OK, Streamers: "Head" units only...?


Saw a post the opther day that made sense.
"Dont want your DAC or your hard drive or your CD burner...."

This guy just wants the "BEST" (and most cost-effective) way to get files from streaming services or your existing ripped library over to the DAC that he's already happy with. No NAS, No this, no that...

Me, too!

My evolution has gone from: Apple TV to Bluesound to my Chord Qutest. It sounds great and I should stop here....right...?

So, what are the units out there that JUST STREAM well and at the "highest quality" without blowing a hole in your budget. Sure, every problem gets solved if I throw $10K at it.

But, what about between Bluesound and, say, $2,500....what is out there that doesn't have a DAC or any other features. Just a good app and a high quality stream.

BTW, why would it be any better than Bluesound. 
ianrmack
How about Roon Nucleus connected directly to your Chord Qutest via USB. I know by your definition it may not qualify as strictly a "head unit", but it definitely meets all of your other criteria, including your budget and arguably the best app out there.

At list price
Roon Nucleus ...........$1399
Roon Lifetime ........... $699 (or alternatively $119 annually)
Curious USB Cable ... $350
=====================
Total outlay ............. $2448

One caveat: support for subscription streaming services currently limited to Tidal and Qobuz.

These are exactly the components I am doing today in my main rig and I’m loving it. And btw, my evolutionary track included Bluesound kit which I am now using elsewhere in my household as Roon endpoints. And yes SQ as well as app are both better than with Bluesound Node 2i in my system. And as it so happens the DAC in my main rig is also a Chord Qutest.
Right but as you said only Tidal and Qobuz. No amazon and probably not any time soon if ever.
Amazon Music may not be where it’s at forever but before it’s done it is going to wash over everything.
I believe I made that original post.
The thing is I think there are absolutely spectacular electronics available and it seems that their respective firmware is great (I can’t really say this with authority but these devices work, right, albeit within their limits) but currently available software is simply just not equally good for the task of a good streaming experience. Every one of these programs has either major limitations (to me) or major flaws, or both.
To answer your question about Bluesound and blueOS; I am incredulous at the support that company gets on here. The dac in a Bluesound node can be bettered by the dac in most any $35 Chi-Fi gizmo out there. Honestly, the only dac I’ve ever heard that’s worse than the one in the Bluesound Node is the one in the Chromecast Audio. And BlueOS!?!? Shamefully unfriendly, maddeningly buggy, and wont do about a hundred things that It should do. An absolutely horrible effort at software development and support that I believe that company should be ashamed of.
Following this thread closely. I’ve spent hours pouring over solutions to this problem. I have a stand alone Dac that I love and the synergy in my system is excellent. I know there are many in the same boat looking for a high end streamer that only streams. I don’t want any thing else. Sounds simple right? Its not.

(Things I don't need or want: Remote, Volume Attenuation, Dac, Ripper, Storage, Indexing, A crappy App, CD player, a bunch of jitter/noise, bluetooth....I think that's it.)
Upping a Bluesound would be moving to an Aurender.
Unfortunately, Aurender only offers Qobuz and Tidal, so if you want the variety Bluesound offers, your going to have to stay with them.
That being said, upgrade to a high quality DAC- like Ayre Codex or Schiit Gungnir or Yggy ( I mention these only because they outperform from their price points).
I have listened to both Aurender and Bluesound with the Codex and can say it is a very good match for the money.
Bob

You have several options here.  You might consider the Lumin U1 mini (within your budget) or the Auralic Aries G1 (also w/in your budget).  Both are just streamers and both should be a significant upgrade over the Node 2’s streaming quality.  I auditioned the Lumin mini and own the Auralic Aries G2 as well as a Node 2 in one of my systems.  But, the G1 should also be a nice improvement too.  And, both units will play well with Qobus, Tidal, Spotify and other services.  If you have a decent DAC, improving the streamer is a nice and easy way to get a big improvement.  At least in my experience. YMMV.

