Streamers and bit rot.


In audio land, I see streamers as being complicated and subject to what we call "bit rot" in the software industry. It really means that over time, the code that used to work may no longer work because the environment around them is moving on. It doesn't mean the code becomes buggy, but fails to keep up. A modern streamer has three different areas where code must interface to the outside world:

  1. The services being streamed (Quboz, Spotify, Tidal, etc.)
  2. The USB DAC - Drivers must exist for each chipset.
  3. The user interface - iOS, Android, web
If you are an audio manufacturer, say, Parasound or Ayre and you want to make a streamer you have to solve all of these issues. Those require developers. OK, so you pay your Android and Tidal developer. They go away, and Tidal adds a new feature or a new service like Amazon streaming comes in. Got to go find developers again.  Apple releases a new iOS and your old Android app is now dead. What are you going to do?  This happens with some frequency and all but the most basic of apps "rot" over time.

This is very different than the software-less EE world in which your core expertise may lie in. I mean, even if you use some microcontroller to handle your inputs/levels and bass management it's still a lot simpler, and fewer lines of code to manage and keep up. 

So, my dear fellow A'goners, what brands to you trust to keep up and how did you solve this issue?
erik_squires
For me, it’s Aurender....5 plus years of worry free operation, outstanding sound quality and customer service. 
PS Audio, Aurender, and dCS come to mind
Are you buying a streamer or getting married to one?! That aside, any company that relies on software for the proper operation of their product - which basically covers almost all technology and consumer electronics manufacturers, would have to be very dumb to just count on the continuity of employment of their software developers to sustain a successful business model. As I'm sure you know, there are significant amounts of structure around software control and management to ensure some level of continuity if/when employees leave, which happens all the time. As for updates, even a $500 Bluesound Node2/2i pushes updates to their devices regularly with no issues. Hardware/firmware updates are also managed by a board replacement or remotely, e.g., FPGA, etc., respectively. Not to worry...
That aside, any company that relies on software for the proper operation of their product - which basically covers almost all technology and consumer electronics manufacturers, would have to be very dumb to just count on the continuity of employment of their software developers to sustain a successful business model.

I'm not exactly sure what you are getting at. I don't mean that you have to be prepared for developers to leave. I mean that from a product development lifecycle, there isn't really enough work to keep developers in all areas fully employed, so as a result anyone who isn't Harman sized has to hire consultants. A change will require a new project.

So, either you are in constant product development, justifying developers or you are on a project by project basis, and have serious fees incurred each time.

Unlike, say, an amplifier, which you pay to design once, and then you pretty much run it for 10 years if you can, or 20.
The OP has a knack of over analyzing things...that’s all I am going to say. 
I use bluOS which is part of Lenbrook Group, which  might not be the size of Harmon I don't  know  but they do a good job of keeping  the app and OS updated.
Kalali 
As for updates, even a $500 Bluesound Node2/2i pushes updates to their devices regularly with no issues.
Yes, I have the 2i and when their is a new update I am notified when I go to the Bluesound OS on my cellphone, a quick download and I have the new software update. For those of us living in the sticks, not near any brick and mortar shops, is this generally how all the streamers work?






@erik_squires,  
Insightful observation.  It seems to me that all forms of digital playback are subject to early obsolescence.  CD players, DACs, and yes, streamers, become outdated much faster than amps, preamps, speakers, etc.   For those of us who are not in the "money is no object" class, it becomes a bit of a dance trying to figure out how and when to buy and sell digital equipment so as not to loose the value of our equipment by holding it too long.  In other words perhaps we should embrace the buy but don't marry mindset advocated by Kalali. 

I bought a Sony HAPZ1-ES in 2014 and promptly sent it to ModWright for modification. The Sony probably was at or near the beginning of streamer/server technology.  I bought it for and used it as a server, rarely using the streaming capability.  At this point, my perception is that it is most certainly obsolete as a streamer.  I have an extensive music library, which is not going away, so I just don't really care about that functionality being obsolete.  However, if I wanted to sell it, I'm not sure I would recover but a fraction of my investment, so I'm left holding one more Dinosaur that is way too good to just give away.  

