PC or Streamer with DAC?

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VinceT

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PC or Streamer with DAC?
« on: 1 Feb 2021, 05:46 am »
Yes.. I am really late to the digital game. I've been enjoying records and CDs over the last 15 or so years when I got into the hobby. Issue for me now is becoming my music library needs to be expanded and the cost of records going up, going to a streaming service is the next logical step.

It's seems a bit complicated compared to what I have been doing, streaming Spotify on my firestick.

Some folks say hardwired sounds better than streaming. Then there is the interface to the DAC that plays a role. Seems most use a computer with a software like Roon. I have been doing a lot of research on this and seems there are many ways to do this.

So I need to ask the question here with the wealth of expertise many of you have on the subject (and I am sure there are many different ways to do this, best is subjective like most things audio) This community has been so helpful and I have learned so much!

Before I get the Dac, I need to determine what way I should interface with the different streaming services.

Stream, PC, Bluetooth..I am sure there are other ways as well. What delivers the best sound quality and convenience to cost ratio..IYO?

Thank you in advance


Mag

Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #1 on: 1 Feb 2021, 08:20 am »
I'm only streaming Stingray but I will tell you my setup. You can decide for yourself which way you want to go.

I use an external dac with usb input. With my computer I usually play music files that are stored on usb sticks. I have the computer set at 48k dvd quality output. The media player I use which is not a streamer, is Leawo Blu ray Player. To load songs I simply go to an arrow located at top right of screen, click and then click on Load Folder. Then a window opens where I select the usb stick, click on the stick and all the Files on usb stick are listed alphabetically then I simply scroll to a File Folder and click and all the Files will load to Media Player. I then have to close that usb stick window. With the Files loaded I simply double click on song or click Play. You can change output settings in the Leawo Menu, located top right on screen.

With Stingray I simply go to their website and Login. The select a Playlist, which for me is usually Trance, select and it will load and begin playing.

On computer, in the Sound Settings you have to select your Output, which would be your external dac, which should be listed if connected.

Craig B

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #2 on: 1 Feb 2021, 12:11 pm »
...my music library needs to be expanded...

Interesting choice of words. While most of us here, due to our particular peccadilloes, would like to believe we "need" to add a given recording to our libraries, it's rarely an actual necessity. Putting it the way you did makes it sound like your job requires it, or your family has pressed you into DJ service at a cousin's wedding.  :wink:

Craig B

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #3 on: 1 Feb 2021, 12:44 pm »
I suppose I should try to be helpful in addition, at least to the extent I can. Like Mag, I'll describe my setup and what it does and doesn't do for me, and you can add that info to your cache.

I'm a relative newcomer to streaming, having joined up a little over a year ago. I'd say I'm kind of in the middle ground. Instead of a TV stick and an AV receiver, I use an actual streamer/DAC attached to my hi-fi, but I stop well short of having a Roon Nucleus, or a NAS or a NUC. I have a home wifi network that's fed from a cable company modem and distributed through the house by a Linksys mesh network because I'm unable to run wired connections everywhere I'd like. Until doing this, my hi-fi listening was limited to the good stereo, with LPs, CDs and SACDs. At my iMac, which had no connection to the stereo, I ripped all my CDs for storage in an iTunes library on a USB-attached external drive (the library is too large to fit on the internal drive), but besides listening at the computer, the only other place I could hear those files was through my very modest home theater setup, which has wifi. But it's a very dissatisfying listen if you want high fidelity.

So at the recommendation of my dealer, I got a Bluesound Node 2i for the good stereo, and signed up for Qobuz and Tidal. The Node 2i has a decent internal DAC in addition to being a streamer, and it's connected to the network via wifi. Besides accessing the streaming services, it also pulls across the system the few hi-res downloads I've purchased and stored on the iMac (separate from my iTunes library). The sound on all of these is amazing, especially on the highest resolution recordings they have, though there are also many, many wonderful recordings out there at standard redbook 16/44 resolution, too. The whole thing seems a bargain to me, since the hardware side of buying in with the Node 2i is only $550 ($500, when I got mine).

