Streamers have become a standard source in many high-quality audio systems. This is not surprising, given that all major brands have had a streamer in their range for more than five years. Sonos even around fifteen years. In short: streamers are now mature sources. We are curious about the current status of the hardware. After all: Sonos has the new Sonos Port. And Bluesound now has the Node 2i. Time for a battle! Live… with you!
Streamers come in many shapes and sizes. And in various classes. We are regularly asked to test affordable audio. Not everyone has the freedom to spend a significant amount of money on hi-fi. Incidentally, it is very interesting for us to test in that class, because it is more difficult for a manufacturer to work with a limited budget.
Now ‘affordable price class’ is very relative. After all, what is ‘affordable’? And what is entry level audio? We consider the ‘Sonos Port’ class as entry-level class. Is there nothing cheaper? There certainly is. But we decided a long time ago to start testing at that price point. For several reasons: that’s when we think are the best deals in terms of quality and price. Think of support, sound, finishing, et cetera. There are really exceptions of course.
As candidates we’re considering: Sonos Port, Bluesound Node2i, Heos Link (2nd generation), Yamaha WXC50, Metrum Acoustics Baby Ambre and of course there are systems from Bose, Harman and for example Bowers & Wilkins. However, these have no ‘single player’ to connect to a hifi-systemen, or no single player in this price class. The Formation Link for example is a little bit too expensive. And the new Volumio player was still on a cargo ship. A reader points us to the lack of the Allo player. Of course there are numerous alternatives. And we believe that the Allo player is good. However, there is no official importer of the Allo player, which is in fact a Rasberry Pi with an extra board/modification.
The HEOS Link – and Marantz or Denon alternatives – are not available. So it comes to a comparison of the Sonos Port, Bluesound Node2i, Yamaha WXC50 and Metrum Baby Ambre. The latter is deliberately a bit of an odd choice: it does fall in this price range, but it needs an external converter and a ROON license. In short: extra costs. But we would like to take this one into the live multi test.
The test setup
We use our well-known reference set:
- Pass Labs XP12
- Bryston 4B SST3
- Focal Sopra No1
- Metrum Acoustics Pavane (for the Baby Ambre (and later the test via coaxial)
- Isotek Titan
- Kemp PowerStrip 8plus
- Cabling from Audioquest and Grimm
- Custom ROON server
We use a fixed playlist to play the same music. That turned out to be a challenge in the first round in which we played native via the apps of the streamers. Not all apps are equally convenient with searching in our library. And Tidal via BubbleUpnp did something strange. However, we did manage to play all tracks under the same conditions. The playlist can be found in the description of the Youtube Video. Including all time stamps (so you can quickly switch between the streamers).