Looking for some advice on Music Streamers

TechDiver01

Novice Member
Hi All,

Upfront, I am most definitely a rookie compared to most of you on here, so I am looking for some advice.
I am a little confused about what I should be looking to buy - whether I need a separate DAC or just a more expensive streamer?

My current system is the following:

Amp: Marantz SR7012
Speakers: (Main) Monitor Audio Silver 300s, (Center) Monitor Audio Silver C350, (Rears) 2x older Omnicom (small satellites)
Sub: Rythmik FV15HP

I've been using this primarily for movies and stream music from my iPhone with an Apple Music subscription. I wouldn't say that I am an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love to hear great-sounding music with clarity. And I know that I should probably get a CD player too, but I tend to stream, not buy music these days.

I know the Marantz has an onboard DAC, but it's probably quite old tech now. I'm looking to buy either an external DAC or just go for a music streamer. As I mentioned, I mostly play Apple Music but might dabble with a Tidal subscription if it is worth it. From what I understand, with the Amp I have, it's just better to go with a streamer than have to connect my phone to a DAC. I was also reading about Roon, and maybe that's a good investment too? I need to read up more on that.

Here are some of the products I'm looking at, and again, I can only go by online magazine reviews. I want something that's future proof too, with firmware that can be updated.

Streamers
Arcam ST60 (at the very top of my price range)
Cambridge Audio CXN V2
Bluesound Node

Any advice or suggestions would be really appreciated!

Cheers!
 

jamieu

Well-known Member
It really depends on what you want to achieve and what you currently find lacking.

For example do you find it annoying to have to have your phone connected while streaming? Are you looking for a better app/interface than Apple Music? Are you looking for management of a local music library of ripped CDs or downloaded FLAC files. Or are you just assuming that because your Marantz is a bit old you might be able to get better sound nowadays?

Starting with that last one, if you're keeping the Marantz and are happy with everything else then honestly I doubt you'll see much improvement by adding an external DAC. Sure different DACs can have slightly different sound signatures and if you're switching back and forth you might notice a small difference. Better or worse, that's hard to say. DAC chips (a few dollars a piece) have long reached the point that there isn't much in them, all can handle the D2A conversion with ease. In the grand scheme of things your room and speakers will have by far the bigger effect on your overall sound, followed by the preamp stage in your AVR or Amp, by the point you get to the DAC chip you're effectively rearranging deckchairs. Also if you're using the sub output then the analog input will probably be sent though the Marantz's DAC anyway in order to handle the electronic crossover, rendering it a pointless upgrade.

If you're finding it annoying to have to have your phone connected while streaming, then you may find that using the HEOS app or a 3rd party DLNA supporting app like mConnect or BubbleUPnP with your Marantz rather than Apple Music via AirPlay offers some advantages, as once you start playback the Marantz will stream directly from your streaming service, rather than being routed via AirPlay from your phone. This means you can start a playlist and then switch your phone off or use it for other purposes without interfering with whatever you're streaming.

There could be real benefit here, the catch is none of those apps work with Apple Music and even if they did you may still prefer to keep using the Apple Music app over the streamers own app anyway. Although nothing stopping you trying them out with say Qobuz to see if it works for you.

Sorry, at this point your probably thinking "But I just want to buy a new toy...don't tell me none of them will make any difference" ;-)

If you like the idea of being able to take your phone out of the loop and use it for other audio tasks while streaming, but don't like the HEOS app or the functionality/interfaces provided by the freely available DLNA apps like mConnect or BubbleUPnP. Or you find that the lack of decent desktop DLNA apps frustrating. Then a streamer like the BlueSound, which has both a pretty well designed mobile and desktop app might be something that's worth paying for. This will work for Qobuz/Tidal/Deezer but for Apple Music you'll still be using AirPlay and the Apple Music App (as BlueOS has no direct integration with Apple) so you'll still need to keep your phone or Mac/PC tied up while streaming.

