What is Streaming / Networking?
Audio Files for Audiophiles!

Music storage may have an interesting and varied past (see here for our plotted history) but it now seems certain that its future lies in the digital domain, with music files being held either within a home computer network or on an internet music site, then streamed from there to our Hi-Fi. There are many advantages to streaming, but its main attraction is that it does away with the need to house bulky storage media (eg CDs or LPs) and integrates with the computer network now found in so many homes. Wired or wireless home computer networks interface superbly with the latest generation of Hi-Fi products, giving instant access to countless musical opportunities, both from within the network (via music stored on hard drives or NAS drives) and also from the internet (via music sites such as Spotify, plus over 5000 internet radio stations). Computer networks also offer a ready made solution to Hi-Fi system control and the perfect springboard to pipe music into different rooms in the house.

Most of the major manufacturers now offer products that have streaming capabilities, which can make for a very confusing market-place. It is important to remember that not all methods of streaming are the same - some produce results that are way below the quality you've become used to from CD, whilst other systems sound as good (or in some cases better) than CD. Converting your treasured music collection into music files is something that you will only do once (particularly if you sell the CDs afterwards!) so it is important that you get it absolutely right. It is our job to advise you, to ensure that when you make the transition into the world of streaming, you don't 'throw the baby out with the bath water'. We have therefore put together the 'question and answer' piece you see below, in an effort to help you machete your way through the technical jungle and get to the musical paradise on the other side!

In a nutshell, what is streaming?

Streaming means different things to different people, but we are primarily concerned with music, so, for the purpose of this piece, we would define streaming as the transfer of digitally encoded audio files from one place to another, either via the internet, or via a home computer network, or via a transmission system unique to a specific manufacturer. Let's take a brief look at each in turn:

  • Internet streaming - websites like Spotify, Napster and LastFM store just about every piece of music ever recorded, and will stream to your Hi-Fi (via your computer) for a monthly fee. In addition, internet radio gives consumers access to thousands of world-wide radio stations, that can be streamed to a compatible Hi-Fi / Home Cinema system (via a computer) free of charge. So, if you move from one area of the country (or world!) to another and wish you could still listen to the radio station from where you used to live - you can!
  • Streaming via a home computer network - many houses now have wireless or wired computer networks. Music can be downloaded from the internet, or 'ripped' from CDs, then stored on the hard drive of a computer (or on a NAS drive / server) then streamed to any room in the house that is on the network. If a Hi-Fi in any room connects with this network (either using wires or wirelessly) it can utilize any of the music stored in this fashion. Many modern Hi-Fis / Home Cinema systems can do this.
  • Unique streaming solutions - some manufacturers (eg Sonos) have developed their own network capability, which taps into a household computer network, but then uses its own transmission system to spread music around the house. Other manufacturers have developed products (eg stand alone DACs or CD players with onboard DACs) that simply enhance the sound quality of music when it is streamed to them from a computer, using a USB lead. We will cover these products in more detail below.

All of the above methods can be used alone or in conjunction with each other to stream music into one or several rooms in your home. It may sound complicated, but it isn't - and the results can be sensational!

What are the benefits of streaming?

The benefits are many and varied - here are just a few of them:

  • It does away with the need to store bulky storage media (eg CDs or LPs).
  • It gives instant access to just about every piece of music ever recorded, plus thousands of radio podcasts.
  • It allows you to access thousands of radio stations all over the world.
  • It allows you to play a sequence of tracks that could last for hours - with just one click of the mouse.
  • It offers an easy way to pipe music to every room of the house.
  • It allows you to sample different musical genres, without having to commit to purchasing a whole album.
  • It allows you purchase music without moving from your armchair.
  • It allows you to access music that is of much higher quality than CD.

How do I get started with streaming?

As we detailed above, there are lots of different ways to stream. In order to carry out the most popular form, you need 3 things:

  • You need a music source - this can be internet radio (free), a music site like Spotify or Napster (from £5 per month), music you have on your computer hard drive (ranging in quality from iTunes to WAV / FLAC files), or music you already have on your iPod.
  • You need broadband and a home computer network system with a wired / wireless router - most homes now have this.
  • You need a Hi-Fi or Home Cinema system that is able to connect to a computer network - Typically, this will have to be a brand new unit (bought from us of course!) with an ethernet port on it, or wireless capability. Sounds expensive, but it isn't - over 50% of what we sell now has an ethernet port on it.

Wireless or Wired?

Most Home Cinema amps and many Stereo systems already have a wired or wireless network capability. The best and most reliable performance comes from wired, particularly if you intend to stream high definition audio. A wired network can be achieved easily in any house, thanks to Ethernet mains extenders (click here for details). Wireless can work well in some houses, providing the music file sizes are relatively small and it's also true to say that you will probably need a wireless capability at some stage, to interface with your smartphone. We would therefore recommend that you opt for a good wireless router, because most of them have both wired and wireless capability.

