Using streaming as a main source ---DSD, FLAC, MQA Streamers and DACS

As I read these forums, and watch copious amounts of Youtube, I'm struck by what a bad idea some of the streaming / digital formats are doing. I'm trying to build a system where I have a streamer, dad, and amplifier (with pre-amp) as separate components but what I keep finding is that the streaming/digital world is totally confused.


MQA seems to be both advancing with new MQair support and dying (few audiophiles seem to like it).

-- DSD -- 

Seems to be favored by High-end audiophiles but not streaming services. 

-- FLAC --

FLAC seems to be pushed by Qobuz which seems to be the preferred service for high quality audio (but not for music recommendations). 


Choosing a Streamer / DAC is a nightmare -- given the industry going back and forth on quality, formats, special licensing. Does one choose the formats they want to use and then find appropriate DAC etc or does one choose a DAC that sounds great and then accept its limitations.

I don't understand why streamers don't commit to upscaling to 24/192 or DSD256 for any format so the DAC peeps can focus on a single format. 

So how does one decide where to start? 







... Choosing a Streamer / DAC is a nightmare -- given the industry going back and forth on quality, formats, special licensing ...

A nightmare? Really?

If you are truly that confused, I suggest a visit to a good dealer or two for guidance.

MQA is a fraud. Try listening to it on competent equipment. Or finding it at audio shows.

DSD files are too large to stream in 2023. The biggest difference for DSD is using it for the original recording.

I find music that I like every day on Qobuz. Then I seek out hard copies.

I rarely like ANY recommendations from ANYWHERE. If you do I probably would not like yours.

I’m glad that you enjoy music, most all of us humans do. Now you have to just find an acceptable way to reproduce it. That task is as easy or hard as you make it. Confused is a poor starting point. "The world" is NOT confused, you are by definition.

I sometimes watch music videos on YouTube with one of my systems using headphones. One truly enjoyable pastime is watching the music video; while the same track (be it a recording or live performance) is playing on another system.

I’m not a fan of streaming devices or streaming in general.


Regarding the following:


--> I think CD quality .wav files ripped with bit-perfect software and played on jriver or any decent music playback software is better than MQA. There are plenty of other settings on software that can greatly influence playback quality.

-- DSD --

--> In theory, what DSD does is similar to some vintage audio components like 1 bit DLCs, which can be very resolving because they still resolve 16 bits with the faultless compromise of introducing noise in to inaudible frequency bands, while using noise shaping to achieve PCM that is satisfatory or even very good.

-- FLAC --

--> Like .mp3s .flacs are compressed files that need to be "unpacked" before being played. But unlike .mp3s, they are lossless rather than lossy. .wav files on the other hand are truly lossless and native to the Microsoft operating system. Therefore on the lowest level, (kernel) which is equal to the datalink layer on the OSI model (computer networking) the slightly longer signal path and small amounts of mainboard noise from computers are effectively eliminated. This is why sometimes .flac files can sound a bit warmer - it's the CPU/mainboard doing a bit more work.

Streaming need be no more difficult than the rest of your system. You simply need the highest quality streamer and DAC you can afford. Do your research about the quality and sound characteristics of each. The value of each should be about the same as your preamp, or amp.


First on format. The most important thing about the sound quality from your system is your equipment. Period. 99+% of the sound quality is determined by your equipment not the format. once you get really high quality sound you can join in the fray about how x sounds like Sh!t and Y sounds fantastic… which probably is going to be splitting hairs if you have good equipment.

Most high quality streamers will support them all or all minus one. Your source will determine what formats are available. Qobuz is most widely regarded as the highest sound quality. They have high a million high resolution albums and a couple million more at red book CD resolution. Forget ripping, file storage unles you like fiddling around. That is so ten years ago. I have a bunch of stored files only because I have stayed on the leading edge of digital since it’s inception.


MQA is not trash, on a good system it sounds great… I used to listen to Tidal (they have MQA)… but Qobuz is better (by a small but noticeable margin) and they have lots of higher resolution albums.


Get a dedicated streamer… not a PC. Typically even a budget Bluesound streamer sounds much much better. The PC route is all sorts of work and hassle and unless you want to make playing around with PCs and routers your hobby… don’t do it.


If you don’t have a Ethernet connection near you, don’t worry. Get a cheap wifi extender for $59, plug it in next to your system and an Ethernet cable into that, and done. I have and know of many $150K systems running this way.


