As any of our regular clients would know, we have held off from stocking any form of streamer until we thought their sound quality merited it. Up until recently, we had not been impressed with the sound through this media; it was often compressed even when streaming hi-res files downloaded from such sites as HD Tracks and Native DSD. In most cases the sound has been poor and the compromise against sound from a regular CD was too great to be worthwhile.
We recently undertook a major review of all the key brands in this marketplace to see if things had moved on and to some extent some had. What was surprising was that some the best reviewed brands were very disappointing. We auditioned many streamers using the same music played from a good, but not expensive, CD player and we came to the following conclusion.
A well recorded CD is the best digital source for creating a wide and truly holographic sound stage with no compression. We thus still see streaming as a complimentary technology, with CD still being our preferred digital source for the best audio systems. Our extensive listening test did show that, when implemented properly, some streamers are closer to the sound of a CD than before, with two brands mentioned below closer than most.
The two brands that stood out to us, firstly on sonic grounds, and secondly on their associated technologies. Both view CD as an important musical source, as we do, and we believe is important in getting their streaming technology sounding the way theirs do. Excellent aesthetics were a bonus.
Innuos has made huge strides from their previous Mk2 range to the new and very much improved Mk3 versions. These may look the same, but the internal designs have been completely revised with custom components exclusively for their units, from the power supplies to the electronics themselves. This is a real differentiator from their competitors. They have a good range of models at different price points; all are CD rippers (using a TEAC drive), streamers and servers all in one. More information here
AVM proved to be another interesting brand particularly for their sonic performance. Their build quality is of a high order, with visually beautiful appearance, placing them amongst the finest available in high end audio. Innovative technology, including custom tube output stages, is available with some of their media players. Where the Innuos rips CD to play back, AVM integrate streaming within a true TEAC CD player with traditional CD playback. More information here