Jules_S

2021: brave new world of streaming - advice please

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Super Wammer
Posted (edited)

Firstly I wish all of you, our wonderful Wam family, a very happy and hopefully prosperous new year. Let us all hope that 2021 affords us the chance to get together again and share our passions for music and hi-fi directly!

Apologies if this isn't perhaps the correct forum to begin this conversation, but it's not an A/V or multi-channel question really, so hopefully it will reach the right audience.

Sooooo....... I hope those of you who are clued- up on this new-fangled "streaming" malarkey can help me out. Bit of background first - this might go on a bit so sorry, but better to share all the info up-front and save further questions! Some years ago during major renovation work I wired our home for multi-room audio. No intention of creating "audiophile quality" results, this isn't a mansion! It's just for the convenience of some background / non-critical music when in the bath, or cooking dinner. Each room is cabled (with VdH no less!) and leads back to a wall-mounted comms rack in my office, so the intention was always to centrally-locate all the necessary equipment and just have passive in-ceiling speakers in each room.

We began the process of kitting all this lot out a few years ago but never got very far. At present we have five Sonos Connects, of which 3 have actually been deployed. Only one room has in-ceiling speakers (they're "invisible" ones so not exactly cheap!) connected to the Connect via a set of dinky Pro-Ject amps, one room has a set of powered speakers (so the Connect is actually located in that room) and the third one plugs into my main system via Toslink. Not really very "integrated!

So the problems I have are:

  • Sonos Connects use too much electricity when idle - just oner 6W each I believe. I want to get this down
  • Kit is not all tidily contained in one place
  • The "most-integrated" room still requires the amps to be turned on manually to listen. As do the powered speakers
  • Still need a solution for amplification and speakers in the remaining rooms (will be 6 in total)
  • The speaker solution I've chosen has separate passive bass boxes that require their own amplification, so each stereo pair needs 3 channels of "oomph"
  • Ideally, I would like to make provision for the audio from TVs / set-top boxes to also be routed via the multi-room solution in future

My thought processes are:

  • I need to reduce power consumption for the 75% of the time that the system will be standing idle while actually increasing the amount of equipment
  • I need decent sound quality but it doesn't have to be high-end - the ability to cope with 16/44.1 quality source material will be fine
  • I want a dedicated streaming device for each room (6 in total) that will cope with playing ripped music from our NAS as well as being able to cope with online streaming services (I don't use anything except TuneIn but my other half uses both Amazon Music and Apple Music)
  • I want one multi-zone amp to handle it all, so it must be capable of being turned on automatically without manual intervention, and then switch to standby once not being used

So I've pretty much decided on the amp - Parasound have released a 12-channel amp that ticks all the boxes - Class-D power stages so it's efficient, low power consumption in both standby and idle, remote switching via either audio signal or 12V trigger on individual pairs of channels, and 2U rack-mountable. It even has individual trigger-outs per channel pair, so that helps me with the additional amplification I will need for the bass boxes - Pro-Ject Amp Box S Monos, which have a 12V trigger input for power. I have one already and they do come up second hand every now and then so I'll just keep buying as and when. Perfect.

The issue is with deciding what will replace the Sonos Connects. I need to consider size, thermal efficiency, power consumption, and of course cost. Six streamers plus the amp need to fit into a 9U wall-mounted rack, in addition to the already-installed network router, NAS, 48-port Ethernet switch and the speakers' external crossover thingies (they act like high-pass filters to stop bass frequencies reaching the panels). The current ones are quite bulky things but might get swapped for a 1U rack-mount version that can do up to 8 channels.

The most obvious choice I suppose is to upgrade the Sonos Connects for the newer Port. I think the 30% trade-in is still available which gets the cost down a bit and I suppose I could still sell the Connects to recoup even more money.

Advantages:

  • We are already in the Sonos ecosystem so know how it works
  • Idle power consumption is hugely reduced from the Connects, to about 0.5W each
  • One of the only streaming products I'm aware of that natively supports Apple Music, Amazon Music and all the usual services
  • Has a line-in to allow future TV audio to be routed easily
  • 12V trigger output plus subwoofer output that I might be able to use for the bass boxes

Disadvantages:

  • Still relatively bulky so fitting 6 in the rack will be difficult
  • If the heat output is like the Connects I could have thermal issues in such a tight space
  • I know ultimate sound quality isn't my paramount concern but the reviews I've read have all panned the Port for poor sound, compared to the Connect (total lack of dynamics due to excess compression I think, and lacklustre)

The only other contenders I've managed to come up with at the moment are the Pro-Ject Stream Box S2, the almost-ubiquitous Bluesound Node 2i (or 2) and potentially the Auralic Aries Mini.