For a streamer, unless your budget will not permit it, look at Aurender… this is all they do and produce some of the best on the market… I have two. My systems are shown under my ID.

If you need a budget DAC… look at Schiit Yggdrasil… outstanding performance for a low cost.

read what @ghdprentice wrote above. All true, IMO. +1

To what he wrote I would add:

Tidal, has a wider music selection than Quboz. MQA is a bit of marketeering nonsense (it IS lossy, and MQA is a solution to a problem better solved by bandwidth), but it’s not trash.

Aurender makes great gear, but it doesn’t support Roon (if you care, some day); you’re locked into their software. I’d suggest Lumin as a possible alternative.

Is MQA important to you? Myself and many others have rejected this Lossy format for many reasons but I prefer lossless playback because I can hear the difference on my system. Is ROON important to you? Many of us use that for varying reasons. I am a big fan. The purchase process should not be a nightmare for you and the best advice I read in this thread is find a dealer who communicates with you satisfactorily and that’s the way to go through a dealer purchase.

When I had hardware capable of MQA decoding (hardware which went belly up a mere couple days after the warranty expired🤣), I had already decided that I enjoyed the fidelity I got from non-MQA capable Qobuz more than I got from the MQA capable Tidal. In other words, sure MQA was okay, but it didn't make enough of a difference to keep me wedded to the format.

Streaming need be no more difficult than the rest of your system. You simply need the highest quality streamer and DAC you can afford. 

It's not a matter of cost. It's just I like to use streaming. The recommendation system on Tidal is great -- Qobuz not so much. My budget would be around 6,000-7,000k USD so Aurender / Innous are my likely choices for a streamer. I can use ethernet but for starters I'm been using a WiiM-Mini over wifi (I'm testing out options).  Right now I have a basic set up - Rega amp with a built in 24/192 DAC that I'll use. My next updates will be a: 

- Streamer. I'm looking at Innous / Aurender / Auralic. Ideally there would be a high end blue sound streamer or a high end Sonos streamer but neither of those seem likely in the short term. (The play everywhere feature of those platforms is great). Those platforms seem to have the best apps out there - and best integrations. 

- DAC. Sort of unknown at the moment. I like the reviews of the Denafrips DACs and PS Audio do a nice DAC but I'd need to demo them. Sadly more and more brands are becoming online distribution only so trial equipment is getting harder and harder to find - especially at my budget.

I have a good local dealer but like all dealers their range is limited to the brands they work with.

What I'm really wondering is -- should I spend my 7k on a set up which would set me up for the next 10 years or do I wait, spending perhaps half that now, and wait to see where the market goes.

I'm not going to buy anything for 3-6 months -- I want to upgrade my speakers first (again a lot of brands with great reviews are moving to an online direct model).    


After being out of two channel for a while and just HT I got back into it. I started with Chinese dac that was all in one streamer and tried roon for 30 days.  Wow I was hooked.  I ripped everything I owned including SACDs (DSD).  I upgraded Dac and streamer and whole 2 ch system. Discovering new music with roon is a wonderful experience.  If you like what unlike and just want to listen to it maybe a DAC that can read from usb is all you need.  But for me streaming is great and yes it’s a rabbit hole of expenses.  No budget restrictions go big and get an all in for 20k and keep it simple.  

Sounds like you want to weigh  options and take it slow. Best efficient option is go with the Wiim Pro streamer and Cambridge 200M dac which does MQA. I agree the DAC buying options are very confusing right now.




KISS. Get an all in one streamer/dac. Listen ‘n learn. First step. Hold

A new or used bluesound on the low end to Lumin or Arunder on the high end are such units. A new Lumin T3 or used Lumin T2 will leave room in your budget for audio grade ethernet cables.

Aurender’s are great streamers but alas they do not work w/ Roon.

Roon is an overlay shell software that runs your Ripped CD’s (into flack files), Qobuz, Tital or whatever you stream from and is a better software interface than anything else. But to that you’ll need thier neclues box. It should be calked Pardoa’s box. I was never going to use Roon untill I did.

@kiwiscott Take it you are in New Zealand. If you are USA or 🇨🇦. Where are you? Asking to see if there’s a friendly sort here that you might visit or what dealerships to point you towards?



FLAC is a lossless compression container for WAV files and not an audio format on it's own.

Start with a starter streamer and not a computer. Do your research! DAC’s and streamers, like every other piece of equipment have a sound. You might have to experiment until you get it how you like.

