I suppose one can argue that an automobile is a device that transports individuals from A to B, and as long as it has 4 wheels, an internal combustion engine, there is no difference between say, a Yugo and a Porsche.
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Yeah, and when CD players first came out they were all supposed to sound the same too. Guess this now makes streamers the new “Perfect Sound Forever.” Ya Mon.Yes, I hear what you are saying, but I also wonder how much the harsh sound was the fault of the player versus the quality of the CD itself. Remember all the different designations on how the CD was mastered (if that's the right term). I thought some of the early Phillips and Denons sounded pretty good.
I agree with one part that if a DAC can’t clean up noise and jitter it’s poorly engineered especially those built within the last few years. I don't have extensive knowledge on tons of CD players but those I have heard recently running through the same external DAC using the player as just a transport have very little difference to me. I would think as you go up the chain streamers that use better parts have a better user interface will have improved sound where the point of diminishing returns sets in I'll never know as I can't afford an uber expensive streamer.
Maybe a couple of real world a/b’s between
Yeah I just did this. Compared a Node 2i to a Lumin U1 mini. As good as the node is, the Lumin is better. More transparent and natural to my ears. I know it's 4 times as much, but the improvement was worth it to me. I don't see how you could hear both of them and say there is no difference. Now whether you are willing to pay for that difference is another matter completely.
Having done this test (different streamers into the same DAC), the differences are pretty easy to hear. My experiences suggest that while the tonal quality will be similar, the better streamers are more “open” spatially. I have a Node 2 in a system going into an outboard DAC. While it’s a killer device for the price, it sounds “flat” relative to my Aurender N100 and Auralic Aries G2. Tonally they’re pretty close. Spatially no contest. And, I took them to the dealer who sold me the Node 2 - he heard the same improvement. Only way for the OP to know is to try themselves.
Idol ramblings of a recent purchaser of his first streamer
Following the lead of an A’gon poster I purchased a Node 2i from Brite Audio who sells the Node 2i for $500, less 10% for a first time customer, so $450, all in including shipping. It did take about 3 weeks to receive it, drop shipped directly from Bluesound.
I received the unit in December and like the sound much better running it into a modded Musetex Meitner DAC. The Museatex Meitner presents the music with a very pleasing sound stage, tonality and depth. Taking my DAC out the sound does seem flatter. Without having actual experience, I wonder if comparing different streamers with the same DAC will not necessarily show which is the better sounding streamer, only the streamer that has the best synergy with that particular DAC.
But at last, what I want to say is that pleasure of the world of music that this (or any streamer with such a great OS) opens up overshadows any possible deficiency in sound quality. Its like having the music equivalent of the Library of Congress at your fingertips. I haven’t even needed to experiment around, I put on the 60’s and 70’s music station and haven’t felt the need to tune to another station. It’s like whoever selects the programming is reading my mind. I will note that where I live in Vermont there is limited FM programming available, even with my DXing tuner.
The 'audiophile' stuff is handled by the DAC. If the DAC can't clean up noise and jitter on the digital inputs, it's poorly engineered; look elsewhere."
The thing about DAC's is that they have limitations. I mean, even the best DAC on earth is going to have a problem if you have transmission delays lasting half a second. Some of this could be network related, some could be the OS and how "real time" the response to the USB request is, so I wouldn't put this all on the DAC per se.
I will say that modern DACs handle this much better, in the last 15 years or so, and that to me is the biggest reason to upgrade your DAC.
Streamers are unstable. Companies making them may come and go, the services they talk to (Tidal, Quboz, Spotify, etc.) may come and go and some one has to keep up. USB DACs require drivers, and the phone/tablet apps need to stay up to date.
My point to all of this is, a good streamer is worthwhile, but it's also not going to live very long. Your DAC and other electronics will be working long after the streamer has turned into a brick because of the latest iOS/Android upgrade.
Erik: it’s possible - perhaps even likely - that you’re correct that the streamer technology will cause my existing units to become obsolete. However, I view it differently. I’m enjoying the functionality and stability that my streamers currently provide. They’re all more convenient, have better apps, and sound better than the modded Mac mini I was using for that function. Further, I had to update the Mac OS far more often than I do my streamers. So, purchasing a streamer has also lessened my stress. I don’t have to update something every time I turn it on.
