Need suggestions for streaming files to my stereo


Hello everyone. I'm looking for a way to stream files (AAC, ALAC, FLAC) to my home stereo. The files are on my PC laptop, or on iTunes on my iPhone etc. I pretty much exhausted my budget on my power amp and speakers so Im looking for the best budget pieces I can afford to get the music flowing for now. I currently have Kef ks50s, a Red Dragon S500, a SMSL Sanskrit, and a Google Chromecast Audio.   I'll likely pick up a Schiit SYS preamp. 

With this current setup I can only pretty much stream Pamdora, since Itunes won't work with the CCA.   It's looking like the lowest cost option available is to use different software to handle the music files such as JRiver, or PowerDVD Ultra, but I'm unsure if this is the best way?  Any other ideas, software, hardware etc?  I have an insanely low budget of around $200 left to buy the rest, let's see what you guys can think of. 
autre
I would get a Bluesound Node 2. It is a real hi-fi bargain at $499. I have wireless access to all my digital music files stored on a HDD. Plus, I have Pandora, Tidal and Spotify. If I wanted to explore Roon, I could. Should I want to play back Hi-Rez files like AIFF, MQA or Flac, no problem.
The Bluesound is an affordable high fidelity digital streaming devive for a stereo rig.
BTW you do not have to use your computer to use the Bluesound Node 2. Use your Iphone or Ipad, Android phone or tablet as the controller (remote).
+1 for the Bluesound !

- Amazing sound
- supports the most well known streaming services
- access to a huge selection of radio stations (global)
- forward looking design
- intuitive interface
- great software that works
- the unit and interface design makes life simple
- basic manual controls on each box are a huge plus
- extremely high quality music - even via the analogue outputs
- performance improves using high quality cables (power and IC's)

I started with the Powernode 2 for my A/V system and was so impressed I went out an bought the Node 2 for my Audio system, replacing my computer and DAC. I now have the Pulse Mini for outdoor music.

Regards - Steve
Free Solution:
You have a Google Chromecast Audio, so use it.  Download and install Google Chrome and enable Cast.  Then you can Cast the Desktop Audio to the Chromecast.  However, it doesn't work with iTunes.  A work-around is to upload your iTunes library to Google (first 50000 songs free).

If you had an Android phone, you could use BubblePNP and just play the music stored on the phone. This is what I do.  I stuck a big ass micro-sd memory card in my phone and carry around a lot of my favorite CD's including some Hi-Res.  When they announce 2TB micro-sd, I'll be the first to pre-order.  Then I can fit my entire music library on the Phone and dump the music server.   Again, iTunes not supported.
https://support.google.com/chromecast/answer/6279396?hl=en&vid=0-1189761614155-1502287144843

Utilize Apple airplay with Apple Airport Express $99 (connect to preamp) and Apple Remote app free (iPhone).

Control your cumputers iTunes from iPhone with app and select your airplay speaker(s), in this case your airport express. (Your iPhone can also independently select this an airplay source for streaming if you wish.)

Then later add another wifi speaker with airplay or another airport express with an integrated amp/speakers in other rooms and control it all with your iPhone Remote app.

Works for me.
or refurb store Apple TV3 (not 4) - $40 with warranty
+2 for Bluesound.
B
One reason not to use Bluesound: Seems to be single band WiFI.

If you can use ethernet, no problem. But most apartment dwellers are saturated with WIfi signals in the 2.4GHz band. 5GHz is far more reliable. Wired Ethernet even more so.

Best,

E
@erik_squires - re:

One reason not to use Bluesound: Seems to be single band WiFI.

But most apartment dwellers are saturated with WIfi signals in the 2.4GHz band. 5GHz is far more reliable. Wired Ethernet even more so.
That issue applies to all streaming devices - not just Bluesound - correct?

Or is it Bluesound’s higher res capability that creates problems more than others when using wireless?

I know I have issues playing 24/192 wirelessly, but 24/96 is fine - then again,  I have an old wireless router

Cheers
@williewonka

Yes, to all devices. It's just that no wifi device should be single band anymore. Dual band has been around for several years.

Just something to watch out for. I have a SB Touch which I am using, but just added a 5GHz repeater to help with the signal reliability.

