I see a lot of listing for streamers on here, reviews in Stereophile, TAS, etc, and I’m interested.
MY QUESTION: Is there any benefit using a streamer i.e. Auralic Aries (or any other), if you can connect your computer directly to your DAC? I know I’m missing something here, probably
Currently my iMac is connected directly to my DAC, via USB with a Wyred Recovery in the chain. I think it sounds great. All my digital files are on a hard drive, connected to the iMac. I use Audirvana to manage it all, and to use Tidal. iPad as remote.
The better streamers should provide improved sound quality over a PC/MAC.
As jond stated, some are also renderers so can be used as a control hub for different streaming sources and external music storage devices.
Some are also servers that can store music files and allow you to build personalized libraries. Very handy for building libraries of hi-rez downloads, ripped CD collections, and sharing selections/libraries with friends.
Can really improve the overall user experience over a PC/MAC.
Thank you for the additional information. It seems to me my iMac does everything you've both listed above.. Since my room is fairly small, and distance is not a factor, I should stick with my current setup.
Well that's rather odd my post was removed by a moderator. You don't have to abandon your music with a streamer and I stand by what I said earlier. I wasn't trying to start a fight just what I read seemed totally wrong. If my language was too harsh then my apologies to all.
Thank you. In the past I have used an Apple TV (gen 2) and Google Chromecast, using an optical out to my DAC. At the time, the convenience was nice, but the sound wasn't nearly as clear as running a USB straight from the computer to the DAC. Streaming Tidal.
Does a USB generally carry a better signal?
Those are considered streamers right?
Big topic of disagreement - best digital interconnect technology. Optical is often shunned but some specific well-reviewed (well, actually one I am aware of) DACs are optical input only!
I think a lot of new DACs and streamer/renderer/server products are focused on usb because it is easily compatible with computers. Usb took a big leap forward a few years back when Wavelength introduced asynchronous usb and Ayre adopted it as their preferred interface.
Check out the Aurender N100H. May or may not be what you want but learning about it could be helpful...
Been there done that. For years I had a Mac mini running pure music then audirvana 2.x using the best USB cable to an external dac. I then bought the Auralic Aries and converted the Mac mini to an OS X server for storing all of our music and performing other server duties. Big improvement in SQ and user interface. I then sold the Aries and the w4s external dac and got a PS Audio DS with the bridge II, another big leap in SQ. I also got Roon for the interface, but the DS Lightning interface for the Aries is quite good. By using the mac as a true server, the server is located 50 ft away from the audio room so their is no noise coming from the server or the attached disk, and connected using a 1G switched network.
@robelvick Apologies if I misunderstand your question. Years ago, DAC’s did not have a USB input. They only had a coax, optical or AES/EBU connection to talk to the CD transport. When computer audio began, a ‘bridge’ component was needed for the DAC to talk to the computer – instead of the CD transport. This ‘bridge’ component had a USB input from the computer - but had a coax, optical or AES/EBU output to connect to the DAC. Over time, this ‘bridge’ component has evolved into a multi-featured ‘streamer’. Also, all new DAC’s have USB inputs. The bottom line is that streamers greatly improve the sound quality. In my system, I use an Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 5 from my laptop to my DAC. Music from Tidal sounds as good as my high-end CD transport.
Just for reference, since I did not state in previously - I’m using a Benchmark DAC2 HGC. I did try the 14 day trial of Roon. So far, much more pretty than Audirvana and Amarra. Still figuring it out though, took a little while just to sync my music folder.
The Benchmark does have an ansynchronous usb input. @steakster do you think I would benefit from using a bridge component, and use an AES or Coax input in my DAC? For the price of the Emperical, I could just get a used Aries.
Another thought...I do use the Wyred Recovery in my chain, but I also have 2-3 Jitterbugs, and a Schiit "Decrapifier". Are these just stepping stones towards a better end result in sound quality? Snake oil?
Wow, that’s a lot of "fix it" gizmos! Not "snake oil" but may introduce problems of their own just as or more insidious than the PC noise issues you are trying to eliminate. DC noise from cheap power supplies entering the signal path being one of the primary concerns when using these. Impedance mismatches created by so many interfaces another.
Those products are designed to address certain specific issues that attempt to eliminate noise and distortions from the noisy PC sourced-signal; not really sound quality "enhancers" although that is the intended/advertised result.
