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Salk Sound StreamPlayer Generation III, Part 2 – Strength

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Transitioning my files

To move my files to the StreamPlayer III on my computer network I attached it using an Ethernet cable as the link. It showed up immediately on my home office Mac, and I simply dragged and dropped music files to the StreamPlayer III’s music folder. The Manual goes into further discussion of resolving the StreamPlayer III’s network name if not done automatically, accessing configuration pages, tool pages and information pages on the StreamPlayer III, and guidance in selection of remote control clients. Computer, Android phones, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad and others are all accepted, and more than one can be used at the same time.

The transfer process was slow, very slow, as in many hours, because the transfer was not direct, but across the network. Jim has a more direct method of file transfer, but is very hesitant to discuss it with those not steeped in computer networking. It’s best to discuss such ideas with Jim. I found it faster to batch the transferred files on my desktop for transfer, and had them migrated within 24 hours. As to the quality of the transfer, in my listening it has been faultless. I have yet to hear an anomaly during playback of my collection.

What if a friend arrives with a USB stick containing music? I tried to put a USB stick directly into the back of the StreamPlayer III, but it did not appear anywhere on the ROON software, so I had no way of getting the music to play. Jim has mentioned an update that would allow direct transfer of files from USB to the StreamPlayer III. I recommend this, as the convenience would be enhanced greatly. I believe this will be eventually incorporated into a remote update via download from Salk.


StreamPlayer with Lampizator Big 7 DAC, Exogal Comet DAC

I was able to test out both of these DACs, the former which is in for review, and the latter which has already been covered (see my review of the Exogal Comet DAC). I had the most formidable speaker to date, the Legacy Audio V System, available for this comparison. The V is an extreme speaker, comparable to exotic cars with extreme performance. It is so abundantly capable that it makes the other speakers I use seem challenged.

I found the best way to explore the StreamPlayer III sonically was to visit as many favorite songs from the past 40 years as I could. I built a play list of dozens of classics and new favorites, some compromised and compressed, and others reference quality. I ran through this playlist with both DACs and found the StreamPlayer III to accommodate the Big 7 readily. There was an anomaly that occured when I used the Comet, namely a static burst followed by a complete drop out of the sound, despite the signal still being streamed and ROON still playing it. Initially, in consultation with Jeff Haagenstad of Exogal it was thought that there was an incompatibility between the operating system of the Comet and the Legacy V Wavelet processor. It seems that while the Comet mates fine with most DSP systems, room correction processing does not always mesh well with the Comet.
However, in further use of the StreamPlayer III, Tidal and Roon, the static/drop out anomaly showed itself with the Big 7 DAC, too. It seems the issue likely is not the hardware, nor the system configuration, but likely is a streaming issue related to my internet provider. It is possible there exists a ghost in the machine in terms of the internet scheme being used in my home, perhaps the most likely culprit being the power line devices which are allowing me to transfer a wireless signal into my listening room. I exonerate Exogal, Salk and Legacy from this issue. Interestingly, as the weeks have rolled by, as my wife went back home to visit and there is less internet activity the static anomaly has been reduced, lending weight to the possibility of an internet service or hardware related issue.
No such thing as “neutral”

So many times I have heard the comment about a preamp, amp or speaker cable that it, “… doesn’t impose its own sound on the system,” or similar. I tend to snicker now when I hear someone say any audio component is sonically neutral. Oh, really, would you care to demonstrate that for me? There is no such thing as a “neutral” component in an absolute sense. They all impose their own character on the music!

Case in point, when I moved from the Mac Mini with the HQPlayer software there was a freshening of the music, cleaner, more robust, paced more naturally when heard through the StreamPlayer III. Tonally things sounded more accurate, and tighter as well. The change tonally was not large, but rather the greatest perceived changes were in terms of clarity, soundstage and dynamics. This suggests to me that while the StreamPlayer III is not absolutely neutral, it does confer a more natural timbre with which to build a system – perhaps most file server/streamers do more so than other components. I would have to consider that further, so I reserve final judgment on it for now.


What did I hear?

