(Review) ifi Audio Neo Stream, Hi-Res Flagship Steamer

neo stream meze 99 classics

As you likely know we are no strangers to iFi’s line of affordable HiFi gear. I have yet to encounter a bad product from iFi and the Neo Stream continues their winning streak. iFi packs a ton of value in all of its products, meaning no matter your budget you are getting something incredible for the price point. All the way down to the Zen Air Blue, Bluetooth endpoint to this, the Neo Stream, I have loved what I heard for the money. I bought my brother a Zen Air for his vintage Onkyo system so he could have wireless connectivity and he loves it. The Neo Stream is their flagship streamer, at a price of $1299.00 (USD MSRP) it is also one of iFi’s pricier products. As mentioned though it still offers great value in the streamer market. Let’s take a look at what 1299.00 gets you with the iFi Neo Stream.

neo stream

Unboxing and Setup

As with everything else we have checkout from iFi, the Neo Stream comes packed and presented very nicely with a sleeved box. Inside each item is in its own little compartment, neatly set in place. Once all out of the box you will have an Included set of RCA interconnects, a verticle stand, antennae, and a power adapter. The verticle stand is a nice addition if you don’t have a ton of real estate on your stand or desk. The screen also automatically rotates when switched from horizontal to vertical. I used the Neo Stream vertically between my Preamp and Turntable and it fit nicely there.

There is a ton of connectivity on the back of the Neo Stream, so however you prefer to use it you have options. I used its analog output to use the built-in DAC. However, if you have a DAC you prefer there are multiple digital outputs available. There is also a balanced 4.4mm Headphone jack on the back if you want to use it as an all-in-one desktop solution. Along with audio connectivity, you have two options for your internet connection, either Wifi or Ethernet. The Neo Stream comes with an ethernet to optical adapter if you choose to hard wire it. I do not have an ethernet connection in my room so I used the Wifi Connection, though with a connection speed of around 300mbps over the wifi I was not too worried about signal issues. For testing purposes, I did run a temporary ethernet cable into my listening room and tried the ethernet connection with an optical adapter. With the LAN connection, I did notice lower latency when changing the volume and songs, though not much difference in audio. I want to mention I have a dedicated wireless channel I use for the music room so it is not competing for bandwidth or packet delivery. I also use a higher-end modem and routers in my network so you may notice differences between wifi and LAN depending on your setup.

Getting set up is a little trickier than setting up a Bluetooth device as you have to add the Neo Stream to your network. For wifi you get the Neo Stream in connect mode and log into the wifi network called “iFi-Streamer” then Enter “http://i.local” or “192.168.211.1” for Apple devices, for android devices Enter “192.168.211.1”. You then will have a menu to set up the network to which you are adding the streamer. Once complete the light on the front should change from red to white if you have a fast connection. If the light is blue you have a slow connection and your performance may not be optimal.

Sound And Performance

You may ask yourself what is the difference between a streamer and a Bluetooth receiver and the difference is resolution. Bluetooth can not play high res due to bandwidth restrictions, though they are working on that with some new codecs. Streamers actually play the music themselves from your internet connection and your phone/ computer just acts as a remote. You can stream music at whatever the highest bitrate your software allows. If you are using Tidal or Qobuz, you have full high-res options, and for as long as it will last MQA (MQA has filed bankruptcy at the time of writing) You get no signal degradation, there is no compression to send the data to the endpoint nor unfolding(MQA has a proprietary codec and unfolding).

