5 Best Digital Network Music Players

5 Best HD Digital Network Music Players

Digital network music players - the new must have component for high end home audio systems

If you have not shopped for audio components in a while you will be a bit surprised to see how much things have changed. High end CD players used to be all the rage and have now been replaced by high end digital network music players.

These streaming music boxes can range widely in price. You can spend anywhere from $500 to $3200 for a component grade box that will stream 1's and 0's to your DAC.

For those of you that are wondering what a DAC is? It stands for Digital to Analog Converter. A DAC is needed to take all those digital 1's and 0's from your computer and turn them into music your speakers can play.

A DAC can be a separate component, or it can be built into a receiver,  or right inside a Network Music Player.

While many audiophiles have turned up their noses at digital music in the past, this may soon change. 

The Mp3 audio format was never really designed for sonic purity. Mp3's compact size made it quick and easy to download and store songs from online music stores like iTunes. 

Back when fast broadband internet connections were not as prevalent as they are today, compact digital music was a higher priority. Now that our broadband connections are faster, the size of high quality audio files is not as much a concern.

High Definition HRA Music

Today there is a much greater emphasis on digital music quality. New high resolution audio formats try to recreate some of the warmth and fullness of sound that was lost when our LP records went into storage. 

High-resolution audio (HRA) or HD music is a new standard in audio that has a much higher sampling frequency and bit depth than most CDs ever gave us. 

The standard for CDs is typically 16-bit/44.1kHz. HRA or HD music files use a sampling frequency of 96kHz or 192kHz at 24-bit. Since the standard is not set in stone yet, you can also have 88.2kHz and 176.4kHz files as well.

Sampling frequency is also important when it comes to digital audio. It simply means the number of times samples are taken per second when analogue sound waves are converted into digital format. The higher the bits per second, the more accurate the signal. So from 16-bit to 24-bit one can begin to see a noticeable increase in audio quality.

Higher end HD digital music players or digital HRA music streamers will be able to play these high resolution audio files. Some even include a high quality integrated DAC so there is no need to purchase a separate stand alone DAC to add to your stack of components.

The less components between your digital music source and your stereo amplifier, means less chance of additional equipment induced noise and distortion.

Restricted Music Streaming

While many sites offer higher quality digital HD Music downloads. Unfortunately, some music sites may be geographically restricted to certain countries.

VPN with an IP address in the country you are trying to access music from is one way to get around this geographic blackout if unable to download or stream music from within your country.

Best High Definition HRA Music Download Store

  •  www.hdtracks.com
    This is one of the best online stores for Hi-Resolution Music and Studio Master downloads. This store offers one of the largest selection of music labels (Atlantic, Blue Note, Motown, Warner Music, Verve and more). HDTracks has a very wide range of artists and they will let you select the preferred file-fomat (WAV, AIFF etc.) Music is available to download in 24bit with 44.1, 48, 88, 96 or 192 kHz sampling frequencies.

  • Best Online HD Music Site

  •  www.tidalhifi.com
  • New streaming site that offers High Fidelity lossless audio sound. It will cost more than popular streaming sites like Beats, or Spotify. For true Audiophiles the cost would hardly be a consideration in order to stream almost unlimited high quality content for a monthly fee.

    Meet your new music collection complete with millions of songs, entire albums and artist hits spanning the decades. Connect to the catalog on your phone, tablet, computer, and home entertainment system. Download music and playlists on your phone or tablet for when you're offline. A Replay feature remembers the songs you played and when – great for workout playlists, kids' carpool songs, and more. Want to hear some new tunes? You’ll also have a constant feed of new music suggestions, album reviews and posts from our editorial music team. You're just minutes away from millions of songs! Get Rhapsody today for 3 months for only $1. LIMITED TIME OFFER. Cancel anytime.

    Additional Hardware Needed

    To take full advantage of playing downloaded HD digital music over your network, you will need a computer that needs to be on while your music is playing. This is why many people would rather have a network attached storage box or a NAS to store and play their music and video files from. Click here to learn more about how two very popular NAS companies Synology and QNAP compare.

    Many digital network music players offer streaming internet radio. This is provided through 3rd party services and can be streamed directly to your box over WiFi or through an Ethernet connection.

    While some internet radio services like Pandora are free, others charge a small monthly fee.

    HD Digital Network Music Players

    While network digital music players may come in all shapes and sizes. The models listed here would not at all look out of place sitting next to an expensive McIntosh, Krell, Conrad-Johnson, Mark Levinson, or Marantz stereo amp.

    This table lists highlights of today's top rated, high end network music players.

    Model Price CD DAC Apps Pros/Cons Learn More
     Yamaha CD-N500

    $600 Yes Burr-Brown high precision 192 KHz / 32-bit DAC NP Controller App for Smart Phone and Tablet Affordable/Only works w/Fat32 hard disks More...
     Pioneer Elite N-50

    $555 No AKM Semiconductor AK4480 (a 24-bit/192kHz DAC Yes Great Sound Build Quality. Best for Downloaded Music/No Pandora Support More...
      OPPO BDP-105D

    $1299 Yes SABRE32 Reference Audio DAC OPPO MediaControl app Best Audio and Video Quality/Expensive More...
     Marantz NA-11S1

    $3499 No Yes/176.4/192kHz Yes/Marantz Control App High End Elite 32Lbs/Expensive More...
     Marantz M-CR610

    $699 Yes Digital AirPlay, Internet radio, Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM Internet Radio Compact System/60Watts More...

    Note: Of all the Network Music Players listed, only the Oppo BDP-105D offers a built-in Blue-ray player. This model was added to the list because it has received high marks for outstanding digital audio and video quality and also includes a built-in preamplifier and headphone amp. This can potentially eliminate the need to needing to buy an additional component as it can be hooked directly to your stereo amp.

    Up Next: In our quest to build the perfect digital high resolution home stereo audio system, be sure to read: Best Stereo Amplifiers for 2015

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