Do Streamer only devices really impact sound quality?

From a layman mindset, a streamer transmits electronic information to a dac via coaxial cable or other connection. The electronic information I believe is standardized for all streamers. That said, the streamer itself could not influence the sound quality heard by the audience. I think it is bit-perfect information coming across to the dac. 

So for instance a Bluesound 2i   vs  Cambridge CXN V2 streamer should sound identical with the same connections and equipment used and of course same streaming service and content.


thoughts appreciated if I have this correct?  


I think three ways a streamer can impact sound quality:

  • USB / Coax ground loops
  • Excess jitter
  • AC line noise

I think paying attention to the quality of the wall wart (if used) and making sure the USB cable is isolated (when possible, not all DAC's like this) takes care of most.  At the end of the day though your DAC is going to be subject to the clock of the streamer, so having a streamer with a good buffer and low phase noise clock is important. 

@dvdgreco  "That said, the streamer itself could not influence the sound quality heard by the audience. I think it is bit-perfect information coming across to the dac."

Sure the streamer itself can the sound quality -  parts quality, implementation of design, power supply , anti-reasonance , shielding etc.  all impact SQ.

This is a great question and one I have been thinking about. I just switched from an all in one streamer/DAC/Preamp so no cabling involved to a lumin U2 into reimyo dac into SPL preamp all with Canare quad XLR cables.  

I can not hear a diff. So if there should or should not be a diff I don't know but I am not hearing one.  The main diff I have heard was switching DACs.  I think you may hear a diff between say bluesound node and a lumin but could be noise reduction. The bits are perfect as they are so contamination from poor cables or constructed streamer components could cause a diff. 

The lumin u2 is amazing. I was able to trade in the esoteric to Mike Kay (I have no affiliation and this is not an add so hope I don't get struck) but you get honest opinion on this topic as that is he forte. 

Look forward to hearing more comments. 

Best JH  Love this stuff!

I don’t mean this to be rude - but this question has been asked many times in this forum and I’d suggest you will find it helpful to review the previous discussions. Or, you may find it particularly unhelpful as there are a number of posters who go to their respective corners to defend a viewpoint.

My $.02 is based on direct experience.  I’ve had multiple streamers and they do sound different. BTW - so do digital cables and network switches and all sorts of other digital elements. This is anathema to the “it’s just 1s and 0s” crowd.  

My experience in moving upstream was that the spatial information improved greatly such that my Node 2i sounded dimensionally “flat” in comparison. The tonality of the two units was the same, but the presentation was not. 

How can this be if it’s just 1s and 0s?  While I do not know with certainty, I can speculate.

The digital signal transmitted as 1s and 0s is done in analogue format via voltage changes. There are not 1s and 0s migrating down a cable but a current which must be interpreted as 1s and 0s by a converter.  The current is a sine wave of sorts and the slope and speed of the wave are variables. Along with the primary carrier signal is the addition of noise which can distort the wave meaning that the interpretation of weather it’s a 1 or 0 might be altered ever so slightly.. Now imagine how vast and rapid is the information  migrating and being “interpreted” across the system. Is it not reasonable to expect that there could be differences - even if extremely minor - coming across the signal path that when so multiplied might be received by a DAC and have some differences in sound? 

Regardless of my viewpoint here, others with plenty of knowledge will disagree and claim what I’m hearing is imagined.  So be it. May I suggest you try an in-home audition?  I haven’t heard the Cambridge unit, but am well acquainted with the Node 2i which I still have in a kitchen system. But, it was moved there after I auditioned other units in my better system and the difference was enough for me to happily pull out my wallet.

Good luck in your search.

The ones and zeroes generally make it to your DAC intact. However, as noted in other posts here, streaming accuracy and the eventual sound is highly dependent on two other factors, timing (jitter) and electrical noise. Streamers make a huge difference.

My observation was that as I moved upstream, the spatial information significantly increased, making my Node 2i sound dimensionally "flat" in contrast. The two units had the same tonality, but the presentation was different.

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Based on my experience with a variety of streamers over perhaps ten years of streaming I've come to conclusion streamer can make as much or more difference than dac.

Streamer is really the heart of streaming setup, does the rendering and has large influence on timing. Having both optimized is the difference between digital sounding digital and analog sounding digital. Audition one of the top tier streamers like Aurender WE20SE, Taiko Extreme, etc against multitude of mid grade streamers in high resolving system, I guarantee you'll hear massive difference.


Example above is extreme example, but even in less optimized systems you'll hear worthwhile gains. As stated previously, multitude of posts testifying to value of streamers, we're not all delusional. Per usual, one can presume many things, only actual experience is educating.

