Last night I had some time and the inclination to audition various methods of listening to streaming music on my system.
What is Streaming Music……This is a way of listening to millions of songs on a HiFi that is somehow connected to the internet, usually through your WiFi at home or on a cellular connected device like a phone or tablet. You then subscribe to a “Music Service” like Amazon HD, Quobux, Tidal, Spotify, etc…There are dozens of them! These services cost $10-$15 a month. The cost of less than 1 CD or record and you have access to over 75 MILLION SONGS!!!
(The most used and highest quality experience is with Quobuz, Tidal and Amazon MusicHD……As this is written 12-15-21, Apple is just getting around to offereing music in a HiRes (High Resolution) format)
Here is the equipment I chose to use for this series of auditions:
Sound Artist SA200ia amplifier
Bluesound Node2i streamer/DAC Bluetooth Receiver
Gustard X16 DAC, KEF LS50 Meta speakers
HP Laptop with Realtek HDA (High Def Audio) sound card
1Wii aptX HD dongle BlueTooth adapter
Quobuz as the source
I used five songs for listening:
Rolling Stones “Symphony For The Devil”
BS&T “Sometimes In Winter”
Steely Dan “Black Cow”
Fleetwood Mac “Everywhere”
#1…LapTop headphone out jack to AUX in on amplifier…Barely listenable. Might be fine for inexpensive earbuds, but the system in use showed up the flaws. Muddy bass, collapsed imaging, shrill highs
#2…LapTop internal BT to Bluesound Node2i BT receiver…Better than the headphone connection. Much improved bass response but imaging still lacking. Female vocals are recessed in the sound field. Not bad. Most would be satisfied if lisening through simple HiFi
#3…LapTop using 1Wii aptX HD BT dongle to Node2i BT receiver. HUGE improvement over the LapTop’s internal BT transmitter. Very listenable even on these superb loudspeakers. Would be all you need on a casual system.
#4…LapTop USB output into Gustard X16 USB input. With this LapTop, not much difference than #3 above. It doesn’t speak to the inadequacy of the USB connection, but it does show how good the 1Wii Dongle is as a BT transmitter. This USB to USB sounded great!
#5…Node2i internal DAC through RCA to Sound Artist amplifier…Monster improvement to all above. EVEYTHING improved. Easy to hear the difference. Just confirms that a dedicated streamer will usually outperform a phone/tablet/PC as a streaming device.
#6..Node2i using COAX into Gustard X16 DAC and RCA out of DAC into Sound Artist amplifier….I didn’t think #5 could be much improved…I was VERY wrong! As great as #5 sounded, adding a much better DAC blew the imaging and sound stage wide open, and added tighter more defined bass. I found it hard to believe it was this dramatic. I thought it might be a sound level issue playing tricks on my, but my trusty sound level meter confirmed the volume was the same
(Just for fun, I installed an Andover Songbird streamer ($150) in place of the Node2i….With the SB using it’s own internal DAC, the difference between the Node2i with its own internal DAC was not as great as I expected. Don’t get me wrong, the difference was there, but I’m betting with lesser speakers and amplifier you might not hear ANY difference….The little SB sounded amazing on this system. But the SB can only send CD quality though its USB connection, so when hooked to the Gustard X16 DAC, the difference was night and day. The Gustard showed up the short comings of an inexpensive streamer. But if you simply want to get into streaming with out spending lots of money, I don’t think you can beat a Songbird)
It’s fun doing these types of auditions (I don’t call them TESTS as a test requires absolute or quantifiable results…this is opinions)…Hope to do more in the future…Thanks for reading!