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Don’t walk, run to the Wiim Mini

  • The Wiim Mini is a puck-shaped Bluetooth and network streamer supporting Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 and UPnP. It isn’t new but it’s new to me: the Mini’s Amazon.de listing tells us that it launched last October. And no, the New Year didn’t prompt its manufacturer to take their six-month-old streaming device on a fresh promotional outing. I am not in touch with anyone at Wiim. Last week’s introduction to the Mini came by way of a reader tip-off.

    The Mini’s small form factor – it measures 7cm across – and its surprisingly broad feature set, all sat next to its €99 asking, made it an easy buy. Amazon’s 30-day return policy would insure me against gotchas – of which there are at least two – should I wish to return the unit. We’ll get to that. In this written review, I will go deeper on the Wiim Mini than is possible from a YouTube video.

    Unboxing the Mini tells us that Wiim cares about preventing in-transit damage to the unit’s touch-sensitive top panel: it’s protected by a foam pad that’s secured by a removable sticky film. Wiim also seems to care about getting users up and running out of the box. A generous complement of cables is provided: 3.5mm to 3.5mm analogue, 3.5mm to twin RCA analogue, TOSLINK and USB-A to USB-C. The latter is used to juice the Mini with 5V. Following modern smartphone supply trends that aim to cut back on potential landfill, no power brick comes in the box. We gotta go BYO.

    Also missing in action is an Ethernet port. The Wiim Mini is wi-fi only. For onboarding, we need to install the Wiim Home smartphone app (iOS, Android). The app auto-detects the Mini and scans for nearby wi-fi networks. We give the app our wi-fi’s login credentials and it injects them into the Mini (over the air). The Mini then uses those credentials to connect to our wifi network. Simples. The speed and simplicity of this puck’s wi-fi onboarding process should have some high-end streaming hardware manufacturers rethinking theirs.

    I was up and running with a Spotify Connect stream of Perc’s Wicker & Steel within three minutes of unboxing. Once that industrial-Brit-techno had run its course, I moved over to Tidal to hear the greatest album of the 1980s — in CD quality via Tidal’s Connect service. I am talking about The Cure’s Disintegration. I need to hear it at least once a year. The gotcha (or Schadenfreude) will be the Mini’s absence of MQA support. Fire up any MQA stream and try to push it over to the Mini using Tidal Connect and a CD-quality stream will land in its place.

    Whilst we’re entertaining the devil and his details, let’s talk about gapless playback and how it relates to the Mini. One Darko.Audio Patron excitedly messaged me over the weekend about how I simply had to check out this “new gapless $99 streamer”. His words. He’d obviously missed my intro post on the same. On it being gapless, it turns out that our Patron is only half correct. Whoever says streaming is easy is telling porky pies. Time to go back to basics.

    To stream Bluetooth to the Wiim Mini, we must first switch the Mini’s operational mode to Bluetooth using the Wiim Home app. On advanced codecs, Wiim gives us only AAC. No aptX. No LDAC. No shame (at this price point).

    To say that a Bluetooth input supports gapless playback is to misunderstand how Bluetooth works. It has no say in the matter. It simply lays down the tracks on which a digital music signal rides (over the air). If we start a Qobuz stream on a smartphone and send it via Bluetooth to the Mini, the Qobuz app – and not Bluetooth – will determine whether or not we get gapless playback. Ditto Tidal, Spotify (and all other streaming apps).

    Returning the Wiim to network streaming mode, again using the Wiim Home app, we get access to AirPlay 2, Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect. The two Connect services are, for this listener, the Mini’s strongest suits: we start a stream within the Spotify (or Tidal) app and then hand that stream off to the Wiim Mini by selecting it in the Spotify (or Tidal) app’s list of streaming endpoints. We never have to leave the Spotify or Tidal app to get our streaming fix. Moreover, Spotify and Tidal’s development teams have built gapless playback into their Connect systems so that we don’t have to worry about it, no matter which Connect-compatible endpoint we deploy.

