How much difference in Sound quality can be expected from different streamers?


I would appreciate very much in obtaining advice on the SQ from different Streamers. I am currently using a good quality vintage DAC (Altis Reference) connecting to Roku 4 (using its Tosslink out to a simple coaxial converter which connects to the coaxial “in” of the DAC). When comparing the SQ of the exact same artist/music through first  CD setup( CECTL0 connecting to the DAC) or second setup (Oppo 105 to DAC) vs ROKU 4 accessing Tidal Master level  at 48KHz, both CD systems provided better SQ with CECTLO the best. I was reading with interest on the forum (4/2/2021)  on DAC and found out that the SQ from different decent DAC does not appear to vary too much; the new DAC may offer connection convenience, but not necessarily SQ. More likely, different CD player or Transport can provide a more obvious difference in SQ than different DAC, like what I had experienced.  Thus I am very interested to seek advice from those who had experience in comparing different streamers. Can high end streamers when accessing Tidal Master level produce much better SQ than Roku 4 if connected to my DAC(at sampling rate of 48KHz)? If so, which ones would you recommend?

Both CD systems provided better SQ
I and many others have found with Redbook PCM a CD transport cannot be bettered or even equaled by a streamer.
We even did direct A/B’s using an R2R dac at audio meetings and got the same results.
Cheers George
Lots of threads on this already.

just like with CDTs, you will see the same variances with streamers - the new transport.  Same say yes, some say no, some say YMMV, etc.

i think streaming with Tidal works and produces very fine SQ. Plus, the access to millions of songs has provided hours upon hours of joy and exposure to countless artists I may never have heard.

start with a Bluesound node 2i and a good external DAC. You’ll be fine. Lots of people have co,pared to Lumin and others. 
In my rig with a Node 2i, chord qutest, belles Aria SIG amp and Dyn S40s, I just LOVE the sound so it works for me.
“Can high end streamers when accessing Tidal Master level produce much better SQ than Roku 4 if connected to my DAC(at sampling rate of 48KHz)”

As ianrmack pointed out, you should hear an improvement even with entry level Node 2i. There are several online retailers offering 30 days returns on Node 2i, try it before you spend more money on another streamer. I think your bottleneck is Roku 4 and Toslink/SPDIF converter.

If you hear improvements with Node 2i, then pursue a better DAC that allows you take advantage of high quality streaming from Qobuz (dump Tidal).
My USBridge Signature sounds better than my BluNode both into the same DAC.  
Definetly NOT high end.

As far as your query, my Tidal trial is over. Never bothered to try it on the Roku.
I like Qobuz better.

search is your friend - the search bar is above

this topic has been covered ad nauseam already in the digital section
I’m using a Node2i with a ARC Dac7 and I had a friend bring over his Lumin U1 mini. Nice looking piece of gear but I really couldn’t detect a significant difference in sound quality to justify the difference in price...then again I only spent a few hours with it so take it for what it’s worth. 
Way out of my price point but I’d really love to test drive an Aurender or Auralic just to see what they can do to my rig.
None, zero, nada!! There is no difference. A streamer does one thing, it "streams" a signal from ethernet or wifi....that is it. The dac is what takes that signal, turning digital to analog "digital-to-analog-converter". A freakin’ $159 Grace digital streaming radio with digital out connected to a decent dac sounds no different than a "mega buck" streamer. Don’t throw your money away....get a Grace, oh wait they are all sold out....
I have used a Bluesound Node 2i and the streamers in a NAD M10 and a NAD M33.  I don't hear a difference.  Connecting via Cat8 cable rather than WiFi didn't seem to make an audible difference either (but the cable connection solved the problem of not finding the streamer).  The DACs did make an audible difference: the DACs in the M10 and the M33 and the Topping E30 all sounded better than the Bluesound's internal DAC.  
I’ve had an Auralic Aries Mini, a Squeezebox, Allo USBridge, Allo Usbridge Signature, Lyngdorf TDAI 1120 and 3400 streaming amps and now use a Bricasti M5. They all sound different. I have no idea why Audioguy85 can’t hear any differences with different streamers.
The thing that has lifted streaming into a new level of performance for me, better than CD, is getting the Ethernet delivery stream sorted out right.
 Industry disclaimer: I make products that do this.
Hook a Node 2i up to an ethernet cable directly from your router.  Use an external DAC of your choice.  I did not want to spend the extra money on a CD player, let alone CDs that are hard to find.  Same goes with turntable.  I would like to try an ENO in my system.  It plugs in to the ethernet cable before the streamer.  I hear lots of good results from this.  Otherwise, I hear great detail, 3D sound state and a very pleasing sound.  I am not going to dream about the CD or LP sound being better.  If you choose to buy a nicer streamer, the price goes up in a hurry.
Roku is not for audio, or good audio, anyway.

