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Why Should I Buy a Music Streamer?

You Don't Need a Dedicated Streamer, But It Will Enhance Your Listening Experience

So you've joined the legions of hi-fi enthusiasts streaming. Maybe you alternate streaming hi-res files with listening to your physical media collection, or maybe you stream exclusively from your phone or laptop. Either way, you may be wondering whether you should purchase a dedicated music streamer.

The simple fact is, you don't need a dedicated piece of hardware to stream music. All you need is an internet connection and a phone or computer. But that may not be doing justice to your streaming experience or to your audiophile ears.

Before we go any further, let's clarify what we mean by music streamer, also called a streaming media player or streaming music player. Simply put, a streamer is a piece of hardware that allows you to access and play music via a network or internet connection. This can mean music from a streaming service such as Spotify or TIDAL, or from locally stored music files. If your streaming device includes internal storage, then it's also a server. Without the internal storage, of course, a streamer can still pull music from a NAS or external hard drive. For our purposes, we'll use the term streamer to encompass both streamers and streamers/servers.

Let's take a look at how a dedicated streaming device can elevate and enhance your music streaming experience.


A Streamlined and Convenient Solution

If you've got a physical media collection, you know how unwieldy it can be: piles of vinyl, stacks of CDs. Ever spend 30 minutes ransacking your house for a particular album? Or maybe you own lots of hi-res audio files, but no good way to manage them. If you're looking for a more streamlined or user-friendly solution that takes physical media out of the everyday equation, then a steamer is for you.

A great thing about a streaming device is that it puts a world of music at your fingertips, all in the same place. There devices are specifically and solely designed for music database management. Now you only need one piece of software to control your streamed content as well as your stored files. With your computer, you may have had separate software for multiple streaming services; now it's all controlled with one app via your phone or tablet. Now you can just sit back, push a few buttons, and grow roots on your couch. OK, we don't suggest doing that. But you can't beat the convenience factor.

Now, software will vary between streamers. The Aurender Conductor app, for example, is easy to use, but only offers TIDAL and Qobuz. The BluOS app for Bluesound is chock full of options, but the software isn't as user-friendly. However, if you don't like the software with your streamer -- maybe it's difficult to navigate or it's too techy -- you can always use Roon music management software. Most of the brands that we sell, excluding Aurender, are Roon Ready, meaning they can easily integrate with Roon.

Roon is like Wikipedia for music, putting a candy store of metadata at your fingertips. There is no right answer here; you have to decide what's best for your scenario. Just know that while browsing an app won't replace the tactile pleasure of handling album sleeves or liner notes, it can provide you with a visually pleasurable way or perusing your collection and streamed content as well as creating playlists and discovering new music. Check out these guides to learn more about Roon and Audender:


Sound Quality

As previously stated, you can stream hi-res music from your computer, phone, or tablet and do just fine. Is it going to sound optimal? Likely not. A streamer is specifically designed to handle audio files in a way those other devices aren't. At the end of the day, a computer does a lot of things well, but it wasn't designed as an audio playback device. Computers are noisy; they weren't designed to be quiet from a sonic level but also from an electric standpoint. Is there a night and day difference between a computer and a streamer? Probably not. Is there a difference? Definitely. And if you're trying to squeeze out every last percentage point of performance, a streamer is the way to go.

Streamers vary in the types of files they can play, from CD quality up to 384 kHz or newer formats. When you're looking to play locally stored lossless files or access hi-res tracks from a music subscription service, you'll want to make sure that your streamer of choice supports the files types you want.

Whether or not your streamer includes a DAC, you may opt to use an external one. If you happen to own a high-end DAC, it may well be better than the one in your streamer; that's for you to determine. In our opinion, the DAC will account for about 70% of the sound quality, with the streamer accounting for the other 30%. So spend more money on your DAC (if you're buying one). But know that both are important.

Here's a general caveat about streaming sound quality. There is an argument to be made that the files that you purchase from a hi-res download site may have a better sound than some of the streaming services because there is influence of the streaming service's algorithms and how they change the sound quality of the stream. So if you're locally storing your own, purchased bit-perfect files, there is a potential for the recording to sound better. So if you're a critical listener, maybe you want to own some specific, critical hi-res downloads and then stream some other stuff.


Take Your Phone or Computer Out of the Playback Equation

When you use your phone or laptop as a streamer, that device is multitasking. Someone calls while you're listening to music? That can be a very unwelcome interruption in your listening. Laptop battery dies mid-song? Not cool. When you use a mobile device or computer for streaming, that device needs to be on and nearby. Essentially, you are tethered to that device. Using a dedicated streamer takes your device out of the equation -- at least as a playback vehicle. You will still be using your device to control the software, of course.


Here Are 5 of Our Favorite Streaming Devices

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Aurender N200 High-Performance Caching Music Server

The Aurender N200 is a great "one box" streaming solution that marries exceptional audio performance with a user-friendly experience. It has the latest-generation Audio Class 2.0 USB and coaxial digital outputs, 2X isolated gigabit ethernet port, and super-capacitor based uninterrupted power supply (UPS). You also get two user-accessible dual HDD/SSD trays allowing for the installation of the drive type and capacity that best suits your needs. And, if you’re streaming 100%, no drives need to be installed. All Aurender products are controlled by the Aurender Conductor app, which is supported on iPad, iPhone, Android phone and tablets. The N200, as is true will all Aurender models, benefits from being an inclusive design, meaning that all the necessary technology required for file serving or streaming music is incorporated within one audio component. This approach provides a high level of stability, reliability and predictability of operation which results in superior sound quality and user experience.


Bluesound Vault 2i Network Streamer

The Bluesound VAULT 2i lets you rip all your CDs rapidly in bit-perfect, high-resolution formats. Store thousands of tracks on its internal ultra-quiet 2TB hard-drive that doubles as a network NAS drive. Hook up the VAULT 2i to your existing gear, pair it with a set of powered speakers or stream your digital music collection in studio-quality to Bluesound players all over the home. Take control of the most versatile music streamer with the easy-to-use BluOS Controller app. With the ability to play and store audio from multiple streaming services, Internet radio stations and podcasts, as well as rip your CDs, the VAULT 2i becomes yours to command with just a few simple taps on your mobile device or tablet.

$1,299.90


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Bryston BDA-3.14 Streaming DAC

The Bryston BDA 3.14 gives you a full digital front-end, all-in-one unit for amazing sound. This flagship model adds streaming capabilities to the BDA-3 DAC with a few more tricks up its sleeve. The BDA 3.14 is based on a built-in music player that provides access to NAS storage, USB devices and internet radio, as well as hi-res streaming services such as Qobuz and TIDAL. It’s also Roon compatible and, naturally for a Bryston DAC, has a plethora of digital connections: four 2-channel HDMI, asynchronous USB, optical, and coaxial.


Matrix X-Sabre 3 Pro MQA DAC

$2,999.00

The X-Sabre 3 Pro MQA DAC is a sleek and slim Roon-Ready device that functions as a network capable streaming host. It doesn't come with its own software or 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. You can choose different filters to adjust timbre conveniently. Plus, in addition to optical, coaxial, AES/EBU, USB ports, there's an IIS·LVDS input via an HDMI connector.

 

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Roon Nucleus Music Server

Stream and manage your music library with the Roon Nucleus Music Server, a multi-room, multi-user music server. 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. Nucleus is the best way to run Roon at any price. Requires a Roon subscription.


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