why expensive streamers

@soix and others

I am unclear about the effect on sound of streamers (prior to getting to the dac). Audio (even hi-res) has so little information content relative to the mega and giga bit communication and processing speeds (bandwidth, BW) and cheap buffering supported by modern electronics that it seems that any relatively cheap piece of electronics would never lose an audio bit. 

Here is why. Because of the huge amount of BW relative to the BW needs of audio, you can send the same audio chunk 100 times and use a bit checking algorithm (they call this "check sum") to make sure just one of these sets is correct. With this approach you would be assured that the correct bits would be transfered. This high accuracy rate would mean perfect audio bit transfer. 

What am I missing? Why are people spending 1000's on streamers?



128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xdelmatae

Why are people spending 1000's on streamers?

No idea, but I will be interested to learn why.

I recently had to change out my server, and found that pretty much whatever server I used had virtually no impact on the sound of my system. But when I changed out streamers, I encountered a significant impact on how things sounded.  As one example, I own Metrum's Ambre, which is a raspberry pi based streamer with its own internal linear power supply and femto clocks.  I always thought it sounded pretty good but the Sonore Signature Rendu SE optical sounds more dimensional and seems to portray a more realistically rounded tone.  The price difference is about $5,400 vs. $1,200 and to me, in my system, the price is worth the improvement in sound quality but, again, I have no idea why.

Because they sound better. The take almost no bandwidth. They buffer and isolate from noise and provide a clean, ideal signal for the DAC.  Mine cost $22K and was worth every penny. Of course, you must have appropriately good system to get the most out of them. I have owned streamers from a couple hundred, $3.5K, $5K, $10K, $12K, and $22K each offered substantial sound quality, lower noise floor, more dynamics, detail, etc.

As mentioned, lower noise, better clocks, better parts, etc. all can make a very significant difference in streaming and streamers.  Sometimes in audio it’s better to think less and just use your ears — this is one of those times.  Several online retailers offer trial periods these days so there’s very little reason not to try in your own system with your own ears.

I recommend a streamer with a fibre optic option. A Lumin X1 DAC/streamer or their brand-new streamer based on the X1. It is not cheap.

I compared my much cheaper Sonore OpticalRendu with the Lumin X1 using fibre for both, and they sounded different, but none was better than the other. I sold the X1 and kept the cheaper OtpicalRendu.

There is a new streamer from Aurelic that looks amazing, except it does not have the fibre input I covet.


I may actually sell one of my OpticalRendu’s to get the Aries S1 since it can do more than 1 DAC at a time. I have 2 DACs in my office. It can also play CD’s using a computer quality CD drive. It has a buffering technique that renders the transport benign. I may go with the $1999 version since I did not find a big improvement with the audiophile upgrades to the OpticalRendu.

I should add that I just sold my Playback Designs Stream-IF that did not have Fibre input, just Ethernet. I was shocked at how good that sounded on SPDIF. I was not able to test the better fibre optic output of that unit. I compared the 3 streamers I mentioned side-by-side and all 3 sounded different. I cannot say anyone of them was the best.


we are server and streamer specialists:


we have been specializing in streaming for many years

first we  were using a high performance Sony desktop and a mac mini and  various laptops

we were running Jriver.

the pcs were always a pain due to sleeping pc updates and other pc issues

then came auralic a nice streamer the aurender and the Naim uniti core.

then a super windows based SOTM server a custom pc outboard power supply and  high end USB card.

the Innous which sounded the best vs any other device and as ou went up the line the more expensive Innous models sounded far superior to the lower models.

we also tried a Laufer Technik memory player and Batis .

a few years ago we discovered the 432EVO servers from Belgium


long story short the evos sounded better the the Innous servers and were the best we eve had in the shop.


Dave and Troy

audio Intellect NJ.

streaming specialists.



This high accuracy rate would mean perfect audio bit transfer.

As you know, there’s more to good sound than perfect bit transfer, electronic noise transferring with the bits, for one. It’s like wires and everything else in audio that shouldn't make a difference, the designers and builders keep finding ways to make things sound better. The improvements may not be worth the money to you or just may not be your cup of tea, but they’re worth it to someone.

The only thing you're missing is not believing the marketing with no actual proof (someone's anecdotal experience does not constitute proof). Also, price does not equal sound quality.

