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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

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You said it brother! I've just started researching "stereo" systems again. I have an old nice Kenwood receiver, my single play CD blew up years ago, so I want to replace it with the same, and my speakers are kaput, so I'm thinking about a pair of Acoustics 3020i I read an article about.

Sometimes I think it might be better to buy a "bookshelf" stereo system and call it a day (looking at Yamaha and Onkyo, who knows). I haven't been playing any of my hundred of CD's for years because I'm moving around too much and want to get back to it all! Quiet nights at home spinning some CD's!

I still know guys with 10.5 inch reel-to-reels! Now that's a "he-mans" (he-womans? he-persons?) system!

Want to know what's driving me crazy? I hate running the computer and having an internet connection, just do what I used to do by turning on a radio or stereo! No local broadcast station for jazz, so if I want to listen to jazz programming, it's internet on, computer on, streaming a far away station. Too much crap.

On one hand, sure you can get it all on-line, just pay money for a lap-top, and too much money a month for a connection; on the other hand, even if you do it: no local flavor.

I swear I'm two minutes away from getting a wind-up Victrola and calling it a day!

First, take the time to watch this. Mark is well known in the DIY audiophile world– this is recommended by several folks.
https://youtu.be/IiZqYnd5g8M

You may know a lot of the basics, but from your blog, you admit to being clueless when it comes to the digital realm(DAC and streaming) Don't take it personally. Watch the vid. I knew the physics but there is so much more.

Here is a streaming suggestion. Amazon meh.
https://tidal.com/audirvana

I have been a lurker the blog for some time.

http://diyaudioprojects.blogspot.com
Maybe make some contacts through this site.

I don't know of any simple guide to streaming through your stereo. The most elegant way I have found to both stream your computer files and an online service seamlessly is by using the software ROON, which runs around $120 a year (paid annually). You will need a "Roon Ready" device that hooks up to your stereo and wifi. I use a little box made by Bluesound, the Node 2i, which costs $549. Bluesound software integrates with Amazon and works ok on your ipad or phone. ROON is way better, uses, the 2i, and unlike the free Bluesound software will play the files through your phone or ipad if you want to listen that way (the bluesound controller just controls the bluesound units, and does not play through the phone).

The big caveats to the this set-up is that 1. Roon does not currently support Amazon, so you would have to use, like I do, another service. I like Qobuz, and it only offers HD streaming. Bluesound does support Amazon, so you can stream HD through the 2i, but I think the way the files are presented in the Bluesound software is subpar. The Roon software seamlessly integrates, and looks great. You can look through all your personal files, see online HD versions, and other related offerings all at the same time, with very pretty graphics and with nice descriptions. The second caveat is that both Roon and Bluesound have the potential to give you headaches upon initial setup if you run into problems. They can require help requests, but I've resolved everything and they work great, mostly : )

It can be or feel complicated, but in the end it's very straightforward. Part of the challenge is that it is very easy to go very technical and do a lot of tweaking, but you certainly don't have to go that far.

Streaming is great because you can play almost any familiar album and easily discover new music.

You could so some research here, but it tends to be a technical crowd. https://audiophilestyle.com

In fact, I asked almost your exact question a few years ago. https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/55255-striving-to-understand-the-landscape-of-digital-and-streaming-audio/

I use Tidal and Qobuz (and Bandcamp) for streaming, but in general I use Roon for playback. Roon is fantastic!

A lot of streams/DACs provide Tidal and Qobuz access. I'm not sure about Amazon HD. If all you're doing is streaming it should be fairly straightforward.

I have a DAC that I can use through USB or ethernet (I don't have a streamer device - Roon is my streamer). The DAC is hardwired to the network. I also have a Roon Nucleus connected to the network and use an iMac and iOS devices for Roon playback. The Nucleus runs the Roon "core" and has my music files connected via an SSD USB drive.

I have not played a CD in ages! I also now rarely play an album I ripped. It's almost entirely streaming.

The hifi equipment chain is still the same from the preamp to the speakers. All you need is a streamer to replace your CD player.

All CD players have a Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) built in so they can feed your preamp with an analogue signal. All streamers I know of also have the DAC built in so they can also feed an analogue signal to your preamp.

Modern audiophiles will buy expensive outboard DACs and place them between the streamer and the preamp. They do this when they consider the built in DAC in the streamer is of insufficient quality. If you choose a streamer with a quality DAC, you can avoid buying an outboard DAC.

Before choosing a streamer, figure out how you are going to feed music to the streamer:
a) From mobile phone or tablet;
b) From a hard drive in your home network;
c) From an internet music service such as Amazon.

If A, then all you need is DAC with bluetooth connectivity, such as the Arcam irDAC II. You can then stream Amazon prime music from your phone to the bluetooth receiver.

If B, then a simple DAC with USB input, such as the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100. A popular software program to manage this is Roon. I have no experience with it.

If C, then a proper streamer is required. The streamer will have a companion app for iPhone that you use to control it and the corresponding streaming service (such as Amazon).