Best,

E
audioquest dragonfly black if your using your computer or Red if your using a handheld device. $200 USB DAC uses your current computer and makes it sound a whole lot better. when your budget allows for more elaborate set up you can keep the Dragonfly for head phones.
WiFi input to Auralic Aries Mini is reportedly dual band.  Ethernet is an input option to it as well.  

https://www.audiostream.com/content/auralic-aries-mini
@erik_squires - first, my apologies for the long post but my analytical mind got the better of me ...

Granted, there may be some advantages to dual band - mainly because currently there are many more 2.4 GHz devices than 5 GHz.

From what I have gleaned from the web...
The primary differences between the 2.4 GHz and 5GHz wireless frequencies are range and bandwidth. 5GHz provides faster data rates at a shorter distance, whereas 2.4GHz offers coverage for farther distances, but may perform at slower speeds

I have also been told the 5GHz signal does not penetrate walls as effectively as the 2.4 GHz signal from both an Audio store that installs gear and a friend in the computer sales business..

And If the trend is towards dual band, then other devices like phones will also use them and the 5GHz band will suffer from the same "congestion and interference" that 2.4GHz suffers today in the not to distant future.

Even though I have problems playing 24/192 resolution files wirelessly, Bluesound specifies their wireless solution works at 2.4GHz. Unfortunately, I believe my router is responsible (it was cheep and cheerful).

From Bluesound Support:

Wireless Signal Strength:
  • For streaming 44.1/16 content: -70dBm
  • For streaming 96/24 content: -55dBm
  • For streaming 192/24 content: -45dBm
  • It is good to note that the source for your local music can also be affected by poor wireless signal strength. If possible, we recommend it be connected directly to your router via a wired Ethernet connection for best performance, as moving from wireless connection to wireless connection can cause issues over weaker networks.
And a response from one happy Bluesound customer:
extremely happy with my ASUS RT-AC66U Dual Band 3x3 802.11AC Gigabit Router; haven’t had a dropout since I got it

But even their success would be dependent on the proximity of their router in relation to the Bluesound device.


I think the bottom line is that all current wireless solutions are far from perfect.

- Dual band solves the congestion and bandwidth aspects, but also suffer from the coverage issue

- success really depends on the router selected and the location in which it is being used. Specifically in relation to the component connected to it


I get your point that devices these days should be dual band, but having worked in the manufacturing end of micro electronics - it’s tough to roll out up to date products, because the end-to-end process gets extremely complex and in today’s world of integrated circuits - what seems like a simple "Die Revision" (i.e. a simple change to the silicon chip) can result in component failure, unleashing a flurry of calls to the support personnel.


Granted, cell phones seem to roll out every 5 minutes and use the very latest technologies, but they have their problems and their development effort, by comparison, is enormous.

Personally, I believe the people at Bluesound have found something that works and they are sticking with it.


Until sample rates greater than 24/192 become common place in the various streaming services and for the purchase of digital music (I’m thinking "iTunes like" outlets here) then a single band solution will suffice in this case.


If a person wants greater than 24/192, then there will always be the more esoteric brands to satisfy their lust

But eventually I believe Bluesound will catch up with todays technology at some point.


Cheers - Steve :-)



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+3 bluesound.  Aurender if you decide to go up a level. 

"The 5G yields better sound quality at shorter distances via Ethernet (1 meter cable in my case)"

Sorry but I'm little confused. I thought the 2.5G vs. 5G applied to wireless transmission frequency - GHz, not hardwire cable connectivity. Are we talking about bandwidth or transmission rate? Did I misunderstand?

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.......and I'm out.
I would rather delete the posts than loose your valuable input on the OP’s topic, Erik, so I have done that. Sorry for the diversion. Please carry on sir.

Dave
Another option around your budget is a device based on Play-fi.  I occasionally see the Definitive Tech or Polk Play-fi devices on eBay for $150-$250.  Sometimes a Paradigm unit pops up in that price range.  Play-fi supports 24/192.  Also, it has dual-band WiFi for all those people above.  I have two Def Tech W-Amps driving my Living Room and Dining Room.  Play-Fi supports DNLA, so it should see the media on any shared directories on your network.The App has come a long way and matured nicely.  

