While CDs and Vinyl still hold a special place in many an audiophile’s heart, wireless music streaming devices have become commonplace on the racks of hi-fi enthusiasts.
That’s because they offer flexibility and a range of music discovery not possible in the olden days. With a good streamer, combined with a music service like Tidal or Spotify, you can listen to just about any album in the blink of an eye.
I remember when I had to troll Tower Records and spend half the day at CD listening stations just to hear the latest music.
While it was an enjoyable pastime in some ways, it doesn’t beat cueing up Tidal on a streamer in the comfort of my own home.
It’s also a heck of a lot easier on my wallet. I used to spend a good chunk of my paycheck on CDs, but now I only buy a physical copy (on the internet) if I’m really in love with an album.
Thinking about putting a music streamer in your system? Think they cost too much? Well, advances in manufacturing and technology mean there are many great-sounding music streaming devices under $1000, so it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to get the convenience they offer.
We’ve listened to a bunch of them and picked out the best value options under a grand so that you can get the most for your money!
All of the streamers we picked out are network (WiFi) streamers, except one, and they come with all the features you want to see on a music streamer.
That means you will get:
- App control so you can control your music playback from a Phone or a Tablet
- Support for several different music services, like TIDAL, Spotify, Qobuz, Amazon
- Support for many hi-res music formats and lossless files (like FLAC, MQA)
Some will also play music from your network drives or USB sticks, which allows you to play stuff from your personal collection.
No WiFi? Connection too slow to support music streaming? Well, we also picked out one Bluetooth-only streamer.
With Bluetooth 5.0 and advanced BT codecs like aptX HD or LDAC, you can get close to CD-Quality sound on your system quickly and easily just by pairing your smartphone/tablet and setting up a personal wireless connection.
1) Best Bluetooth Music Streamer Under $1000: iFi ZEN Blue ($129)
For: Those who don’t have WiFi, or those looking for a quick and simple connection…
- Uses Bluetooth 5.0TM with AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX Low-Latency, LDAC, HWA/LHDC Codec for hi-res wireless
- Many Outputs: Optical/Coaxial Digital, Audio RCA L/R, 4.4 Balanced Line out
- Has discrete ESS Sabre Hyperstream DAC chipset for crisp BT output
What we love: If you want to get wireless music into your system quickly and easily, then this streamer is the ticket. Not only that, iFi has combined a high-quality ESS Sabre DAC chip with the highest data rate BT Codecs like aptX HD and LDAC to ensure the sound coming out is detailed and layered.
The inclusion of both Analog and Digital outputs means you can either output from the Sabre DAC or pass on the digital signal to your own DAC if you wish.
What to think about: No power button means It’s always on.
Where To Buy:
2) The Best Sounding Network Music Streamer Under $1000: Audiolab 6000N Play ($649)
For: Those who want the best-sounding streamer at the price point…
- One of the best ESS Sabre DAC implementations available (192kHz/24bit streaming)
- Compatible with DTS Play-Fi App (iOS/Android, Multi-room audio, Every Major Music Service and Internet Radio)
- RCA Line Out, 2 Digital Outputs (Optical/Coaxial) Ethernet for wired internet connection
- DLNA compatible for streaming from Network Drives
- Amazon Alexa voice control compatible
What we love: Audiolab is known for its excellent implementation of ESS Sabre DAC chips throughout its line of DACs and Integrated Amplifiers, creating a sound that is smooth yet detailed. Now they have brought that experience over to their 6000N Play streamer, which also uses an ESS Sabre chip in its DAC section.
Because of that, you will get the best-sounding streamer in this price class, providing a wide-open sound with a lot of depth, letting you hear “into” a recording. It’s also compatible with the DTS Play-Fi app, which allows you to do hi-res music streaming and multi-room audio.
It also streams music from just about every music service (Spotify, Tidal, HDtracks, Deezer, Qobuz, Amazon Music), internet radio, and Network Drives using DLNA.
What to think about: Not Roon Ready, No Apple Airplay, No MQA compatibility
Where To Buy:
3) The Very Best Network Music Streamer Under $1000: Bluesound Node 2i ($549)
For: Those who want it all at an excellent price…
- 2-way Bluetooth aptX HD (Sends hi-res music out to BT headphones)
- Control music wirelessly with the BluOS Controller app (All major music services, multi-room audio, internet radio)
- Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri voice control
- Digital and analog input/output options, Ethernet for wired internet, headphone stereo mini-jack, and sub out
- 24-Bit Lossless Streaming, Full MQA Decoding
What we love: We call this the Best Network Music Streamer under $1000 because of its big, lively, warm sound and boatload of useful features.
This is the only streamer with 2-Way Bluetooth, so you can send music out from the streamer to a pair of headphones, a headphone jack on the front, and an analog output so you can play a CD player or Turntable through it. There’s also a sub out (a first on a streamer!) for adding some extra bass. You can also play music directly from a USB stick or drive.
That sub output, along with many other things, is controllable from the BluOS controller app (iOS, Android), one of the most comprehensive streaming apps on the market.
It also does multi-room audio, so you can send the music playing through the streamer out to other Bluesound streamers and speakers you have in the house.
By the way, the Node 2i also does full decoding of hi-res MQA files from Tidal Masters and is compatible with Apple Airplay for all the Apple fans. It’s also Roon Ready. This streamer does it all, and it’s pretty much a no-brainer for most people.
What to think about: No DLNA, so setting up a network drive takes a little extra work; the sound is just a notch below the Audiolab streamer.
Where To Buy:
4) Best Value Music Streamer Under $1000: Andover Audio Songbird ($129)
For: Those just looking to dip their toes in wireless audio streaming or on a tight budget…
- Digital (Optical) and Analog Outputs/Analog/Digital Inputs, Ethernet for wired internet
- Airplay, DLNA, and Bluetooth
- Songbird Control app streams Qobuz, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon, and Internet Radio
What we love: This Streamer gives you a whole lot for the money. It has a free app that allows you to stream music from all the major music services, plus it plays music from your network drive. It also works with Apple Airplay, which means you can use it as a Roon Endpoint. The sound is nice as well, very clean and neutral so your system can shine. At just $129, the Songbird is a bargain!
What to think about: No MQA, Digital output is resampled to 16 bit/ 44.1kHz
Where To Buy:
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.