Point of diminishing returns for a Network Streamers?

You have super cheap Pi streamers (build yourself), $399 IfI Zen, $500 Bluesound Node (no DSD), $700+ Pro-Ject Stream box, then $1k -$2k for Lumins, and others.

I'm running an old iMac as my Roon Core and running a super long, active USB cable to my Dac. I probably do not have to pay much for any improvement since my setup is not ideal. 

I'm really fascinated by the Pro-Ject stream box...however...would it be a major improvement over the IFI Zen? I need DSD so the NODE is out of the question .

I could save and go with the new Lumin U2 mini, however....would it be a huge jump over the Pro-Ject?


I think the iFi Zen Stream offers a lot of performance/$, and it also incorporates iFi’s noise reduction technology that, especially in your case using an old computer as a source, may be particularly beneficial. If you go to Hifi Shark and search for the Zen Stream there was a guy selling new units for $325 — I just bought mine from him and transaction was great (hooking it up today and will follow up with first impressions vs. streaming Qobuz direct from my iPad/iPhone). FWIW and best of luck.

I've built mine out of a Pi / Ubuntu / Roon with a case the size of a deck of cards plus iFi low noise power supplies for the streamer and DAC.  I'd consider upgrading but I have not yet heard a reason to.

First off, a general purpose Mac or laptop is not a ideal source for streaming from Qobuz or Tidal. Couple of things when considering a streaming source,

1) Whole system holistic approach

2) How far you’re willing to go with Ethernet optimization

What DAC you’re currently using?

A good streaming system is not plug n play. There are plenty of threads here that speaks to end users positive experiences with getting the best sound out of streaming by way of employing some sort of noise filtering devices between your router and streaming box.

To answer your question, one glaring difference between Project / iFI Zen and Lumin Mini is with Project / iFI you would need a good outboard Linear Power Supply. I don’t like to clutter my space with multiple boxes (that’s just me). So if you love your current DAC then go with Lumin U1 Mini. If you subscribe to clean and fewer boxes in the signal chain approach then something like Lumin D2 or T2 would be a worthy companion to your Luxman Integrated. Another major consideration is app interface, Lumin app is very good, it certainly not as fancy and complexed as Roon but quite good enough to perform all the basic functions of searching and curating your favorite music with ease thus eliminating your dependency on Roon app and the need for separate server to run Roon Core (more boxes, filters and linear power supplies).

Will you hear a difference in SQ between Project and Lumin, I believe if you set it up correctly, your Luxman Integrated is perfectly capable of conveying the nuances between the two aforementioned streamers.

If streaming is going to be your only source, then don’t monkey around with interm solutions. A properly setup streaming system is capable of transcending both CD and Vinyl playback. I have done it (my system is listed here in virtual systems).

Once you sort out your choice of streamer, give it a go for Network Acoustics passive filters, they come with no questions asked 30 days return policy.

Enjoy the ride!


Having tried every portable device, PC, and Mac I can say with certainty, depending on your other components, the returns are exceptional to at or above your average component cost. [I do not mean blindly using cost as a proxy for sound quality and compatibility at any given cost level… you must due the work to find the very best component]. So, for instance $5K streamer is probably going to be well worth it if your DAC is $5K and you preamp is worth around $5K…etc. This is a generality to point out how very important they are. I could easily see a $12K streamer very appropriate for some systems with an average $5K component level.  Anyway, they are really important.

My most expensive (other than speakers) is my streamer (it does not have a DAC). It cost $22K and I feel was one of the best investments/ value for the money in my system. I have not tried and more expensive streamers, I can confirm no diminishing returns up to here. My streamer produces sound quality at the same level as my analog end and CD player.

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@erik_squires, yea a Pi running Roon + iFi power supply makes for a good sounding streamer for the $ at least.   I have two in the house with SPDIF boards on them.    I did swap out the one in my main system for a more expensive Bricasti M5 and have to admit the difference in sound quality was more than I expected when also using SPDIF.   Relatively speaking I thought it was well worth the difference in cost.    The iFi Zen would be interesting to compare with the Pi.

I just purchased a Meitner MA3 with an integrated Ethernet/Roon streamer and I unfortunately still prefer the M5 running Roon using AES into the DAC.   I was assuming I could sell the M5 when I purchased the MA3, so it screws up my planned net purchase price :(    I really DO wish all the streamers sound the same...

I have a network connection at my system. So the streamer would not be connected to the computer. The mac would, for now, be the Roon Core only and be discoverable on my netwrok. 

If you don't need volume control and you use Roon as your interface the Pi4 running Roopie would be fine. The iFi zen is a good choice if you aren't inclined to put a raspberry pi togethe and load an OS. 