Well regarded streamers that will let you do A and B and C are the Node 2i from bluesound and the CXN v2 from Cambridge Audio

Apologies if any of this sound simplistic.

Streaming isn’t so radically different than simply playing music already stored on your computer.

If your question is how does Amazon HD work as a streaming service (that is, the nuts and bolts of how accesses or queues up music), you can try this forum link: https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/amazon-hd-music-goes-live.880271/

If your question is how does digital music become music you can hear (that is, the hardware pieces of the puzzle), you can try this forum link: https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/post-your-successful-hi-res-amazon-hd-setup.883613/

Streaming is two parts: the service, in your case Amazon HD, and vehicle to route the service. That vehicle could be a dedicated streaming appliance, like a Bluesound Node 2i, or it could be your Mac.

Note that a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) is not optional, but a DAC is already built in the Bluesound, or your phone, or your Mac — you don’t need to buy a separate one, unless you want to go down that audiophile rabbit hole.

I don’t use Amazon HD so I don’t know its ins-and-outs. I do use Apple Music streaming (because the kids wanted it) and while I dislike the interface and finding new music isn’t straightforward, the actual delivery of music to my speakers is pretty easy: iTunes on a Mac —> Apple Airport Express (wirelessly, using Airplay) —> mini toslink cable out—> integrated receiver optical in (in this case the receiver has a built-in DAC) —> speaker cable out — > speakers.

(Note one could use the DAC built-in to the Airport Express and just do and RCA splitter out -- 3.5mm to RCA cord -- out of the jack in the back, into a integrated receiver, but I decided the amp probably had a better DAC than the Airport Express.)

Ken Rockwell has the how tos, with pictures, if you want to try an Airport Express: https://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/airport-express-audio-quality-2014.htm I would ignore the rest of the article with regards to measuring the internal DAC's qualities; the TL/DR is it's just fine.

In the kitchen I have some powered speakers that have Airplay2 compatibility built in. In iTunes they show up as a device to play music to, such that when I’m making pancakes I do iTunes on an iPhone —> speakers. Could also be from a Mac too, but usually I don’t bring a laptop to a pancake fry. Works great, but the microwave does cause drop outs.

My plan for the future, in the study where I listen to my music the most, is moving to something not dependent on wi-fi and/or the discontinued Airport Express. Mac —> headphone/DAC/preamp, at my desk —> balanced cables (because of a fairly long run) —> amplifier (on the other side of the room) —> speaker cable —> speakers. That way I can have a better headphone experience at my desk, or flip a switch to have music in the room.

My recommendation is to get a SONOS Port (used to be called Connect, which is what I have). You can connect it directly to your existing Pre-amp/integrated amp, via either RCA cables (if you want to use the built-in DAC on the Port), or via coax if your amp has a built-in DAC/accepts coax-in. You can control via an iOS/Android app, or an app on your computer. And SONOS supports Amazon Music HD, per the SONOS website.

Looking forward to seeing other suggested sites, but you can lose yourself in hi-fi GAS and opinions in these sites:
https://www.audioholics.com/recommended-systems

Among the deep-woods of forum categories, I found this acorn: https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/59248-advice-for-a-streaming-newbie/#comment-1050682

More advice here:

https://audiophilestyle.com/
https://www.stereophile.com/

Good luck, and keep us posted on what you decide, as I'm on the same quest with different parameters.


Amazon's Echo Show does support HD, and two can be combined for stereo if desired. I have one and it sounds great by itself.

https://darko.audio/2020/05/digital-music-streaming-101/

He has other entries in his blog outlining various streaming options over the years.His 3 part back to basics video is in some ways even easier to understand than the article itself.

Hi, Mike, as I have more experience with home theater than home audio, I may not be much help, but Amazon's FAQ seems to answer a lot of questions I'd have about a first HD audio setup. So that's my recommended reading!

https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=14070322011

I'm not sure what you mean about Amazon's "wifi solutions", because HD audio isn't demanding by today's standards:

"We recommend a steady internet connection of 1.5 to 2 Mbps for HD streaming and 5 to 10 Mbps for Ultra HD streaming..."

(As you know, by "HD" Amazon means uncompressed CD quality audio, while "UHD" starts at double that data rate.)

That bandwidth requirement goes for wifi, too of course, but even the original 802.11b wifi spec could cover that range in real life (without too much competing traffic), and more modern wifi should have no problem. See:

https://www.lifewire.com/how-fast-is-a-wifi-network-816543

(Even bluetooth should be able to accomodate.)

You'll have to DAC at some point in the chain, but I take it you have one you want to use. I note that the FAQ says most iPads can handle the DAC needs; even the lowly Echo Dot. In short, you should be able to use your ipad as controller and DAC and plug it into an analog amp or powered speakers via the headphone out.

I mention that because that's what I'd do to make sure HD audio is practical in my home setup, before I go shopping for a streamer.

And that, I'm afraid, leads to unfamiliar territory for me. All I can say is that once your bandwidth needs are taken care of, and it's compatible with your chosen source, you should be able to focus on signal quality and integrity, ease of use, and reputation.

