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Striving to understand the landscape of digital and streaming audio


Hi, I'm new here so appreciate your patience with my first question. I'm researching the current landscape of digital and streaming audio so I can simply understand it and find what I may be looking for.


As info, here's my current setups:

  • Resolution Audio Cantata 3.0 Music Player and Integrated Amp + Harbeth P3esr speakers - using an iMac and a mix of iTunes, Bandcamp, Tidal (and Qobuz soon) and formerly Roon as source
  • An old MacBook Air + Bandcamp and Tidal with a Grace M900 headphone amp/dac and Audioquest headphones
  • iPhone + Bandcamp and Tidal with Sony WH-1000xm3 noise canceling headphones - for commuting and at the office, and sometimes around the house - it's very convenient


As you can probably see, I'm migrating to listening primarily through streaming, though I still have a ton of music files (around 1 TB worth in mostly Apple Lossless). 


One thing I'm looking for is to optimize my streaming listening quality at home. I use Tidal and I'll add Qobuz when it's available in the US. I listen to Tidal through their various apps, always at the highest resolution depending on device. I used Roon for a while and liked it but I recently unsubscribed, though I may resubscribe - but that depends on what I learn here. 


To my question: there's various servers, streamers, DACs, etc that cover a range of services and options. As far as I can tell, servers simply pass through the signal from a source to a DAC, but they seem to do it better than an iMac (is that true in your case?). Therefore, I may add a server to the Resolution Audio system in place of the iMac. Or there's Audirvana and things like that. What might you suggest? Budget is flexible. Focused on streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz, but also able to play local source files. I don't listen to DSD. 


The RA system is in my home office where it will always reside (I have as strong respect for its sound and design and Jeff Kalt has been very helpful over the years). Someday, when my kids are older, I may add a pair of KEF wireless speakers in our living room and stream to those; I'm striving to encourage a love of music, and helping them understand that Alexa is not an ideal audio system. 


Another question: are you aware of any diagrams that outline how these things connect in broad strokes? I'm a visual person and seeing a diagram is much more informative than reading about how all these things connect up. I may also create my own diagrams. 


Finally, years ago I went through the "audiophile" carousel, but paused when the kids came along. But I've always loved music since I was a kid and I've always had good systems. I don't want to hop back on the carousel - I'm much more pragmatic these days - but I do want to find the right balance of system, quality and usability. 


TIA for any recommendations as I deepen my understanding of this current landscape! 

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Hi Andrew - A few great questions. Thanks for asking, I know there are many people in the same boat.


I'm a big fan of Resolution Audio and Jeff Kalt's work. Smart choice and great value in HiFi.


A dedicated component versus a traditional computer is a very personal choice. In your RA . iMac system you may like the ability to work on the iMac and have instant access to switching tracks or searching for an artist in Tidal. If you switch to a dedicated server/streamer this will mean you now have an app on a tablet or mobile device to navigate. There is always a Roon Nucleus or ROCK that will enable you to use the desktop app for this as well. Again, it's about your style of listening and life. What's important to you?


Servers from Aurander or Lumin are popular and support Tidal and Qobuz. Auralic is another option that can serve music and is a bit more flexible. However, if you mainly stream, I'm not sure a solution that's a dedicated server is the best option.


If content is king for you, I highly recommend something from Sonos that passes the digital audio to your DAC. Nobody has the content partnerships that Sonos has. Whether it's HiFi or not is something audiophiles will debate forever. 


With respect to diagrams, what exactly are you looking for?


I have a feeling this is going to take a few back and forth exchanges to help you get where you want to go or get educated as you wish. There are many smart people around here who can help with whatever you need. The only hard part for you is asking the right questions and continuing to ask until you get what you need. 



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Thanks for the thoughtful response. Yes, it's about asking the right questions - I feel like I have broad questions about the landscape and I'm narrowing down the specific questions as I learn more. 


The iMac is a dedicated audio system Mac; repurposed from previous uses. I did use Roon and I'm aware of the Nucleus, but I need to better understand how it works with the desktop app - or just how it works (I'd hope they add Qobuz support someday). There is a satellite router near the iMac for the Nucleus. I could also connect the iMac to a headphone amp/DAC for headphone listening. 


BTW is there a good online source or manual that explains the Nucleus? I've only found their blog post and white paper; oddly, Roon does not have a product section of their site for the Nucleus. 