If you could stretch your budget, then +1 on Auralic Aries Mini.  The Mini is a self contained solution; stick a 512GB SSD in it and it's both Player and Server.  

Again, if you can stretch your Budget, then +1 on Bluesound Node 2.  I've seen them come up on Ebay for $350 new.  The Node supports 24/192 and MQA.  
I use an iFi iOne. I now have a bed room system composed of a 3rd gen iPad a set of Voice Box Axiss speakers and a home brew amplifier. Awesome sound over a Bluetooth link. I plan to add more iOnes as it allows me a very easy way to link my Bluetooth devices. It can feed a dac via spdif or one can use the analog outs. It also can be fed from a computer via USB. It does more than I care to type right now. Check out the ifi site. All for about two hundred bucks.
Check out Raspberry Pi with Kodi software as your main audio/video library manager. Cheap, easy to use and you can use BubbleUPNP to cast music to your Chromecast. I have Chromecast Audio connected to all amps in my house and use phone to cast music from library stored on my NAS box to any amp in the house. Pretty inexpensive Sonos alternative.
Apple TV is the way to go!  Especially on a budget, it will work great with iTunes and your iphone and gives you more options in regard to the streaming world of apps and entertainment.   Bluesound is too expensive and can be a real pain to use with iTunes. I also found that $500.00 should bring more quality and it simply does not.   

One thing of note is that you must have itunes open to access your iTunes library.  Anything on your phone will play anytime without your library being open.  The quality is very good.  You can't hook up an external hard drive to Appletv it won't access your music files.  

We love the appletv but we only really use it to stream music from our iTunes library.  We paid $80.00 plus tax so not bad.  


OP,


Please don’t feel that in order to get “audiophile” quality sound you need to spend $500+ on a Bluesound Node or Aurelic Aires Mini. These are great devices, but they are more than twice the budget you stated of 200. People on forums such as this have a nasty habit of ignoring budget and simply recommending one of the devices they have experience with and like, or worse, something they’ve read about and which is well reviewed. (In the case of the latter, all they are doing is serving as an echo chamber.)


There are three functions you need fulfilled by one or more products


1. Software that can stream your music from your devices (PC and mobile device) to your network, in other words server software 

2. Hardware that can receive your streaming music from your network and turn it into PCM signal, either TOSLINK, SPIDF, or USB

3. Software that you can use to control what you play (you will need this on both your PC and your mobile device


You may already have 2 in the form of your chromecast. I’ve never used chromecast myself, so I can’t advise you what server and playback software are compatible, but I’m sure you can research this.

Airplay is a viable option, assuming you are running software on your PC that supports it, but as far as I know, the only software that does is iTunes. Also, the Airport Express, which performs function 2, only offers TOSLINK out. If that works for you, great. From a SQ perspective, Airplay can be improved upon. It relies on your playback devices (PC / mobile) to decode the music files to PCM, and streams the PCM. So a spike in network activity can cause your music to freeze. Also, jitter is quite high.


If chromecast and Airplay  also won’t work for one reason or another (e.g. it isn’t compatible with your DAC, or you want to stream hi-res tracks and it only supports resolutions up to 48k/16), or you better sound quality, then I suggest you check out what can be done with DNLA / UPnP. Tons of devices support these protocols, some of which you might have lying around without realizing! e.g. almost every network DVD player made in the last 5 years can be used as a DNLA / UPnP streamer. And there is plenty of free or very cheap software that can perform functions 1 and 3 available for Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. If you don't already have a DNLA / UPnP device on hand, then for well under 200 you can build an audiophile grade DNLA / UPnP streaming device using a Raspberry Pi, which I'll describe in a moment.


For function 1, options include JRiver, Kodi, Plex, anything from this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_UPnP_AV_media_servers_and_clients 


For function 3, JRiver and Kodi both can perform this as well, and both have their own remote clients for mobile devices. I happen to like 8 Player for iOS. There are tons of other free options, so try out several and pick the one with the functionality and interface that you like.