Unless something has changed since I last looked the Arcam MusicLife app and the Cambridge Audio StreamMagic app seem to be little more than rebadged/white label 3rd party control apps ie. they don't offer much in terms of features or interface design above the mConnect or BubbleUPnP apps and I expect we're largely outsourced. Whereas NAD (BlueSound) and Sonos seem to have invested more heavily in their own in-house software development teams which manifests itself in their better designed apps and interfaces.

In fact most of the traditional HiFi vendors seems to be moving away from any serious effort to develop their own apps in-house (unsurprising given that software development is costly) and instead are just relying on the streaming services native apps (Tidal Connect/Spotify Connect) or acting as an AirPlay, DLNA or Roon (RAAT) endpoint. In which case you're possibly paying a lot of money for very little functionality, especially if you're not even using the DAC or PreAmp sections in the streamer and simply using it as a digital transport — as long as they support the same protocols and aren't screwing anything up, digital transport X should perform exactly the same as digital transport Y in terms of sound quality.

--

Roon is an interesting one and kind of hard to succinctly describe (why it's good). It's less of a proposition if you don't have a local music library and you're only using it with one audio setup. As local library management and (vendor neutral) muti-room audio are two of it's killer features.

But even if your not using those features it does offer something that most of the hardware based products don't, which is it's fantastic control apps (I haven't used anything that is as good), enhanced metadata (Roon pulls in a huge amount of extra information for every album, artists and genre in your library) and discovery tools (which recommend new music to you in clever ways based on your listening history that isn't influenced by the record companies or streaming platforms). It's also got a fairly comprehensive DSP engine if that's something that interests you. Think of it as the gold standard/grand daddy of library management and music control apps.

I think Roon probably appeals most if you're the sort of person who likes to read up on what you're listening to, or go on little journeys jumping from one artist to another and discovering or rediscovering music along the way. If you're the sort of person who plays the same two dozen albums over and over again or knows exactly what they want to listen to it adds little value. It also has a strong concept of a 'local library' allowing you to cherry pick albums from the streaming services vast catalogs to build a smaller (more manageable) local library.

The nice thing is you can try Roon out on your Mac or PC for free (you need to hand over your credit card to start the trail, but you can easily cancel before the 30 days is up).

To properly use Roon you ideally want to give it it's own server which is switched on 24/7, so that your Mac/PC isn't tied up and there's a whole world of options there from DIY ROCK servers, to Roon on a NAS, to Roon's own commercial Nucleus device. But they all use the same control apps, so you can get a feel for how Roon and the Roon control apps work before going any further. In fact if your happy leaving your PC/Mac on 24/7 then you can just leave the Roon Core running on it in the background, and use the mobile/tablet apps to control playback instead.

Anyway, hope that is all of some help..
 
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Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
Hi All,

Upfront, I am most definitely a rookie compared to most of you on here, so I am looking for some advice.
I am a little confused about what I should be looking to buy - whether I need a separate DAC or just a more expensive streamer?

My current system is the following:

Amp: Marantz SR7012
Speakers: (Main) Monitor Audio Silver 300s, (Center) Monitor Audio Silver C350, (Rears) 2x older Omnicom (small satellites)
Sub: Rythmik FV15HP

I've been using this primarily for movies and stream music from my iPhone with an Apple Music subscription. I wouldn't say that I am an audiophile by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love to hear great-sounding music with clarity. And I know that I should probably get a CD player too, but I tend to stream, not buy music these days.

I know the Marantz has an onboard DAC, but it's probably quite old tech now. I'm looking to buy either an external DAC or just go for a music streamer. As I mentioned, I mostly play Apple Music but might dabble with a Tidal subscription if it is worth it. From what I understand, with the Amp I have, it's just better to go with a streamer than have to connect my phone to a DAC. I was also reading about Roon, and maybe that's a good investment too? I need to read up more on that.

Here are some of the products I'm looking at, and again, I can only go by online magazine reviews. I want something that's future proof too, with firmware that can be updated.

Streamers
Arcam ST60 (at the very top of my price range)
Cambridge Audio CXN V2
Bluesound Node

Any advice or suggestions would be really appreciated!

