The gear fetishism of some in the audiophile community is getting rather tiresome. So is the idea that a component must be “great” because of the pricing and 2-inch thick front panel. Components across the spectrum are either excellent at reproducing music or they are not. Whilst not perfect, the WiiM Pro Plus is an intriguing affordable option for those who want to dip their big toe into the hi-res pond.
Having auditioned a few dozen network streamers over the past 5 years, there is no question that one can achieve excellent sound quality in 2023 at a very affordable price.
Audiophiles should be sharing that with their non-audiophile friends if they really care about the future of the hobby.
There are so many dedicated network streamers or players at this point that one can easily find 3 or 4 in their price range worth checking out; the performance gap between the models available in the $200 to $500 range when using the digital outputs is extremely small. Using the analog outputs creates slightly more distance between them.
High-end manufacturers have awakened to the reality that consumers might be willing to add a dedicated music streamer to their home system (something that became very popular with CI folks during the pandemic who were very busy with multi-room audio systems), but there are limits to what they might spend.
Digital music streaming accounts for 85% of the market in 2023 and that level of adoption is not getting any smaller. Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music HD, TIDAL, Qobuz, and Deezer are the preferred gateway drugs for hundreds of millions of consumers around the globe and there is pretty much something for everyone at this point.
Classical music fans received a huge boost with the launch of Apple Classical Music and we have already started using the app and will be discussing our experience as part of a upcoming podcast covering the current state of music streaming.
The vast majority of consumers use their smartphone to stream and that’s a perfectly valid way to go.
Streaming does drain your battery; it gets even worse if you utilize a Dongle DAC to drive a pair of headphones or a pair of active loudspeakers on the desktop.
Another drawback is that the DAC in your smartphone does not compare favorably to the DAC inside of a dedicated music streamer.
You also require a better quality system downstream to truly appreciate the improvement that a music streamer can make.
But understand that there isn’t a single affordable digital music streamer that can do it all and offer support for every platform, casting technology, MQA, DSD, or 32-bit/384.
That dilemma also applies to high-end digital streamers as well. A high price does not guarantee support for every streaming service like Qobuz or TIDAL, or support for AirPlay 2, Chromecast, TIDAL Connect, Spotify Connect, Dolby Atmos Music, Bluetooth aptX or aptX HD.
WiiM Pro Plus
Is it possible for a $219 network player to really deliver a high-end digital playback experience?
In the case of the WiiM Pro Plus — the better answer is that one can elevate its performance long-term with a better DAC or amplifier on the other end and you are unlikely to feel that it can be bettered without spending a lot more money.
Are there significant differences between the $99 WiiM Mini, $149 WiiM Pro, and $219 WiiM Pro Plus?
The WiiM Pro Plus offers upgraded DAC and ADC technology. It features an AKM 4493SEQ premium DAC with support up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD512, with PCM/DSD automatic switching. Meanwhile, its TI Burr-Brown Audio PCM1861 ADC supports up to 192kHz/24-bit from the digital outputs.
Very much like the Bluesound NODE, the WiiM Pro Plus offers compatibility with AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, TIDAL Connect, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Deezer, TuneIn, iHeartRadio; the Pro Plus also sports a 10-band digital EQ and graphic EQ.
Bluetooth 5.1 is supported which includes AAC and SBC codec compatibility.
You can stream YouTube Music, TV audio, radio stations, podcasts along with local content directly from your favorite Chromecast-enabled app.
The Pro Plus is also compatible with Siri, Alexa, and Google. This allows easy control of music selection, volume adjustments, and playback. The WiiM Pro Plus comes with a voice-compatible remote control.
In addition, Roon Ready and Parametric EQ features are expected to be added to the Pro Plus via firmware update.
If you remember the original Mac Mini or Roku streaming boxes, the WiiM Pro Plus looks and feels very similar. The chassis is 42 x 140 x 140mm (5.5″W x 5.5″D x 1.7″H) and weighs 400 grams.
The plastic construction feels less impressive than the metal build quality of the Cambridge Audio MXN10 and Bluesound NODE, but there is a considerable price difference between them and I really can’t point to anything about the build quality that should matter.
All of the analog and digital inputs/outputs were well finished and recessed making it easy to connect the WiiM Pro Plus to my ASUS router, external DACs, wireless loudspeakers and three different amplifiers.
Some may feel that the recessed analog inputs/outputs are spaced too closely together for overly thick audiophile interconnects, but think logically about this — who is using that type of cable with a $219 streamer?
On the rear panel we find a selection of physical inputs and outputs. Aside from a USB-C socket for power, users will find an Ethernet jack, a digital optical input and output, a digital coaxial output and stereo RCA line-level in and out.
Why has Linkplay included RCA inputs?
For those looking for a less expensive Sonos alternative, one can connect an analog source to the Pro Plus and wirelessly send that signal to other WiiM wireless devices in your home. Expect to see to a roll-out of such products this year and into 2024.
Whilst most users are going to use the app to control the WiiM Pro Plus, there are capacitive touch-points on the front panel for play/pause, volume up/down, set-up, Bluetooth pairing and creating presets.
One of the most surprising aspects of the WiiM Pro Plus is the control app; Linkplay clearly took a look at the competition and went for something that is not buggy and very easy to use.
