Help settle a streaming argument!

This is a SQ argument and is as follows-  I argue if you connect your streamer to an outboard DAC the streamer does not matter it’s just serving the music to the outboard DAC to do the work.  Therefore, buy a basic streamer.  The other is that you need to buy a top quality streamer and DAC to get great SQ. 

I liken it to cd players or the more pretentious cd transport argument- if the intent is to connect to outboard DAC the cd player doesn’t matter the outboard DAC DOES!

features and functionality aside!  Thoughts…..


Well have you done it? I’ve been messing around with entry level streamers over the last few months, the Node 2i, all three Wiim products and a Zen Stream. The Zen came out on top but it’s not user friendly. Keep my Node 2i. I started researching higher end streamers and decided to purchase a used one thinking if it didn’t make a difference in sound quality I could probably make my money back selling it. I purchased an Innuos Zen Mk 3. It’s staying in my system. Completely blows away the above streamers and I had no expectations that it would. Totally transformed my system. Smooth, organic is the word I keep using to describe it. Everything increased- sound stage, depth, blacker back ground, full. Great tone. I think in goes back to the source being very important as Linn says. I added LPS’s to my streaming front end. I say get the best streamer you can afford, add a decent DAC and when you get the upgrade bug move into a better DAC. 

@cetla416 - didn't quite answer the question.  the better streamer I would expect to have better SQ in your scenario.  the question is basic vs. high end streamer connected to same DAC would they sound the same?  my argument is yes they would. 

I ask for a friend cause he wants to get into streaming and I say buy a basic streamer cause he has a killer DAC. so I have not tested.

For illustrative purposes. Assuming you really enjoy salmon. Would you rather consume fresh, off the boat, wild-caught king salmon from pristine waters? Or, a salmon at the end of it's life-span, after making a successful spawning run? 


For further illustrative purposes. Assume your Shining City DAC can be located in those pristine waters with schools of free swimming king salmon (no fishing boats in sight).

OR said Shining City DAC can be located at the end of the spawning run waiting for spent, successful salmon.


Hint: before you think its only about the salmon...stop yourself. 


He/she did answer the question. A better streamer into the same DAC yielded noticeably better results for them.

Many of us here have experienced similar results. I upgraded my streamer going into the same DAC and noticed a more significant improvement in sound quality than I did when I upgraded my DAC going into my previous streamer.

I’ve since concluded that the streamer is at least as important as the DAC - and perhaps more so. 

Try it yourself. But, try something that is supposed to be noticeably better than your Node so that you’re not trying to split hairs.  We look forward to hearing from you regarding your findings - whatever they may be.

polkalover, Yes, I did answer your question with examples. What “killer DAC”? I don’t know if my MHDT modified Orchid DAC is killer but it’s what I have settled on. Had the 2i in front of it, replaced it with the Zen. No contest, not even close. 

I ask for a friend cause he wants to get into streaming and I say buy a basic streamer cause he has a killer DAC. so I have not tested.

Everything matters in streaming and matters a lot, and the streamer is one of the most important links in the chain.  Underspend on a streamer at your peril.  You’re kidding yourself if you think a “basic” streamer performs anywhere near the level of  more accomplished models from the likes of Aurender, Innuos, Grimm, Lumin, Wolf, etc.  You’re deep in the minority here on this one.

Both the streamer and the DAC play major roles in the resultant sound. I have used, iPads PCs, inexpensive streamers, $5K, $10K, $15k, and $22K streamers and the difference is like night and day. The streamer matters. The last of those streamers is the one in my main system.


I think there are some differences in how they affect the sound. Cheap streamers are thin sounding, have high noise floor, and image poorly, I think really cheap DACs have all the problems of cheap streamers, but also strongly effect the tonal balance and some of the more musical aspects. This is a new theory of mine… I’m going to have to do some direct testing to verify it. But absolutely no question that the streamer strongly affects the sonic output as does the DAC.


My rule of thumb is for maximum sound quality invest equally in the streamer and DAC… although mine feel at $22K streamer $$17K DAC. 

Really depends on a couple of things. You _can_ make a streamer so bad that the DAC’s own jitter reduction system just can’t keep up, and is forced to pass the jitter on.

A half decent streamer with 10 seconds of buffer and a galvanically isolated USB asynchronous connection can be all you need.

One other issue to consider is the noise put back into the line by wall wart adapters, so getting a nice iFi supply is something I recommend.

Personally I like to keep my streamer and DAC separately, so I can choose the DAC and also to ensure the streamer keeps up to date with the latest software services and formats.

@fastfreight ​​@ghdprentice

+1 ….Big Time

u wanna fast litmus test ? Toddle down to your local bricks and mortar dealer and do a simple bakeoff .
Superior Build quality, overall design, and power supplies matter. The entirely predictable stepped up audio performance results will be confirmed … full stop.



At one time I was comparing three different streamers and three DACs.  I was rather surprised that I heard bigger differences in sound quality with the streamers than I did the DACs.