I Stream with both Spotify and Qobuz. I like Spotify’s Discover and suggestions much better and it has a much more expansive library. However, Qobuz does have better streaming quality so to cover both my wild range of music tastes and my desire for high-quality audio I am stuck using both. The Neo Stream works great with either as well as Tidal if you use that instead. Connecting your apps to the iFi Neo Stream will depend slightly on your device and app, both Qobuz and Spotify have a little icon for what you are playing through (Phone, Computer, wireless speaker so on) Once the Neo Streamer is connected to the network it will show up as an option to connect to and stream through. Also as with many of iFi’s devices, you have some filter options to pick from to tailor the sound to your liking. I tend to like their GTO filter and it is my go-to on all iFi devices.

neo stream

I really enjoy the listening experience through the Neo Streamer, the sound quality is excellent. Listening to music over Qobuz on it and comparing it to the same album through my Rotel CD-11, it is clear that you re getting the full resolution through the Neo Stream. The DAC used inside does an excellent job, it is a proprietary unit for this device. The clarity is superb and is right on par with listening to an actual CD, meaning you are not compromising listening to a streaming service. I think this is a huge step in the right direction, with physical media being both expensive and space-consuming, some listeners may not be able to or want to have massive collections. However, you can fit a near-infinite library on a single computer and have the same quality and experience as a physical format. I am still a fan of physical media and will continue to collect as time goes on, but not all of the artists I listen to even make physical media to buy so being able to stream at full resolution is important to me.

Listening to Incubus, Make Yourself on both CD and Qobuz (CD Quality) I could not distinguish any difference in quality. Clarity and detail on the streamer is right on par with the CD copy. After listening to Incubus I played my Gorillaz Demon Dayz CD, which Qobuz has in HighRes 24Bit 44.1Khz. This was an interesting listening test as that is a higher resolution than your standard CD. The Neo Stream has an edge here over my CD. The space between the layers that built up like in “Last Living Souls” gives you more detail. you can hear the little details easier. There are so many little sounds peppered in the background that you can miss them even on the CD that pops out with High Res streaming.

If you are a Spotify Streamer, while you are not streaming high-res, there are still benefits to using a streamer over Bluetooth. A big benefit is you don’t have to rely on your phone’s connection to the internet and then the Bluetooth connection as well. Also, you won’t have any distance issues. If you have a multi-zone setup and your electronics are not where you are that won’t be an issue either. Also if you ever decide to move to a high-res streaming service or if Spotify ever releases its high-res service you won’t need a new device to take advantage of it.

The real benefit to the Neo Streamer is you can play high-res if it’s available without having to try to find the music on an SACD or other high-res physical format. You also don’t need an additional piece of equipment to play the high-res version. If it is on Qobuz or Tidal you are ready to go. No need to change settings, connections, or devices. I don’t own any high-res CD’s as they are not readily available and the amount of music available on them never seemed worth it for me to invest in, with streaming it’s a lot easier to make the argument to invest in gear that can play it.

I listened to one of my all-time favorites in high-res for the first time on the Neo Stream, Reprise by Moby. I have this on vinyl but I do not have it even on CD so it was great to hear it through the Neo stream. I actually prefer the high-res digital version through the Neo Stream. It has more clarity, better dynamic range, and detail. The most noticeable improvement was in the vocals. The top end also has more crispness, and the bottom seems to reach a little lower. In Porcelon there is a piano line that plays pretty high and it really separates out from the other instruments with the Neo Stream. If you like orchestral, you really have to play the high-res version of Reprise, it is a truly beautiful album.

neo stream meze 99 classics

I also wanted to try the Neo Stream with headphones as it does have a 4.4mm balanced output and I happen to have a pair of Meze 99 Classics with a balanced cable. The built-in amp sounded better than I expected. Not that I thought it wouldn’t sound good, but rather it is not really the main purpose of this device. Typically you will get better quality from separates as each device is only handling a single task. The Neo Stream could very easily be an all-in-one desktop solution. I think most users could plug in their favorite balanced headphones and be happy without sending the signal to a separate headphone amp. I re-listened to Reprise through the Meze 99 Classics and truly enjoyed the listening experience. I think it could be made better connected to something like the Gryphon (my current favorite portable amp for the money from iFi or anyone for that matter) But if you don’t have the budget to add an amp and want a streamer the Neo Stream will do both.

