Adventures in streaming pt1...

12th Monkey

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In order to stave of cabin fever, Mrs 12th and I have been playing games more, and it's become a little bit of a chore having to keep picking whole albums to play - my usual listening involves flitting from one thing to another as the whim takes me. I'd been given a cheap Bluetooth adapter for Christmas which the kids have been using and the sound (at least at modest levels) didn't seem too bad, so I thought b*gger it, I'll set up a Spotify account and some playlists so I am not getting up so frequently.

I also thought I'd listen properly and see what I made of the sound quality, and initially I was pretty impressed (and with caveats, I still am) - I am streaming from a fairly bog-standard android phone (presumably though its own onboard DAC which can't be anything other than inexpensive) through a cheap adaptor connected by a fairly basic cable. I picked some primarily acoustic recordings as these seem to me to be things that are difficult to reproduce. The stereo separation and lateral focus were very good - much better than I was expecting I have to say. So much so that part of my initial reaction was whether sticking with CD makes sense. On closer listening there were some issues - the very top end is a little thinner, and the soundstage is compressed front to back, but both songs I had thought would flummox it featured piano - and these lacked the feeling of having a tangible 'physical' presence. But nonetheless, it did well in the very things that I was expecting it to do badly. These songs were also ones without any real rhythmic drive to them.

So, we were playing games last night and over an hour of very mixed listening I came to the conclusion that bass was thin and rhythmic timing was quite poor. The 'musicality' element (as discussed in another long-running thread) was compromised. My toes did not tap. Ever mindful of imagining things, I asked Mrs 12th (without prompting) what she thought of the sound quality, and her exact words were 'It's a bit tinny.'

But it's a promising start. I'll be listening to some more demanding tracks back to back against CD later, songs that require real rhythmic drive and a taut and fulsome bass. I can see streaming being a permanent feature alongside CD - but we'll see how I can improve it. I have a few questions, if anyone has any comments/suggestions:

1) Adaptor is a cheapo Esinken from RS - I think they were about £30 and I don't think it has its own DAC. If I get another Bluetooth adaptor with a digital out, am I correct in assuming that it is taking the analogue Spotify signal and 're-digitising' it? I ask as I'm wondering about using the CD's DAC (it has multiple digital inputs), but that would seem to be partly defeated if the signal has already been converted by the phone.

2) If this is correct, is the only way of sourcing an unmolested digital output is to have a proper streamer, rather than just using a phone or tablet?

3) How do you interact with a streamer? As it'd be for more background listening, I don't want to be having to get up and faff about with it - are playlists etc still accessed by the Spotify app, but this controls the streamer?
 
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iMark

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Our experience with streaming is very good. We use a Yamaha R-N602 which has Spotify Connect and AirPlay. Either an iPhone or an iPad are used as the remote control for the Yamaha with the MusicCast app. Streaming ripped CDs from the iTunes library on a Mac mini works flawlessly.

We find the integrated solution of a network receiver very neat and cost effective. The Yamaha is both our analogue and digital hub with a streamer thrown in for good measure.
 

12th Monkey

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Interesting, and that answers question 3 in that I guess most have an app that allows control.

Just need some answers to 1 & 2!

Had a listen to a few more demanding tracks at higher volumes, which I adjusted for the fact that the streaming is a little quieter. My conclusions are as they were - the CDs made my feet tap and me want to finish each song, the streamed version (in this arrangement at least) didn't do either. Interestingly on two demanding live tracks, the instrument placing wasn't right - one had migrated from being beyond the right hand speaker to being sat on top of another half way between speaker and centre stage. Maybe stereo separation isn't quite as impressive as it had seemed with easier material.

There's hope though, and I will try to get it closer to my CDP's quality.
 

chris661

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Oct 30, 2019
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To answer your questions:

1 - Bluetooth is a digital signal, so if you're using the digital output of a bluetooth receiver, you should be okay. You've got digital from phone to bluetooth receiver, to (hopefully) external DAC.
2 - My streamer is a laptop that sits by the stereo. It feeds a digital (USB) output to my amplifier.
3 - I can operate Spotify using any device that's also signed into my account. Phone, day-to-day laptop, tablet, other tablet, etc. Select the music, and tell it you want it coming out of the HiFi. Job done.

FWIW, I find the high-quality option on Spotify to be "good enough" that I can enjoy the music. IIRC, the free version only gives you fairly low-bitrate files.

Chris
 

iMark

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@12th Monkey
You could have a look at a device like this: https://uk.yamaha.com/en/products/audio_visual/accessories/wxad-10/index.html
It's got its own DAC and apparently works really well for Spotify Connect and other streaming services. If you don't want or can't use AirPlay there's always the option to use DLNA over your home network. Streaming over Bluetooth obviously works but I don't think it will give you the best sound quality. AirPlay streams at CD quality and DNLA is even more flexible and can stream higher resolutions.
The only downside of this streamer is that you can only use the analogue outputs and you have to rely on the internal DAC.

We also have an Apple Airport Express in the house, connected to a 20 year old mini Sony system in the bedroom. You can get them quite cheap second hand and it does have optical out to connect to a DAC. This also uses the AirPlay protocol, so it gets up to 16/44.1 CD quality.
 
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12th Monkey

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To answer your questions:

1 - Bluetooth is a digital signal, so if you're using the digital output of a bluetooth receiver, you should be okay. You've got digital from phone to bluetooth receiver, to (hopefully) external DAC.

