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Looking to get started in music streaming? Ed Selley considers the merits of six entry-level network audio navigators

THERE’S NEVER BEEN a better time to get into network audio. What started out as a slightly fiddly offshoot of computer audio has evolved into a buoyant streaming sector with a wide selection of easy-to-use network music players to choose from. If you have the necessary budget, some models offer a very sophisticated level of performance and flexibility that’s hard to challenge. But with a plethora of setups out there from hi-fi separates to one-box systems, there’s more than one way to add streaming and bring your setup bang up to date.


The appeal of being able to control a music library via a smartphone or tablet is a considerable pull for many.

The touchscreen has evolved into a tool that provides a fascinating and engaging user experience, allowing us to navigate our own network-attached music libraries or those of a streaming service via an app. The best streamer apps make even large music libraries manageable as something we can access and explore more readily than a physical music collection, so the design of any navigational system will make or break just how we perceive a streamer’s functionality and success.

Streaming on a budget

As with any popular market sector, there is a number of entry-level options to get you started without breaking the bank. Despite the attractive price, many of these are impressively specified with support for high-resolution audio formats, on-board music streaming access to services such as Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz, and convenience features such as Bluetooth and AirPlay wireless connectivity for easy playback from additional devices.


Adding a streaming box to your system allows you to rediscover and explore vast music worlds. Of course, even at this level sound quality is everything, so here we gather six sub-£450 models to discover which offers the best functionality, flexibility and performance to get you started.

Group test verdict

With music streaming more popular than ever, these six low-cost models mean there’s really no excuse not to jump on board. EdSelley considers a winner

EACH OF THE models in this group opens up a world of music streaming for a reasonable outlay. Tibo’s Smart Streamer is perhaps the most niche of the products in the test with its preamp functionality, but feels a little compromised by the high fixed-level output and some slight loss of detail to the quality of its music streams.

The Mitchell & Johnson WLD+211T has a limited spec at the price, but its high build quality, decent sonic performance and built-in DAB/FM tuner; as well as its steamed radio capabilities, mean that its flexibility will appeal to some users.


Raumfeld’s Connector is well specified, both in terms of its format handling and useful features. The app is solid, easy to use and is part of a family of connected products. It has a slightly forward presentation, which could be an issue and any partnering equipment will need to be carefully selected to get the best sonic balance. The Sonos Connect by contrast, is the safe pair of hands in the test. Its refined sound, extensive functionality and slick app will win it many friends, although the lack of hi-res support means it’s somewhat limited in this competitive streaming market.


It is hard to argue with the overall performance and remarkable value for money that Yamaha’s WXAD-10 represents. If you simply want a flexible standalone network streamer, this unassuming little device offers impressive sonic performance combined with a useful selection of features and excellent streaming service support. It can easily integrate with the company’s extensive range of MusicCast components, designed for all types of home environments. The little Yamaha is a very fine streaming adapter indeed.


Auralic’s Aries Mini might be the most costly, but the stable and easy-to-use Lightning app (iOS only), useful expansion capability and outstanding sound quality make it the best way to get into network audio and is our outright winner.

Cambridge Audio CXN V2 Review

Cambridge Audio CXN V2 ReviewRECOMMENDED

A talented streamer/digital preamp/DAC that’s even better to use and fine value
BLUESOUND NODE 2i Review: Blue Funday


This hi-res streamer looks unremarkable but offers a superb sonic performance, ease of use and plenty of flexibility.
Auralic Aries Mini Review

Auralic Aries Mini ReviewRECOMMENDED

As a starter streamer, the Aries Mini is untouchable and has considerable upgrade potential, too
LIMETREE NETWORK Review – Stream genie


A truly excellent-sounding streamer that works exceptionally across a selection of services
Melco N100 Review – Hero in a half shell

Melco N100 Review – Hero in a half shellRECOMMENDED

A usefully compact music server that offers a strong overall performance
Sonos Connect Review

Sonos Connect ReviewRECOMMENDED

A dever and capable device, but the lack of hi-res support means that it’s too limited for some
Yamaha WX AD-10 Review


A cost- effective network audio streamer with great sound and decent accessibility
Leema Acoustics Elements Streamer Review: Elemental forces

Leema Acoustics Elements Streamer Review: Elemental forcesRECOMMENDED

Its operational quirks don’t undermine the excellent sound delivery across a wide selection of music
Audiolab 6000N Play Review – Play to the crowd

Audiolab 6000N Play Review – Play to the crowdRECOMMENDED

A great streamer, but needs OS update to make it an outstanding one
Limetree Bridge Review – Bridge the gap

Limetree Bridge Review – Bridge the gap

A bolt-on streaming transport with impressive build and functionality

Make/modelAuralic Aries MiniMitchell & Johnson WLD+211TRaumfeld ConnectorSonos ConnectTibo Smart StreamerYamaha WXAD-10
Key features      
TypeNetwork playerNetwork player/tunerNetwork playerNetwork playerNetwork player/preampNetwork player
Streaming32/384 & DSD25624/4824/19216/4824/19224/192
OutputsOptical; coaxial; RCAOptical; coaxial; RCAOptical; RCAOptical; coaxial; RCAOptical; 2x RCAMini jack; RCA
AppsSpotify; Tidal; QobuzSpotifySpotify; TidalAround 80 appsSpotifySpotify; Tidal; Qobuz

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