I'll admit to having the occasional computer glitch, where network connections are occasionally lost, but the only real shortcoming I have with my setup is the fact that my iTunes library is on that external drive. The Bluesound software can't find it, so if I want to play anything from that library on the hi-fi, I have to use Apple's "Play" app on my mobile devices and push the content to the Node via AirPlay. But that works fine, and AirPlay's limit of 16/44 doesn't matter, since that's all I get from those files anyway. And the node will read from attached storage devices, so there's a chance I could just move that drive from the iMac to the Node, but I don't know if the Node can navigate iTunes' filing protocols. And I'm the sort of person that likes to leave my computer stuff alone once it's set up in a way that works. I know so little about it that I don't like to take a chance on messing things up.

I hope that at least adds some more insight.

radiomanjh

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #4 on: 1 Feb 2021, 01:30 pm »
I stream Spotify from my MacBook Air USB to a Schiit Bifrost 2 DAC USB  and it sounds pretty darn good to me.  just a two channel system and to me Spotify is more than adequate for my listening needs.

Ice10

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #5 on: 1 Feb 2021, 02:34 pm »
For me it wasn’t so much the cost of buying the new music (in my case CD’s) it was more that my wife didn’t like looking at them and I was pretty bad at keeping them neat and organized (there was usually a pile of CD cases scattered on the floor).  Based on a recommendation from Witchdoctor here I bought a Klipsch Gate at and streamed Amazon Prime music via WiFi.  That was my first step into streaming and I enjoyed it so much I soon after got rid of my CD player and CD’s.

I recently upgraded to a Bluesound Node 2i streaming Qobuz via WiFi and not only have had no issues, I’m in audio heaven.  When I get more time I’m going to purchase an external DAC, but for now I’m using the internal one, which to my ears sounds far from bad (I have nothing to compare it to however).

VinceT

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #6 on: 1 Feb 2021, 02:48 pm »
Interesting choice of words. While most of us here, due to our particular peccadilloes, would like to believe we "need" to add a given recording to our libraries, it's rarely an actual necessity. Putting it the way you did makes it sound like your job requires it, or your family has pressed you into DJ service at a cousin's wedding.  :wink:

I can see my choice of words could lead you to that conclusion. I mostly listen to jazz, and there isn't much available in the used record market. Prices have been going up with the resurgence of vinyl.

I also like to explore new artists, also sometimes just have music playing In the background without having to change a record every 30 minutes.

I appreciate the great responses thus far.

Doublej

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #7 on: 1 Feb 2021, 03:26 pm »

What delivers the best sound quality and convenience to cost ratio..IYO?


IMHO it's an Echo Dot using the analog output of it to feed your system. Sound quality is not on par with a setup using a separate DAC, but the convenience is off the chart. Under $50 to implement.

GregC

Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #8 on: 1 Feb 2021, 08:47 pm »
You will receive several suggestions that will vary in cost and complexity. 

I started with a laptop (used as a dedicated music server) and ran a USB cable direct to my DAC.  I used JRiver as my streaming software on the laptop.

From there I have expanded to a more complicated and robust setup.  I now use a Sonore Ultrarendu, where I have it connected to the USB input on my DAC.   The Ultrarendu provides the ability to stream via DLNA, Logitech Music Server, Roon, Spotify, HQ Player, or vmcp (lightweight http web based music browser). 

I still have my laptop music server, but the USB out from the laptop is connected to a device that converts USB to I2S and that is fed into my DAC's I2S input.  Now I can stream either through the Ultrarendu or directly from my laptop music server.  I access my laptop music server via Teamviewer remote control software.

I added a NAS file server to store my music.  The laptop and Ultrarendu both stream music from the NAS.

