Do I need a streamer?

Streaming devices, with or without an internal DAC, seem to be very popular these days, so I am wondering if I am missing out on something.  I have Audirvana on my iMac that streams Tidal and music from my 8 TB external HD.  My iMac resides next to my audio rack and I connect my iMac via an optical cable (Fibbr) to my Aqua LaVoce DAC.  It seems to me that my iMac and external HD take the place of a streaming device.  Am I missing out on something other than convenience?  My external HD was a few hundred bucks and streamers a whole lot more.  The sound of my system is fantastic. 


"Do I need a streamer?"


It depends on whether you trust the source, doesn't it?

It's like someone with a turntable asking if he needs to know anything about the LP he's about to play.  Is it an original 1st issue press, or a reissue from an eq tape copy, or a remaster?  Is it from an analog source or digital?  Was it mastered by Robert Ludwig, or Doug Sax, or Stan Ricker, or Kevin Gray, or George Marino, or Steve Hoffman, or Barry Diament, or Chris Bellman, or Bernie Grundman, or Lee Hulko, etc... or was it mastered by the equivalent of some guy in a van, down by the river?

Same applies to CDs.

Is any of that important to you?

Seems like the quality of the source material, i.e., what we are listening to, *should* be important, if we've spent thousands of dollars on our playback equipment.

If I have physical media, an LP or CD or SACD, I can find out who mastered that particular release, and often whether it was mastered from the original master tape, or remixed from the original multi-track tapes, or if it was 'sourced' from a digital file, etc.  I can also determine whether what I have is a first issue or a reissue, and if a reissue, the date of reissue and who was involved. 

If the published information (ad copy) about the album does not mention the source, that's a clue.  If the language about the source material sounds like it was written by Lawyers 'R Us with a bunch of weasel words, that's another clue, etc.

In the last 15-20 years, if someone has reissued an album and gone to the trouble to obtain the original tapes, that's something they would brag about, not try to obscure.

If this kind of info is not listed on the cover or booklets/inserts, then I can find out on Discogs, and if Discogs doesn't have the information, I can search one of the various music forums, e.g., the Steve Hoffman forum, which is frequented by at least several professional mastering engineers, including some of the people who have first hand knowledge and who have mastered many of the albums we know and love.

For example, if I was interested in getting a copy of Led Zeppelin IV for my collection, I would probably want an original 1971 UK first press LP (always nice to have an original country-of-origin as a reference),  mastered by George Peckham, which will have his dead-wax 'signature' inscription "Pecko Duck" on one side, and "Porky" on the other.

If I was looking for digital, I would be interested in the earliest non-remastered CD issue, which IIRC was either the Japan for U.S. market issue (probably with 'pressed by Sanyo' in the matrix area by the CD spindle hole) or the Japan domestic (and export) release (with a "32XD" label prefix), both of which have Barry Diament's original AAD transfer and mastering.

In a world where there are often dozens (up to several hundred) reissues of a single album on multiple formats over the years, how many of them were by the original mastering engineer?

Usually just one, although there are exceptions, like Bernie Grundman for example, who mastered the original Joni Mitchell 'Blue' LP, and has remastered that album at least once or twice since then.

How many of the sometimes vast number of reissues utilized the original master tape, and how many used some copy tape of unknown origin?

If you have put time and money into assembling a nice stereo system, but you're playing some LP or CD of unknown origin, then unless you just got lucky and picked up an original by accident, what good is it to have a nice system, if we're playing *mystery source* LPs or CDs on it?

Whatever we're playing may sound 'good' without any reference for comparison, but it may sound like garbage compared to the best available LP or CD.  No matter how good one's system is, it can't make a 'bad' source (LP or CD) sound as good as a 'good' source.

Considering how much time and effort (and money) we put into our stereo system, shouldn't we want to feed it the best source material?

Now, back to 'streaming' or HD downloads.

Where is that digital file (that you are streaming or downloading) coming from?

Is it the recent Analogue Productions remaster from the original master tape, or is it digitized from some tape that is multiple generations removed from the original master tape?  I don't know how you would find out (I've never 'streamed' or downloaded an HD file), but even if you could find out, unless it's in writing somewhere official, what are we going by here?

The 'honor' system?

We are talking about the 'music business', right?

There is an old expression from the beginning of the computer era, "garbage in, garbage out".

The same thing is necessarily true for playing music, isn't it?

So you kind of have to know the quality of the source material.

With physical media, and not very much effort, you can find that out.  Unless the album in question is a new release, there is usually a decades long paper trail of details available.  Just last night I was able to figure out that my LP copy of Getz/Gilberto is an original 1964 mono pressing, by MGM. 

Identifiers: (Discogs link)

Track A3 is spelled "P'ra..." on sleeve and "Para..." on label.

Track B2 label: says from film "Copacabana Palace"

Non-deep groove label, single 1” ring around spindle hole

"ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM" in capital letters on labels (not on other mono pressings.)

Track B4 misspelled "Sohando" on label


With 'streaming' or HD downloads, how do you find out who mastered the digital file, and from what source?

And if it isn't written anywhere besides a marketing website that can disappear (or change the language of the ad copy) tomorrow, then aren't we playing 'just trust me' with the music industry?

So, do you need a streamer?

I might like one for a budget office system, for background music.

But for my home stereo system?  For personal listening enjoyment?

Unfortunately we don't live in a world where we can just 'trust' the word of the people selling music to us.  That's just reality.  So if there is no way to independently verify what it is that I'm 'streaming' or downloading, then how is it not like putting mystery gas in your 1967 big block Corvette (or other classic car of your choice)?

We spend so much time researching our equipment, and so much money on that equipment... what's the point, if we don't know whether we're even playing quality source material?

If we just want sound to come out of the speakers, and we don't care how good it sounds, then why spend more than a hundred bucks on our stereo system?


I recently added an Innuos Zenith and USB reclocker to replace my Mac Mini.  My DAC is a Terminator Plus.  The delta on SQ improvement was small.  It did add other features that I do like as the OS is simplified. The biggest improvement I got was my DAC upgrade to Denafrips.  IMO that’s where money is well spent. 

For almost a year, I used my iPod to stream directly to the line input, I then added a used outboard DAC (Schiit Gungnir) and streamed to that. It was an easily audible improvement in the treble smoothness and soundstage! I just added a used Blusound Node 2i to bypass the computer completely and got another easily audible improvement, this time very a very noticeable improvement in midrange clarity (especially vocals) and much stronger and detailed deep bass. Even used, the pair totaled a sizable (for me) about $US1000 but I'm happy.

@pprocter That’s a great example of how much everything matters in streaming.  I started the same way you did and followed a similar progression and had very similar impressions.  Obviously upgrading your DAC or streamer down the road can get you even more, but if you’d like another very cost-effective improvement in the meantime you can add an upgraded power supply to the Node that many have found to yield significant sonic improvements.  Just an idea to ponder.  Anyway, nice job with the upgrades and glad you’re enjoying the benefits of your efforts.  

@soix Thanks for the suggestion! That was actually my next upgrade planned. I've been slogging around trying to choose the best option. I was looking at the pd Creative kit but they don't offer a USA 120v power supply and the shipping from Poland for just the circuit board is quite pricy! Do you have any options you've tried or considered?