A quality music streamer will give you the best possible sound if you're wedded to your streaming service and you've binned off your CDs. Whether you get your tunes from Spotify or Tidal or have them stored on a hard drive, we've found the best music streamers to take the hassle out of the hunt.
Most of the selection below support the vast majority of hi-res music formats. Some also boast AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, UPnP compatibility and USB connections. This being the 21st century, internet radio comes as standard - as do smartphone and/or tablet control apps.
With the cheapest budget model coming in at just £35, the question is: can you really afford not to add streaming to your system?
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Audiolab's first standalone music streamer is the third component in the company's mid-range 6000 Series, following the 6000A integrated amplifier and the 6000CDT CD transport. And it borrows tech and features from both. With the same DAC chip from the amp and the circuit design from the transport, it presents a capable and composed sound with an inviting openness and a good honest, down-the-middle tonal balance.
The Play can access services such as Spotify Connect, Tidal, HDtracks, Deezer, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Napster, TuneIn, iHeartRadio and SiriusXM and it can stream at up to 24-bit/192kHz from networked servers. So even the most discerning listeners should find plenty to love.
The lack of a display is a bit of a bugbear, and the presets integration could do with some work. But those minor quibbles aside, this is a superb and affordable way to implement streaming into your system without compromising on sonic quality.
Read the full review: Audiolab 6000N Play
If you want a stylish way to stream your music wirelessly then the Cambridge Audio CXN, with its brushed metal finish and intuitive menus, could be for you.
But it's not just a looker - it has it where it counts, too. Sound quality is fantastic with an enthusiastic, driven delivery that combines snappy timing with subtle levels of detail. We described the original CXN as "wonderfully entertaining", and it's heartening to see this second-generation model retaining that character.
So what sets it apart from its predecessor? The main new skill is Chromecast Built-In, which lets you stream content from compatible apps. It works very well - we were up and running in a matter of moments.
But that's far from the only feature available. It also boasts Apple AirPlay, Tidal and Spotify Connect. All of these can be controlled through Cambridge's Connect app for iOS and Android.
So, the same winning sound quality as the original with even more features to play with. What's not to like?
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXN (V2)
A streamer, DAC and preamplifier combination, this NAD is a real Swiss Army knife of a hi-fi component. It uses Bluesound's BluOS streaming platform and app which brings access to Spotify, Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, HDTracks and more, as well as local and networked music. It supports files up to 32-bit/192kHz, including MQA, of which over 250,000 tracks can be indexed, and there's Bluetooth aptX HD and Apple AirPlay 2.
Phew. So as you can see, you get plenty of music source options, and they stream at a high bitrate, which is exactly what we like to see.
So how does it sound? Very good indeed. It's impressively expressive and really involves you in the music, while dynamics have a natural fluidity. As the hub of a system, it's all-encompassing.
All in all, it's one of the most fully furnished, future-proofed and intuitive streamers we’ve come across. First class.
Read the full review: NAD C 658
The ND 555/555 PS combination isn’t cheap, but it is the best-sounding digital streaming source we’ve heard. Its presentation is direct, punchy and organised with a musical cohesion few rivals can match.
But it's not just impressive sonically - it's packed with features, too. It’ll happily handle up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM files and play up to DSD128 streams. Bluetooth in higher quality aptX HD form is included, as is Chromecast. Tidal and Spotify Connect are embedded, and Apple Airplay, Roon compatibility and the ability to work as part of a Naim-based multiroom set-up are also on the menu.
Just remember - you'll need a separate power supply, which will cost you another few thousand. So it'll certainly cost you a pretty penny. But then you're paying for quality - everything from the structural design to the sophisticated power supply arrangement and purist analogue audio circuitry helps to get the very best sound possible.
If this happens to be within your budget, then don't hesitate to bag this historic double.
Read the full review: Naim ND 555/555 PS DR
If your budget is a little (read: a lot) tighter than the Naim above, maybe the Node 2i is more up your street. In fact, at this price, you'll be hard pressed to find a wireless music streamer with the same amount of talent.
It boasts a strong set of features, like Apple AirPlay 2, two-way Bluetooth, dual-band Wi-Fi, 32-bit/192kHz DAC and a raft of analogue and digital outputs. And when it comes to sound quality, the Node 2i shows plenty of skill from impressive detail to slick timing. It's an enthusiastic-sounding piece of kit, capable of breathing life into any audio you send its way.