The same goes for when you choose your Hi-Fi / Home Cinema equipment - it is best to concentrate on its wired capability, but it's nice if it has wireless too.

Multi-room or single-room?

The answer is, it's up to you! We would suggest that you start out streaming just to one room - perhaps via a new Hi-Fi or Home Cinema amp in your lounge. Then, you can either leave things as they are or expand into other rooms, as and when you require. If your aim is ultimately to develop a multi-room system, capable of filling your house with music, we would suggest that you take a look at products that are designed to integrate from the outset (eg products with Apple Airplay) so that you are safe in the future.

How do I get / store music for streaming?

Here are some of the ways of getting music into your PC / Mac:

  • Simply load a CD into your computer and let a music program (eg Windows media, iTunes or Dbpoweramp) 'rip' it to your hard drive. It is important to bear in mind that the final sound quality of this music will be entirely dependent upon the type of files that you create. If you rip your CDs to standard mp3 or use basic iTunes software, you will get a lot of songs onto your hard drive very quickly and the quality will be reasonable. However, if you rip your CDs using Apple lossless or (best of all) convert your CDs into high quality FLAC or WAV files (using software like Dbpoweramp) the files will take up more space on your hard drive, but the sound quality will be MILES better!
  • Buy music from the Apple iTunes Store - good for exploring new music, but not as good quality as CDs ripped to FLAC or WAV.
  • Buy music from a High Definition music site - specialist companies (eg Naim) now sell music for download that is actually far higher quality than CD.
  • Join a music streaming site, like Spotify or Napster (from £5 per month). You are not allowed to keep the music you stream, but some sites allow a small number of free music downloads each month, which you can keep, arguably paying for the subscription.
  • If you have a lot of music that you want to put onto your PC / Mac, buy an external hard drive or NAS drive. This stores your music collection well away from your computer hard drive, which is safer in the event of your computer crashing. Again, the type of files created is crucial - NAS drives are very compact, easy to use and relatively inexpensive, yet they have a huge storage capacity, so it makes sense to store music on them in larger (high quality) files - eg FLAC or WAV.
  • Don't store music on your computer at all - buy a dedicated piece of Hi-Fi equipment, with a built-in server (eg Naim UnitiServe). These custom designed units are more expensive than computer-based systems, but offer the very best in sound quality.

How do I control streaming?

Because most streaming solutions interface with the existing household computer, the control system is already there! Using your computer, you can select which track you want to play next, or even assemble playlists based on specific music types, which will play sequentially for hours - at the click of a mouse.

In addition, many modern smart phones, including those based on the Apple or Android platforms, now have free Apps for certain streaming functions, including the control of an iTunes library. This functionality will be further enhanced over the coming months, as more and more Hi-Fi manufacturers develop free smart phone Apps for the basic control of their products. In other words very soon, if you want to control your Hi-Fi, or the way it streams from your computer network, you'll either be able to do it through the remote controls that come with the products themselves, or just by using the smart phone that many people carry around in their pockets all the time these days. If that smart phone happens to be an iPhone (or if you have an iPod Touch or iPad) and the piece of Hi-Fi you buy supports Apple AirPlay (see below), you will also be able to stream music straight from your phone into your Hi-Fi - wirelessly!

How good does streamed music sound?

This is where it all gets a bit controversial and audiophiles get hot under the collar! The truth of the matter is that streamed audio can sound as good as you want to make it sound - right from 'adequate' to 'sensational' (ie better than CD). The reason for this huge range in potential sound quality stems from the fact that when streaming was first conceived, hard drive storage space was relatively expensive and broadband speeds were relatively low. The result was that in order to achieve successful streaming, a large amount of compression (shrinking) of the audio files was necessary, to the extent where a CD disk of 700mb was being shrunk down to around 100mb - a loss of over 85% of the original data. This is absolute heresy to an audiophile, who would argue that regardless of the clever mathematical algorithms used, there is absolutely no way that a piece of music can maintain all of its original musical integrity if it has suffered such a massive data loss. The audiophile would further argue that whilst the discrepancy in performance doesn't show up through a simple portable device and headphones, it is blatantly obvious when played through a top class audio system.

The audiophile would be right, but his argument is less relevant now than it was in the past, for two reasons. Firstly, broadband speeds have increased dramatically over the last couple of years and secondly hard drive space has dropped massively in price. Put the two together and you've got a recipe for the storage and transmission of much bigger (ie higher quality) files. You can now buy a 1 Terabyte hard drive (ie 1000Gb) for under £50 - that's big enough to hold around 1200 uncompressed CDs, at audiophile quality levels. High definition music websites also now exist, from which you can download music at a quality level significantly above that of CD.