Specs

Inputs:
   Wi-Fi
   Ethernet (M12 X-code 8-pin/RJ45/Optical)
   USB-A and USB-C (front panel) (USB DISK, HDD etc.)
Formats: DSD: up to 512 / 22.6MHz
PCM: up to 768kHz
MQA: Full Decoder
Analogue output: Balanced 4.4mm 4V RMS / UnBAL RCA 2V RMS
Digital output:
   USB-C (front panel)
   USB3.0 Type-A Socket x2 (USB2.0 compatible)
   S/PDIF Optical (PCM up to 192kHz, 24-bit)
   S/PDIF Coaxial (PCM up to 192kHz, 24-bit)
   AES/EBU (XLR – single link, PCM up to 192kHz)
   I2S via HDMI connector Pinout
Output Impedance: Balanced: ≤74Ω
UnBAL: ≤37Ω
SNR: <-106dB(A) @ 0dBFS (BAL/UnBAL)
THD + N: <0.0025% @ 0dBFS (BAL/UnBAL)
Power supply requirement: DC 9V/2.0A, 12V/1.8A, 15V/1.2A* (centre pin +)
Power consumption: <0.5W idle, 14W max.
Dimensions: 8.4″ x 5.9″ x 1.6″
Weight: 2.26 lbs.
Limited Warranty: 12 months

Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Great Soundnot my favorite button feel
compact
competitive price
integrated headphone amp
included LAN to optical converter
vertical or horizontal

There are quite a few streamers available from different companies and for the price point of around 1000-1500 you have a few options. However most of them are quite a bit larger in size so if that is something you need to consider, the Neo Stream is one of the smallest streamers with an actual interface. Ifi themselves also sell a smaller streamer, the Zen Stream, however, you will still need a DAC/AMP to use it. The only thing I don’t like about the Neo Stream is the front buttons. They are a little too recessed and require a hard push which tended to move the Neo Stream across my rack. The knob has a great feel to it though. I had one issue with streaming and it turned out to be my phone and computer fighting for control over Spotify. The volume would randomly change, but when I closed the Spotify app on my phone which I had opened earlier the issue went away. So you may notice weird behavior if you have an audio app open in multiple places, though this only happened on one occasion even with Spotify open on two devices other times so it may have been an isolated bug with Spotify.

Testing Equipment

2.1 System

  • Marantz SR7009 Pre Amp
  • Mcintosh MC250 Power Amp
  • Nakamichi PA-5 Stasis Power Amp
  • Sonus Faber Sonetto V Speakers
  • SVS SB1000 Pro
  • Audioquest Power and Interconnects
  • Prosper Cables Custom Speaker Cables
  • Rotel CD-11 Tribute
  • MacBook Pro
  • iPhone 14 Pro

Conclusion

I really didn’t have an expectation going in, this is the first dedicated streamer I have had in. I have played with plenty of Bluetooth devices but not a Wifi Streamer. I was pleasantly surprised with the capabilities as well as how much I enjoyed not needing to rely on Bluetooth, which can be a pain if you are scrolling through Instagram while listening and all of sudden you’re blaring some video over your music. I never really understood the appeal of a dedicated streaming device in a system until I actually used this one. I have to say, I really want to add a streamer to my system now and ditch Bluetooth or needing to actually hook up my laptop with a cable. I also like that I can take it to my desk and use it as a headphone amp and streamer. If you have been on the fence trying to see the value in a streamer, let me say that if you do stream often you won’t be disappointed in getting the Neo Stream. It is not the cheapest option, however, it is one of the better values available. Having a screen, volume control, and headphone amp built-in with a plethora of output options makes it hard to compete with.I will say with more and more high-res music getting added to the streaming libraries it is definitely a device that is worth having as I do not see streaming going anywhere soon.

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Disclaimer:
Ifi Audio provided Hifi Chicken with a review sample of the Neo Stream, iFi Audio nor any affiliate paid in part or full for this review.