It is in the subtleties of a composition that the Node 2i really thrives, showing its ability to pick out the varying intensities of a fingerpicked guitar, arpeggiated piano line or call-and-answer arrangement that may provide rhythm as much as hold a melody.
As far as music streamers go, you won't find many that offer such amazing value for money.
Read the full review: Bluesound Node 2i
The Melco N100 is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a high-quality streamer with storage built-in and already have a capable DAC. Essentially the hi-fi wing of Buffalo, Melco has the slickest music filing software we've used with a brilliance in categorisation through file metadata.
It packs 2TB worth of storage (around 3000 CDs, less with higher-res recordings) and includes both the MinimServer and TwonkyMedia server software. Connectivity is limited but it covers all the essentials.
The files from the Melco are crisp and clean. There’s plenty of detail, the sound is well organised and there's good amount of drive to basslines. Leading edges are precise and the overall presentation is nice and stable. There's also enough dynamic expression, punch and drive to prevent things sounding too analytical, while tonally it's even and open, with a satisfying level of natural warmth.
Overall it sounds very well refined, and never veers towards undue aggression or harshness. Highly recommended.
Read the full review: Melco N100
The Edge NQ performs as well as hi-fi separates costing the same amount, which is high praise indeed. It handles any digital content up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 via its USB Audio Class 2.0 input, or up to 24-bit/192kHz via S/PDIF. And there's Chromecast compatibility for streaming services such as Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz, adding to the already included Spotify Connect, AirPlay and internet radio.
By any measure, that's an impressive feature list.
Sonically, it sounds insightful and impressively clean. You can run your finger over textures and instruments are well organised with plenty of space between them to let them breathe and express themselves.
So what about the downsides? Just about the only niggle we have is that the volume dial could be a little more taut. But that's about it.
If you want a serious one-box system replacement, look no further.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio Edge NQ
Although the ND5 XS 2 might be entry-level by Naim's standards, the sound it produces most definitely isn't. Given a decent amount of time to bed in (Naim products can take a couple of months to really hit their stride) its expressive, detailed and honest delivery makes it a joy to listen to.
But it's not all sound, sound, sound. It's packed with features and functionality too, to cater for all your streaming needs. These include Chromecast, Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect and Tidal. It also supports files up to 32-bit/384kHz stored on an outboard NAS or computer.
The only thing missing is a display, but it's not vital - you use Naim's own control app to navigate your way around on your smartphone. Doing so is a breeze - the app really is as straightforward a piece of software as you could hope for. Which is quite a feat, given the vast array of features it puts at your fingertips.
Read the full review: Naim ND5 XS 2
The NDX 2 sits in the middle of the company’s three-strong hi-fi streamer line-up, and is about as well equipped as they come. There are no obvious holes in file compatibility and it can play up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD128. There’s aptX HD Bluetooth alongside Apple Airplay, Spotify Connect and Chromecast. Tidal is also embedded and, as is increasingly common, it’s Roon-ready.
Sonically, it's as impressive as you would expect from a company that's so dominant in the streaming space. This is an organised, entertaining sound, that moves seamlessly between feeds - it's very responsive, with changes of source made without issue or delay.
For most, a stand-alone Naim NDX 2 will be all the streamer they could ever want. It is well made, carefully conceived and sounds excellent for the money. If your budget stretches to it, we recommend it without hesitation.
Read the full review: Naim NDX 2
Something different from the hi-fi products on this list, the Echo Input is effectively an Echo Dot without the speaker, letting you try out digital living via a smart assistant for less money.
A Bluetooth speaker seems the most likely pairing, and the Input connects to one much like a phone. This is done through the Alexa app, which is a stand-in for the visual interface an Input lacks. This being Amazon, it's a doddle to connect, and the connection stays stable throughout testing.
There's also a 3.5mm input. This wired connection places responsibility for sound quality onto the Input's DAC, and other than slightly low volume output, we have no complaints about audio quality, considering the price. That makes it an attractive prospect and the most affordable way to try out Alexa or multi-room music streaming. Give it a whirl - what have you got to lose?
Read the full review: Amazon Echo Input
CDs, SACDs, Bluetooth and music streamed over a network - this is a player for the 21st century. It's both Chromecast and AirPlay-enabled for easy connectivity and goes high quality on the wireless too thanks to MQA support.