Cheers!
Exactly how old is the Marantz? Usually Marantz sound very nice. If it’s 5 years or something like that, it’s not necessarily you’ll hear any major sonic difference with the new Node streamer.

However Bluesound makes great gear, and their streamer lineup sound very good. Smooth, neutral sound. Not entirely neutral. They support Roon too, although I am not familiar with Roon. They also support MQA, if this is important for you. No DSD support, unfortunately. Still this is format I am not familiar with either. With Bluesound you can rip your own cds. Then plug in usb in your router, then use as makeshift NAS.
 

Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
The Node supports Apple, Tidal etc. Most streaming services. They have smart design and sound fine.

If perhaps you don’t need the features which the Node supports, then there are cheaper options out here. The Yamaha as example. I never remember the model number, but you’ll find it online. This streamer is not as expensive as the Node. Whether it supports Roon etc. I am not sure. So you need to check the specifications. The cheapest Yamaha streamer does not have the ability to connect an external dac, so you need to connect it directly to the Marantz.

The Node has digital inputs, so you can use an external Dac.

Yamaha has their own app called ,Music Cast. Bluesound calls their app BluOs. It’s nice interface, so easy to use.
 

Cebolla

Member
I know the Marantz has an onboard DAC, but it's probably quite old tech now. I'm looking to buy either an external DAC or just go for a music streamer. As I mentioned, I mostly play Apple Music but might dabble with a Tidal subscription if it is worth it. From what I understand, with the Amp I have, it's just better to go with a streamer than have to connect my phone to a DAC.
The Marantz SR7012 is also a streamer and with its support for Apple's latest AirPlay 2 streaming technology it's as good as it gets as far as getting a streamer for use with Apple Music.

Since you mentioned an interest in the lossy hi-res MQA track TIDAL streaming service, perhaps the 'new' DAC tech you are after is MQA support?
You'd be correct to assume that to get the best out of TIDAL requires having an MQA supporting DAC (which the Marantz doesn't have), either a standalone DAC device or a streamer's onboard DAC. However no other CD-res or hi-res track streaming service uses lossy MQA and instead use either bog standard lossless FLAC (Amazon Music, Deezer & Qobuz) or ALAC (Apple Music), which your Marantz (being a HEOS, AirPlay & UPnP/DLNA streamer) already supports.

The Marantz should also be good enough, via its Spotify Connect support, for Spotify's (CD-res) lossless FLAC streaming service, whenever it arrives later this year.
 
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Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
Since it appears the Marantz is fine as it is, perhaps changing speakers is better idea.

Edit, I see the speakers are fine as they are. Monitor Audio are great speakers.

Still, you can be surprised if you change the MA silver speakers to something else. Anyway this is just speculation from me.

There are many streamer amplifier with sub management. Like the new Powernode streamer amplifier. Yamaha 803D. Then you have more expensive ones like Rotel, Nad.

Usually ordinary stereo amplifiers sound better then surround amplifiers, however Marantz makes great amplifiers. And one of the few surround amplifiers with musical sound.
 
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Ascotbilly

Well-known Member
@Helix Hifi - Itsbthe Yamaha WXAD10- I have it sound is good, more discerning listeners than myself have compared it to the anode which is 3x the cost. In addition I find it very stable rarely dripping signals. For me it is becoming hard to replace.
 

TechDiver01

Novice Member
Thanks to all of you for your feedback.

So, this sounds like a 'me' problem in many ways. I guess I was under the impression that I could improve the sound quality with another piece of equipment.

Ultimately, I want to play HQ/lossless music from online sources and experience as little degradation to the audio signal as possible.

I forgot to add that I can play Apple Music via AirPlay, but not HEOS from my phone to the receiver. The reason for this is when I attempt to use the HEOS app on my iPhone; I get the message to say it can't stream to the Amp using HEOS because the songs are from Apple Music which is protected by DRM. This means my only choice currently is to use Airplay.

