Publisher Profile

Salk Sound StreamPlayer Generation III, Part 2 – Strength

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See Part 1 – Prologue of this Review


The strength of the StreamPlayer Gen III

The owner is introduced to the thoroughness by which the StreamPlayer III was developed through discussion of its development in the Owners Manual. Jim explains the progression from the first to third generation of StreamPlayer, “The first generation of StreamPlayer was based on an embedded processor and a stripped-down version of Linux… With the advent of DSD storage and playback, we found we wanted a higher level of performance.” What does it take to get that higher level of performance?

The StreamPlayer is a fanless device with an internal drive selected for its silent performance; an optional solid-state drive is available if you must have absolute silence. During the time of the review period I could hear only the most slight hard drive whirring at a level no greater than that of the Mac Mini. Jim may find it incredible that I could hear it at all, but I am in a custom listening room that is about 8 dB quieter than the typical quiet room in a home. Think bank vault quiet. Consequently, I can hear things in systems which people with good ears and good equipment may not. If a filament in a bulb inside a wall sconce hums, or a disc drive whirrs, I hear it. However, this is assessing the noise level in the most extreme quiet. In terms of audible operational noise when listening to the music the StreamPlayer III was silent. No hint of its presence can be detected even during quiet passages of music.

Another benefit of the StreamPlayer III is found in its being “headless,” meaning there is no need for a monitor, keyboard or mouse. The owner uses their laptop, tablet or phone to operate it. In my case I transitioned from use of the iPad functioning as a remote for the Mac Mini to a Samsung Tablet S2. This was a brilliant move! I had continuous niggling issues over the years with drop-outs, freezing of the program and brief audible interruptions on playback with the Mac Mini and iPad. I thought it was the Internet service causing the problems. It wasn’t. From the moment I first employed the Samsung tablet with the StreamPlayer III there has not been one misfire, not one drop out – streaming playback has been perfectly reliable.  Regardless of the files being played back, PCM or DSD based, there have been no hiccups.

With the StreamPlayer I have found success in a fashion I could not via Sonos or the Mac Mini. Having Sonos in two locations in the house there were times when if my wife was using it upstairs I might have spotty connections in the listening room. To be fair, this I’m sure is a reflection of the overbuilt fortress-like construction of the room. The walls are so thick and encumbered with resilient channel buried in them that even with signal boosters I could not get a strong enough wireless signal to be useful. God bless the soul who invented the house power line Wi-Fi solution! With these cheap converters, one placed at the router and the other inside the listening room, I have a consistent, and unadulterated connection. The StreamPlayer III has linked up to this setup flawlessly. At this point in development the StreamPlayer does require a hard connection.


User interface; ROON

ROON is a spectacular interface for Salk Sound to have incorporated into the StreamPlayer III. It is so information rich, so smooth as opposed to the clunky HQPlayer interface, that it is addictive. At AXPONA Jim was like a teenager with a new toy as he enthused about ROON, showing me how easy it was to operate it and explore music. He was right, there was no overselling associated with his promotion of the package. I have never enjoyed exploration of music so thoroughly, and at a level where I am comfortable that whatever is played will be heard at a quality worthy for reviewing.

Please pause and consider that last statement. Even when I was youthfully playing a new album from a store I did not have any greater joy than now when I can explore quite literally the world of music from my chair. I get the same thrill to discover music that I had as a young man. Emotionally I feel as though I am visiting a large record store every time I sit down to listen. Without the ROON interface the StreamPlayer III would be a tidy file playback computer. With ROON it is a powerfully immersive audio experience, designed to eliminate all user concerns and allow full attention to be given to the music.

Tidal is the music service Jim suggested I use with the StreamPlayer III, and again, I can see why it is offered as the High End option for streaming music. The transition between the library of my stored titles and streamed titles from Tidal is so smooth as to be seamless. When I create a playlist, insert my own tracks, or listen to digital radio there is no lag, no fumbling for access, and the sound quality is consistently superb. Every piece of nostalgia music I pull forth is reinvigorated, spruced up and more engaging than with the Mac Mini and HQPlayer or CD.

I did notice that there is a difference in playback level between a particular piece of music stored as a file on the StreamPlayer III and streaming the same piece via Tidal. The music via Tidal had seemed to play back at significantly higher volume. This didn’t terribly bother me, as there is even a distinct difference in loudness between musical selections in one’s library. The difference was not such that it should cause any issues with the system, unless, perhaps one is listening at “live” or “concert” level. I do not listen at that level and recommend no one else does, as it invites hearing damage. As far as the sound quality between the two sources I found them to be indistinguishable once level matched. This would stand to reason if generally Tidal streams CD quality and I had ripped CDs to the StreamPlayer III.

The one nit I have to pick with Tidal is that the number of genres of music and represented artists seems paltry compared to Rhapsody, where instead of a large handful of genres and artists you will find dozens of each. Perhaps this is a shell game, and in reality as broad categorization of genres exist behind the scenes in Tidal’s servers. However, I am not impressed that many times I must use my mental memory bank to search for individual artists to run down the particular genre of music I choose to seek. The cataloguing of the genres should be doing this for me.