If someone hears something with different network switch, good for them. Who am I to question someone else’s enjoyment. After all, I can’t tell one scotch from another.

But technically should not be any difference. Comparison with cables is not correct. Cables that carry analog signals susceptible to RF noise. They have resistance and capacitance so, combined with one component output and another input impedance they may make small or significant difference. Digital cables, not so much.

Network switch? Tidal stream passes thousands of switches on its way to you. One more won’t make any difference. Besides, there is no "stream". Internet is all chunks, compressed and chopped into packets that are frequently traveling arriving out of order at the destination, some are lost and get re-sent. At the receiving end it all needs to be reconstructed.

That WiFi router you have also does a lot of work and is a network switch.

@tomcy6 - it all is getting filtered, error corrected and retransmitted as needed. If noise affected bits, your Word file would not come properly from a network server, email would be unreadable and digital signature verification would fail. 

There are no bit errors in network transmission.

+1 @soix +1 @ghdprentice Going from a node to an Esoteric NO5 was a huge upgrade in not only performance but sound. Upgrading my Ethernet to fiber optic another improvement, and finally cables, ie: usb, Ethernet to the fiber connection, and interconnects another. 

Ridiculous amounts of money being spent on this stuff, with marginal difference in sound. The dac is where it’s at. No freaking way am I spending 1k or more on a fancy streamer.

I went from a Node 2 to a used Aurender that cost $1,800 a few years ago and had no expectations.  I was blown away at the difference.  You can now buy the same streamer for around 1K.  The "streamers make no difference" people are typically those who have never listened to a nice one.

@mikhailark the term bit perfect is incorrect, when has man ever made anything perfect. When digital audio first came out there was no mention of jitter, it was perfect sound forever, we now know that wasn’t true and audiophiles knew something didn’t sound right.

I went from a Bluesound Vault 2i to an Aurender N200.  No regrets.   I traded a preamp towards it plus $800 out of pocket.  No brainer for me . 

It is much better than using a PC, better sounding than BluOs and sounds great with my DAC.    

(someone’s anecdotal experience does not constitute proof).

It does to them and that's all the proof they need.

Why are people spending 1000's on streamers?

We're idiots.  Obviously.  

Happy, happy idiots.


I think that we can all agree that the data is reaching the streamer and DAC intact. Networks are extremely reliable. But when it comes to audio, and reconstructing an analog signal from digital data, timing is very important. Good streamers use the best clocks, like OCXO, to achieve this for their SPDIF outputs. Good DACs use them for their USB inputs. This is just one factor in properly transporting and converting digital audio signals, it is quite different from displaying a simple data file on your computer. 

While I am not a strictly measurements based guy, I thiink you have to hear a component, and live with it for a while, before you can judge it. However Amir offers an excellent primer on digital measurements that gives you some insight into the complexities of digital audio conversion. You can read about it here:

Good streamers make a difference, it is that simple, and I don’t think you need a super high buck system to hear it. 

I suppose I'm the outlier here as I have tried many streamers and have yet to find one that's reasonably priced for what you get and that actually makes a sound difference that's worth the silly cost of some of them. Personally I have a dedicated micro PC that has been optimized for Audio streaming ( not an easy task) and up to now is the best sounding, it clearly beat the Aurender A10 I had and beat the Chord streamer I currently have (those both beat the Roon Nucleus I had prior). other then its a pain to use as you need a mouse, keyboard, TV/monitor.  I have found the DAC is by far the more important piece in the digital chain and its implemented will determine if your streamer is going to make much difference or not.  Well engineered DAC's are less susceptible to the streamer then poorly engineered DAC's. 

It sounds like what you are describing is a "server", not a "streamer", which often includes a DAC.  If you're expecting a server to vastly improve sound quality, you're correct in your assumption that it will have much less impact than the DAC will.

I went from a Roon Nucleus to a much more expensive server and was frankly somewhat disappointed that there wasn't much difference in sound quality, however there are good reasons to have a good server (which I consider the Nucleus to be) - onboard SSD storage, Roon compatibility, better connections to the DAC among them.  

In my case, the server I have also includes a top notch CD player that reads the CD into a buffer on the streamer, upsamples it, and sends it to my DAC.  It also has i2s connectivity and the two pieces are from the same manufacturer and designed to play well together.  One of my previous DACs was not ROON ready, but connecting it to the server allowed ROON to "see" it.

