Pro-ject is a name you’d associate more with old-school turntables than fancy-dan, streaming technology. But, the company has a whole range of electronic components under its Box Design range – of which this, the Pro-ject Box Design StreamBox DS, is part.
At only 20cm wide, it’s narrower than its peers and has a much smaller footprint, making it easy to accommodate in an overcrowded rack, while the only feature standing proud of the smooth slab of fascia is the power button.
That apart, the main attraction is undoubtedly the large, 3.5in LCD display. It’s a great size and although contrast and resolution aren’t quite as good as some rivals', the added real estate allows album art and track info to live comfortably side by side without looking squashed and congested.
Pro-ject Streambox DS: No bespoke app control
The various menus and settings are controlled by a relatively ordinary-looking remote control, but those bland looks are deceptive: the credit-card-sized sliver of plastic works very well.
The buttons are a decent size, but it’s the speed and fluidity with which the DS reacts to your prods and pokes that puts some of the other machines and their fancy apps to shame.
And because Pro-ject doesn’t have its own dedicated app just yet, this kind of intuitiveness could be of vital importance when it comes to the final reckoning.
Pro-ject says it is currently working on its own app, which will offer more functionality and control. All you can do in the meantime is use iMediaShare Lite to stream music from your handheld device over your network, like AirPlay.
You can create a playlist using the tracks stored on your iPhone and then stream them over to the DS. You can navigate via artist, album etc and tap on the desired tune to add it to a queue.
It looks nice on the screen of an iPhone, but if you come out of the app, it forgets your playlist and, frustratingly, you have to start again, adding tracks from scratch.
Pro-ject Streambox DS: Functionality
Functionality is so-so for a product of this type. The UPnP support is par for the course, and there's a screw-in aerial to fit on the back of the unit for wireless connectivity, which is a welcome addition to the wired ethernet option.
USB inputs front and back allow you to connect external sources such as an iPhone or USB hard drive and stream directly.
There’s also gapless playback for those who require it. while vTuner provides a thorough selection of internet radio stations to stream.
Pro-ject claims the DS can support bitrates up to 24bit/192khz through a wired ethernet connection, but our attempt at pushing through R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion was met with intermittent playback.
Our review sample struggled to provide a continuous stream despite being equipped with the company’s very latest software update, which, ironically, was designed to ‘dramatically improve behaviour’ with 192kHz FLACs. It worked fine with other resolutions.
Pro-ject Streambox DS: Sound quality
Stream some music and there’s a decent level of detail to be had in a soundstage which displays good depth and positions the various elements reasonably well.
However, the Pro-ject’s general sonic character is best described as inoffensive: the treble is neither bright nor aggressive, while low frequencies never dominate things.
Beverley Knight’s First Time (16bit/ 44.1kHz FLAC) sounds lovely, the DS being well-suited to the gentle, delicate vocal and meandering piano. If it’s easy-going you want, the Pro-ject can provide a mild-mannered sound to match.
Unfortunately, this is also the StreamBox’s Achilles’ heel. When the music changes to a track demanding greater conviction and drive, the DS doesn’t have the versatility to adapt.
Massive Attack’s Teardrop sounds weak-willed and limp. Low frequencies show a severe lack of weight and drive and the three-pronged bass-line sounds unsure of itself when it should be really growling away at the listener.
When you switch to wireless streaming, music sounds thinner and less substantial, which doesn’t do the already lightweight approach any favours.
The DS finds itself in a precarious position: the sound quality is lacking, while features and functionality are a mixed bag.
However, it’s that £700 price tag which finally pushes it over the edge and headlong into a disappointing two-star rating.