Which combination of components (Streamer, DAC, Preamp, Amp, etc.) are most future-proof?
I’m in the process of gently upgrading my older, mid-fi system. I’ve started with speakers (Salk WOW1’s, REL 328 sub). I recognize that the amplification, cables, room, and source all need investment.
I’m focusing first on source(s) and how to serve them up. While I have a decent CD collection, mostly I’ve been streaming my music from ripped MP3 files and Spotify. I no longer have a working CD player. I know that higher resolution sources (lossless files or high quality streaming) is important. Re-ripping my collection may become a project.
So, here’s my question — a lot of reading has shown me a dizzying range of ways to go. Music servers/streamers, DAC, preamp, amp are available in many combinations. I’d like quality but am not inclined to spend tens of thousands of dollars; I resist going the "separates" route for *every* piece. So which combinations make the most sense? A streamer/DAC? A preamp/DAC? An integrated amp/DAC? Something else?
In addition to resisting separates, I’d like to invest in good components which won’t quickly be outdated. So, for example, if DAC’s are likely to evolve quickly, then I’d like my integrated amp to not be weighed down by a DAC which would too quickly become a vestigial organ inside it.
To reiterate the question: What combination components would best help out with some portion of the sequence of serving--converting--amplifying--digital sources materials while avoiding too-rapid obsolescence?
Thanks for entertaining the question. Again, I’ve read a lot, but it’s not made my path clear. (Or maybe I just get a PS Sprout and call it a day?)
It’s not an easy question to answer because a lot of the factors conflate. As you allude, separates offer greatest flexibility. All in ones the greatest convenience but with compromises.
Dacs/streamers are advancing at more rapid pace than amps/preamps, which are arguably advancing at slightly more rapid pace than speakers, although each of the latter two groups much slower moving than dacs/streamers/servers etc.
So where does that leave you? Well since speakers have biggest impact on sound quality and least likely to go obsolete, can’t go wrong loading heavy on speakers.
Next, sounds like an integrated amp would suit you based on your description. Tough thing with this is more and more they include dacs (the trend), which runs against your wish re portion becoming outdated. I guess manufacturers are finding consumers are valuing the convenience over the fear of subset obsolescence.
Then as to the sources, the dacs/streamers/servers advancing rapidly but the improvements are also substantial, so that’s a good thing. We want progress and improvement right?
Good luck, not sure if this is helpful but clear from your post you’re smart enough to figure out a fit that’ll work for you.
Fwiw, in my reference system I spent 45% on speakers, 32% on an integrated amp without a dac, 12% on a streamer/dac, and 11% on cables/conditioner/isolation, after considering many of the factors you mention.
In my secondary systems, to this point the convenience, value and relatively decent quality of all-in-one type systems has so far carried the day, but I’m likely to move to something closer to my main system percentage breakdown for system 2 within next 9 months
@kren006 Thanks for a great reply. That does help sort out the factors a bit more for me, and the percentage breakdown and the issue of "primary" vs. "secondary" system is also quite useful.
There are couple "in the weeds" factors which I need to research further. One is related to the media which may have more sticking power than we initially assume (because we’re swamped by the churn). I see vinyl resurging -- and even read an article on cassette tapes as still (somewhat) viable (more skeptical on that one, given the magnetic adhesion factor). Another is the sticking power for the delivery technology. As I watch standards for USB, or wifi routers, or codecs change, I get flashbacks of the "betamax" vs. "vhs" thing. I just recycled a bunch of "firewire" cords and have numerous old hard drives sitting in my closet. All that stuff seems more outdated than the CDs I own, despite the fact that they’re all about the same age, more or less.
Meanwhile, my AR 48s from 1983 are great. My Adcom separates from 1993 still make music. And I still have a Thorens TD166 from the 1980s, too. Those all are just examples of the point you made. I want to improve on them, but they’re not *forcing* me to with the same necessity that some other elements are.
The last factor is about distinguishing among my own motivations. I'm quite ok with swapping out and improving gear because this is hobby and about learning through experimentation. (I mean, who doesn't like to try new restaurants or new kinds of food?) But there's an aspect to this area which leads to upgrade-itis, and that's part-and-parcel of the consumerist culture that's environmentally quite destructive and not related to music listening, which has to be the main goal. I want to know why I'm doing all this.
