How to integrate a streaming player into your existing hi-fi system
How to integrate a streaming player into your existing hi-fi system
How to integrate a streaming player into your existing hi-fi system

How to integrate a streaming player into your existing hi-fi system

You don’t need to abandon your traditional Hi-Fi system to embrace the world of streaming and discover new musical possibilities. Instead, you can enhance your existing setup by incorporating additional components. We’ll guide you through the process for different scenarios.

Marantz

Owning a carefully curated music library accumulated over the years is undeniably rewarding. However, managing physical media like CDs comes with its share of challenges, from storage constraints and organization to wear and tear on frequently played discs. While CDs and their players have evolved to offer impressive audio quality, the rise of streaming devices presents a compelling alternative.

Wireless technologies like Bluetooth have made streaming convenient and mobile, albeit with sound quality that may not satisfy discerning audiophiles. However, streaming over a local computer network offers exciting possibilities. By transferring your CD collection to a NAS server and creating a digital catalog, you can access your music library with ease and even enjoy enhanced sound quality.

Streaming technology now supports high-resolution audio formats like PCM with sampling rates up to 32-bit/768 kHz and DSD, surpassing the capabilities of traditional CD formats. Additionally, internet services are offering music in CD quality with millions of albums available, surpassing the scope of a home-based CD collection.

Thankfully, integrating streaming capabilities into your traditional Hi-Fi system doesn’t require abandoning it altogether. With the right components, you can enhance your system to embrace the world of streaming without sacrificing the qualities you love about your existing setup.

Streaming

For acquaintance

Streaming audio files to your Hi-Fi system over a local network or from the internet doesn’t necessarily require a computer setup. Many Hi-Fi companies offer compact and affordable devices that handle these functions effortlessly. However, you’ll need a smartphone or tablet with the appropriate control applications to operate these devices effectively.

Consider the Triangle AIO Connect network player, a small device measuring just 2x8x8 cm, making it easy to integrate into your existing equipment rack. It can connect to your local network and the internet via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, with a wired connection typically offering more stability, crucial for uninterrupted playback of high-resolution files (Hi-Res files).

Most network players also feature built-in DAC units, converting digital streams to analog signals. The Triangle AIO Connect offers a 3.5mm analog output and a digital optical output, allowing you to connect it to your CD player or amplifier for improved audio quality. Alternatively, you can connect active speakers directly to the player using the included adapter for stereo-RCA connections, creating a compact yet fully functional stereo system.

Using UPnP and DLNA protocols, the network player can access audio files stored on your local network, including those on your PC’s hard drive, as well as stream content from services like Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify Connect, and Deezer (with a subscription required, albeit using a workaround for Tidal and Qobuz).

Multiroom

There isn’t a universal standard for multiroom audio, so companies producing such components often develop their own proprietary systems. Some have become widely adopted and can form extensive ecosystems comprising various components from their own and other brands.

For instance, the Yamaha WXAD-10 network player (measuring 4.5x13x11 cm) lacks a digital output but supports Bluetooth, AirPlay, and streaming from popular internet services. It also integrates seamlessly with Yamaha’s MusicCast multi-room system.

The Denon HEOS Link HS2 (sized at 7.4×15.5×15 cm) is part of Denon’s HEOS ecosystem but serves as a bridge between traditional hi-fi systems and streaming audio. It offers versatile connectivity options and volume control, making it suitable as a preamplifier. This flexibility enables it to work with active speakers, including non-wireless models from Denon.

For those looking to extend streaming capabilities throughout their home with wireless speakers, platforms like BluOS, represented by the Bluesound NODE N130, offer comprehensive multiroom solutions. However, exploring BluOS and its offerings is a separate and intriguing topic.