The T&A 200dac is fantastic and only $6900 it beats or competes with anythjng out there at 2x the price ,plus it’s built forHQ player and Roon.

OP, for $1000 I would get an all in one streamer/dac/pre for example the NAD C-658 or the Cocktail Audio N-25. If you need an intregrated amp the Marantz Model 40N does everything pretty much.

If I were going separates I would get a streamer/dac combo designed for each other like the Sony Signature TA-ZH1ES + Sony Signature WM-1ZM2 or an iFi Audio iStream and Zen One Signature DAC. 


@kiwiscott this thread would confuse me too

1) Sign up for Tidal, and play it on a MacBook or other laptop (so that’s the source, and the streamer). Plug the laptop into a DAC. iFi Zen2 for $300. are streaming. You can be up and running in about 10 minutes. Seriously.    That’s it.

Then…reread the entries above & the ideas will make more sense

2) Buy & instal Roon on a computer - Roon is an overlay on all sources of music - Tidal/Qobuz, and will also will pull in any ripped files from CDs, or hi-res files that you buy & download. Roon only runs on a computer (Mac or Windows), not an iPad or iPhone (you can use those as remote controls).  So, I’d recommend using a laptop to start, since you can plunk it by the system when you are playing music

3) Then decide on a more permanent DAC. For the most part, it’s the DAC that will determine if you are able to use MQA or not. I ultimately decided on the Benchmark DAC3, even though it does not support MQA

4) Then go back & decide how you want to stream - a laptop, a dedicated computer, a dedicated streamer etc.

Start really simple (step 1 & 2), and then go back and decide how complex you want to make the chain

Tell us how where you decide to start, and enjoy!


I recommend getting the new blue sound node with an external power supply. It is quite good as a streamer only for about  $1100. That would leave you plenty of cash left over for a stand alone DAC. Good luck!

Thanks all. I’ll start demoing blue sound vs innous to see what I enjoy more as a streamer. Once that’s sorted I’ll get an external DAC. 

MQA seems pointless for what everyone is saying so I’ll ignore that for a while. 



 The hobby is supposed to be fun.  Compare the shopping process to buying a car, and the decisions there? SUV or Sedan?  EV?  Hybrid?  Not to mention the different brands and features?

  I’m not a car guy.  I just want to get from point A to point B, safely, as economically and comfortable as possible, and be reasonably eco friendly.  I would much more like to obsess over audio.

  Once you hit a certain price point whatever you buy will probably give you a lot of satisfaction listening to music.  Then it’s a question of flavors.  Do you prefer well made vanilla or chocolate?  
  All of these formats don’t sound exactly the same, but they all hit a certain standard of acceptable quality.  The music is the thing.

  There is a lot of good advice in the previous threads.  I just want to remind you to have fun.  If you get frustrated just buy something, listen to music, and relax.  After a few years you might want to try a different flavor for the heck of it

I think this is an excellent thread for this subject. I agree with @ronboco about the bluesound node. This is good advice and if you add fiber to the mix with s good audiophile Ethernet cable you’re in for a good ride! Hard to beat in many respects However, I’ve been also considering the next level ie: Aurender or Lumin. Aurender has its issues being proprietary (I don’t want to get into it again with the two salesman) but it’s a great product. Lumin is also a great product with more flexibility. What I haven’t heard is an end game streamer, and I consider that to be dCS, which I am now looking at as something that will give me 10 or more years as some have mentioned in this thread. My main focus I’d flac files from ripped cds.
I’m not doing tidal or Quobuz, so my NAS is my server. In any event @kiwiscott I thank you for posing the question the way you did to get such good responses and wish you luck. You’ve helped me!

OP. I am new to streaming after 50+ yrs of analogue combined with 10 yrs of playing ripped CDs (AIFF) on my Mac Book Pro through my pre. I too was daunted by all the rapidly evolving technology. I finally went to a local dealer, Jonny Rutan at Audio Connection, and he got me started on a nice easy path with which to begin my streaming journey.

I bought an Auralic Altair G1 streamer/DAC one box solution. I am ecstatic. It is so simple and the quality is extremely good for the price of around $3,500 USD. It punches way above its price point. For years I resisted streaming because it seemed so overwhelming, and now I have the world of music at my fingertips. BTW I use Quobuz.

Do yourself a favor and find a dealer to work with if you feel the need to jump right in and build a really high-end system. But if you don't mind going slowly like I am doing, then the Aurelic Altair is a great starting point. Enjoy the journey.


