Two Weeks with The Bel Canto e.One Stream and Roon

May 12th, 2019
By: Carlin "Rick" Smith

We recently had a customer request the Bel Canto e.One Stream so we ordered a demo unit. I thought I would share some thoughts about using it with the native Seek app and also in conjuction with Roon.  Both were new experiences for me as I personally use Aurender music servers. While there is similarity the devices, both can make use of Qobuz/TIDAL, the design philosophy is quite a bit different.  

What is the Bel Canto e.One Stream?

The e.One Stream is a high-performance asynchronous network bridge that connects your audio system to the internet and thousands of tracks of music. The Stream retimes data for ultra-low jitter and isolation from the network environment, combined with robust power supplies creates the best signal source for your analog preamp or DAC. The Stream is set up to link your TIDAL and Qobuz accounts seamlessly, focusing only on high-quality streaming services that provides pure musical sound quality. 

The Stream has several options that allows you to configure the unit in the way that works best in your audio system with the option to output digital or analog output. The Stream supports MQA, DSD, and is also a Roon end point. The display shows DLNA, Sample Rate and Codec.  It can also be configured to see the track information. These features are controlled with a toggle switch on the rear panel.

The e.One Stream provides access to thousands of albums by connecting to your preamp or DAC to TIDAL, Qobuz, Vtuner, or your personal NAS library.

  • UPnP / DLNA controller
  • Bel Canto SEEK iOS app
  • Roon End Point
  • Resolution up to 24/192
  • Bit-perfect data transmission
  • Ultra-low Phase noise master clocks
  • Support for gapless playback
  • Network updates online
  • USB-A slot for music store on a hard drive
  • Available in Silver or Black Faceplate

Setup

Bel Canto Stream Logical Configuration

The Steam is in the familiar half width chassis that has been a staple of Bel Canto e.One products for many years.  I had a spare Mapleshade platform so decided to use that as a temporary platform for this learning and listening exercise.  I connected the Stream via a Nordost Tyr 2 Power Cord and Ty2 Digital Cable to a Bel Canto DAC 3.7.  My Aurender N10 is connected to the same DAC with a Nordost Vahalla 2 Digital Cable with XLR connectors to use for comparisons.  The only other connection was an Ethernet cable to my gigabit Unifi SDN infrastructure.  I used Bel Canto REF 600M monoblocks and Monitor Audio Platinum II 500 speakers.  The remainder of cabling in my system is Nordost Valhalla 2.

Bel Canto e.One Stream Sitting on Mapleshade 2" Oak Platform

After physically connecting everything I powered up the Stream and installed the Bel Canto Seek application on my iPhone and iPad.  After launching the app on my iPhone, it found the Stream and changed the name of the device and also updated the renderer firmware to 3.6.71 which is actually newer than what Bel Canto shows on their web-site.  After reading through the manual I learned there are actually two possible firmware updates. First was the renderer which can only be done with the Seek application.  The 2nd was the device primary firmware which is updated by holding a button on the back of the unit for a couple of seconds.  I did this and the device downloaded device firmware .09.0.0 which again was newer than the Bel Canto web site.  Oddly whenever I held this button down the unit would also do a check and a download of firmware even though the same firmware would be installed as I previously had.  I sent an e-mail off to Bel Canto about this as I assumed I would have received a message that firmware was up to date.

Seek setup screen

Device Information from Seek Application

Configuring Access to Your Music with Seek

While the Stream can use a locally attached USB disk via the connection on rear-panel I focused on pure streaming for this evaluation.  I configured Qobuz and also configured Dropbox during different parts of the evaluation.  Seek will also stream the files that are stored on your phone or tablet device.

Cloud Services Setup via Seek

Playback with Seek Application

All playback is initiated via the Browser tab.  Each configured source is available when you click Browser and then navigate either through a hierarchy in case you have files that are stored on Dropbox or OneDrive.  In the case of music streaming service such as Qobuz the familiar categories specific to each service is available.