Major upgrade of the Hi-Fi system

The discussion has so far focused on how to integrate streaming functionality without making noticeable visual changes to existing systems. However, network players have evolved into full-fledged Hi-Fi components, often adopting “rackmount” dimensions of approximately 44 cm width. These devices have distinct characters and sound qualities, making them worthy additions to an audio system. For those willing to extend their equipment rack, especially if it includes a vinyl player, and are ready to invest in a network player with traditional dimensions, models like the Marantz NA6006 or Denon DNP-800NE are recommended.

Both products come from reputable and well-established companies, featuring displays for setup and alphanumeric information, high-quality headphone outputs, Bluetooth and AirPlay support, compatibility with the HEOS multiroom system, and control options through the front panel, dedicated apps, or remote control. Additionally, they include volume controls and various digital inputs and outputs.

Denon

When making a choice, there are multiple factors to consider. One approach is to consider the housing style of the network player and how it complements the rest of your system components. Opting for a player that aesthetically aligns with your existing setup can enhance the overall visual appeal of your audio system.

Another aspect to consider is the sound quality, which can vary based on the digital-to-analog conversion (DAC) units used in the players. Different manufacturers incorporate their own technologies for improving sound quality, resulting in variations in audio performance between models. Therefore, evaluating the listening results and comparing the DAC units and associated sound enhancement technologies can help determine which player best suits your preferences in terms of sound reproduction.

Radical upgrade of a serious Hi-Fi system

For a higher-end hi-fi system, it’s essential to choose a network player that matches the system’s quality and performance. Such models typically feature a color display that showcases album covers during playback, along with balanced XLR outputs and other informative display options. They boast premium components, including the latest DAC chips and proprietary digital audio technologies from manufacturers, ensuring top-tier audio performance. Additionally, they offer an extensive range of inputs and outputs, along with advanced volume control capabilities.

In this category, notable options include the Arcam ST60 and Cambridge Audio Azur 851N, both designed with rack-mount dimensions. These players can be controlled via front panel buttons, remote control, and dedicated control applications, and they can also be seamlessly integrated into smart home systems. They provide access to popular online music services, hold Roon Ready certification, and support the MQA format, ensuring compatibility with various audio formats and streaming platforms. Furthermore, these models deliver exceptional sound quality, making them ideal choices for high-end audio systems.

Arcam ST60

For many modern users, the prospect of physically expanding or rearranging their equipment rack may seem daunting compared to the simplicity of software configuration. In such cases, reallocating the space occupied by a CD player to accommodate a network player of medium or high price level could offer a convenient solution. This approach allows the network player to perform the same functions as the CD player but in a different manner, accessing and playing CDs from catalog services like Deezer or Tidal, provided there is high-speed internet connectivity at home.

Alternatively, one could take it a step further by freeing up two shelves—one previously occupied by the CD player and the other by the integrated amplifier—and replacing them with a single component: a network receiver. This type of device combines the functionalities of a network player and an amplifier. For instance, the Roksan Attessa Streaming Amplifier offers comprehensive streaming capabilities along with compatibility with the BluOS multi-room ecosystem. Additionally, it includes integrated features such as a built-in MM phono stage, analog and digital inputs and outputs (including support for a subwoofer), and a class A/B amplification unit delivering 2×80 W output power (at 8 Ohms), along with connectors for speaker connections. This consolidated setup minimizes clutter while maintaining high-quality audio performance and versatile functionality.

Follow the general rules

When encountering network players for the first time, one may find themselves puzzled by the necessary connections and settings, as well as the control method using a smartphone application, or ideally, a tablet. However, these devices quickly reveal their potential in offering a wide array of music choices. Despite their initial complexity, network players are full-fledged Hi-Fi components that require quality cables and, more importantly, a local computer network with high-speed internet access. While they often support wireless Wi-Fi connectivity, a wired Ethernet connection to the router is typically more reliable.

As with any other source, network players set the standard for sound quality within the system, so they must complement its overall characteristics and strengths. Therefore, it’s advisable to audition the streamer you’re considering purchasing, ideally within your existing audio setup. With a wide range of models available, finding one that aligns with your equipment and sonic preferences should not be challenging.

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