Is there a difference in sound quality between streaming from HEOS vs. Airplay 2?

Maybe just buying a streamer would make things simpler in not having to use my phone. If I go that route, I presume I just need a streamer that has the ability to log in to Apple Music. The streamer would be physically connected to my Marantz so that I wouldn't run into the above DRM issue.

Do I have that right?
 

jamieu

Well-known Member
@TechDiver01
This is also worth looking at

Amazon product


Genuine question, what would this Bluetooth aptX HD device offer over AirPlay 2, which @TechDiver01's Marantz supports out of the box for free?

I realise that Airplay 2 can only handle CD quality (16bit/44.1khz) or 48 kHz (although that's more for video content, as very little audio content is natively streamed at 48 kHz). But Bluetooth aptX HD is also limited to 48Khz (so anything higher will still be downsampled and 44.1khz would have to be resampled to 48Khz). It also uses a lossy ('near lossless') codec and transmits via RF rather than a (hopefully more stable) network connection.

It would also still tie up the audio output on the device used for streaming/playback, so no better than AirPlay in that respect either.
 
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jamieu

Well-known Member
Is there a difference in sound quality between streaming from HEOS vs. Airplay 2?

HEOS can handle higher bit/sample rate streams (up to 24/192kHz), but not from Apple Music (as you have already found out).

Maybe just buying a streamer would make things simpler in not having to use my phone. If I go that route, I presume I just need a streamer that has the ability to log in to Apple Music. The streamer would be physically connected to my Marantz so that I wouldn't run into the above DRM issue.

Do I have that right?

The problem is finding such a streamer, the only streamer I know that supports Apple Music in this way (ie. the streamer requests the streams direct from Apple using the streamers own control app) is Sonos, unfortunately those stream are limited to 256 kbps AAC (so a lower quality than you get via using AirPlay).

If you're wedded to Apple Music your options are limited. I guess you could attach a Mac Mini to an external USB DAC and then remotely control the playback using iTunes Remote. But that's a lot of hoop jumping and additional costs. Not a route I'd recommend going down unless you have a spare Mac Mini and USB DAC lying around.

Personally I'd stick with Apple Music/AirPlay 2 or look at switching to a more widely supported (outside of Apple's ecosystem) streaming platform like Qobuz or Tidal (although personally if paying out for a HiRes streaming service I'd want one that supplied the files losslessly).

---

In terms of 16bit/44.1Khz (CD quality) vs HiRes (24bit/96Khz and 24bit/192Khz)

Not waiting to start a format war and as someone who does pay extra for the HiRes tier on Qobuz, just because I like to know I am getting the best I can — however much my better judgement tells me there is no difference ;-) I am not sure you can really hear much of difference, if any and science largely backs that up.

According to the Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem 44.KHz should be able to capture everything up to 20Khz. Bear in mind that most peoples hearing tops out way below that, especially as you get older, try doing an online hearing test if you haven't before and see where you top out.

There are reasons for sampling at higher rates, but that's largely to do with music recording and mastering, not playback.

What I do find is that some of the recordings on the HiRes services seem to be from better quality sources, but that's by no means a given.

Not directly applicable to HiRes (96Khz/192KHz) streams, but this an interesting paper from the BBC where they conducted listening tests to see if people could tell the difference between lossless FLAC and AAC-LC 320 kbps encodings, most people can't. So it's unsurprising that the difference between 44.1Khz and 96Khz (from the same source) is extremely marginal if audible at all.

Anyway, that's all to say don't get too hung up on HiRes. As with a lot of HiFi claims what you're seeing is infinitesimally small differences and obscure technical edge cases blown out of all proportion by sales and marketing departments for their own ends. If your kit supports it and the cost difference in your chosen streaming platform is marginal (or free) then why not — as mentioned above some HiRes recordings do seem to come from better sources. But I wouldn't get too concerned about it. We live in a world of marketing and are easily susceptible to claims of 'better sound' — myself included, that's why I pay for a HiRes tier on Qobuz even though I am extremely doubtful of the claims :)
 
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