streaming and audiophile stereo

I have heard it said that an audio system is only as good as its weakest link. I want to complete a system that will give me access to lots of music by Tidal and Roon, and I want the music played through some true audiophile components.  I am used to tube preamps, and will probably go that way again, though ss remains a possibility.  The speakers I intend to use are very efficient - 20 watts of amplification would be ample.  Here's my question:  in such a system, how important, and how variable, are the audio qualities of the digital source component - the streamer - at the front end?  If it does MQA does that alone mean it is the highest quality audio possible at this end of the system?  Or do some that accommodate MQA provide better sound than others that also accommodate MQA?  I see lots of reviews of features of these components, but not much about their individual sonic qualities.  Leaving aside features and convenience, are some better sounding than others and would this depend entirely on the DAC used?

128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xtwilightround

I'd say mm1tt7 summed it up pretty good. i have a few hopefully useful comments to add. There are a lot of new words and terminology with streaming. Hopefully I can explain some of this in simple terms

Your streamer and DAC are your source, just like a phono front end of table, arm, cartridge. phono preamp.

The expression " garbage in = garbage out" still applies. Many audiophiles start with a Bluesound node 2 streamer/DAC combo, but if you have a good quality tube based system, you will find you will likely want to upgrade it. It's the good value gateway drug to streaming music but if you have the funds, go to a better product.

In my experience  both streamer and DAC are important but perhaps the DAC will have more influence on the sound than the streamer. All DACs do the same thing, convert a digital signal to an analog signal and the better DAc you get, the better the result.

Streamers vary in their abilities when you consider how they integrate to your music files you have bought or created form your cds and the online services like Tidal and Qubuz. You become married to the software of the streamer, as the software is what navigates you through your music choices. Also better streamers clearly do sound better, don't buy into the "bits is bits" argument. 

Roon is simply another music management software that you use instead of the one the comes with your streamer. It is very good, but I found it did not sound quite as good as using the Lumin native app, when I was using a Lumin streamer, but I suggest you do get a streamer that will give you the option to use Roon. Then you can decide for yourself. To do so it has to be what is called a Roon Endpoint. Then you have the option to try it and see if you like it.

Finally MQA. People are so divided these days and there are people who think it's fine and other that seem to want to go out of their way to denigrate it. 

I live in Canada and we don't have the option of Qobuz here. I use Tidal and it sounds pretty darn good. Some MQA tracks sound better than the non MQA tracks, and some don't . The inherent recording/mastering of a track has way more influence on how good it sounds than if it's in MQA or not. Through an out of Canada friend I was able to access Qobuz and didn't find it significantly better in any consistent way than Tidal. My current DAC does not do MQA but I don't care, it sounds better than the DAC in the Bluesound that does do MQA.

Hope this helps you on your journey. As was mentioned before, you can try and navigate all the bits and pieces of this or simply one of the better integrated streamer/DACs from Lumin, Auralic. Both have mature, responsive software, sound great, and can act as Roon endpoints.

You probably have a laptop PC laying around and I assume that you have a CD player with a decent DAC or a separate DAC. I would suggest that the first thing you try is to get a trial Qobuz account and use your PC as the streamer. Hook the PC up to your DAC with a USB cable and get a sense of the sound quality. Pick a few tracks that you have on CD and compare them to the streamed version - making sure that the versions are the same (not remastered). An original unremastered version on the streaming service will always be 44.1/16.

You may find, as I did, that the sound quality using a PC as your streamer is about as good as playing a CD. I don't expect a streamed file to sound better than a CD played through the same DAC so if they are equal then the streamer must be doing its job reasonably well without harming the digital file. If the streamed file sounds a lot worse than the CD then it's a good indication that you will gain sound quality with a better streamer.

This is a good exercise to set your expectations. If you go ahead and spend a lot of money on a streamer it will be a good idea to compare it to a few CDs to see if the money spent bought you additional sound quality. I do the best I can to suppress expectation and confirmation bias by comparing components against a control. Using your CD rig as a control to compare streamed file performance will help keep you grounded.

BTW, I mentioned Qobuz instead of Tidal because you don't have to worry about MQA with Qobuz. Some people buy into the MQA story and some don't (I'm in the latter category) but if you decide to go with MQA you will need to understand the unfolding process and how it relates to different components in the stream, particularly the streamer and the DAC.

Lastly, if you try streaming and you really like it you may decide to venture into Roon. Before you spend significant bucks on a streamer I suggest that you research Roon and get a sense of whether or not you might use it in the future. Roon has it's own ecosystem and how it operates will affect the streaming and file management system you put together. 

Although it took me a while to figure it out, I’m kind of slow with newer technology, I can heartily recommend the Rose Hifi 150 b streamer dac. It’s feature laden and sounds as good if not better than my turntable which is a Rega P8 with an Alpheta 3 cart. It has both xlr and rca inputs and outputs.

I stream both Tidal and Qobuz and both can sound really good depending on the recording. There are several online dealers that carry the Rose who have 30-60 day return policies so you can audition it. The reviews are stellar and many.

@twilightround from what I’m reading you are mentioning Roon, Tidal and Qobuz in the same context. Just to be clear….Roon is a music database management and player software/tool that requires streaming services or a drive/storage with your music on it. 
You do not necessarily need Roon. You can stream and play music from Tidal and Qobuz using your streamer’s native app/UI. 


Roon adds a layer of complexity that you may not want. Qobuz will give your access to tens of millions of tunes. They have over half a million high resolution albums, for around $12 / month. I don’t buy CDs any more, and have been giving mine away… my streamer usually sounds better, or at least as good. Physical media is becoming a thing of the past.


I recommend a single box streamer… BlueSound on the budget (~$1K) end to a much better unit the Aurender N200 (I own the previous iteration ~$3.5K) to the Aurender W20SE (which I own $22K). None of this is about status… only sound quality. It improves dramatically with price. You plunk the box down, connect to network (I use a wall wart wifi extender next to my audio system ((~$59)) ). You log on to the box with your iPhone or iPad… and connect directly to Qobuz or Tidal. You get high end audio output to sent to your DAC / preamp / amp / speakers.


This is this simplist and best (my streamer sounds as good as my high end vinyl leg) solution for high quality sound and simplicity. The streamer app… allows search, creation of libraries and play lists… etc. Roon adds a layer of complexity and greater search function and cost. If you want high sound quality then you want a dedicated streamer and not a PC with some software to make it stream… this is a long and endless discussion among luddites and those living in the present. I spent 40 years in IT, I am happy to leave this stuff behind.