As far as controller apps, I know nothing. Based on my home theater experience, I'd look for a streamer that works with open source software because that tends to be more customizable, more frequently updated, and have more longevity in case the manufacturer bails or goes under.

So much for the blind leading the blind.

Good luck!

I use an older Mac Mini for streaming. Gives plenty of flexibility as to which service you use. I'm using Tidal and ROON. I can control ROON with my phone, ipad, or the computer itself. Don't know about Amazon HD.

The mac mini is plugged into my DAC via usb, and from there to my 2-channel system.

I expect you can find a mac mini from a few years back for not a ton of money. Mine is at least 6 years old, and it works without a problem. If you can get one with an SSD, even better.

Very interested in this as well, looking forward to all the comments.

Sonos.

Speakers for streaming music is their raison d'être. I prefer to buy things where the creators and I are aligned.

Hi Mike

I'm a bit old school myself, my upstairs and downstairs system still including components from the 80s and 90s.

I embraced streaming because I wanted to be able sit in a chair and control everything without having to keep leaping up and crossing the room.

I started off with a Logitech Squeezebox server to stream music from my PC in one room to my hifi in another. Being tightfisted, I didn't buy the handset and tried to control things with my phone. I got it all working eventually but the wifi stream was never stable enough for my taste so I forked out for the expensive handset - which didn't solve the problem. The squeezebox has been retired to the attic.

My next attempt was to buy a cheap wifi/bluetooth Chinese streamer from ebay using DNLA. Again, it worked intermittently - just long enough to keep me interested until it would inexplicably cut out.

I had almost given up (I was never going to spend hundreds of pounds on a fancy streamer, a device that was basically nothing more than a DAC, a wifi end point and a user interface), when I discovered the Chromecast Audio.

£25 for a little 2" wide plastic puck with a USB connector (for power) and a 3.5mm jack plug (combined optical out and analogue out). The CCA is nothing much more than a wifi end point and a DAC. Just like the other devices I tried - except it works very reliably. I have one on my upstairs and downstairs systems. They have replaced my turntable and SACD player.

The way it works is you connect the CCA puck to a wall wart PSU with a usb cable, then you connect the output either to an external DAC (Toslink) or straight into the analogue input of your amp (3.5mm jack).

Once wired you download the Google Home software on to a phone or a tablet that you will use as your controller. The Home software enables you to "see" your local home wifi network and any Google streamers attached to it. There is a reasonably simple step by step setup process to follow as a one off process. Once set up, you are ready to go.

You can't play music directly using the Home software, it just manages the streaming and provides basic play controls, volume control and tone controls. To play via home you need a Chromecast aware player(s) to "cast" the music to the CCA device.

There are lots of players that can cast - the Chrome browser is one, anything you can play through Chrome, you can "cast" to the CCA device. I use that to play music from Youtube (I have created a YT playlist I can add music to).

My main streaming music source is Spotify Premium which is Chromecast aware. I installed the Spotify client on my phone. When you play music, Spotify detects the presence of your Home Chromecast network and invites you to redirect the music to the CCA device. In this instance, the phone just acts like a controller to direct the music from the Spotify server through your broadband to your router then via wifi to the CCA which receives and either decodes it with its built in DAC or simply passes the stream to your external DAC.

Because I also have local music stored on my PC and Spotify's local music player seemed to want to copy the whole lot onto my phone, I don't use Spotify for local music. Instead I installed a free Plex server onto my PC to serve the music over my wifi. It works well.

Streaming music's not my thing, but could it be as easy as, if you have speakers hooked up to your computer, just PLAY?

I just went onto Amazon Prime Music for the first time, found Dr. Dog's "Shadow People," hit the play icon, and there it was.

If you're asking about walking around with Airpods on (in?), never used 'em.

What is there for a user to understand? Just press play. The technical background of codecs, transmission protocols etc. is entirely irrelevant. Especially in audio.

I don't use this myself, not interested in streaming. However from what I've heard Amazon Music is one of the most frustrating options out there unless you're fully invested into using Amazon (i.e. Echo and such). Amazon doesn't like playing nice outside of its own Echo-system so you may find it difficult integrating it with your setup.

Beware. Most golden ears, of which I think you are one, agree that the digital files streamers give you are, well, crap. But then you might be getting to the age where you won't notice.

streaming music is like fishing in the most popular stream as you can see the fish you think you want but what catches your bait is not of your taste. I would start with something you might like that you control and nothing that taps your brain and sends what you might like as in like to pay for. Go to Jazzgroove.org and listen for free for a while and see what you think. You might be hooked. As to a system you already have taken out of storage some good speakers. So out put the USB from you computer into a good DAC(Bursonaudio.com)and connect the output of their Conductor 3R into a Serbian made Dayens Menuetto and prepare to be impressed!

I've got no experience with Amazon's streaming service, I use Roon server software and Tidal as a streaming service, so I can't offer any help re Amazon music.