The way i see it - the job of the streamer (and/or server) is two fold: 1) convenience for accessing music, and 2) improve the sound quality by providing a lower jitter and less noisy signal to the DAC.
In my experience, the streamers I have do both those jobs well. When new technology greatly eclipses what I have, I’ll adopt. But, I’m not going to avoid using what is currently available and which works very well because something better may be available in a few years. The improvement in sound quality today is significant over PC/Mac based solutions. So is the convenience.
I never said that streamers have no value. In fact, it is precisely because they integrate our music library, online services with our phones and tablets that they have value.
I just worry about their value proposition. A $2K streamer makes a lot more sense to me than a $20K streamer. :)
I went from an Oppo Sonica streamer dac to a Lumin T2. I hear a much more detailed and natural portrayal in my streaming playback.
I totally believe this. From my own listening the Oppo DACs were severely overrated, but it's hard to tell from this experience if this is due to the streaming or the DAC. My guess is the latter. :)
Thanks all for the comments. I beleive this thread has shed some light on a topic that has been wondered about by many members looking to buy a streamer. It definitely has for me. For myself, the system I have warrants at least a mid level streamer to take advantage of my systems already open /airy sound.
Anyone looking to part with one let me know. (Oops, am I allowed to say that? ;)
I have a Node 2 in a system going into an outboard DAC. While it’s a killer device for the price, it sounds “flat” relative to my Aurender N100 and Auralic Aries G2.I've read this before, and it is fascinating to me that if the data is 1's and 0's and both are being fed into the same good DAC, that one will sound noticeably more open and spatial.
Does anyone have a technical explanation?
It’s a good question. I lack the technical knowledge to comment on why. But, I can comment on what. And, the difference is pretty easy to hear - and it was validated by a dealer who carries the Node, but not the streamers I have. I brought them in to audition on their system.
Perhaps it’s similar to cables. Why do digital cables, speaker cables and analog interconnects sound different? Heck, why do power cables sound different? Though some doubt these differences, an audition reveals otherwise (I acknowledge the presence of confirmation bias). But, the differences I hear were pretty clear - and confirmed by someone who didn’t want them to be there. In audio, everything seems to make a difference. Unfortunately....
WRT the OP’s original request:
"Pease [sic] comment on validity"... yes that commentary is all pretty much valid.
Keep the streamer part separate from the DAC discussion. Companies selling integrated streamer + DAC are doing just that: integrating two different functional components and related processing in one box. The streamer piece is an appliance (as stated in your referenced post) and it’s largely a commodity: getting data ’over the wire’ is a well-understood process, the data is digital, and the error correction at the receiving end is well-established and stable technology. "Audiophiling" the streamer is just the latest in the long-standing industry tendency to mystify and ’subjectivize’ a measurable process that ultimately has little to no measurable impact on the sonic result. For profit.
Profit is fine. It’s necessary for most businesses. Just don’t mislead or otherwise bullsh!t along the way.
The node 2 streamer is a mid fi device at best. I liked the Auralic Aries mini much better, but I only used that for background music. I’ve had the dedicated music servers in the past (Auralic Aries and the Auralic Aries mini using usb into an external dac. If I was going to use a computer or streamer in my audio room hooked up to the dac (I would never use either) then I would use either the I2S input. Instead of using USB, use a regular computer running Roon, and a dac using Ethernet.
“Audiophiling" the streamer is just the latest in the long-standing industry tendency to mystify and ’subjectivize’ a measurable process that ultimately has little to no measurable impact on the sonic result. For profit“
While I appreciate the alternate take, you have no earthly idea how a well designed ‘audio’ streamer can impact the overall sound of your system.
Playing the role of Luddite, I'm still holding at Windows Laptop plugged directly into Router and running Windows Remote Desktop from my tablet.
On the plus side, I have access to all music sources, including YouTube and tracks/album links I stumble across when surfing the music press, or just clicking to JRiver or Qobus. It just seems like the ultimate integration point for accessing the widest range of musical content. Windows is my window to information.
On the negative side is that terrible e-noise in the Windows Laptop. But how bad is it in terms of passing signal to a good DAC that's going to filter noise and reclock everything internally?
Don't get me wrong, if I get to actually experience the great improvement a dedicated streamer provides , and I like the User Interface, I'll buy a really good one. But right now that would be blindly stepping out in faith...there's a lot of gizmos with stiff price tags but very low construction costs and in-progress software.