So the tools exist to rip and store CDs at higher quality levels than ever before and to access higher definition music than has ever been on sale before - it is up to customers how far they go. We are audiophiles and would promote the highest quality streaming possible, to extract the maximum enjoyment from any musical piece. However, even we would have to accept that here (as in most other areas of life!) it's 'horses for courses'. Enthusiasts will rip CDs as high definition WAV or FLAC files, whilst the mass market will focus on iTunes. Both will produce results that will delight their users. There is no absolute right or wrong, in the same way that some customers will buy a £600 digital SLR camera, use it like a professional camera and be delighted, whilst other customers will buy the same camera, use it in 'point and shoot' mode, like a compact camera - and be equally delighted with the results.

Is there a pure audiophile streaming solution?

Yes, and as you would expect from examining the rest of the audio world, I'm proud to say that it is British companies like Naim Audio and Cyrus that are leading the way. We've been selling Naim and Cyrus for nearly 30 years and would rate these company as second to none. Everything they do is conceived and executed with absolute integrity and clarity of purpose - to make the best sounding, most reliable products possible.

Naim and Cyrus' early entry into this marketplace has put these two specialist British companies well ahead of the pack, resulting in a range of world-acclaimed streaming solutions, like the mu-so, UnitiQute, UnitiLite, Uniti 2, SuperUniti and UnitiServe from Naim, and the Streamline, Stream X, Stream Xa, Stream XP and Lyric 05 / 09 from Cyrus that outperform everything else - by a country mile. These products are not cheap - but then the best never is! We are Naim and Cyrus specialists, so if you want to know more, simply give us a ring.

What is Apple AirPlay?

Apple AirPlay may well be one of the most significant things to have ever hit the streaming and multi-room industry. Any piece of equipment that has Apple AirPlay onboard and is connected to a home computer network can receive music stored on an iPhone, an iPod Touch or an iPad wirelessly, and can send that music to other AirPlay enabled Hi-Fis, in other rooms of the house, so that they all play the same music at the same time (if required). The wonderful thing about AirPlay is that it is a world standard, so even equipment from different manufacturers can 'talk' to each other as long as they are all AirPlay enabled.

First out of the blocks with this new technology are Hi-Fi specialists Denon, who are including AirPlay on lots of their products, allowing consumers to easily put together a complete multi-room networked package, built around AirPlay. That is the beauty of this fabulous new Apple world standard - units that have AirPlay on board cost no more than their predecessors that didn't have AirPlay, but they give you a built-in multi-room capability 'for free'. Not bad when you consider that integrated multi-room systems used to cost many thousands of pounds only a few years ago. Mark my words, Apple AirPlay is going to be huge!

I keep hearing about Sonos equipment - what is it?

Sonos was one of the very first companies to address the world of streaming and multi-room, by producing a range of relatively inexpensive, compact products that would dovetail in perfectly with an existing Hi-Fi and computer network, to produce a fully integrated solution. The beauty of Sonos is that it relativity inexpensive and pipes music wirelessly around the house. The drawback (in our opinion) is that the stand-alone Sonos products do not sound as good as even our most basic Hi-Fi systems, so there is very definitely a trade-off in performance to get convenience. Sonos has been very popular for the last few years, but is now facing stiff competition from multi-room systems using 'conventional' Hi-Fis / Home Cinema units equipped with either Apple Airplay or the exciting new Yamaha MusicCast system. Having Apple Airplay or MusicCast onboard, allows this equipment to do what is arguably the most important thing that Sonos does (i.e. wirelessly play music simultaneously in several rooms, at different volumes) and dedicated Hi-Fi systems from specialists like Yamaha, Denon and Marantz etc, sound much better to our ears than Sonos. That is remarkable, when you consider that a very high quality dedicated Yamaha MusicCast or Apple AirPlay mulitiroom solution can be bought for a similar cost to Sonos.

You get Yamaha MusicCast automatically if you buy any modern Yamaha Home Cinema or Hi-Fi product from the 2015 / 2016 range onwards, so in a sense, you could say you are getting it 'for free', without having to make any extra purchase at all (unlike if you choose the Sonos route). The same is true for Apple Airplay, but to an even greater extent, because Apple Airplay is a standardised format, so you can even mix and match manufacturers when you build your Apple Airplay multi-room system. For example, you could have a Yamaha Home Cinema system in the lounge, which would 'talk to' a Denon Hi-Fi in a kitchen and a Marantz Hi-Fi in the bedroom. As long as every unit has Apple Airplay onboard and they are all connected to your router (either wirelessly, wired or via Ethernet mains extenders) then that is all that is required to automatically give you Apple Airplay multi-room! Both Apple Ariplay and Yamaha MusicCast seemingly offer less flexibility than a Sonos system, from the point of view of having different sources playing in different rooms, but the truth of the matter is that most modern Apple Airplay or MusicCast products also support Bluetooth, so you can always send music straight from your phone to them anyway if you're in the same room as the unit, so in reality, you can easily have different music in different rooms, by doing it that way.

So to conclude, we would say that, in the past you would have had no choice but to buy Sonos if you wanted multiroom streaming, whereas these days, there are much higher quality solutions available for the same sort of money as Sonos, thanks to Apple Airplay and Yamaha MusicCast.