Choosing Qobuz Discover Category

Available Albums on Qobuz with icons that indicate hi-res content and genre

Playback of Content

One interesting thing I noticed is that the volume control is active in the Seek app.  In my case I was utilizing the Stream as a fixed output device upstream of my pre-amp volume control so I turned the volume in the Seek app to full.  I would like to see an option in the Seek app to tell the Stream to be in fixed output mode, meaning the volume control is not active.  I learned later when switching to using Roon for playback that this is a preference Roon supports.

Adding More Music to the Queue via Seek

The Stream operates in a familiar queue based mechanism for playback.  It is important to realize that the Seek app is the control point for this UPnP system meaning the application must remain running or playback will stop.  This is an important consideration when purchasing a Stream if your only plan is to use the Seek app.

Using the Stream as a Roon End Point

So, what is Roon? Roon consists of a single core and as many controls and outputs as you need. This means you get the same Roon experience whether you're running on a single PC or on devices around your home.  

Directly from the Roon Labs web-site I provide the following description of the key components.

Core

The core is the brain of the system. It manages the control and output components and keeps track of the content in your music library. 

The core is responsible for:

  • Managing your digital music library
    • Discovering your music files
    • Noticing when music files are added, deleted, or modified in real-time
    • Extracting Metadata Tags from your music files
    • Background analysis of your audio content
    • Identifying your music files so we can improve your library with artwork, credits, reviews, and other enhanced metadata.
    • Keeping metadata up to date as new information becomes available and features are added.
  • Managing playback to audio outputs (see below)
    • Managing a play queue and a set of controls for each Zone.
    • Managing output to multiple Zones, including synchronized playback
    • Retrieving audio from files or internet services and decoding it to PCM or DSD
    • Streaming PCM or DSD audio to outputs
  • Driving one or more controls (see below)
    • Serving data to controls, whether they are local or networked
    • Responding to requests from controls
    • Providing a synchronized experience across multiple controls
  • Other stuff
    • Handling software updates

Control

Roon's rich user interface runs on Windows, OS X or macOS, Android, and Apple iOS.

Roon develops the control software for all platforms out of a single code-base. This is deeply important to Roon's ability to deliver an extremely rich experience across many hardware and software platforms.

If we built the app the traditional way--by developing a separate app for each platform, they would soon diverge in behavior, and some would inevitably lag behind. Instead, we chose to invest in infrastructure up front, and do things differently. This choice enables us deliver richer functionality in less time, while providing a more consistent experience across the multiple platforms that Roon supports.

The network protocol that the core and control use to communicate is also intensively engineered.

Roon's control infrastructure is designed carefully to work identically whether you are sitting in front of a computer running a Roon core, or whether you are using another device on your network. It works just as well if you have one control or a dozen. 

Data on different controls stays synchronized in real-time. There's no lag, and we never let you see stale data. 

These details may seem abstract from where you're sitting, but these ground-up architecture choices act together to product an unparalleled multi-device experience.

Output

Outputs are devices that make noise.

Roon is built from the ground up to run a multi-room audio system. Whether you have one output or a dozen or more, we have you covered.

Roon's playback engine is built for audiophile quality playback of standard and high-resolution audio content to a wide variety of output devices.

Roon's RAAT streaming technology moves bit-perfect streams to Roon Ready networked devices and outputs connected to devices running Roon, Roon Server, or Roon Bridge.

Roon supports many different kinds of output devices, including:

  • Roon Ready Networked devices.
  • Connected outputs, including USB DACs, sound cards, and built-in outputs
  • AirPlay devices
  • Logitech's Squeezebox devices
  • Meridian Audio's networked endpoints
  • HQPlayer

For my test I installed the Roon Core on a VMware macOS guest running macOS 10.14 connected via wired network.  The Core was connected to an external USB-C RAID 0 SSD array with ~3500 albums.  Roughly 100 DSD, 1000 Hi-Res, 10 MQA, and the remainder in CD quality lossless.  I used an iPad exclusively as the control app.

Roon General Settings Pane

One of the particular features I really liked was the ability to configure Roon to tell it what part of the metadata to use from the files themselves or from Roon.  In my case the library I was using had very finely tuned metadata, to my tastes with particular care given to artwork and genre used.  After my initial scan, and noticing artwork I didn't recognize, I was able to go in and make adjustments to my tastes.  Roon maintains this metadata WITHOUT touching your original music files.  Note Roon supports incredible richness including multiple genre's per track etc.  

