Welcome to how to stream music: a beginner’s guide.
Always wanted to explore streaming but don’t know where to start? In this blog, we will explore what streaming is, how it can enhance your hi-fi experience and the products the team at Audio Affair recommend to make your streaming system sing.
What is streaming?
A Streamer can be described in complex terms as a network renderer. In simple terms, this basically means the ability to access and play music via a network connection, without the need for cables (traditional, think RCA, XLR etc) or physical music such as CDs or vinyl.
So why would you want to stream? To put it simply, streaming allows you convenient and easy access to high-resolution music, streaming service such as Tidal and internet radio – which is, of course, going to enlighten you music tastes no end!
Streaming offers a wealth of benefits, mainly centred on its ergonomic brilliance, ease and the ability to access millions of songs without getting out of your chair. Thanks to well-designed third-party apps your integration between this “internet world” and “proper hifi” is simple and seamless but not just take our word for it check it out yourself.
Types of Streaming
With a number of different types of streaming out there, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Let’s take look at the most popular ways of streaming.
Cast aside your pre-existing ideas about Bluetooth. It may have originated in mobile phone technology from yesteryear, but its technology has massively improved in recent years to deliver audiophile quality sound.
Bluetooth technology has made developmental leaps thanks to APTX. At the cutting-edge of Bluetooth technology, APTX delivers high-calibre sound that the most ardent audiophile will appreciate. As a testament to the quality of APTX, it is found in an array of products from the most respected brands. Give Bluetooth a chance and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Airplay is Apple’s take on streaming and allows Apple devices such as Macs, iPads and iPhones to stream music. Certain models come built in with Airplay compatibilities, such as the Linn MAJIK and Naim Mu So. This makes using your Apple device a doddle. Many people may already use Airplay to with their Apple TV- this is streaming, so why not afford such ease of use and variety to you music collection?
The only criticism you will hear regarding Spotify is the sound quality – a premium subscription allows you 320kb MP3 – now technically CD quality would be nearer 256kb so it seems higher, however, some compression (as it is MP3) is evident. Do not get me wrong, I love Spotify but I would love it even more if it got up to the sound level of Tidal.
Owned by none other than music Midas Jay-Z, Tidal is fast becoming the go-to streaming app for the Audiophile. The interface may lack the coherence of services such as Spotify, but hands down the quality at 1411kb FLAC is its main draw, making it noticeably better than its most similar competitors!
There are of course other streaming services out there such as Qobuz and Deezer, however the above are two we see used most.
Universal Plug and Play/DLNA
Universal Plug and Play, more commonly known as UPNP, is included in most streamers. You may even see it as DLNA (this is just semantics, they do the same thing!). Basically it is protocol that allows one thing to work with another seamlessly. A few years back when streaming was in its infancy (think Olive O3HD) you bought one item and it probably would not work with anything else – pointless.
A current example of UPNP in action would a “streamer” such as the “Naim ND5XS” and Zoneriper Max NAS drive – these two both have UPNP on board. They can communicate over Ethernet cables and you control them with an app. In doing so, you access all the music from you NAS drive and “render” it down to the ND5 while simultaneously getting and enjoying all of your album art etc on the app – simple!
DAB radio did not live up to expectation, with FM still offering a superior sound to audiophile ears.
With internet radio, you can listen to millions of stations from around the world at a rate of up to 320 KB. This is currently the same quality as Spotify and this will only improve as network technology improves, so in due time we will soon hear high-resolution radio stations. This is a real treat, taking a moment to fly around the world with your music – get out and discover.
Other Benefits of Streaming
Most streaming devices will include digital inputs which allow them to be used as a DAC. As a result, you can plug an existing CD player into it and simultaneously upgrade its sound quality, as well as the other benefits a streaming device brings.
Some streamers also serve as a pre-amplifier, most notably from brands such as Linn and Naim. This reduces the number of boxes required so is a great space-saving option if you are looking for a full set up.
The Naim Uniti range even contains a combined streamer and amplifier which offer an all-in-one approach to streaming and amplification, you only need to add speakers.
Types of Streamers
We have earlier covered the types of streaming available; now let’s take a look at the different streaming devices currently out there.
Entry Level: Arcam Mini Blink
This APTX Bluetooth enabled device sends music to any other device. With its entry level price point and ease of use, this model is great for newcomers to streaming. Simply press a button and get connected. It does not send anything over the internet, so it offers high sound quality.
Accessible and fun, the device enables you to access thousands of tunes via streaming services.
Intermediate: Arcam RPlay
The Arcam RPlay is compatible with Spotify Connect and Tidal and also enables access to a NAS drive and internet radio. This model is also app controlled, so you can sit back and enjoy millions of sounds controlled from your mobile.
Slightly pricier than the Mini Blink, its price reflects the sheer number of music options on offer and its superior sound quality.
Advanced: Naim ND5XS
The Naim ND5XS typifies the brand’s prestige reputation for exceptionally over engineered hi-fi, made in house, here in the UK.
This streamer takes advantage of Naim’s innovative app control and features all of the digital inputs you would expect from a high-end model. Spotify Connect, Tidal and internet radio are hardwired into the device. Naim’s attention to detail and passion for design results in a, quite frankly, amazing sound experience.
Blow the budget
If you want to experience the absolute expression of the high-level streaming you can get if you’re willing to invest. Look no further than the Linn Klimax DSM. This beautifully (and over) engineered model (manufactured out of a solid block of aluminium) offers reference level playback, while the dedicated Kazoo app is simple to use and highly effective.
Just between us, the app is scheduled for a redesign, so you can be assured it will get better and better.
Without a doubt, streaming is both effortlessly convenient and great fun. The option to listen to any song ever made in a hi-fi setting is truly next level.
Whether you already have a streamer in mind, are totally new to the world of streaming, or need advice on setting up, drop by the Audio Affair store where our expert team are more than happy to help.
Once you have started streaming, there is no going back!