What is the added value of a streamer over a networked dedicated Computer


I see lots of sales pitches for streamers as digital sources, and plenty on this site advocating them. I get that they're a purpose-built user interface but, apart from that convenience, including a visual display on the device, (i) do they really deliver better hi-fi sound as a source over a well set up computer dedicated to hi-fibreoriduction (ii) if so, why?

Here's some background to my question(s). I currently use a dedicated Mac Mini with SSD (headlessly) and Audirvana Plus software through a USB DAC. I tend to listen to digital files on external drives (wired connections). Some are high Definition eg Flac, some are aiff ripped from my extensive CD collection. Currently I only tend to use Spotify etc to test if I like music and invest in actual downloads of the music I like.  In day to day use the Mac Mini/Audirvana Plus (virtual) player is controlled using its remote app on an iPad on the same Network. If I wanted I could add high quality online streaming from, eg, Tidal. Whilst that would expand the breadth of music I have immediate access to, it seems to me to add another potential source of interruption/corruption of data flow. The Audirvana software overrides/bypasses detrimental computer audio elements and processes keeping the data path simple and dedicated to hifi audio replay.

So what, sound quality-wise, would a standalone streamer device using NAS or other drive storage and/or online web connection bring to the party? It seems to me it's just a digital device containing effectively the components of a computer with a button (or remote) interface. I understand the old argument that it's dedicated and not doing other things simultaneously and that computers are traditionally electrically noisy environments but I'm currently sceptical that with a dedicated computer, not being used for other purposes, and running a virtual device like Audirvana Plus which effectively switches off internal functions which might compromise sound, this is a real problem. Also it seems that a "dedicated streamer" contains many elements which are effectively computing elements. Note that I have no industry connection or monetary interest from Audirvana or Apple.


I have essentially the same set up as the gentleman who started this discussion: 2012 Mac Mini: 2 tb Samsung SSD with 3000 ripped Cd's using AIFF or ALAC: Audirvania is controlled with iOs remote using iPad or iPhone. I use AQ Diamond USB connected through an AQ jitterbug: Power cable is a Synergistic Research Resolution Reference and the MM is plugged into the Discrete Symmetrical out of a Furman Ref IT-15: I use Audirvana to convert the CD Library to DSD128:  I,also, use a dedicated $1200 streamer connected with a AQ Eagle Eye silver coax cable and the same SR power cord. I use the streamer for Apple Music Lossless & Tidal: I have a parallel library on a macbook pro using a samsung ssd Amarra & Audirvana In my setup, the Mac Mini trumps the streamer every time. So I use it for music discovery and not for critical listening. Of course, this is my experience. Depending on equipment and room issues results can vary.


The problem is that the digital data is robust, but you can't listen to it without converting it to analog.  That process is extremely time-sensitive and intrinsically imperfect.  Streamers like the Aurender mitigate timing errors in the signal transmission by buffering, but this only limits the signal jitter.

That said, if you don't hear a difference, then please share your experience comparing the 2 approaches in real life.

Computers fail, there’re noisy and take up space. Streamers provide absolute simplicity.

Streamers are computers


Streamers like the Aurender mitigate timing errors in the signal transmission by buffering, but this only limits the signal jitter.

rubbish. All streamers send packets of data. The DAC unpacks these packets. Any "timing" in the streamer is ignored by the DAC because the timing/jitter in the DAC is completely unrelated to the timing in the streamer and the switch. They are not correlated. Have fun spending big $$ on expensive clocks in streamers and switches, just be aware these timing signals from these expensive clocks do not affect the timing in the DAC in any way.


That said, if you don’t hear a difference, then please share your experience comparing the 2 approaches in real life.

Without wasting your time with the details. I’ve tried a LOT of cables, power supplies, switches, reference clocks , streamers, re-clockers, and so forth on the devices to feed data to my DACs. My experience is if you have a quality DAC.. all that stuff , like many other things in this hobby, is a complete waste of money. Like many other things in this hobby, many hear an improvement every time they spend more $$.

Paul McGowan (PS Audio) has a recent Youtube video which responds to this very question.

Having a dedicated streamer is a nice thing . But many already have computers and should at least try those first if that has appeal. It’s easy and can work very well. Just use a long usb wire so the computer is not too close to the amps for better chance of very good results. Also make sure to use drivers on the computer that are up to the task and stream good quality source material with a good quality streaming app. Then of course also use a good quality DAC. That can make a big difference.