With the Legacy Audio V System I heard a performance beyond compare; from the get-go this was a new reference for my room. It was not only a reference for a hybrid dynamic speaker, but a reference for any speaker I have used, panel, horn, omni or dynamic. I heard a scale and precision of an electrostatic, the spatial openness of an omnidirectional speaker, and the fortitude of a dynamic speaker. The StreamPlayer III allowed the V to stand taller than any other speaker I have used, including the Kingsound King III, Legacy Whisper DSW Clarity Edition and Vapor Audio Joule White 3.

Oh, yes, and also the Sound Lab Ultimate U-4iA, the most diminutive of the Ultimate line of Sound Lab products. It’s what might be considered an entry-level big gun electrostatic speaker. This next comment must be taken in context, because it will sound cutting, but it is not intended to be so. When I pulled the V out of the system and slid in – well, more like wrestled with great exertion – the U-4iA into place I was disappointed. A great deal of the overwhelming nature of the sound was gone.

Two things must be considered here, the first is that the amps in use heavily favored the V. The First Watt J2 is a polite 25wpc, and although the U-4iA is a powered speaker there is an attendant improvement in holistic sound quality by beefing up the amps feeding this electrostatic speaker. I did not suffer the languid sound of the system for long, but rapidly returned to the Red Dragon S500 Amplifiers in mono mode at 1,000wpc. Though Class D – and Oh, what beautiful Class D! – perked up the U-4iA considerably. Also migrating from the Exogal Comet DAC to the LampizatOr Big 7 redeemed the speakers and returned them to their worthy status as supremely fine stats. A Final cable change tuned things up such that now the differential between the two speakers, though still sizable, was commensurate to the $30K difference in cost, and the differing technologies in use.

What does this have to do with the StreamPlayer? It shows that from early use onward I had built a reference system and its performance was easily altered and upgraded by system changes. Note that my reference sound continually moves upward. I don’t sit with a system for years as my reference, but rather the best sound ever for a speaker in my room determined by direct comparison if possible becomes the reference.


Chasing away white sound

There were a few times, such as the aforementioned system, when I initially was disappointed by the lack of lushness, but with time was able to address every instance of it to my satisfaction. Had the StreamPlayer III been inherently bright, white or thin sounding the systems would not have been pulled back into proper performance parameters, but rather I would have been left with lingering disappointment.

I do not consider the StreamPlayer III to be a component that should be bought to fix brightness or treble stridency issues in systems. The StreamPlayer III is very “true to the source” in that it will pass along very cleanly the original recording’s character. An example would be Trombone Shorty’s album Backatown, which offers an unvarnished street vibe, saltier than sweet. One should not expect that this kind of music will turn warm and cuddly simply because of the presence of the StreamPlayer III.

When the rest of the rig is complementary the result is rapturous, as was the case in hearing Sarah Jarosz’s “Green Lights.” A decent system will render her singing as flat, 2-D fairytale-like chirping. A sensational system will with the same StreamPlayer III have Sarah descended as an angel with heavenly bearing. Especially gratifying are the seemingly endless waves of expansion of the echo of her voice, gratifyingly excavated from the file by the StreamPlayer III. Thus, I am not suggesting the StreamPlayer III isn’t capable of ultra-smooth sound. It certainly can – when the performance carries those characteristics.

The Salk file server seems to be nearly boundless in its ability to assist speakers in hitting their frequency extension limits. I was surprised at how deep the Sound Lab U-4iA seemed, though they are specified as reaching 35Hz +/-3dB. Though the Kingsound King III is rated a touch lower at 32Hz, the U-4iA, as the first panel speaker in my room to benefit from the StreamPlayer III, struck me as deeper in the low end. But once I did return the King III to the system it, too, had benefitted from the frequency extension sense that the StreamPlayer III conferred.