For function 2, if you want to build a dedicated DNLA / UPnP streamer using a Pi, start by picking up a Raspberry Pi 3B, and get an 8 or 16 GB microSD card and install your audio playback OS of choice (free options include Moode and Volumnio, JRiver and Roon both make software that costs money). Also buy a power supply (you can go cheap switching supply or expensive linear power supply) and Hifiberry Digi+ or Digi+ Pro (to obtain PCM output over TOSLINK or SPIDF — otherwise the Raspberry Pi can already already give you USB output), and finally a case that is sized for the RPi together with the Hifiberry (HifiBerry makes some of there own, but there are others, or you can improvise. If you plan to connect the Raspberry Pi to a wireless network, be sure to use a plastic case, since a metal case could degrade your signal. If using wired ethernet, then you have no such problem. The solution I just described costs less than 100 and will give you sound quality that will rival and possibly exceed the Bluesound and Aurelic Aires Mini. 


If you decide to go with the Bluesound or Aurelic, you are getting good products that will provide you with reliable streaming playback. Without a doubt, the biggest issue with the DNLA / UPnP improvised approach that I described is that it isn’t a commercially built and debugged all-in-one solution. There will be times when your server software crashes, or when your RPi freezes, or whatever, and your improvised solution needs a full reset. 


Goodluck!


A little off topic, but for those running Squeezebox Server, there’s a plugin to allow a ChromeCast to emulate a Squeezebox. A few little problems with Sleep/Wake on SBS, but other than that, works pretty good.

If you’re thinking about a dedicated Server, and don’t want to full around with a Pi, there are many Tiny PC "Bare-Bones" kits available. Some are even passively cooled. Some to think about are Intel NUC, Gigabyte Brix, Zotac, Logic Supply and Compulab. Also, some NAS will run Squeezebox Server, Kodi, Plex, Bubbleup and are DNLA compatible.

For years I used a Compulab fanless Fit-PC. I then went to Gigabyte Brix Fanless. Switched to a NUC to take advantage of M.2 NVMe SSD. So glad I made the switch to M.2 because backups, updates, indexing is soooo much quicker now. Yes, I know it’s way overkill for a server.

Sorry for the off topic side trip,
Thanks everyone. There's a lot to think about. I'm glad there is a number of solutions for my situation. For the Bluesound and Auralic suggestions: yes that is an option I looked at but it's too much for now. Perhaps down the line I'll pick one up. 

Using the CCA would be nice since I already have it but it's not a fine deal. I also realize that it does have only 24/96 capability. But using just that plus software is very tempting and the lowest cost route. 

I admit Im a little intimidated by the Raspberry PI but it sounds very promising. I'm guessing it's not as difficult as it sounds?  I also saw on another forum that Logitech Music Server is another good software to use?

Apple tv would also be very easy to do but since it doesn't work with hi-res music, and it doesn't allow for external drives, that may be off the table since I'd like to try using hi-res files from say HDtracks. 
The problem with using Logitech Media Server is how much longer is it going to be a viable option?  Logitech stopped supporting it a few years ago.  It is open source, and the people over at Slim Devices have kept developing it.  As time goes by, and there are fewer and fewer people using Squeezeboxes, the development is going to drop off.  So, how much longer do we have? 5 years?  Maybe 10?  The original Squeezebox debuted 16 years ago.  One good thing is that Logitech has the SlimServer up and running.

So, if you want to try something free and cheap, then you could use your CCA with LMS.  Just keep in mind that eventually it's going to become an orphan product.  Though, based on home much money you would have invested, it's really not that hard to move on.

The problem with all these Players/Options is that things are just moving too fast.  You buy into a Streaming Ecosystem, and in a few years, something better, easier, faster comes along that supports even more services and better sounding/higher quality audio formats.  The question is when do you jump on the Merry-Go-Round?  Who long do you stay on, before jumping onto another ride?  Enough with being cynical...........

The latest build of LMS is: 7.9.1-1502265250.
The last version supported by Logitech is: 7.7.5

This is why I am so glad we have this forum!  Thanks prpixel, I wasn't aware of the status of LM service. Yup I don't think I'll be going that route. And yes I thoroughly agree with your assessment of the mercurial nature of technology. It is wonderful on one hand but extremely costly on the other. That's the other reason I don't want to drop too much on those pieces. 