The last thing I added was a Benchmark ADC1/USB so I can record my vinyl to digital files I save on my NAS.  I have the Benchmark connected to my laptop music server.  I figure in the next 10 years (before I retire), I hope to digitize many of my more than 2000 albums.  I already have a decent start.  Pure Vinyl software makes the task of ripping vinyl fairly simple once you have gained basic understanding of the process.

I do not use Roon or any of the online streaming services, but the Ultrarendu will allow you to easily steam to a DAC.

I was an analog dinosaur, with a substantial investment in vinyl playback.  I feel like my digital setup is close to being on par with my analog setup, and the vinyl rips are so close to the original source that the convenience outweighs the last bit of lost transparency from analog direct.

Good luck.

JDoyle

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #9 on: 2 Feb 2021, 02:24 am »
I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you that you’ll never look back... I didn’t.

Yes, my CD’s still sound better, but barely. If and when I want to critically listen, or demo my system I’ll grab one. But honestly, it’s not that often I do anymore.  There’s just so much music out there... stuff I listened to in the 60’s & 70’s, stuff I missed out on, old stuff I recently discovered by reading about artists and new stuff I discovered myself.  Roon actually helps you discover music too... All this along with the gobs of stuff all the people in this great forum recommend.  Did I mention all the stuff that’s out there?  :lol:

Just do it, you’ll love it!

Yes.. I am really late to the digital game...

Some folks say hardwired sounds better than streaming.

You’re never too late, I’m a 62 year old who had a hard time trying to figure it all out, but now that I have, it’s absolutely worth every penny. I’m not sure what you know, or don’t know, so I’m going to try to explain this to you in the way I wish someone would have initially explained to me :) .

Just to be clear, streaming is the way you get the music from the internet, my systems method (the preferred way), is all hard wired. I’ll mention Bluetooth a bit later.

I have Roon as the music player (organizer) and I currently use Tidal as the source of the music. I might try Qobuz, I’m weighing that decision, but right now it’s Tidal.  You have to pay the bills to use both Tidal and Roon, but with Roon, you don’t even have to know about Tidal. All of your searching, your created playlists as well as your own personal music that you actually own yourself can be found and controlled using Roon. Currently my bill for both Roon and Tidal is less than $1.00 a day.  To me that’s nothing compared to the value I get out of it.

Roon needs to run on a computer, I use a Salkstreamer, which is basically a fanless computer that sits right next to the other components in my system.
All of my personal ripped music files (and any Hi-Res stuff I might buy in the future), also reside on that Salkstreamer. There are many others out there (Small Green Computer for one), that will host the Roon core that you need to use Roon.  You can also do all of this without using Roon, but it’s such a great product, try the free trial and decide yourself.

I have it hardwired right off my router via an Ethernet cable. There are other methods to do this if your router is in another room (power line adapters), or even WiFi, but a hardwired connection is the best way to go.

On this Salkstreamer (computer), I connect to it to run it with my IPad or even my IPhone, via WiFi. This only controls the operation, the functions are still all hardwired.

The Salkstreamer then is connected to my Benchmark DAC3 via a usb connection and then analog out to my amplifier (I’m sure you know it from there).

In my garage, I can open up the Roon app on my phone and control the streamer that way too. It’s via WiFi to my phone and I can listen to it on the phone itself, or if I choose, THEN I can use Bluetooth to connect to a BT Speaker, or in my Basement, to a receiver that has Bluetooth. It does work, but you can get those pesky dropouts that happen with Bluetooth.

There are so many good dacs now that are half the price of what I paid for mine. I’m sure it’s the same for Roon core streamers too.

Good luck with your quest, but trust me, you’re going to love it.

Please ask if you have any questions.

JD


VinceT

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #10 on: 2 Feb 2021, 06:51 am »
What provides the best sound quality overall, a good streaming device or a dedicated music computer?

