I find that streaming as a primary source is less than ideal. I get the best sound from vinyl and from ripped CDs and downloaded hiRes files loaded on a 2TB SSD connected directly to streamer/controller/DAC box.
My music strategy these days is to listen to Radio Swiss Jazz on a digital radio. If I really like something, I’ll try to pick up a CD (getting harder to do this BTW), or download a hiRes file somewhere. If I moderately like something, I’ll make it a favorite on Qobuz.
Have the audio designers figured out why streamed music sounds so poor against directly connected media?
Many including myself have noticed that CD’s/LP’s sound better than streaming. I Swear that they are adding some sort of "special sauce/eq to make tracks sound better on cheap earbuds all the way to our very expensive rigs.
Since their is no audible difference between Amazon Music and Qobuz via a Bluesound Node 2i into a PSA DSSr. Once should assume same source material from the record companies.
While I agree with your assertion that LP’s and CD’s on quality devices sound better than streaming services the fact that you hear no difference between Amazon and Qobuz via the Node says more about the Node than anything else. Other than some minor parts changes due to parts becoming obsolete the Node is the same device it was seven years ago. It sells because of the software not the hardware and you can tell Alexa what you want it to do.
At my house, vinyl sounds best. Close behind would be CDs. Streaming comes last but the difference is very, very, very, very small. Better gear allows streaming to sound wonderful.
Better gear, a proper internet connection, and streaming sounds great. I can easily prove it if you stop by to listen.
For the last 5 years I have listened almost exclusively to music streamed from Qobuz. If I came to it blind I doubt if could tell if any individual album was streamed from Qobuz or had been picked up from NAS by minimserver.
However, there was a period of a few days when my router had died when I listened exclusively to ripped CDs from NAS. When I returned to Qobuz things sounded better overall. On Qobuz I normally listen to 24/96, but blind tests have shown that my aged ears cannot distinguish CD from hires. I wondered if the difference was that I tend to stream new releases, but the ripped CDs were old, and that production standards had improved over the years. There are so many possible confounding variables that this has to remain a conjecture.
Taking everything I listen to into account, I have to say that in my system, “best” SQ depends entirely on the source. I play vinyl, CDs, SACDs, files from a server, and stream from Qobuz (the last two at a variety of resolutions), and I have examples of each format that sound better (and some that sound worse) than other examples from the other formats. Trying to determine which format has inherently better sound than the others across the board is a fool’s errand, IMO. Naming one as “best” and limiting our listening to that format at the expense of the others is a fine way to limit our enjoyment of music, and of the hobby.
NAD M33 BluOS Integrated with Purifi power stages + Buchardt Audio S400 SE (living room)
NAD C658 BluOS streaming preamp + Yamaha MSP5 active speakers (home office)
CD tops everything in SQ. Regardless which player:
or 10 years old Yamaha (BlueRay Multiplayer)
30+ years old Technics (home office, finally broken and will be replaced by a NAD C568 CD Player)
Followed by (in SQ ranking order):
ripped CDs or downloaded high res music via Ethernet, BluOS, from iMac as server
Radio Paradise via Ethernet and BluOS in MQA
Apple Music lossless, in the living room streaming via Apple TV, that is connected to the M33 HDMI 2 input module or in the home office via the iMac, all connected through Ethernet
I don’t like streaming through WiFi such as mobile devices or laptops in the house. It drains the battery and heats the devices. In my car I do stream lossy to mobile devices via Bluetooth, and from lossless files via USB from my 14 years old Apple iPod touch.
Note: The SQ of HDMI connections to the NAD M33 for the Yamaha BlueRay and Apple TV tops the optical connections.
What about vinyl: By far my favorite! If I have the time for quality listening.
It’s not about SQ only. SQ, even on my 40+ years old Thorens TD 105 SQ is very enjoyable.