I recently replaced my Vault 2i with an Aurender N200 .   I used the Vault 2i with several good DACs since owning it.   It is a great machine.  I still use it for convenience and to rip content.  

The Aurender is in a different league as far as build quality, support, and sound quality.   

While Bluesound support is OK , but their focus is on forward compatibility with new BS devices.  Yes you sometimes get new features but the firmware often fixes bugs / known issues.   

Aurender will actually get into your device remotely if necessary.   They answered my support question fast and their upcoming software revision took care off the issue.  This all happened within a few day of my support request.   



I have used every streaming source possible. The moment I bought a dedicated streamer I immediately abandoned other sources and rapidly moved up the levels, experiencing major sound quality improvements at every step culminating with the flagship Aurender streamer: W20SE…. $22K… worth every penny in sound quality. I also own an Aurender N100 for my headphone system. You can see my systems under my UserID.


Best to hear a great quality dedicated streamer then work on the logic. I recommend starting with one costing about the average cost of your components or a bit more. My streamer cast about 20% more than the average cost of my other components… like preamp, phono stage, TT, DAC.

The N200 was a little more than I planned spending but I traded a preamp plus cash to make it happen.   Was planning to use that preamp until mine is built but I could not miss the opportunity to buy the N200 so I did a deal that was super easy on the wallet.   

Great decision and although I have my back up preamp in the system it still sounds pretty good.  

I have pretty much abandoned physical media since owning a Vault.  I have put the Vault's content in the Aurender and will use the N200 almost exclusively now.  Im thinking of selling my OPPO 103, I can't even remember the last time i played a CD or BluRay in it.  



OK. Lots of people try to explain this and the only argument that I find compelling is to discuss the difference between streaming and file transfer. Digital files are perfect, aka, "bit perfect". your bank couldn’t survive if it dropped bits. So when you download a file, even a song file (not a streamed song, totally different), it will be checked with error correction until it is perfect. 100%. zero bits dropped. That is why a corrupted file may set there forever with the hourglass. It is trying to correct the errors and get it right and finally gives up.

When streaming music you don’t have that luxury. There can be no delay. dropped bits have to be filled in by best guesses by the streaming protocol. Dropped bits happen and are degrade sound quality a lot on an audiophile system. This is not really a problem for a teenager streaming Spotify on Alexa which is 99% of the streaming market. But on our systems it is the difference between good soundstage, tight bass, delicate highs, and an expensive sound system that underperforms.

So we have to spend a lot of money on streamers, cables, and ethernet switches. Timing is important too. Now the good news is you can get adequate (not great) performance from relatively inexpensive streamers. A $300 to $500 streamer will tremendously outperform a computer.

And of couse don’t forget the DAC which is the heart of the system. Unlike a streamer, you can’t go cheap on a DAC.

And don't even think about wireless streaming.



At the end of the day though your DAC is going to be subject to the clock of the streamer

Only a boob would believe that.

Not my DAC.

Only a boob would believe that.

I did write that too fast, and I'm sorry but let's be nice to those just starting to learn.

Even the best asynchronous DAC's can be impacted by really bad streams/streamers, especially streaming radio.

For the most part, a good low noise clock on a DAC with asynch USB is pretty awesome but they can't do magic, and if things upstream get bad enough, including if a digital ground loop occurs the DAC could be subject to less than ideal performance. 


Another reason I chose the N200, I can use either it's USB or Coax.    I think my DAC sounds better via Coax .  I think the clock in the Aurender is better than in my DAC,  this would explain why I think the Coax connection sounds better.   My other DAC uses it's internal clock whether you use USB, Coax, or Tos so I can't make any comparisons.  Maybe down the road I'll have a DAC that sounds better via USB, who knows  ut it's good to have both outputs.   I run the USB out of the N200 to my headphone rig , a RME adi2 .   

For many devices recently on the market, the streamer is integrated with a DAC and possibly preamp capabilities (volume control, source selection, or both). So chances are, you won't be hearing the "streamer itself" in isolation from one or more of those other functions. Furthermore, streamer A and streamer B may be delivering different combinations of software effects (DSP) or source content, which all color the output. FWIW, Stereophile does not have a separate category for "streamers" in its annual list of recommended components. They have a "digital processors" category, which mostly covers DACs (many of which have integrated streaming or preamp capabilities, equalization, DSP, etc.) 