Lots of streamers don't have hard drives so that's not a problem when it comes to finding one. Many of them do have DACs but they also tend to have digital outputs so you can connect to a separate DAC so that shouldn't be a problem to you.

The simplest solution, provided your computer is close to your audio system, may be to use your browser or an app from Amazon if they make one, and output a digital stream from your computer to your DAC, either by optical (Toslink) or USB depending on the inputs your DAC has. If your computer isn't close to your DAC you may be able to use wifi to stream the music to your DAC if it has a wifi input, or to a wifi device with digital output you can connect to your DAC. Amazon may not offer wifi streaming in their app but you may be able to get your computer to divert the stream from the Amazon app to wifi and use wifi to stream Amazon HD that way.

Another option if your audio system is remote from your computer is to use ethernet to connect your computer to a device that can output audio over USB or Toslink to your DAC.

If Amazon offer an iPad app, that app should be capable of working with and controlling an Amazon app running on your computer.

There's a lot of ifs and buts in the above but I think that seems to be the way streaming is. In many ways it seems to me to be a bit like the wild west with lots of streaming services all using their own methods and all offering different options plus a hell of a lot of different ways of dealing with the stream at your end. It's a bit of an anything goes sort of environment and I wonder if there is any simple, general guide to streaming and how to go about it because of the number of variables in streaming services and their idiosyncrasies at the one end and the number of variables in how to access and deal with the stream at the other (user) end.

What you could do is to do a Google search for on-line user forums for people using Amazon HD or specific streamer devices which support Amazon HD. I'm sure some exist and you can probably find a lot of info specific to your needs on one or more such forum.

I connected a Bluetooth receiver to an ancient McIntosh C22 which is then connected to a moderately newer Harmon Citation Twelve Deluxe thence to some JMLab bookshelf speakers. My iPad or MacBook streams to the Bluetooth receiver and all is well.

My speaker cables generated some interference so I had to cycle through a couple and you’ll want to review the BT receivers for their cabling but this should work.

Quick video that I found helpful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BUjj2mZ4o0

Tom

Short TLDR answer:

Why don't just you stream the music on your Ipad or an old iPhone and connect it to one of those schitt boxes?
You could display the screen of the old iPhone on your fancy new iPhone or iPad if you really wanted to.

you have plenty of time to read stuff answer:

So what you want is a box that connects to amazon via wifi, and has a connector to your DAC of choice?

I'm pretty sure that Amazon is trying to do everything it can to prevent you from doing that.

Amazon Music uses the DRM "Widevine" by Google which I believe is intended to prevent you from doing that unless the outboard DAC supports digital rights management and can decrypt the stream.


People have made wonderful Linux based boxes where the hardware costs around $30 or less but Amazon keeps breaking them.

If I were researching this, I would also take into consideration what artists the various sites support and how much they pay the artists. I would ask my son the musician who is very knowledgable/opinionated on the subject but it would spoil both of our days. I just checked and one of his albums is on amazon because of the label it's on but most of it is only on Soundcloud or bandcamp.

Interesting topic, Mike. I guess I’m in a similar quandary and didn’t realize it until you brought up the subject. I’ve been in a music void for the past several years while watching the technology and music industry paradigms shift and not know when to jump in. I’ll be very interested in the advice that comes your way.

Check out John Darko’s YouTube page. He has a series of beginner videos about topics such as streamers and DAC’s. Excellent resource.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQIcXQ2n0sa-7CD0NtqnrrA

I use Tidal, two subscription models, one hi-fi quality. You can set favourites, playlists, search, as well as curated topics. It’s a bit heavy on pop etc., but the search function enables in-depth customisable stored playlists.

I'm the wrong person to advise you on this because I'm a vinyl/CD guy and the only digital streaming I regularly use is Apple Music on apple-play over an iMac and old B&O system at my office for some background music. But I've gone down the path a little bit and I will say that you should be prepared to be VERY disappointed with the sound quality from streaming unless you have monumentally fast internet - absent hi-resolution providers, the sound is far more compressed than CD quality (which I mostly just tolerate). I have given up trying to pursue hi-res. digital streaming because my home internet is delivered via old TV cable network fibre optics, which provide nowhere near enough bandwidth. On the other hand, having given up, I discovered this wonderful new music streaming invention, which is really cheap and can provide wonderful sound quality over my existing stereo systems. It's called FM radio.

Mike,

These two sites may have the information that you are looking for:

https://www.soundguys.com/amazon-music-hd-review-29137/
https://www.amazon.com/b/?ie=UTF8&node=14070322011&ref=dmm_AMHDEDU_banner_UNREC

I would not reject a DAC out-of-hand; it may give you the best experience if you want to connect your digital device to an old school two channel amplifier.

I suggest you check out Sonos. I checked, they support Amazon Music HD in their app (one of over 40 streaming services they support). If you want to connect your existing speakers (or turntable or amp) they have a product called Port. They also make amazing speakers connected over WiFi. Their customer support is excellent. Their app is amazing! I have Spotify, Pandora, and Amazon Music HD! All seamlessly integrated. I’d be happy to answer any questions offline.