Roon Library Import Preferences Pane

Configuring the Bel Canto Stream within Roon was very straightforward.  Note the setting for fixed volume control which was very nice.  Roon supports multi-zone playback and these can be configured off of one core.  Apple Play devices, Sonos, and a large library of audiophile devices are possibilities.

Roon Device Setup Pane

The main album view of Roon looked familiar to other library management applications I have used on computer and on tablet with Aurender and Lumin.

Couple of observations

  • Scrolling was horizontal versus vertical which feels a bit unnatural to me and can't be changed. 
  • The Focus button was very cool showing you a graphical view of your content by date, genre, most played etc.  See picture below
  • Content was blended between local files and streaming services
  • You can configure extra icons on the album cover that quickly shows you file format, live albums, number of CDs, etc.
  • The import engine seemed pretty quick given it scanned 50,000+ files
  • Stability of the Core was excellent during the entire test.  I had the iPad app crash a few times but not enough to be a major concern
  • You can have multiple Remote apps in use at same time which was a very nice feature
  • The ability to tag your content is also excellent providing another way to interact with portions of your library
  • I could not figure out how to filter my library by type of content, such as all 24/96 files
  • Roon costs $119 per year or $499 for a lifetime membership.  While some may have concern over the price, if you are going to adopt this type of architecture the $499 is more than a bargain.  This is an absolute professional piece of software engineering no doubt.

Roon Primary Album View

Roon Focus View

Where Roon separates itself is in other views of your library and extra richness of information.  For example, the Discover and Genre views below.

Roon Discover View

Roon Genre View with Hyperlinked Artists

During playback a simple click on the icon next to the track shows you the current signal path of the track playing.  Note below a DSD track being converted by the Roon Core to PCM before being sent to the Stream.  Also pictured is the Roon Zones.

Roon Signal Path and Zone View

The next several screen caps show some of the richness that can be obtained via Roon.

Roon Artist Picture Sub-View

Roon Artist Information Sub-View

Roon Current Track Lyric Sub-View

Conclusion and Key Points

This was a very interesting learning experience particularly with Roon as we don't have many devices that serve as Roon End Points at Sound Lab.  The Roon interface is very nice and I easily see why so many are fans.  I did appreciate the significant customization capabilities and the ability to carefully choose the "source of truth" for every category of metadata.

Sound Quality

I felt the Stream sounded very good given its modest price of $1,595 retail.  Sound from streaming services and from my own library through Roon was rich and detailed.  The device is also a full MQA decoder/renderer so you can pair the DAC inside the Stream with any amplifier if your DAC doesn't support MQA.  

Key Points

  • If you plan to use Roon with the e.One Stream also install the Bel Canto Seek application as it is your only way to update the renderer firmware and manipulate a few other settings.
  • If you don't plan to use Roon remember that the Seek application must stay running on your phone or tablet for playback.  Given this is a UPnP device there may be other 3rd party or opens source software to address that situation.
  • While I thought Seek was an adequate application, I didn't think it was optimized that well on the bigger screen of the iPad.  Certainly, Roon was a far superior user experience than Seek.
  • The Roon software experience is very rich and provides a very configurable environment.  I did not like the side scrolling in Roon and would prefer vertical scrolling but certainly not a deal killer.  Roon is also very complex in comparison to say an Aurender.  While you can place all the components in one logical place Roon was definitely designed to support a headless processing core, remote control points, and multiple zones of playback.  It is very rich software and I commend Roon labs for this effort.

One final interesting piece of information is that I transferred over 33 GB of data during this evaluation.  It's interesting to put that in context of what else you might be doing on your network and plan accordingly.  For those with even decent internet connections this should not be much of an issue.

I will end with a quote from Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius

If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.

Being new to Roon if there is something I missed drop me a note at Carlin "Rick" Smith.

Bel Canto e.One Stream Web Link

Roon Labs Web Link

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