Advice for Streaming Newbies - Best Bang for Our Bucks

Hi All,

I'm currently building up my 'streaming only' system having read more reviews and forums in the last three weeks than in the preceding three months!

I'm a firm believer that I don't need to spend thousands upon thousands to get the best out of Tidal but conversely, there are good investments to be made to get the best sound.

I'd like to call on your collective wisdom for either general recommendations or specific product recommendations that give good "bang for the buck".

To start the ball rolling, my specific system looks like this:

Tidal Premium

5G Mobile Router with stock PSU (on separate extension lead)

Audioquest Pearl CAT6 Ethernet Cable to English Electric 8 Switch with stock PSU (on shared core extension lead with 2 x ifi AC iPurifiers)

Chord C Ethernet Cable to ifi Zen Stream with stock PSU (12v iPower 2) (on shared core extension)

Wireworld Chroma USB3.0 to ifi Zen DAC v2 with ifi iPower X  (on shared core extension)

ifi 4.4mm Connector to ifi Zen Can with stock PSU (on shared core extension)

Topping PA5 with stock PSU (on separate extension lead)

Audioquest Rocket 11 Speaker Cable to Wharfedale Diamond 12.3 Speakers

I have an ifi iPower Elite on Order and two more iPower X's

Possible upgrades I am considering:

Improved PSU for the Router

Improved Power Cable to the iPower Elite

More use of iPower Elite's

eno Ethernet Filter

Gigafoil v4

Improved Ethernet Cables

Improved USB Cable

Additional AC iPurifiers for other extensions

Starting from a basic system what areas of investment have yielded the best results? An improved PSU on the DAC or the Swtich? An ethernet filter? A better ethernet cable? etc.?


For me the absolutely unsurpassed, blow everything else out of the water streamer is a BlueSound Node.




(Full disclosure: I'm deaf and have to listen to all my music using braille).

No doubt streaming is big rabbit hole, so many variables!. But the more I experiment the more I become convinced simpler is better. This has certainly proven to be true on network side of thing, although I continue with two computer setup, separate server and dedicated streamer.


Most insightful experiments have been with the beginning stages of network starting at feed from ISP into the house. Locating modem close to system, extend coax cable vs long runs of ethernet. Broadcom chip based modem vs Intel chip modem, Broadcom less jitter, also modem with external power supply so can use LPS on modem.


Now experimenting with removing wifi from audio streaming chain, already disconnected antenna from server. Two ways to go here, present experiment with enterprise level router (no wifi) will have feed that serves audio system only, another bridged feed goes to Netgear wifi/router for wireless devices throughout rest of house. Point is to get wifi and all it's attendant emi/rfi out of audio chain. The other way would be to forego wifi altogether, simply use audiophile switch in place of wifi/router. Point here is wifi/routers are likely the noisiest device in most streaming chains, getting out of audio chain should pay off in lower noise floor and jitter. Seems to me adding audiophile switches to chains while maintaining wifi/router upstream is a band aid at best. What's upstream of these switches is entirely critical to streaming performance, one can never get back what they lost with long runs of ethernet, bad modems and wifi/routers.

Streaming digital music doesn't have to involve extreme componentization and endless tweaking. The dollars invested? Well, there's a lot of latitude there, particularly wrt DACs. I have two suggestions for keeping things simple above Bluesound economics and well below exotica prices.

1/ Auralic put extensive engineering effort into their triband WiFi implementation in the Aries G1 and G2.1 streamers, to eliminate noise and remove the mandate for Ethernet. So much as to recommend that unless you have an unusual RFI environment or other practical reason to connect via Ethernet, WiFi should be the default, though the Ethernet option remains present. It works as advertised and is silent. Both of these streamers also have a 1GB memory cache so all dejittering, MQA processing, reclocking is done in memory. Effectively, you have a memory player, even if you connect a USB optical drive for CDs. I have yet to find a DAC that isn't improved by the Aries G1 and G2.1 streamers, compared to streaming via computer + USB or other intermediate streamers.