Best,
mgrif
OP here... ;-)
I think the progression of head only, or close to it, could go something like this:

1. Google Chromecast...$35
2. Apple APE then Apple TV...~$75
3. Sonos Connect...$350
4. Bluesound Node 2i...$5005. Project Streambox...$800 or so
6. Roon Nucleus...$1,400
7. Bryston BDP?....$1,400
8. Lumin U1 mini...$2,000

I know there are are a ton of products in the $1200 - $2,400 range and this is by no means comprehensive. There’s also the DIY world of raspberry Pi or something and also implementations of it like Project but that’s ain’t for me.

But, as one goes up market and still ONLY wants to stream a signal that goes to our existing DAC, I still want to know what we get SQ-wise what is gained going from, as an example, a Bluesound to a Lumin.
We get that the app is also crucial and a separate thread is addressing that now.
Sure, a home audition can help. But, what am I looking for.. and why is it better if we spend more?

or, are we fine with our nodes?
and, yes, I have a good dac.
I think the Bluesound Node occupies something of a sweet spot in terms of value for your audiophile dollar. The Blu OS interface is first rate and the Bluesound folks do a good job of keeping it up to date.  Add a decent external DAC and you are off to the races. That being said, both the SQ and the interface can be bettered, but you pay a premium for that extra bit of goodness, and the scale is sort of logarithmic.  At almost $2100 including lifetime subscription do I think Roon Nucleus is 3 or 4 times better than a $550 Bluesound Node 2i.  No I do not.  Do I think it is worth the premium.  Yes I do.  In my opinion the ride is worth the fare.  But that is very much an individual decision.   
A couple more dedicated streamers:

Bel Canto e.One Stream - $1595
SimAudio Moon Mind2 - $1900
DCS Network Bridge - $4750

Last summer, I had reached out to the designer/owner of my dac (Mojo Mystique v3) to ask a question about the outputs. He asked about my source, and when I mentioned that I was using a modded Sonos Connect, he replied that I was only getting probably 40% of his DAC’s capabilities.

Thus started a long conversation on digital servers, streamers, power supplies, ethernet filtering, cabling, switches, etc.

I eventually bought a used DCS Network Bridge and did a number of additional upgrades to power, filtering, and cables on the network front end. (FWIW, a straight swap-out of the DCS in place of the Sonos was a surprising revelation in improved SQ on its own.)

In my system, all these changes were an upgrade in SQ. Ben at Mojo Audio was right. There are of course diminishing returns in cost, but I have no regrets.

For you Deezer users out there, the SimAudio Moon Mind2, NAD M50.2, and DCS Network Bridge support native Deezer streaming. They are the only higher tier products I’ve found that support it.


@veroguy  great post  really quite helpful  thanks


I’m in the same boat as the OP, except in my case I want an upgrade from a MacBook Pro. I briefly tried the Bluesound Node 2i but returned it as I couldn’t really hear a difference compared to the Mac. I’m currently approaching analysis paralysis regarding streaming only boxes. In the sub $1k range there’s the W4S modified SONOS Connect, and the Pro-Ject Stream Box Ultra. I researched the Bel Canto e.one Stream @ $1500, but it’s not just a streamer as it also has a DAC. In the $2k range I’m looking at both the Lumin U1 mini, and the Moon Mind 2, both streaming only. There’s really not that many reviews on these boxes, and even fewer comparisons. Opinions seem to be split between “a streamer is a streamer, and it’s the DAC that affects SQ” and “streamers are just as important regarding SQ as the DAC”. 
@crn3371 , I couldn't find much on the Mind2 either.  Member fpeel has 2 of them, and gave a good review vs Blousound node here:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/bluesound-node-2/post?postid=1716588#1716588

Another option is the Metrum Ambre Roon Endpoint at $1200.  It doesn't have native streaming apps, but you could stream Tidal and Qobuz via the ambre if you got Roon.  Reviews are generally positive.

I was really close to getting the Lumin U1 mini, but it didn't have deezer support.  I've read that the Sbooster connection kit and power supply bring it to another level.




@veroguy, thanks for Node vs Mind link. That’s exactly the kind of comparison I’m looking for.