OK, we know what streamers are for, but what do they actually do and how do they do it?
In their simplest form, as far as I can see, they are connected to the big internet in the sky via your router (or a hard drive-stored library of music files) and they miraculously get that source to send it packages of data and irons it out into a beautifully smooth and constant stream of digital data that is fed to the next device - the DAC.
Is that basically it? If not, what have I misinterpreted or is there anything else a basic streamer does? I’m talking about a simple digital-out only streamer.
Yes! That's it. It's not "rocket science". Any old laptop computer (including a Raspberry Pi) will do the same.
But dedicated streamers do allow you to achieve this in a nicely finished, quiet package without unnecessary hardware (like graphics cards) and noisy fans et al.
But ultimately, yes - they're taking data off a network and presenting it to a DAC.
What makes one streamer better than another? Is its task as complex as say a DAC? I presume not as it handles digits only.
If it’s as simple at that, why do some streamers cost hundreds of times the cost of others? That’s apart from fancy cases, power supplies, sockets, etc that one would expect in a mega-bucks streamer.
Nothing. Once you have the features you need covered, you're all set. In precisely the same way as a better computer won't alter your bank balance when you use it for internet banking, a better streamer won't change the data that it is able to extract from the network.
Some streamers cost megabux simply because there are some very smart people around who see an opportunity to exploit audiophools. And good luck to 'em - why not?
Also, what should we look for in selecting our streamer? Is it really just its control app that makes for a great streamer?
So, there are a few things you should look for - but none of them are outrageous.
Firstly, the physical - you need the connections you require (but most will have USB) so it's really moot;
Support for the formats you listen to
Support for the control systems you prefer
Support for any streaming services you use
Most of this can be taken care of if you look for something that is an:
Finally..........cheap. Because no matter how much you plan for the future, it's technology. It will be
obsolete before you know it no matter which way you go. There will be a new format, new architecture, new streaming service you want to use.
Do you trust a boutique audiophile company to provide you with ongoing support for security vulnerabilities, addressing of CVEs, providing you with support for the next and greatest streaming service, etc?
I certainly don't trust that those sort of companies will be around in a year, let alone supporting me.
With an open system, you are much more likely. And if it is something like a cheap Raspberry Pi, you can turf the system you are using and get something else as simply as burning a new SD card. And if it really all does go to pot and you chuck it out - well, that is $80, not $80,000.