I hear you on whether or not a streamer device makes sense, if streaming is the primary content. Part of that though, is that streaming has been convenient. I still have lots of "unused" music sitting on the iMac that someday I may want to rediscover. But as I get older my focus narrows and some of that older music is less interesting now (and much of it is available on streaming anyway). 


BTW I've never used Qobuz because I can't, but I know the content is different in some ways from Tidal, and it's non-MQA high-res, and that a lot of people like it (including Jeff). I will definitely try it. 


This probably doesn't help - it's not the right questions yet. Primarily thinking out loud I guess. I'm also looking for that "just right" audio quality: not excessively chasing that last 1-2% vs being able to appreciate the music at an acceptable level of quality to really hear and enjoy it. Therefore, trying to understand what equipment/services/system can lead me to that middle ground. 

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It seems you have enough already given your goals. 


In my experience your hard drive music files in ALAC are excellent via iTunes...until you try to get them off the computer. The diagram you want would show a decision here for USB or Ethernet or WiFi. The trade off is quality vs convenience vs affordability. Choose two (kidding, sort of).


Since ultimate sound is not a goal, then your physical layout needs will inform your choices as well as minimize/avoid additional expense in the form of quality improving power supplies. 


I don’t stream so I’m no help, but everybody here (figuratively) seems to think Roon is a god-send. If that were an option and quality is desired, you have many options to spend money! The good news is that there are reasonably priced upgrades for the “endpoints” of your signal that feed your DAC. 


This is one possibility; hope this helps. 

Sum>Frankenstein: Schiit Yggdrasil A2+Shunyata Venom/PS Audio P3 Regenerator+AVOptions Tibia, W4S Remedy/Uptone LPS-1.2, Linn LP12/Hercules II/Ittok/Denon DL-103R, Naim 72/HiCap/250 DR, Tellurium Black II, Monitor Audio Silver 500, Epos, Uptone Audio ISO & EtherREGENs, Witch Hat/Audience/Silnote/ZenWave/Mapleshade/Shunyata/Transparent Audio cables/cords, and nice room w/treatment.

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The Roon Nucleus can be simply thought of like a refrigerator for music.  IT is an appliance that does basically one thing: Run the Roon server application. It is connected to your network and controls what are called Roon endpoints where music playback happens.  Operation of the system is controlled by an application that can be placed on many types of computers, phones, tablets.  The Roon sever logically replaces your iMac.  It can get more complex than that and it might not be flexible enough for you.


On another note, it is relatively simple to move your music out of iTunes.  Since you say they are ALAC I assume that you have ripped them on your own and they are not encumbered.  It can be as simple as copying the files to another place.


You can also look into software like Audirvana Plus that can integrate streaming from multiple services and your local music in iTunes.   There are other applications such as JRiver that address the problems in different ways.


As you move forward you may want to remotely control playback of the music on your iMac with another device so you should look for that in your playback software.  I agree with Chris that having something like a Sonos Connect in your system gives you access to more of the worlds of streaming!  


At this point diagrams of systems are not much of a help.  They would hinder your thinking.   


Listen to what you have, play with the trials of some software like JRiver and Audirvana.  Listen and enjoy.



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Thanks. I guess an advantage of moving Roon from the iMac to a Nucleus is that it is accessible to any Roon app on the network and therefore I can stream to any endpoint or connected DAC. 


Quick question though: if the Nucleus is physically connected to the router satellite, then I can use the iMac as a Roon endpoint, either through the iMac or iOS Control apps,  to stream from the Nucleus to the iMac via wifi, and run the music through the DAC connected to the iMac? If true, I guess my question is, what's the advantage of putting the Roon Core on the Nucleus instead of the iMac? Is that primarily intended to make the Roon Nucleus a type of NAS for use across the house? 


Yes, all of my music files are simply folders and files on the iMac, so I can move theme anywhere. I've done that to move them between computers and to back them up. 


I have recently rediscovered my music and I'm loving Roon to do it. After a ton of research I bought a Rupert Neve RNHP headphone amp and a pair of Focal Clear headphones, and through the Cantata MC the music is simply amazing. Years ago it took me a long time of trial and error to get the right system dialed in, but this just feels right from the get go. What luck! I don't think I could be happier. Of course, I give a lot of credit to the Cantata. 

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