I am considering purchase of a more up to date streamer/server and external DAC.  If and when I do buy, I will probably buy used, hold for a couple of years, and hopefully resell while there is still a reasonable market.   I expect that digital playback is going to continue to rapidly evolve and mature at a rapid pace for the foreseeable future.  It is just the nature of the beast 
It seems to me that all forms of digital playback are subject to early obsolescence.  CD players, DACs, and yes, streamers, become outdated much faster than amps, preamps, speakers, etc

Thank you, but I think of those, DAC's are now the most stable. We can buy a Theta Casanova and it will play 96kHz/24 bit still. :) How old is that? 1990's or so? Admittedly, DACs over the last 15 years or so are much better with much lower jitter figures.  I just looked at your streamer, it looks great! Shame it doesn't have digital inputs. :(

I think the suggestion above to go with some thing that uses a shared as opposed to proprietary software stack is a very good one. I use Roon, but BluOS seems to be good too.


@djones51

I use bluOS which is part of Lenbrook Group, which might not be the size of Harmon I don't know but they do a good job of keeping the app and OS updated.



That to me seems like a great idea, especially if they do Android at the same time as iOS. I didn't mention it in my original post but Android and iOS developers are two different people, or at least two different projects.

The idea of multiple companies licensing from outside vendors is a great idea to me. This means they can continuously develop.

Reminds me of seeing a Maserati at a convention, and the salesperson told me the dash display electronics were built by Chrysler. At the relative volumes, I'm much more comfortable with the reliability of Chrysler and their phone interfaces than Maserati. :)
Electronic devices that are still relevant five or ten years after purchase are the exception, not the norm.  Look at mobile phones, TV's, surround sound processors, tablets, PCs, GPS units in cars, etc., etc. 

It's great that I have some audio components (turntables and speakers primarily) that are still working great over 40 years later, but anything that has some kind of software interface, I pretty much expect it to have a limited shelf life. 

I'd like to get as much life as I can out of my electronics and appreciate that the brands I use for streaming (TEAC and BlueSound) seem to do frequent updates to their products and seem to both be viable companies. 
Eric,. The Sony has a single USB in port that permits use of either an external hard drive or an external DAC.  I presume Sony could provide a firmware update that would permit other possibilities, were they motivated to do so.  DACs are stable in the sense of being usable, but not in the sense of holding market value.   What might have been a pretty good (and pricey)DAC in 2005 becomes a piece of junk sitting in a closet in 2020 that you can't give away.  So digital for me is not a buy and hold proposition.
Eric,. The Sony has a single USB in port that permits use of either an external hard drive or an external DAC.


Right, but you can't use the Sony as a standalone DAC. :(

DACs are stable in the sense of being usable, but not in the sense of holding market value.


True!! 
Maybe instead of talking about gear being stable we should talk about what interfaces have stood the test of time. For instance, these are proven and long lasting:

  • RCA / XLR Interconnects
  • Speaker cables
  • Digital audio: S/PDIF, AES/EBU
  • The Internet TCP/IP
  • Phonograph cartridges (many, but configurable)

The interfaces I see as less stable over time:
  • HDMI
  • USB
  • Music services
  • Telephone operating systems and software

So anything relying on the second group is to me in higher flux. I list USB because it's' gone through many versions, we're up to at least USB 3.0 as well as many different connector types.

Unlike amplifiers, DACs, speakers, etc., streamers and streaming music in general benefit from advancements in the telecommunication industry, both outside and inside the house. Of course the quality of the user interface software is equally important but most other aspects of the “delivery” pipeline will/should  get better and better. 
All of this needs to be standardized, and then the geniuses can proceed from there. Once the parameters are established, innovation can do it's thing.

Even HDMI cables are not all made the same, with different makes taking different routes on which connection works where: a recipe for disaster. This is borne out by some cables not making the "handshake" necessary for gear to communicate with each other, and this is just the cable end of the business.

Each piece of gear is a network unto itself and joining them can compound the difficulty if they aren't all on the same page, and they're not. They're getting there but have a ways to go.

All the best,
Nonoise
Interesting discussion. 
The triangle tug-of-war between 1) wanting best sound now; 2) not wanting to be stuck with something too-early obsolete; and 3) realizing life is short and everything eventually becomes obsolete. 
All of this needs to be standardized, and then the geniuses can proceed from there. Once the parameters are established, innovation can do it's thing.


It has been. USB 1.0 was a standard, as were every other USB standard up till now (with USB 4.0 waiting in the wings).

