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How to Buy a Music Streamer

Streamers with DACs? Streamers with Storage? You Have Options!

If you read our article Why Should I Buy a Music Streamer, then you know this:

You don't need to buy a music streamer to stream music.

A music steamer is simply a device you use to play music through streaming services and/or your own digital files. The truth is, any computer connected to a USB DAC can be a music streaming setup. But if you want a more network-based audio streaming situation, one where your computer isn't front and center, then a streamer makes sense. Likewise, if you want the best sound quality, investing in a device built for this purpose is the way to go. With the popularity of music steaming having exploded among audiophiles in recent years, there are hordes of hi-fi music streamer options out there. To narrow down your choices, it helps to think about the functionality that you desire. Two primary considerations are:

Do you need a DAC? Many of today's streamers have an on-board DAC to handle digital-to-analog conversion. However, if you already own a DAC that you like, there's no need to purchase a streamer with a DAC. If you do purchase a streamer with a DAC, and you prefer to use your own, then you can always bypass the DAC in your streamer.

Do you need storage for digital files? This is a must if you've got digital audio files and you don't want to store them on your computer. Many streamers either come with internal hard drives or the option for adding storage, either an add-on hard-drive, USB storage or networked attached storage (NAS). When a streamer includes storage, we refer to it as a streamer/server. As a rule of thumb, internal storage will sound better than add-on storage. Now, if you plan to stream high-resolution content exclusively from music streaming services like TIDAL and Qobuz, then you don't need internal storage.

Another thing to consider when purchasing a streamer is the control app you will be using to manage your music library and music playback. Many streamers come with their own software, whether it be Matrix's MA Remote, Bluesound's BluOS, or Aurender's Conductor. Each software has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to features and usability. But on top of a manufacturer's own software, many brands are compatible with Roon music streaming software. Roon is a subscription music management software that manages your music files, streaming services, and your audio devices. One thing people love about Roon is that it's like a "Wikipedia" for music, with lots of rich metadata including artist bios, music suggestions, and much, much more. If you wish to use Roon, then you want to be sure your streaming device is Roon Ready. All of the brands listed below are Roon Ready except for Aurender, which is a "closed" ecosystem and is not compatible with Roon. That being said, the Aurender Conductor App is a wonderful and easy-to-use app that some people prefer over Roon. It all comes down to personal preference.


I Want a Music Streamer and I Already Own a DAC

A DAC is essential for listening to digital music, since you need something that will convert the digital signals back to analog. But if you already own a DAC that you like, then there's no need to purchase a streamer with a DAC. Here are some options for high-quality streamers that don't include DACs.

Ultimate Audio Performance

Aurender N20 Streaming Music Server

Aurender N20 Music Server in Black
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The Aurender N20 provides the fidelity, features, and flexibility the digital audiophile will find attractive and meaningful. A significant advantage is that the N20 contains two empty storage bays. This allows you to customize storage to best meet your budget and intended use. For example, these days many music lovers listen exclusively to streaming content. Therefore, no internal storage is necessary (although it can be easily added at any time if desired). Have a modestly sized music collection? Install an inexpensive 2TB HDD. Own a massive music library? Opt-in for 2 SSDs or HDDs. Fully loaded, the N20 is capable of accommodating an incredible 16TB of solid-state storage! The N20 is available in silver or black and features an 8.8-inch IPS LCD display.


Most Cost Effective

Roon Nucleus Music Server

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Stream and manage your music library with the Roon Nucleus, a multi-room, multi-user music server that can store up to 100,000 tracks. It connects directly to your network and can be controlled via your phone, tablet, or computer. No technical configuration is necessary. Nucleus is the center of your Roon music system. It’s the housekeeper, the traffic cop, and the brain that takes care of the music in your life. Using Nucleus, Roon manages all your music – on hard drives, NAS, and streaming content – and allows you to play it on all the audio devices around your home.


