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Thoughts on an iPad as a streaming source?


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I've been looking into music streamers and have specifically been considering the following:

 

  • Bluesound Node 2i
  • Pro-ject Stream Box Ultra S2
  • Cambridge Audio CXN
  • Innuos Zen Mini Mk3

 

How would streaming out of an iPad compare in sound quality? The reason why I ask is that the user experience of most streamers (except the Bluesound) is still in the dark ages in terms of user interface design. The Innuos looks interesting as well from a design standpoint, but the need to either run a LONG ethernet cable or add a Wi-Fi extender to get an ethernet port upstairs (my Wi-Fi router is downstairs) feels like a lot of work.

 

Thoughts? My budget for a streamer is under $2k & ideally under $1k.

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With that budget, a Macbook should be considered.  Mac OS allows you to experiment and use different software players which an IOS device does not.  Plus you get the rock solid performance, reliability and longevity of Mac hardware.  If you want to bypass Mac core audio, there is software that can accomplish that goal.  I use Amarra SQ+ and stream Spotify via their client software to an external dac.  Anyways, my two cents.  

RIG:  MB Pro - Benchmark DAC3 L | Benchmark AHB2 | Paradigm Sig S6 Cables:   Van Damme XLR Canare 4S11 Lifatec optical Wireworld and IsoTek power

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I don't think you're going to able to go with lossless files or feed a decent DAC with an iPad, though I could be wrong.

 

Like Photon, I have used Amarra on a Mac; went with this solution for years.  But I did not experience rock solid performance--there was always some sort of software snafu, and, of course (see other threads), an endless stream of USB decrapifiers.  Today I use only dedicated purpose-built servers, including a Bluesound Node 2i on my secondary system into a Schiit Bifrost via coax.  As you probably know, the external DAC is optional, but well worth the money and within your budget.  Great sound, and a much more stable platform overall.  If you already own a Mac, and you're just getting started, it's fine, especially with Amarra or similar.  But if you have to reach into your pocket, Bluesound is a much better solution

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16 hours ago, Calvin & Hobbes said:

Thanks, good feedback. I do wonder if the iPad might produce a cleaner electrical output being a simpler device.

Check out the discussion here re: using your iPhone or iPad for streaming.  Can be done with good results.   Does your DAC have USB input ?  Alternatively may need a USB>SPDIF converter.:

 

 

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On 11/6/2020 at 4:31 PM, Calvin & Hobbes said:

I've been looking into music streamers and have specifically been considering the following:

 

  • Bluesound Node 2i
  • Pro-ject Stream Box Ultra S2
  • Cambridge Audio CXN
  • Innuos Zen Mini Mk3

 

How would streaming out of an iPad compare in sound quality? The reason why I ask is that the user experience of most streamers (except the Bluesound) is still in the dark ages in terms of user interface design. The Innuos looks interesting as well from a design standpoint, but the need to either run a LONG ethernet cable or add a Wi-Fi extender to get an ethernet port upstairs (my Wi-Fi router is downstairs) feels like a lot of work.

 

Thoughts? My budget for a streamer is under $2k & ideally under $1k.

You can build a wireless i7 NUC server +good LPS for about $1200, thats a better deal than the Zen Mini because with the Zen mini you would have to buy their upgrade

LPS to do better than NUC + LPS. You would need software, Roon Nucleus with Roon license I believe runs $120 annually, would allow you to stream to Roon compatible endpoints like Idevices as well as play over USB connect from server to DAC. And I find Qobuz with iPhone indispensable, its integrated (with Qobuz subscription)

to Roon

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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5 hours ago, davide256 said:

You can build a wireless i7 NUC server +good LPS for about $1200, thats a better deal than the Zen Mini because with the Zen mini you would have to buy their upgrade

LPS to do better than NUC + LPS. You would need software, Roon Nucleus with Roon license I believe runs $120 annually, would allow you to stream to Roon compatible endpoints like Idevices as well as play over USB connect from server to DAC. And I find Qobuz with iPhone indispensable, its integrated (with Qobuz subscription)

to Roon

Is there any difference in sound between the Qobuz app and Qobuz via Roon? If only streaming, seems like Roon is unnecessary. 