Yep, that’s why if at all possible it is best to audition as many things as possible before purchasing. Serves two purposes: 1) offers better chance that you’ll make more informed decision according to your unique sonic preferences based on comparative results; and 2) offers some comfort that you’ve already experienced what’s out there so less ’upgraditis’ pull, I’ve found ...
Let me illustrate via a story. I live just outside of New Orleans. We have to deal with local flooding and pooling in front of our home, often. 2 feet of water! On the street! Unless you have 'lifted' your Jeep or SUV, vehicles need to be up off the street.
The reason: the short intake pipes on the street are much, much larger in diameter than the lengthy out-take drainage pipes leading to the drainage canal. Clever engineering, right. : )
Think of the flooding in front of my home as equivalent to the sonic results closest to your ears. Speakers are what your ears are closest to. The drain opening into that canal is distant, but it sure has a bearing and impact on what you experience in front of the home.
Kren, along with so many on the forum, essentially provides the same clever "engineering" solution.
The front end matters. Go out and listen to a well implemented front end with basic speakers. Then listen to a basic front end with "high end" speakers.
I can share example after example of systems where the money is in the speakers yet everything in front can't and does not deliver what those speakers are capable of. It's a mistake so many love making and are proud of.
My general advice: take care of the source... in your case source through preamp. There is no need to shy away from or be concerned about an all in one front end (Streamer+DAC+Preamp).
I'm currently evaluating a Streamer-DAC-Preamp and it is showing up my separates, with ease. : )
Everyone will have preferences, and ideas on how to partition a budget.
Of course everything matters in the absolute.
The hard part is getting the best sound from the whole for a given budget.
I’d argue the best $2k dac/streamer can get 97% of the performance of a $10k dac streamer (give or take, you get the point), but the best $2k speakers will pale in comparison to the best $10k speakers when paired with that best $2k dac.
Just my opinion. Not here to argue. YMMV
Problem is, today’s best $2k dac is not tomorrow’s best $2k dac; but today’s best $10k speaker more likely (than the dac, anyway) to be tomorrow’s best $10k speaker (to extent that even quantifiable). That’s my point, and get’s to what OP was asking about re obsolecense.
My first post I suppose was in some sense broader than what OP was asking. He was interested in amps/pre/source and I kinda broadened it out to whole system because I think you have to look at everything all at once even if only tweaking portion of system, if only to convince yourself you aren't going down a fruitless path
Haha, easy pal. Ok, maybe 90% is more fair. Don’t get bent outta shape. Just one person’s opinion. You or anyone free to disagree and I’ll not chastise you : )
My main point was if I had 12k to spend on speakers and a streamer/ dac, I’d go 10/2, knowing I’d probably upgrade dac in 5 years but keep speakers 15. But other reasonable folks will disagree and I have no problem with that. Point wasn’t so much to finely compare dacs so perhaps the mention of percentages was distracting but it was only meant to make the larger point
DAC’s have come a long ways since their introduction and in my mind have really improved the quality of CD reproduction. So to me they’re a lot more stable now than in the past.
The height of instability is in the streamer software, and integration with music services like Tidal/Amazon/Quboz/etc.. The truth is that music services come and go. iTunes for instance is going away, and Amazon music is now a thing. Someone has to write the code that makes the streamer play with the new services, or keep up with the latest.
Even if you subscribe to a software service like Roon, they or the hardware partner may decide a streamer is now end-of-life and will no longer be supported.
My own solution right now is to use a dedicated music PC on the network, to hold the music and Roon core, along with Raspberry Pi playback devices where I need them, but clearly I’m a bit of a geek.
I think my own advice here is, don’t spend a lot on a streamer, because you have no idea how long it will work. Buy something affordable in 3-5 years you won’t cry if you have to throw it away because the software no longer supports modern services. Along these lines, the Mytek Brooklyn+ includes Roon support, and is a very nice DAC for $2k. If the roon support disappears, it’s still a very nice DAC. That’s the kind of price range I might still spring for a combined DAC/Streamer for.
I don’t mean it’s bug free, hopefully most of it is reliable. What I mean is that it is the services we want to connect to that are constantly changing. As hardware ages, and services change, disappear, etc. the hardware may become literally unusable except as a CD storage device. iTunes is gone, Tidal almost went under last year.
Preamps and amps, we’re still using the same standards for them all the way back to the 1970’s. Speakers, same. Even the longevity of a DAC has been established. You could pick up the first DCS ring DAC and play music today.
And being in the audiophile market is a really risky business for anyone.
