Life in a two-job house with a 2-year-old and a needy puppy leaves little room for dusting or sweeping, so we hire someone to occasionally deep-clean-up after us.
I only mention that because at this exact moment that I’m typing, our house is being cleaned. And apropos to our current subject du audiophilia, digital music streaming, I get a kick out of the fact that I could play music over the sound system right now if I wanted to really give the house cleaners a scare.
I’m 15 minutes away in Broomfield, but I could be halfway around the world and pull off the same trick. That’s because my stereo system is plugged into the Internet and I can use Spotify Connect to send music from Spotify’s own servers to wherever my system is, from wherever I am.
Until now, I’ve been talking about how the new tech works, but this week, I’ll dive into actual devices that connect your favorite streaming service to your desktop and bigger home stereos and home theaters.
My favorite all-around streaming music device on the market right now is made by a British company called Bluesound. They make several devices for this purpose, with one called the “Node” (the current model is the Node 2), which connects to your home Ethernet or Wifi and delivers high-quality music to your home stereo system or home theater.
The reason I love it is that at $499, it’s relatively cheap for what it does, and it sounds really good. Connect this device to your receiver via the optical or digital coaxial connection, log it into your Tidal Hifi account and you’ve got the beginnings of an audiophile system on your hands.
Another excellent brand of high-end streaming devices, one that offers a step up in digital conversion quality and overall sonic character from the Bluesound, is the Chinese company Auralic. The Aries at $1,599 is the most popular music streamer from their impressive line, and I can confirm that it produces a richer, more detailed sound than the previously mentioned Bluesound.
And here we come to the crux of the audiophile game. Is the extra quality of playback between the Aries and the Node worth the price difference? Well, the answer varies greatly, determined largely by the goals of the buyer. The question of “is it worth it?” is necessarily riddled throughout the hobby, and nearly every upgrade decision rests on its answer.
That’s because most products that claim to have an effect actually do have one, and the intensity of that effect relies on both the scientific and engineering achievement inherent in the product, and the relative and interactive influence the product has on an existing system, and also the listener’s expectations and level of comfort with and knowledge of the existing system in order to provide context for the sonic change.
Have I made your head spin? This audiophile game is a twisted gumbo of interactive trade-offs and a wickedly complex activity for curious minds.
I love it, and I look forward to continuing this series and sharing my passion in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.