A good stereo system available at the right time and place is a lovely thing. That's hard to argue when looking at the last decade's Bluetooth speaker revolution and headphones explosion. Smaller and portable music machines may have been popular since the 1950s, but they've never been better, never been as cheap and available, and never had access to the vast archives of music that today's streaming products do.
A streaming amplifier is one step removed from an all-in-one boombox, but this separation allows it to fill a room or small area with sound much more efficiently and effectively. It's the evolution of the receiver, and it's a category that has and will always have a broad audience.
At The Music Room, we are music lovers who believe that having music available can instantly make any location or setting better. For some, a simple HiFi streaming amp like NAD's C 700, paired with a great set of speakers, may be the end of the road in the audio component search. We also know some audiophiles who aren't content with two, three, or four high–quality playback systems. Streaming amplifiers open the doors of possibility for putting music experiences into unlikely places.
NAD's mighty little C 700 represents the class of the streaming amplifier category. It uses a tried and true software interface (BluOS) and sports a solid power supply, Bruno Putzeys' UcD power modules, and an advanced DAC implementation which brings its sonics up to audiophile level for such a compact device.
The rich colors of the 5" screen, the buttery-smooth volume knob, and the upgrade in sonics make this product a dream to interact with.
We've heard the C 700 hold its own in quite a few situations and on various speakers. We've paired it with Focal's Chora speakers all the way up to Harbeth's mammoth Monitor 40.3 XDs. The C 700 didn't just fill the room – it captivated us with layered, full-figured music every time.
Quite a feat for an impressively complex device aimed at an industry with a propensity toward simplicity and "straight wires." But that's where we are in 2022, after almost a hundred years of scientific progress since the discovery and development of stereo. We can expect authentic audiophile experiences from highly-engineered devices like these.
Check out these high-performance streaming amplifiers available from The Music Room, and imagine great music or sound available anywhere.
The story of Bluesound is one of an organic rise in the industry into a household name and streaming staple. The Lenbrook-owned company’s early success as a higher-quality alternative to Sonos, along with its development of the advanced BluOS streaming software helped it attract integration with Lenbrook’s NAD and other brands, while its original product offerings have steadily improved over time. A Node gets you a streaming source or endpoint, a Vault includes a large amount of file storage as a server, and the PowerNode is the all-in-one of the lineup.
Control of the PowerNode, now in its fourth generation and sporting a more powerful processor than ever, is handled like its brethren –- via a smartphone or tablet and the BluOS app. The onboard Hypex UcD amplifier modules crank out 80 watts per channel to drive any speaker load. It’s WiFi capable, has analog and digital inputs, and can connect smartly to televisions via the eARC-equipped HDMI port. What more could a listener want?
That question is quickly answered when using the visual screen interface of the NAD C 700, which like previously mentioned shares a lot in common with the PowerNode. The rich, colorful display operates an intuitive menu and feature set, and even showcases some vintage flair with a digital representation of analog meters in a nod to receivers’ past. But that’s not all you get when moving between streaming amplifiers from these sister companies. NAD’s implementation of the Hypex circuitry and power supply design brings immense experience to the modern task of the “just add speakers” device. The C 700 casts a deeper and wider soundstage, and offers a more "audiophile" presentation overall.
The C 700’s interfacing with smart home custom control systems and its capability as one of a possible 64 points of streaming access with these multi-room BluOS devices just adds to the remarkable story of this flexible device.
The Cyrus ONE Cast streaming amplifier ups the ante considerably. Easy integration with all the top smart home speakers like Amazon Alexa, Apple Homepod and Google’s Assistant make this high-end product not just an amplifier, but a true endpoint and destination. “Alexa, play Hiromi on the One Cast,” you say aloud, and immediately the high quality sound of a well-recorded grand piano will pour through the speakers. Thanks to the fourth-generation Class D modules Cyrus has developed, its 100 watts feels like a conservative figure in use. “Balanced” is a word that comes to mind when listening to the amplifier, observing how music is the focus in the presentation from the ONE. WiFi, two-way Bluetooth and a laundry list of streaming services which directly connect with the interface only tell half of the digital story. The onboard DAC allows for a full suite of hardware connections as well, including a PC-USB input. Talk about flexibility, this is an advanced amplifier to be sure.
Price: $1,999 (SALE: $1,499 for a limited time)
Krell’s prowess in the amplification field is legendary, and well documented (click here to read our take on Krell’s evolution as a brand). So it shouldn’t be surprising that the amplifier portion of this do-it-all device is the real star of the show. Its patented iBias real-time bias adjustment circuit tracks better than all previous attempts at sliding bias, following the output current rather than other indicators to both keep the amplifier in Class A mode and to match the current output with the exact speaker load across frequency. This lets the amp run as cool and efficiently as it can, while being the only amplifier on this list to operate nearly always in Class A. The streaming and DAC sections of this amazing device are no slouches. The K-300i is Roon Ready, Spotify Connect enabled, and comes with a Bluetooth receiver onboard. Standard digital inputs, an HDMI ARC connection and both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA make this a perfect hub for all things audio and entertainment.
This streaming amplifier needs little in the way of introduction, as it could possibly become NAD’s best-selling product of all time. That’s saying something for a brand that has remained notable in the high-end audio world for the last 50 years. The M33 seemingly had all strengths and no weaknesses when it came out in 2020, sporting bleeding-edge Class D modules from Bruno Putzeys and Purifi Audio as well as industry-leading DSP from Dirac Live, Roon integration and of course the BluOS architecture characteristic of NAD’s streaming products. As the all-in-one of the Masters series, it sports the looks to match with the high end system it anchors.
“A rip-roaring success in all important regards, and innovative in several key areas,” is how a breathless What HiFi? review sums up the all-in-wonder.
Besides the Krell, the Naim Atom, Nova, and Star are the only other A/B amplifiers on this list. Traditional A/B power takes space and needs to dissipate some heat relative to the über cool Class D amps. But when properly implemented and with a good power supply, a linear A/B design can shine in the holographic, floating images department thanks to a lack of FM distortion or the presence of a high switching frequency. The new Purifi amps may be state-of-the-art for Class D, but there are some things a great A/B design really gets right.
Full streaming capabilities paired with show-stopping looks – and that massive, top-mounted visual volume dial – make the Uniti series a favorite among reviewers and listeners alike. The Atom is perfect for a desktop, bedroom or otherwise smaller system, while the larger Nova and Star models add more power and, in the Star’s case, CD and SD card playback.