Find an Airport Express. Connect to network, enable Airplay on Airport Express. Connect Airport Express to stereo with a 3.5mm stereo -> stereo rca cable. Steam whatever you want from ipad.

Hi Mike,

I assume that you are asking how to stream Amazon Music HD to your hifi of choice, e.g. your existing hifi? (After all, it's trivial to stream it direct to your PC or phone and listen on a headphone port or via a USB DAC. It is also trivial to use your PC as the streamer and connect to your hifi with a USB DAC. I assume you want a streaming box solution.)

Instead of reading yourself into submission, just buy a BlueOS-compatible streaming box -- let's say the Bluesound Node 2i (https://www.bluesound.com/products/node/).

Plug the Internet into one end of it, either Ethernet cable or via wifi to your wifi modem.

Plug your hifi into the other end of it, either the analog outputs (using its very nice internal DAC) or the Toslink digital output (if you want to use your own DAC of choice).

Install the BlueOS app on your iPad, fire it up, and off you go.

cheers
Arg

If you want to go all modern, then consider a distributed sound system like Sonos. I used to be a stereophile and invested in nice equipment back in the day. Today, I'm reconciled to my vanishing hearing - why pay a huge amount for a sound system that's great on paper, but produces sound I can't hear?

Sonos is wonderful for its convenience. You buy standalone amplified speakers, subscribe to streaming services, and control everything from an app on your phone. You can also take all your digitized music and make it into a library that Sonos will play.

You can have speakers distributed all around the house and control what plays where on your app.

There are disadvantages: the speakers are pricey because the DACs and amps are built-in, I'm sure they don't compare to top audio components for younger ears, but over time, the hardware just disappears and it's you and your app and your streaming music.

When you think about it, it's pretty magical. Think of an artist, search your streaming services on the app on your phone, choose what room you want to listen in and the music just appears. Abracadabra!

It is confusing. There's a number of different ways to do what you want.
You could stream directly from your iPhone (or iPad) using Apple's Lightning to USB3 Camera Adapter ($39). provided your DAC has USB input.
Another fairly easy option would be to use a Bluesound Node 2i streamer ($549). It has an internal DAC, but you don't have to use it. Connect it's digital output to your DAC. There's lots of information on the Web about this device.

hi Mike,

an example - my own setup consists of a bluesound node 2i streamer/dac, a rotel a12 amplifier (with integrated dac, and phono/MM input), and a pair of speakers (tannoy).

but, for getting to know the whole stuff, maybe have a try with John Darko's "back to basics" series:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5rGHPYh3E0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT-qby5q3V0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8036cfLlV54

all the best,
sebastian

i have a picture of it on flickr ..
https://www.flickr.com/photos/sebastel23/49500042811

Mike, I was in the same situation. After building an audiophile system all by myself from scratch, I was left with a world with no CDs and just streaming. I really hated the very idea of streaming at first, to not "own" the music, to depend on a constant connection. The I tried Spotify and was hooked immediately. It's an explosion of diversity. Yes it's less audiophile in quality but it's more interesting in music - you get to listen to so many versions and styles, you can hop endlessly. And with premium content you can download your favorites as well so you don't depend on a fast connection that's always on.

I kept the technology simple, just pay for Spotify to get no ads and the high quality streaming settings. I use normal PC output, no outboard DACs. I can use my phone to select what plays on the PC. Spotify allows several devices to connect, and you can then decide which devise plays the output. I am sure Amazon allows the same.

I’m using a Brennan B2. It’ll rip your CDs into wav, flac, or mp3 files onto its internal HDD. It can also play internet radio … so you have many channels from which to choose.

https://www.brennan.co.uk/

It’s worth a look.

The easiest way into, or out of, the complexity is the purchase of a Bluesound Node 2i streamer. Bypass the internal dac at your leisure.

Mike, I’m 72. I gave up on high-end audio several years ago simply because, as I have aged, my hearing abilities have deteriorated to the point that I am no longer capable of discerning the subtle advantages of expensive, state-of-the-art equipment.

So the first question I would ask you is when you last had a professional assessment of your hearing. Often we don’t realize that our hearing has become compromised.

I do, however, still enjoy music, but almost any “consumer-grade” system is good enough now. Particularly if I use decent headphones.

Finally, I hope your hearing tests say you still have “20-years old” ears!

Get a Bluesound system, Bluesound.com, and subscribe to Tidal ($9.00/month). It is all you will ever need.

My audio system nowadays is the iPhone and a JBL Charge 4 Bluetooth speaker, while my 80's vintage Onkyo Integra system essentially collects dust. Tinnitus has pretty much destroyed any hope of enjoying the high end stuff anymore.