    To say that AirPlay 2 streams gaplessly is to misunderstand how AirPlay 2 works. It has no say in the matter. Once activated, Apple’s streaming system lays down the tracks on which a streaming app’s digital signal rides, this time over our home network. Just as it does with Bluetooth, the stream travels through the smartphone (or tablet) on its way to the Wiim Mini and gapless playback is determined by the playback app. If an app plays gaplessly over Bluetooth, it will play gaplessly over AirPlay 2. However, unlike Bluetooth, AirPlay 2 is generally restricted to Apple devices: iPhones, iPads, iMacs and MacBooks. For Apple Music users, AirPlay 2 remains the only way to feed the Wiim Mini beyond the inferior sounding Bluetooth. We could also stream Spotify or Tidal over AirPlay 2 but why bother when their respective Connect services keep the stream away from the smartphone or tablet? It’s a rhetorical question.

    Now comes a minor niggle. I used AirPlay 2 to send the audio portion of a YouTube stream playing on a MacBook to the Wiim Mini. Resuming the video after pressing pause caused the Mini to drop its internal digital volume attenuation from 100% to around 50%. We then have to manually bump it back up to 100% using the Wiim Home app or the touch-sensitive buttons located on the device’s convexed top plate. Gotcha? You decide. Perhaps it’s just a YouTube thing. This volume dip doesn’t present when pausing/playing a Spotify, Tidal or Qobuz stream carried to the Mini via AirPlay 2 from a smartphone or MacBook.

    It’s worth (err) pausing here to mention that setting the Wiim Mini’s volume control to 100% inside the Wiim Home app will, in most use cases, optimise its sound quality. It’s almost always better for sound quality to use an amplifier’s (or external DAC’s) volume control than use the digital attenuation executed by a consumer-grade network streamer, especially if you prefer to listen at low volume levels. K? K. The Mini’s manual mentions that the unit’s volume output can be fixed at line-level (100%) using the Wiim Home app but I couldn’t find that setting.

    Time to be direct: I’d never – not ever – use the Wiim Home app’s integration of Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music or Qobuz. Why? Two reasons. 1) Like many UPnP/DLNA apps of this ilk, the interface isn’t as visually rich as the apps provided by the streaming services themselves — browsing and selecting music feels more finicky inside Wiim Home than it does, say, on Apple Music. 2) Playback isn’t gapless. Bam! For why that’s a gotcha of the highest order, at least for yours truly, please see my coverage of DTS Play-Fi as found on the Audiolab 6000A Play.

    If you want gapless playback from the Wiim Mini with Qobuz, Deezer or Amazon Music, AirPlay 2 is the way to go. That’s assuming you’re running an iPhone, iPad or Mac. If you’re rocking an Android phone or Windows, you’ll need to fall back to Bluetooth to avoid those pesky playback gaps.

    The snappy and responsive Wiim Home app has one redeeming feature (two if you count Amazon Alexa / Siri integration): six preset slots that can be assigned to any streaming playlist or album, including Spotify. Bluesound is already across this kind of functionality. The 2021 Node and Powernode have preset ‘buttons’ on their touch-sensitive top panels. Other streaming hardware manufacturers might think about doing the same as, the way I see it, presets make a network streamer more family-friendly. Got a favourite playlist? One single preset press and it’s playing.

    OK – what about this hockey puck’s sound quality?

    I have no use for the Wiim Mini’s 3.5mm analogue input and I care not for its 3.5mm analogue output, even if the internal Burr-Brown PCM5121-based DAC circuit does offer the potential for up to 24bit/192kHz hi-res audio decoding. Heard from a high-end audio perspective, the Mini’s lackluster/washed-out sound, especially in the treble, comes across as no better than a Google Chromecast Audio or Xiaomi Mi Box S. A sharp reminder that hi-res capabilities count for nought if the DAC chip, output stage and associated power supplies aren’t up to snuff. Inside the Wiim device, they combine for something we might call ‘price-point appropriate’.