My opinion / experience is that for most people an expensive server will have little if any impact on sound quality, but may offer other benefits.

I'm using an ASUS ROG gaming PC as my streamer running Windows 7. I stream from Qobuz. I also have over 4,000 CDs which is my source most of the time. I run USB from the ASUS to my Berkeley Audio Alpha USB which is hooked up to my Berkeley Alpha Reference II MQA DAC using a BNC cable. My CD transport is a Jay's Audio CD3 Mk III.

I have compared the streamed Qobuz file with its corresponding CD (being careful that they are the same version) for at least 20 titles. The streamed file sounds identical to CD in every case.

I simply would not expect the streamed file to sound better than the CD played through the same DAC. If it did then I would question the quality of my CD gear. If my PC is somehow adding noise or corrupting the file then I can't hear it. I don't understand how a multi-thousand dollar streamer is going to sound better than a CD played through a Jay's Audio CD3 Mk III.

BTW, I have ripped my CDs to uncompressed FLAC using dB Poweramp, and I have compared these files to the CD. They sound identical.

I'm baffled why more listeners don't do this simple test, assuming they have CDs to compare with. IMO this should be the most important criteria for a streamer. Does it sound as good as the corresponding CD? If the streamer sounds better than the actual CD then I would propose that something in their system is awry. It's extremely hard to understand how a WAV file can be chopped up into packets, sent through thousands of miles of wire and hundreds of switches, go through your $200 home router, then reassembled into a file that can be read by a DAC, and actually sound better than the WAV file read from a CD.

Having said all that, my next purchase is going to be an Eversolo DMP-8 streamer but I'm getting it mostly for convenience. The reviews indicate that it has a very good interface and it has the ability to have enough memory installed so that I can put my ripped CD collection in the streamer which will avoid having to get a NAS or server.

My advice is to use CD playback as a standard for comparison. This is the only way to genuinely compare the sound of streamers IMO.

I don't know why one streamer subjectively sounds better than another. From the reading & internet research I've done they should all transport the signal the same way. Bits are bits as "they" say. From personal experience, & that doesn't include $10k plus streamers, there definitely is a perception that certain ones sound better/worse/different than others. As ridiculous as this will sound I almost feel like nothing about digital streaming is just cut n dry, all the same, or an exact science. 

I've tried to tell myself it's just some sort of bias, or psycho acoustic tricks my brain is playing with me..but normally if that is the case one can just give it a little time & reality will eventually settle in. Certain switches, digital cables, power supply's, isolation, all seem to have an effect on digital signals. 

I understand science says differently with some of those things. And as much as I want to believe or tell myself that all transports should sound the same..my perceptions are too strong & obvious to overlook. I wholeheartedly feel that their are levels to these streamers & how the sound or perform. Now are these differences worth the premium cost of some streamers? That is for the buyer to decide. 


Have you tried RemotePC?  It's included with Windows or as an app on android.  I use it and run my PC from both my laptop or my tablet.

If you'd like to PM me about the changes you made to your PC I'd like to learn about it.


I simply would not expect the streamed file to sound better than the CD played through the same DAC. If it did then I would question the quality of my CD gear. If my PC is somehow adding noise or corrupting the file then I can’t hear it. I don’t understand how a multi-thousand dollar streamer is going to sound better than a CD played through a Jay’s Audio CD3 Mk III.

You certainly do not need a multi-thousand-dollar music server/streamer that uses a lot of costly parts (and markup) to eliminate noise from getting to the DAC. A simple test would be to use a Sonore OpticalRendu streamer (used for about $700) with fibre coming out of a $100 (or less) network switch. Input the fibre to the Rendu and then USB into your DAC from the Rendu. Compare that to the PC going direct to your DAC via USB. If you cannot hear a difference, then you are set. I hear a huge difference.

Another factor is the ambient noise of a computer near an audio system. I have a computer in my office that is next to my office system. That PC is a SIlentPC and cost $6k to make it silent, but I do not put my ROON Core on it. I could but I want a PC that I have running for most of the day for my ROON Core.

