iFi NEO Stream Boasts Optical LAN
iFi's NEO Stream desktop audio streamer packs Optical LAN for speeds of up to 10Gbps and bit-perfect transmission of “ultra-resolution” audio.
iFi's NEO Stream is built from the ground up to deliver optimal versatility and sonic performance. The second device in iFi's mid-level mains-powered NEO series, the NEO Stream's lovely aluminium casework obviously shares design DNA with the Applause Award-winning NEO iDSD. However, the NEO Stream is much more than the result of adding a streaming module in place of a headamp in the current NEO iDSD.
The NEO Stream measures a desktop-friendly 214 x151x41mm and can be positioned horizontally or vertically using the supplied aluminium stand. The fascia sports a two-inch “retina-grade” TFT colour display that benefits from “SilentLine design”, which, we are told, ensures it doesn't generate any electrical noise that would interfere with the audio signal.
There is an abundance of connectivity options starting with dual-band Wi-Fi reception (2.4GHz and 5GHz) with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac support, a pair of USB-A (USB2.0 and SuperSpeed USB3.0 supported) ports, and a USB-C system update port.
Meanwhile, outputs include stereo RCA and 4.4mm balanced analogue options, HDMI-I2S and USB-A (USB3.0) ports capable of PCM 768kHz, DSD512, and optical, coaxial, and AES/EBU ports that can handle PCM 192kHz. In addition, the USB ports – both input and output – benefit from iFi's ANC II active noise cancellation; similarly, the S/PDIF outputs incorporate iPurifier technology.
However, it's the wired Ethernet where things get more interesting, as, alongside the standard RJ45 Ethernet port, there are also M12 and Optical LAN ports. The latter is iFi's own technology which utilises an OptiBox transceiver connected to your router. iFi also generously bundles in an OptiBox and optical cable with your NEO Stream.
iFi states that Optical LAN delivers the highest quality digital audio connection possible between the router and the streamer, enabling ultra-fast data speeds of up to 10Gbps and bit-perfect transmission of “ultra-resolution” audio, with minimal degradation across distances of up to 1km. Furthermore, the LAN signal from your router is regenerated, reclocked and rebalanced by the OptiBox. iFi adds that “true galvanic isolation is applied, with zero parasitic capacitance and inductance”.
Additionally, the manufacturer says that the digital signal is regulated by the latest version of iFi's femtoprecision GMT (Global Master Timing) clock circuitry to eradicate jitter.
BESPOKE STREAMING ENGINE
The NEO Stream runs on iFi's own, in-house developed streaming engine design to “deliver flexibility and performance”.
The Linux-based OS is built on a powerful quad-core ARM Cortex processor, while its open-source nature enables it to evolve over time and ensures you are not locked into a specific platform. The upshot is that it's up to you how you want to stream. For instance, you could take advantage of the NEO Stream's Roon Ready certification or connect via any DLNA/UPnP-compatible streaming app (BubbleUPnP, mconnect, Audirvana, etc.).
Also, there's TIDAL Connect, Spotify Connect, and Apple AirPlay integration. Moreover, the NEO Stream can operate as an NAA (Network Audio Adapter) in conjunction with Sygnalist HQPlayer software.
STREAMER, TRANSPORT, TAILORING
Offering yet more flexibility, iFi's NEO Stream can be used in two ways. Firstly, as a fully-formed streamer connected to an amp and speakers via the onboard DAC stage and analogue outputs, or as a streaming transport/ network bridge connected via a digital output to an external DAC.
Whether the onboard Burr-Brown DAC is engaged or not, the NEO Stream supports PCM data to 32-bit/768kHz, all levels of DSD up to DSD512, and single- and double-speed DXD. Also, MQA is fully supported with full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz.
Regarding NEO Stream's integral DAC stage, in addition to iFi's favourite Burr-Brown chipset, it incorporates a 16-core XMOS microcontroller programmed by iFi's in-house team to optimise sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the Burr-Brown DAC.
Thanks to the DAC chip's four-channel True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways and remain 'bit-perfect' in their direct-native form through analogue conversion. In the case of DSD, there is no conversion to PCM or application of multi-bit processing.
Finally, several settings tailor the NEO Stream's performance to suit your system. For example, you can select between Exclusive Modes – specific settings for Roon, Tidal Masters, DLNA and NAA. There is also a general mode for multi-platform use. In addition, more personal tailoring is provided via the four user-selectable digital filters: Bit-Perfect, GTO (Gibbs Transient Optimised), Minimum Phase and Standard.
The iFi NEO Stream is available now for an RRP of US$1,299.
StereoNET’s resident rock star, bass player, and gadget junkie. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION
Want to share your opinion or get advice from other enthusiasts? Then head into the Message Forums where thousands of other enthusiasts are communicating on a daily basis.
CLICK HERE FOR FREE MEMBERSHIP