Ergonomically, you can't argue with it. The precision controls and the silky smooth disc drawer feel top notch, even if it's a little squished up to one side for aesthetics. Likewise, the software for the streaming control isn't the best we've seen but it definitely gets the job done.
Fortunately, the functionality is rock solid whether from a disc or over the air and its sound is superb. It's nuanced enough to deliver the full emotional impact of vocals and strings, and comes with enough weight in the bass to keep your tracks feeling big.
Punchy and tuneful, feature-packed and fun: if you’re looking to buy a high-quality digital source that covers all bases, the Technics SL-G700 is a brilliant option.
Read the full review: Technics SL-G700
The Award-winning Cambridge Azur 851N is Cambridge's top-of-the-range model, and the ideal premium music server if you want a machine that doubles as a digital pre-amp or you want something to slot straight into your system.
The sound is full-bodied and muscular with punchy bass and a great sense of dynamic reach. It has Cambridge's typical bone-rattling punch and class-leading insight, but with extra helpings of expression and dynamic skill. There's also a great sense of space and openness that really gives instruments room to breathe.
The Cambridge connects to your network via ethernet, or by plugging in the supplied USB adapter. File support extends all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz and the Cambridge upsamples this to 24-bit/384kHz.
It looks and feels suitably premium too, with a chunky design aesthetic that screams quality. And you can control it either with the on-unit dial, the remote or the Cambridge Connect smartphone app.
Read the full review: Cambridge Azur 851N
This Pioneer is a well-specified, high-performance music streamer that ticks a lot of the streaming world’s many boxes. Everything on its spec-sheet suggests it is more than up to meeting the (very stiff) competition.
The Tidal, Deezer and TuneIn streaming services are all accessible from Pioneer's Remote app on your smartphone, while Google Chromecast support extends that invitation to Google Play Music. Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay come built-in, and you can play tunes over DLNA from your laptop or NAS drive.
It's not choosy when it comes to playing file types either. Its Sabre32 Ultra32 DACs are able to handle PCM files (such as FLAC, WAV and AIFF) up to 24bit/192kHz, as well as 11.2MHz DSD files. And using the USB type B input, PCM file support is expanded to include 32bit/384kHz.
Fire it up, and it doesn't disappoint. Its sound is big and spacious, yet precise at the same time, with an impressive level of detail. It might not quite scale some of the heights of pricier rivals, but it’s still among the most complete streamers we’ve seen at this price.
Read the full review: Pioneer N-70AE
The Naim NAC-N 272 delivers on two fronts - it's a feature-packed streaming preamp and it sounds superb.
Connectivity options include digital inputs, optical and coaxial connections along with Bluetooth for offline streaming. There's also 24-bit/192kHz support with all the main file formats covered, from FLAC to AIFF to Apple Lossless, with native support for Tidal and Spotify Connect. And if you're a fan of old-fashioned radio, there's an optional DAB/DAB+/FM module available too.
Build quality is suitably solid, while sound quality is stunning at the money. We're huge fans of the Naim's communicative, balanced sound and it's a master of dynamics. And its preamp section is as good as any rival we've heard in this price range.
Naim has taken precautions to ensure that the 272's range of connections don't count against it: the digital and analogue sections communicate through optical isolation chips to minimise any interference. And it shows - this is a well-made, great-sounding unit that will do you proud.
Read the full review: Naim NAC-N 272
MiND stands for ‘MOON intelligent Network Device’. This basically means it does everything you would expect from a streamer, drawing from all your mobile devices, NAS drives and streaming services via its control app to collate one whopping great music library.
It offers a stunningly musical and brilliantly balanced sound, whether you're streaming from a NAS drive or a streaming service. It also supports 24-bit/192kHz files, which is useful for compatible services like Tidal.
Its design is a little no-frills, but we quite like that - it's understated, and shows a confidence sadly lacking from some of its flashier rivals. Its confidence is deserved, as it delivers on the sound front, too: audio quality is fantastic with near-perfect dynamics, timings and musicality. Quality isn't even lost when you stream over Bluetooth.
You will need to factor in the cost of an external DAC, though. Can't stretch to that? Never MiND.
Read the full review: Moon Neo MiND