BTW thanks for everybody's input thus far, I have really been enlightened by the info especially in regards to some of the possible computer hardware involved in digital playback. I had to re-read a few times do a few Google searches but it filled a lot of gaps.

I may be asking a tough question and I apologize, like most things audio I am sure there are trade offs and also cost factors.  A $500 streamer probably won't come close to one that is 5k plus. A dedicated computer especially made for digital playback with the proper audio cards and power supply, probably will trounce my old laptop. Of course these are assumptions....I could totally be wrong. I would like to take this one step at a time, so the mode of delivery of the signal to the dac is probably the most logical place to start.


Sajgre

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #11 on: 2 Feb 2021, 08:04 am »
Regarding 500 vs 5000$ streamers... Node 2i has a very nice software and you can use great external DACs with it. That gives you best sound and flexibility. I actually know people with 2 DACs for different music.

mav52

Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #12 on: 2 Feb 2021, 12:41 pm »
Well you don't need a PC of sorts to stream.  I use a Lumin no desktop/laptop needed.  Just a IPAD or a Android device to control the app for the Lumin.  So easy my wife uses it daily.  Just connect to the internet via a Ethernet cable to your router and off ya go. Tidal ,, Qobuz , Spotify.  Sound quality ( Check) and easy to use along with great support.

JDoyle

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #13 on: 2 Feb 2021, 02:06 pm »
What provides the best sound quality overall, a good streaming device or a dedicated music computer?

Even though there are probably some slight Sonic differences between the two, I’m still going to answer this by saying it’s neither... it’s the DAC you purchase that matters.

Look for the streamer or PC that best fits your setup based on budget, convenience and reliability.  Then buy the BEST DACyou can afford. Topping is a choice for a great lower cost DAC, or if you have “Money to burn”...  :lol:

Describe your current system now, maybe even post a pic. That might help us guide you.

JD

VinceT

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #14 on: 2 Feb 2021, 03:01 pm »
Amplification I am currently using an older Marantz 2270. Turntable is WTL Amadeus Mk1, Dynavector 20x2 with AVA Vision Q phono preamp, running into GR-Research XLS Encore speakers.
I plan on adding a pre amp and at some point upgrading my amplification. For right now, sounds pretty darn good with vinyl.

JDoyle

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #15 on: 2 Feb 2021, 04:52 pm »
Amplification I am currently using an older Marantz 2270. Turntable is WTL Amadeus Mk1, Dynavector 20x2 with AVA Vision Q phono preamp, running into GR-Research XLS Encore speakers.
I plan on adding a pre amp and at some point upgrading my amplification. For right now, sounds pretty darn good with vinyl.

Nice  :thumb: I bet it does sound good.

So part of the fun part of this hobby is doing the due diligence...  Here’s a sweet little DAC that performs and measures really well and won’t break the bank:

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/loxjie-d50-review-stereo-dac.19528/

If you zoom in on the DAC graph at AS, you can find, then research and read about other giant killer DAC’s too.

And if you want to go with a relatively inexpensive music server, you can get this:

https://www.smallgreencomputer.com/collections/audio-server/products/sonictransporter-i5

It’s fanless and runs pretty warm, so don’t be alarmed (I bought this for my Brother in law). I ended up selling it for him,  but it was because he didn’t want to pay for Roon/Tidal anymore. You can keep costs down and skip the internal drive too and just stream everything from Tidal, or Qobuz. There’s other solutions for playing music with these, as well as many other DAC’s and Streamer/Servers to choose from.

VinceT

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #16 on: 3 Feb 2021, 05:50 am »
I have been reading the reviews on ASR on those dacs like the Gustard x16, Toppings, Oppo etc, that are inexpensive while measuring very well. I am glad you brought that up because I am a little torn on the measurement science regarding dacs. I understand how important measurements are, but I don't feel it should be the only factor. I'm not a "listen with your eyes and not ears" kind of person and am also considering some of the tube and ladder dacs. That being said I am leaning toward one of those Uber transparent under 1k dacs and investing more in the pre amp and potentially adding some tubes there if I decide to warm things up down the road. One thing that is going to be hard is going back to more of a  CD playback vibe versus vinyl. Again that is a whole other discussion and something on my radar as I continue to research.