Best Bang for the Buck

Aurender ACS10 Music Server with CD Ripper

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The Aurender ACS10 is designed to be your one-stop solution for digital music management. A caching music server with a CD ripper, content storage, library management, and meta-tag editor, it has everything an audiophile needs when using a file-based playback system, designed to simplify the tasks at hand. It can be used as a companion to your existing Aurender Music Server to expand its function and flexibility or as a fully functional server and streamer on its own. The ACS10 integrates directly with the Acronova Nimbie USB Plus CD Ripper, available for rent from Moon Audio. File storage - up to 24TB - is on dual 3.5” HDDs. The ACS10 is available in silver or black and features a 4-inch IPS LCD display.


Great Beginner Option

iFI ZEN Stream

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The iFi Zen Stream is the easiest (and best) way to get into high-resolution music streaming. It does streaming from all your favorite services, NAA, DLNA streaming, it's Roon Ready, and basically, all you need to do is connect your source and you're good to go! It's compatible with Tidal and Spotify Connect, has integrated AirPlay, and incorporates active noise cancellation and their iPurifier technology into the little streamer too. The Zen is a great size too, being about the size of a 3.5-inch internal hard drive, you can easily place this just about anywhere with options for Ethernet or wireless connections. The I/O selection in the back is also sufficient for connecting external storage, outputting to DAC via USB, coax, etc, for a great affordable and high-quality first step into a larger world of high-resolution music streaming.

 

I Want a Music Streamer with a DAC

If you don't own a DAC, you will want to purchase a streamer that has a DAC built in.

Ultimate Audio Performance

dCS LINA Network DAC

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The LINA DAC is a giant in a small box. It features dCS' patented Ring DAC system, digital processing platform, and Expanse technology. It's fully balanced, compatible with all digital audio formats, and Roon Ready. The entirely smooth front panel features dCS' first touchscreen UI with a customizable menu that allows listeners to easily control playback and adjust system settings. The display screen is a little under 2 x 3 inches. Underneath are four lighted buttons; these are what you press, not the icons on the screen. Now, you might opt to forgo this entirely and just use the dCS Mosaic Control app for iOS or Android to control your system. You can't go wrong either way. Pair the LINA DAC with the LINA Headphone Amplifier and Master Clock for a high-end trio that will knock your socks off.


Best Bang for the Buck

Matrix Audio X-Sabre 3 Pro MQA DAC

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The X-Sabre 3 is a sleek and slim Roon-Ready device that functions as a network capable streaming host. It doesn't come with internal storage, but you can use Roon to stream from a NAS and streaming services. The X-Sabre 3 Pro has a built-in preamp. In addition to decoding the MQA audio stream up to 24 Bit 384kHz, the -Sabre 3 Pro can support DSD1024 and PCM audio stream up to 32Bit/768kHz sampling rate. It also comes pre-installed seven kinds of PCM digital filter options. The X-Sabre is available in black or silver and features s small circular color LCD screen.


Most Cost Effective

iFi NEO Stream Streaming Music Player

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The NEO Stream is iFi's 3-in-one DAC/Amp, featuring a number of features that makes it an ideal companion for both headphones and speakers. The NEO has Bluetooth 5.1 with the latest hi-res codecs, an excellent sounding Burr-Brown DAC, PureWave, iFi's GMT clock, and more that produces amazingly natural and resolute sound quality. The engineering of the chassis and overall aesthetic is modern and clean, with a sharp-looking OLED display and large multi-function volume knob, it will look great with any setup. The NEO also comes with the S/PDIF iPurifier 2 to make your games and movies sound just as good as they look on your 4K TV. It also makes a great sonic upgrade for your PlayStation and Xbox. The NEO comes packaged with the ipurifier2 and the ipurifier3 which act as noise filters for the unit and makes the perfect addition to your gaming or home audio system.  