Ull investigate the Raspberry option more. Any more suggestions from everyone? 
Apologies if my description made the Pi solution sound intimidating. Here are the parts you need if you go this route and want to use a Hifiberry Digi+ to connect the Pi to your stereo's DAC using either TOSLINK or SPIDF.

- Raspberry Pi 3B (other versions may work, but depending on the version, you could lack sufficient processing power to stream 192/24, or you may lack desired network capabilities, etc. With the 3B, you will have no trouble)

- A 5V DC power supply with a micro-USB connector that supplies at least 2A of current (I use the iFi Power 5V version, which includes a micro-USB tip)

- Hifiberry Digi+ or Digi+ Pro (it will come with all of the small parts necessary to connect the Hifiberry board to the Pi -- no need to buy any others assuming you use one of their enclosures). 

- An enclosure for your Pi/Hifiberry device (Hifiberry makes several that are sized properly, https://www.hifiberry.com/shop/ , although the cases can also be purchased from other sellers, including Amazon I believe)

- A micro-SD card, which you will use to install an operating system on your Pi (the OS will be used to play music). The RPi 3B has a micro-SD slot, so once the OS is installed on the card, you will insert it into the slot and simply leave it there.

The hardest part will be installing the OS on your micro-SD card. Follow these instructions:
https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/installation/installing-images/

If you have decided to get a Hifiberry board in order to add TOSLINK/SPIDF outs, be sure to choose an OS that supports it. I know that Moode and Roon both support it. I can't say for sure whether other OSes support. 

If you go with Moode, here is documentation to configure it to work with the Hifiberry once it has been installed on an SD card.
https://www.hifiberry.com/build/documentation/moodeaudio-installation-and-configuration/
Be advised, however, that this documentation makes no mention of configuring the RPi to work on your network. My advice is after completing Step 8, wait a few minutes for your Pi to reboot and then return to Steps 4 and 5. This time, Instead of clicking "Audio" (step 6), click "Network" and make the necessary changes so that the Pi connects properly to your network. At this time you can also disable unnecessary components (e.g. Bluetooth adapter, wireless network adapter if you are connected with ethernet cable)

I hope I demystified this solution somewhat. Again, good luck!

Lastly, @prpixel is absolutely correct that there are also many other small kits available that can serve the same function as the Pi, if this still sounds intimidating.
Autre,

I think you misunderstood my previous post.  I wasn't advocating against using LMS, I was just pointing out that it is not a long term solution.  And, with only $35 invested in a CCA, it's not really that big a deal if it stops working in 5-10 years.  I'm sure by then, you'll have saved up enough to move on to something else.  LMS can run on just about any computer running Windows, MacOS or Linux.  So, if you have an old laptop or PC sitting around the house, put it to use.  After all, if you don't like it, the most you loose is a few hours of your time.

Let me explain what the SlimServer is.  It's a Server, maintained by either Logitech or Sean Adams, that hosts. mysqueezebox.com.  Mysqueezebox.com allows Squeezebox users to do two things.  First, it allows you to use you Squeezebox for Internet Radio, Pandora, etc without having to install LMS on a local computer; it stores your account info.  Second, it provides the clock information for the clock screensaver.  So, if Logitech were to shut it down, then you would need LMS running on a local computer to use these services.  I believe that most Manufactures of Streaming devices maintain a Server to store basic account info.  I know that Sonos, Google, Amazon, Play-Fi, Hoes and Bluesound all do.  At least, all the different units that I've tried/own do.  Since the CCA would only be using LMS to "serve" your music library, then you'll never have to use Mysqueezebox.com.

On a side note, you don't have to use LMS to "serve" your music.  There are many other software choices such as Kodi, Plex, BubbleupPNP, etc that do the same thing.  It all just depends on your comfort level with setting them up.