Yes, the question was answered as the DAC remained the constant and going to a better streamer made all the difference. I think your premise about pretentious CDT arguments laid bare your bias.

All the best,

It seems logical that the streamer (or CD transport) should not matter, but my experience has been (in both cases) that it does.

Absolutely!   I went from a Vault 2i which was my first streamer and a great way to get into streaming and stored audio.  I replaced it with an Aurender N200 and the difference is not subtle.  It was a worthwhile purchase for sure. 

That’s a loaded question ,for the Quality of the streamer can make a big difference 

in its power supplies,and regulation , it’s quality of Crystal or Clock it’s processing 

this is even before you get to the dac , also the Quality of the Ethernet cables ,and USB cables, as well as power cord quality.

every factor here counts in a quality Audiophile streaming system.

99% of these respondents probably use usb to the dac, and if this is the case, the best sound you will get is mediocre at best. 
Change your test: get a dac that uses Ethernet (which is far superior than usb) and test different servers. Your results will be much different. I used to use 1 of the better steamers mentioned above with usb and then when I switched the dac to use Ethernet and/or i2s, I sold my streamer.
1 more test: use i2s going to the dac (i2s is also superior to usb) and test different servers. Again, your results will be very different.

I can say from my experience upgrading from a Bluesound NodeII to an Aurender streamer there is a big difference in sound quality. This is into my Mark Levinson preamp with excellent built in dac. Bluesound sounded good, Aurender sounds fantastic. 

"This is a SQ argument and is as follows- I argue if you connect your streamer to an outboard DAC the streamer does not matter"



Wrong, It makes a huge difference in SQ what type of music server you use, actually the DAC can be a Rolls Royce (adequate for any reasonable demand).


Matt M.


It’s strange how in something commonly referred to as a chain, some people still fail to understand the concept of a weak link. 

The topic whether a streamer matters in a digital chain has been brought up several times and yes, a streamer is a key component of your system. Investing in a quality streamer if you have a decent system with expensive gears.  Enjoy the music.

You could just buy something like a Dcs Bartok which is what I did. This has a high quality streamer, Dac and Preamp. It is an impressive bit of kit. No more messing about with separates.


@polkalover I really like the Innuos Mk3 too, great streamer I had it and even gets better with a good power cable, audio grade switch and good Ethernet cable. In my case the Shunyata Omega, Phoenix Net and AudioQuest Diamond. 
later I upgraded to the Statement and the Mk3 did not land far away even with the price difference 


good luck 

Liken a streamer to a cd transport…the DAC is the component that make the difference in sound. So buy a basic streamer if you like your DAC. The only other variable with a streamer is noise, a better streamer should be a less noisy one.  

Streamers matter. I had an Allo Pi player and replaced it with a Node 2i. Sound quality suffered. Replaced the Node with a Lumin U-1 mini and it was much better.



Is there a 3,000 dollar streamer that's as easy to use as a Node?

@mbmi The Innuos Pulse is usually $3800 but Audio Advisor currently has it discounted to $2355 (not sure why).  Much better performance than the Node and comes with their Sense app that gets very high marks for both usability and sound.  Great customer support too.

Playing moderator here:  Nobody has said what an expensive streamer does differently than a budget streamer.

Are bits dropped?

Are the output files supposed to be identical or does a streamer have lattitude is translating a data file to a music file?

Jitter?  It can't be just jitter can it?



Playing moderator here: Nobody has said what an expensive streamer does differently than a budget streamer.

Yes they have. Perhaps you just don't care for the explanations.

Silly question. Everything matters at the audiophile level. Why would anyone go cheap on any part of an audiophile system. The way the OP is thinking makes me cringe about the cables he may be using or recommending to his friend.

@baylinor  - your condescending answer will be dismissed!  arrogance does not equate to knowledge or intelligence! 


It has been a while since I listened critically to streamers and the mode of transmission, but, I agree that Ethernet consistently outperformed asynchronous USB connection when I heard a comparison.

While it does not seem to make sense that a streamer can make a whole lot of difference beyond a certain point of basic competence, it does matter.  I have no idea why it is so, but, early on, I heard comparisons of the software managing streaming and NAS music files and some software truly sucked compared to others when it came to sound quality; how can that be?


Quick question.  If you rip a CD to the Innous,  how easy is it to move files to and from? I have most of my music on a NAS, so how do you move CD rips to a NAS?


+ 1 to carlsbad2

I think the question is the core of the issue if I am to learn more about streamers and how to spend my money wisely. Lets remove the listener from the chain for the moment. I pose the questions that if the only variable in the chain is the streamer and each streamer under consideration is receiving the same digital file from the provider which it is then delivering to the DAC, What degradation can or is taking place within the streamer that the file received is not identical to the file delivered to the DAC? What makes the streamer the weaker link if the files are identical and if they are not identical what changed?

+2 carlsbad2 and mteetank - in addition to the more pointed question which was lost in generalization of it sounds better - the why it sounds better has not been established.   notwithstanding of maybe a better power supply!  it still stands to ask why a more expensive streamer if not utilizing the internal dac would sound better.  

