Help settle a streaming argument!

This is a SQ argument and is as follows-  I argue if you connect your streamer to an outboard DAC the streamer does not matter it’s just serving the music to the outboard DAC to do the work.  Therefore, buy a basic streamer.  The other is that you need to buy a top quality streamer and DAC to get great SQ. 

I liken it to cd players or the more pretentious cd transport argument- if the intent is to connect to outboard DAC the cd player doesn’t matter the outboard DAC DOES!

features and functionality aside!  Thoughts…..


Well...  engineers: they certainly put the 'fun' in function, and now the 'color' in coloration. Wizards they are. It was a magic carpet ride watching a rainbow attached to a digital file.

I have heard about jitter for years.  I’ve spun thousands of CD’s and finally ripped all of my music years ago.

I’m 60 and have been into “higher end” audio since the 70’s.  Although, I’m still a bit on a beer budget.

I’m on the “low end”; I stream from an iPad, which goes into an Audiobyte Black Drragon DAC.

So, what does “jitter” sound like, if I may ask.


@david_ten +1

@mteetank - not at all. Engineers are not designing the streamer to provide a certain coloration, but are trying to design the colorations out.

Digital data is read as a 1 or a 0. But how is a DAC to understand a 1 or a 0 when the actual signal is a voltage variation? Described simply, the signal can be represented as a sign wave and when the voltage hits a certain level, it is interpreted as a flipping to the other value. The sign wave has a positive and negative slope as the voltage varies. The steepness of that slope are influenced by a number of factors, and even minor differences here can cause timing variations in the signal (jitter or word clock error) even though the data is bit perfect in every way.

It turns out our ears are highly attuned to the distortions caused by jitter - even femto seconds of such are discernible. Lots of jitter hurts my ears - it’s sounds “glassy” or “steely” in the treble region.

Further, noise (not hiss, but typically EMF induced) is transmitted along the digital cable to the DAC. This too may cause distortions.

A better streamer will typically have the proverbial “blacker” background and will offer more spatial cues/information. Poor streamers may introduce enough jitter (even to DACs supposedly immune to jitter) that the sound becomes thinner or “steely” sounding. 

Others will greater technical knowledge can correct any deficiencies or inaccuracies in what I’ve stated above, but this does speak to the gist of the problem attempting to be solved by high performing streamers.

As others have noted, a good streamer will elevate and allow the full performance of an otherwise high performance system. A bad streamer will cripple the same to some extent.

Many times I see people post here and conclude their comments with “and it sounds great!”. I’m sure that’s true. But, if they’re using a mediocre streamer in their digital system, I can only say it doesn’t sound as great as it might as it’s only in direct comparison that the differences are readily revealed. 

I’m on the “low end”; I stream from an iPad, which goes into an Audiobyte Black Drragon DAC.  So, what does “jitter” sound like, if I may ask.

@boltapuresource I started streaming from my iPad and thought it was fine, but adding even a budget iFi Zen Stream streamer ($399) provided a huge performance boost so I’d highly recommend trying a streamer in your system.  Jitter has been described as hard, etched, glare, etc. and is a big factor in why saying something sounds “digital” has negative connotations.  Hope that makes sense. 

I use Roon.  Roon bridge is a raspberry pi, Intel nuc is roon core in another room. DAC is a chord qutest. Been setup this way for sometime.  I pickuped an Innuous Zen mini with separate PSU for a trial.  Returned it after a weekend and told them no noticed difference in my setup.  I'm told I am the first person not 'blown away' by the streamer 


is it my audioquest USB cable, my Cisco switch, my cat 6 cable or my lack of golden ear is the culprit?  I've switched Dacs and noticed differences in the past...