@kiwiscott -- "What I’m really wondering is -- should I spend my 7k on a set up which would set me up for the next 10 years or do I wait, spending perhaps half that now, and wait to see where the market goes."

And, after the market goes to that point, then, with time, it’s going to go to another point. In short, change is endless. You can easily find yourself endlessly frozen in place waiting to see what the next change is. 

The key is to listen to your current system, then see what is available within your budget, and then decide if the new stuff you’ve just heard is sufficiently better than where you are currently to justify spending the money. That decision is different for everyone. Only you can decide whether an upgrade is worth it for your musical enjoyment. I know many people -- often musicians -- who get great pleasure from listening to simple and inexpensive systems. And I know others who spend enormous amounts on fancy equipment who are never satisfied.

I wouldn’t get too caught up in the audio format debate.  If you are interested in trying or using MQA, buy a DAC and streamer that support MQA and Tidal.  Just about any setup that will handle MQA will handle FLAC and other audio formats including DSD.  Using MQA, however, will limit your choices with DACS and streaming services.  If you buy an MQA compatible system, you can try both MQA and FLAC files and determine what sounds best to you.  I use Qobuz because it sounds good, and it does not involve imposing licensing costs on gear manufacturers or producers of music.

I think that it more important to consider the streamer user interfaces, software, and how you will be playing music in your home.  Your hardware needs are very different if you just want a streamer, a server, and music file storage in one device than if you might want to stream music to different rooms in your house.  Some user interfaces on streamers might appeal to you more than others.  

As others have suggested in this thread, you should consider going to a store to check out streamers.  A decent stereo store should be able to show you Roon and at least one proprietary system like Auralic or Aurender.


Thanks all - I have a decent company to work with but I like to look at the value from direct brands as well. 

honestly I wish BlueSound would make a $5k high end option - that might be the best of everything for a while. 

a lot of the advice here and elsewhere could probably be consolidated to go a great ‘start here’ forum post. 

honestly I wish BlueSound would make a $5k high end option - that might be the best of everything for a while. 

Well, their parent company (Lenbrook) already does, if you consider some of their NAD offerings "high end" enough. NAD's M50.2 goes for $3999. It's not exactly a feature-for-feature "upgrade" from the BS Node, though. For instance, it does not incorporate a DAC.

If you're not wedded to Bluesound's operating system (and app) there  are many other alternatives at around the $5K price point. Mytek, Cambridge Audio, Matrix, Lumen, Exasound, etc.


You are way over thinking this. Buy the best your budget can get then sit back and enjoy the music. My dac (dad) can play all The formats. Yes some sound better but none sound bad. Even logging in to a radio station web site and playing from there sounds good. 

Buying used can be your friend as you can turn around and sell it for not much loss as long as you buy well.  Here is a very good streamer and excellent DAC that together would come in well under $7k — just one example.

Best of luck.


MQA is much more popular than these forums would indicate because of some very outspoken people. Not everyone hates it, but the haters have an obsession to make sure everyone in the world understand how bad it is.

MQA was invented as a way to reduce the file size with ostensibly less loss of audio quality compared to MP3 and other lossy formats. MQA is still a lossy format -- they've intentionally tossed part of the music data to reduce file size.

That was probably a great idea back when they came up with it as internet service for most people back then had lower speed limits and many users had to deal with monthly data caps.  That's has ceased to be a problem for many people -- I'm sitting here with 1 GB service and no data caps and even the cheap plans often have speeds of 100 MB or more.  So, MQA is now addressing a non-existent problem.

If I can have an unaltered, lossless version of a music file, why would I want a lossy version to solve a problem that doesn't exist?

Another POV: start off simple (with a 30-day return policy for each component) and see if it feels as though you need more.

In my case, I’d had an older Bluesound Node and got on the waiting list for the newest one; so I received it quite a while ago. It sounded better in my system (Meridian) so I went along with it. I control everything via PC (don’t like the limited layouts on cell/tablet - and Bluesound is notorious for a lousy interface). Then after playing a CD directly into the Meridian system I realized there was something missing (I was running analog out of the Node). I looked into it and found there were many complaints - that there’s someone in Poland selling a mod to convert the power circuitry in the Node, and that it made a negligible different when using the digital output; the Node was killing the analog out. So I picked up a Topping E50 as an experiment for the analog output, and never looked back. I ultimately ended up with a Zen streamer out to their DAC (but am feeling that the Topping resolves more to my liking, and will start listening tests soon ... but both of those DACs will handle all of the elements you listed in your post).