My grandchildren are masters at things like Spotify. I have just recently begun to use Radio Paradise. It suits my tastes most days. I don't know of any books, but find a young adult nearby and quiz them on how it all works. Some of them actually know something if you can get the Airpods out of their ears!
Good luck Mike
Cheers

John Darko runs a great channel out of Berlin on Youtube

https://darko.audio

I'm on neither of the "streaming" services, unless you are thinking of iTunes, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

However, last week I successfully plugged a surround system into a TV HDMI-CEC port, and my computer into the HDMI-1 port. Since I am not a teenager, the hardest part of the task was figuring out how to use the TV clicker, which controls everything including the surround receiver/DVD player.

In short, I can "stream" anything through my computer to my surround. See Craigs list for deep discounts on 5-year old surround systems. Anything since about 2010 works pretty seamlessly with HDMI.

I've used both Pandora and Spotify to stream music to my regular stereo system. Obviously, I can "stream" them to my surround system as well.

Spotify allows you to create your own playlists, which wasn't true of Pandora last time I looked. Both services also provide "suggested" streams, where an algorithm feeds you random tunes they think you will like. You need to nurture the feed, especially Pandora, but that one worked better to give me a spread-ier algorithm; Spotify was much better for a more narrow, within-genre experience.

Mike

I recommend the Well Tempered Computer as a good primer to this whole field:

www.thewelltemperedcomputer.com

Rob

I'm with Lynn on the Tidal/Audirvana route. I did a lot of research before I committed. I decided to go to a music dedicated Mac mini with an inexpensive monitor. DAC tech changes every few years, so I don't commit to the real high end units as there are plenty of value DACs that sound great. Audirvana uses the phone/tablet for a remote.

There are stand alone music servers with built in DACs that include streaming. I think the Mac mini route allows more flexibility going forward.

A lot of discussions on audiokarma.org that might be of interest.

Tidal. Like you, Mike, vinyl oozes, CDs litter the place but never see the transport. I started ripping and that's like slide scanning, never finished.
I recently took the plunge and took a Tidal subscription. Admittedly, I already had a Cyrus Xa streamer but what I didn't realise that I can stream from my Samsung tablet as I lie in a hospital bed and with my Sennheisers bent over my head you realise just how far we've come from a Sony Walkman and a pocket full of TDKC90's!
I can control the stereo streaming from iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, iPhone5 and it's great.
Buy a streamer as a front end component.
Or I suppose you could plug your iPad aux lead in!
Sign up for tidal HQ stuff and enjoy.
Sadly for every "new" music I find I listen to at least five albums which I've been listening to for half a century ... or more!
DP
P.S. I have yet to "get" playlists!

Take a look at BlueSound node products. Get one, connect to your audio system, and you are done for years to come. I tried a whole bunch of services, and revisit them when there are sales, but Spotify wins every time despite its shortcomings.

I don't live in the Apple Word but in Windows Country, so my advice can't be very specific. But streaming nowadays isn't that difficult any more since Apple invented AirPlay as a universal transmission standard. Your Mac speaks it, your IPhone does - what you (only) need is any kind of receiver which is able to listen to them.

Which every contemporary receiving unit from my diy solution (Raspberry mini-computer with a HifiBerry-Dac and a Freeware called Volumio) to expensive Wifi-High-End-Dacs should be able to do.

I wouldn't care so much about DACs. Even quite cheap ones do an amazing job; maybe you have to take more care of a clean power supply. But to be honest: I experimented with a lead battery as an ultra-clean power source - no ripple or hum at all, obviously - and couldn't hear any difference.

Last (maybe nerdy) advice: At least on my Windows PC, it was a good idea to install a Virtual Audio Cable as input and output device. This circumvents the native - and often mediocre - sound system and sends digital input straight through to digital output. Maybe overkill, but it helps to put my mind to rest.

Happy listening,

Robert

An inexpensive solution to dip your toes in this is

I assume that what you want to do is run the client of some remote streaming service like Apple Music or Spotify or Amazon ... and then somehow play that sound through your speakers.

If you currently have a DAC with a USB input you could just stream music to your computer (or iPad) and then into the DAC via USB. But then the iPad/computer will be tethered to the DAC while music plays. I'm not sure how much you care about that. This is probably the simplest option.

If you don't want to be tethered to the DAC while music plays, then you need some way to get the audio signal there over the wireless network.

There are lot of different devices that allow you to do this. For Apple devices the thing to look for is something that talks to Airplay. The cheapest Airplay receiving device these days is probably either an older Apple TV or Airport Express, both of which you can buy off ebay and set up in an audio only mode. Both also have digital out for a DAC. Apple does not make any current production hardware that will do this. Sadly.

I would avoid products like this

https://www.audioadvisor.com/prodinfo.asp?number=AB6000N

or

https://www.audioadvisor.com/prodinfo.asp?number=ACARIEG21

because you already have that device in your house if you have a computer or laptop, and your existing device is sure to have a better user interface than whatever the audio company will implement via some contract programmer.

I think the streaming service to USB DAC is probably the thing to try first.

Or get an old Airport Express if you want wireless.


