Don’t let its small dimension and $129 price ticket idiot you: Andover Audio’s Songbird music streamer flies excessive and sings nearly as sweetly as rivals that value three or 4 instances extra. The Songbird additionally presents close to best-in-class ease of use and connectivity.
Nurtured by Boston audio group vets, Songbird is focused primarily to the gazillions of people that purchased good sound rigs within the pre-internet age: Constructed-tough, classically styled stereo gear nonetheless functioning fairly properly, thanks, although possibly gathering mud as a result of the vinyl, tape, and CD content material it was designed for looks like dark-ages stuff from the instances of Tower Data and Sam Goody.
Rejoice! Songbird can get you and that rig buzzing once more, with on the spot entry to a whole lot of 1000’s of recent, free, streaming radio stations and podcasts, plus tens of tens of millions of on-demand music picks—previous and new—that may be summoned immediately for about the price of one album a month.
Barely bigger than a tin of breath mints at 3.25 x 3 x 1 inches (WxDxH) and nesting in a nondescript plastic case, Songbird is deliberately made small and lightweight and equipped with short-run cables so it will possibly simply be stashed behind your receiver. That low-budget exterior allowed a more healthy proportion of producing moolah to be spent on the center inside, the place it counts.
Andover’s director of engineering and product improvement, Bob Hazelwood, advised me he was impressed by a low-cost NAD receiver from the Nineteen Seventies “that wasn’t a lot to take a look at however had nice sound.” And in addition by a legendary audio man he met whereas working at Cambridge Soundworks—co-founder Henry Kloss—who championed the reason for inexpensive, everyman hi-fi relatively than sky-high-priced esoteric stuff.
The Songbird actually delivers as soon as related to your own home community through ethernet or Wi-Fi (2.4GHz solely). The iOS/Android streaming app—licensed from Linkplay Know-how—is steady, responsive, intuitive to function, and good to take a look at. I really like the rotating album covers that spin because the music performs. The streaming platform, additionally from Linkplay, at the moment helps the high-res music companies Qobuz and Tidal (though not the latter’s MQA-encoded Masters tier), in addition to the extra plebian companies Spotify, Napster, TuneIn Radio, iHeart Radio, and Amazon Music.
Whereas the app doesn’t present any visible affirmation that I’m getting the bumped-up Amazon HD content material I’m paying additional for, the software program crew guarantees I’m receiving CD-quality streams from that supply, and that help for Amazon’s extremely high-res content material is coming quickly.
Linkplay is also considering Andover’s request so as to add onboard app entry for Pandora, SiriusXM, and Apple Music. To land these companies on Songbird right now, you’ll must throw them to the participant through Bluetooth (2.1 + EDR) or Airplay (model 1) out of your cellular gadget or pc. Chromecast isn’t supported.
Andover’s experience involves the fore within the number of elements—and the tweaking thereof—that course of these incoming streams. This features a Cirrus Logic DAC that may convert as much as 24-bit/192kHz digital audio to a full-throated analog rendering by means of the Songbird’s RCA stereo outputs. With assistance from a clear energy provide and output buffer, I had no downside in any respect detecting the distinction between 320Kbps Napster streams and the dramatically richer, livelier, CD-quality or higher renderings of the identical materials from Qobuz and Tidal.
This included well-recorded new releases by Lake Avenue Dive (Clearly) and Willie Nelson (That’s Life), which I didn’t thoughts listening to a number of instances over. That pick-me-up differential even proved potent once I in contrast the streams taking part in on a 15-year-old Bose Acoustic Wave Music System II and a pre-digital-age Sansui RZ-9500AV receiver (related to ADS and Niles Audio in-wall audio system). And for good measure, I additionally auditioned this candy little field with a recent-vintage high-end Yamaha RX-A3060 A/V receiver taking part in by means of big-bubba Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 803 floor-standing audio system.
This little fowl additionally tweets candy when plugged into self-powered headphones, such because the just lately reviewed. The combo makes for an excellent little private audio system useable wherever Wi-Fi and AC energy can be found.
How does Songbird examine to Sonos?
I carried out A/B comparisons of this and a number of other competing streamers with the Yamaha/B&W rig, switching first between the Songbird and the likewise related($449), after which the higher-striving ($399) and ($549). All had been whistling the identical completely satisfied tunes by means of their inside DACs and analog outputs. I listened to Keith Jarrett’s revealing My Track set (my reference standby); Dua Lipa’s pop smash Future Nostalgia; Kings of Leon’s beginner When You See Your self; and a sterling set of high-res Beethoven and Brahms: Violin Concertos, spotlighting Gil Shaham and the Brooklyn-based ensemble The Knights.