I’m using Qobuz with Roon on my PC, out over ethernet to Zen streamer and DAC (USB connect from streamer to DAC; AFAIK that’s the only way to get the higher rez w/o integrating the two in one unit). I’ve tried MQA on Qobuz and have no problems with it; I generally wouldn’t nit pick and Qobuz doesn’t have much MQA anyway (when I asked them how I could find more MQA content, the respondent didn’t even know they had any) - but it wouldn’t be an issue for me (in this case I’m a glass half full guy) and I’m not one to join in on all the mental chaos; to me it’s pointless if you can enjoy the music

Summary: go lighter up front (w/cautionary re: Bluesound Node) with return options on gear; you might be surprised by how good some of the newer gear from the far east can be - and that "lower end" will just get better and better over time, most likely with a much better perfomance:price ratio.


Here's my solution,  at least until all these streamers and dacs with thier constant updates get to the final update. 

A preamp with a nice built-in dac that's upgradable, like a mcintosh, and a lowly ifi zen bluetooth hires receiver running Sony LDAC codec from a Android tablet. 

Amazing sound with zero hassle. 

Sold my preamp and go straight from the Bartok into the amps! Talk about sound!

MQA costs money and provides nothing over free alternatives.


That's why I hate it.   It's a snake oil money grab.


MQA is much more popular than these forums would indicate because of some very outspoken people. Not everyone hates it, but the haters have an obsession to make sure everyone in the world understand how bad it is.

This is very true!

Most rock music has been mastered in 96KHz so I really don’t know how so many 192 KHz recordings genuinely exist.

MQA seems to have upped it’s game since it was called out by Golden Ears.

Nevertheless it’s only really relevant if you’re a hardcore fan. The Steve Wilson re-masters of Yes, Jethro Tull and King Crimson et al are superb and are now mostly the references of these recordings. Aqualung has been truly transformed, even the SACD was very lacking.

Steve Wilson’s solo albums are great too if you like prog rock.

@kiwiscott You said you were looking for a $5k Bluesound, have a look at an N200 new or used, it’ll do everything you need and more.

Just a thought.  I suggest a used Lumin U1 Mini with a linear power supply.  Lots of these on the used market.  Along with that you can pick up a used PS Audio MK1 DAC for about $2000-2500.  Use the AES/EBU connection.  Great economical way to get very, very good sound.  Excellent sound stage, very good imaging, very accurate timbres.  That is if the rest of your system is up to par.  

I was a fairly early adopter of streaming. My mistake was buying a low-ish end Denon streamer around 2012. Denon no longer provides support for various streaming platforms on that old unit, so it became an iPhone playback unit via a Firewire cable (no Bluetooth). The unit is now collecting dust in a closet.

I recently purchased a Cambridge Audio CX 81 which has an okay onboard DAC with an USB B input. I'm just streaming from a PC using an upgraded USB cable. I have an Amazon HD account which includes a very small library of 24/96 and an even smaller library of 24/192 files. The general playback is 24/48 which does sound at least comparable to CD's (on my system).

As I am just a Stereo Enthusiast (Audiophiles have much larger budgets than I do). I find the PC makes a decent streaming source. And after my experience with a Gen 1 streamer, I am reluctant to buy a dedicated streamer. Besides, with my entry-level system and 67 year old ears, I don't think spending many thousands on an Aurender would benefit my system, that much. Maybe a used Bluesound.

@motown-l -- a couple of thoughts...

-  Getting about a decade's worth of use out of a digital technology product is actually very good. Nothing to complain about there!

- There are a number of people that make a good argument that having 24 bit music files (compared to CD's 16 bit depth) is more important to good sound than whether they have 96K or 192K sampling rates. Personally, I find the care and attention to the recording by the engineers and producers way more important than the specific file format used.

- And though heresy to some, I find my Raspberry Pi makes for an excellent streamer for both my local collection and Qobuz subscription. It feeds a Schiit multibit DAC. I'm in the camp that finding a DAC you like is way more important than which computer picks up the signal and sends it to your DAC (and ALL streamers are computers, whether dedicated to just one function or not.)

mlsstl - Thanks for the informative reply. I agree that a well engineered recording, whether analog or digital, does make the biggest difference. I also appreciate the discussion of bit rate vs sample rate.