Big difference in the way streamers sound. Maybe not all, but many.
I appreciate the 11 responses from fellow Goners in sharing you experience/opinions. Thanks for jjss49 for referring to your former posts that already touch upon similar discussion point although from a slight different emphasis.  Being new to streaming, I am trying to understand whether different streamers indeed can produce sufficient different SQ when connected  to the same quality DAC, if so what is the technical reason (not necessarily relating to the price/cost of streamer). .(In analogous to CD system,  I do know that different transport can made a substantial difference when connected to the same DAC).  I am not a physicist or acoustic/electronic engineer.  However, from reading Goner Discussion Forum, I discovered that there are lot of technical talents/experts out there whom may be able to offer a rationale(technologic reason)  why different streamers can provide different SQ.  Based on response/opinion of  audioguy85, my Roku should provide similar SQ as node 2i or other streaming devices since streaming is dependent on wifi,  if I use Tidal as the source. However, yyzsantabarbara who commented in jjss49's previous post identified one specific technological point, " My understanding is better streamers have lower analog noise transferred on the wire to the DAC", and suggested SystemOptique system  as Fiber optical input would produce a cleaner SQ. I wonder if other Goners who have good understanding of streaming device can provide further technological understanding on what different streaming devices can offer to improve SQ. When I select a new streamer, I hope I can understand the reason behind it (not just based on price) and I am able to hear it when comparing.


First I would like to start by saying that I have A/B tested 93 different digital devices over many years.


In my opinion when you're setting up a digital front end, it is a lot like setting up an analogue front end, there are lots of little details needed to accomplish a spectacular digital front end. I believe that everything starts at your receptacle. Replacing the original receptacle with an upgraded receptacle and then adding an upgraded power cord from that receptacle to a quality conditioner is the foundation to every system. Once this foundation is set up properly then changes to your digital front end should be easy to detect. If you cannot hear any differences when you are swapping out digital devices, streamers/server or DACs then something is wrong with your system.  


Back to the original question, absolutely you should be able to hear differences between one streamer and another streamer. I have tested many different streamers/servers at many different price points and the top streamers/servers in the world definitely create a more holographic image when they are properly set up. The problem is that to get to this level every single small detail in your set up makes a huge difference. The digital cable from the DAC to the streamer can make a huge difference. The Ethernet cable or the quality of the Ethernet cable from the streamer to the router can make a huge difference. The quality of the router also makes a huge difference and as I said originally having a great foundation, upgraded receptacle, upgraded power cord and spectacular conditioner adds up to a true reference system. The closer you get to having the system set up proper, the more you will hear the differences from one server to another server.



I have not tested 93, but probably 15+, and on some of the DACs I own, I would call the more technical ones, there is no difference, unless intentional. On some of the DACs I own, enjoyable, designed for a certain presentation, but not "technical", they are more impacted by the streamer. This all makes sense once you understand what is happening.
First thing I noticed when going from laptop to streamer to different streamers was significant drop in noise floor. After that each has a different sonic character. I don't understand how some can't hear a difference.
Hi @ssmaudio,
Since you have both "enjoyable" and "technical" DACs at your disposal which is your go to choice on a day to day basis for serious, istening sessions ? Do you find it advantageous to keep both types?
It is subtle, but I would not want to misinterpret my wording. I would not call the DACs "technical" and "enjoyable". For me, normally I enjoy the "technical" DACs, but there are some recordings where I find other DACs more enjoyable. Is it advantageous to keep both?  It is a press on the remote and a volume change. It is not a burden.
I have the same question as my streaming is a weak point in my system. I have used a Sonos Connect with an external DAC (Gumby) for years, probably considered an average streamer. As a cheap means to explore how a streamer might affect the sound I put together a Pi 4 with the Allo DigiOne (not Signature) running Moode. I noticed an immediate difference and prefer the Pi. Knowing the Pi is not the ultimate streaming solution I feel there are better choices out there and will be exploring them while I digest the cost of the new amp I just purchased.

the sonos connect units used as streamer are known to be jittery and add a hash to the sound

that is why the wyred4sound mods to the sonos streamer has been so successful over the years, and led to the mod becoming 'productized' in the form of the w4s reclocker...

transformative of sound coming out of the sonos unit feeding downstream dacs...

The sonos connect units used as streamer are known to be jittery and add a hash to the sound

that is why the wyred4sound mods to the sonos streamer has been so successful over the years, and led to the mod becoming 'productized' in the form of the w4s reclocker

Thanks. I did have the W4S Reclocker in my system for awhile and could never quite get used to it. I don't recall what I did not like, but eventually I pulled it out.
+1 to what @worldwidewholesales said. I have only started to scratch the surface with streamers and have found that various forms of electromagnetic noise affect sound quality of digital. Benefits that I heard from a cleaner sound are:

- More presence to voices and instruments which sound more forward and distinct in presentation
- Richer tonality
- Less grain to the sound
- Better resolution due to a lower noise floor (This is audible when comparing a cleaner signal to one that is less clean)
- Easier to follow bass lines
- Pace seems faster due to more clarity and better definition to the leading edge of notes.