My main whine about trying to chart a path from laptop is that there's so much technical jargon and so little information on what the User Interface and User Experience will be. I just hear blurry things like "You will be able to access a NAS disk"...but show me what that looks like on the screen.
I'll probably come back from Axpona as a convert, but right now I'm in sonic bliss with my little Windows PC serving up a universe of music as directed by my tablet...and I can type comments into Radio Paradise feedback and check my Luddite AOL email at the same time 😊
Several people posting within this thread are skeptics. That’s fine. What I don’t understand is why someone wouldn’t actually try something to either prove or disprove their expectation. Dealers are willing to demo. Most dealers are also willing to let customers try in their own home. An audition will reveal whether or not a streamer will outperform a laptop and provide a suitable or improved experience.
It’s fair to note that a streamer is a purpose built computer, stripped of all the extraneous devices that don’t serve that function - like video processing, running 3rd party software, etc. Accordingly, they’re far more stable (don’t need updating every 5 minutes), don’t tend to crash, and don’t introduce the same levels of noise, etc.
As stated previously - audition one and then state your findings - good or bad. But those like usery above who state conclusively an opinion without any experience - are just missing out.
Try one. If you like it - buy it. If you don’t - don’t buy it - and then tell us what you found.
The node 2 streamer is a mid fi device at best. I liked the Auralic Aries mini much better, but I only used that for background music.
I love using my system for background music as I am going about my day. Over the years of being on A'gon I have come to realize there is a small but vocal subset of members with not much better to do with their time than to sit in a room alone and stare into space listening for tiny differences in sound. This is not meant to be negative at all towards anyone who spends mega bucks on equipment, as I get it, its how the equipment serves you.
Here is my 2 cents- my experience - I have been running my LUMIN D1 for 5 years into two high quality stereo systems (Krell and Maggie’s). The D1 constantly gets upgraded via its internet connection automatically from LUMIN via its Ethernet cable. The Apple interface on my iPad mini is great. I stream Tidal HiFi with MQA and I cannot believe the sound quality- every cable upgrade has improved my detail and soundstage. Just replaced the DC power supply - went with the SBoost - another amazing increase in detail out of my 5 year old rig that cost me $2,000 5 years ago.
i read here about so many people having issues with streaming using a computer and multiple DACs. Just get a LUMIN (the D2 runs $2,200) and get back to enjoying the music.
i am considering moving up to the T2, but it costs $4500. And it has the Saber DACs. But I like my Wolfson DACs in my D1.
There aren't that many streamer only devices with no DAC, so it's not easy to compare different streamers into the same DAC. What I have done is compared the sound of the Bluesound Node 2 with its internal DAC to using my Sony TA-ZH1ES headphone amp's DAC. There was a noticeable improvement using the DAC in the Sony. For my other Node 2, I used my Auralic Vega DAC instead of the Node 2's internal DAC. I never did a comparison between the Vega and the Node 2's DAC.
While that doesn't answer the question of using different streamers with the same DAC, it lays some groundwork for what I did next, which was to replace the Node 2/Vega combination with a TEAC NT-505 streamer/DAC. The TEAC, which cost less than $2,000 easily bested the sound quality of the Node 2 into the Vega (which was a $3,500 DAC when new).
While it's possible that the Vega just isn't that good, or that the DAC in the TEAC is a giant killer, I believe that the difference is more likely due to having better streaming hardware sending the signal to the DAC. I can't think of much, if anything, in the audio chain that doesn't matter, so it stands to reason that a better streaming source will result in better sound quality.
I would be very interested in a technical explanation of what it is that makes one streamer produce better sound than another.
Without getting into the technicals, because I can’t, it makes some sense that using a streamer that reduces noise and provides a better data stream to a DAC, even one with good filtration and re-clocking, could yield sonic advantages. The analogy that comes to mind is that using some basic room treatments with a DSP room-correction device is preferable to using DSP alone. Reasoning is that the DSP doesn’t have to work as hard and that the room treatments may correct certain anomalies better than the DSP can, so there is a combination effect going on. I could see a similar benefit occurring in the server/streamer and DAC relationship. Past that logic, after many years in audio one of the few overarching truths I’ve found to endure is that everything, no matter how small, in the audio chain matters to some degree. I see no reason why the streamer/DAC interaction would be the thing that breaks that truth. FWIW.