+1 @soix regarding the excellent performance and value of the ifi zen stream... tremendous value, just a terrific sounding product at a very very modest price, does exactly what it is designed to do, no frills but simply superb in its targeted functionality imo

agree also with other comment that a good linear power supply into the zs is essential for best performance

Your Luxman integrated deserves a quality digital front end, if your DAC is on par with the Luxman, purchase as follows:

ADOT MCO1 fiber optic kit

LHY 25A LPS with dual 5v outputs

Uptone Audio EtherREGEN switch

Audioquest Forest ethernet cables

Lumin U2 

The Lumin alone is a significant upgrade over the iFi Zen, but coupled with this chain, the sonic gains can be huge.

How do I know this? Because every single step I mention above I have done in both my home and office systems, with fantastic results.



If you are using usb to any dac, you will have inferior sq.

what is a streamer? A computer running a proprietary OS usually running on hardware with gimmick technology to promote a higher price.

Keep any server out of your audio room and use a better interface to the dac than usb. 
Why would anybody think a pi is a better server than say a Mac mini? You think it’s because of Linux? Think again. Every 3rd party streamer uses some version of linux, some with tainted OS’s because the vendor thinks they have a tweak that performs miracles, I would never run a tainted linux because if anything happens to the streamer or the company goes out of business, who will support this linux version? Good luck

"The Lumin alone is a significant upgrade over the iFi Zen..."

"If you are using usb to any dac, you will have inferior sq...."

ahhhh yes... anonymous keyboard bravado at its finest, gotta love it...

grains of salt, many grains of salt recommended...

I've had good results moving from a Raspberry Pi4 to a Sonore Optical Rendu streamer feeding a Chord Cutest Dac.

I then moved from the Macbook Pro to an Antipodes server as the Roon core, this was a significant improvement as well.

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My thoughts on priority 

1. Noise is the enemy -  do every thing tiy can to prevent it

2.  Are you happy with the software interface?  

3. connectivity to other devices

4. Price

My Choice was to purchase an all in one solution  Auralic Altair G series streamer/DAC. 



Without question ,gojng cheap on usb cables and or Ethernet cables you loose a lot of information , the most importantEthernet cable is it’s end point 

theQuality ofthe Ethernet hub is too important ,for a midfield priced hub

the uptone audio Ether Regen, $640, next one a Huge step up in your streaming quality the New Synergistic research around $2k  it all adds up if you want Audiophile quality  sounding Audio . Iam still building and spent over $4k just in digital  cables and hub , and will get the synergistic at some point .

or maybe fight optic with Sonore ,or 2 ether regen they too allow single mode fiber optic and buy good receivers they are at least $40-100 each x2 . Good audio is not cheap , but essential if streaming , if not buy a very good CD player and feed them 1 at a time like a record, having a good dac is also much better then the vast majority of streamers all in 1 box.

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First off, a general purpose Mac or laptop is not a ideal source for streaming from Qobuz or Tidal. 

Maybe not ... but a general purpose Mac is an ideal source for streaming from Apple Music. For some (not all) listeners, Apple Music may be preferable to Qobuz or Tidal.  Plus, a general purpose computer offers the option to run digital signal processing applications (such as HQ Player or BACCH4Mac.)  DSP is likely to have a much bigger impact on sound quality than your choice of streamers (assuming your streaming device isn't also performing DAC/preamp/other functions).

I usually prefer Qobuz/Tidal over AM, just because Roon does not  support Apple Music.  However, I still have a USB feed from a Mac Mini in order to run DSP (in addition to other music-related functions).  The Mac (or an Apple TV device) also allows you to display album art on a TV screen.

@abreryclark, if you like Roon I would stick with using a computer of some kind as your streamer.

I went from streaming Tidal on an iPad to an Innuos Zen MkIII with Roon.


it was like going from a $100 MM cartridge to a $2000 MC cartridge.

I’ve read to where a nice higher end streamer will even make one’s mid tier Dac sound much more improved. The Lumin may be the way to go


 I’m using a Node N130 and it does everything I want so far, but I am still mostly a physical media type. The Ifi Zen is supposed to sound great when it works. There have been a lot of complaints about it being wonky. If you buy one, buy from somewhere that has a good return policy.

All the best.


My only contribution to this discussion is, if you try to connect android to ifi zen streamer, be ready for a mountain of aggravation. My experiment lasted 3 days. Endless attempts of connectivity and android developper settings resulted in a big fat zero signal passing through the zen to my Gustard x26 pro. Luckily I bought the zen from crutch field and, upon request they immediately issued a return label for full refund. Hats off to them. I understand that connecting the zen to iPhone is a much more pleasurable experience. Bottom line, going to all that trouble to connect android to zen is not worth it to me since android to Gustard through bluetooth is a piece of cake and probably not much worse than through the zen since the signal originates from android. My sanity is slowly returning, what a nightmare that was!