I have two hifi systems and after 14 years with the great mhdt DACs I did go richer on DACs than some people, Bricasti M21 Platinum on my primary system and Bricasti M1LE Gold on my secondary. An Auralic Aries G2.1 is upstream of the M21 and an Aries G1 is upstream of the M1LE Gold. But the entry level Holo, Denafrips, any mhdt, even RME DACs can all be improved by paying attention to the streamer first, while keeping things affordable. Oh, and the Auralic streamers have a linear power supply built in. Further, while the Auralic streamers are Roon ready, best sound is by using the free, native Auralic Lightning DS iOS app, no core computer needed.

You could simplify further by going with the Auralic Altair G1.1 or G2.1 streaming DAC, which combines the Aries functions with a sigma-delta DAC in one box.

Even with the RFI shower from my solar / Powerwall system, the Auralic WiFi connection is rock-stable, quiet, and musically truthful. Incidentally, Auralic decodes MQA via their own proprietary software instead of licensing MQA. It's effective and it means that if you have one of their streamers, you don't need an MQA DAC to get MQA hi-rez (variable) benefits.

2/ If you truly want to keep things simple, consider the Astell & Kern ACRO CA1000 streaming DAC/headphone amp/preamp/etc. I bought one of these to move between my chairside Stax headphone amp indoors and my outdoor patio system and it surpasses expectations, even when I put it into my primary, six-figures system for vetting. The A&K is a "carryable headphone amp/DAC." There's nothing else quite equivalent on the market. In one, palm-sized $2100 exquisitely-crafted package you get everything and it is powered by a 10.5 hours Li-polymer battery. No power supply add-ons nonsense. Wifi works great, no Ethernet needed nor accommodated. You also have the current hifi Bluetooth options. Touchscreen control is built-in, with the option of a tablet app for remote control.

The A&K includes output jacks for every variety of dynamic headphone, has 256GB of internal memory plus can accept one microSD card up to 1TB capacity, has USB, S/PDIF Coax, Toslink and analog inputs so it can function as a preamp, and if you use a USB PD2.0 charger, its 10+ hours battery can be fully charged in 2.5 hours or to 50% in one hour. You can also run it plugged in.

The A&K control software is Android-based so performance isn't quite as snappy as in the Auralic Lightning-based streamers, but responsiveness is good enough -- better than the wretched BluOS. I am generally and musically unimpressed with ESS-based DACs, but A&K has done a fine job with their ESS 9068 quad-DAC implementation, which sounds refined and toneful. A roughly 4" x 6" footprint from a 2 lbs. package and you are done. This too is Roon-ready if you roll that way, but Roon isn't necessary. The A&K decodes MQA. Having a full headphone amp, streamer, DAC, preamp, memory player all-in-one is awesome enough but its price is easily justified if you use it as a streaming DAC alone.

Auralic and Astell & Kern are true engineering-driven innovators in service to music. They aren't the only ones but they engineer holistically so you don't have to cobble-together enhancements where you shouldn't need to. I have 40 years in IT. I suggest you buy gear that obviates the need to bring enterprise networking into your home and hifi.


Re: Tidal Master v. Qobuz. I run with both. Each fills some content range gaps in the other. Tidal MQA is variable in SQ recording to recording. Qobuz 24/192 is consistently more refined and beautiful than MQA but where some Qobuz content is only 16/44 Tidal has Master versions. Tidal does a fab job compiling personal playlists algorithmically and dynamically, greatly aiding discovery. Qobuz does a great job with thematic playlists uninformed by your personal activity. Together they are complementary in selection, range, SQ and exploration.


I have been thinking about switching fro Tidal to QObuz.  I have heard the difference.  If I were to do so would I have to re-enter all my artists and music.  I also like the appearance of Tidal on my iPhone.  Wish I could see how it looks: