Streaming music is a popular phenomenon of today’s digital age. Music streamers devices are the new way to listen to your favorite songs and albums on-demand with just one click or tap.

Streaming music services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music have taken the world by storm in recent years as more people cut ties with their cable TV providers and turn to stream for all of their entertainment needs.

And in the wake of the popularity of music streaming services, the public saw devices that can directly interact with music in its various forms – streaming services via Wi-Fi (for example, Spotify), from a USB drive, SD card, and then transfer it to DAC. Based on such a streamer, you can build an audio system by adding other components, depending on the type of streamer. This can be a dedicated amplifier, DAC, and acoustics, or add the streamer as a separate component to an existing audio system. We’ll discuss what music streamer devices are, how they work, and how to choose the best streamer!

Music streaming devices explained

Music streaming devices are little boxes that allow you to stream music directly to your audio system. They come in various shapes and sizes, but all serve the same purpose as they connect wirelessly to your phone or computer via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi technology.

Some music streamers even have built-in speakers so that you can listen to music directly from a box. These can be combo devices that combine converting digital music files to an analog signal and streaming or amplifying music. Such devices usually come with a micro SD slot, so they can play the role of the best music servers. Still, most also have an auxiliary port that allows you to connect it up to your car speakers via aux cable or adaptor.

Let’s take a closer look at the types of these devices:

Many network music players have built-in DACs, which means they can extract, stream music, and convert audio. Music streamers often refer to these devices. They are versatile devices that can be integrated into a home audio system or become the heart of a simple stereo configuration.

Devices with a built-in amplifier only amplify the audio signal and have the ability to stream music. They are called that way because the manufacturing companies want to sell their product as an amplifier (AMP), which also has streaming capabilities.

  • All-in-One Network Music Players – a device that has both DAC and AMP + naturally the ability to stream music, in one case. It can become the center of a Hi-Fi audio system with the addition of speakers.
  • Audiophile music server – devices that contain an internal hard drive where you can store music files. The best ones have a CD ripper and are perfect if you want to convert your CD collection to high-quality digital files.

Music streaming devices are a great way to upgrade your current music listening experience. Not only will you be able to carry around hundreds of songs, but with Wi-Fi capabilities, you can also download directly onto the device from Spotify and play offline.

Why would I want a network player in my home?

Music streaming devices

Network music player lets you play audio files stored on your computer, NAS drive, or some other device. They stream digital audio over your home’s wireless network to one or more loudspeakers connected to an amplifier that is also on the network.

The major advantage of using a music streamer is that you can avoid having an amplifier or other equipment between your source (which could be a computer, NAS drive, or music streaming service) and your speakers. This means you can have more control over how the audio sounds because everything happens in one place instead of splitting up different parts of the audio chain.

Also, you can enjoy higher sound quality if you choose one of the best music streamers because an amplifier won’t have to work as hard and will not be affected by noise from other components in your system, such as a CD player or turntable.

Music streamers comparison table

DAC AMP Sampling Rate Storage Roon ready Reviews
Bluesound Node 2ibest network music player yes no 32 bit/192kHz no yes Review
Yamaha WXA-50best AMP for streaming no 55W/8Ω 24 bit/192kHz no no Review
Bluesound POWERNODE 2i V2best all-in-one music streamer yes 60W/8Ω 32 bit/384kHz no yes Review
Bluesound Vault 2ibest audiophile music server no no 32 bit/192kHz 2 TB yes Review

Best Music Streamers

Network music players reviews

Bluesound Node 2i – best network music player

Bluesound Node 2i front and back view

The Bluesound Node 2i is an excellent example of a network music player. This type of device will allow you to stream your music to any room in the house. Even if multiple rooms are playing simultaneously, they won’t interfere with each other – or cost anything extra on top of what you already pay for!

The beauty about this best network media player is that there’s no need to have a computer running, as it has its built-in storage (which can be expanded if you choose). The app also allows easy streaming from your phone or tablet, so you won’t even need to turn on your PC.

Bluesound Node 2i photo

Node 2i is something that deserves your attention as it is the best “affordable” quality Wi-Fi player we’ve seen in recent months. By creating an airy, open soundstage (not cluttered or compressed) with sufficient precision and confidence, the music practically spills out of this tiny enclosure most gracefully.

Key specs
  • DAC: yes
  • AMP : no
  • Sampling rate: 32 bit/192kHz
  • Storage: no
  • Roon ready: yes

Cambridge Audio CXN V2

Cambridge Audio CXN V2 front and back view

The CXN V20 is a high-performance audio streaming device. It delivers impressive performance with TIDAL and Spotify and can be controlled using the Google Home/Amazon Alexa voice control.

The discreet and elegant design of the case, which is notable for its high-quality assembly, will successfully fit into any room. In addition, the sound quality provided by the Cambridge Audio CXN v2 is genuinely outstanding. You can hear the dynamic soundstage – everything down to the smallest detail at the ends of the range.

It offers support for lossless audio, including DSD, FLAC & WAV. The CXN V20 can be used as a traditional standalone player and has digital inputs to connect other devices, like your TV or games console. It comes complete with a USB charging cable, power cord, and remote control.

It is also compatible with a wide range of streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal, and internet radio. All functions and settings are controlled via the Cambridge Connect app for Android and iOS. It has a clear, thoughtful, and intuitive interface that allows users to find exactly what they need quickly. Even beginners should have no problem learning the Cambridge Audio CXN v2.

Cambridge Audio CXN V2 photo

The only downside is that, unlike most other turntables, with the CXN v2, you have to plug a separate USB Wi-Fi adapter into the back. However, this is a reasonably simple task. Moreover, this operation needs to be done only once. As a result, the Cambridge Audio CXN v2 network player ranks at the top of the best in this category in terms of versatile performance and usability.

Key specs
  • DAC: yes
  • AMP : no
  • Sampling rate: 24 bit/192kHz
  • Storage: no
  • Roon ready: yes

AMPs for streaming music reviews

Yamaha WXA-50 – best AMP for streaming music

Yamaha WXA-50 front and back view

The Yamaha WXA-50 is a good option for those looking for an amplifier that they can use to power their speakers. The WXA-50 has a rugged metal case with an aluminum cover and a slim, compact design that allows you to place it almost anywhere. It can produce up to 50 watts of sound at peak and 30 watts of continuous output with two channels driven into eight ohms.

This best AMP for streaming music has a variety of wired inputs (optical, RCA, USB, Ethernet) and wireless Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to access stored music on your phone/tablet, as well as playlists on Spotify Pandora, Juke, Qobuz, and Internet platforms. In addition, there is a separate subwoofer output with its volume control, configurable via the app.

Yamaha WXA-50 photo

Also, it is possible to connect the WXA-50 to any other AV receiver, soundbar, or wireless speaker, then download the free MusicCast app to connect the player to your home Wi-Fi network and create a powerful streaming audio system from many components found in different rooms.

Key specs
  • DAC: no
  • AMP : 55W/8Ω
  • Sampling rate: 24 bit/192kHz
  • Storage: no
  • Roon ready: no

Denon PMA-150H

Denon PMA-150H front and back view

The Denon PMA-150H is a compact audio streamer that has been designed with high-quality sound in mind. This amp boasts a DAC which allows for better audio processing and makes it possible to deliver great-sounding music every time you play your songs. The amplifier also contains the company’s proprietary Class D amplification technology, which ensures that it can deliver the best possible music to your speakers.

The PMA-150H is also equipped with a USB port, an auxiliary input, and optical digital and analog inputs.

The PMA-150H has a rugged metal case with an aluminum cover and a slim, compact design that allows you to place it almost anywhere. It only weighs around 12 pounds due to its compact size, so you will be able to set it up in just about any room without too much trouble.

Denon PMA-150H photo

You can connect the PMA-150H to any other AV receiver, soundbar, or wireless speaker, then download the free MusicCast app to connect the player to your home Wi-Fi network and create a powerful streaming audio system from many components found in different rooms. If you want a music streaming device that can deliver exceptional sound, the Denon PMA-150H is worth checking out.

Key specs
  • DAC: no
  • AMP : 35W/8Ω
  • Sampling rate: 24 bit/192kHz
  • Storage: no
  • Roon ready: no

All-in-One network music players reviews

Bluesound POWERNODE 2i V2 – best all-in-one network music player

Bluesound POWERNODE 2i V2 front and back view

The Bluesound POWERNODE 2i V2 is a compact music streaming device that features high-resolution sound quality and the ability to power speakers directly through an integrated amplifier without a receiver or separate amp. This all-in-one package makes it the best all-in-one network media player.

It can connect to your home network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi with support for Airplay (Apple only). POWERNODE 2i V2 can also connect to any Bluetooth device, including iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

Bluesound POWERNODE 2i V2 photo

With a Bluesound POWERNODE, you get high-resolution music streaming wirelessly throughout your home, with unlimited access to all of the music in your personal library without subscription fees. In operation, it is capable of generating 60 W of power for each of the two channels. Thanks to it, there is the possibility of complementing a high-quality shelf speaker system with 4 or 6 Ohm. It can also be used with floor-standing speakers. This device combines a streamer and an amplifier at the same time.

