The question is asked several times a month. If you want a better streaming front-end, which has Qobuz natively, and you don’t want to buy a ND5XS2, a NDX2 or a ND555, what are your options?
I will break them down in
- Software solutions (some of them with 0 costs, some of them at a cost)
- PC/Streamer + hardware interface
There are several software only solutions which work using the standard UPnP streaming interface of the Naim legacy streamers. The NDac is excluded from this section, since it doesn’t have a streaming board.
The software solutions stream Tidal or Qobuz over UPnP. The app to control your Naim isn’t the Naim app anymore, but something else.
The easiest solution is installing the MConnect or MConnectHD app from the App store on an apple phone or tablet, or the BubbleUPnP app on an Android phone. Enter your credentials for Tidal or Qobuz and you can stream from your phone to the Naim. Sound quality is adequate, but not stellar.
A free step-up is using BubbleUPnPServer which you can install on a Mac, a Windows PC, a Linux PC or a NAS. What it does is adding a UPnP interface on Qobuz and Tidal. It takes some IT skill to get it running, but when it does it is robust. The computer on which BubbleUPnPServer is running must be on and in the same network as the Naim streamer.
The advantage of BubbleUPnPServer is that you can configure it to transcode the incoming FLAC stream to a WAV stream, which is a sound quality upgrade on all first generation Naim streamers. To be able to select and play music, you need the Linn app on your phone or tablet, or the Lumín app. Both interface with BubbleUPnPServer.
A third alternative is using the Audirvana software. This is a subscription software, but it delivers excellent sound quality and a nice interface. Audirvana needs to run on a Windows PC or Mac and that computer needs to be running when being used for streaming and in the same network as the Naim streamer.
If you don’t want a laptop or PC to be the interface, you can run Audirvana on a Mac Mini or an Intel NUC machine and download their app on your phone or tablet to select and play music.
Buying a dedicated streamer with Qobuz and Tidal integration in the software of that streamer is a way to modernise the interface, but keep the Naim streamer as a DAC. The connection between the streamer and the Naim is a SPDIF cable. The coax input is preferred over the TOSLink (the glasfiber) input for sound quality.
There are a lot of streamers on the market. One of the beliefs many people have is that bits are bits and it doesn’t matter which streamer you put in from of the Naim. Almost anyone who experiences using different streaming solutions in front of an older Naim streamer will tell you it does matter. Especially if you own a Naim NDac or NDS, investing will pay off. But you certainly should read on to the third topic.
Some suggestions for streamers (the list is far from exhaustive and doesn’t pretend to be). All streamers have SPDIF out and their software does include both Tidal and Qobuz integration. Some models will have Airplay, Bluetooth or Chromecast support, if you want to use those protocols, but at least they must offer native Tidal and Qobuz integration. That requirement does exclude a lot of solutions on the market.
In order of price:
- An Allo DigiOne or DigiOne Signature player. A raspberry Pi and Linux software based turn-key solution. Adding a lineair power supply will improve the sound quality, so there is an upgrade path.
- A Bluesound Node 2i. Although equipped with a DAC, using its SPDIF out and the BluOS software is a very user friendly and affordable solution. In terms of sound quality, it isn’t the best. This is often recommended, but if you want good quality sound with a NDX, NDS or NDac, something better is needed.
- Lindemann Limetree Bridge II. A German manufacturer, paying attention to electrical design of the streamer and having adequate and easy to use software. A large step up in term of sound quality and at a retail price below a 1000 Euro in most European countries.
- Innous Pulse Mini or Pulse. Pricey streamers, but for NDS or NDac owners worth a look.
PC/Streamer + hardware interface
This option is almost never mentioned on this forum, but it is a great alternative if you are really looking for optimum sound quality. It delivers great flexibility in what to choose as a streaming front-end.
The hardware is a Mutec MC-3+ USB . It allows connection over either USB or SPDIF and it has a SPDIF out. It will reclock the incoming signal and puts out a much cleaner signal into the DAC. Mutec is from the professional audio world and is used for its signal clocking solutions. It takes an effort to set-up, but once running it will work without a hitch, probably outliving the Naim streamer. It really opens up the sound and soundstage of Naim streamers.
The interesting feature is that you can choose to use a PC with a USB connection to the Mutec as a frontend, and pick one of the software solutions mentioned like Audirvana. Using a PC also means you can use the native Tidal or Qobuz PC apps and choose USB as the audio output device, if you would prefer. For Mac users, using the Tidal and Qobuz native apps over USB is a bit tricky, since a Mac doesn’t optimise the output based upon the bitrate of the music played. Audirvana is a better solution for Macs.
You can also choose one of the streamers mentioned, or even a streamer with a USB out. Since the Mutec is in-between the streamer and the Naim, you can invest in a lower cost streamer than you would do without a Mutec. Still, using a better streamer is clearly audible, but you don’t need a very fancy one. Bottomline, this isn’t a cheaper solution, but in terms of optimising sound quality one worth auditioning. Also, because it offers a lot of flexibility in future upgrade paths: the Mutec will keeps its worth when upgrading the streaming front-end or the DAC or when reselling.
Please, add your suggestions below.