To use the BluRay player / streamer as an analog, Oppo is gone, I thought they’d be here forever. I think Netflix still works on Oppo, but forget about any new services. There’s no Sling, no Disney+. On the other hand, my Roku was $99 and if the company goes under, I'm off to the next thing.
So, my point is, again, that the streamer is the thing that is most likely to be aged out of your system. Even if you buy from a company that has been around forever (naim) there’s no guarantee when they will end of life your current streamer.
Dave, OP’s original question is about future-proof - heck it’s right in the title. My and erik’s point is that speakers and amps/pre’s are much more settled that way, especially vs streamers.
OP could take Dave’s advice about going big on the source at expense of the others(at least that’s how I read his initial post disagreeing with my recommendation), but at least as to streamer/dac it comes with much more risk. Both that such source will soon be eclipsed by superior tech in relatively rapidly advancing space (compared to Audio in general), or because of nonsupport considerations as Erik mentions
Right. OP’s original question is about future-proof - heck it’s right in the title. My and erik’s point is that speakers and amps/pre’s are much more settled that way, especially vs streamers.
Right. I’m not arguing "don’t buy a great streamer." I’m simply answering the question about lifespan.
I do argue though that this makes the top end streamers a lot less desirable in my mind than $2k level streamers. I could see myself selling my DAC and integrated in 10 years. A streamer? Nah. It will be a doorstop.
Anyone try the Bluesound Node 2i as a streamer? The price point there seems reasonable, especially given the likelihood of eventual obsolescence. It has a DAC built in but streams could bypass, I think to better DACS or integrated amps w/DACS.
I would say the amp is most ‘future proof’. You can run a variety of ever changing front end sources on a good solid amp that ‘agrees with your ears’, has the ‘sound signature’ you desire, and the synergy and power to supply your speakers of choice, and keep it for a very very long time. But, you’ll probably want to change it regardless at some point, just because that’s what most of us do, even though it may not be necessary.
So I was in your same situation recently, getting back into the game after having the same components for 10ish years. I spent a decent amount on a tube integrated. Primaluna EVO 300. I like the idea of being able to roll tubes in the future (future proof? Maybe). I went with Tannoy XT8F for speakers. They punch way higher than their weight (a friend who owns Focal Grand Utopia was a little dismayed at their price/performance ratio!!!). DAC is my current dilemma. Still running a 7 year old Cambridge Audio Dacmagic Plus. Can do better. I have my sights on the Mytek Brooklyn Bridge. I like the analogy mentioned above of looking at it like a new TV. You know you’re not buying it for the next 10 years. I do like the idea of DAC+streamer. Very happy with the results so far. I’d might go as far as staying it’s 90% as good a my buddy’s $300k system, but @david_ten will chastise me for not backing it up with facts! ;-)
In my case I still have my tube amp and tube pre amp that I bought in the mid nineties and have no plans to change them. I certainly have changed speakers over the years. But recently I decided on a good quality external DAC which is the Exogal Comet Plus. For a streamer I just purchased the Audiolab 6000N for its ease of use. It does have an internal DAC. The cost was around $600 so in a few years if it becomes out of date or unsupported, I'll just replace it.
A new $2k dac is not going to blow away a new $10k dac. A $2k dac will sound very good but won’t have features that more expensive dacs have.95% of the dacs on the market are stuck with what you have is what you will always have. Another few % will have upgrades you can purchase to bring them more current. Only a couple of vendors provide fpga based dac that you get free upgrades that make an excellent sounding dac better a couple times a year. As for streamers, you get a network based dac, you don’t need a streamer. Actually, it’s much better not having a computer in your audio room. Most if not All streamers are computer based.
Hello, I think the perfect solution for you is the Lyngdorf TDAI 3400. It is a streamer, a DAC, a multi-input preamp, a power amp, it sounds fantastic AND it has room correction software built in that will optimise the performance of your loudspeakers in your room and perfectly integrate your sub woofer with the room and speakers. I have one of these with Harbeth Compact7es 40th Ann. Speakers and a pair of Lyngdorf subs and it’s the real deal.