HDMI is now on what, version 2.2? 

<< sigh >>
There's also thunderbolt 3 which uses the same USB-C connector as the newer USB versions 3.1, 3.2  but they are different speeds and not all cables support the same standards,  yada, yada USB is a mess. 
+1 @kren0006.  Everything and everyone.
Post removed 
I'd love to see open api's to allow anyone to develop against hardware. 
Right?? We could mix Sonos/Roon/ Whatever.

Also, great if the streaming companies had a common API too.
Antipodes from New Zealand seem to do a great job across the board. I highly recommend them
@erik_squires Good thoughts. I was thinking about writing a similar post about how streamer manufacturers are not in a good economic position to author apps. And related is the ability to easily manufacture obsolescence in software. The recent news of Sonos discontinuing support for its older devices comes to mind.

It seems to me that many Vinyl and CD guys are now buying their first streamers, and streaming itself is now booming. I also suspect that streamer sales will slow as the market saturates with streamers. And if sales slow, the streamer manufacturers will not be in a good place economically to continue to pay for the even the current pore app development. And yet, the streamer consumer wants a good app! We love our consumer grade software, with beautiful user experiences and user interfaces, but many (most?) streamer manufacturers seem to only be authoring business grade software at best. 

I feel like the one piece of consumer grade streaming software that isn't about to go anywhere is the Chromecast protocol. Every streamer manufacturer should be slapping CC in their streamers. (NAD and Cambridge have it.) This way, the streamer manufacturers won't have to create and maintain apps. Plus, all the streaming services build CC support right into their apps. I can just use the app that my favorite streaming provider already builds and maintains. Demanding a streamer app to bypass the streaming provider app I already pay for seems wasteful. 

While I write this I have in mind another post where the OP asked about a streamer recommendation to replace his Cambridge streamer because the OP wanted a better app. But the Cambridge has CC build in... Well, maybe he'll sell me his Cambridge for cheap. 

I've thought hard about the streamer I will use. Darko says that the Allo Digi One Signature (a Raspberry Pi with a reclocking HAT and two low noise power supplies for $500) performs at the level of $2000-$3000 streamers. That's great value for money. But I don't think my S.O. would like the streaming software options that run on the Pi. 

So, for now, I use a discontinued Chromecast Audio with iFi reclocker. Both the reclocker and power cable upgrade for the CCA dramatically improved my system. I'm happy with this setup for now as I don't really know how a more expensive streamer will compare. 

BluOS and Roon also interest me. I suspect that NAD and Bluesound are winning market share from streaming alternatives, and that this is happening partly because BluOS is so convenient and polished. 
So, for now, I use a discontinued Chromecast Audio with iFi reclocker. Both the reclocker and power cable upgrade for the CCA dramatically improved my system. I’m happy with this setup for now as I don’t really know how a more expensive streamer will compare.


My experience with reclockers aligned closely with ASR’s findings: Great DACs don’t need reclockers. I also found that, as you might expect, the quality of those tiny devices as digital sources was mediocre.



Best,

E
For small manufacturers I think Sonore is doing a great job so far. Their Sonic Orbiter OS is Linux-based and in constant development. They release minor updates online and major updates with the purchase of a new microSD card which sells for under $30. The microRendu was launched 4 years ago (I believe) and is still supported.

Their hardware development hasn’t slowed either. They continue to push the envelope in this space to many accolades.

My experience with reclockers aligned closely with ASR’s findings: Great DACs don’t need reclockers.
Good to know. I've heard some say that more expensive DACs will have jitter reducing (reclocking?) built in to their various inputs. Now that I have a reclocker, I know I'll be testing it with future streamers and DACs. 
Good to know. I’ve heard some say that more expensive DACs will have jitter reducing (reclocking?) built in to their various inputs.


Not really how it works. I mean, expensive is a relative term. Look at the Stereophile jitter measurements for Mytek Brooklyn (~$2K) and the dCS Bartok (~ $16k). Their jitter performance is equivalent.

Both have excellent jitter reduction, but they don’t necessarily rely on sample rate conversion, which some re-clockers (Wyred4Sound’s Remedy for instance) do.

Part of this is also time. As we’ve moved forward in time even inexpensive DACs now provide excellent jitter rejection. Not true of every DAC, of course, but for isntance the Topping DX3 is an under $1k DAC with excellent jitter rejection.