Key specs
  • DAC: yes
  • AMP : 60W/8Ω
  • Sampling rate: 32 bit/384kHz
  • Storage: no
  • Roon ready: yes

Naim Uniti Star – premium all-in-one network music player

Naim Uniti Star front and back view

The Naim Uniti Star is a functional home network player. It immediately stands out among the competitors for its characteristics. The amplifier has an output power of 70 watts into an 8-ohm load.

The model is equipped with a precision “digital brain” – a 40-bit DSP-processor SHARC, which uses a unique “name” algorithm to filter, minimize jitter and upsample the digital signal. The signal is then converted using a Burr-Brown PCM1791 DAC. As a result, the turntable’s heart is a powerful and innovative high-memory streaming platform that works well with other Naim networked products.

Supports Airplay, UPnP, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth with aptX-HD codec for near-lossless high-definition audio quality. There is built-in support for Google’s Chromecast Built-In technology, web radio, TIDAL services, and Spotify Connect. Playback of Hi-Res formats is available via the local network and from USB drives, incl. WAV up to 32bit / 384kHz and DSD128.

Naim Uniti Star photo

The Naim Uniti Star is operated with a bi-directional radio remote control. Alternatively, the Naim App is available to control a multi-room system of six Naim units. The application provides access to all sources, including to local libraries and streaming services. In addition, the streamer supports work with the Roon software (Roon Ready function) – an interactive electronic magazine that displays all the data about your home music library.

Key specs
  • DAC: yes
  • AMP : 70W/8Ω
  • Sampling rate: 32 bit/384kHz
  • Storage: optional
  • Roon ready: yes

Audiophile music server reviews

Bluesound Vault 2i

Bluesound Vault 2i front and back view

Bluesound Vault 2 is a unique network music streamer that additionally contains 2 Tb internal memory. Thanks to this, you will be able to save the necessary files on your hard disk and be a home music server. So that you can listen to them at any convenient time. In addition, this device can provide you with an even distribution of sound flow that spreads throughout the room.

And by connecting the Bluesound VAULT 2i to a HiFi amplifier, external DAC, or a pair of amplified speakers, you can enjoy superior sound quality from both physical media and network resources. For example, through a wired home Ethernet network, you can listen to audio files up to 24-bit / 192 kHz, any internet radio, and many online music services (Deezer, Spotify, Qobuz, etc.).

Bluesound Vault 2i photo

You can control the player using a mobile phone or tablet. To do this, you must first download a unique application for iPhone, iPad, Android device, or computer.

Key specs
  • DAC: no
  • AMP : no
  • Sampling rate: 32 bit/192kHz
  • Storage: 2 TB
  • Roon ready: yes

Buyers Guide

How does a music streamer work

Most network music players allow you to play music files from a NAS audio server, connect to thousands of Internet radio stations, and stream from many popular streaming services.
The presence of Bluetooth in this category of devices is required; in many cases, the most recent aptX HD codec is supported. In addition, most network players are equipped with digital inputs, so music files can be received from a USB flash drive and an optical and coaxial connector, which turns the streamer into a digital center of a Hi-Fi system.

Pay attention to this when choosing a music streamer

choosing a music streamer

Sound quality

Given the uniformity of equipment and the fact that many manufacturers use off-the-shelf streaming modules from multiple OEMs, one would assume that the sound quality should not differ significantly from one model to another. However, in reality, this is not the case.

Even though streamers from different brands use the same streaming modules, the specifics of the specific implementation and the quality of the power supply and audio circuits make a significant contribution to the final sound. Likewise, software plays a role. How the manufacturer for specific equipment optimizes, can affect the sound quality.

However, an essential factor in what kind of sound you hear from your streamer depends on other audio system components. Cheap speakers can entirely ruin the sound of even the best player. That is why, when choosing a music network player, you need to focus on the configuration as a whole.

Usability

Many network players come with a traditional remote control, but it’s much more convenient to control them from a smartphone or tablet. Using an application for such a device, you can easily find the desired recordings in large-scale audio libraries and quickly create playlists.

Almost every music streamer manufacturer has its proprietary apps. However, they are all very similar in their functionality. For example, Bluesound streamers have a BluOS app to manage. This application is available on all current platforms and has a wide range of functions and completely replaces the remote control.

Needless to say, you need to consider the power supply of the device and how convenient it will be to connect it to the outlet. In addition to the availability of a power outlet, you should also worry about having a stable home network with Internet access. It can be done directly using a cable or wirelessly. The second option is more convenient, and in the presence of a stable network, it will be sufficient for many owners. The ability to connect to the outside world depends on it, and without it, it is impossible to use streaming services and even control the application’s device.