So, while In theory "everything is important", I doubt that anyone here has done controlled, volume-leveled A-B comparisons among multiple streamers in a way that focuses solely on the streaming functions, per se, of all the compared devices.  I'd venture to say that the impact on SQ of the streaming capability, per se, probably is somewhere between negligible and unobservable compared to the impact of the DAC and especially the preamp effects.  But I don't really know for sure, and would welcome anyone to point out a good comparison of multiple streamers, one based on some credible combination of metrics and expert observation. 


@tk21 I know it can be tough to accept that streamers make a big difference, and I applaud you for at least keeping your mind open as opposed to many here who just close their minds based on their beliefs rather than just listening.  Most experienced listeners here observe significant differences between streamers and that they’re at least as important as the DAC they feed.  Darko did a head-to-head comparison of several streamers a while back and found significant differences in sound quality so might be informative searching that review out.  My advice: Trust your own ears and come to your own conclusions because that’s really all that matters.  FWIW…

I did a quick search for Darko's streamer reviews.  Not sure I found the one @soix cited.  Anyway, Darko's highest praise seems to go to the Logitech Squeezebox Touch.  You can get one of those on eBay for less than $200 (US).  I wonder if anyone here has heard a significant sound quality improvement in going from the SBT to, say, the Auralic Aries G2.1 ($5699).  Not necessarily 30X better ... but at least noticeable to the average listener.

@soix +


Resolution, transparency not the most  difficult aspect of sound quality to achieve with streaming. Yes, noise, both external and self generated can enter at many points, but even with less than best streamers relatively high resolution, transparency can be achieved assuming one has decent dac.


My experience has found timing greatly impacts digital sound quality. Get the timing right throughout entire streaming setup and the closer one gets to positive traits of analog. Correct timing allows largest soundstage, most stable imaging, and most importantly, greater sense of ease, relaxed musical experience. Jitter is what gives digital it's bad name, and the reason some maintain vinyl superior to digital. New custom build streamer I recently purchased was built with parts and components specifically chosen for lowest latency, low latency means less jitter. Using the same dac as with prior streamers, greater levels of resolution/transparency has certainly been achieved, but sense of ease or analog like sound qualities has been revelatory.


I observe ever decreasing levels of measured jitter in digital components, certainly large measure of why digital continues to improve.


Another critical thing to remember, you can never get back what has been lost earlier in streaming chain. No dac can clean up noise or jitter created earlier in chain, just as optical with it's total galvanic isolation can't restore whats been lost in regard to noise, the jitter manufactured within streamer has already contaminated the bit chain, even the finest asynchronous clocks in dacs can't restore whats been lost prior.


There is a reason why the best streamers attain higher levels of sound quality, lower latency/jitter and self generated noise. If dacs could really restore whats been lost streamers would all sound the same.


Finally, I presume digital at some point in future will finally surpass the very best analog/vinyl. Audiophile and/or digital engineers are paying close attention to these latency issues within digital components, Ever decreasing jitter will be achieved in future components, this along with ever decreasing noise will further improve digital sound quality.

@tk21  @soix  I think two different setups are being discussed here.  My take is that tk21 is talking about not hearing the impact of a streamer in an all in one unit. So yes who knows if any difference is due the DAC or the streamer, or parts , or implementation within the "streamer".  Most of the other posts have been about streamers separate from the DAC , so  if one is using the same DAC, streamer output to it, and cables  it obviously allows for a notable comparison.

I did a quick search for Darko's streamer reviews.  Not sure I found the one @soix cited.  Anyway, Darko's highest praise seems to go to the Logitech Squeezebox Touch. 

@tk21 The title of the Darko Squeezebox video is unfortunate and misleading.  If you watch the video he compared the SBT to a Bluesound Node 3 and finds them comparable — hardly high praise in the scheme of things.  Here’s the video I was alluding to in my prior post that is a bit dated but still relevant for pointing out differences between streamers…

Not sure what to make of that title.  I suppose Darko might be saying that the SBT was a relatively affordable engineering marvel, not that it's the best-sounding such device ever made, regardless of price. The same might be said of the latest Bluesound Node. But the Node is not only a streamer/file-player, it's also a DAC.  It can be used for volume-control, too. I've seen reports that it's quite good when used only as a streamer (feeding digital output to a downstream DAC).  If that is our baseline, how much SQ improvement can one expect by switching to a much more expensive stand-alone streamer (such as the Auralic Aries G2.1)?


But the Node is not only a streamer/file-player, it’s also a DAC. It can be used for volume-control, too. I’ve seen reports that it’s quite good when used only as a streamer (feeding digital output to a downstream DAC). If that is our baseline, how much SQ improvement can one expect by switching to a much more expensive stand-alone streamer (such as the Auralic Aries G2.1)?