I see this in a similar light as the question surrounding using a CD as a transport- and the differences between units. I have 2 older EAD units that I use with external DAC's and they are superior to any other CD player/transport I have used. I am certain better units exist, I just haven't heard them. Theoretically they are delivering just "digits", but even with my ancient ears I hear a significant difference. Why would streamers be any different? Better signal paths, better components....should probably sound better. Whether that difference is worth $10K is up to the individual and their budget.
There aren't that many streamer only devices with no DAC, so it's not easy to compare different streamers into the same DAC ...Most streamers have digital outs, so comparing isn't difficult at all.
Here is a post from a very experienced and knowledgeable DIY hobbyist who has built many servers and streamers
I have been heavily involved in the development of streamers / music servers for the last 5 years
Here are my takeaways
- all streamers get the 0's and 1's right
- nearly every USB DAC gets the timing of arrival of the 0's and 1's done well
- in all digital devices the numerous clocks are significant sources of RF emissions
- the effect of RF emissions is very difficult to attenuate to levels where their effects are no longer audible
- RF emissions are sensitive to vibration and power supply
- software activity in a streamer has an immediate effect on power supply current draw and which carries a RF emission imprint
The evidence to support this chain of effects
- streamers running different operating systems sound different
- put any streamer on a vibration control / damping platform you will hear a difference
- every new roon release sounds significantly better even when delivering bit perfect to the DAC
- USB cables sound different
Has everyone who compared the different level streamers done so in a way that was randomized and blind?Not likely. I've noted many times that most audiophiles have no use for such tests.
Perhaps you're different.
Did you use blind testing to choose your streamer? If so, please tell us about the test and the result.
Since my name was mentioned I will say that I did NOT test the servers blindly. I did some quick A/B comparisons on some familiar tracks. But in the end it was long term listening for pleasure that best bore out the differences. Same as it should be when testing any two components. One you will enjoy listening to more than the other.
Blind tests are for naysayers and skeptics. Trust your listening skills and you will know what sounds better in your system, regardless of the cost.I agree with the statement above that you can and should trust your ears to determine what sounds best.
But respectfully, I don"t get why you would think that blind tests are for naysayers and skeptics. Why wouldn't blind testing be another way to determine what sounds best?
From my viewpoint it would make common sense that a person comparing two different stereo units, without knowing which was which, and picking that which they liked the sound of the best is a valid test.
No need to provide the discussion that there is no such thing as a true blind test that another member here has written a thousand times.
Well said Ozzy. Whether it's a blind test or a fast A/B sighted test, while you may hear differences, that doesn't mean that you'll be able to instantly pick the one that is "better". I've heard (and bought) a few things that upon first listen I thought sounded better than something I had, but after extended listening noticed other less favorable characteristics about the sound. Often it was that very thing that caught my ear which upon further listening proved to be exaggerated in a way that made it hard to listen to for an extended time.
I'm going through a bit of that right now with my new streamer. Upon first listen it seems that things sound "better" upsampling to DSD, but then I start to hear an edge to the music that I didn't notice without upsampling.
... it would make common sense that a person comparing two different stereo units, without knowing which was which, and picking that which they liked the sound of the best is a valid test ...Is that how you choose your audio components?
... Whether it's a blind test or a fast A/B sighted test, while you may hear differences, that doesn't mean that you'll be able to instantly pick the one that is "better". I've heard (and bought) a few things that upon first listen I thought sounded better than something I had, but after extended listening noticed other less favorable characteristics about the sound.Exactly. The true characteristics of an audio component are best revealed over time, and less likely to be identified in a quick "shoot-out" or AB test.
Is a long term evaluation a test of the components or our brains adaptability?If genuine differences are revealed over time, then it’s obvious - by definition - that it’s not the brain’s "adaptability" that’s responsible. Otherwise, "adaptability" would suggest that no difference be heard.
Is that how you choose your audio components?I hate to throw this out there but for the most part I buy online without any demo. I just read as much as I can here, and try to buy from venders that allow returns if a product turns out to not have synergy with the rest of the system.
I live in rural Vermont and the nearest bricks and mortar stores with any type of choices are hours away.
But if a bricks and mortar store offered a blind test I certainly would not refuse it.