Case in point, being a child of the late Baby Boomer era I was cursed (blessed?) to have been in my formative years during the Saturday Night Fever phase of North American music. Accordingly, there is a meme in my brain that causes me to occasionally seek Funk and Disco music, and I must sate that weirdness when it strikes. Can anyone really fault me for wanting to revisit such classics as “Brick House,” “Love Is In Control,” or “Put On Your Boogie Shoes”? (Ok, don’t reply!) Yet, when I go to search the Disco genre at Tidal I get practically nothing! It is not uncommon to have only a few artists represented as examples of a genre of music. Excuse me; this is a world-class archive? Why should I have to dream up the old hits and artists in order to find them? The team at Tidal needs to do better.

Now, I am not damning Tidal, far from it! I appreciate the extensive reservoir of high performance tunes; a search for an artist rarely comes up dry.  The combo of StreamPlayer III, ROON and Tidal does the trick for me; hours pass rapidly and listening fatigue rarely sets I as when I used the Mac Mini.

Finishing up with the technical description of the StreamPlayer III, according to the Owner’s Manual there is no extraneous software to bog the system down. Jim states it is, “… totally stable and virtually crash-proof.” I find that to be an accurate statement. I have been using the StreamPlayer III for months now have no need to regularly reset it. When I used the Mac Mini if I wished to swap USB cables for comparison the computer would lose the handshake with the DAC and I would have to restart the computer or DAC, or both. With the StreamPlayer III I can make USB cable swaps on the fly flawlessly, no burps, no faults. This is highly advantageous for the audiophile to easily conduct comparisons of cables. Thank you, Jim!

While speaking of USB cables, don’t you dare make the mistake of regarding them as negligible to the performance of the StreamPlayer! Your USB cable will be critical, as critical as any wire in the system. Ignore this to your own detriment. Just recently I heard from a newer friend, a mechanical engineer who at the onset of our friendship mocked my stance on cables. When I finally got him to try them, after hours of debate, he changed his opinion. He wasn’t won over by argument, but by experience.  He acted upon his discovery by purchasing a couple thousand dollars of cables and flooding email with exclamations of disbelief at how lovely the change visited upon his system. Now he is asking me for advice on USB cables! He has learned not to scoff at what is not currently measurable.


Enter world class transducer, Legacy Audio V System

The Legacy Audio V Speaker System with its Wavelet processor accepts only the Micro USB input. The results are as might be expected; the stock budget USB/Micro link which came with the Wavelet was outperformed marginally by an 8” flat wire USB A to USB Micro link intended to be used as a charging cable for a MyCharge Portable Charger that came with my Samsung tablet. Since the USB cable supplied by Legacy was quite long, on the outside chance the source sits a long way from the Wavelet, merely shortening it with a similar quality link would confer a bit of an improvement.

Reaching out to cable makers such as Audioquest and Nordost I was able to secure some samples for the V review. It would be pathetic if specialty USB cables didn’t do better. They did, with the Audioquest Coffee cable sprucing up the performance nicely, but the Cinnamon pulling the entire system even more toward premium file playback. The Coffee I recommend for those who angle their system toward a more “laid back” or “tube-like” sound, while the Cinnamon, as its name suggests, spices the sonic signature more and while bringing more tightness in imaging lends a sense of “speed” on transients without overly sharpening the upper end.  The Nordost Purple Flare was surprisingly flat and recessed by comparison. My initial perception was that it reminded me of some Tara Labs products from nearly a decade ago which I labeled frequency limited. To get a more accurate read on Nordost I would need to work with a full loom, but the Purple Flare would need a bit of sprucing up to compensate for a dull start.

I was grateful that some premium cable makers are still making unusually configured wires. It would have been pathetic to have an over-performing transducer hindered by something so directly influential as a digital link. I strongly recommend that if you have an alternative setup requiring an unusual customization of a digital cable you should pay attention to Audioquest’s offerings. A throw away cable replaced by one of Audioquest’s has an effect not unlike that of an upgraded set of interconnects or a pair of power cables. The serious audiophile will not overlook such things.

The stock StreamPlayer can accept, “… file formats from mp3 to DSD and everything in between. It can handle them all,” informs the Manual. The StreamPlayer also accommodates digital Internet radio stations and is compatible with Apple Airplay for streaming Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and podcasts – from any Apple or Android device with appropriate airplay-compatible apps. The StreamPlayer is also a DLNA server, which accepts content from a receiver or other DLNA-capable device.

The processor used in the StreamPlayer I am reviewing is an Intel low power quad core i5Core, memory is 8GB typically, has a solid state 2TB drive optional, accepts USB 2.0 and 3.0, features Gigabyte Ethernet, offers optional S/PDIF output in place of the standard fiber optic, and appears as a shared drive on computer network.

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