The 2010s proved pivotal for streaming audio. As the first half of the decade gave way to the second, the mainstream’s focus slowly shifted from streaming files stored on hard drives to streaming files stored in the cloud. And instead of feeding our DACs with PCs and Macs, we embraced devices whose sole purpose was to stream music: network streamers aka network bridges. And yet pretty much all of the most affordable network streamers gaining popularity in the 2010s are no longer with us. One audiophile-centric example is the Auralic Aries Mini whose technical support costs – helping less experienced users get up and running – ultimately outweighed the Mini’s profit margins and forced its discontinuation. Here are five further examples of affordable streaming devices that have come and gone:
1) Apple’s mains-pluggable Airport Express played catch on AirPlay streams, downsampling everything above 48kHz before handing off to a DAC via TOSLINK. The Airport Express was discontinued by Apple in 2018.
2) Similarly AirPlay-able (and also capped at 48kHz) was the third-generation Apple TV whose TOSLINK socket allowed us to send audio into a DAC whilst any corresponding video ran into a TV over HDMI. Alas, the move to the fourth-generation Apple TV saw Apple ditch the TOSLINK socket to leave only the HDMI output to handle video and audio, thus forcing end-users to tap their TV or projector’s TOSLINK output for digital audio.
3) Sonos is perhaps the world’s best-known streaming hardware provider. Until the introduction of the Port in 2020, it was the Connect (previously the ZP90) and its partner app that gave millions access to pretty much every streaming service under the sun, even Apple Music. Like Apple’s streaming products, the Connect wasn’t for hi-res enthusiasts — its coaxial and TOSLINK outputs were capped at 48kHz.
4) Google introduced the Chromecast Audio in 2015 only to discontinue its production four years later. Its TOSLINK output gave life to numerous Chromecast-enabled streaming apps – even hi-res audio streams – albeit with the caveat of non-gapless playback. In its place, a Google Chromecast’s HDMI output must be routed through a TV or projector before we can peel off the digital audio portion of the signal via TOSLINK.
5) Perhaps the greatest of all time (the GOAT), was the Logitech Squeezebox Touch. Discontinued in 2012 after Logitech acquired the product line’s originator Slim Devices but continued to lose ground to (then) rival Sonos, the Touch was an audiophile favourite and is missed even to this day. Its internal DAC aced the Sonos Connect on sound quality and the 11th-hour introduction of the Enhanced Digital Output turned the Touch’s USB socket, originally intended for storage device-hosted streams, into a digital audio output. Before that – before hi-res audio was as popular as it is now – coaxial and TOSLINK handled DAC connection duties. Moreover, the software developer community sprouting around the Squeezebox Server’s back-end has seen the Squeezebox Touch (and other Squeezebox-enabled products) gain access to a huge range of services and functionality that Sonos cannot get near.
Working to a tight budget in the 2020s, what’s the wannabe streamer to do? In this episode of the Darko.Audio podcast, Michael Lavorgna and I discuss a handful of cheaper alternatives to the increasingly popular Bluesound NODE. We also run through some recent news items, indulging tangents along the way, before wrapping the episode with a pair of music recommendations.
As mentioned in this podcast…