What does Streaming mean?


What does streaming mean?

It means listening to music!

We’ve posted recently on our Facebook page about streaming and one particular post created a lot of discussion so I thought I’d expand on it here.

The reason for the post in the first place was because the press and media seem to think streaming is all about Spotify

When we first heard “Streaming” it was a demo conducted by Linn Products back in 2007. They played us”Blackbird” by The Beatles in 24 bit and we had something of an jaw dropping response. The system was fairly similar to my home system (not in components but in quality terms) and what resonated with me was that I was hearing a song I’d known all my musical life and yet I was hearing it almost “new” or for the first time. There was no Spotify and MP3 was already something we understood but had little interest in with the exception helping customers with i-Pods. This wasn’t because we’re audio snobs but because the quality isn’t good enough. Who wants to own something where the quality has been squeezed out?

Back to the first demo and I have to say that whilst we liked the sound very much we didn’t like the concept. After all we were music fans and had a collection of music either on CD or on vinyl (or both). But we were impressed enough to ask a lot of questions. I also sat down with the control device (back then it was some kind of palm-pilot) and quickly grew extremely frustrated by the experience of using it. So whilst the result was fantastic, the process was painful. Where was the remote control? Why did I have to use a somewhat nasty non-LINN palm-pilot to control a Linn? We pointed all these things out to LINN at the time. They explained that the pain was worth the gain and that since control devices would quickly be improved, our reservations would disappear.

A serious CD collection. But finding the song you want to play next could defeat you.

We were left conflicted about the experience. On the one hand there was the sound and that was quite superb. Even then it was better than the best CD player we had to hand. But as I say the control interface was painful to us. We were also all collectors of music and not computer geeks or palm-pilot owners.

Once LINN and their player was gone we all sat down and discussed our feelings and we all pretty much felt the same; conflicted. We agreed to take our conversations to the Devonshire Cat where we spent a good length of time comparing performance against the “pain of obtaining it”.

A little history at this point

In 2007 CD was still going strong and the vinyl resurgence was in it’s infancy. We were probably selling about eight CD players to every two turntables. In fact we didn’t actually have that many record players on demonstration. It’s hard to recall how many but I’m thinking maybe five. We currently have almost three times that.

This wasn’t because we preferred CD either. We considered digital to be somewhat flawed and in fact only really good players and good DACS made CD tolerable to people who had grown used to better record players. Some of you won’t grasp this and I’d suggest that your acceptance of CD would be based on two factors; how good your turntable was and how much you valued convenience. Certainly people who used high-end record players would continue to consider CD or Digital as somewhat second rate. I personally found digital “came of age” when I got hold of a Chord DAC-64 and connected it to my Linn Ikemi CD player. At that point I was able to listen to digital without making endless lamentations about the superiority of vinyl. It is also worth pointing out that I owned a mid priced LP12 and not a truly high end record player.

Also in 2007 Hi-Fi had died on the high street. The demise of Laskey’s meant that high street shoppers no longer saw quality audio equipment. Instead it occupied shelf space in out of down shopping complexes and supermarkets. And it was mostly junk.

Even proper hi-fi stores had become all about big TV’s and Surround sound and many had thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Crash bang wallop and helicopters shooting bullets about the room was all the rage and speakers shrank to such a size that it sounded like monkeys banging tin trays together as they climbed the walls.

Against the backdrop of this we debated Streaming and we were intrigued enough to discuss matters further with LINN. We raised our concerns with them and they answered them as best they could. We realised that embracing streaming would be a leap of faith. We were right on the nail with that too.

Naim Audio Uniti
Naim Audio UnitiQute was one of the first simple to use, all in one amplifier/streamer combinations. A compact and powerful box.

We made the decision to embrace streaming on the strength of sound quality alone. What followed was an extremely difficult two years as we hit an extremely steep learning curve. In fact although we were experimenting with streamers daily we took the decision not to actually sell any for a few months. We quickly realised that we needed to understand them and the problems that might ensure before we sold any. Unhappy customers are not good for business.

We were hi-fi enthusiasts and music lovers and NOT network specialists OR computer experts. All that stuff was extremely painful to us and caused us a great deal of headache but we learned it and we learned the skills that we needed. We were committed to the performance we’d heard and committed to being able to supply it reliably to our customers. So we learned about networks, about storage devices and about network control devices. We arrived at a set up for the music ripping and the storage that we saw as being bulletproof and it is the same set up that we recommend to this day. Read more about it here.

Strangely a lot of IT people told us we were wrong. Also a lot of our customers who had IT personnel working with them told us we were wrong. We stuck to our guns because as soon as we arrived at this particular solution; everything started working well. It also meant that when customers followed our recommendations installations were simple, also reliable and if any hiccups occurred we knew the set up well enough to fix them on the phone. This is vital to us. We quickly learned that much computer ancillary components are extremely good for certain uses but not particularly good for storing and streaming high quality audio.

Much of what we learned in those first two years provided us with the belt and braces and the confidence to help our customers enjoy reliable and high performance streaming at home. In time more manufacturers embraced streaming and brought their own skill sets to the table.

A major improvement has been in the control software. Even LINN designed their own rather than reply on third party software. Software that had been clunky and joyless became silky smooth and a pleasure and this of course meant that listening to music became easier and more enjoyable. It also made browsing simple and far faster; making it easy to find the song or piece that you want right when you want it. You can even make playlists and queue up songs for the whole evening. Simple.

Bluesound Node 2 is an affordable streamer and the range starts at £499.

Streaming for us means accessing your own music library AND getting the best performance from it. That means quick, easy access to the music you want and superb performance on playback. Most of that library will of course be your own CD collection but ripped losslessly and centrally stored.

Streaming also means being able to buy new and classic albums in 24 bit high resolution. High Definition Audio is basically what was recorded on the mastertape. It sounds incredible and if you’ve ever had reservations about digital not being as good as analogue we think this will put them to bed. Even customers who use high end turntables love HD audio.

There’s more

Streaming also offers other user benefits. Internet Radio is one of them and because it isn’t connected by an aerial you don’t suffer with drop outs or dodgy reception. You can also listen to radio stations located anywhere in the World.

Finally streaming allows you access to subscription based music services like Spotify, Tidal and others. Some of these are high quality and some are even moving into HD Audio.

Of course you can play your i-Tunes library or your MP3 collection as well. We rather think that once you’ve heard lossless you won’t want to. We think that if you’re reading this and have got to the bottom then you are pretty interested in quality too.

In conclusion

It’s true that you don’t need a Streamer to stream audio files. Some will do it with their phone and others will do it with a laptop through a high end DAC. But doing it this way can be far less of an engaging experience if you’re not techie and if you don’t want to be endlessly messing with a laptop.

However you want to stream we can help. We have products that make it simple and will transform your enjoyment of music. Call in to see us for a chat or fire us an email and we can make a start.

Finally if you are not streaming I do hope you find this insightful.