Hello, I know of at least one manufacturer who is addressing this problem by making a basic integrated amps with optional boards that can be added to the integrated amps. That way as technology changes upgrades to new technology are related to the cost of a new optional board. In addition some boards my only require new software. These amps are Roon ready and can be controlled through Roon. Here is a link to the solid state Ares integrated amp
@kren006 That's what I thought, and very feature based for the money and uses DTS play-fi. I won't be using it's internal DAC though, as I have a nice external DAC I'm actually going to send it to my audio dealer friend that only sells top shelf equipment ie Jeff Rolland, Rockna etc. He is very critical of mass produced audio components. He's going to look inside for design and build quality. And then it's overall functionality. Audiolab has been around for a long time and for the money, I though its worth a try. This YouTube video gives a pretty good overview:
I would view the power amp and speakers as one component and so wouldnt go integrated. power amps/speakers will be your upgrade path for the future. Look for a high end, no older than 5 year old dac/steamer/preamp and make sure it has Roon compatablity (roon is here to stay) and spotify connect, in one box which has already seen most of its depreciation. by keeping the streamer and dac in one box you avoid unnecessary data conversions. you could argue to keep the pre separate but if you buy quality you will be happy for many years. consider tubes in the preamp.
@kren0006 I'm looking at the audiolab 600n. Lack of any display on the front is questionable but maybe not a dealbreaker. (Worth investigating and 1/10th of the price of the Lyngdorf mentioned. I'm sure that's a great piece of gear but it is a huge combination of things and doesn't solve the problem of the streamer being outdated.)
@audio-union I love the idea of swapping in new boards as they're available, as long as the company stays in business and/or supports the unit with new boards. Not sure the Ares products are the way I want to go but…
I was also concerned about the AUDIOLAB 6000N had no display at first. But even if it did i would more than likely have to get out of my chair and go have a look at the display. Now where did I put my glasses?? I would use my smart phone or ipad to control and stream hi rez music 99% of the time anyway. With the DTS Play-fi interface they make it pretty easy to use and they are updating with new features all the time. Of coarse I'm taking a chance buying it sight on seen, but my thinking is, it's not that much money and that allows me to spend more money on a good external DAC that should not become redundant. For what ever reason the Audiolab 6000N becomes redundant in a few years it ( I would be surprized) I'll just purchase a more up to date streamer. Hey whatever you decide I'm sure you can't go wrong as there are so many great products to choose from. Good luck and the hunt is most of the fun!
“Software is stable and mature. Most systems are run off of Linux or Windows which are not going anywhere”.
I agree with @david_ten. I have been using Linux based streamer from Aurender for last 5 plus years. It’s easily one of the best investment I’ve made...they have kept their products relevant since their inception with consistent software updates and excellent customer support.
The choice of components typically driven by budget and your goals. Are you in for long haul or short haul? Short haul, node 2i will do just fine but if you’re in for long haul, explore quality driven offerings from Aurender, Lumin and Innuos.
As far as answering your question about future proofing - You could go on building your system one component at a time i.e separates that affords you the most flexibility or consider something like a DCS Bartok.
@soma70 Thanks for the advice; I had moved away from separate toward integrated, though now I’m surfing the web about some separates by PS Audio and the preamp includes the DAC, so maybe I’m back in your direction. I wonder which tube-preamp/DAC/streamer you like?
@jrwaudio — I hear you about "where are my glasses"! I am officially middle-aged, applying low-vision standards to my components! That said, I’ve got to just say it out loud: I like a volume knob, balance knob and even (gasp) a bass and treble knob. But they’re not dealbreakers.
@lalitk — agree about Linux. Regarding your question about short/long haul, I suppose the answer is this: lack of a large listening room to build out a system is causing me to rebuild/revise my present system in a modest way — with smaller speakers. A basement remodel is on the longer horizon, but in the meantime, I purchased good small speakers for my office and am now researching better source, power, etc. If and when I can transition to a larger listening space, I’ll have good source and power, and then may swap out speakers. I'll look harder at room acoustics and other issues (cables, etc.). The immediate challenge for me is to go step-wise. I just spent $2500 on new speakers and sub, and so I don’t want to spend a crazy amount on streamers before I figure out what good power might cost and which power matches best with my new speakers (they're getting built). I want to spend what’s proportionate on the other components, given the speakers. (I know this leads to a contentious topic, but personally, I’m comfortable spending about the same on source/DAC as speakers and on amplification as speakers, but not wildly more on any other main element of the system.) For these reasons, I’m not entertaining streamers that cost as much as what good power might.
Budget-wise, I suppose this works out (estimating *as if* they were separates): $2500 on mains/sub (spent) ~ $1500 preamp (researching now) ~ $1500 amp (researching now) ~ $800 DAC (researching now) ~ ?? Streamer (researching now)