The Songbird held up fairly properly towards these far more costly rivals. It has a barely harder-edged tone than the Sonos Port, although I’d say it’s inside a hair’s breadth of matching it by way of general dynamics, sensitivity, and readability. The Russound and Bluesound items delivered a shade extra vocal heat and presence, a fuller rounding out of instrumental sounds, and higher general depth of discipline (i.e., an ethereal spaciousness) to my hyper-critical ears.
However the variations weren’t apples and oranges; extra like clementines versus tangerines. For those who’re not doing a direct and obsessive comparability, I’d wager you’d by no means discover the Songbird’s sonically inconsequential shortcomings and could be totally happy with it. I definitely am, not less than when this lovey’s the one one I’m with.
Why does the Songbird down-sample?
I used to be much less impressed with the Songbird’s down-sampling of higher-res digital alerts to 16-bit/44.1kHz for output to its Toslink optical digital audio output. The product’s designers put that in place so the info stream could be totally appropriate with each older receivers restricted to accepting 16-bit streams and newer receivers that may deal with solely 24/96 streams. Resampling can also be carried out to facilitate networked multi-room deployments.
Songbird offers the consumer with variable degree management over the digital output sign, which is a blessing when you don’t have a distant to your receiver; you’ll be able to management the amount from the Songbird app. Altering the output of a digital sign, nevertheless, is fraught with hazard as a result of it entails step-down processing with the potential to make music sound flattened and compressed.
I bumped into the identical downside when reviewing the Sonos Port, which does a extra brutal job than Songbird at cutting down the volume-related bits. However not less than the Port offers customers the choice to change to a fixed-level digital output that’s free from these issues; this first-generation Songbird doesn’t provide such an lodging. The Russound and Bluesound streamers, in the meantime, keep away from the issue altogether by solely providing fixed-level optical digital audio outs.
The good information is that the Songbird’s onboard DAC places out such terrific analog sound that there’s actually no cause to attach the streamer’s digital output to an outboard DAC. And no harm is completed to the analog sign whenever you elevate and decrease its quantity. By the best way, once I voiced my considerations about all this to Andover’s Hazelwood, he stated the Songbird’s optical digital audio output performs greatest when left at 100-percent quantity, so that each one quantity changes are carried out in your receiver or amp.
Much less problematic to my ears is the truth that the Songbird presents the consumer menu choices to step up or step down the utmost decision of incoming digital alerts from 24 bits (with sampling charges of both 96- or 192kHz) to 16/44.1 and even all the way down to MP3 at 320Kbps. That’s useful for decreasing bandwidth-induced sign dropouts when multiple Songbird is flying on your own home Wi-Fi community. Andover suggests as much as 5 Songbirds can coexist with synchronized or standalone streaming on the typical Wi-Fi system. Curiously, this data-download degree adjustment is completed within the cloud: The Songbird simply sends out a message that it’s able to synch at a specified fee.
Is the Songbird a plug-and-play streamer?
I can’t emphasize sufficient how simple the Songbird is to arrange and use. Voice prompts make it easier to connect with the web and audibly acknowledge whenever you’ve modified supply. Along with streaming sources, the field has each 3.5mm analog and Toslink digital inputs for plugging in different audio sources. With simply the faucet of the line-in icon on the Songbird app, I used to be capable of swap from a streaming station to an Ivan Lins tribute disc spinning on a Sony CD Walkman, with the tune rising from a UE Increase powered transportable speaker plugged into the Songbird’s aux out.
If I had two or extra Songbirds on my community with audio system related, I’d have the ability to get pleasure from the identical balmy Brazilian tunes taking part in in a number of rooms. Alternatively, I’d have the ability to direct the left and proper channels of the recording to separate Songbirds and audio system for a large stereo impact. There’s additionally an ethernet port for a wired community connection, with gapless playback when you use Airplay or DLNA. However sorry, there was no room or price range for a USB port on this product. Guess we’ll have to attend for a second-generation Songbird for that.
I used to be additionally impressed with how rapidly the Songbird boots up, which is a good function whenever you resolve to decamp and transfer your listening session to a different room. The Songbird app on my iPhone 12 Professional and iPad had been equally speedy and resilient in adjusting to such adjustments, which is greater than I can say of among the Songbird’s higher-priced and extra finicky rivals.
There’s loads to love about Andover Audio’s Songbird, a community music streamer providing oodles of connectivity and sourcing choices for a really inexpensive value. Whereas some will balk on the notion of the Songbird down-sampling a high-res music stream to 16/44.1 earlier than routing it to its optical outputs or sending it over a community, much less explicit listeners will simply benefit from the music—and the financial savings.