I learnt a lot from John Darko, darko.audio. He also has an excellent YouTube channel that explained streamers and DACs that helped me understand things. I’ve just put together a Raspberry Pi streamer with an old USB to 3.5mm headphone jack soundcard, not the best but works surprisingly well for now. This runs into an old Optonica amp. I’m using Volumio as the OS for the Pi

Simplest and maybe the best way to go with highest quality would be to get a Bluesound Node and stream Tidal Hi Res.

https://www.bluesound.com/products/node/

You can hook that up to anything you want and control the streaming from the Bluesound App on your phone or computer. It's really not complicated.

The thing I liked least about streaming was the dull interface, depending on Internet that might be spotty and the lack of musical discovery that happened on trips to record stores. After a lot of disappointment I landed on Roon as the organizing interface and Tidal as the source. This costs me about $30 a month or what a new LP goes for currently.

Tidal offers tracks at CD quality at the bottom end with some albums streaming at higher resolution. The selection is very good and it seems trouble-free. Roon interfaces with it seamlessly and allows me to assemble a collection of music with a opportunities to go down all sorts of rabbit holes exploring related music, band history and surprising good suggestions of music based on my selections.

I think the sound quality of this method can be exceptional if you have the system to support it. I splurged on a top model Luxman DAC and the music has pretty much playing constantly for the 3 years since I did this.

Not sure what you mean by not wanting a DAC. You need a DAC somewhere in your system, whether it's built into a bigger something else (like your computer or as a DAC/AMP combo unit) or a standalone thing, because somehow the digital signal has to get converted to analog somewhere along the way before it's amplified and sent to speakers (or headphones). No need to think about how it works (unless you enjoy that sort of thing).

Simple, budget but very adequate, desktop setup example: Install the Amazon Music app on your computer. Connect a good budget external DAC to it with a USB cable* (yes, something like the Schiit Modi is an excellent DAC choice, but there are other good choices under $200). Connect the RCA jacks on the back of the DAC to an RCA (aux) input on the back of just about any amplifier made in the last 50 years or so (I expect you have one already), then speakers to amp, etc., and you're in business.

Obviously, we can spend much more and get much more sophisticated than this with wifi streaming and bluetooth and multi-channel surround systems and so on, if the bug bites. But this sort of setup works great for many people who just want high quality stereo sound from their computer using streaming music services like Amazon, Tidal, Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, etc.

Useful beginners' video re: DACs here https://youtu.be/Dhrv-O9sivI


* With a Mac, probably plug-and-play. With a PC some DACs may require installation of a driver.

[Sorry...all I meant was that I wanted to use a standalone DAC. --Mike]

“Streaming” is generally used to describe playing media (audio, video, ... ) which stored “in the cloud” (I.e. on someone else’s computer, like Amazon or Apple or Netflix or Pandora) rather than your computer.

So I can play audio or video I have stored on my own hard drive. This means I need to somehow acquire and download the music. In my case, it’s mostly CDs and vinyl that I copied onto my computer.

Or I can sign up for Spotify or Pandora (or others) and play any track they have in their catalog without ever copying it to permanent storage on my computer. Sort of the way broadcast TV works, although you’re not beholden to their schedule.

Big advantage to streaming: you’ll never exhaust the catalog.
Big disadvantage to streaming: you need to be connected to the internet, and you probably will pay a monthly subscription fee.

I'm going to give you the shortest answer, and one designed for people who want to get on with it and not screw around with this tech junk: Go the the closest Apple store. They will set you up with the few pieces you need. It will work with your existing Apple products. No Apple store close by? Chat with them on the phone and they will help you, then you can have what you need delivered to your day in a day. Subscribe to Apple Music. You're done.

I love your site Mike, especially these small pieces where you manage to take an exceptionally easy thing that millions of people do everyday without thinking, and somehow turn it into a problem that only Oppenheimer and a government project in the desert could solve. I have an answer to all your needs, and it's easy, but if I elucidate it here, my greatest fear is that the struggle you encapsulate within your mortal coil will find peace, and I will get less of these articles. Your intelligence is the real problem. :)

One other quick thought...
People will argue about the relative value of streaming "Hi Res", "Ultra Hi Res", etc., formats available (for a price) from Amazon Music, Tidal and others vs. supposedly inferior "CD Quality" from the likes of Spotify. Even assuming you have sufficiently good equipment to resolve the difference, if you're over 50 or so it's extremely unlikely your hearing can.

[A fair enough point, but Spotify is not CD quality, it's AAC, and although AAC can sound plenty good enough to hear the music, I can definitely tell the difference between AAC and CD quality. --Mike]

I use streaming for exploring new (to me) music. I've been using Tidal for 6 months now and I like it. I don't use the hi-res version as the subscription cost is double that of the standard version here in the UK. I have the Tidal app installed on my Android phone, MacBook and iMac. Playlists and history get shared across them all.

Hardware-wise, the iMac has an external Focusrite USB audio interface connected (for home recording) with the Focusrite monitor outs cabled into my main listening amp's TUNER input. I use the phone and MacBook in another room for casual listening. They get connected into an old amp and bookshelf speakers using a 3.5mm jack to phono cable. Simple as really.