The Kingsound King III was as enticing as the other speakers, showing off its characteristic grand scale with the best resolution I have achieved with it. In a system consisting of the StreamPlayer III, Exogal Comet DAC, and Red Dragon S500 amps in Mono mode, all of which combined are approximately $11,500, the King III gave me its best sound to date. Even though the Legacy Audio XTREME HD Subwoofers were removed from the room I found the performance of the King III to be more enticing than usual. While some of this may be due to the removal of bass waves interfering with the back wave of the King III’s dipole bass, I do not think that is the majority of the difference. The speaker top to bottom was more organic and velvety to my ears and that could only be achieved due to the StreamPlayer III.

This is the most wonderful thing about the StreamPlayer III; the more refined the system the more it sounds tube-like and “analogue.” As a source the StreamPlayer III has proven itself with two notable electrostatic speakers and a world-class tower speaker in the Legacy V. I am very comfortable saying that your speaker will present no difficulties for the StreamPlayer III to integrate.


NEXT: Part 3 – HD-PLEX


Associated Components:
Source: Musical Fidelity M1CDT Transport
 Streaming Music Service: Tidal
 Playback Software: ROON
 DAC:  Eastern Electric Minimax DSD DAC Supreme with Burson, Dexa NewClassD and Sparkos Labs Discrete Opamp Upgrade; Exogal Comet DAC and upgrade power supply, LampizatOr Big 7
 Preamp: TEO Audio Liquid Preamplifier; VAC Renaissance Signature Preamplifier MkIICambridge Audio 840E
 Amps: Red Dragon S500; VAC Phi 200; First Watt J2 (two)
 SpeakersKings Audio Kingsound King III; Legacy Audio DSW Clarity Edition; Kings Audio King Tower omnidirectional; Vapor Audio Joule White 3
 Subwoofers: Legacy Audio XTREME HD (2)
 IC’s: TEO Liquid Splash-Rs and Splash-Rc; TEO Liquid Standard MkII; Clarity Cable Organic RCA/XLR; Snake River Audio Signature Series Interconnects; Silent Source “The Music Reference”
 Speaker Cables: TEO  Cable Standard Speaker; Clarity Cable Organic Speaker; Snake River Audio Signature Series Speaker Cables; Silent Source “The Music Reference”
 Digital Cables: Clarity Cable Organic Digital; Snake River Audio Boomslang; Silent Source “The Music Reference”
 USB: Verastarr Nemesis; Clarity Organic
 Power Cables: Verastarr Grand Illusion; Clarity Cable Vortex; MIT Oracle ZIII; Xindak PF-Gold; Snake River Audio Signature Series; Silent Source “The Music Reference”
 Power Conditioning: Wireworld Matrix Power Cord Extender; Tice Audio Solo
Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden

2 Responses to Salk Sound StreamPlayer Generation III, Part 2 – Strength

  1. David Law says:

    Sir in this review i read and waited to see how to put my cd’s on the hard disc and no mention. ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE MOVED ON OTHERS MAY NOT. I also wanted to know how to move my room core from my computer to the stream player. I also think that a rear view of this product and description of the connections would be helpful to buyers.
    I hope these points can be covered also on the stream player site there seems no view of connections.

  2. David,
    God’s Joy to you,

    You bring up very good points; I transitioned from a Mac Mini, so the transition was different than it would be for you. Frankly, the sound quality of a music source like Tidal is every bit as good as CD, so you could save yourself a LOT of time by simply using the integral ROON interface software, buying a relatively inexpensive subscription to Tidal and streaming the audio. No, this will not get you your entire collection of CD’s for playback, but it’s a good start with more music than you can imagine.
    You will need a computer with a high enough download rate to support Tidal.

    As regards the transfer of CD’s you will have to rip them using a disc drive to get them onto computer. I used iTunes (check into the settings, as there are general preferences among audiophiles for that in order to get the best result). It is laborious, but very doable over time. I just ripped several each day and in a few weeks I was done.

    I will contact Jim Salk and recommend he put a pic of the backside of the unit on the web page.
    The only connections I had need of were the ethernet input and the USB 2.0/3.0 output, and I suspect the same would apply to you.

    It may be of help to you to check out this extended discussion of the StreamPlayer, as some people were asking the same question as you, how to get CDs onto the unit. You must have a computer to convert the CDs into files, then they can be put on the StreamPlayer.

    Douglas Schroeder

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