Benefit of "High End" Streamers?

At the risk of being properly “flamed”, I have a serious question. What are the benefits (real or perceived) of an expensive “high end” streamer over say, a RPi?

Before anyone jumps on me, a little context:

I pulled a 1 kHz square wave tone up to audibility from my speakers out of a -120 dBFS test track created in REW and played back via Roon on a Benchmark Media DAC/preamp/bridged mono poweramp combo streamed from a PoE+ powered RPi4B running RoPieee.

A below the threshold of audibility tone made audible by massive gain from an incredibly low noise and distortion amplification chain. What can an expensive streamer add that’s missing from the RPi?

This isn’t an attempt to stir the pot; I’m trying to gauge whether there’s a genuine performance gain from spending more money on a streamer, bearing in mind we’re still in the digital domain.


Are there even any “High End” streamers? Streamer, DAC, Receiver – all have become more or less meaningless marketing terms used to place a product in a market niche/category where its manufacturer expect it to make the most profit. All these devices are complex products that often come with additional features that go beyond what initially was meant/defined by the term they get marketed under.
AFAIK come all the “High End” streamers with a built-in DAC now-a-days. Implying that the DAC from a renowned “High End” brand sounds better and therefore makes the difference, makes it “High End”. Just get marketed as Streamer because in the world of Routers, Switches and so on Streamer sounds better than Networked DAC with DigiOuts or something similar.

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From personal experimentation over quite a few years. Some DACs are worse than others at protecting their sensitive D2A circuitry from the electrical properties of the digital data path. Some of those DACs may sound better with one kind of source (such as AES vs USB) or a “better” streamer. But if the DAC is well designed in that respect, a Pi4 is all you need. I once had relatively expensive streamers that made some difference with the DACs I had then, but not now.

No, I did not do measurements, but I did blind A/B comparisons with a good listener who did not know anything about the hardware.

PS. The above should not be so surprising, there’s no reason to believe audio equipment designers are all equally skilled at good digital circuitry hygiene. Actually, I’ve know digital circuit designers who were very good at high-level design but still messed up low-level electrical design in subtle but very problematic ways (can’t say more than that).


At the moment they are a pain to get hold of. but why do some want fast cars when you cant go fast in the UK. Why always buy the latest iPhone or Android phone? Why build an enterprise home network when you dont really need one in the home?

Not everyone wants a DIY approach and some loath having to use computers for anything. I have 4 pis but much prefer the dedicated device approach, never had to reflash my proper hifikit or weigh it down due to cable drag or have to hide it as its not exceptionally room frienly. Streamers more often act as server and endpoint so no extra crap, some come with a nice remote, they tend to work indepentantly when Roon or other software doesnt, they tend to have their own dedicated apps that are not too shabby either. Is it worth it depends on what you value more and everyone will have thier own opinion.

You have an expensive dac and headamp, why did you not buy ones that are cheaper plenty others that get very good results on ASR. What makes it better than my SU9 and Schiit t Heresy?


Sure, blackbox convenience is worth something, but not necessarily what some high-end streamers go for. What’s wrong with iFi Zen Stream or similar?


The context - I am pretty much 100% Headphones - no speakers , amps etc.

I used a RPi / RoPieee for several years with no complaints , I upgraded but not specifically for streamer but for what I perceived to be a better headphone amp. I also have a CXN V1 alas not Roon Ready. Both sounded identical to me on a DNLA source with my previous headphone amp/DAC . I haven’t wired the CXN via the new amp yet as there is no reason.

Eventually I went for the Naim Uniti Atom HE , mainly for the convenience of a One Box approach, along with my long moaned about availability issues in South Africa

It was close run decision as to whether to stay RPi and get the Sennheiser HDV800 to match my Sennheiser HD800 headphones. he neatness of One Box swung the deal.

I notice a SQ improvement but almost certainly down to the Headphone amp component of the new toy , maybe along with better linear power supply.

I suspect if money is to be spent go for the DAC or analogue bits ,better power supplies etc.


I’ve just written four paragraphs and found that it could all be distilled into a single sentence.

I would use a high end streamer because I want to be able to listen to music even if I don’t have Roon.

I think we forget the relative fragility of streaming, especially when so much of Roon’s functionality is cloud based. If Roon stops tomorrow I can still stream music in high quality with no delay and no change to the hardware on my rack. No re-flashing Pi’s no chucking away now useless screens or anything like that. I just switch off my Roon Core, launch my alternative app and start streaming. The use case isn’t so different to that of the Nucleus product IMO. A plug and play alternative.