What about file sharing sites?

File sharing sites have hit the press recently, thanks to some high profile court cases. Everybody likes 'something for nothing' but we'd say there are several good reasons why you should treat file sharing with extreme caution.

  • If you're downloading copyrighted music (or video) without paying for it, you are technically breaking the law.
  • It is possible that the government will soon have the power to require internet providers to give the police details of customers frequently downloading from file sharing sites - ie you risk prosecution.
  • Because of the potential illegality of content, file sharing sites are prime targets for criminals, who use them as a vehicle to get malicious software into your computer. If you unwittingly download something that wipes out your whole computer, you will lose all of your files, including your precious music. And of course you can't complain to anyone, because what you were doing is technically illegal - it would be like complaining to the police that the drugs you just bought were of poor quality!
  • Music files on file sharing sites tend to be of poor sound quality.

I don't understand all the terminology

Understanding the terminology used in streaming is like trying to get to grips with a whole new language, so we thought it might be useful to give an introduction to some of the most frequently used terms.

iTunes - If you are one of the millions of people who use Apple products, you probably already know about this one! Released in 2001, iTunes is Apple's world conquering digital media player application, used for playing and organizing digital music and/or video files. Once you have downloaded iTunes (free) onto your computer, you can rip CDs into your iTunes library and/or buy songs from Apple's iTunes Store. Over 10 billion tracks have been downloaded from the iTunes Store, making iTunes far and away the most popular recent digital storage application. iTunes offers a good all round compromise for many people, because it is well know, safe, easy to use, and compatible with all of Apple's many products. Performance is good, but it is important to remember that even recording with Apple's so called 'lossless' system does not produce music files that sound as good as WAV or FLAC.
Spotify - Swedish-based music streaming service, offering access to a huge range of major and independent record labels. Spotify is relatively new and is only available in certain parts of Europe (including the UK) but it already has over 1 million paid subscribers. It offers a limited free service (with adverts) or a premium subscription service from £9.99 per month (no adverts and a higher bit-rate {320 kb/sec} than the free service, giving better audio quality + free streaming to your mobile phone). At the time of writing, premium users can access nearly 20 million tracks, which can be streamed to either their home computer or their smartphone. Album covers can be browsed and playlists can be assembled using the same system. Spotify can be accessed from any computer or smartphone, but it is important to remember that Hi-Fi and Home Cinema streaming products are not automatically compatible with Spotify. Many audio manufacturers have been quick to recognise Spotify's significance, making their products compatible with this medium and making their remotes Spotify-friendly. Those Spotify-friendly products will carry the green Spotify logo in their spec - so if a product hasn't got that logo, then it isn't Spotify compatible 'out of the box'. The same goes for Qobuz, Napster, LastFM, Grooveshark and Deezer. At the time of writing, many top-end British products are not automatically compatible with Spotify, Qobuz, Napster, LastFM, Grooveshark or Deezer. That doesn't necessarily mean that those products can't receive those services, but it does mean that customers will have to use a 'work-around' solution rather than being able to automatically proceed, 'straight from the box'. For example, if you use an Apple iPhone or iPad, you can set up a subscription to one of the new streaming services, then stream music wirelessly to your Hi-Fi, via an Apple TV. Or, if your British streaming product has an iPod compatible USB, it may be possible to plug an iPhone / iPad into it and 'fool' the USB into accepting music streamed via one of these new music services.
Tidal - Tidal is arguably the best quality music streaming service available today, offering 16bit, 44.1kHz FLAC files with a bitrate of 1411kbps - miles better than the usual MP3 standard streaming offered by most music sites and even outperforming Spotify's premium 320 kbps service by a country mile.†Put simply, if you subscribe to Tidal, you will have access to CD quality level playback of around 25 million music tracks and 850,000 music videos to enjoy on your phone, PC, in your car (bluetoothed from your smartphone to your car) or (best of all) via any streaming Hi-Fi / Home Cinema unit that accepts the system. At the time of writing, all Naim's mu-so and Uniti products, plus the company's stand alone streamers and two of it preamps accept Tidal streaming, as well as all Cyrus' streaming products, plus Denon's HEOS products.†Most of those companies currently offer a free 30 day Tidal trial period, when you buy one of their streaming products. After that initial trial period, Tidal offers two levels of service - Tidal Premium (£8.49 per month, if you pay for 6 months in advance - limited to streaming High Quality AAC 320kbps files - just like Spotify Premium) or Tidal HiFi (£16.99 per month, if you pay for 6 months in advance - 16bit, 44.1kHz FLAC files with a bitrate of 1411kbps - the bees knees of music streaming). In other words, with Tidal Hi-Fi, you get access to 25 million music tracks, in CD quality for the cost of a couple of CD discs a month. Better still, some would say, Tidal is owned by musicians, so artists get a fair cut of royalties, which should be 'a good thing' for the music industry, in the face of rampant music piracy.