"The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept."

- George Carlin (Rest in peace).

I have a Bluesound Node 2i. I use the digital out into a PS Audio Directstream DAC Mk1. I would love to upgrade to a higher quality streamer if I could find one that supports Idagio Streaming (suggestions, anyone??)..  Alternatively,  I  upgraded my Node2i with a TeddyPardo linear power supply.  It made a significant improvement in SQ!! I think this is empirical evidence that a streamer can make a difference in SQ even when using an outboard DAC.

The question that OP posed was answered by many. Now the goal posts are shifted - "but why does it sound better? give me concrete proof!" 


@polkalover Imagine the sound from an old “record player” verses a $10 -$50K turntable with fancy phono ($-$$$) stage and an 2-10K needle. Same is true for streaming equipment. The good news is that money outlays are far less for a smoking streaming setup than for a vinyl one. 


The question that OP posed was answered by many. Now the goal posts are shifted - "but why does it sound better? give me concrete proof!" 

It's a game some play here. In this thread, a difference was established and measured, but a measurementalist objected that the difference wasn't "significant":

Significant" ?   I think some folks should look up the word in the dictionary.  Different? Yes, but tiny, tiny, tiny unless you are letting your belief system modify what you hear vs. the actual sound. 

"Significant" is obviously subjective but to this guy, you're a victim of a "belief system" unless you accept his "belief system."

Hans Beekhuyzen on his YouTube channel has answered this question time and time again. The answer is that a better streamer will sound better to a higher end DAC compared to a lower end streamer into that same DAC in a revealing system.

He has tested the WiiM Pro Plus in his three "reference" systems at various price points and can tell a good sonic difference even in his lowest end system. 

This doesn't mean the WiiM Pro Plus is "bad". For its sub-$300 price point it is amazing what you can get, but no it isn't a "giant killer", even acting as a streamer only.   

Very interesting and enlightening conversation. I just received today my NEW Bricasti M1 SE DAC, with the streaming card. I have 2 systems, one higher end. This DAC/Streamer will go into the high end one. I have always streamed via USB, and Windows based computer and have been extremely happy, via Qobuz. Rock and Roll only. So I will be anxious to compare USB vs  Ethernet Streaming. Will be going out soon to find a reasonably priced I Pad. I have Ethernet  available as we speak. Still have to call Retailer that sold me my Bricasti for an education on How To Stream, and app downloads that are needed for the Bricasti. Looking forward to contributing to this topic. Thanks all !!! Hopefully whats needed for successful streaming is easy????

@arafiq in the digital domain the sound signature is done by the dac.  if you serve the same file from a node or a $20K aurender and bypass the internal dacs of each there should be no sound change.  the only explanation I can give would be a better power supply. beyond that-   I would buy a node and upgrade the power supply. but people keep saying its better!  I ask how? if you're not using the internal dac.  that's all 


That's ideally true, but not absolutely true.  From multiple readings of multiple reviews, though rare, there are cumulative effects of jitter.

For instance, introducing mediocre jitter reducers in front of a DAC with otherwise excellent jitter reduction does show the effects of that "reducer" but in a negative fashion.

Modern jitter reduction techniques are really great, and far better than prior to 2000, however it is still possible that a really bad upstream component can introduce such bad timing effects even very good jitter reduction systems can't compensate for it. Is it worth $30,000 for a streamer? Probably not! :) 

Hans B. has several videos discussing digital signals and potential pitfalls.  He makes a point frequently overlooked.  Digital, 1s and 0s, are generated as an analog square wave.  Timing stability is one of the important factors for any "Digital" device. I take his explanations to boil down to everything matters.

Quality of the source material is very important.  From personal experience, the same track from Spotify and Amazon sound different.  Tracks from either compared to CD passed through the same DAC do not sound the same.  For me, a $500 streamer and $1K DAC is good enough to enjoy streamed music.  Your mileage may vary.     

@cleeds its not a belief system when its digital.  its like saying records sound better than cd's .  technically they can't but many believe they do.  that's a belief.  just because every says it -  doesn't make it true.  

... its not a belief system when its digital ...

Insisting that a demonstrable, measurable difference is  "insignificant" is a subjective judgment and so very much part of a "belief system." It doesn't matter if we're talking digital, analog or kumquats. A difference that may not matter to me may make a very big difference to you. Anyone who insists his preferences are the only valid preferences, or who attempts to disguise a preference as a fact, is very much promoting a belief system.

polka lover not true 


we routinely compare streamers we sell nad, naim atoll and 432evoservers 


and we have sold aurender sotm innous baetis,and auraylic

all were run usb into many high end dacs 

they all sound different no matter the dac.


Dave and Troy

Audio intellect NJ

US importers 432evo music servers

OP -- I think the answer is fairly simple. If you believe streamers don't make a difference and anyone who thinks these things matter in the digital domain is blinded by some kind of a belief system, then stick with what works for you. Buy the cheapest streamer you can find and live happily ever after.