What is a network music streamer and why do you need one?

What is a network music streamer and why do you need one?

CDs and vinyl records are two physical audio formats that some people swear by, especially when it comes to sound quality. But even the most die-hard audiophiles have now come around to the excellent sound quality available on digital streaming services, so much so that digital audio has become our primary way to consume music. But with the range of new and old Hi-Fi setups people have at home, the best way to bring your digital audio and online streaming services to them is to add a dedicated network music streamer.

A network music streamer is an Internet-connected hardware component. currents Your favorite digital music using an internet connection. A good network music streamer is easy to use, compatible with multiple file formats and music streaming services, and will ensure that your digital music sounds good enough to please both casual listeners and respected decibel saints.

However, there is a lot to learn about these components, so let’s start with some basics.

What can you expect from a network music streamer?

Cambridge Audio CXN Network music streamer.
Cambridge Audio CXN Cambridge Audio

Network music streamers are available from big-name brands like Sonos, Cambridge Audio, Naim, NAD, Yamaha, and Technics, as well as smaller brands like YIM and AudioEngine. They come in all shapes and sizes, from compact paperback novel size to Blu-ray players or AV receivers. Music streamers include a variety of connectivity options, such as digital and analog audio, USB ports, XLR hookup, Bluetooth, AirPlay, Chromecast, and connect to the Internet by Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or both. In other words, there’s no shortage of ways to connect a music streamer to everything from receivers and amplifiers to powered speakers, smartphones, headphones, TVs, and other devices.

Once you have the streamer connected to your audio system and connected to your Wi-Fi network (or hardwired into it for the fastest and most stable connection), you can use it to stream music from platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, etc. You will be able to listen to music using. Music, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, and many others. Along with USB connectivity, many music streamers will also allow you to plug in a USB flash drive or external hard drive that holds music files.

Depending on what type of network music streamer you have, you may also be able to access music from a compatible network-attached storage device (NAS) or computer on the same Wi-Fi network as the network streamer. There are also music streamers that support multi-room audio, like Sonos and Bluesound, and/or can interface with other streamers from the same brand, which (in most cases) lets you play multi-room audio with device A. Will allow you to enjoy the audio. The device is connected wirelessly to B, C, D etc.

You’ll also be able to find music streamers with built-in storage options. This is especially convenient if you want to keep all your high-resolution files on one easy-to-access drive.

Why should you buy a network music streamer?

Yamaha WXC50 Network Music Streamer.

There are many benefits to owning a network music streamer, even if using it takes some learning.

First and foremost, a music streamer will have a far more powerful and efficient DAC (digital-to-analog converter) than most everyday music listening devices, such as iPhones and Android mobile devices and our home computers. DACs have the very important job of converting all the digital data received from sources such as audio-streaming services and hard disk files into analog signals so that we can hear them.

The types of DACs built into network music streamers are typically designed to handle excess The tough task of decoding high-resolution audio formats. We’re talking CD quality and beyond, including formats like FLAC, DSD, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, and other top-shelf audio content. And because they are connected to the Internet, either via LAN or Wi-Fi, the bandwidth ensures the music’s full potential. The end result: the cleanest-sounding audio possible, regardless of the source.

And keep in mind that not all DACs are created equal. For example, a budget-friendly music streamer like vim mini Great for streaming on a variety of platforms, but the streamer’s internal DAC may not be as good as what you’ll find in a dedicated AV receiver or amplifier. But in case of device like Cambridge Audio CXNthis is cambridge streamer Two Internal Wolfson DAC, which is going to give you bright and detailed audio quality that far exceeds the capabilities of the YIM Mini (and many other AV components).

Another benefit of network music streamers is that many of them have interfaces and apps that contain all your sources and components – streaming services, line inputs, NAS drives, whole-home speakers – so you can have them all from one unified location. Can be chosen and controlled. , such as a smartphone or computer. Many of them also have physical controls and LED screens that you can access.

What should you know before buying a network music streamer?