Qobuz - Spotify may be the one everyone has heard of, but Qobuz is a French streaming service that many audiophiles are turning to, because it offers FLAC quality playback, giving much better sonic performance than its rivals, as well as the opportunity to download even higher resolution music (for an additional cost). The FLAC quality streaming service costs around £20 / month, but Qobuz also offer a 320kbps service (i.e the same as Spotify Premium) for £9.99 / month. If a whole year's subsription is bought in advance, these prices drop by around 20%. It is important to remember that, at the time of writing, many top-end British products are not automatically compatible with Spotify, Qobuz, Napster, LastFM, Grooveshark or Deezer. That doesn't necessarily mean that those products can't receive those services, but it does mean that customers will have to use a 'work-around' solution rather than being able to automatically proceed, 'straight from the box' - please see the end of the 'Spotify' paragraph above, for examples of 'work-arounds'.
Napster - Originally a file-sharing site, Napster ran into legal difficulties and was purchased by 'Best Buy' - an American company. Napster now offers a totally legal music streaming business and is a direct rival to Spotify. Subscriptions start from £5 per month. It is important to remember that, at the time of writing, many top-end British products are not automatically compatible with Spotify, Qobuz, Napster, LastFM, Grooveshark or Deezer. That doesn't necessarily mean that those products can't receive those services, but it does mean that customers will have to use a 'work-around' solution rather than being able to automatically proceed, 'straight from the box' - please see the end of the 'Spotify' paragraph above, for examples of 'work-arounds'.
LastFM - Popular, UK based, music streaming site, with either free or paid subscription. It is important to remember that, at the time of writing, many top-end British products are not automatically compatible with Spotify, Qobuz, Napster, LastFM, Grooveshark or Deezer. That doesn't necessarily mean that those products can't receive those services, but it does mean that customers will have to use a 'work-around' solution rather than being able to automatically proceed, 'straight from the box' - please see the end of the 'Spotify' paragraph above, for examples of 'work-arounds'.
Deezer - Popular, new music streaming site, to rival Spotify. Huge music catalogue. User friendly interface. Free service (with ads) or premium service for £9.99 / month, with 320kbps playback (and no adverts). It is important to remember that, at the time of writing, many top-end British products are not automatically compatible with Spotify, Qobuz, Napster, LastFM, Grooveshark or Deezer. That doesn't necessarily mean that those products can't receive those services, but it does mean that customers will have to use a 'work-around' solution rather than being able to automatically proceed, 'straight from the box' - please see the end of the 'Spotify' paragraph above, for examples of 'work-arounds'.
Internet radio - Just about every radio station you can think of is now available via the internet, giving music lovers an unprecedented amount of programme material to choose from. The possibilities are endless, including: the ability to track down stations that only play one particular type of music (e.g. Nashville if you're into country), the ability to listen to overseas stations in order to brush up on your linguistic skills, or even the ability to continue listening to a radio station you particularly like, even if you move away from that geographic area. Because no aerial is involved, reception is crystal clear and because internet radio it accessed via your home network, it can be piped to other networked rooms of the house, if desired. Virtually all streaming products are compatible with internet radio.
Ethernet - The standard connection for household computer networks.
ISP - Internet Service Provider - those nice people who give you your broadband every month, or (allegedly) shop you to the police if you're naughty.
NAS drive - NAS stands for Network-Attached Storage. In the audio world a NAS drive is rather like an external hard drive that connects to your router, via an ethernet cable. The chief benefit of a NAS drive is that it is entirely separate from the internal hard drive of a computer, so it is possible to keep one particular type of storage requirement (eg music) entirely separate from the other files on the computer. This makes it easier to back up, more resistant to computer crashes and also means that if the NAS drive is corrupted or crashes, it won't take down your computer with it. The other benefit of a NAS drive is that because it is independent from the other computers in the network it can be accessed without them having to be turned on.
Compression - The process of 'shrinking' a file, ie encoding information using fewer bits than the original representation had. Compression is useful because it helps reduce the amount of hard disk space required to store a file, or transmission bandwidth when streaming over the internet. However, to be used, a compressed file must first be decompressed. It is the compression and decompression of files that results in the loss of information and introduction of noise. If absolute fidelity of audio is to be maintained, compression should be minimized by recording files as FLAC, or avoided altogether by recording the files as WAV.
Rip - Computer code script for transferring digital audio or video to a computer hard disk. Now used generically as a slang term for the act of transferring digital data from one storage medium to another (eg from a CD to a NAS drive, using software like Dbpoweramp).
MP3 - This common-place digital audio encoding format uses a form of lossy data compression for the transfer and playback of music. The theory is that MP3 faithfully reproduces the original, by reducing the accuracy of certain parts of the sound that are considered to be beyond the hearing range of humans. Whilst this may be true when listening through a portable device with headphones, better quality Hi-Fis can show up the inadequacies of low bit rate MP3, which is why audiophiles always try to use higher bit rates MP3s, or abandon MP3 altogether in favour of WAV or FLAC, for serious listening.
FLAC - Free Lossless Audio Codec is an audio encoding format that claims to use a lossless data compression algorithm. The theory is that a digital audio recording compressed by FLAC can be decompressed into an identical copy of the original, even though the FLAC file size is typically 50% smaller than the original. FLAC is fast and FLAC is free, which makes it one of the most popular encoding systems used by audiophiles.
