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.


Dear readers

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100%, + mapman

In my system, there are totally 4 USB A-B connections (Oehlbach and ViaBlue) leading from 2 laptops (Win10) and 2 tablets (Android 7) into 3 different DAC's.  (SS Amp Cambridge Audio 751r, Marantz SACD player SE8005 and Hybrid Amp Vincent SV-500).

Streaming App's are JRiver with laptops and Audio Player Pro with tablets. The distance from the source to the DAC is 16 feet (2x), 8 feet and 3.5 feet.

My long term experience: Between these connections, I do not (cannot?) hear any difference regarding sound quality, which is really very good to my ears. I will have to check if I could hear a difference using my headphones (I am mostly listening over the speakers). BDW: I will later compare in detail the sound quality between USB A-B connection and HDMI connection from one source to the 751r. Just being curios...

Would it be worth to go for a dedicated streamer (price range US$ 200 to US$ 1'000)? I would need to find out and invest the money. Currently, I do believe that the investment of these bucks into the Quobuz Premier streaming plan is the way to go for me (Curiosity is killing the cat..). This is my personal opinion, based on my listening experience with my gear.

IMHO, instant-on is the only advantage, although streaming through my Amazon Echo starts just as fast. But if you have to boot up a laptop or tablet.... Otherwise, bits are bits.

 So, the data, which represents the amplitude of the music must be correct, and error correction techniques ensure this, but crucially the timing must be consistently spot-on too. That’s why different streamers etc sound different.

The timing in the streamer has absolutely nothing to do with the timing in the DAC. The clock in the DAC is completely independent from the clock in the Streamer and the clock in the Ethernet  switch. .... completely independent

@john737 - For what it's worth, I have Bluesound Node 2I streamer, modified Maverick Audio DAC, Pathos Classic One MkIII (Mullard Tubes), and Focal 836v speakers.  I have heard differences in power cords (on some components) and analog interconnects, but did not hear a difference when I switched digital coax cables.  I personal opinion is that it takes a very good system before the question of streamer vs. computer becomes a question worth answering.  I've heard clear differences among DACs and am actually rather happy that I am not compelled to go further upstream in my system.


The timing of the Streamer vs the DAC depends on the connection used. If you use the USB connection, then the DAC retimes the bitstream. If you use the S/PDIF or AES connection then the DAC uses the incoming timing. This is why it is important to try both.

My theory is that you should use the better component’s ability to time. I tried both the AES, S/PDIF, USB from my Aurender W20SE and Audio Research CD9SE DAC and found them all to be really… really similar, with the AES slightly better than the S/PDIF. But, I think it depends on your streamer and DAC.