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Orchard Audio Starkrimson Streamer Ultra Review and Q&A with Leo Ayzenshtat

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The year is 2021, which means that the first wave of millennials will enter their forties. This is the age where a confluence of high earning potential and enthusiasm for sound reproduction often produces audiophiles. But research tells us that millennials generally “derive more value from experiences than objects.” How should an industry that has long catered to the desires of a gear-centric crowd respond to the next generation of high-end audio consumers?

That response is already in progress, as evidenced by a number of products, including Orchard Audio’s new single-box 500 wpc streamer, the Starkrimson Streamer Ultra. Designer Leo Ayzenshtat’s goal was to deliver the performance of a rack full of high-end separates in a single, attractive audio component. The big question is, does his new streamer successfully navigate the transition from objects to experiences? I spent six weeks with the Starkrimson Streamer Ultra to find out.

The streamer arrived reasonably well-packed with protective foam corners and padding, along with a standard IEC power cord and a few pages of instructions. Its aluminum chassis is surprisingly lightweight for its size. While the corners and edges are a little sharper than I’d like, the 9.5 mm thick brushed aluminum front panel gives the unit an overall high-quality look and feel.

Streaming amplifiers from other manufacturers often sport large color displays with touch-screen functionality; however, Leo’s design ethos favors simplicity, almost to an extreme. The only control to be found is a single power button that shines with an intense blue light when switched on. It’s the same story of simplicity around back, where the only audio input is an RJ45 Ethernet jack. Outputs are limited to a single pair of high-quality 5-way binding posts to drive passive loudspeakers. There’s no Bluetooth antenna or anything else to distract from that single-minded purpose to deliver a rack full of performance from a single box.

In preparation for this review, I decided to empty the component rack that has been the centerpiece of my practice of this hobby for nearly three decades. Removing the components was easy, but I was amazed by the mass of connecting and power cables that came with them. I was equally struck by the minimalist contrast as I connected speaker cables, Ethernet, and power to the Starkrimson Streamer Ultra. The instructions state that “it can take 45 to 75 minutes for it to configure itself”, but ten minutes after pressing the power button, I was streaming music from Roon. And the sound was excellent, indeed.

Because it’s a single component, there are no concerns about ground loops, leakage current, hum, or noise. When I placed my ear to the efficient beryllium tweeters in my Fritz Carrera 7 BE monitors, they were as quiet as when the system is entirely powered off. This is difficult to achieve with separates; the background does not get any blacker than this.

Out of that black background emerged microdynamics unlike any I’ve heard in my room. I detected subtle vibrato that I’d missed in previous listens of familiar vocal tracks. Seven seconds into “I Scare Myself” from Thomas Dolby’s The Flat Earth, there’s faint talking in the background just left of center and deep into the soundstage. It only lasts a couple of seconds. I’ve played this album over a hundred times since I purchased my first copy in the mid-’80s, but this was the first time I’ve heard these sounds, buried in the mix, on a loudspeakers + room system. Quite extraordinary.

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