A good primer for folks that are into “digital” music.
I use a Melco server which has about 2500 CD’s ripped to WAV files, which I find to be superior sounding to others, including FLAC, onto it and the internal drive has an internal backup drive, in case the one that is used for playback, fails.
Perhaps, besides the Altec 604 based loudspeakers I had built for me, which are the stars of my stereo system (thanks to Bryan Rohr for turning me on to the 604’s and the Urei EQ’s I use with them) the second brightest star of my system is probably the T+A MP2500R. This device is a CD/SACD player, streamer and DAC in one pretty large and heavy box. T+A is not what we Americans might think as T+A stands for Theory and Application and they hail from Germany. It’s a great sounding digital source and I’ve owned a lot of different digital sources, including PS Audio digital gear they really don’t come close to this component, although I’m sure PS Audio’s new DAC sounds great too. They have a new streamer too, but mine device is three digital players in one convenient and integrated box, which is great.
My friend and former TAS writer, AGB, suggested it might be time to refresh our knowledge of how streaming audio works.
There are tons of misconceptions and even a few audio myths growing around the subject, so I think he’s right.
Today we will start with a simple overview, then dig in a bit deeper in the days to follow.
Creating a seamless streaming music experience requires a well-designed system comprising three essential source components: server, controller, and renderer.
- Server: The server is the backbone of any streaming music system. It’s responsible for storing and organizing music files, making them available for streaming on demand. It is where the music library resides. It can be a local server, such as a computer or a network-attached storage (NAS) device, or a remote server, such as a cloud-based music service like Spotify, Apple Music, Qobuz, Tidal, or Amazon.
- Controller: The controller is the user interface for your streaming music system. It’s the device or software that you use to select and play music from your server. The controller can be a dedicated device, such as a smartphone app or a touchscreen remote. The controller communicates with the server to browse your music library and make selections. It also controls playback, allowing you to play, pause, skip, and adjust the volume. Some controllers also offer advanced features, such as creating playlists, searching for music, and accessing streaming services. The controller also manages your music collection, leveraging metadata such as album, artist, genre, and track information. Think of Roon or Audirvana. They are controllers.
- Renderer: The renderer is the device that plays the music from your server. It can be a standalone device, such as a wireless speaker or a headphone amplifier, or integrated into another device, like a DAC. The renderer receives the audio data from the server and converts it into an appropriate audio format to convert the signal to analog. In a high-end renderer like PS Audio’s Bridge, that format is I2S.
To sum it up, the server stores and organizes your music library, the controller selects and controls playback, and the renderer prepares the digital audio files in a format acceptable to your DAC. Each component is crucial to creating a seamless, high-quality streaming music experience that brings your favorite music to life.
Tomorrow we’ll dig a little deeper.