The big thing, vinyl is also about everything else no other format has to offer:
the selection of the record from our bookshelf
the good memories with every album I pull out
the tremendous beautiful artwork of the cover art
the handling of the record
the act of dropping the needle
the fact that you see something happening, like the platter turning
the care you need to take to keep it all in good condition
admiring the cover art, posters, lyrics and pictures that came with the album while listening to the music
the not looking at a screen
Streaming is for exploring music, if I like the music I buy the album. Sometimes in vinyl sometimes on CD.
It all contributes to a peace of mind and I enjoy having the possibilities to select the method of playback suitable for every situation.
Paul’s recent discussion of digital prompted me to ask the original question. In my system the SQ difference of streaming to everything else is stark and obvious (it’s instructional to play the same music on the two media and note the difference).
So, what part of the streaming chain degrades the sound? Is it possible to fix, or must we live with inferior streaming SQ?
It makes no sense in my mind that once all the bits are reassembled (and I assume buffered) that those bits would sound different than bits on a local drive.
There is an extremely worrying factor in streaming:
Here in The Netherlands and I think in entire Europe Internet providers announced that they want to claim more from the streaming cake. They proposed to charge their customers extra for having streaming services run over “their” network.
I definitely do not want to go down that route. If they start charging more for that it is definitely the end of any streaming contract that I utilize. Being Apple and Netflix. Furthermore at that point I won’t be needing the more expensive higher bandwidth Internet contract anymore either.
Dutch government wants to stop this, at least they say. But once the Internet lobby shows the government higher tax incomes by raising prices, our governments are not so protective of their citizens anymore. See recent inflation at gas stations and in supermarkets.
Anyway, it is an extremely unpleasant sign on the wall that causes me to stop investing more in streaming equipment and contracts.
I prefer to own the music media, that I paid for. I want to be able to play it at any time any place of my liking without being dependent on Internet providers.
PST playing SACD with DS used to produce much better SQ than Bridge2. After I switched to a Euphony Summus2 streamer the difference between the two was smaller. After the MK2 upgrade it seems the streaming SQ has a bigger improvement than CDs in my system (from playing DSD256 mainly). Then I added a network switch, a new power cable, and a great USB cable. Now they still sound different, but I would not say one is “better” than the other.
I believe streaming SQ has more room to improve as newer hardware start showing up. A Lumin U2 and a Melco N1 are two examples. Like everything else the cost matters.
The level of gear I use for streaming is a tad on the expensive side. A Grimm MU1 handles the streaming quite nicely. I do not use wireless. I have a very fast internet connection to my wired home network. I have experience with far less costly gear. A UltraRendu and a Euphony server delivered very nice sound. About 3K for everything involved.
I imagine at this point investing another nickel seems like a poor idea to you. Many of us have found it worthwhile. Others, not so much.
In general I prefer records to CDs and streaming, and CDs preferable to streaming. I do acknowledge that an apples to apples comparison may not be achievable as there is no simple way to account for mastering differences. Using Qobuz, I enjoy the convenience of streaming, particularly when exploring music. I use streaming as a tool to try various releases to determine if they are worth adding to my library. Many are worth a one time listen, but may not match my taste thus resulting in inclusion in my library.
Regarding the BlueSound Node2i, which I still have, it is a great convenience item, but better sound is available via various other streaming devices. The BlueSound OS is fine and bug free IME. Currently my streaming is via an Innuos Zenith Mk3, and a ZEN Mk3. A potential step-up from the BlueSound would be an Innuos Pulse mini. Lumin and Aires are other worthy contenders.
Regarding records I freely admit there are some real bad sounding records out there. For example others have mentioned the Kinks, attributable to bad early solid state recording techniques. As far as good LP recordings, it depends on one’s taste, but an easy example is the Blue Note Tone Poet series and the Blue Note Music Matters LP reissues.
My best advice is to seek out the music that you like and will continue to pull for repeated listening. As you become aware of improved re-masterings seek it out in your preferred format, for me it is records.