Cabasse Stream Source Streamer Review
Small, clever and aerodynamic - introducing the Stream Source
What is the Cabasse Stream Source?When it come to predicting big things in AV, I don't credit myself with any special levels of clairvoyance. Even though I loved Minidisc, I was fairly convinced of its failure when I saw how the format was marketed (that is to say, very, very badly) and even though it lasted longer than I thought it might (mainly down to the bloody mindedness of Sony) it is one of the many dead formats to litter history. By the same token, in 1999, I didn't have DVD down as that big a deal. I didn't take into account that people would buy into the convenience as well as the quality and that the supermarkets would get so heavily involved in selling both discs and players. I win some and lose some.
My biggest miss though has to be UPnP streaming. This is all the more peculiar because I am (now) a massive advocate of the process and find it the most effective and best performing method of listening to digital audio. In the early days, I wasn't convinced at all. I simply couldn't see the advantages in a system that depended on supporting infrastructure to work at all and for which almost no music was available natively (and still isn't for that matter). In this case, I missed the comfort that people found in switching to home networking via UPnP and DNLA and the involvement of companies that had no interest in selling flakey solutions meaning that interfaces became slicker and faster - helped in no small part by the arrival of tablets as a control point.
This means that there is now a huge number of UPnP products to choose from at a very wide selection of price points. Most of these are from conventional electronics brands but the relative youth of the format has ensured that it has also seen some new arrivals too. One of these is Cabasse. When I reviewed the Stream One earlier this year, it could be argued that as it also contained speakers, it was a logical move for the company. The Stream Source you see here is a little different. This is a £300 streaming device that takes Cabasse some way from their comfort zone. Should they have stuck with speakers?
DesignThe Cabasse is in essence the front end from the Stream One standalone system. This means that it features support of formats up to and including 24/96 in WAV, FLAC and ALAC/Aiff. Other compressed formats are also supported and conventional UPnP features such as internet radio are also supported. Then, like the Stream One, the Source has a few tricks up its sleeve.
The first of these is more common in this day and age than it once was but remains useful. The Source supports Spotify Connect and direct access to Deezer. If you have a subscription to either service, the Source can replay it direct to your system. The next feature is decidedly more unusual and I can only assume that Cabasse must have been reading the DNLA manual really thoroughly to discover it let alone implement it. If you connect a USB stick or drive to the Source, as you might expect, the files can be read and replayed. What the Source also does is make them available to other UPnP devices on the network. This is a rather handy way of turning a bog standard USB drive into a NAS device and it seems to work well.
In connectivity terms, the Cabasse is adequate if not exceptional. You get an analogue RCA connection, an optical output, a USB connection to perform the clever sharing operation and Ethernet and trigger connections. The Source has a useful additional feature in that it can act as a preamp if you flick a switch to engage volume on the back but this seems to be done via the bit reduction method so expect quality to suffer a little if you do.
One of the reasons for the limited socketry is that the Cabasse is a very small device. The photos make it look like a Stream One but it is in fact only 23cm wide and a mere 4cm high making it considerably smaller. This does mean that it is very easy to accomodate in a rack or stand as it can be placed almost anywhere and needs very little space. The limited internal volume does mean that the Source uses an external wall wart type supply which does at least sit in the power socket correctly and comes with a reasonably long cord.
The Source is supplied with the same remote as the Stream One. This pleasant pebble shaped device gives you basic functionality but seems designed to escape down the side of sofa cushions. That being the case, the good news is that the app used by the Source is the same one as in the Stream. The app is stable, well implemented and easy to use with the iPad version being especially efficient. Other than it being curiously promiscuous (more of which in a bit), the only real shortcoming is that lack of fast alphanumeric jump when searching through artists and albums but otherwise, it is a stable and effective piece of software.
Any downsides to the Stream Source?Even though there is precious little to listen to in either of these formats, I am obligated to mention that the Cabasse offers no 24/192kHz or DSD support. In the real world, this is unlikely to be an issue but it is something that may bother completists. Otherwise my issues with the Cabasse are rather more to do with the requirement to make it small and swoopy looking. There is no display on the unit which means that the input selected can only be divined by means of a coloured light. Now, it may be a peculiar malaise of someone who receives a great many devices that use this system but I find it a bit of a pig to memorise them. There is also no indicator at all for the volume level.
