REVIEW: IEAST SOUNDSTREAM PRO STREAMER
It was only a few shorts years ago, that Logitech's Squeezebox had the market sewn up for compact, streaming audio devices. Much to the amazement of many given its popularity at the time, the Squeezebox has long since departed. I'm sure Logitech had good reason to discontinue it. These days, second hand units are generally snapped up in minutes on StereoNET's classifieds.
More recently, high quality brands and products from the likes of Bluesound, HEOS and MusicCast, continue to pinch sales from the once mighty Sonos, who now has fierce contenders adding new features, better connectivity options and more third party integration.
But what those all those brands lack is a simple, affordable product that adds wireless streaming to an existing stereo system or portable speaker. Much like the Squeezebox did.
You've almost certainly not heard of the iEast brand from China. Or if so, you're far more in touch than I. Rumour suggests that the parent company manufactures, or at least has at some point, for Sonos. We haven't been able to substantiate that, in any case.
The SoundStream Pro is referred to as a 'Wireless Multi-Room Sound Streamer'. It's compact, at just 100x79x21mm, finished in a black aluminium casing, it's weighty for its small form factor.
It features a 3.5mm stereo line input and USB 2.0, allowing for connection of external HDD or USB sticks. On the output side, it offers a 3.5mm stereo line output and SPDIF optical output for connection to external DACs.
The internal DAC is not to be sneezed at however, using the ESS Sabre chip capable up decoding up to 24bit/192kHz. More on that later.
Network connection is via WiFi (802.11b/g/n) or Ethernet (10/100Mbps).
Power is supplied conveniently from a 5V, MicroUSB DC input. Also supplied is an IR remote control which offers volume, pause, pause, next and previous tracks, and power control.
Control of the SS Pro is via the iEast Play app, available for both Android and iOS. Once you've powered up and installed the app, setup could simply not be easier. In fact, I don't remember Squeezebox even being so simple. Press the WPS button on the unit, and follow the prompts on the iEast Play app, and once you've selected your music source you're off and running.
The simplest method of connection is via the supplied 3.5mm stereo to RCA cable to your existing system AUX or Line input. I used both this method, and a SPDIF optical cable connected to my reference EMM Labs DAC2X (the funny side of this is that you could buy exactly 114 SoundStream Pro streamers for the price of the DAC it is connected to).
Once setup, you can choose from a vast list of integrated streaming platforms (according to iEast, this will vary by region). Admittedly some I've never heard of, but iHeartRadio, Pandora, vTuner, Spotify Connect, Tidal, TuneIn, Napster and Qobuz are all there.
You can also add a NAS service to your music library, which is how I store my media.
Control and Playback
The iEast Play app itself is intuitive, well laid out and offers a snappy response. Playback of local content doesn't seem to offer anything in the way of displaying cover artwork or other information, just a spinning iEast record animation. Streaming from both Tidal and Spotify showed cover art.
You can create playlists from within the app, but there seems no way of importing existing playlists from local sources. Your Tidal and Spotify playlists are there for the choosing however.
Supporting Apple AirPlay, DLNA & UPnP protocols, you're not restricted to the iEast Play app, so your control app of choice might be a better option. One thing to note here though is if you want to take advantage of the multi-room capability operating multiple SoundStream Pro units, you'll want to stick with the iEast Play app.
While I have only one unit to test, at just $249 RRP, the possibilities of many units for various zones within your home are obvious. Combine a number of these units with a multizone amplifier such as the AMC XG ($1,999 RRP), which would offer 8 stereo zones, or 16 individual channels, for substantially less than other multi-zone solutions.
As I sat down to start writing the background on the SS Pro, I spied my Telefunken 110th anniversary headphones sitting on the desk, and after a cursory glance at the 3.5mm line out, I made the connection. While not the last word in sound quality, it works.
Moving on to its intended purpose though, connected via the RCA cable to my reference HiFi system, sound was flowing in no time.
Cueing the music was as simple as selecting my local NAS as the source and browsing the folders. Just as easy, was switching to Tidal as the source. Selecting Spotify however will switch you to Spotify's native app and the SS Pro will be a selectable output device.
The response is quick and snappy, and I settled in for a listening session with familiar tracks.
Here is where I found something interesting. Upon noticing some compression on Pink Floyd's 'Final Cut', I headed into the settings of the iEast Play app. You're presented with 3 options, Low Quality (64kbps), High Quality (128kbps) and Super Quality (320kbps). This was somewhat of a surprise as the marketing material spruiks 24bit/192kHz and lossless FLAC capability. Using the 3.5mm output, the SS Pro will only output 320kbps at best. I'd suggest it's transcoding everything on the fly to lossy MP3, which at this price point makes sense for multiroom audio that plays in perfect sync across all zones.
But with that said, brands such as Bluesound will now stream across a whole house in hi-res audio (24bit/192kHz) without transcoding to a lossy format, albeit at a much heavier cash investment. In fairness, let's remember the iEast SoundStream Pro is also only $249 RRP, and substantially cheaper if you take a quick look at what retailers are selling it online for.
Connecting the SS Pro via SPDIF directly to the EMM Labs DAC2X bypasses the internal DAC and certainly results in better sound quality. When streaming MASTERS (MQA) from Tidal, or selecting 24bit tracks from my NAS shows the SS Pro output is still limited to 16bit/44kHz output however.
For the audiophile looking for a wireless streaming or multi-room audio solution, the SS Pro is probably not the answer. You will need to invest quite a lot more money however than what is on offer here though. It's a great proposition if ultimate sound quality is not the aim.
I've been using it for days now in the office to stream Spotify to a pair of Bowers & Wilkins ceiling speakers powered by a small Class D amplifier. Simple, easy to control and convenient. For a compact and ridiculously affordable solution for whole home audio, or to simply connect to an existing system that's perhaps a little outdated when it comes to connectivity, then the iEast SoundStream Pro is a no-brainer at $249.
iEast is distributed in Australia by Indi Imports.
StereoNET's Founder & Publisher and still buried deep in the review room auditioning everything from docks to soundbars, amplifiers to headphones. Marc also founded Melbourne's International HiFi Show.
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