If you're looking to add wireless music to your hi-fi, then you've come to the right place. Even stubborn enthusiasts of physical formats have to admit that online streaming has become inescapable and for music lovers, it most likely plays a significant part in their daily listening habits.
However, if it's important to you that your music sounds the best it possibly can, no matter how you choose to listen, a dedicated network audio streamer is a must-have for your digital hi-fi needs. Whether you're looking to play locally stored lossless files or access CD-quality tracks from top-tier music subscription services, choosing one of the best music streamers is the best way to do them justice.
Every music streamer on this list has been thoroughly tested by the team of experts at What Hi-Fi? in our dedicated listening rooms, so you can trust our buying advice.
There are plenty of choices these days, across all budgets, but which network streamer is the right one for you? Check out our guide below and our pick of the best products to make your decision.
The quick list
Best music streamer overall
The best sound-for-pound music streamer you can buy overall, the CXN V2 looks and sounds superb.
Best budget music streamer
The appealingly dinky MXN10 offers awesome sound and impressive specs at an entry-level price.
Best mid-price music streamer
Arcam's Award-winning T60 ticks multiple streaming boxes while prioritising performance, making it the best-sounding option at this price.
Best premium music streamer
It may not be much to look at, but Naim's ND5 XS 2 focuses on class-leading sound over aesthetics. This one's worth every penny.
Best with a CD player
Best music streamer with a CD player
A compelling proposition for those who like to keep things physical from time to time, the Technics SL-G700M2 is a well-conceived and capable unit that looks forward but also caters for the past.
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Best music streamer overall
If you want a stylish way to stream your music wirelessly, then the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) could be for you with its brushed metal finish and intuitive menus.
But it's not just a looker - it has it where it counts, too. The 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 built-in Chromecast, 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, Spotify Connect and Roon support. 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. It's no wonder that it retained the What Hi-Fi? Award for best music streamer priced between £750-£1000.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXN (V2)
Best budget music streamer
With a price tag that matches its compact stature, Cambridge Audio’s MXN10 gets a lot out of a little in more ways than one. The strikingly minimalist streamer doesn’t come with a remote, nor are many physical connections on the back – an RCA line level analogue output, one coaxial and one optical are all you get – yet this tiny titan still offers everything you need by delivering truly five-star levels of performance.
Controlled via Cambridge Audio’s StreamMagic app, the MXN10 hosts a plethora of streaming methods and services, including Google Chromecast, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz and internet radio, as well as support for Bluetooth 5.0 and playback of files stored elsewhere on your local network.
While the lack of native MQA support is disappointing, the MXN10 combines the strengths of Audiolab’s 6000N Play and the Award-winning Bluesound Node (which is just a touch pricier), while adding a dose of dynamic expression and rhythmic coherence that they can’t match. It’s a brilliant all-round sonic performance that you’ll want to immerse yourself in again and again.
The physical controls are somewhat basic, and the lack of a display might put some people off, but this little thing has sonic chops that belie both its size and its price. A seriously impressive piece of kit.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio MXN10
Best mid-price music streamer
If you’re happy with your hi-fi system but simply want to smarten it up by slotting a streamer next to your separates, the Arcam ST60 is a strong choice. Arcam has seamlessly carried its decades of sonic expertise into the streaming segment, entering the market with an impressively talented performer. The ST60 is self-assured in its delivery – big, full, solid and expressive.
This may be the debut music streamer from the British company, but the ST60 uses the same streaming architecture as the more premium amplified model, the SA30. As a result, users get AirPlay 2, Google Cast, uPnP playback and internet radio at their fingertips, as well as analogue and digital connections and support for MQA and Roon. A comprehensive offering in today’s music streamer market.
Not solely a streaming product, the ST60 also accommodates external sources through its twin coaxial and optical inputs. A USB drive can be plugged into its USB socket, which also enables software updates. Much more of a necessity for a music streamer is its outputs, and the Arcam has a fine selection: coaxial, optical, RCA and balanced XLR as well as an ethernet connection.