Music streaming features

The basic set of options for almost all network audio players is similar and is sufficient for almost any music lover. And, nevertheless, some functions may be interesting about choosing your device.

  • Bluetooth and Airplay – As a side function, some players may receive audio streaming from mobile devices via Bluetooth or Airplay.
  • Network features – Another excellent side function of many network players is access to network services, including Internet radio stations, the number of which in Russian dramatically exceeds the number available in the FM band. This is a nice bonus that can be very useful if you are interested in radio stations.
  • The presence of a ripper – a drive for copying CDs to a hard disk will be convenient for those who have accumulated an extensive music library on these media. You just don’t have to get up to put in a new disc now. It is enough to find it conveniently in the mobile application.
  • Availability of a CD drive for those who still want to combine online services with listening to their favorite CDs.
  • The ability to work as part of a multi-room system, if this is relevant for you. It was streamers that greatly simplified the creation of a “multiroom”, making it better, more convenient, more functional, and at the same time cheaper.

Audio formats and file types explained

Most network players now support Hi-Res audio, although the upper limit can vary – from 24 bit/96 kHz PCM for mid-range devices to 32 bit/768 kHz for top models. Unfortunately, the sampling rate of 384 kHz cannot be “mastered” by everyone. The situation is the same with DSD: more expensive models support streaming files of this format with up to quadruple sampling rates.

However, more often than not, all users are limited to CD-quality with 16 bit/44.1 kHz parameters, and other delights rarely go beyond the 24/192 boundaries.

The generally accepted formats are WAV, FLAC, MP3, but the APE, ALAC formats are still prevalent on the network, there are others. And if you have the entire library in AIFF, then it is easier to choose a player that supports this format than to convert hundreds of files with a possible loss of quality. As far as DSD is concerned, support for the basic single sample rate DSD format will suffice for almost everyone.

Roon-ready music streamers explained

Roon is a music player specially made for music lovers. Roon combines a high-quality Hi-Res player, cataloger, streamer, and multifunctional application with a platform for playing music on multiple devices in a multi-room format. Roon has all the tools to play music and all the information about that music except for itself. Your local files (computer or NAS, iTunes library), files on the cloud service, and/or streaming files from TIDAL or Qobuz (an active account on the service is required) can be used as content. This feature makes your player the best audiophile music server.

Roon has three roles: Core, Control, and Output. There can be only one core, and there are as many controls and outputs as you need.

Core

The brain and heart of the Roon system. It manages your music collection, creates an interconnected digital library using comprehensive information from Roon, and sends the desired streams to the audio outputs. The Roon core can be a Mac or Windows computer, or it can be a dedicated Roon Core server.

Control element

It gives you access to your Roon library and playback control from different devices, in fact – the final interface that you see. Apps are available for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android.

Audio outputs

Audio outputs

All audio devices are connected to the Roon core. The output can be any Mac or Windows computer and the networked Airplay, Squeezebox, and Meridian players. To get the highest quality sound, you need to choose a Roon Ready network player – with full Roon support. Then the signal will be sent in the highest available quality. Other devices can also be connected as outputs, but Roon will downsample the signal to parameters compatible with a particular device.

Music streamers vs DACs

As you already know, the main task of a DAC is to convert a digital music file to an analog signal. But a DAC cannot brother a music file from any source but exclusively from one connected source. This is the fundamental difference between a DAC and a networked music player. A music streamer can process files from various sources – streaming services over the Internet, external storage (USB or even external HDD), SD card – and then feed it to a DAC for conversion. And on top of that, many of the music streamers have their DAC, combining two devices into one.

Best Hi-Res music streaming services

Tidal

The music service Tidal focuses on music lovers and connoisseurs of high-quality sound, so there are 56 million tracks in its database in FLAC / ALAC formats. There is also a database of music videos (over 100 thousand clips and concerts). But this service has a slightly outdated interface.

Spotify

Spotify is famous not only because of its vast database of tracks, the most convenient search and recommendation system, a sophisticated interface, and attention to detail. In addition, this is a space for communication of music lovers, where you can find and add friends, share playlists and discuss them with other users.

Apple Music

Apple Music has long been one of the most popular in the world. Apple Music is famous for its database of 60 million tracks, its user-friendly and beautiful interface, and attention to the user. Therefore, there is an incredible selection of author’s selections, playlists of moods, thematic and specialized collections based on a detailed analysis of the listener’s preferences.

Deezer

Deezer’s music service stands out for its vast library of 53 million tracks. In addition, there are thematic collections, playlists for mood and time of day, lists of new products, and a useful function, Flow, which makes selections based on the tracks the user has listened to.