Spotify Connect and TIDAL Connect worked without issue and my Qobuz account took very little time to setup. When the Pro Plus becomes Roon Ready, the app will allow you to access your Roon account and have access to your local network, Qobuz and TIDAL accounts in one place.
Operation was smooth, very responsive, and the volume control responded well to changes on the fly without any real delay.
One can also use the app to control the volume and control other Linkplay wireless devices as well.
Users can download the app for both Android and iOS from the respective online app stores.
One of the most intriguing things about the WiiM Pro Plus is its flexibility as a source; the ability to connect it to active loudspeakers, pre-amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, and even power amplifiers is a huge win.
Whilst listening to the recently reviewed Triangle BOREA BR03 BT and AIO Twin loudspeakers, I decided to try the Pro Plus using its S/PDIF optical digital output and analog outputs.
Would it sound different, superior, or inferior compared to my iPhone 12 used as a wireless streaming device?
The BOREA BR03 BT have a rather incisive presentation with a surprising degree of mid-bass and upper bass energy. The treble can be slightly hot with poor recordings.
Streaming directly from my iPhone 12 to the BR03 BT, Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redentor” exploded out of the speakers with a flood of upper midrange and treble energy.
What saves the BR03 BT is the emphasis in the mid-bass and upper bass range which adds some necessary warmth and texture to the sound.
Byrd’s hypnotic trumpet playing comes across as slightly thin, but also rather detailed and airy.
Switching to the Pro Plus reveals the streamer offers up music in a rather incisive manner with everything carved rather rigidly in place.
Imaging improved somewhat with the Pro Plus but there was no increase in texture or warmth at all across most of the range. It certainly did not strip away any of the BR03 BT’s presence in the aforementioned bass range but it did actually help tighten up the sound somewhat.
Bass notes had greater snap and speed but I would not say the WiiM Pro Plus trounced the default performance at all.
Switching to the analog outputs added a very small amount of weight to the overall tonal balance but nothing to call it a substantial change.
Cambridge AXA35 and NAD C 316 BEE V2 Integrated Amplifiers
The logical next step was to connect the Pro Plus to 2 rather affordable integrated amplifiers that are priced below $600 and would likely be matched with an affordable streamer.
Both the Cambridge and NAD are wonderful communicators of music and share a warmer tonal balance and somewhat similar presentation style; the NAD does offer more top end energy and detail which are great attributes with somewhat reserved sounding loudspeakers like the Q Acoustics 3050i, Acoustic Energy AE100 MK2, and the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1.
Because neither amplifier has any digital inputs, we utilized the analog outputs and fed the Pro Plus a steady diet of vocalists including Yishay Ribo, Amy Winehouse, Peggy Lee, Blondie, Sam Cooke, and Jonatan Alvarado.
Alvarado’s “Amargura” (TIDAL, 16-bit/44.1kHz) has such a haunting beauty about it that I’ve made it a regular part of my review playlist; the track was utterly spectacular through the Bowers & Wilkins 703 S3 that I will be writing about next week.
The imaging with the Pro Plus was precise and whilst the soundstage was generally constrained between the loudspeakers, it was still reproduced with more than enough depth and height to sound quite believable.
Guitar notes had a very sharp leading edge which in the context of the amplifiers and loudspeakers worked well — but I would caution using this streamer with a system that is already on the more neutral side and forward sounding.
Timbral accuracy should be a focus of any component and the Pro Plus is rather good at it but it could be better on the textural side.
Unlike the Cambridge Audio MXN10 which adds additional eggs to the shakshuka, the Pro Plus is heavily focused on pushing vocals slightly forward of the instrumentation and with great vigor.
Speed, clarity, and detail are hugely positive attributes of the Pro Plus but I would caution potential users that it really needs an amplifier or loudspeaker on the other end with a fuller sounding presentation to not become too much of a good thing.
Between the MXN10 and Pro Plus, the less expensive WiiM streamer offers a more detailed top end but at the expense of texture below.
Pacing is a strength of both and I was rather enamored with the presence and confidence of the Pro Plus with warmer sounding setups.
The MXN10 offers a warmer presentation that is thicker in the bass range and less precise overall when it comes to imaging.
In the context of my Cambridge Edge A/Magnepan LRS system, the MXN10 adds some necessary color and texture to the overall presentation that I prefer but the Pro Plus only lost out because it pushed vocals too far forward into the room for my liking.
For $219 USD, the WiiM Pro Plus proved to be a real surprise. Linkplay put a lot of work into the app which worked better than some apps we’ve tried with more expensive streamers and that definitely has to matter.
The plastic case doesn’t feel very high-end but the connectivity options and flexibility more than make up for it.
The incisive presentation and pacing worked better with richer sounding systems that require some additional clarity and top end presence and that certainly makes the WiiM Pro Plus a great option for vintage systems or loudspeakers with a darker presentation.
As I finish up my thoughts, I’m listening to “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” performed by Ofra Haza through the Pro Plus, Q Acoustics 3050i, and NAD C 316 BEE V2 and being moved to tears by the emotion of it all.
Best budget streamer of 2023? The WiiM Pro Plus makes a very strong case for that indeed.
Where to buy: $219 at Amazon
Credit : Source Post