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digital streaming setup to passive speakers objective and inexpensive


Mar 5, 2023
Starting with quality passive speakers, I am trying to put together a high fidelity, reliable, and inexpensive setup.
It is focused on streaming in digital content on demand.
Inexpensive = average component price is $250, spend < $1000.

Reliability will be achieved mostly through composition- each component should do one thing well. If something goes wrong with an individual component, it can be replaced at lower cost than an all-in-one system.

Wiim Pro - Digital receiver $150
SMSL D-6 - DAC $160
Topping PA5 - Amplifier $350

In this setup that is aiming for inexpensive, the PA5 a splurge, but the amplifier part of the setup seems to inherently cost the most and this one has amazing value at it price point. The PA5 also has some reported reliability issues, although it seems if bought from Apos a dud can be returned easily enough. This newb is open up to other suggestions here :)

The Wiim Pro seems to be in at an entirely different price point than other options for digital streaming that supports streaming including Airplay 2, Chromecast, and Roon (support planned in a software upgrade). It produces bit-perfect output with the digital out, you just need a separate DAC since its own DAC is mediocre.

The SMSL D-6 seems to be the cheapest DAC that scores well and has balanced outputs. Balanced outputs are favored for reliability and not having to worry about the potential for ground loop noise. The D-6 is also favored because it has a remote control for volume and a knob. We need to figure out how to control volume in this setup and prevent overdrive and damaging our speakers. This can happen when there is an issue with the DAC and it gets reset to 100% output. So we can solve this by setting the PA5 to a constant level that doesn't overdrive the speakers when the DAC is at 100% output. We then control the volume by attenuating the DAC with the remote/knob. The Topping E50 would be a step up in audio quality. However, it doesn't have a physical knob (but does have a remote)- this goes towards reliability if the remote stops working or if it is mis-placed.

This setup can be built up in pieces over time.
* Hook an existing analog source up to the amplifier
* The Wiim Pro has its own DAC (not good, I know) that can be used until the SMSL D-6 is received
* Alternatively, no WiiM pro and receive bluetooth audio or digital inputs at the SMSL D-6

As per the above, it is possible to add additional digital inputs at the SMSL D-6 and also at the Wiim Pro (it has a digital input). Inputting at the Wiim Pro seems preferable for having a coherent control point if you just want to add a single input to the mix. However, I don't know if the SMSL D-6 Bluetooth connection will end up being better, worse, or the same as the Wiim Pro's.

Edit: preferring SMSL D-6 (thanks staticV3!) over the Topping E50 and added some more detail
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Consider the SMSL D-6 instead of the E50. It too has balanced output, Coax/Toslink input, and a remote.
But it adds an integrated power supply, Bluetooth input, and it's $30 cheaper.
I didn't realize the Topping PA-5 was discontinued! I am substituting the SMSL DA-6, on sale for only $49, and incredible value. But not nearly as good of an amp so the benefit of a separate DAC may not be heard as well. I will look to upgrade the amp- I am not aware of where the next great deal is for better amps right now. Also holding out hope that some better value options will show up this year.
Does this $1000 include loudspeakers? If so, the only sensible option is something like Polk R200 ($750) or used KEF R3 + Wiim Pro + whatever cheap amp you can get like the SMSL or Aiyima a07. Future upgrades would be umik-1 for measurement/DSP ($79), add a subwoofer ($250+), upgrade your amp/dac at a later time (maybe $650+). A majority of money should be going to speakers and buying the best speaker possible which will give you higher fidelity than getting an inferior speaker with a cleaner dac/amp. The major "issue" with all of this is that, with a good speaker like the Polk at $750, by the time you add a clean dac and better quality/higher power amp you are approaching the ~$2000 price tag where you could have just got a competent active speaker like Neumann and a sub and the result would have been better than the first system with all the "upgrades".
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Yeah I already have really great passive speakers. Don’t think I need a subwoofer with them either. Will be looking into active for other setups. It seems the problem with passive is there isn’t a great economical amp like the topping pa5. Right now I’m only wasting $50 on upgrading to a better amp in the future. But I plan to re-purpose the $50 amp in the future, so maybe now waste at all.