IMO, way too many "bridge components" already. USB vs Spdif (AES/EBU, COAX, Optical) superiority is not even in the wheelhouse of importance for your current situation.
The OP asks if there is any benefit to using a streamers when he can connect his pc to a DAC. I have done both the Mac and DAC route and used a streamer. The functionality is the same. It's a convenience issue. A streamer will incorporate many of the steps required to make the pc route work and provide an interface. I found the streamer works better for me. I'm almost 60 and IT just isn't my thing. My job is filled with IT issues and frustrations and when I relax with music at home and I don't want any additional. I could make the Mac and DAC work (it's my back up if anything happens to a streamer) but I hate the hassle. A streamer works like any Audio Component. PCs always feel like, well, computers that have been added to the Audio System. There are theoretical reasons why streamers should sound better. Computers have a lot of other functions that generate digital noise. PCs tend to be limited to USB which are the weak link for most DACs. Those issues are secondary, though as there are workarounds and PC Audio can sound excellent. It depends on your comfort zone. If PCs don't drive you batty and you have good Computer literacy then you may not need a streamer. If you want something that feels more like an Audio Component and is easier to use you might like a streamer
The two streamers of choice under $1K around here seem to be the Auralic Aries Mini and Bluesound Node. I have a Mini and love it. It's worked flawlessly for me and the Lightning DS interface app is excellent. Also with the latest firmware update the Mini can unfold MQA if that's important to you. Love wireless my NAS is in my office and the Mini is in my living room where it's just another stereo component not a "computer".
Since you are already vested in the Apple ecosystem, I recommend Aurender (I believe Dave @dlcockrum does as well)...their entry level streamer, the N100H used, if your budget allows. It's a good starting point and you can optimize around it and your DAC.
Bluesound Node 2 seems to be getting great feedback as all in one streaming device with built-in MQA compatible DAC. If I may recommend, go for Vault 2 with CD ripping capability. I do miss this functionality in my DAC/Streamer setup.
At the end of the day, it’s all about convenience and one box that does it all. And you do have a choice to use an external DAC with any of the Bluesound devices.
I think personal computers are made for multiple tasks, whereas music streamers are more recently designed and engineered for delivery of music. I see "streamers" as more specialized electronic devices. With that said, I opted to go with a streamer. Also a great many streamers can offer a more direct, and often much less versatile, substitute for a preamp. When one does not need all the features of a preamp, source switching, analog function, etc the streamer can be a shorter, more direct preamp with your phone or notebook as the controller. Many here at the agon have discovered how much the sound has improved by bypassing the preamp and cabling streamer straight to the amp. My two cents...
The Aries Mini is where I'm leaning right now, if I were going to try an entry level streamer. Their used prices are very reasonable. I could check, but I'll go ahead and ask since I'm getting a lot of good responses here, will Roon work with Aries Mini? I'm really digging the Roon app!!
There's one listed on here, with the external power supply. I'm guessing this is better than the stock wall-wart? I like that it doesn't take up much space too, which is limited for me right now.
I use I use the Bluesound Vault2 and the Node2 in another system. I use the wired options but not from the router. I use the gizmos that attach to the Power Mains. The main downside is the theoretical issue of polluted mains power interfering with the signal but I think it's a lot of High End hooey because it sounds great. The Bluesound can be used wirelessly but I've had issues with my wireless so I prefer the wired, and going through the mains eliminates running Ethernet cables around the house. i would recommend starting with the Node 2, well within your budget, but there should be some good choices for under a grand
There are no issues with wireless connectivity with the Aries Mini, if you read that thread, which I posted on, the OP is having an issue with his wired connection defaulting to wireless. I suspect this is due to a setup issue and gave him some relevant info to peruse. I am personally using the Sbooster Linear power supply on my Mini and it was a very nice upgrade. I can't speak to Dave's "issue" except to say the Sbooster and I believe the Auralic linear supply are both larger and more robust than the uptone supply pictured in that thread.
I will add my recommendation for the Bluesound Node 2. Not just because I like it so much, but it seems Lenbrook and NAD are getting behind customer support 100%. I have had to contact Bluesound customer support twice for issues on connectivity and they were tremendous. I don't know what one could expect from Auralic?
