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


Like others, I cannot explain why you didn’t perceive differences. I already know you can explain why i do - you believe it confirmation bias. I have explored that in depth as I’m quite aware of that tendency in my own line of work so I try pretty hard to not fall into that trap and so I don’t think that is what’s happening. For instance, I’ve listened to a lot of quite pricey gear (amps, DACs, cables) in home which I’ve returned because even if I could perceive a difference - it wasn’t enough to merit opening my wallet. I’ve spent only when I felt it merited it.

I took my streamer (some would say high end - others mid range at >$5k) to my local dealer (who’s now looking to consider the brand). I first auditioned his Simaudio 680 DAC using their built in Mind2 module. Then we played the same track sourced from my streamer (via USB input on the DAC). He was surprised at how much better it was than the onboard module. I was actually hoping to sell my unit and reduce boxes. My bias (strong) was to favor the 680 as DAC w/ streamer. I came away disappointed and kept my streamer and went another direction w/ the DAC.

Yes, bits are bits. The data arrives fully intact. I will not dispute that. But the data is delivered in an analogue wave form with a slope to the rise and fall which affect when those 1 and 0s are registered (jitter). And, noise (not hiss) is carried along for the ride - affecting the same. 

Are differences night and day? Some would say yes. I would say no. But, for those of us pursuing higher performance, they were perceptible - and valuable. I perceive more spatial information (openness and depth as opposed to a flat soundstage). Tonally they are essentially the same. But, depth is significantly better w/ the better streamers. 

By the way, I had also auditioned the Bluesound Node 2i and Lumin mini streamers going into the Marantz reference player/DAC. I heard very little difference between those two unit against each other, and only minor differences between them and the Aurender N100H I owned at the time. Things have progressed since then and I’m comfortable w/ where I’ve spent - and not. I suspect others feel the same.

Perhaps you should ask one of the better companies out there to explain why there are differences. You might come away confident in your current position. Or, you might begin to wonder if you’re missing something. Let us know what you find.





you can’t attribute the differences to noise when objective measures of this most easy to measure quality show that’s not it.  that’s all i’ve been saying.  that’s like saying an engine puts out more horsepower when the data show us otherwise.  


I didn’t attribute the difference to noise. I suggested that noise may be part of the equation. A subtle, but important difference. I did, however, suggest that the difference may be due to the rise and slope of the analogue waveform representing the 1s and 0s. A “bit perfect” file may be interpreted differently because of these minute variations.

Accordingly, I am skeptical of claims of certain DACs to be “immune” to jitter when the benefits of improved clocking are plainly audible. It turns out the ear is astonishingly sensitive to jitter distortions. Again, the benefits of femto second clocks are well known - and the results plainly audible to even not well trained ears. 

I would modify your metaphor thusly. Put poor quality fuel into any engine - regardless of the quality thereof, and see if it performs to spec.

You believe what you believe - and have provided some anecdotal evidence to support your claim - which I fully accept. I and some others believe differently and have provided anecdotal evidence to support our belief as well.

I would offer this. We’re still early in streaming relative to high performance audio history. We don’t currently know everything. It was originally postulated that CDs would provide “perfect sound forever” and that, because it was digital, all CD players (and transports particularly) would sound the same. That has been shown to be false, though perhaps still disputed by some who fail to do the work. 

Perhaps as an experiment you could try different inputs into your DAC. Try S/PDIF vs USB. Try different cable companies. They are all providing the same bit perfect stream, yet each will sound different. Those differences are measurable, though not necessarily quantifiable. They may not be massive differences, but they exist. This is because digital data is transmitted in an analogue wave form and cable geometry influences that transmission and introduces jitter.

If you struggle with this test - then let’s exaggerate it. Try an analogue RCA cable in lieu of a 75 ohm digital cable for your S/PDIF connection. It will likely sound thin and cast a steely glare over everything, all while transmitting a bit perfect file. Jitter.

Further, noise may not be primary, but it is an issue. All cables are antennas of some sort - both transmitter and receiver. Some are better insulated against this, but all are antennas of some sort. Computers tend to be noisy w/ EMF and RFI emissions from cheap power supplies and lots of other operating components not specific to audio. That’s why dedicated streamers with more attention placed on power supplies, etc. tend to outperform even high end computers. For instance, I had a souped up Mac mini dedicated as a streamer/server. 16 GB ram, solid state drives and everything not related to my music library turned off. That was its only function. It was handily outperformed by a modest streamer. Call me a fool or deluded if you wish. I wouldn’t go back to it.

In summary, the science, my experience, and actual measurements tell me the same thing.  A competent streamer should not be a source of audible noise; I am convinced that any differences we hear are either due to differences in signal processing (e.g., reclocking, up sampling, etc.), our DACs, or, yes, confirmation bias. 



you have tube gear, what does your science say about the sound profiles in different tubes? Care to show us some microphonic measurements?


I’m astonished that you can point to jitter at the same time that it’s been demonstrated that jitter is virtually nonexistent in any decent streamer.  How can it be that these manufacturers have discovered a secret in removing jitter, noise (and fairy dust?) without showing us how to measure this new, exciting branch of science?  Why don’t you ask them to prove it?  Why don’t they volunteer this information that would prove their brilliance? It’s all mystifying to me.