All in one systems are better until they stop working and then the all of it needs to be replaced. I like being able to fix one individual component.

Thanks for the tip on measurement/tuning. That’s something I need to look into as well.
It's really madness to set up a setup putting in the pa5 topping after all the problems encountered, there are so many good options out there, less theoretically clean but certainly much more practically safe and probably equally good listening
As all in one Yamaha R-N803/D and all do not cheap for what it offers still hard to beat (phono in, subwoofer menagement, one app control for everything, loudness and tone controls, basic YPAO room correction, rather good amplifier in direct mode and only good enough with YPAO, good enough DAC, quality and longevity, simplicity of both setup and use).
You can go with WiiM Mini as a transport (optical out to DAC) instead more expensive Pro model.
I didn't realize the Topping PA-5 was discontinued! I am substituting the SMSL DA-6, on sale for only $49, and incredible value. But not nearly as good of an amp so the benefit of a separate DAC may not be heard as well. I will look to upgrade the amp- I am not aware of where the next great deal is for better amps right now. Also holding out hope that some better value options will show up this year.

source: https://www.smsl-audio.com/portal/product/detail/id/796.html
Looks like 10 wpc into 8 ohms. Seems about right, price-wise. :)
Based on reviews and comments here, I use Apple AirPort Express (£30 on eBay), Airplay 2 optical input to SMSL D6, output to Extron 1002 power amp (£50 on eBay). The streaming source is an iTunes library on an iMac controlled by the free Apple Remote app on an iPad. I have three near-identical systems in different rooms fed over Wi-Fi by the same iMac. The remote app selects which room(s) are playing.

I took out a 3-year insurance policy with the DACs (I expect the Apple and Extron hardware to be more reliable).

I assume this setup would work with online streaming services using Airplay. If not, there is the Bluetooth input on the DAC.

There might be better ways to do it but if you’re on a tight budget this might save you money.
I now have Wiim pro -> SMSL D6 -> SMSL A200

Sounds phenomenal. Costs about $500 USD. The downside of the lack of integration is that I often end up doing digital volume control at the Wiim (Wiim app or the casting device) for convenience (which degrades the signal). the D6 has a remote that I can easily use when in the room, but I need to first put the Wiim up to max. But not sure how audible the difference is anyways- will try to A/B test.

I would have rather had the OA200 amp (balanced inputs, auto off display) than the A200 but I was wary of buying something that might be going out of production (the OA200 is only available on Alibaba now). The A300 has more power but I have it set to 30 and would only need to go higher to listen from outside the house at a higher volume.
I have 3 setups:

WiiM pro -> E50 -> PA5
WiiM mini -> SMSL C200 -> PA5
WiiM mini -> Lavaudio DS600 -> Aiyima A07

When I connect any of them to my CSS Criton Kit speakers ($800), I can't tell the difference in sound quality. I stream with Amazon Music and use the Toslink on all 3.

Just FYI to help make a decision.
Were I to do this again today, I would use the Wiim Pro+ (just released, $220) and get rid of the DAC. Costs less and solves the overdrive concerns.
For the amp it looks like I should have gone with the OA200 because that is now widely sold and the A200 is hard to find. Although I haven't looked to see if there are other good low cost amps that have been reviewed in the mean time.

That part of the setup seems easy to figure out. I did end up getting a subwoofer as well (used from a friend for free), which did make a difference.
To improve my setup in front of the speakers I would be spending a lot of money for little gain.
Looking into upgrading the subwoofer and placement of woofer and speakers is probably the most productive change to my setup at this point.

But I find that the majority of recordings are lackluster and that ends up being the real limiting factor. So it's more fruitful really to spend time finding and organizing quality recordings that to optimize the setup further.
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