@tk21 A ton of improvement is possible. Reports that the Node is “quite good” should not be inferred to mean that it’s anywhere near even not much more expensive alternatives. Example, an Innuos Mini Mk3 with LPS power supply upgrade is near the upscale Zen Mk3 in performance (and no one would put the Node, even with upgraded power supply on the level of the Zen Mk3), and even its DAC does a very good job with the LPS. Innuos has trickled down tech from its upper models that the Node can’t match even with an external power supply, and the Zen Mini will scale up much better if/when you upgrade to a better DAC. Yes, it costs a bit more, but you’re also getting a lot more. Underestimate the role/impact of a streamer at your peril.  Here’s Darko’s review of the Zen Mini both with and without the upgraded external power supply and with/without its internal DAC FWIW…


NO! I guarantee my 179 dollar grace digital streamer sounds identical to a big buck over priced streamer in a blind test. It's all bull to sell you something you do not need.

For me, swapping out streamers was one of the biggest improvements I've had with my stereo system. I recently upgraded my amp for something 1k more expensive, and it didn't make as big a difference. Here's my streamer post:


@classdstreamer Wondering if you’re using an upgraded power supply with your ZS?  Also if you ever went hard wired from a switch/router to the ZS?  Both are supposed to yield significant improvements.  BTW, I also own the ZS with upgraded iFi iPowerX power supply.  

@soix Yes and yes are the short answers. 

As you likely know, iFi has 3 levels of power supplies, and it shipped the first level with the Zen Stream. I had an extra iFi iPowerX lying around, so I used that for a while with the ZS. Then I got the itch to try their highest tier of power supply, which I'm currently using. Their highest PSU gave a little extra refinement to the sound. 

I haven't tried the ZS with the wifi antennas. I went hardwired out of the gate.

Farther upstream, I recently upgraded the home network to multi-gig LAN and WAN. Because no audiophile companies have a multi-gig switches out yet, I'm using a TP-Link multi-gig switch directly into the ZS. I wanted to get used to the sound before I reinstalled the optical converters to see if there was any difference converting the network from ethernet to optical right before entering the ZS. Speaking of iFi and optical, have you seen iFi's latest streamer?--the iFi Neo Stream? It comes with a low noise optical converter and optical cable to connect to the optical input on the Neo Stream. I'm interested, but I'm uncertain whether it would be an upgrade for me. 

Aside from the great sound quality, I really like the slick display and the fact it has transport keys.     The component form factor is appealing to me also , as is the insanely good build quality. 

I am ok with having to spend for all those things if a component is really good

@classdstreamer Interesting.  I would’ve thought upgrading to a better power supply would’ve made a bigger absolute difference, not that the improvements you noted are at all insignificant.  I might try something like a Teddy Pardo LPS in the future, but given your impressions I’m not in all that much of a rush.  BTW, what Ethernet cable are you using into the ZS and what switch?

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@soix The switch I use is the TP-Link TL-SG108-M2. It’s the backbone of my home network. Not audiophile, but it’s fast. My wife didn’t like the idea of a network closet, so I needed something small and fanless to hide behind furniture. It fit the bill.

My current ethernet cable is a Supra 8, because it was highly reviewed and affordable. I haven’t started A-B testing ethernet cables yet. I’ve been putting the bulk of my budget into components and component upgrades. What have you found with ethernet cables?

@classdstreamer I haven’t compared Ethernet cables yet.  I have a Wireworld Starlight 8 I’m gonna run from a TP-Link extender to my streamer when I get situated, but I’m also gonna try a generic and a CAT7 cable to see how it stacks up for less $$$.  I’ve heard Ethernet cables, like everything in streaming, make a big difference and that’s been my experience too thus far, but if a CAT7 outperforms my WW cable at less cost so be it.  The Supra 8 has a lotta supporters so not surprised you’re happy with what you’re hearing.  I’m agnostic and just use my ears to make my decisions.  

@soix Like you, I'll use my ears to test, but I also want to try to understand some of the "why" behind what I'm hearing. My understanding is that for coax and ethernet applications, solid core copper is the best industrial option vs stranded copper or copper coated aluminum. E.g. solid core is best for power over ethernet applications like cameras or wifi access points, and solid copper products can also transfer over longer distances. It would make sense to me then that solid core products would benefit sensitive A/V components too. So if you're looking for affordable ethernet cable to test, you may be interested in this oxygen free, solid core copper ethernet cable I found on Amazon. I wired my whole house with it. Once I started buying enough to wire an entire house, it cost about twice as much as the stranded copper alternatives, but I didn't want to skimp out. Hit me up once you start testing ethernet cables. I'll join you. 