Wiim Pro Network Music Streamer.
Wiim Pro Network Music Streamer Simon Cohen/

When investing in any new AV component, especially in something like a network music streamer, it’s good to decide which criteria are most important to you, as this may vary from user to user. . Here are some consideration points that we believe most people will have common ground with.


The age-old question “How much are you willing to spend?” This will definitely play into your music streamer purchases. Do you want to get away with spending as little as possible on a device that offers simple functionality, or are money no object and you want your music streamer to be packed with the best audio-processing technology and features ?

Typically, network music streamers cost anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars. And while the adage “you get what you pay for” certainly plays a role here, there are a number of products that punch well above their weight from a cost-to-quality standpoint, one of which is the excellent YIM. The pro is it’s only $150.

sound quality

Now, for the most part, most Networks are going to deliver music streamers at least CD-level sound quality at 16-bit/44.4kHz. But if high-resolution lossless content and 24-bit Tidal or Apple Music jam sessions are going to become everyday necessities, you’ll want to make sure you’re buying a music streamer that can handle these high-end formats and services. Is.


While most network music streamers can handle a diverse range of AV connectivity and streaming platforms, you’ll want to make sure the streamer you’re investing in will play well with your existing receiver, amplifier, speakers, etc. .

Additionally, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatibility is fairly standard across the board, but only a few network music streamers support higher-end listening platforms (like Tidal and Qobuz) and/or use network sharing to access your tracks and playlists. Can support capacity. Computer or NAS.

user interface

it’s always good When you purchase a network music streamer, it has its own dedicated interface that has native support for popular platforms like Apple Music and Tidal, as well as features like LED touchscreen, buttons, remote control. And A downloadable app with lots of customization. Sonos is a company that does this very well.

These full-component streamers with their own apps give you access to the full music quality that the service is capable of, whereas a so-called “endpoint” streamer must be controlled through a device, typically AirPlay, Chromecast, Or through something like Bluetooth, which may limit sound quality.

For example, Sonos’ native Apple Music integration supports lossless service quality up to 24-bit/48kHz. But with a network streamer that doesn’t have native Apple Music, you’ll have to use AirPlay or Bluetooth to send Apple Music from your phone to the streamer, limiting the quality to 16-bit-48kHz, which, let’s be honest. , it’s still pretty good, but keep that in mind if you’re a more discerning audiophile. Additionally, when you leave home or go out of range of the network streamer, your device disconnects and the music stops. Worth noting that Chromecast is capable of up to 24-bit/96kHz with compatible devices.

Are there any network music streamer alternatives?

Apple TV 4K hardware with remote and retail box.
Phil Nickinson/

A network music streamer can be an expensive purchase, but are there any other ways to play high-quality audio through your speakers or surround sound? Without Paying over hundreds of dollars? The simple answer is yes.

Almost any solid streaming device, like the Apple TV 4K (2022) or the Chromecast with Google TV, will give you access to a variety of music-streaming platforms. You just have to make sure you connect these components to your AV system, whether you’re using a great soundbar or a full 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos configuration.

For devices like the Apple TV 4K, the Tidal app can be downloaded and installed directly onto the device, so subscribers to the service won’t need to use AirPlay or Bluetooth to stream music from their phone or tablet to the Apple TV. .

parting thoughts

A solid network music streamer doesn’t need to cost a lot, but they’re a great way to bring high-quality and easily accessible music, podcasts, and whatever else their services offer into your music setup, whether that’s Be it a vintage receiver and speakers, a modern integrated amplifier, or a set of powered speakers. Now that you’re familiar with what a network music streamer is and what you want to see in it, we have some great suggestions for you in our best network music streamers roundup. Happy Network Streaming.


Ganesan Arumugam is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering stories that resonate with readers worldwide. With a keen eye for detail and a commitment to journalistic integrity, Ganesan has contributed to the media landscape for over a decade, covering a diverse range of topics including politics, technology, culture, and human interest stories.

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