Its proprietary software may not be exemplary, and its chassis design may not win a best-dressed award, but if you can get over that you'll be rewarded with the best-sounding performer available for this money.
Read the full review: Arcam ST60
Best premium music streamer
Although the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning 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
Best music streamer with a CD player
CDs, SACDs, Bluetooth and music streamed over a network - this is a player for the 21st century. The Technics SL-G700M2 is an excellent and versatile digital source that builds on its five-star predecessor, boasting a wealth of digital connectivity alongside a multitude of streaming options.
The SL-G700M2 remains a beautifully made box, with precision controls and a silky smooth disc drawer – the quality of fit and finish is among the best we have seen at this level. Some niggles from the previous first-generation remains, namely the app software for the streaming control isn't the best we've seen, but it still gets the job done.
The M2 version adds a new USB Type B input and a new DAC, swapping the older AKM AK4497 to an ESS ES9026PRO chip. This change is due to supply issues with the original chip, but incorporating the new DAC resulted in a digital board redesign and an excuse to improve performance even further, as well as update the power supply arrangement.
And we're glad they did. This Technics streamer sounds superb. Its presentation is clear, detailed and insightful, managing to organise the musical information in a cohesive and entertaining way. Its main talent lies in delivering music in a balanced manner, regardless of genre or source. Bold and authoritative when the occasion calls for it; delicate where needed. This same character is present across all digital inputs and when used as a standalone DAC; it can be used with a wide range of partnering kit, too.
Musically engaging and versatile, this Technics SL-G700 is a capable streamer and CD player that covers all bases while being entertaining. Yes, it's possible to get better sound from a separates set up, but this well-conceived combination is hard to beat at this price.
Read the full review: Technics SL-G700M2
Best music streamer for headphones
The Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is a headphones-based version of the Uniti Atom – the entry-level machine in Naim’s What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Uniti just-add-speakers streaming system range – and like its forebear, this is a fully formed music system with built-in streaming smarts and connections aplenty.
At its core is Naim’s streaming platform, a gateway to streaming services (such as Qobuz, Tidal and Spotify), internet radio and DLNA playback, while support for AirPlay 2, built-in Chromecast and Roon builds on that streaming savviness. Analogue and digital connections, including USB, coaxial, optical, RCA and phono, are also onboard for connecting additional sources.
Sonically the Atom HE has all the traits we'd expect from the Atom, characterised by impressive insight, dynamism and musicality, but its presentation is even more sophisticated and open, with greater separation of instruments and superb levels of detail.
It's a bit more niche than most of the streamers on this list, but for anyone looking to unleash the potential of a premium pair of headphones with a multifaceted streaming system, either to use purely as a desktop centrepiece or to also slip into an existing hi-fi system, then this could be ideal.
Best high-end music streamer
The Linn Klimax DSM AV has a price tag that puts it out of reach for most people, and with that ultra high-end cost comes a huge amount of expectation. But Linn's latest range-topper not only has an immaculate design but also offers so much sonic insight, clarity and dynamic expression, that it lives up to it.
There are three variants of the Klimax DSM, the AV version here has four HDMI 2.0 sockets and a single e-ARC-equipped output to that already extensive features list. Specify the optional surround sound module for an extra £1200 ($1,560/AU$2395) and it can decode all the current movie sound formats bar Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. However if you do want to go down the surround sound route you’ll have to invest heavily into Linn's ecosystem, using either a complete 7.1 active set-up employing the DSM’s stereo analogue outputs and Exakt connections for a hybrid passive/active set up.
It can access music across your home network from a NAS unit or stream using Tidal, Qobuz or Spotify Connect. There’s also Bluetooth (version 4.2), AirPlay connectivity and it can work as a Roon endpoint.
