To stream or not to stream

Audio files are stored on a hard disk. You have two options to access them:

A streaming audio player doesn't have a HD.
It even doesn’t know where the audio files are located.
It connect over the network to a server.
The server “knows” the audio files and send all the information to the player.
This works pretty much the same way as you surf the internet using your browser.
It is called streaming because you don’t download an audio file in the way one downloads a file.
On request by the client, an audio file is send to client by the server. As soon as there is a sufficient amount of data (the buffer) the client starts to play.
It doesn’t wait for the entire file to be downloaded and it doesn’t store the file either.

 

To play your own music using a streaming audio player:

After configuring everything correctly, the media player can access your collection over the home network.
Sounds pretty complex but protocols like UPnP/DLNA come to your rescue.
Today devices discover each other on the network with the same ease as your PC discovers a external HD on the USB.

Although it took a long time for streaming to become mature (Slimdevices started streaming in 2000), today almost any audio brand offers amps/receivers DLNA enabled.

 

If you want to give it a try and you have two PCs running Win7 (or higher), enable media sharing and they can both play each other's content.

Modern TVs and smartphones are often DLNA enabled.
You might use your smartphone to play from or to a PC.

Gives you a taste of what streaming is about.

In general a PC offers more flexibility.
You can try all kind of media players, drivers, etc.

A streamer is a bundled hardware/software solution.
It does what is does and you don’t have much options to tailor it to your needs.

 

Audio and networking

A typical audiophile worry is whether audio over  the network will ever sound right.
Small wonder, if you pay Stealth Audio Cables $6,500.00 for a 1 m RCA interconnect to connect your CD player to your amp, you can't believe that sending audio over a CAT5 ( $50,00 for 100 meter) or over Wi-Fi can sound right.
The answer is simple, as streaming has become popular, you can now buy audiophile network cables with a price tag rivaling their analog counterparts.