The other issue I found with the Source is a peculiar one but is one that is worth repeating. The Cabasse app has been designed with a view to you buying a few of these devices or other Cabasse streaming products and using them around the house. To this end it features the ability to choose multiple devices. This is all well and good but it seems able to find other non Cabasse devices too. This led to the app selecting the resident Yamaha RX-A3040 (exactly how this occurred is unclear but seems to be the result of my son's involvement) and thanks to the volume being set at max, it led to a very lively 25 seconds while I worked out what the hell was going on. Now, I accept that if you already have another streamer present, you are unlikely to choose another one in the form of the Cabasse but this is something you will need to watch for.
The Stream Source supports Spotify Connect and direct access to Deezer.
How was it tested?The Cabasse was connected via RCA phono to a Naim Supernait 2 integrated amp both of which were connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner. The speakers used in this instance was a pair of MartinLogan ElectroMotion hybrid electrostatics which are in place from another review and are sufficiently big that they precluded having my more normal Neat speakers in place. NAS drives used were a Western Digital MyBook and a Melco N1A. Material used included lossless and high resolution FLAC, WAV and compressed material mainly from Spotify.
Cabasse Stream Source Sound Quality - lossless and high res material?The Source represents a bit of a jump into the unknown because it is the first Cabasse product I've tested that isn't a speaker or at least doesn't have a speaker included in the design. Other than stating it is 'high performance' (and to be honest, you'd hope this was the case), there is no information on the DAC chip used or any other aspect of the internal design. As such, the Cabasse could sound any way that the company fancied if they were minded to do so.
In reality, it seems that Cabasse has put a reasonable amount of work into making the Source share some of the properties of their speakers. This means that the Source sounds big, refined and expansive. A quick blast of Leftfield's immortal Original is a large scale assault on the senses that - even allowing for the rather spacious presentation of the MartinLogans - is wide ranging and fills the space in front of you with a soundstage that is easy to perceive.
Within this commodious space, the Cabasse manages to do further things rather well. The handling of voices and instruments is very good and moving away from the electonica of Leftfield to the more considered and beautifully recorded Ray LaMontagne shows that combining these presentation skills with such a commendably realistic tonality is a surefire way to make a useful case for the Source. With the wonderful You can bring me flowers, the Cabasse is in its element with a lovely sense of the languid and relaxed method of the performer.
Listening to the Cabasse back to back with my resident (and rather more expensive) Naim ND5XS, there is a sense that while the Cabasse has a large and effortless presentation, there is a slight loss of fine detail that the Naim can find without issue. The Source is more of a big picture device but this does mean by the same token that it is extremely easy to listen to for extended sessions and it is forgiving of poorer recordings than more forensic rivals. There is also a slight sense that the bass is not as deep as it might be but what there is finds itself well integrated with the rest of the frequency response.
High res material within the agreed limits of what the Source can handle works well but there is no huge jump in the overall performance. As no real information is supplied about what the Source is doing inside, it is possible that it is resampling the material to 16/44.1 (the QED Index does this at a not too dissimilar price) or it could simply be that the Cabasse has been setup to favour CD and more compressed material.
The Stream Source sounds big, refined and expansive.
Cabasse Stream Source Sound Quality - compressed material?Some evidence that this is the case is found when you fire up the Spotify Connect function of the Source and have a play through a variety of material. The performance suffers very little tail off from the switch to compressed audio and it means that the Source is a rather useful companion in this regard. The only mild issue with the Spotify functionality is that the controlling device is switched off or doing other things, the longer the gap seems to become between tracks. There was no clear pattern to this and it did seem mainly present on my increasingly elderly iPad which may have been the culprit. The internet radio functionality is also well sorted and easy to use and the Cabasse is a simple way to add this functionality if you require it.
- Expansive and involving sound
- Well sorted control ap
- Compact and attractive
- Slight lack of fine detail
- Ap tries to contol other devices
- Slightly minimalist spec
Cabasse Stream Source Streamer ReviewAs my initial thoughts on streaming have been proved to be completely incorrect - and count me as being very happy about that - there is now a very wide choice of streaming products that the Cabasse faces as competition. Some of them offer rather more casework, functionality and visual drama than the Stream Source but spend a little bit of time with the Cabasse and it makes an impressive degree of sense. This is not a forensic piece of equipment and there are other rivals that can do more with high res but this is a tremendously well sorted, stable and capable piece of equipment that can add some useful functionality to an existing system without breaking the bank or your equipment rack.
Ease of Use9
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