CD Quality Versus Streaming Quality

I realize this will be a contentious subject, and far be it from me to challenge any of the many expert opinions on this forum, but if I may offer my feedback vis-a-vis what I am hearing, and gain some knowledge in the process.

i will begin saying that my digital front end setup is not state of the art, but i have had the good fortune to listen to a number of really high-end systems. I guess the number one deficit in my digital front end is a streamer server, and no question about it that will improve the sound.

My CD player is a universal player; Pioneer BDP-09fd. It uses Wolfson DACs. It has been modified to a degree. I have bought and sold other players, but kept this one, because it has a beautiful sound that serves the music well.

Recently, i ventured over to my son’s place and we hooked up my player (he doesn’t have one and rely’s on streaming only) We compared tracks / albums of CD quality and master quality streamed on Tidal with ‘redbook’ CDs I have. For example, some Lee Ritenaur CDs and some Indian classical and the wonderful Mozart and Chopin.
His system is highly resolving.

we were both very surprised to find the CDs played on the player to be the better sound. And not just by a little. The sound was clearly superior, with higher resolution and definition, spatial ques, much better and clearer imaging. Very surprising indeed. Shouldn’t there be no difference? This would suggest the streaming service is throttling the bandwidth or compressing the signal?

i am most interested to hear others’ observations, and suggestions as to why this might be? I do love the convenience aspect of streaming, but it IS expensive for a chap like me of fairly modest means. The Tidal HiFi topline service is $30 per month I believe, something the good lady is not too thrilled about. God forbid I should suggest Roon on top of that I may likely get my walking papers. I jest, but only partially LoL. My point is, if I pay this sort of money, isn’t it fair to expect sound to equal the digital stream from the CD player and silver disc?



I have reached the same conclusion. I use tidal master streaming the highest tier service they provide and listen to what they call the master tracks. Using the same DAC with my CD player ( ARCAM CDS50) I can tell subtle detail that is more present in the CD, the dynamics are sharper and sound stage is wider. The difference became even more noticeable recently as I upgraded to a pair of KEF R11 Meta floor standers. I check the streaming bit rate and frequency to make sure it is playing FLAC at 48KHz theoretically a higher sample rate than CD but the sounds is inferior. Even non audiophiles can sometimes tell the CD sounds cleaner or nicer or whatever better. 

I think the difference is in mastering or how the album is digitally encoded at first place by the streaming service. I think it is optimized for  most low end and those tiny streaming speakers. When the information is lost during the encoding then play back at higher bit rate will not recover the lost tones. Of course this is just a guess but I have no doubt even the so called Master streaming does not sound as good as a CD for many albums when played back through a Hifi system. It’s great that CD is so cheap these days especially lightly used CDs. I see myself collecting more and more 

I sold my reference quality cd player 15 years ago because ripped music sounded better using 3rd party software like Pure Music. I still have a Sony $1500 SACD/cd player that I have used maybe 5 times in the last 10 years. With high res files and mqa, I sold my $15k turntable and all my vinyl and have never regretted it. 
Looking at some of these posts, they are using cheap stuff like blue jean cables or $100 audioquest cables, like those are high quality. My old usb cable when I used to own that flawed interface was close to $1000. 
The reader software you use makes all the difference for playback quality. If you use Apple’s iTunes/music software, anything will sound better. But if you use Audirvana or Roon, your playback quality goes way up.

Also, when you use a cd player, are you using toslink or coax outputs into an external dac? If so, those are the worst out[uts to use but not as bad as usb, so you already compromised your sound. Or if you use the single ended or balanced outputs, then you are really compromising the sound quality because you are using the internal dac inside the cd player. I have never heard a cd players internal dac sound any good (same goes for dacs built into integrated amps) compared to a standalone quality dac, like the Briscati, DCS, or PS Audio standalone dacs.


My experience has been that streaming great sound but takes much effort. It took me over 1 1/2 years to get the sound of streaming to match my CD Transport and Vinyl sources. Neither I nor my two sons hear a difference now switching between CD or streamer at 44.1/16. Hi res sounds even better but generalizations do not work well with audio. For example, the best sounding vinyl still competes well with the best hi-res audio files. But some hi-res audio sounds the same as 44.1/16 files and some CDs sound better than their vinyl counterparts. Only keep in mind that different pressings of the same vinyl can sound better too.

One of the good, or bad things about this hobby called audio is that we need contrasts to know if one sound is better than the other. Our ears adjust to the sound of our system and we have to hear another system, source or live music outdoors, in a club or in a hall to determine if our system is better/worse. The same goes for sources. So I started out with my CD Transport/DAC combo which sounds great to me compared to other systems I have heard as well as my vinyl source. I bought a music server/streamer and ripped my CDs to FLAC files and got a subscription to Roon. It took a little work finding the right USB cable to get FLAC files and CD to be indistinguishable. At that point streaming was good but not up to CD or FLAC files. After going through various configurations, cables, power supplies, FMC’s, different SFPs and so on I got to a final configuration that makes streaming equivalent to CD, FLAC and downloaded hi-res files.

I am not saying this is the only way. I’m sharing my configuration to help others save time/money.

1) Ditch the ISP’s modem. Get a good quality modem. I also added a low noise power supply to the modem and router. Can’t say that I would hear the difference in an A/B comparison but it is a relatively low cost upgrade. I have coax cable internet service.

2) Get a good quality router. Ethernet cabling is a must for good streaming but a good wifi router should do no harm to the network signal.

3) Get a good audio grade network switch. I struggled with the idea of spending thousands on a network switch. When the LHY SW-8 came out I grabbed one and love it. Very effective. Until then I was using a fiber optic link between my router and streamer. It is good; but the SW-8 is better. Now, the thinking would be that two good things together would be even better. Wasn’t the case. The SW-8 performs best direct into the router.

4) Use Ag plated ethernet cables. Full silver might be better- I don’t know. Silver plated cabling makes a difference. Well worth the minor investment.

I’m sure others have different experiences. Many paths to the same goal. Everything matters. Also, my SW-8 is plugged into my power conditioner.

I’ll add that the silver plated ethernet cable between the streamer and network switch makes an obvious difference in sound and same between the network switch and router. But the silver plated ethernet cable between the modem and router was not as obvious a difference.

It seems the further from the source, the less difference cabling makes.