobcarvercorp.com/carver-challenge
https://www.stereophile.com/content/carver-challenge-page-2

If I'm right that the pre-matched listening wasn't controlled, this test would only fail to reject the null hypothesis that the *matched* amplifiers were audibly indistinguishable.   It says nothing about strictly audible differences between the *unmatched* amps. An objectivist would probably suggest that Carver had the edge even before he modified his amp.

The null testing Carver employed to match amps has been used to compare expensive and generic cables right out of the box, with generally inaudible results.

But I remain interested in any *ears only* (blind) testing that rejects the null hypothesis.  


I have done a fair amount of reading and I have watched some videos and it seems like a music streamer is merely a device by which data enters the device and is sent to a DAC to convert this data into music impulses.  The way I understand things is to keep the signals timed so they reach your ears at the same time.  They refer to this as smearing and I wonder why they do not label this as a phase related issue?

Based on this understanding it appears the cost difference between units is the clock speed inside the streaming device to keep things in time.  They accomplish this by using more and more expensive processing chips to speed up the streamers ability to keep up with the signals.  What no one has mentioned is would hard wiring a streamer with CAT6 from a 5G modem do to help solve some of these smearing issues and would buying perhaps expensive battery pack digital coax wire added to a Bluesound streamer also help the signals to reach the DAC faster with less resistance and therefore keep the signals in time?  Also, would adding a DBS digital coax wire like a Audioquest Coffee coax cable free up the signals reaching the DAC in my receiver to avoid smearing.  If this would solve most of the problem, I could get by with a total all in cost of about $1,000 using a Bluesound Node 2i streamer.  If there is anything I have learned over the past three years is the Law of Diminishing Returns.  Spend an additional $1,000 to get 1% increased sound quality and spend an additional $1,000 to get yet maybe another 1% increase in sound quality.  I can't imagine a Bluesound is a piece of junk otherwise why would anyone purchase one.  It is capable of streaming 24/192, which I think is another way of labeling MQA.  It must sound better than streaming TIDAL via my Apple TV which is only 16 bit capable.  The Bluesound doesn't have all the bells and whistles.  However, I like the looks of the interface TIDAL provides to display single recordings and albums.  It even provides suggested artists to also listen to.  I personally could care less about spending $1,000 more on a Roon when I am satisfied with the way TIDAL does things.

All I want is to be able to take advantage of the 24 bit and MQA recordings TIDAL offers and be able to do so without breaking the bank.  The biggest factor is keeping me out of the dog house with my wife after she finds out what I have spent to achieve yet another way to improve  sound with my system.  Right now after adding a pair of REL S3 SHO's to my system it sounds incredible.  I just don't want to spend another $2,000 to $2,500 at this time.  At the same time, I also don't want to be disappointed if I buy the Bluesound and Audioquest Coffee DBS digital coax cable.  This I call the I should have, could have, syndrome. 

I am sure I will hear some interesting comments.  However, keep in mind there are some of us who do not have unlimited resources and have a wife who endorses spending more and more on a system.  To them a boom box would suffice.