A Hi-Fi Streamer (also called a "Digital Streamer", "Media Player", "Network Player" or "Network Client") connects to your home network and internet (via ethernet cable or wirelessly) to play music from online services like Spotify, Tidal, iTunes, Last FM, internet radio, YouTube, etc and to seamlessly access music.
There's a difference between listening to music, and listening to music well, with good fidelity. The details of a home audio setup are a big deal when it comes to hi-fi, and especially so now that people are back to caring about the quality and the medium of the audio they're listening to.
The fact remains that as music becomes digital, we need space to store the data. As music libraries become larger when they need more space to store them on. And as the demand grows for higher resolution audio, so do the file sizes and the need for even more storage. Eventually there becomes a point where you simply don’t have enough storage to keep your entire music library with you.
How does Hi-Fi Audio Differ from Standard Audio?
For High-Resolution Audio streaming beginners, it’s important to understand how this audio technology works. High-Resolution Audio files use a higher sampling frequency. This means that High-Res Audio files comprise more bits, improving the accuracy of your sound and the quality of your music.
High Resolution Audio can be defined as audio having a sampling rate greater than 44.1 kHz and a bit depth larger than 16-bit. This also means Hi-Res takes up more space due to the high sampling rate and bit depth.
Standard Audio is generally encoded at a lower bit depth (usually 16 bits) and sample rate (44.1 kHz). While it is still of decent quality and is often used for CD audio and streaming, it can't keep up with the level of detail offered by high-resolution audio.
Understanding Audio Formats:
WAV: An uncompressed audio format that is well-known for its high sound quality. It retains all audio data and is largely compatible with a wide range of audio players and devices. WAV files, on the other hand, are larger in size, which can be an issue when streaming over the internet.
AIFF: Another uncompressed audio codec that preserves good audio quality. It is favored by Mac users and is supported by a variety of HiFi streamers and audio equipment.
FLAC: A well-known and commonly used lossless audio format. It provides high-quality audio without data loss or sound degradation. FLAC files are often bigger in size than lossy formats like MP3, but they retain all of the original audio data from the source.
ALAC: A lossless audio format created by Apple. It's similar to FLAC in that it keeps all of the original audio data, but it's mostly used within Apple devices.
WMA: WMA stands for Windows Media Audio, which is both an audio file container and an audio codec. This format is native to Windows Media Player, the popular multimedia player built into Windows operating systems.
MP3: A popular and heavily compressed audio format. While lossy compression has made it less common in HiFi streaming, many older devices and platforms still support it.
OGG: An OGG file is similar to the MP3 file format. It contains audio data that has been saved in the Ogg container format and compressed using Vorbis audio compression. OGG files include Song metadata, artist info , and track data.
AAC: A lossy audio format related with Apple products and iTunes. While it does not provide the same degree of audio quality as lossless formats such as FLAC or ALAC, it does deliver high sound quality at reduced file sizes, making it suitable for streaming and storing on portable devices.
Types of Audio Streamers:
Dedicated Hi-Fi Streamers
Dedicated HiFi streamers are standalone devices specifically designed for high-fidelity music playback. High-end DACs, improved analog outputs, and specialized power supplies are used to reduce noise and interference. Dedicated HiFi streamers can come with a display for controlling playback and can be connected to your audio system via analog or digital outputs. Wireless connectivity is also supported in certain models, allowing streaming from mobile devices or desktops.
If you're an audiophile who wants to get the most out of your sound, a dedicated Hi-Fi Streamer is the way to go.
Network Audio Players
Network audio players are flexible devices that can play an array of audio formats and sources. They are meant to connect to your home network and give you access to music libraries stored on network-attached storage (NAS) devices, computers, or media servers. These support numerous audio formats, including Hi-Res formats like FLAC and DSD. These players are integrated with popular music streaming services, providing users with access to online music collections. They can also include digital inputs and outputs for connecting to other audio devices.
Users who want both local and internet music streaming alternates with high audio quality can consider network audio players.
Multi-room Audio Streamers:
Multi-room audio streamers allow you to create a synchronized audio experience throughout different rooms in your house. Users can control the playback of many audio sources, such as local music libraries, online streaming services, or radio stations, and have them all play at the same time around the house. These have user-friendly apps or interfaces that allow you to conveniently manage playback zones, volume settings, and music choices. For extra convenience, some models have voice control.
Multi-room audio streamers are ideal for those who want a consistent and immersive music experience throughout their home.
Features To Look Out For In Streamers
A wired Ethernet connection can provide a more robust and reliable network connection, reducing the chance of audio dropouts or interruptions. Look for a streamer that supports dual-band Wi-Fi, as this allows for greater connectivity and reduces potential interference. Check for Bluetooth support if you wish to stream music from your mobile device. For higher-quality wireless audio transmission, make sure it supports aptX HD or LDAC.
Supported Audio Formats:
Check to see if the streamer supports popular Hi-Res audio formats such as FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, and DSD. Also, check if it supports common audio codecs such as AAC, MP3, OGG, and WMA, as these formats are used by online music platforms for streaming.
Audio Quality & Resolution:
Higher bit depths and sample rates result in more precise and detailed sound reproduction, particularly for Hi-Res audio tracks. Make sure the streamer supports lossless audio formats such as FLAC, ALAC, WAV, or DSD, which preserve the original audio quality without compression.
If you want to create a multi-room audio setup, make sure the streamer supports it. Depending on your tastes, look for compatibility with multi-room audio systems such as Sonos, Yamaha MusicCast, or Google Chromecast.
Some HiFi music streamers include high-quality DACs built in, while others may require an external DAC to convert digital audio to analog signals for playback. If you already own a high-quality external DAC, ensure that the streamer has the required digital outputs (e.g., USB, coaxial, or optical) to connect to it.
Yes, most HiFi audio streamers have apps for controlling playback, volume, and source selection from your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
Yes, HiFi audio streamers often provide a variety of connecting choices, including analogue outputs, digital outputs, and USB connections, allowing them to work with a wide range of audio systems and configurations.
HiFi audio streamers may adjust the quality of their streaming depending on the available bandwidth. Offline options are available on streaming services, allowing you to download HiFi music for playback in the case of poor internet availability.
Yes, most HiFi audio streams include gapless playback as a standard feature. It ensures smooth track transitions, which is especially useful for live recordings and concept albums.