FWIW, I find the high-quality option on Spotify to be "good enough" that I can enjoy the music. IIRC, the free version only gives you fairly low-bitrate files.

Chris
OK, so the Bluetooth adaptor must have a DAC built in then. I am using the 'very high' quality streaming - not using free service.

Musical Fidelity used to do a small Bluetooth receiver - I have an eBay search saved as they no longer do and keeping it all under one roof appeals. As does using the CDP's DAC.
 

iMark

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A bluetooth receiver connected to the stereo amp will certainly work. One drawback is that bluetooth runs down the phone battery pretty quickly. I notice that when my phone is streaming to my bluetooth earphones or a portable bluetooth speaker.
 
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Gray

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Adaptor is a cheapo Esinken.
I wonder if it's the one I've got:
....identical to a (more expensive) Logitech version, no digital out but I use mine just to take speech radio wirelessly from a tablet and put it through the hi-fi.
If I wanted top quality Bluetooth, I'd have to investigate this:
But if I was into streaming music, I would want to do it, as you describe, 'umolested' by Bluetooth.......by using a streamer.
I use a Rpi3b / DAC, controlled by the free Volumio operating system:
....to take FLAC from local HDD, also to stream live radio.
There's the option to stream from Spotify too but I don't do this due to a severe allergy (to monthly subscriptions).
Pi could be an option for you though. Relatively cheap 'hat' boards can send bit-perfect streams to the DAC in your amp.
 
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12th Monkey

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That's really helpful both, thank you very much. WHF has a section on streaming this month, and having seen it in Sainsbury's today I thought I'd have a gander.

Oh and yes, Gray, that's the one! Not a looker, is it?
 
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iMark

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Just some extra info. All our CDs are ripped to Apple Lossless (ALAC). Streaming via AirPlay sounds as good or even better than the best CD player in the house. The CD/MD combo player I bought in 2000 is now in the attic.
 

12th Monkey

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I wonder if it's the one I've got:
....identical to a (more expensive) Logitech version, no digital out but I use mine just to take speech radio wirelessly from a tablet and put it through the hi-fi.
If I wanted top quality Bluetooth, I'd have to investigate this:
But if I was into streaming music, I would want to do it, as you describe, 'umolested' by Bluetooth.......by using a streamer.
I use a Rpi3b / DAC, controlled by the free Volumio operating system:
....to take FLAC from local HDD, also to stream live radio.
There's the option to stream from Spotify too but I don't do this due to a severe allergy (to monthly subscriptions).
Pi could be an option for you though. Relatively cheap 'hat' boards can send bit-perfect streams to the DAC in your amp.
I went for the Zen Blue thingy for now, and I'll consider streaming proper at a later date.

Ordered a folding pool table and table football table which used up the rest of my 'prepared to spend now' money to stave of cabin fever!
 
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12th Monkey

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Zen Blue arrives today, and not a moment too soon. Connection on the existing one was pretty poor yesterday, and the lifeless nature of its presentation is becoming ever more noticeable even at background levels. I suspect a dedicated streamer will be the way to go eventually, but it feels like it's worth giving this a go.
 

12th Monkey

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OK - using coaxial digital output and running it through my CDP's DAC, which I would hope is pretty good. Connection is solid, not a drop during a couple of hours of listening.

At similar volume levels to the Esinkin it's readily apparent that the listening experience is much more satisfactory. It doesn't sound lifeless and devoid of energy any longer, there's much greater bass weight and it sounds as though members of the band are playing together - the old one was royally undone trying to make some tracks by The Jam (Start!, Going Underground) sound at all cohesive, and they now sound perfectly listenable. I will probably go down the streaming route later, but for now and for non-serious listening I am pretty happy. The very highest registers are also much more present and a hell of a lot more refined. Gently-struck cymbal now sound like that, rather than a sort of generic, high frequency tizz.

In comparison with CD it's not perfect, but it'd be unrealistic to expect it to be. Vocals still lack a very little top-end edge and space around them, and things don't sound quite as full-bodied. The decay of bass notes is much improved over the Esinkin, but they still sound slightly as though they wilt a little rather than fade naturally as per CD. And instruments are better placed but not as well as CD, and there's still noticeably less depth to soundstage. I'm going to try it with the Aria from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor later, and expect its limitations to show here - but then I am seeking them out deliberately. (If this makes me sound at all 'highbrow' don't worry - it's from The Fifth Element's soundtrack! EDIT: It did struggle as expected, but I've no intention of doing serious listening this way, so it's no big deal.)

But at £129, I think it was a bargain - thanks again for your thoughts, and I hope this is of help to anyone considering getting one.
 
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Hawkmoon

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In my experience, if you set up streaming right, and if the material is well mastered, then streaming can sound as good as, or better than, the equivalent CD - I have done a lot of A vs B testing using the same DAC, a CA CXC transport and comparing this to streaming with my Node 2i. Most of the time the Node 2i + DAC sounds as good as or better than the CXC transport + DAC. There are a few occasions where inexplicably the CD transport sounds better and I put that down to poor streaming versions of a specific album rather than deficiencies in the streaming hardware or service. I'm still hanging on to my CD collection because I have some rare CDs not available on streaming services and sometimes I find I prefer the masterings I have to those of the same album on streaming services
 

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