Going back to the original question, seems the streamer or servers (salk, green machine etc.) seem to be the concensus regarding best delivery and sound quality to the dac. Others have also said the chosen software like Roon makes a difference in sound quality as well.

JLM

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #17 on: 3 Feb 2021, 12:39 pm »
I'm leery of the value of super low distortion figures.  Decades ago the industry adopted distortion measurement standards that were in the whole number percentage range and they correlated with what was heard.  Now we measure way below that and I doubt if the correlation still holds.  I run a NAD M10 "streaming amplifier" which is a throughly modern all-in-one piece (streamer, DAC, preamp, power amp, even includes Dirac).  Amazing how simple life can get.  Operates from PC, tablet, or smartphone, wired or wirelessly, accepts analog and various digital inputs, has preamp and subwoofer outputs, has a nice big screen, is relatively small and lightweight, and of course needs no interconnects.  I've forgotten the issues involved with servers, cables, DACs, etc.

But when I say throughly modern the also need to include glitches.  Load time (from a flash drive or Tidal favorites) is slow.  Tidal Connect is supposed to help but have given up trying to get it to run.  Now it reverts back to playing the same album each time an album ends plus it fads out/in briefly shortly after the music starts up (with the latest firmware/reset).  And since a reset (recommended after each firmware update) I can't get Dirac to complete the room measurements, so am running without it.  Have also read of lots of other minor complaints of NAD gear.  But it provides the best sound I've ever had. 

So casually looking into "mid-priced" streamers/DACs with volume control like Arcam ST60, and Cambridge Audio 851N to go with straight analog balanced active monitors for a really simple system.

senna1a

Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #18 on: 3 Feb 2021, 01:01 pm »
Agree JLM. I was reluctant to try streaming for years as I didn’t think it would sound as good. I finally picked up a Cambridge CXN V2 a year ago and could not be happier. It gives you the simplicity of a streamer with built in DAC (or digital outs for separate DAC) and has both single end / balanced out. You can turn the preamp on/off depending if you have a preamp, or go directly to an amp. It easily sees files on my PC if I download from time to time and while there may be better looking UI, the control app is functional and extremely intuitive.

Personally, I think the mid priced solutions are great if you know you are committed. Or if you just want to check it out like I did, I think a CXN or a Node2 are good solutions to start, where folks don’t want to stream from a PC, or have multiple connections to stream.

Craig B

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Re: PC or Streamer with DAC?
« Reply #19 on: 3 Feb 2021, 01:33 pm »
I was reluctant to try streaming for years as I didn’t think it would sound as good.

It's funny how, after streaming for just over a year, I'd completely forgotten that I'd had that same opinion before I got into it. I'm not sure why I felt that way, other than general dissatisfaction with things like old MP3 players. Then two things happened to change my mind: discovering that at our town's stop on the Magnepan 30.7 "roadshow," Wendell Diller used some streaming content for demo purposes; and then hearing streamed content on my brother's setup, which costs about 10X what mine does. In both cases, I heard wonderful things, and realized that it could, under the right circumstances, rival or possibly equal the sound I was getting from any of my physical media.

Then all I had to get over was my distaste for streaming as an economic model, from the standpoint of artist payment. I have quite a few friends who are professional musicians and have heard them wail about the pittances they and others, even the major players, receive in royalties. Fortunately, I rationalize easily, and from what I could discern about such things, Tidal and Qobuz, the two services I was most interested from a sound quality perspective, seem to pay slightly better than others like Spotify and Pandora. So even though I'm a sound and convenience convert, I still keep quiet around my friends when the subject comes up.