Streaming Computer Audio – A Wireless Demo at Hi-Fi Centre

We’ve all seen the person shaking their head at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar, or at a local computer repair shop. Gesturing futilely at a laptop, or PC because hardware has gone wrong or they can’t figure out a software problem.

Most of us have been there ourselves at some point – computers can be tricky. Many people keep it simple and surf the web, ‘like’ family photos on Facebook or check their email. That’s it. Beyond that it can become just too daunting a proposition. But what about music-obsessed audiophiles bent on ripping and organizing hundreds or thousands of CDs digitally for sending over Ethernet via NAS or USB to a DAC? Never mind configuring wireless connections via wi-fi, or for lesser quality, Bluetooth. Suddenly, being intimately familiar with computers becomes necessity. But, what about those wireless connection options?

Those wireless connections that, over the last few years, audiophiles and music lovers have been turning to in vast numbers as a much simpler and streamlined alternative to the aforementioned CD ripping, cataloging, storage and playback that managing digital libraries on NAS drives used to entail in the early days of computer audio. Those who now want to explore millions of albums – as the saying goes – “at your fingertips” – thanks to the ubiquity of cloud-based music streaming services like Qobuz, TIDAL, or Spotify can do so quickly and easily. Accessing these online services with Ethernet cabling was de rigueur, but foregoing cabling of any kind other than AC power is fast becoming the order of the day. And not having to forgo high-quality digital files while doing it is becoming as easy as setting up an app on your smartphone or tablet thanks to a huge push forward in wireless audio technology by dozens of major high-fidelity manufactures. Which is why Hi-Fi Centre in Vancouver decided to take things in hand and hold a demonstration of options on high-end wireless audio for locals.

When I heard about it I thought this was a great idea, but unfortunately I heard about it after they held the demo, so I contacted Hi-Fi Centre owner Igor Kivritsky and asked him what they had on hand for the three information sessions and if I could come down and photograph the rooms after the fact. He kindly consented to both and also put together some descriptions of events that day for AudioStream.

“We had multiple rooms all demonstrating that you can get great streaming in any part of your home, even where you don't have an ethernet connection,” he said.

“The first room was centered around Bowers & Wilkins and consisted of a pair of Formation Duo Speakers ($5,300 CAN/pair + $1,000 CAN/pair for stands). Murray Cardiff from B&W demonstrated that all you need is an AC outlet and nothing more to get real world-class sound in any part of your home. 

“The Formation Duo are compact, stand-mount speakers which house the amplification, DA converter, DSP, and wi-fi, all in attractive, modern package. I feel the sound the Duos make is nothing short of world class and can easily compete with traditional wired systems in the same price bracket. So, what does this mean? Well, now you don't have to sacrifice sound quality to get convenience and reduce the amount of boxes in your setup.  Cardiff also demonstrated a pair of the new Formation Flex ($599 CAN/each + Formation Bass ($1,399 CAN) which sounded much bigger than their diminutive size would suggest. Flex are a new ultra-compact speaker from Bowers which can be played either on their own as a stereo pair, or as a 2.1 system when used with a Formation Bass module. At less than half the price of the Formation Duo it certainly wasn't half the sound.”

NAD M10.

Kivritsky said the second room was NAD-based, and Kevin Rothermal from Lenbrook demonstrated a NAD M10 Streaming Amplifier ($3,499 CAN). “It was connected to a pair of Wharfedale Linton speakers ($1,700 CAN/pair + $500 CAN/pair for stands). On wi-fi, the M10 can deliver MQA-grade streaming to any part of your home, just connect your favourite speakers and go. The M10 impressed with its ability to impart a big sound from a pair of speakers considering how compact it is. It’s equipped with 100W/8ohms which contribute to an ability to drive all but the most difficult speakers with control. For those not up on the latest from Wharfedale, the Lintons are a re-design of a classic.

Wharfedale Linton speakers.

“Following in the footsteps of other brands that have successfully re-launched classic models such as the JBL L100 or Klipsch Heritage Series, the Linton deliver big sound for a reasonable investment. They are the least expensive among their re-issue brethren but in my opinion are by far the best sounding. The Linton stands continue to add valur for money as they conveniently (not accidentally) hold your records.”

Uniti Nova.

The final room was Naim Audio-centric. Kivritsky said the Naim rep couldn't make it so Hi-Fi Centre staff did the presentations. “We showed a Naim Uniti Nova ($8,795 CAN) connected to Sonus Faber Electa Amator III loudspeakers ($14,200 CAN including stands). Despite being a more modest system from a separates standpoint, it made sound that really took visitors on a ride,” he said. “This set-up filled the room and got listeners believing – despite the fact the speakers being two-way with just a 6.5-inch mid-bass driver. The Nova is a one box streaming amplifier rated at 80W/8ohms but after hearing it you wouldn’t be surprised to think that number was more.The EA III, while compact in size, can take down all but the best amplifiers, but the Nova had no issue whatsoever. driving them. In the same room we demonstrated how easily Naim can do multi-room by pairing a Naim Mu-So V2 ($1,999 CAN) with the main system and playing the same song on both.  The Naim app lets you easily adjust the volume of either device separately or multiple devices at the same time. This showed attendees that multi-room audio is not restricted to the old preconception of ceiling speakers and/or Sonos.”

According to Kivritsky each room entertained discussions about how streaming actually works, how a smart phone/tablet is utilized, where music is stored and how customers can upgrade their legacy systems to include streaming. “We’d like to think attendees walked away with a better knowledge of the technology and were treated to some great music at the same time. As it was the 50th anniversary of The Beatles Abbey Road that weekend, we had each room playing tracks from the re-mastered album.”

My thanks to Igor Kivritsky.

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