WAV - Waveform Audio File Format (shortened to WAV because of its filename extension), this is a Microsoft/IBM file format standard for recording audio bitstream. It stores raw, uncompressed files which take up more space on a hard drive than any system involving compression. WAV arguably yields the very best in sound quality, which is why Naim use it in their products.
Bit rate - The number of bits of data (computer ones and zeros) that are transferred per second - the higher the bit rate, the better the sound. For example 192 kbit/second is the highest level supported by MP3, 256 kbit/second is used for DAB radio, up to 1411 kbit/second is used in FLAC and 1411 kbit/second is used for Compact Disc.
Sampling rate - This is the number of times per second that the original music is sampled (measured) to generate the digital data. The more times the music is sampled, the better the resultant digital file will sound, so systems with higher sampling rates tend to sound better. For example 44.1 kHz is the sampling rate used on Compact Discs, whereas some high definition music sites sell downloads of music that has been recorded with a sampling rate of 192 kHz.
Recording resolution - The higher the resolution of the music when it was originally recorded, the better the sound quality will be when it is played through a Hi-Fi. Music that is recorded on CD is 16 bit / 44.1 kHz, whereas music sold on high definition audio sites can be as high as 24 bit / 192 kHz. It may be that the streaming of high definition audio represents the future of music for the audiophile, in which case it makes sense to buy a Hi-Fi with a DAC capable of resolving that level of detail. The irony is that master tapes originally recorded in 16 bit for CD have theoretically reached their limit, whereas the original master tapes of earlier music that were recorded in analogue, can be re-recorded at higher resolutions. I always did like Elton John!
DAC - Digital to Analogue Converter. These days, most music is stored as a digital binary code. DACs convert this digital code into an analogue signal, which can then be amplified through a pair of loudspeakers, to produce the soundwaves our brain understands. The performance of a DAC is dependent upon the quality of its 'digital engine' and the analogue circuitry that follows it. Many digital products have in-built DACs, but these are almost always of much lower specification than the external DACs produced by specialist companies such as Arcam, Audiolab and Naim, which have digital engines capable of resolving up to 24 bit / 192 kHz and superb analogue circuitry. Therefore, one way of greatly improving the audio quality of digital products such as a CD players, audio streamers (eg Sonos), PCs / Macs / laptops (via USB) or iPods is to take their raw digital output and feed it into a specialist DAC, then on into your Hi-Fi. The results are often astonishing!
UPnP - Universal Plug and Play - a set of network protocols that allows network devices to discover each others presence on a network and establish functionality.
DLNA - Digital Living Network Alliance - a collaborative trade organisation whose members agree to produce their products to an agreed specification, making it easier for consumers to use.
Android - Owned by Google, Android is the world's best selling smartphone platform and can be viewed as a direct rival to Apple's iPhone platform. Many non-Apple phones use Android, which now boasts over 250,000 Apps. Many of the manufacturers who supply our Hi-Fis were quick to develop iPhone Apps for them, but have realised the importance of Android and now have parallel Android Apps, that do the same things as their iPhone Apps.
App - Application software designed to help the user perform a particular function - most commonly on a mobile phone. In the Audio world, the most popular App is the iTunes 'remote' App, which allows you to control your iTunes library on your computer from your mobile phone, rather than having to do it through your monitor screen. Another popular audio-related App is the one that turns your smartphone into a remote control, to control the functions of the Hi-Fi, in the same way that the unit's own stick remote control normally would. Sonos also has an App for both iPhone and Android, allowing you to control a complete multiroom system through your house from a smartphone. All these 'Hi-Fi Apps' are totally free and incredibly useful.
Bluetooth - A wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances, invented by Eriksson in 1994. Bluetooth is probably best known in modern cars, where it allows 'hands free' use of mobile phones. However, it is also found on many modern Hi-Fi / Home Cinema units, usually in the form of an optional dongle, allowing music to be streamed from other compatible Bluetooth-enabled products into a the system. In other words, if you have a Bluetooth phone full of music, you can stream it wirelessly into a Bluetooth enabled Hi-Fi or Home Cinema.
Bluetooth apt-X - Bluetooth apt-X is a more advanced version of Bluetooth. It uses complex algorithms to give much higher audio quality than standard Bluetooth and is therefore favoured by audiophiles.
YouTube - Best known for viral video clips, YouTube is also increasingly being used by 'the youth of today' as a music library. Many bands are now happy to have their proportional video shown on the site, which means you (obviously) get the sound to go with it! This can then be streamed wirelessly from your phone via Bluetooth into your car's audio system or house Hi-Fi. Great fun for catching up with the hits of the past, or exploring new music, but do bear in mind that the music is heavily compressed, so it won't sound anywhere near as good as a CD disc or hi-def download.
The Cloud - Instead of storing your files (music, video, photos etc) on a hard drive that you physically own, store everything on a remote server, accessed via the internet - i.e. in 'the cloud'. Because 'the cloud' can be accessed from any PC or smartphone, you can access your files no matter where you are. It is rumoured that both Google and Apple will soon launch cloud-based music streaming sites in the near future.
Algorithm - If you're currently doing a maths degree, this is where the money is! An Algorithm is a finite list of well defined instructions for calculating a specific function. Algorithms are essential to the way that computers process data and are therefore found in just about every area of our digital world. The way Google works, the way Amazon works, the way photos, video and audio are compressed - it's all down to algorithms, driven by mind-bending maths.