When experimenting with my Pro-ject Stream Box streamer, these changes made a clearly noticeable difference to my ears at least. (NOTE: Your perceptions may likely vary as with anything audio):

  1. Turning off the WiFi and HDMI outputs and using an Ethernet cable connected to a WiFi access point created with a TP-Link RE230 WiFi extender - This cheap fix made the biggest improvement of everything I tried.
  2. Going from an AmazonBasics Cat 6 cable to a Supra Cat 8 cable - This provided about 50% of the improvement as #1
  3. Adding a Audioquest Jitterbug on the output of the Pro-ject Streamer - Makes the sound more transparent. Adds more air and presence to music
So based on these experiences, I’m sure that there are ways that a more expensive streamer CAN sound better. But, as with anything in audio, I would focus on listening and seeing what differences you hear IF there is a difference. I will suggest that listening in the context of your system can be an important factor. Some of these sonic differences might not be as evident in systems with lower resolution of sound and details.
FWIW...I A/B'd a Sonos Connect and a Wyred4Sound modified Sonos Connect and couldn't tell the difference.  Oh well.....
FWIW...I A/B'd a Sonos Connect and a Wyred4Sound modified Sonos Connect and could tell the difference. Oh well.....

Speaking of shoboat90, he couldn’t discern any difference between the stock Sonos Connect and Node2i either....Oh well. 
@lalitk yes, you're correct...when using the digital out through the same DAC, couldn't hear a discernible difference that would warrant spending the extra dough on the Node 2i.  That said, when comparing the analog outs of both contest, Node2i all the way.
I really wanted to be blown away by the Wyred4Sound modified Sonos because  I love the Sonos platform.  Next up is the Orchard Audio Pecan Pi...if the sound quality is as good as the reviews say, i may need to suck it up and deal with Volumio.
Here’s my pecking order among the different streamers I own: sonos zp90, auralic Aries, lumin M1, Roon Nucleus, Soundware 300ref (more of a reclocker with roon capabilities), lumin S1, Grim MU-1. The arrival of the Grim has led me to say goodbye to Vinyl.  It is that good! 

Here’s my pecking order among the different streamers I own: sonos zp90, auralic Aries, lumin M1, Roon Nucleus, Soundware 300ref (more of a reclocker with roon capabilities), lumin S1, Grim MU-1. The arrival of the Grim has led me to say goodbye to Vinyl.  It is that good!

That's interesting. Isn't the M1 a digital input integrated amplifier with Class-D amplification (even though they say all digital which Class-D is not). It streams, but is not a streamer. How can you compare those to the others? ....

on a decent system, the sound quality improvement using a w4s modded unit (or a reclocker with decent cables) is immediately noticeable over a stock sonos connect

akin to using a noisy/jittery computer streamed usb input into a good dac versus a properly designed streamer like a bs node 2i, elac discovery etc etc
My Node 2i runs into a Schiit Bifrost 2 which sounds much better than the Node's DAC. Much better. I also use an older Dacmagic with a bespoke Pangea power supply/filter device for my CD player and a Squeezebox Touch (background music...still sounds fine). All using balanced cables into my preamp, and all working amazingly well. 
Yea, there are big differences between streamers.  Quality of components, EMI/RFI shielding, linear power supplies, etc...all contribute to the sound of the streamer.  That being said I heard an improvement when I switched from my Node 2i to an Aurender server/streamer.  Is it a night and day difference ? No.  But there is a difference that can be heard.  
+2 to what @worldwidewholesales said. To put things in context the listenable FM station in Miami have dwindled to useless so I began to investigate streamers in the late part of 2019. I think it’s fair to say I have a high resolution system in which many of my components have been with me for decades and survived many shoot outs. Being new to streaming it came down to a Node 2i with 30 day satisfaction at Brands Mart or a Cambridge CXN v2 with 60 days satisfaction guarantee at Music Direct. I went with the Cambridge and it needed a long burn in. With it’s RCA outputs and very high grade RCA cable (and power cord) it sounded quite good. .It has an excellent internet radio search with 20 presets you can tag and change as desired. Broken in it’s sound was quite good, not quite Sony XA 5400 ES good (3 years running a Stereophile A+ player) but still very satisfying. Last December I decided to upgrade the system with a Benchmark DAC 3b, also a Stereophile A+ rated component. I also upgraded power conditioning to Audioquest Niagara and all other power cords to noise drain in the system. I spent much of the last 6 or so weeks auditioning digital 75 ohm cables. Pay attention to Cory Greenburg on this.To the people who say you can’t hear differences in SQ between streamers, cables, interconnects, tubes, power cords and the like I say, respectfully, the resolution of your system is insufficient to judge components let alone cables.

For those that say the Node and a DAC I say get the Cambridge and work on your system. The Cambridge is plenty good out it’s RCAs after burn in. If you haven’t auditioned speaker cables, interconnects, power cords and so forth you are not ready to think about an external DAC. When you are it's coaxial 75 ohm not Toslink. Build you system from the wall out, step by step.
I sold my Cary SACD once I started streaming. I started with a Bluesound Node 2i, then a Lindemann Bridge, then a Lindemann Musicbook25. Fortunately, my current streamer also plays discs when needed but to my experience streaming mostly Quobuz continues to be a clearly superior form of music.