first post, so pls don't be to rude if I play against any rules....
I was looking into this - lossless streaming service - for a way too long time (consciousness and the wife say so at least
Before I get to my findings let me explain my setup and testing:
System: Mac mini 2011 optical out 44.1khz 24bit > Cambridge Audio DAC 3 (old beast, 2002 or so but still playing on areasonably high level) > T&A V10 valve amp > Focal JMLab Electra 927 BE
To know what would be the maximum possible audio quality from digital sources through my system, I first listened to various diffrent music formats (MP3, OGG, FLAC) directly from my mac mini through different players (ITunes, VLC, Amarra, PureAudio, XBMC, Plex....) and compared it to the same music played via CD (transport only through the same DAC then same setup). If I give a 10 to CD relative to my system, then Amarra and PureAudio play on the same Level, XBMC and VLC get a 9 to 9.5, Plex, iTunes and all the others a 8.5 to 9 with iTunes (un)clearly being last.
To know how good streamed music can sound I installed a non resampling streaming server (streamtome) in my network and did the same test again with all the players that support streamed audio. Result being, that I could not hear a difference between local play and streamed play.
Winner: VLC with a 9 to 9.5. Now let me be clear, I did find differences but they are so marginally small that I am not sure if I could discern with a reasonable high detecion rate through blind testing!
On to streamed Music:
Tested Services (all with their highest possible stream rates through test subscriptions):
Pandora, Live365, Last.fm, Simfy, Spotify
To be honest, Pandora and Live365 did lose out pretty fast, the quality is simply too far off from the best possible streamed audio. I'd give it a 4, maybe a 5. Last.fm somehow did not cut it either. They seem to have differing compression levels with some music soundig quite good, just to be dumped by the next track... Too bad, since their system lets you find music fitting to your current mood in a quite good way!
This left me with two choices. Simfy and Spotify. Simfy, according to me, has the better music collection. I live in Switzerland and Simfy offers quite a lot of european music not so well known to the rest of the world. But, while audio quality is no slouch at all (seriously!), Spotify beats it by quite amargin. The audio collection in Spotify sometimes misses the one song I really would like to listen to in that very moment, but hey!, what would I do if there were only the cds in my collection and no streaming at all!!?? There's some 18 million other songs in their collection, and Sotifys Radio feature creating Playlists based on chosen Song, Album, Artist or Genre is simply stunning! Maybe even better than Last.fm.
So, Comparing Spotify to local music through my Streaming server and to music played on the Mac mini direct:
There are some times where CD audio on certain CDs presents a bigger, more defined soundstage, like on the Soundtrack of the movie Into The Wild or on some classical recordings, and highs seem a wee bit more resolved, but then again theres this strange thing: Spotify seems to best it in the way ir renders treble and specially voices. don't ask me why. Maybe it has to do with their streaming Format - OGG - and the way the client renders the bitstream. I don't really care... It just leaves me stunned with goosepigs all over at times. Examples? Again the soundtrack from Into The Wild or, Norah Jones, Adele. I hope you get the picture...
So where does this leave me? I am a happy Spotify customer and could't care less about how to get all my CDs, ripped audio (be it ripped by me or someone else on the internet
) into my network and onto my system. I do have a small collection of local MP3 for all the stuff I really want to listen to at times and cannot find on Spotify. But its nowhere near as big as it used to be (1.5TB). And it never was easier to browse and listen to music i really want to in that moment.
Plus, with Spotifys IPad app and a small Program called Airserver on my Mac mini, I get to have a real Couch-sitting-music-surfing-never-have-to-leave-my-place experience simply trumping that tiny little .5 points of lesser audio quality compared to handling and listening to CDs.... Even better? The Wife Factor! It just works...
So, thats it
my 2cents to streaming music....
Maybe someone even read this waaaay too long post