Double plus one (1984 reference) on going from a computer to a streamer or sterner/DAC. Been there, Done that. 

Cleaning up the Ethernet chain w/ EtherREGEN and the works also a wow. 

I wonder why you are using an old computer.  My BlueSound Node 2i streams Tidal without using a computer.  When I purchased the BlueSound Node 2i the retailer convinced me to al purchase a Project DAC.  Adding the Project DAC caused the bass too sound thin, so I sold it on Audiogon.  I have heard some expensive DAC and based on that they do sound better.   

+1 for LUMIN streamers.  I too use a Mac, a 2014 vintage MacMini with a 4-core I-7 processor. A few specifics.

The improvement in clarity and the timbre of instruments was very noticeable. I went from (1) a direct USB connection from the MacMini to my DAC to (2) Ethernet from MacMini to a Linksys Ethernet switch, then Ethernet from the switch to the LUMIN, and USB to my DAC.

A second point is that my DAC, pre-amp and the rest of my system are capable of a high level of clarity and resolution. My DAC is an Ayre Acoustics QB-9 with the Twenty upgrade, and I use an Ayre Acoustics K-5xe pre-amp. Both of those units cost between 50% and 75% more than the LUMIN U1 Mini. My Ethernet cables are by Audioquest, but were not overly expensive (about $150 each at the time) and the USB cable from the LUMIN to the Ayre DAC is a Transparent cable. 

While I believe there can be further improvements to my system by going to a dedicated music server vs. the MacMini, and by upgrading my cables and Ethernet, having tried some such tweaks I found the improvements marginal compared to adding the LUMIN streamer. The LUMIN and the Ayre DAC have excellent USB interfaces compared to many if not most comparable products. I think the upgrade that may make the most sense for me is to go to an optical Ethernet system, which I will consider at some point. Optical is inherently less prone to noise than copper wires.

I can also say that to my ears the LUMIN is noticeably superior to the Node 2i, the version I demo'd. I can't speak to the new iFi or Project streamers. As always one's budget has a bearing on the final decision.

Happy listening. 

All a streamer really needs to do is transmit the bits from local storage or a music service to your DAC intact. It sounds as if your setup already does this. There’s no need to make a change unless you’re detecting noise / pops / ticks / dropouts during playback.


As a reference, have a listen to the ’Bad cable’ sound sample from this link - What does a bad USB (or other digital audio) cable sound like? This is also what you'd hear from a streamer with suboptimal digital interfaces.


If you’re focused on improving / changing the sound of your system, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you look at different speakers or headphones than electronics IMHO.

All a streamer really needs to do is transmit the bits from local storage or a music service to your DAC intact. It sounds as if your setup already does this. There’s no need to make a change unless you’re detecting noise / pops / ticks / dropouts during playback.

 @yage —  Dude, you’re definitely in the wrong neighborhood here.  Maybe try Reddit — your comments may get better traction over there. 


Why? Educated audiophiles can make better choices on what to spend their hard earned money on - whether that information is objective or subjective. I just happen to like to weight my purchasing decisions more towards facts than opinions.


In any case, I really don't care if someone wants to buy or recommend something if it sounds better to them. I'm just trying to point to actual audible phenomena vis-a-vis typical audiophile claims.

I run an Intel NUC as a Roon Core, streaming Qobuz (previously Tidal).  It's Linux based and does one thing with all that power--run the Core.  There's no other software on it.  Linux and Roon. That's it.  

When you use a laptop or personal computer, the unit has many other processes going on given all of the complexity in software these days.  Having a dedicated streamer to feed a DAC that doesn't run other stuff should cut down on noise. 

If I didn't use the NUC I'd use the ifi Zen or Roon Nucleus. 

I suggest and use a Bricasti M5 Network streamer. Really nice product and sound is excellent.  It has high quality build including LPS.  I experienced a significant sound improvement over using my Macbook connected to my DAC.  Since M5 is a NAS you can continue using your MAC as long as it’s connected to the same network by ethernet cable. I switched from my macbook to a PC laptop since PC can connect wirelessly. It works with Roon without issue.  I recently bought mine used $1400 but is easily worth msrp.  

Out with the ifi zen, in with the new bluesound NODE since it is supposedly a shoe-in fit with android. Just ordered it! And the journey goes on.

@larry5729 I had the Node 2 for a year it was great although the internal Dac was fair compared to my Pro-Ject Pre Box s2 digital dac. As a streamer, I would probably still be using it, however, it does not pass thru DSD file without conversion. I have my entire SACD collection ripped to my server. 

@gerrie I too like the Lindemann products. I recently bought a Limetree Bridge 2, and it has worked flawlessly since day one, and sounds very good running into my LinnenberG Telemann DAC-Pre. 