    You don’t buy a dog and bark yourself. Connecting a streamer like the Mini to an outboard DAC to bypass its internal decoder has become standard practice for many hi-fi enthusiasts. I hooked the TOSLINK output into the Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC’s corresponding input. The sound quality from the Mini’s digital output is good (but not great). It’s a little too grey on tonal colour and lacks low-end punch to once again track the Google Chromecast Audio / Xiaomi Mi Box S on audible performance. Ergo: it’s price appropriate. These shortcomings could be attributable to Mini’s TOSLINK output or they could be because the internal software, like many Android devices, resamples all streams to 48kHz before dispatching them optically. No hi-res soup for you! Come back in a year? We might not have to wait that long. The Wiim’s Amazon.ca listing tells us that 24bit/192kHz bit-perfect playback – i.e. no resampling – might soon come to the Mini’s TOSLINK output via an over-the-air firmware update.

    All TOSLINK connections are optical. The source device converts the digital signal’s electrical pulses to light pulses which travel down the cable to the DAC’s receiver chip which then converts them back into electrical pulses. One theoretical benefit is that TOSLINK connections don’t allow electrical noise to travel from the host to the DAC. With this in mind, you’d think that DAC and network streamer manufacturers would have given up on electrical connections (AES/EBU, coaxial, USB and I2S) long ago to concentrate solely on TOSLINK. The reality – as with many things in audio – isn’t as simple as it first appears. The way I understand it from talking to many DAC/streamer manufacturers over the years is that: 1) a TOSLINK connection carries more jitter than a coaxial connection — jitter refers to timing errors in the data stream that can distort the analogue waveform generated by the DAC chip; and 2) the circuitry inside the DAC that converts the incoming TOSLINK signal’s light pulses into electrical pulses can itself generate unwanted electrical noise. Such reasoning strikes any free lunch twice from the menu.

    System context is important. Following the Wiim Mini and Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC in my playback chain were the Enleum AMP-23R amplifier and Klipsch Forte IV loudspeakers. This hardware setup magnifies the Mini’s audible weaknesses. It can’t match an Allo DigiOne’s ease and fluidity. That’s a Raspberry Pi-based solution whose functionality is determined by the host operating system. If you’re weighing up the Pi 4’s USB output vs the Mini’s TOSLINK, go with whichever has the functionality best suits your needs. There isn’t enough in it sound-wise to call it in favour of one unit or the other. For anyone allergic to Pi builds, the Wiim’s plug-n-play simplicity makes it Hobson’s choice.

    For the Mini to become my everyday streamer, a system comprising a Chord Mojo DAC, a NAD C316BEE integrated amplifier and Q Acoustics 3030i loudspeakers would be more price- and performance-appropriate. Here I’d use the Wiim’s Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect inputs and point my Roon server at its AirPlay 2 input. The Mini is very well-specified for a consumer-grade product with zero setup demands. A major plus.

    And despite its sonic shortcomings in a high-end hi-fi context, the Wiim Mini (€99) + Chord Mojo (€499) can be had for almost the same money as a 2021 Bluesound Node (€549). And yet the two-fer edges the Node on detail dig and top-to-bottom dynamic punch and is more likely to go wherever you go: to the office or on vacation. How’s that for something to think about? The little Wiim is also what you add to an Audiolab 6000A (Play) to take its gapless streaming support beyond Spotify.

    I’ll not be returning the Wiim Mini to Amazon.de. I won’t be keeping it either. I’ll be giving it away on Patreon next month.

    🛒 (US) https://amzn.to/3KECR1z
    🛒 (DE) https://amzn.to/32tI4bk
    🛒 (UK) https://amzn.to/3fTDciG

    Further information: Wiim Home

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    Written by John Darko

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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