Streaming set-ups don't need to be complicated if you just want single room stereo audio and your existing hi-fi amp has a free AUX or TUNER input. Add a phone/iPad/Mac with a 3.5mm headphone output and streaming app installed plus an appropriate cable. There's no need to buy dedicated streamers or DAC units to try it out.

The best thing I’ve done is get a high-quality Bluetooth receiver such as the Audioengine B1. I stream lossless audio from the Tidal app on my phone (or Mac Pro or iPad) to my ATC amp and speakers and it’s just a really nice way of listening to music. I’m not sure if anything theoretically gets lost along the way but if it does I can’t hear it. I also have a high-specced RME DAC and use the two interchangeably.

https://www.psaudio.com/products/directstream-dac/

... and if you want to use a standalone DAC, most good Bluetooth receivers have an optical out.

You should check out Roon.

It is important to understand that today your audio experience is as much, if not more, about software rather than hardware. The digital signal processing (DSP) power in an iPhone or a Mac can do anything that a stand-alone DAC can do, probably better.

Integrated sound systems (e.g. Sonos) can take an array of relatively small and inexpensive transducers and, knowing their characteristics, produce sound that once took something ten times as big. Some of these systems can measure and adapt to room acoustics.

It’s no longer about “mine is bigger, heavier, and far more expensive than yours”, it is about “mine is smarter than yours”. It is a golden age for audio. Ken Rockwell’s testing of the DAC in an old Apple wireless box is revealing, and we now have newer, better stuff.

About your comment that you can hear the difference on Spotify: AAC is a lossy codec. But it is appropriate for Spotify’s audience.

I’m suspicious of anything better than CD quality. It would require exceptional hearing to perceive the difference.

The age of analog audio, except for a live performance with often a poor sound system, is over.

With the disclaimer that I'm not an ultra-audiophile...

I really love our Sonos system. I have a stereo pair of Sonos Ones in the kitchen, another One in the dining room, A 3 in my office, and whatever-they-call-the-receiver in my living room digitally piped into my Denon receiver.

The audio quality is really good. I don't know if it is audiophile good, but seems like it to me. 95% of the time I am streaming my local station 88.5FM (KCSN) throughout the house. Individual control of every speaker as to what is played on it and volume. I can commandeer one or any/all speakers to play a podcast while the others are playing the radio or Pandora, etc. Or vice versa.

The catch is they are pricy. And they become obsolete. I can't do Apple Airplay to any of my old speakers. Yet none of the new speakers have "clicky" buttons for volume, which I use all the time as I reach up to adjust when I'm too lazy to use the app. But still... I'm so happy with the system.

I see this is already recommended, but I want to endorse that if you're doing this move to streaming you owe it to yourself to check out Roon. It is the most advanced solution available today and it matches perfectly your way of interacting with music. It is not perfect, there are some kinks to work out but there's nothing better at this moment. The decision whether to use Roon or not should come first, because hardware choices will depend on that.

I went Sonos years ago and use the Connect (now called Port) connected to an old 2 channel Rotel amp. The Connect functions as DAC and preamp in my setup (and has the possibility of one additional source input) but can also deliver line out (either digital to a preamp/receiver to use its DAC or can function as DAC and output analog signal to a preamp). In my case, I am completely ok with it as a preamp. My music collection is ripped (Apple lossless) to a Time Capsule connected to my network making it always available even if no computer is turned on. I have used Apple music for years for the kids (which is supported) and recently started using Amazon HD which is also supported. So Far I have not had any issues and the Sonos solution just works and gets out of the way. For a while it was completely integrated into the Apple ecosystem and i could control the music from my Apple watch but Apple broke that link and now I have to use the iOS Sonos app. This happened around the time apple launched their smart speaker for obvious reasons. Sonos is a bit pricey but they are very easy to use and well thought out. You can buy it like mine or, integrated with an amp, various smart speakers and soundbars and they even have a sub. I also have one of the older smart speakers which i can take anywhere in the house and just plug it in and listen. It does not rival my 2 channel setup but sounds pretty good.

Late in commenting, but have been reading the conversation. I'm glad Hugh C. brought up the topic of the artist's compensation. It isn't sustainable, for pretty much all of them. Damon Krukowski (Galaxie 500 drummer) has written about this with great insight in "The New Analog." He also discusses what else we've lost along the way, including the ability to actually listen to, and hear, all that is available to us (him included, partly because of the digital library he has accumulated).

For me, with very limited time to dedicate to listening to an ever-growing music collection, the time I am able to spend with the music is enriched with what has been a beautiful part of the experience all along — the physical aspect of it. The fascination of how the records, tapes, CDs actually work, the album artwork and liner notes, the intentionality of sitting down and dedicating a little time to listening. Factory Records, ECM, Independent Project Records with his letterpress work, 4AD with their photography and graphic design – all such a part of the experience, and closely tied with the music itself.

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