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4 hours ago, Rexp said:

Is there any difference in sound between the Qobuz app and Qobuz via Roon? If only streaming, seems like Roon is unnecessary. 

I'd agree for iOS. I'm not a fan of the Windows Qobuz app, seems clunky compared to Roons interface. I don't notice a sound quality difference

between the apps vs using Qobuz with Roon.

Regards,

Dave

 

Audio system

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When I go to my parents, I hook up my iPhone straight to his year 1995 Adcom pre (with no external DAC widget) which feeds his 1995 Adcom amp out to his 1995 Snell speakers and I sometimes almost think his setup sounds better than my modern stuff.   It really makes me pause and go "hmmm..." to myself.  So yes, I think an IOS device can sound good.

RIG:  MB Pro - Benchmark DAC3 L | Benchmark AHB2 | Paradigm Sig S6 Cables:   Van Damme XLR Canare 4S11 Lifatec optical Wireworld and IsoTek power

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  • 2 weeks later...

As I just had to send in my MacBook Pro to repair (the butterfly keyboard issue) I just lost my main music server (Audirvana) for about 2 weeks. 
 

I was first thinking to feed my DAC via my regular Belcanto USB-SPDIF converter via the camera connection kit from the Qobuz app. However it turns out the USB our of the CCC isn’t able to power the Belcanto (which has no external power supply). 
 

So I’m now on plan B, feeding the Qobuz app via CCC into my travel DAC (remember that thing, travel?), the Dragonfly Red, and then via an old 3.5mm to cinch cable I had flying around from the iPod days directly into my amp. 
 

Works surprisingly well, due to the power input I can even charge my iPad while using it as a source. 

 

It doesn’t sound as good as my regular DAC but without comparison you wouldn’t necessarily notice. 
 

I’m now just missing my Audirvana remote app which used to work on both IPhone and iPad. I haven’t yet found a way to remote control an iPad. Is there one?

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On 11/7/2020 at 5:31 AM, Calvin & Hobbes said:

I've been looking into music streamers and have specifically been considering the following:

 

  • Bluesound Node 2i
  • Pro-ject Stream Box Ultra S2
  • Cambridge Audio CXN
  • Innuos Zen Mini Mk3

 

How would streaming out of an iPad compare in sound quality? The reason why I ask is that the user experience of most streamers (except the Bluesound) is still in the dark ages in terms of user interface design. The Innuos looks interesting as well from a design standpoint, but the need to either run a LONG ethernet cable or add a Wi-Fi extender to get an ethernet port upstairs (my Wi-Fi router is downstairs) feels like a lot of work.

 

Thoughts? My budget for a streamer is under $2k & ideally under $1k.

 

A key thing to know is what streaming services / software players, you use?

 

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1 hour ago, Musicophile said:

I was first thinking to feed my DAC via my regular Belcanto USB-SPDIF converter via the camera connection kit from the Qobuz app. However it turns out the USB our of the CCC isn’t able to power the Belcanto (which has no external power supply). 

I’m a little confused. Doesn’t your DAC have a USB input?

Can’t you connect your iPad via CCC to the USB input of your DAC? Or does that also draw way too much power from your iPad?

Roon (convolution filter using Acourate) > ultraRendu > Peachtree X1 (Toslink) > Chord Hugo M-Scaler > Chord DAVE > Chord Etude > Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature + Sunfire TS-EQ10 subwoofers

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On 11/6/2020 at 3:31 PM, Calvin & Hobbes said:

How would streaming out of an iPad compare in sound quality?

Streaming out of my iPad off battery sounds great. I do it at work with my Chord Hugo 2 & Mojo. I also take my Chord DAVE to my local Head-Fi meets and use the iPad to stream.

 

But I have to admit, I’ve seen this frequently on this site and at Head-Fi where people don’t really share their whole system. And honestly, I think the advice that can be given is really limited. Let’s imagine you have a really old DAC that doesn’t even have asynchronous USB and your old iPad battery is dying so you’re planning to use a cheap third party power adaptor to charge the iPad via the Lightning port while feeding the ancient DAC, your iPad is going to sound horrible compared to say a new streamer with a modern clock feeding S/PDIF with ultra low jitter into your ancient DAC. So everything is system-dependent.