For that I have a very internally noisy $500 computer nowhere near my audio systems (under a bed in the guest room). My systems are in the Livingroom and office. I use the "low-cost" OpticalRendu to stream. The Rendu’s use fibre optic cable just before the DAC. That is import because fibre is made of GLASS and cannot carry the analog noise in the computer network (or USB into the DAC (for the most part)). The same noise that you can spend a fortune to eliminate with a dedicated music server.

BTW - the chances of CD sounding worse than a streamer are rather low. CD has a big advantage in delivering the bits and could sound better. Spending a fortune also on a Transport seems questionable to me when buffering should render the need for a Transport less important. That Aurelic S1 non-fibre streamer ($1999) with buffering CD playback seems like a killer feature.


@invalid - if it were not same bits, you would not be able to read attached PDFs :-)

Apples and oranges. Transmission without error correction and DA conversion and pure digital networks that are designed to transmit exact bits over many servers, switches, cable types, optical/electrical, under oceans and in space in chunks, out of order, with recovery if anything is lost.

We don't want that Tomahawk to miss, do we :-)

@mikhailark that is a great description of what is going on with the difference between digital and analog transfer.


In terms of noise in bits, assuming that source file has no noise, my understanding is that the only way transferred (not digital processed) bits can obtain "noise" is if they flip value during transmission due to things like line noise or jitter. If this occurs redundant (resending of the packet of audio bits) takes care of it and we have our original no noise source file.


@wlutke and others. Sorry for the tenor of my original post, I didn't mean to dig at peoples views. I really want to know why streamers can affect sound, given what seems like easy ways to protect the integrity of bits. I am hoping someone with technical knowledge can step in and explain how streams affect sound.


@invalid can you add the actual means that bit transfer is not perfect? I would like to know.

Post removed 

I can understand the skepticism when addressing streamers and streaming technology. I, too, was wary of what differences would be obtained by moving to a more costly route.

I made a change to my digital system when I finally got a Memory Player. I was not expecting a major change, but it was immediately apparent that it did improve the sound reproduction.

Not that everyone should plunk down a considerable amount of money on their digital system, I think it wise that they should know that enhancing the digital signal will improve what they end up hearing. This is new technology. Be preparer to be open minded.

You know, it strikes me that those here saying streamers make little/no difference don’t seem to have tried better streamers in their systems and instead just hang their hat on theory/digital properties that streamers can’t possibly make a difference.  On the flip side, those who’ve significantly upgraded to pricier streamers mostly cite substantial — not just marginal — sonic improvements.  My experience was that I somewhat skeptically tried a better streamer with the full intent of returning it and happily saving the $$$ if it didn’t make a substantial improvement, but it was immediately obvious from note one that there was no way that streamer was leaving my system.  Minimize the importance of a good streamer at your own risk — just my thoughts/experience FWIW.


I have noticed a paradox among audiophiles lately: They place a tremendous emphasis on the streamer over the DAC. I run a $5K streamer into a $19K DAC. I would never do the converse; the DAC is the heart of the digital system. 

A little anecdote:

While visiting a nearby retailer who is a "straight shooter," I asked him about his home system ($125K) and digital setup. He chuckled and said his streamer is a Bluesound! He laughed at my expression! He sells far higher-priced streamers than that and has many choices at his fingertips. That was enough said for me. 


Within the context of my digital music playback system, which involves using Roon to stream Tidal and Qobuz, and to play stored music files, my hierarchy of  differences I hear is:

  • Server/Roon core: almost no differences heard between servers
  • Fiber optic vs. Ethernet: little to subtle sonic differences at most, but not reliably discerned
  • Switches, on-line tweaks, and decrapifiers: no reliably heard differences
  • Streamer/Roon endpoint: more substantial sonic differences and the ability for some streamers to significantly improve sound quality
  • DDC: Little to subtle sonic differences noted, at most
  • Digital cables including USB:  small differences between coax, AES/EBU, and USB, but very little to no differences between different cables of the same type 
  • DAC: Each displays its own sonic flavor and can sound substantially different from each other

In summary, I have noted differences in the sound of streamers and DACs, but not  much with anything else in the digital chain.

I don't have a streamer or a DAC and I am absolutely clueless but based on what it does, it sounds like the only reason why cheap streamers sound worse than expensive ones is because they are poorly designed and "create" issues. There should be no noise, no timing issues, a streamer just moves packages like a conveyor belt at the airport. The software would have only one way to put the packages together, in either a 500 dollar or 5000 dollar streamer. 