What are your favourite streaming products?

There's a lot of equipment out there - here's some of the best! Click on the green links down the left hand side of the page for details.
Pure Stereo
Naim mu-so
Sensational new all-in-one wireless speaker from British specialists, Naim Audio. Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify, Tidal, Wi-Fi streaming.
Yamaha R-N602
The R-N602 network stereo receiver is an amazing piece of kit, because it does so many things - and all of them brilliantly well! Excellent 2 x 115 watt amplifier, very good DAC, USB socket on the front that will take iPod / iPhone. Stream music from your NAS drive / PC at up to 24bit / 192kHz. Internet radio, FM / AM radio, Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, Yamaha MusicCast.
Cyrus Streaming

Award–winning British specialists, Cyrus have recently entered the streaming arena with three exciting new products. The Streamline v2 is their all–in-one solution, including built in amplification; the Stream XP v2 QX is a top quality preamp with streaming and the Stream X Signature is a purist audiophile streamer with digital output. Each product is housed in the familiar Cyrus half box case and delivers class-leading audio performance. For a fabulous all-in-one streaming solution, check out the amazing, award-winning Cyrus Lyric 09 - it's an audiophile streamer / CD player / DAB radio / 170 watt amp with iPod USB input, a superb headphone amp and Bluetooth apt-X!

Naim UnitiQute 2
Award-winning, half-box design from top-drawer British audiophile company Naim. No onboard CD (use one you already have, or just stream music) but you do get a superb integrated amplifier with both digital and analogue inputs, an excellent DAB / FM radio, a brilliant 5-input DAC, a USB socket with direct iPod playback, wireless + wired networking (including Spotify Connect and Tidal) and the fabulous sound quality that has made Naim famous throughout the world.
Naim UnitiLite
UnitiLite takes the feature set of the award-winning NaimUniti, including high-resolution music streaming (up to 32bit 192kHz), CD playback, internet radio, Spotify Connect, Tidal and iPod/iPhone/MP3 playback and distils it into an elegant, sleek enclosure. All you need to add is a pair of speakers to create an accessible all-in-one system that can put music at the centre of your life.
Naim NAC-N 172 XS
The award-winning NAC-N 172 XS defines a point at which two audio worlds collide – the traditional world of separate pre / power amplifiers, and the new world of network streaming. It's a conventional Naim preamplifier in every sense, except that it is self-powered, so it doesn't need to get power from a Naim power amp or power supply. It is perfectly at home in a Naim separates environment, partnered by a power amplifier such as the Naim NAP 155 XS, but, could also be used with a non-Naim power amplifier, if desired. In either situation, this pre-amp will reproduce music from CD or vinyl in a way that stirs the soul and quickens the pulse. However, the NAC-N 172 XS also opens the door into a whole new world of high resolution audio, internet radio and streamed music (including Spotify and Tidal). It's a world that has just the same soul stirring potential as conventional audio sources, but is effectively limitless in scope and content.
Naim NAC-N 272

NAC-N 272 is a high performance preamplifier with extensive streaming capabilities combining the two worlds of digital and analougue audio, paired with a power amplifier such as the Naim NAP 200 It is the perfect combination for those seeking the convenience of a modern streaming system and the performance of traditional hi-fi seperates, the NAC-N 272 opens the door into a whole new world of high resolution audio, internet radio and streamed music (including Spotify and Tidal).

Naim Uniti 2
One of our most expensive streaming products, yet also a runaway best seller! The award-winning Naim Uniti has it all, with inbuilt audiophile CD player, DAB radio and DAC, plus wired and wireless network capability (including Spotify Connect and Tidal cabability) and brilliant sounding amplifier. Its front USB socket will take an iPod direct, producing amazing sound quality, thanks to the Naim's superb onboard DAC. What makes the Uniti so special is that it is a real 'one box' 21st century solution, with just about all the connectivity you will ever need, but because it is built by one of the leading audio specialists in the world it has the musical integrity of a dedicated specialist Hi-Fi and simply blows the competition out of the water. If that wasn't enough, the Uniti offers an upgrade pathway because it can be 'turbo-charged' by adding on one of Naim's specialist audiophile power amps, giving it an even more magical performance. It you want the best - this is it!