Stream Box S2 Advantages:

  • It's tiny. Absolutely tiny, so fitting 6 in the cabinet will be easy-peasy
  • No thermal issues
  • Sips very little power (100mA?)
  • Aux-in allows for TV sound to be added in future, and it can actually be set to auto-switch to the input on sensing a signal, which is really convenient
  • Did I mention it's tiny? :D And cute

Disadvantages:

  • Streaming service support is pretty basic - only Tidal and Spotify are built in so to use Apple or Amazon Music means streaming to the device via Airplay
  • No 12V trigger, so the Parasound will need to be turned on via music signal sensing (not a big issue but not as responsive for turning off)
  • No idea how it sounds via the analogue outputs - can only find reviews of the more expensive Stream Box S2 Ultra

I confess I know very little about either the Auralic or Bluesound apart from what I've read on the website, and I'm not actually sure if their control apps support multiroom audio or not. If not then that counts them out anyway, plus I think the power consumption of both is similar to my existing Sonos Connects, which doesn't confer any advantage.

So.... this is where you fine chaps come in. What other streamers might be worth investigating? Must be - small, power efficient, have an auxilliary analogue input, RCA outputs, recognises music stores on the LAN and in an ideal world would natively support Apple Music without needing it to be streamed from a phone or tablet. Second hand would be OK as long as they are relatively easy to come by, seeing as I will need 6 of them. Shame that Topping don't do something like this as I would expect it to fall right into the area I'm looking at. All other ideas for suitable alternatives to the ones mentioned above would be great!

Oh, and a quick P.S. Is anyone using the standard (Premium?) Tidal subscription? I believe this is AAC-quality rather than lossless or HD - is it OK for this sort of background usage? It's the same price as Apple Music so at a pinch my other half might consider converting to Tidal, but won't pay twice as much for the higher bitrate streams. Anyone using any of the less popular services like Deezer or Napster?

Edited by Jules_S
Hit "post" by mistake before finishing!

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Posted (edited)

As a cheap ‘test the water’ start Jules I’ve just connected my iPad with Spotify via a 1Mii Bluetooth adapter into my DAC.  Quality isnt as sharp as my cd setup but for  <£40 it’s great for general listening etc.

Edited by MF 1000
Should I’d been isnt as sharp
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Super Wammer

Apologies chaps, I hit "Post" by mistake while still getting up a head of steam! :D

So, to answer your questions, it's VdH speaker cable, so the idea is that no equipment has to be located in any room, all kit should be centrally-located and just the speaker output is sent to the room. (I do also have Cat5e ports in each room for data and sending HDMI over Ethernet when I get that far, but I'm trying to get the kit out of the rooms except the tellies and speakers).

Keith - appreciate your thoughts, not sure that arrangement would work for multi-room though. I'd need a couple of tablets at least so my other half and I (and / or guests, when we are eventually allowed to have them again!), and how would I handle streaming over Bluetooth from one source to multiple destinations at the same time?

Good to know that Snotify works OK for non-critical though, so I'm assuming that basic Tidal should also do the job

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Posted (edited)
5 minutes ago, Jules_S said:

Good to know that Snotify works OK for non-critical though, so I'm assuming that basic Tidal should also do the job

Freudian slip? Made me laugh either way. :)

Edited by CnoEvil
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Is the 6W idle usage of your current Sonos units really that big of a deal compared to the environmental cost of making whatever would replace them? I don't know the answer but 6W isn't a huge amount...

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Wow that's some requirement list! 

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4 hours ago, Jules_S said:

Good to know that Snotify works OK for non-critical though, so I'm assuming that basic Tidal should also do the job

Why choose Tidal over Spotify then though? I wouldn't.

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What is critical listening really 

Why can't people just enjoy music x

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May be worth reading up about these networked (streaming) multizone amps and seeking advice from a specialist installer:

https://nadelectronics.com/product/ci-720-v2-network-stereo-zone-amplifier/

https://www.denon.com/en-gb/shop/preamplifiers/heosdrivehs2

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6 watts is about 0.5p per day, why is this such a deal breaker?

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6 minutes ago, Bodgit said:

6 watts is about 0.5p per day, why is this such a deal breaker?

It would be 2.2p per day on my electricity tariff but I was guessing cost wasn't the OP's driver? Like you I still query prioritising this though.

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Multi Room streamers are best left on at all times, as they need to be seen by the network. I seriously doubt that you'll improve on the 6w figure, with the facilities you have dictated.

I would reconsider having central amplification. I would have a small streamer (Blue sound Node 2i) in each room, with an associated Class D amp. These could be easily hidden, especially so if using ethernet connection (optimum method, IMO&E). No heat issues with this option. You're also assuming that your 12 channel Class D amp is best suited to all of your speakers. This may not be the case. Using individual streamers/amps gives more flexibility.

Bluesound works very well multi room. It doesn't have Apple Music native, but this is really a non issue as you can use AirPlay 2 for Apple Music. If your household is used to using Apple Music and the associated app then why complicate matters? They will see no difference at all. Any SQ concerns on Airplay are not relevant with the Apple Music stream quality.

Sync playing is possible (you may want the same songs int he same zones at the same time, synchronously)

Files can be played from your NAS using file share.

Other sources can be streamed to other rooms/zones.

Don't overcomplicate things. BlueSound is a well proven, reasonably priced, multi room system, with an excellent control app.

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3 hours ago, MartinC said:

It would be 2.2p per day on my electricity tariff but I was guessing cost wasn't the OP's driver? Like you I still query prioritising this though.

My maths is wrong, yeh nearer 3p a day. 1/7th of a unit.

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