But again, that's just my wearing an IT hat, knowing nothing about music streamers.

I guess I lucked out. In my first foray into music streaming, I chose the Cambridge Audio CXNV2, and it had the exact sound I was looking for. Or, perhaps it sounded the way I wanted it to sound because I had already achieved the sound I was looking for in my setup, and it was neutral enough to fit right in. Food for thought.

I seriously doubt that the difference in streamers has anything to do with data integrity. I would expect that every streamer can deliver the digital information to the DAC without introducing any data errors. 

But DACs are very sensitive to analog noise and timing errors on the digital data signal. Higher-end DACs put a lot of effort into minimizing these effects by using digital isolators, reclocking, PLLs, etc. but these DACs also tend to be more resolving allowing differences in streamers to be more obvious. 

High-end streamers go to great pains to minimize noise and clock errors by utilizing complex data isolation and FIFO reclockers, extremely high-accuracy clocks with low jitter and phase noise, ultra-quiet power supplies (even battery or ultra-capacitor powered), high-bandwidth digital line drivers, etc. to deliver the cleanest possible signal to the DAC. This does not come cheap. 

How much this affects sound quality will, of course, depend on the DAC being used, how noisy the signal to the streamer is, the cables and connection type being used, and the resolving power of the overall system. 

But if I was spending $20K on a DAC, I certainly wouldn't expect to get the best out of it with a $500 streamer. 

@jaytor thx for giving potential technical reasons for selecting one streamer over another, but I believe there is an easy solution for the issues you describe.WIth your assumption that streamers can get bits correctly to the DAC, all the DAC designer would need to do is put a simple memory between the input bits from the streamer and the rest of the DAC. This memory can be designed so each side has its own power supply and clocks. My understanding is that DAC analog noise and timing errors occur in the digital processing and conversion to analog circuitry. The memory would assure that the analog noise and timing errors from the server would not affect this DAC circuitry.

The memory would assure that the analog noise and timing errors from the server would not affect this DAC circuitry.

That is not quite correct.  The buffer memory on the DAC is there to ensure there is no underflow - that is the data will always be there.  The memory buffer is not intended to isolate the noise.  The noise from the streamer can potentially affect the DAC timing.  This is true for asynchronous USB. The noise on the ground and supply of the streamer can inject directly to the DAC circuitry.  That is why some DAC uses optical isolation which minimize the coupling hence reduce the noise.

For S/Pdif it is a little bit different but in this case instead of a streamer, you have the transport noise affecting the DAC.


@andy2 there are many types of memory and storage. I am saying if there is an issue with noise coming through the streamer interace a designer could easily solve the issue. All they need to due is use something called an asynchronous fifo. The sole purpose of this fifo would be to take care of the streamer noise. The buffer memory you mention would be a conmpletely different piece of hardware performing a different function. I sure there are multiple different memory elements in a DAC.


So, if you connect your server to your streamer using an optical cable, and USB from the streamer to a DDC that reclocks, and then a short s/pdif or AES/EBU to the DAC, are the bases mostly covered? 

 The sole purpose of this fifo would be to take care of the streamer noise. 

I don't think the FIFO (or what I called a memory buffer) can isolate the noise.  I think you may be referring to data jitter - I am talking about ground and power supply noise.  The noise from the streamer can inject directly to the ground and power supply of the DAC.  I am not sure that the FIFO can fix that. 

As for data jitter, yes the FIFO can eliminate that if you are using asynchronous USB interface.  All you have left is the jitter of the DAC clock itself. 

So, if you connect your server to your streamer using an optical cable, and USB from the streamer to a DDC that reclocks, and then a short s/pdif or AES/EBU to the DAC, are the bases mostly covered? 

If I understand correctly, what you have is a s/pdif interface to the DAC - it's not asynchronous USB.  So you're still dealing with the data jitter in the spdif interface.  Spdif is a synchronous interface so you still have to recover the clock from the data stream.  If the data stream has jitter, then the recovered clock also has jitter.  Basically the the clock has to move with the data.  

DCS solves this problem by using what they call "reverse clocking".  Basically you have the clock of the DAC clocking the data stream from the transport or streamer.  In this case you would have something similar to asynchronous USB clocking.