 

 

 

Sonos

Sonos is an American-based manufacturer, producing a small range of products that interface with your computer's router, then produce their own wireless network throughout the house, giving an instant multi-room capability. Sonos systems are relatively inexpensive and very flexible, which has made them popular - however they do not suit all tastes. Critics point out that Sonos equipment is unable to stream high definition audio tracks and that the basic system amounts to having what is essentially a single speaker solution in every room (something Hi-Fi enthusiasts abandoned in the 1960s). In other words, some might view Sonos as a mass market, low end solution, rather than a true Hi-Fi proposition. We used to sell quite a lot of Sonos, but that was before Apple AirPlay and Yamaha MusicCast were introduced. Nowadays many customers realise that for the price of a single speaker Sonos unit, they can buy a Yamaha MusicCast or an Apple AirPlay-enabled true stereo system, from a specialist brand like Denon or Marantz, which will have much of the flexibility of Sonos (including multi-room capabilty and wireless streaming) but will arguably produce far higher quality sound, too.

Crucially, with Apple AirPlay you are not tied to only one brand either, because any Apple AirPlay enabled Hi-Fi or Home Cinema system will do the same thing. For example, you could have a Yamaha Apple AirPlay enabled Home Cinema system in your lounge, a Yamaha Apple AirPlay enabled Hi-Fi in your study and an Apple AirPlay enabled Naim mu-so wireless speaker in your kitchen - and they'd all talk to each other in party mode, to play the same music in each of the separate rooms. It is true that in absolute terms, a Sonos system would offer more flexibility, because the Apple AirPlay party mode only works with iTunes. However, this argument can be countered, to some extent, because when you use individual systems in different rooms, you can play separate music in each room anyway, because that's what individual Hi-Fis do! For example, you could be playing a CD in your lounge, internet radio in your study, and your iPod in the Kitchen, in the way that you would have done in the past, by having separate Hi-Fis in different rooms of the house. It's just that these days if each of those Hi-Fis is Apple AirPlay enabled (or are all modern Yamaha products, with MusicCast onboard) then you now have the capability to run them all together, simultaneously in part mode - controlled from your iPhone / iPad in just the same way as Sonos. And of course, most Apple Airplay and Yamaha MusicCast products support Bluetooth, so you can always achieve different music in different rooms by streaming music from your phone straight into the unit, in whichever room you happen to be in.

In terms of ease of use, another popular feature of Sonos is its 'friendly' control App, but the truth of the matter is that many mainstream Hi-Fi manufacturers now have their own free Apple and Andriod Apps for their products, which means that they can be controlled from a smartphone / iPad, in a very similar way to Sonos.

So to conclude, we would say that, in the past you would have had no choice but to buy Sonos if you wanted multiroom streaming, whereas these days, there are much higher quality solutions available for the same sort of money as Sonos, thanks to Apple Airplay and Yamaha MusicCast.


Home Cinema
Denon AVR-X2300
Updated version of the award winning AVR-X2300, with wired or wireless networking, 7 HDMI 2.0a inputs, Twin HDMI outputs, HDCP 2.2, 4K upscaling, Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and a clever App that allows you to stream music wirelessly from an iPhone / iPad / iPod Touch / Andriod smart phone!
Marantz NR1607
Fantastic slim-line network receiver with 8 HDMI 2.0a inputs, Twin HDMI outputs, HDCP 2.2, 4K upscaling, Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and Apple / Android control App.
Yamaha RX-A850
Award Winning Home Cinema amp with 8 HDMI 2.0 inputs, twin HDMI outputs, 4K upscaling, wired or wireless networking, Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and Yamaha MusicCast. Class-leading performance. Currently at a great price!
Yamaha RX-A1050
Top-end Home Cinema amp with 8 HDMI 2.0 inputs, twin HDMI outputs, 4K upscaling, wired or wireless networking, Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and Yamaha MusicCast. Class-leading performance.
Yamaha RX-A2050
Top flight Yamaha Aventage amp with 8 HDMI 2.0 inputs, twin HDMI outputs, 4K upscaling, Dolby Atmos, Airplay, Spotify and wired or wireless networking currently at a fantastic price - one of our favourite amps!
Yamaha RX-A3050
Flagship Yamaha receiver - huge power, huge performance - and currently available at an amazing price!
 

We hope we've given you a taste for the exciting new world of streaming - please remember that we are here to help, so if you want to know more simply give us a call on 01743 241924 and we'll do the rest!
Copyright © 2011 Creative Audio (Shrewsbury) Ltd. All rights reserved. Any reproduction is expressly prohibited.