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A pragmatist’s preference: Roon, Spotify and Chromecast

  • “Sound quality is all that matters”, says our internal idealist. On streaming service quality, we keep him/her satisfied by subscribing to Tidal and Qobuz for CD/hi-res audio. We might then wrap one of both in Roon for seamless integration with our local library and a non-linear UX that’s as informative as it is elegant. Putting it all in our hifi rack, we need only a Roon Ready streaming endpoint to have our smartphone instruct the Roon ‘Core’ server on what to pull down from Tidal or Qobuz.

    But what of the new music that doesn’t come to Tidal or Qobuz in a timely manner? Or the releases that don’t arrive at all? Enter stage left, our internal pragmatist pulls up Spotify to show us how to plug the music supply holes via another feature-rich interface that can offline content for planes and trains. Now we need a streaming endpoint that’s both Roon Ready and Spotify Connectable — where Spotify’s smartphone app becomes a remote control for the client-cloud connection.

    Apple Music and Amazon HD offer no such ‘Connect’ possibilities. Here we might lean on Apple’s iOS/MacOS-restricted AirPlay technology – or Bluetooth – to pull audio stream from the cloud but through the phone to arrive at our hi-fi rack-based network streamer. Unlike Spotify Connect and Roon, the music stops if the phone is powered down or is moved out of range.

    Despite discontinuing their Chromecast Audio hardware, Google’s Chromecast Built-in programme lives on in third-party implementations. We press one button in any Chromecast-enabled app to hand the stream’s URL off to our Chromecast-enabled device. Now the app serves only as a remote control. Power down the phone and the music keeps playing.

    Chromecast Built-in broadens the scope of smartphone-as-remote-only streaming service supply to include Apple Music and Amazon HD but only with services like SoundCloud is Google’s intolerable ball-drop on gapless playback rendered a non-issue. (Ditto Mixcloud and, in the USA, Pandora).

    Via another dose of lossy streaming (improved by a monthly fee), our inner pragmatist to take another step further into the light. SoundCloud is where we go artist/label/publication-direct to pull on exclusive tracks and DJ mixes that rarely, if ever, exist elsewhere. Chromecast Built-in allows us to do so without leaving Soundcloud’s own app whose UX is several steps beyond Sonos’ or HEOS’.

    And just like Roon and Spotify Connect, we only need to press another smartphone app button to bounce our SoundCloud stream to another Chromecast endpoint sitting elsewhere on the network.

    Now we have three streaming technologies that work in the same way; they don’t decode/encode the audio stream (see Bluetooth) and don’t rely on the phone being always on (see AirPlay):

    1. With Roon (for Tidal and/or Qobuz), the smartphone app serves ONLY as a remote control.
    2. With Spotify Connect, the smartphone app serves ONLY as a remote control.
    3. With Chromecast Built-in, the smartphone app serves ONLY as a remote control.

    The ‘holy trinity’ of streaming support established, we now look to similarly-specified hardware.

    Naim’s Uniti Atom (€2749) is a streaming amplifier with in-built DAC and network streamer. That it can come out of the cupboard at a moment’s notice – just add loudspeakers – to have me up and running with music within ten minutes is one reason why I keep coming back to this Naim shoebox. It’s Kallax-Fi to boot.

    From its 40wpc – more than enough go-juice for many loudspeakers – the Uniti Atom delivers an exciting, punchy sound. However, first-hand experience tells us that whilst it’s a very capable JBL L100 Classic dance partner, hooked up to the Klipsch Forte III some lower treble grain is enough to grate after an hour or so of listening. It’s also worth noting that the Naim’s amplifier section is outclassed by the Hegel H390 (€5900) on macro-dynamics and majesty, which suffers zero Forte III-induced pratfalls. The Naim is a speedboat, the Hegel an ocean liner.

    Our inner idealist’s desire for best sound quality would fly him to Oslo – from whence the Hegel hails – but the inner pragmatist might prefer a wander across Salisbury Plain where, on streaming functionality, the Naim steps ahead of the Hegel. The Uniti Atom advances the H390’s UPnP, Apple AirPlay and Spotify Connect support with aptX Bluetooth, Roon Readiness and Chromecast Built-in to complete all three points on our ‘Holy Trinity’ triangle:

    Oh, and that volume wheel. ♥

    Further information: Naim | Chromecast-enabled apps | SoundCloud

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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