I can use either s/pdif, AES/EBU, or USB into the DAC.  I could run USB directly from the streamer into the DAC, or I can run the USB from the streamer into the DDC where the signal is reclocked and then from there to the DAC by either s/pdif or AES/EBU.  All three sound good with no discernable noise but maybe a slight sonic difference between USB and the other two.  Any technical reasons one should be better than the other?

^^^ I see that your DAC can take either spdif or usb. In general asynchronous usb is better than spdif everything else being equal - though it will also depend on implementation.

@delmatae - yes, that is the approach used by many DACs (including my Denafrips Terminator Plus), and this helps, but doesn't fully solve the problem. A FIFO buffer can be used to reduce timing errors, but as @andy2 notes, this doesn't really deal with noise issues.

And if a synchronous data interface is used (such as SPDIF, I2S, TosLink, or AES), there are challenges with FIFO buffers. In these cases, the source clock is used to clock data into the FIFO. If the DAC uses its own clock to clock data out, then you risk overflow or underflow conditions. Many Denafrips users reported this problem, particularly those using the lower-end models connected to modest-priced streamers and transports (where the clock accuracy of both devices is not as tight as higher-end models). . 

Many DACs use a phase-locked loop or some other similar mechanism to adjust the output clock frequency to match the input clock, but its significantly more difficult to achieve the timing accuracy with this approach compared to a high quality oscillator. 

There are ways to reduce the overflow/underflow potential, such as resetting the FIFO between songs (when possible), using very deep buffers, adjusting the buffer depth based on the difference in source clock and DAC clock frequency, and using highly accurate clocks in both the DAC and streamer. 

Using deep and/or variable depth FIFOs also has issues though, particularly if the DAC output needs to be synchronized with another media stream (such as video).

Using an asynchronous data connection, such as USB, allows the DAC to control the timing, which eliminates the overflow/underflow situation, but USB is notorious in the amount of noise that is carried with the signal, particularly if it is generated by a noisy computer or cheap streamer.

An optical connection will eliminate noise carried on the ground, but not on the data signals themselves. The optical signal is still an analog signal and will carry whatever noise was on the electrical signal in the source (streamer or transport) before the signal was converted to optical. This noise will still be present when converted back to an electrical signal in the DAC. That said, eliminating the ground noise is still a significant benefit. 

Some DACs have clock outputs which can be used to control the timing of the source, so that a relatively small FIFO can be used inside the DAC to reclock the data without worry of FIFO over/under flow. But this requires non-standard devices, or an additional digital-to-digital converter that uses an asynchronous source connection (e.g. USB) and a synchronous output that is clocked by the DAC clock. 

Removing noise on high-speed digital signals is far from trivial. It's a lot easier (but still challenging) to prevent (or at least minimize) the noise from being generated in the first place. Any circuitry implemented in the DAC to reduce noise and timing errors has a much easier time when the problems are minimized in the first place.

In my system, I use a Denafrips Gaia DDC which accepts clock inputs from the Terminator Plus DAC. The DDC is fed with USB from the streamer, and then uses a synchronous connection to the DAC (I like I2S best). I started out using a fanless NUC with LPS, then switched to using a Sonore Optical Rendu, and finally to a Sonore Signature Rendu SE. Even with my moderately high-end DAC/DDC, I was able to discern improvements in clarity and soundstage width/depth moving up in streamer performance.

I'm now working on building my own DIY streamer which will use multiple levels of data isolation and reclocking, very high quality SC-cut oscillators, super-capacitor power supplies (allowing off-grid operation), and extensive electrical and mechanical isolation, to provide the cleanest possible signal to my DAC. 

The streamer is the first point at which timing (jitter) becomes a thing. It's job is to unpack the packets/frames of data which arrive asynchronously and convert them into a bitstream. An highly accurate clock at this point can have a huge impact on sound quality, as of course can the streamer not adding in unnecessary noise which won't make any difference to the 1s and 0s but if it reaches the analog(ue) parts of the DAC then it very much can.

I still only have a modest Innuos Zen Mini with a souped up Zen Mk3 LPSU but the improvement in sound quality over my Bluesound Node 2i is clearly audible, and that's despite the latter having been "pimped" with a Sean Jacobs DC3 linear PSU and a Mutec MC-3 reclocker.