I can say, for me, a personal computer will handle bits the same but also it was not designed to be quiet, as it often contains spinning disc drives, noisy power supplies or circuits which are not isolated....because it was not intended to be a device for the sole purpose of delivering music. Perhaps it is my imagination but the playback of BOTH my hi-Rez files on my HDD to my Node 2 and the streaming of MQA over the Node 2 sounds better than digital music files from my MacBook Pro to my DAC. Try Crosby, Stills & Nash, CSN, "Anything You Want" followed by "Cathedral" the MQA version on Tidal. I can hear how well Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonize together AND I can clearly distinguish each voice. Their voices sound as natural as I have ever heard them. The piano tone is perfect, and the decay of the notes is long. The background when there are no instruments being played is totally silent. I had not heard that before I had a dedicated music server. In fact the low noise pops, clicks and hiss I had heard from record albums annoyed me even when I had cleaned the grooves of my records. So straight analog never compared to my BS Node 2. I expect many of the dedicated streamers of higher quality and engineering will provide similar results. I think in the case of Bluesound, much of the R&D from NAD's Master Series components have trickled down to the Bluesound line.
Regarding MQA: My Dac does not accept MQA, but the Aries Mini does, so If I wanted to stream MQA I could just use the Mini’s built in DAC w/ analog out to my preamp correct?
For non MQA files, I could use the Mini as a streamer only, using the USB out to my DAC.
If that is the case, that is something that wouldn’t definitely be a deciding factor. Although the Node 2 can do the same I suppose regarding MQA, but for non MQA, the USB out looks like mini-usb, which would just require a different type of cable, mini-USB to USB B so I could connect to my DAC??
Rob, On the subject of MQA I don't have an MQA DAC either what gets output is a 24/96 data stream that I assume doesn't get "unfolded" but still sounds great. You certainly could listen to MQA via the analog outputs I honestly has never considered trying that. Give it a shot and see what you think not sure the gains in rez will close the gap between the Mini and an outbard DAC but certainly it's worth trying. On the subject of USB this seems relevant:
"AURAliC's Lightning devices are a highly customized computer system:
they support virtually all kinds of USB removable devices such as small
USB card reader; USB flash drive; 2.5-inch portable USB hard disk,
3.5-inch USB removable hard disk (external power supply required) and
even a hard disk ‘toaster’.
Lightning devices can work with all USB hard disks if they do not
require an external power supply to work on your computer. The driving
ability of Lightning Device's USB input on the back panel is 500mA in
The USB input on Lightning Device is USB 2.0 standard; it is also compatible with 3.0 drives."
I was wondering about the MQA output as well. Node or Vault is only capable of maximum 24/96 resolution from its anolog output, so in essence we are not realizing the full potential of 24/196kHz MQA files.
I was so ready to pull plug on Vault 2 for its CD ripping and MQA compatibility. Thought Vault 2 would be a good replacement for my SONOS connect box :-)
IME some devices (my laptop for example) allow the Tidal app to do the first MQA unfold and pass 96/24 to the DAC even if the DAC is not MQA-enabled. Others pass the bit-perfect files with the MQA packet attached (my Aurender) for the MQA-enabled DAC to do all of the unfolding thus a non-MQA DAC will only show and play 44/24 or 48/24 when fed from those devices.
@lalitk According to the specs the Mini does sampling rates of 44.1-384khz (16-32 bits) and DSD up to 256 pretty sure that is via both digital and analog. Regarding MQA I have little experience with it or the specs so not sure what the full resolution would be. When I play MQA files off Tidal it typically reads either 48 or 96khz and 24 bits with a little MQA indicator showing. My DAC maxes out at 48 so that's all the resolution I am getting but very happy with the sound so not looking for a new DAC.
I should also add personally I'm not really interested in MQA, I am firmly of the belief that mastering quality trumps digital resolution and am very happy with the sound of Redbook recording on my system.
jond +1 re: mastering/engineering. One of my favorite albums is ’The Great Summit’ featuring Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Recorded in 1961, re-mastered in 1990. On the track, ’It Don’t Mean a Thing’ written in 1931, Satchmo and his horn are in the room. I want to reach out and shake his hand. Back in the ’50’s and ’60’s, the engineers who recorded those greats (including Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, etal) knew what they were doing.
My tube DAC doesn’t have MQA processing either. Whenever I inadvertently play a MQA Master track on Tidal, it sounds really weird. The same track in Hi-Fi sounds excellent.