Cat 8 Ethernet Cable 1.5ft Shielded, Indoor&Outdoor, Heavy Duty High Speed Direct Burial 26AWG Cat8 Network Wire, 40Gbps 2000Mhz SFTP Patch Cord, in Wall&Weatherproof RJ45 Cable for Router/Modem/Xbox

Simply put…

they can all sound different from one another. If you cannot hear the difference between one streamer and another, then it could be a question of the associated equipment? But even a low cost system should reveal the difference.  I used an Allo Digione with Volumio as the OS. I thought it sounded pretty spectacular. Especially with the coding mods and upgraded ps.
Then, I upgraded to a Pi2 design Mercury Streamer. My mind was simply blown by the improvement. It was immense. My system was instantly elevated (and it’s not all that special a system). To the point that I had serious trouble staying away from it.

So my answer is that there can be a major difference between transports.

Correct. Bits are bits. And jitter in today's equipment is so small it cannot possibly be audible. And error correction has been perfected for decades. Even as far back as when I was doing network programming for banking systems in the 80's.

@dvdgreco , There is no doubt that adding a good quality streamer to a good system will make a big difference.  It is likely that the Node and the Cambridge are not all that different.

I added an Auralic Aries G2.1 in front of my already good sounding Tambaqui DAC and it made (to me) a noticeable improvement.  I did not want to believe this, as there is a good streamer in my Tambaqui.  But it did.  I use USB from streamer to DAC, and also enjoy the Muon Filter in front of the streamer.  I also upgraded my network cables to Supra shielded Cat 8.

@soix ​​@tk21 Speaking of Darko, on the other end of the spectrum, here he calls the WiiM Mini "Outstanding" "Fantastic" & "Favorite streamer of 2022" all for $79.

@navyachts Just as he did with the Sueezebox, he left out the qualifier “for the money,” but he did say it’s not on the level of better/pricier streamers.  Just highlighting a few words from his review without context is misleading. 

@soix - I was just trying to point out that something outstanding and fantastic could be had for thousands of dollars less than the Innuos Zen Mk3. Didn't say it sounded better.

Funny you should mention these two particular streamers.  I’ve had both, and much preferred the sound of the Cambridge.

If you are going to use usb to a dac (why anybody would is beyond me), then a server will probably make a difference. If you use Ethernet then IME they don’t and you don’t have any issues with jitter or clocking. It’s only with usb that you have to buy all the tweaks/gimmicks to try to get usb to sound good. 
You still have to provide a quality internal network infrastructure with top quality cables to get good quality sound using Ethernet.

For over a decade, the software that is used to read the data has more influence on sq than the hardware. Even when I used an external server years ago, the Auralic Aries, I preferred the sq when I used the Lumin software to access the Aries. Same goes for iTunes, pure music, amarra, audirvana, and Roon. 

Individuals use usb because it has best SQ vs other inputs/outputs available to them. I've observed many trying coax, AES/EBU, I2S inputs on dac, finding them inferior and returning to usb. Theoreticals are one thing, hearing is another. USB continues to be used because both manufacturers and consumers find it preferable to other formats.


As for software vs hardware, I've heard great variability with both.


My take is optimized streaming only achieved when all components, software, software and hardware configurations are optimized. Everything matters. Based on reports of others I observe great correlation between optimized streaming setups and great sound quality. The most experienced streamers report their findings, others follow their recommendations and experience better sound quality in vast majority of cases.

The DAC is much more important. I like to go optical off the streamer to prevent noise from being transmitted from the streamer. 

Individuals use usb because it has best SQ vs other inputs/outputs available to them. I've observed many trying coax, AES/EBU, I2S inputs on dac, finding them inferior and returning to usb

@sns IME no…just, no.  That may be your individual experience and can always be gear dependent, but other than Holo DACs I don’t know of any other DAC manufacturer that recommends USB over i2S or AES/EBU.  For example, I fed my Musician Pegasus DAC via a high-quality USB cable and then bought a Denafrips Iris that let me use the Pegasus’ i2S input and it was a whole new world of performance and I ain’t no way going back to USB.  What USB versus i2S or AES/EBU connections have you tried personally and with what equipment?  You can cite “other people’s” experience all you want, but unless you’ve done it yourself, as I have, you’re just propagating hearsay and nothing more.  Back up your, frankly, controversial contentions with actual experience or this is just audio flimflam based on nothing and counter to what most have experienced here. 

Didn't Alvin Lee state that when using the Node with any of the Denafrips streamers that USB was the preferred connection? I think I read that here on AG, but can't find the specific post or remember the reasoning for his comment .