Rather than being a mere streamer, the DSM is more of a streaming preamplifier. As well as the raft of HDMI inputs it has USB Type B, optical and a pair of coaxials (in BNC form) and analogue equivalents in Balanced XLR and single-ended RCA (x2) form.
The big technology highlight is the introduction of the Organik digital-to-analogue circuitry, Linn’s first in-house DAC design that has been developed from first principles using the company’s three-decades' worth of digital experience.
The result? An exceptional product that sets new standards for the streamer category as a whole. If you’re lucky enough to contemplate spending this much on a streamer, we say dive right in.
Read the full review Linn Klimax DSM AV
How to choose the best music streamer for you
Music streamers come in many forms. They can be built into wireless speakers or single-box systems with amplification or simply be a stand-alone component of a dedicated hi-fi set-up.
But while other hi-fi separates such as a turntable or CD player just have a simple job to do, a music streamer (or network audio streamer) has to manage many different wireless sources as well as be able to play music files from local storage on your network.
Most of the selections below support the vast majority of hi-res music formats, though the upper limit can vary between 24-bit/96kHz PCM files for more basic products and up to 32-bit/768kHz for those that aim to push the boundary. We wouldn’t get too hung up on the numbers, though, as the vast majority of music isn’t available in those more extreme file types. CD quality is 16-bit/44.1kHz, and a capability of 24-bit/192kHz should be more than enough to meet the needs of most audiophiles.
Connectivity-wise, streamers can boast AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, UPnP compatibility, and USB ports. Regardless of the model, you’ll be able to play local music files from a connected NAS drive and play thousands of internet radio stations. You'll also be able to play from your favourite music streaming services – at least Spotify and quite probably higher-quality alternatives such as Tidal or Qobuz are built-in.
Bluetooth is almost always included, and if it’s the more capable and better-quality aptX HD form, then all the better. Most audio streamers will also have digital inputs, so alongside playing music files from a USB, you’ll usually be able to feed in optical and coaxial digital feeds too, making the streamer something of a digital hub for your system.
To get the best user experience, you’ll really need a smartphone or tablet to control your streamer. Using your streamer's app is the best way to navigate large music libraries and the quickest way of making playlists. If that doesn't appeal, you may want to look for models with a large display and traditional remote control.
Since we’re talking about practicalities, it’s worth mentioning that the first thing any music streamer needs is a stable home internet network, and you need to decide whether to connect the steamer directly with an Ethernet cable or go wireless. Going wire-free is appealing, as it makes things easier and tidier, and provided your network is stable, should work fine for many people. If you can, though, stick with wired because it gives a more stable connection, making everything go more smoothly over long-term use.
Price-wise, as with all things hi-fi, streamers can vary hugely, and how much you can expect to pay depends on the rest of your set-up. We would suggest that spending broadly the same as your amplifier would be a decent place to start, though it always pays to be flexible to get the right one.
Whatever your budget, music streamers are a great way to upgrade your sonic experience from a simple wireless speaker. If you love the convenience but want better sound and have the room and budget to accommodate a stereo system, a hi-fi streamer is the way to go.
Almost regardless of which music streamer you buy, you will gain access to an astonishing range of music – but pick with care, and it will make listening to that music all the more enjoyable.
How we test music streamers
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, from TVs to speakers, headphones to hi-fi systems. We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our in-house testing. This gives us complete control over the testing process, ensuring consistency.
What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, so we listen to every music streamer we review against the current leader in its field to gauge how it compares to the best-in-class competition.
We always ensure we spend plenty of time with a music streamer, making sure they are fully run in before we begin testing and trying them with different speakers, file formats, streaming services and music genres. We also test every connection, both wired and streaming.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity. That's why our reviews are trusted by retailers and manufacturers as well as consumers.
From all of our reviews, we choose the top products to feature in our Best Buys, such as this one. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended above, or on any other Best Buy page, you can rest assured you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
Here's a list of our best test tracks to trial your hi-fi system