 

Or alternatively, if you don’t already own an iPad, I would never recommend going out and buying an iPad as a streamer unless there are other use cases and components in your system that would support such usage.

 

It’s like saying premium gasoline is great or these racing tires are great. Sure, use them in a 30-year-old Japanese sedan and see how it goes.

Roon (convolution filter using Acourate) > ultraRendu > Peachtree X1 (Toslink) > Chord Hugo M-Scaler > Chord DAVE > Chord Etude > Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature + Sunfire TS-EQ10 subwoofers

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27 minutes ago, ecwl said:

I’m a little confused. Doesn’t your DAC have a USB input?

Can’t you connect your iPad via CCC to the USB input of your DAC? Or does that also draw way too much power from your iPad?

The USB implementation of my somewhat older Exposure 2010 DAC isn’t great, that’s why I always went via the Belcanto SPDIF way. But that should work, you are correct.

 

If I find some time tomorrow I may do a direct A/B test comparing the USB-in on my main DAC vs the little Dragonfly. 

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17 hours ago, Musicophile said:

The USB implementation of my somewhat older Exposure 2010 DAC isn’t great, that’s why I always went via the Belcanto SPDIF way. But that should work, you are correct.

 

If I find some time tomorrow I may do a direct A/B test comparing the USB-in on my main DAC vs the little Dragonfly. 

The A/B test didn’t last long.
 

Somewhat obviously even the suboptimal USB stage feeding a mostly discrete analog stage DAC sounds better than the Dragonfly. 
 

I just hadn’t used the USB in for 5 years now, so had completely forgotten about it. 
 

So to answer the OPs question, the iPad seems to be a pretty decent streaming source so far if you use Qobuz and the iOS app feeding the CCC. If you have a lossless streaming provider, don’t plan on playing any external local files, and can live without a remote. 

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20 minutes ago, Musicophile said:

[...] If you have a lossless streaming provider, don’t plan on playing any external local files, and can live without a remote. 

 

That's a situation in which I found myself. While Qobuz contains a truly inexhaustible supply of music, there are still some things that aren't there and are unlikely ever be, such as Grateful Dead's tapers archives, etc. 🙂

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17 minutes ago, AnotherSpin said:

 

That's a situation in which I found myself. While Qobuz contains a truly inexhaustible supply of music, there are still some things that aren't there and are unlikely ever be, such as Grateful Dead's tapers archives, etc. 🙂

At the risk of going somewhat off topic: I have nearly 4TB of a personal library and keep buying albums every single month. For two reasons: I’m still not the lossless or even better high res streaming model will be commercially viable long term, and to ensure that artists are making at least some money (which they clearly don’t with streaming unless you’re Beyoncé). 
 

To me streaming for the foreseeable future will remain my discovery engine and for when I’m on the go, but having my own library will always be the go to solution. So if high res streaming one day gets too expensive I can simply “cut the cord”. I probably have more music in my library I can ever listen to anyhow. 
 

For this I feel a dedicated streamer or a computer (the new M1 MacMinis look impressive) will remain the better option. 

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1 minute ago, Musicophile said:

At the risk of going somewhat off topic: I have nearly 4TB of a personal library and keep buying albums every single month. For two reasons: I’m still not the lossless or even better high res streaming model will be commercially viable long term, and tow ensure that artists are making at least some money (which they clearly don’t with streaming unless you’re Beyoncé). 
 

To me streaming for the foreseeable future will remain my discovery engine and for when I’m on the go, but having my own library will always be the go to solution. So if high res streaming one day gets too expensive I can simply “cut the cord”. I probably have more music in my library I can ever listen to anyhow. 
 

For this I feel a dedicated streamer or a computer (the new M1 MacMinis look impressive) will remain the better option. 

 

Can not disagree with your point. Still, streaming only model seem to be very attractive :-) I am musing about fine one-box or one-box + speakers solution... Can not figure out so far what it should be :-)

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1 minute ago, AnotherSpin said:

 

Can not disagree with your point. Still, streaming only model seem to be very attractive :-) I am musing about fine one-box or one-box + speakers solution... Can not figure out so far what it should be :-)

I’d also like to simplify my digital system at some point. Haven’t found the solution just yet. Therefore sticking with the same

hifi since 2015 now. Maybe not the worst; leaves you more time to focus on the music. 