 


Great Beginner Option

Bluesound Node Hi-Res Music Streamer

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The Bluesound NODE unlocks the world of hi-res music streaming and multi-room audio to create a modern addition to existing hi-fi systems or your favorite set of powered speakers. Discover all the music ever recorded with access to hundreds of internet radio stations, dozens of streaming music services, or even your own digital music library, with a few taps of the BluOS Controller app. The NODE is also Roon Ready. The unit is available in black or white and features top-panel touch controls.


I Want a Music Streamer with Storage and I Don't Need a DAC

If you plan to stream music exclusively from services like TIDAL and Qobuz, you don't need file storage. However, if you have a digital music collection, you will need somewhere to put those files. This can be an internal hard drive, USB storage, or network attached storage (NAS). The Aurender N10, for example, comes with 4TB of internal storage. The Aurender A30, on the other hand, offers user-installable storage in the form of a sliding tray to accommodate SSD or HHD. And all Aurender models allow the user to add external USB hard drives or networking storage.

Ultimate Audio Performance

Aurender W20SE Reference Music Server

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The Aurender W20 SE is an update to the iconic W20. This luxury player is known for its pure, relaxed & natural sound, nuance, and musicality. Designed to be used in the world’s finest audio systems, the W20SE is equipped with a host of OCXO clock controlled digital outputs including a unique dual-wire AES/EBU output. W20SE's master clock input provides additional connectivity to interface with a superior Master Clock such as MC20. Other features include a battery power supply, 4TB of built-in storage, and PCM upsampling for better performance with some DACs (up to 176.4/192kHz or 384kHz on dual-wire AES/EBU outputs). The large high-resolution LCD display is dynamic, elegant, and intuitive, and the Aurender Conductor app is easy to use.


Best Bang for the Buck

Aurender ACS10 Music Server with CD Ripper

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The Aurender ACS10 is designed to be your one-stop solution for digital music management. A caching music server with a CD ripper, content storage, library management, and meta-tag editor, it has everything an audiophile needs when using a file-based playback system, designed to simplify the tasks at hand. It can be used as a companion to your existing Aurender Music Server to expand its function and flexibility or as a fully functional server and streamer on its own. The ACS10 integrates directly with the Acronova Nimbie USB Plus CD Ripper, available for rent from Moon Audio. File storage - up to 24TB - is on dual 3.5” HDDs. The ACS10 is available in silver or black and features a 4-inch IPS LCD display.

 


Most Cost Effective

Aurender N150 Music Player and Server

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The Aurender N150 is a compact component incorporating everything needed to browse and stream hi-res music from Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify or internet radio using Aurender's dedicated application, Aurender Conductor. Should you wish to add digital files to the N150, there’s a provision to add a single 2TB or 4TB HDD or an 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 8TB SSD in order to fully accommodate the size of your file library. And, if you’re streaming 100%, hard drives are totally unnecessary! And the N150 handles virtually any file format. From its “clean” Audio Class 2.0 USB output file resolutions supported include 32-bit / 384kHz, 1-bit, 2.8MHz (DSD64); 1-bit, 5.6MHz (DSD128), 11.2MHz (DSD256) and DSD512. Updated and improved upon by virtue of an all-new dual-core processor, low-noise linear power supply and increased system memory brings higher fidelity to your digital files and streams. The N150 is available in black or white and features a 3-inch AMOLED display.


Great Beginner Option

Roon Nucleus Music Server

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Stream and manage your music library with the Roon Nucleus, a multi-room, multi-user music server that can store up to 100,000 tracks. It connects directly to your network and can be controlled via your phone, tablet, or computer. No technical configuration is necessary. Nucleus is the center of your Roon music system. It’s the housekeeper, the traffic cop, and the brain that takes care of the music in your life. Using Nucleus, Roon manages all your music – on hard drives, NAS, and streaming content – and allows you to play it on all the audio devices around your home.


