Box Designs by Pro-Ject Stream Box RS
Input: Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), 1x Coax S/PDIF, 1x Toslink, 2x USB 2.0 (24/96, Type A), supports, Flash- & Harddisc drives (FAT16&FAT32)
Output: Coax S/PDIF, RCA, XLR
Dimensions (H x W x D): 72 x 206 x 200mm
Weight: 3,25 kg
Availability: Online and through Authorized Dealers
Pro-Ject may be best known for their turntables, but they offer a dizzying array of products through their Box Designs line as well. From CD players to speakers and most everything in between, in multiple lines ranging from the E Line, C Line, S Line, DS Line, and RS Line (in ascending price order). Today's Stream Box is from the RS line, the top of the Pro-Ject digital heap.
The Pro-Ject Stream Box RS is a DLNA/UPnP enabled network player, preamp, and DAC (TI 1792A) all in one and for an interesting twist it incorporates a fully balanced dual mono triode tube output stage using a pair of ECC 6922s. Inputs include an analog RCA pair, Ethernet, WiFi (802.11 b/g/n), S/PDIF (Coax and Toslink), and USB Type A to connect your iOS device or FAT16/FAT32 formatted USB storage. The Stream Box RS can handle files up to 24/192 in MP3, FLAC, WMA9-lossless, AIFF, AAC, ALAC, LPCM, and Ogg Vorbis 1.0 formats. The Stream Box also supports gapless playback, vTuner Radio, and there's a remote app, Box Control, for your iOS or Android device. Outputs include Coax S/PDIF, RCA, and XLR pairs. The Alps volume control is defeat-able with a switch around back and the whole package is wrapped up in a nice boxy aluminum chassis in your choice of black or silver.
Most of the front faceplate is taken up by a 3.5" full color LCD screen. When available, it shows the album cover art, a nice touch, the song title, artist, album name, track duration and track progress. There's also a volume knob and a single USB Type A input up front. Around back sit your inputs and outputs as well the WiFi antennae and IEC inlet for the included power cord. The Stream Box RS feels solidly built if a tad on the plain Jane side of the design spectrum.
The Box Control app for the iPhone (there's no iPad version) is in a word serviceable. I connected to my QNAP NAS running Twonky Media Server, a Pro-Ject recommended app, which houses roughly 12,000 tracks. When viewing my collection in Album view, each time I returned to this view it took a good 2-3 minutes for it to completely populate the list. Every time. Also, if you pick an album like Led Zeppelin I and then return tho the list, you are kicked back to the beginning of the alphabet instead of returning to "L". There's also no playlists so you cannot add an album after the one you're listening to. If you select a new album or track to play while something else is playing, the new selection will take its place. OK, perhaps barely serviceable is a more apt description. I much preferred using other UPnP/DLNA remote apps like the Creation 5 Media Player which worked without a problem and allowed for a much more fluid experience.
Using the included remote, you can also navigate your music collection in conjunction with the LCD screen. While scrolling through thousands of albums can be a bit time consuming, this can work in a pinch. You can also play Internet Radio, and stream to the Stream Box from Spotify or from your iOS device via AirPlay using the MusicFlow App from the iTunes Store ($2.99). Pro-Ject recommends „Jamcast“ ($14.99) to stream Spotify from your PC or Notebook. For this review I stuck to streaming music from my NAS and internet radio.
The Sound of The Stream Box RS
I initially listened to the Stream Box RS wired to my Ethernet network and with the output level set to "Fixed", using my Pass INT-30A for volume control. In this mode of operation, I found the Stream Box RS to be a very forgiving sounding player. It's overall feel was on the dark, soft, and relaxed side. Dynamics appeared to be shelved down a bit especially when compared to the Auralic Aries/Vega combination which is noticeably more lit up and lively. The Stream Box was also not the most colorful-sounding player I've heard and it lacked the bass control of the recently reviewed Bryston BDP/BDA combo (see review).
To be as straightforward as possible, the Stream Box RS in Fixed output mode sounded a bit too sleepy for my tastes. Everything was portrayed as if it has a soft golden glow. Switching to "Variable" output mode changed all that. Tone colors brightened as did the overall presentation. Cymbals had more sparkle, bass had more oomph, and generally music was more alive with an added senses of resolution while still retaining a relaxed and relatively dark mid-range ripe overall sound. The remainder of this review was therefore spent listening to the Stream Box RS with its volume control engaged.
I put the Stream Box RS through its paces, playing all of my usual test tracks and then some from CD-quality on up. John Coltrane's Blue Train in 24/192 from HDtracks sounded just lovely and lively with a nice amount of blurt from the trumpet and tone colors were generally portrayed with a nice amount of variation. I'd still give the Auralic Aries/Vega combination the edge in terms of timbre, dynamics, resolution, and upper end lushness. The Bryston combo also out-bass'd the Stream Box but with both of these comparisons we're talking about much more costly separates so I'd expect some gains in performance.
Speaking of bass response, I did find that Stream Box's bass was a bit diffuse, a tad soft. This was not particularly troubling but bass freaks may want to look elsewhere (like at the Brystons). The overall sound picture was also a bit more condensed as compared to these other more costly separates and also compared to my MacBook Pro with the iFi micro iDSD. This combo also offered a bit more variation in timbre, the Stream Box being not as rich-sounding, as well as an overall brighter, livelier sound. The Stream Box's somewhat relaxed presentation was forgiving of lessor sources like internet radio and poorer quality recordings and while it may not offer the last word in dynamics, resolution, or upper end sparkle, this kind of presentation certainly has its appeal.
I also tried the WiFi connection and was able to play everything except 24/192 files—these files skipped throughout but your WiFi mileage may vary. I also did not notice a dramatic difference between WiFi and wired in terms of sound quality although the wired connection appeared to have a lower noise floor with a better sense of micro detail and a quieter background.
A few operational oddities; when scrolling through albums using the remote, the volume level would intermittently appear and then disappear interrupting browsing. Also, using the Creation 5 app caused the Stream Box to freeze on two occasions. A restart cleared the problem.
The Stream Box RS
When used with its volume control engaged, I found the Stream Box RS to be easy to listen to, falling on the relaxed and dark side of the sonic spectrum. While its app leaves a lot to be desired, there are other third party apps available that offer more playback options and a more friendly view into your music collection.
Also on hand and in use during the Streambox review: iFi micro iDSD, Auralic Aries/Vega, Bryston BDP-2/BDA-2.