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58 minutes ago, Musicophile said:

The A/B test didn’t last long.
 

Somewhat obviously even the suboptimal USB stage feeding a mostly discrete analog stage DAC sounds better than the Dragonfly. 
 

I just hadn’t used the USB in for 5 years now, so had completely forgotten about it. 
 

So to answer the OPs question, the iPad seems to be a pretty decent streaming source so far if you use Qobuz and the iOS app feeding the CCC. If you have a lossless streaming provider, don’t plan on playing any external local files, and can live without a remote. 

Because USB implementations now are very good, we tend to forget a while back, the older USB implementation problems are either related to noise or jitter. But if you’re running the USB off an iPad on battery (presumably without cellular function or have the cellular function turned off), the amount of noise generally is fairly low, even if the USB implementation has no galvanic isolation. And even though older USB implementation have more jitter, all DACs still has de-jitter implementations after the USB section. That’s why the iPad should sound okay. Obviously, more modern USB implementation would sound even better.

Of course, if you’re to plug an old desktop PC to your Exposure’s USB, it would sound worse because now you’re introducing more noise into the older USB implementation that it probably can’t handle. In fact, I can imagine the Dragonfly sounding better than the Exposure when plugged into an old noisy desktop PC via USB as a distinct possibility.

The reason why your Belcanto S/PDIF still sounds better is because you’ve lowered the noise and you’ve lowered the jitter.

Glad you can enjoy your music better while you wait for the MacBook Pro repair. I need your blog so that I’m not completely brainwashed by Gramophone magazine.

Roon (convolution filter using Acourate) > ultraRendu > Peachtree X1 (Toslink) > Chord Hugo M-Scaler > Chord DAVE > Chord Etude > Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature + Sunfire TS-EQ10 subwoofers

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32 minutes ago, AnotherSpin said:

 

Can not disagree with your point. Still, streaming only model seem to be very attractive :-) I am musing about fine one-box or one-box + speakers solution... Can not figure out so far what it should be :-)

A little off this topic. But over the past 5 years, I became more and more convinced that the modern computer audio system should always include some sort of DSP for room correction. You can do it on the computer end or you can buy a device that can do it all for you “automatically”. Ideally, I think convolution filters are better but even simple parametric EQ for bass peaks can often lead to dramatic improvements.

So for one system+speakers options, I think Lyngdorf TDAI (RoomPerfect), NAD M33/M10 (Dirac) are good options. Higher end products like Devialet Expert now allows you to set your own parametric EQ but also has a speaker correction system that is excellent (if they already have your speakers in their database). Or you can always simply the whole system by buying Devialet Phantoms (which does not have DSP).

But then of course, I have the system I do for very specific reasons. If you’re curious, just PM me.

Roon (convolution filter using Acourate) > ultraRendu > Peachtree X1 (Toslink) > Chord Hugo M-Scaler > Chord DAVE > Chord Etude > Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature + Sunfire TS-EQ10 subwoofers

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3 hours ago, ecwl said:

Because USB implementations now are very good, we tend to forget a while back, the older USB implementation problems are either related to noise or jitter. But if you’re running the USB off an iPad on battery (presumably without cellular function or have the cellular function turned off), the amount of noise generally is fairly low, even if the USB implementation has no galvanic isolation. And even though older USB implementation have more jitter, all DACs still has de-jitter implementations after the USB section. That’s why the iPad should sound okay. Obviously, more modern USB implementation would sound even better.

Of course, if you’re to plug an old desktop PC to your Exposure’s USB, it would sound worse because now you’re introducing more noise into the older USB implementation that it probably can’t handle. In fact, I can imagine the Dragonfly sounding better than the Exposure when plugged into an old noisy desktop PC via USB as a distinct possibility.

The reason why your Belcanto S/PDIF still sounds better is because you’ve lowered the noise and you’ve lowered the jitter.

Glad you can enjoy your music better while you wait for the MacBook Pro repair. I need your blog so that I’m not completely brainwashed by Gramophone magazine.

Thanks. Agree with your assessment. 
 

Trying my best on the blog. This year I wasn’t as active as I wanted to, but trying to pick up my publishing frequency. Just did a new review this afternoon. 

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