I Want a Music Streamer with Storage and a DAC

This is the place to be if you need a streamer that has storage and a DAC.

Ultimate Audio Performance

Aurender A20 Music Server

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The A20 shares the same basic circuitry topologies and form factor as the flagship A30. However, it dispenses with the CD ripping functionality, metadata editing software and the headphone connection provided is a single standard ¼” jack. What distinguishes the A20 from other analog output models is its pure audio performance. Employing the world-renown AKM 4497 chipset in a dual-mono with dual linear power supplies, you can expect nothing but the best in sound quality. Also included is full MQA Decoder technology which enables you to play back full-resolution MQA audio files and streams, delivering the highest possible sound quality of the original master recording. Since many audiophiles will use the A20 as their “digital hub,” the ability to reduce system complexity is easily achieved. For example, the A20 can function as a preamplifier, allowing for direct connection to a stereo power amplifier or active speaker system. The preamp section has both SPDIF and optical inputs that allow other source components like a CD transport, Blu-Ray player or cable box to feed its audio through the A20’s DAC improving fidelity. Lastly, the system volume can be controlled three ways; the front panel rotary control, the Aurender Conductor app or using the supplied IR remote control.

 

Best Bang for the Buck

Bryston BDA 3.14 Streaming DAC

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With the BDA-3.14, Bryston merged its BDP and BDA platforms into this one new product that starts with the BDA-3 and adds a high-quality streamer internally connected with I2S - the most accurate digital interconnection method currently available. Additionally, 10 other inputs are available to make the BDA-3.14 your high-resolution digital hub. The BDA-3.14 offers streaming capability via a built-in music player that delivers access to network-connected storage and USB drives as well as streaming services such as Qobuz, Tidal, Roon and Internet radio. Digital connectivity between the internal music player and the DAC is managed using the I2S protocol, a premium interface standard used for connecting digital audio devices together that preserves audio and clock data with virtually zero error. The BDA-3.14 also features a digital volume control, enabling users to drive an amplifier directly. An updated version of Bryston’s Manic Moose user interface for phones, tablets and computers provides users with intuitive control overall functionality.


Most Cost Effective

Bluesound Vault 2i Network Streamer

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Do you need CD ripping plus storage for all of those digital files? The Bluesound Vault 2i Network Streamer, priced at $1,399, has a built-in ripper and 2TB of internal storage. Featuring a 32-bit, 192 kHz DAC, the Vault 2i has a detailed and resolute sound. At just over 4 pounds and measuring about 8.7 x 3.5 x 7.5 inches, the Vault is beautifully compact. On the top of the unit is your touchscreen, and it’s got this cool feature where waving your hand will light up the screen. The front of the unit features a single 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. As for CD ripping, it couldn’t be easier: It happens automatically when you insert a disc, and your digital files are saved in FLAC format.


Great Beginner Option

Matrix Audio Element i2 Streaming Music Player (add external hard drive)

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The Element i2 is the entry-level model of the Element music streamers, but it is equipped with the same quad-core CPU and digital audio interface chip as the higher-priced models. The powerful processing ability enables the Element i2 to process various sampling rates audio files effortlessly. It's also an MQA full decoder. The second-generation streamer is equipped with a 3.46-inch LCD touch screen, allowing you to view track information as well as control playback (which can also be done with the included remote control or through the MA Remote App). Wiht MA Remote, you can browse and play back your local music files (connect an external hard drive for storage), online music stream from TIDAL and Qobuz, and even Internet radio stations. Device configurations and firmware updates also can be managed by the app. Matrix Audio added a 4.4 mm balanced headphone jack to the Element i2, making it convenient to pair with various headphones. The built-in headphone amplifier has been upgraded to a 4-channel full-balanced architecture. The fully symmetrical circuit design allows the left and right channel signals to pass through a nearly perfectly symmetrical amplification circuitry.


Video

7 Hi-Res Music Streamers We Love 2022


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