The nice thing too, looking ahead at where my system may be located, using wireless, the Limetree in my testing has worked better and more stable than my three times more expensive Naim ND5XS2. As far as sound, well, it is a lot closer to my ears than one might think, and I do really love the Naim streamer. 

+1 for the Bricasti M5. Picked up one 3 months ago to use as Roon endpoint in my main rig.  Big jump in SQ over using my Roon Nucleus as a Server/Streamer.

I finally swapped my Macbook Pro for a Project Stream Box S2 Ultra. It's been noted that by design (John Westlake), an LPS is not necessary.

If your Mac is old enough, it will have an ethernet port.

i am using a Bluesound Node 21i,  the IFI streamer was great, however it kept disconnecting.  sent 3 back.  this was a year ago.  wonder if they ever got the bugs out?  but in some systems it appears to be working out.  i am using a Ares2 DAC with the Node.  very nice combo 

I'd agree with other posters, point of diminishing returns with streaming setups in general is pretty high dollar. The potential is likely higher than most assume.

I can't understand why you are using a computer.  I stream by using a BlueSound Node 2i and stream Tidal.  I just sit on my sofa using my iPhone and select music to listen to.  I do want to hear the more expensive streamers to find out if they really sound better,

@larry5729 Larry........did you read my response to your earlier "I can't understand" comment? Just look above please and you will find it

I don't care what audiophile reviewers say or what ASR type of fanatic websites "measure". I trust my years, so this is my personal take, based on my gear. 

I heard a very clear upgrade in sound going from Bluesound Node (2021... which I think was Bluesound Node 3.. they dropped the "2i" etc) to Limetree Bridge II. Smaller device, no nonsense, and in over-sampling mode it's super sharp. 

Didn't take too long for me to become curious about the upgrade I'd get from moving to Lumin UI Mini, which gets raves here and on every website I've seen. So I spent 2.5 times the money I'd spent on Bridge II. Realized it only works with a LAN cable... so moved all my stuff around to do that. I heard very little upgrade from Bridge II to UI Mini. 

YMMV. For me, Bridge II is  a sweet spot. I use Tidal, and from streamer it goes into my RME ADEII DAC, then into my Dynaudio powered speakers. I'd hear more of a sound difference upgrading the DAC or even the speakers than from upgrading the streamer. Schitt Modius to RME was a whole different world. 


“I’d hear more of a sound difference upgrading the DAC or even the speakers than from upgrading the streamer”


Exactly! Given your rest of your system, I am not at all surprised by the very small improvement from U1 Mini. You may find the preamp in your DAC good enough but I bet adding a good preamp between your existing DAC and powered speakers should yield a better sound experience than the U1 Mini upgrade. If its me, that’s where I focus on before attempting to change out DAC or Speakers.

Interesting topic.

However, IMHO, the discussion is quite haphazard as, perhaps, our forum knows a lot more about amps, preamps, analog sources, than perhaps the new digital stuff.

I’d suggest we first zone in on what qualities are important in a streamer. Decide on what attributes are really important rather than just naming the names of the 5000 or so streamers available. Then, name the streamers with the attributes that we feel are important towards improving SQ.


Does using a good linear power supply generally help? Is one better off with some PC / Mac running Windows / MacOS or should one use a barebones computer (like a NUC running Roon Rock)? Is galvanic isolation important? Should the streamer be connected to the DAC directly via a cable? If so, which kind of cable (this might be DAC-dependent)? Or should it go through via a network bridge (as Roon calls it) or a Network Audio Adapter (as HQPlayer calls it)? If so, then should the bridge be connected to the streamer via ethernet? Is there a benefit to using fiber optic cables instead (perhaps, using a device such as an opticalRendu)? If so, do ’audiophile grade switches’ make a difference? Should one use a reclocking device to improve jitter performance? Does using a good power cord into a source component (like a streamer and a DAC) make a bigger difference than using a good power cord into a downstream component (like a power amplifier)? Would my streamer need a good power cord? Does the quality of cable connection between the streamer --> network bridge / NAA or streamer --> DAC matter? Does the length of the cable & / or impedance matter?

Yes a linear power supply is a definite plus.  I have a Lumiin U1 Mini and with the external power supply, it is a great product for streaming.  May upgrade at some point later but for now but very happy with the Lumin.  Nice sound stage, good depth and width.  Good micro detail especially on the hi res stuff.  Using Qobuz as the source.  

You may want to also check out the Primare Prisma NP5 MKII music streamer.  Relatively low cost at $750 and easy set up using ethernet or wifi.  I found it a big improvement over my MacBook Pro using USB into my Esoteric DAC.  More detail, depth and bass.  It does not have USB connection but I found the coaxial connection just as good.  Can easily stream Tidal using MacBook or IPad as the controller.

The quality of your DAC's USB is critical here! My DAC has Galvanic Isolation, and this makes a big difference.