You’re buying nicer case work, “features”, and support. Or not, in which case they saw you coming :smile: The job of faithfully converting data packets into a PCM stream is trivial today.


Excellent point given recent changes :joy:

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I think you can apply that argument to any hardware or software used in digital music delivery including Roon itself. All we need is ear buds and a mobile phone!


You can also listen to music with RPI streamers, just like with the high-end ones.
You can not do it with Ropieee, but there are plenty of other Linux distributions that allow it.

With a good power supply, with the addition of the right electronic boards, and the best Linux distributions, a RPI based streamer can outperform many high-end streamers.


Some very valid points raised that I hadn’t considered. A standalone, purpose-built streamer gives you access to locally stored and remotely streamed music without the need for something like Roon. As @Dandou says, you can still do that with a RPi, but it’s a lot more DIY than flashing a microSD with RoPieee.

Fair points. I wanted a smaller, more future-proof amp than the DK Design VS.1 Signature MkIII than I had. The Topping PA5 was easily sonically up there (I have it in my office setup), but it lacked headroom. I looked at Class D, buying or DIY, but then got the opportunity to buy the AHB2 as an ex-demo with warranty for a huge discount. Bought it purely based on the numbers and wasn’t disappointed. I sold the DX7Pro and bought DAC3 to utilise the lowest gain input setting on the AHB2 (and it looks nice sitting on top) and then I was way down the rabbit hole…

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As always. Given SQ is paramount, the question is the same: Does the High-End product outperform others in a halfway decent blind test? Yes? Then we are talking. Else we are discussing convenience and prestige. Both is legit. But one should be truthful.


I did such a blind test with two friends 6 months ago.
We compared a SoTM SMS 200 Ultra to a very basic RPI streamer: a RBi4 + a PI2AES HAT running GentooPlayer, and configured as Diretta Target.
Each of us was the listener on the blind test, while the two others were switching the playbacks. And we preferred, all the three, the PI2AES.

There are better options to assemble a RPI streamer than this basic configuration.

I should say that the SoTM is really a good streamer. It’s not an overpriced product.


I don’t need any specialist manufacturer Roon alternative, because I keep LMS installed and up-to-date in parallel on my server PC - I could even have it autostart without audible compromise, but don’t, since it’d cause extra energy consumption without need.

No extra streamer needed for my main rig either, since it’s directly connected via USB without audible signal degradation.

Flashing a couple Pis is no rocket science for getting other endpoints in sync, either.

Then, there’s my Squeezebox Radios in the “less-critical-listened-to” areas.

Money saved goes into my emotionally most important family matters.

Finally, my thought on claimed audible improvements, when inserting high end streamers into “highly resolving systems”.

I suspect a change in distortion products, strong enough to be audible, harmonically enrich the actual signal to make it more pleasing in that respective setting.

Many such set-ups incorporate all sorts of additional “tone controls”, like cables with questionable properties to further “enhance” the added audible distortion spectrum.

Also, many such systems belong to DSP sceptics, that want to preserve the special product manufacturers’ “voicings”.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to substantiate my theory, because it’d involve visiting each and every proponent who would be ready to participate getting measurements taken of their rig in their home.
It’d probably be very enlightening to measure the room response of those systems as well, as I’d think this won’t be anything to be proud of…

Before some fellow audiophiles are getting ready to flame me to pure carbon, I want to add that I don’t really have a problem with that sort of approach.

What I have a problem with, are the common sense generalizations and technical ignorance in voicing such approaches publicly, often downright neglecting what scientific research in the relevant fields has wrought for our hobby.



The Pi2aes is a quality streamer HAT.
Totally under rated.

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Yes, the PI2AES is a good product. But it was the software that run on the RPI that made the difference with the SoTM: Diretta + Gentooplayer.

What makes you think that I have an agenda?
We used Roon to stream the music during that test both to the PI2AES and to the SoTM.

You can not use Diretta with the players on your streamer. Diretta is a streaming protocol, and to take advantage of it, you need to stream with a player from a server or a computer on the LAN to the endpoint.

I use all the products that I mentioned in my posts with Roon.
I don’t use them with iTunes.

Great. Paying more means the sound is better. It’s all written down in your brain……

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That goes for anything in any walk of life. Why are you paying for Roon when all you need is Volumio or Moode or LMS? Let’s try not to be so reductive in our discussions. Or this topic just becomes a place where you can ambush those who feel differently about this than you.