Finally, thanks to Thunder240 for providing the instructions for the Raspberry Pi.  You don't actually need the HifiBerry card because you will not be plugging any audio devices directly into the Pi.  Complete kits can be purchased on Amazon for $70 with a 32GB memory card.  You will also need an external USB drive to hold you music files.  A 1TB drive can be purchased for around $60.  Keep in mind that the Pi only has 1GB Ram and is pretty slow, but perfectly fine for a server.  A Intel NUC5CPYH kit or a Gigabyte GB-BXBT-2807 kit with 4GB Ram and 128GB SSD or 1TB mechanic drive can be had for around $200.  You would have to add an OS.  Windows 10 can be purchased on Ebay for about $60.  If you want to go with something a little bigger, then a  HP ProDesk 400 G3 Mini - I3 6100T Reburb can be purchased for less than $300 with Win10 and 500GB drive though I really recommend an SSD.  

I hope then Thunder and I are not confusing you with all the options,

Thanks for explaining that bit about LM. The options are great, and to be honest Prior to this post zi didn't think it would be possible to put together something for such a paltry amount. Sure am glad I posted the question!  The Raspberry option sounds pretty good. 

One last wuestion (for now). Any preferences for the OS for the Raspberry (if I understood this correctly), JRiver, etc...?
You'll have to use a Flavor of Linux that supports ARM CPU's.  As for which one to use, I'll defer to thunder240 to answer that question.  Also, JRiver is Playback Application, not an OS.  JRiver is available for Linux.  If you're planning on using the Pi plugged directly into you audio system, you'll need the HiFiBerry kit.  Then, you would use an Application like JRiver to play music.  Many people swear by the Roon Player, but it's pricey at $119/yr or $499/lifetime.

If you're planning on just using the CCA as the Audio source, then all you would need is an Application like Plex, Kodi, etc to "serve" the music files to the CCA.  If you go this route, once the Pi is setup, you can run it headless; without a monitor.  You would use another computer, or tablet/smartphone, to control the Pi remotely for occasional maintenance, changes to settings, etc.  My Music Server is actually mounted on the wall right next to my router.  I use my main computer to control it remotely for occasional software updates, maintenance, etc.  Also, I use the LMS web-portal to control my Squeezebox Touch, which by the way, is sitting right next to me; it's easier than using the players own interface. To use the other Squeezebox devices located throughout the house, I use an app on my phone.
Thanks to all of you I now have a grasp of how the system works. Now that I understand it better, I thought of a few options. Please let me know what sounds best (or if it's even viable). 

1. Use a 7 year old Dell laptop that I forgot we had. Works fine but so may want to upgrade the wireless and Bluetooth. Drawback is if I leave it running for extended periods, it heats up and the fan engages every few minutes. 

2. Use a tablet connected to an external HDD that holds the music files?

3. Stick with the Raspberry option. 
Simplify your life, shorten your signal path, and improve your SQ. Keep all your music on a Mac mini, plug a decent DAC into it's usb, then plug the DAC into your amp. Done. Control it with your iPhone using the Remote App and/or your laptop with Screen Sharing. 
It has been mentioned here that many of the responses to the OP have not paid attention to the budget of $200. I, myself, admit to this error. But one must include the hardware cost of a computer. Like many of the newer (changing) technology with hardware associated with streaming digital it seems a more budget friendly option to just adopt newer software or even low cost hardware that attaches to a computer. The computer, itself, is a device that has limited life as a streaming device. HDD space, RAM and processor power, as well as software compatibility will become an issue.
I had wanted a separate device to stream my music. I want to keep ITunes and a computer out of the loop. Therefore, that is the reason I opted to go further with my budget to get a Bluesound Node 2.
At one time, I wanted to use an older MacBook Pro as an integral part of my audio playback, but alas it is too old and slow for this purpose.

Autre with your options I would ask myself which of these options would match your overall plans for a music playback system.
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Subscribe to Tidal and Roon - both have a free trial so nothing to lose. Roon can be used to control everything (files on your PC as well as a Tidal) with Roon’s Amazing interface (use an android or iOS device to control and browse music) and with excellent artists info from All Music database. Roon handles every format I can think of and Roon can play bit perfect to your DAC and is clever enough to convert anything that your DAC can’t handle to PCM at a suitable sample rate.

I am so impressed by Roon’s interface - really high quality and definitely geared at audiophiles who want to control quality to the Nth degree. Downside is $100 or so annual subscription but from what I can tell you could be up and running with no hardware purchases....
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