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I’m listening on the screened back porch downstairs -- we live out here during the summer -- to Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left (MP3, Island) from Amazon’s Cloud, wirelessly streamed to my iPad courtesy our home Wi-Fi LAN and heard through an Urban Beatz UB-SPB80 wireless speaker on a Bluetooth feed from the iPad. The only wires in this transaction are the essential ones: the ISP feed via a coaxial cable to the Motorola Surfboard modem, and a CAT6 cable from that to the Apple AirPort router. What I’m listening to isn’t exactly hi-fi -- it’s about the fidelity of a good table radio a rung below, say, the Tivoli Model One -- but it’s monstrously convenient. (Amazon offers its Prime subscribers a terrific feature: When you buy certain CDs, an MP3 copy can be accessed by a proprietary app via the Cloud. Saves lugging CDs and/or FLAC files around on vacation . . . or downstairs.)
Streaming seems these days to be audio’s secret word -- the next step in the evolution of sound technology, especially home audio. The market is awash in various devices, all designed to collect data from some type of network connection, where music is stored as a file or captured live from an Internet source, and play it back over a dizzying array of options. Some are designed to connect to your home audio system, while others reinvent the idea of music sourcing with self-contained playback capability. We saw this a few months ago with the Bluesound Pulse, a streaming boom box. The Cabasse Stream 1 Bluetooth speaker is another product in that vein: stylishly designed, loaded with inputs, and sounding great.
What it is
The Stream 1 ($900 USD) is devilishly self-contained. Its three small amplifiers each drive one of three speakers: a 1.15” soft-dome tweeter located at the center of a 3.15” midrange driver, which creates a point-source arrangement; and a 6.7” woofer with dual voice-coils. Yes, this is a monaural system. It measures 18.1"W x 5.4"H x 12.8"D and weighs all of 11 pounds. Looking like a small UFO, the seed-shaped unit has an all-plastic shell with a nonremovable cloth grille. The controls are elementary: buttons for Power, Volume Up/Down, Mute, Source, and Next/Last. These are all duplicated on the seed-shaped remote, which adds a Play/Pause button.
The rear panel is Spartan: besides the Power rocker switch are a power inlet and jacks for Ethernet, USB, and minijack input. There are no S/PDIF or HDMI inputs. On a small panel are indicator lights for power, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet; a reset button (useful for when things go wrong); and a button for Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), to make the Stream 1 compatible with access points that feature WPS connectivity. (My Apple AirPort lacks WPS, so I didn’t test this.) That’s it. Behind the grille are the remote’s sensor and a Near Field Communication (NFC) patch, for Android smartphones. (Again, my iPhone has only limited NFC capability -- Apple Pay -- so this feature wasn’t tested.)
Built into the bottom of the Stream 1 are brackets for mounting it on a wall; all you need do is throw a couple of heavy-duty, anchored screws into the wall. The Stream 1’s manual even provides the screw spacing for you.
The Stream 1 plays a host of audio formats, including WMA, PCM, AAC-LC, ALAC, and FLAC. There’s no mention of MP3s, but when I connected a USB flash drive loaded with MP3s, they played without hiccup. And, of course, the Stream 1’s PCM capability includes virtually any HTTP stream, evidenced when I gleefully zeroed in on various foreign and domestic Internet Radio streams.
Like the Bluesound components, the Stream 1 requires the download of a controller app from the Google Play Store for Android devices, or from Apple’s App Store for Apple devices. The App Store has two: one from Cabasse, and one from AwoX, Cabasse’s streaming partner. The Cabasse app invites you to try the AwoX, which is more up to date. I tried both, and they were right; I opted for the AwoX. (The Stream 1’s manual directs you to the Cabasse app, but now you know better.) Setting up my iPad was intricate but not especially difficult. However, setting up the same app on my iPhone via Bluetooth was challenging. It seems that, despite Bluetooth’s claim that any Bluetooth device should be able to simultaneously pair with up to seven other devices, I’ve found that pairing any more than two at a time with my iPad and/or iPhone is next to impossible. When the iPhone connection consistently failed, inquiries to Cabasse revealed that they had no solution, other than to disable all other Bluetooth devices before connecting with the Stream 1. Still didn’t work. Turned out the culprit was my Fitbit, which communicates via Bluetooth, even though it doesn’t show up on my iPhone as Bluetooth enabled. Sigh. After I’d ditched the Fitbit, everything was hunky-dory; however, I doubt the ordinary user will find the protocol terribly convenient. But if you’re a PC/Android user, your experience may be entirely different from mine within Apple’s closed universe.
Trying all of the Stream 1’s many connection options was an adventure in setup. The lowest-hanging fruit -- the USB, mini-jack, and Ethernet inputs -- worked flawlessly. The Stream 1 comes with access to local, international, and specialty radio channels (including a stationless NPR stream) already enabled. However, in order for the Stream 1 to recognize the considerable library of FLAC files stored on my network, I had to download another AwoX app, StriimServer, at awox.com.
Here we enter the often mystical world of emergent technologies. The Stream 1’s streaming capability is based on the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) protocol, itself an association that has agreed on a set of technical standards governing wireless transmission of not just audio, but video, home appliances, and so on. Think “Red Book” for the multimedia set. So long as your devices are DLNA compliant, your controller should “see” any and all audio files available on the network, regardless of format (MP3, WAV, FLAC, etc.). To access the files on my Mac, I had to download StriimServer. Downloading a Mac app from anywhere but the Apple App Store is made intentionally difficult. This is because Apple tests the apps for adherence to their strictly controlled architecture and, of course, for security flaws. After a few obligatory downloading hoops, installing StriimServer was a snap. It automatically found the “Music” (imaginative, yes?) folder, and I was in business. All of my MP3s, ripped CDs, and FLAC files appeared on my iPad’s controller, and away we went.
My only problem with this final solution was that the need to download ancillary software to enable the Stream 1 to “see” my network files is not documented in the Stream 1’s user manual or on Cabasse’s website. It took a couple of puzzled e-mail exchanges with Cabasse for them to tell me of the solution on the AwoX site. Now, I’m a reviewer who has access to resources that the garden-variety consumer does not, so getting a fix was part of the review process. However, the garden-variety Mac user will have a devil of a time getting the Stream 1, otherwise a lovely product, to work. This is a documentation flaw that needs fixing. Which brings me to . . .
The Stream 1 is both a music player and a streaming computer. The manual devotes a lot of space to the installation and maintenance of the computer, complete with the acronyms and initialisms that are the true techie’s lingo. This is another instance in which it might be wise to consult the music folks. The Stream 1 is a music system that happens also to be on the cutting edge of home wireless technology -- people will buy the Stream 1 for its musicality and convenience, which is all the more reason to make its computer side as easy to execute as possible. This means putting all the essential information in one place. It doesn’t matter if it’s a user’s manual or a webpage; what matters is that the information be presented clearly, concisely, and comprehensively. The Stream 1’s essentials are spread out among the user’s manual, the Cabasse and AwoX websites -- and the cross references to each are sparse indeed.
In terms of sound quality, I didn’t know what to expect from the Stream 1. Cabasse has been around for 65 years and is an honored speaker company renowned for its unique designs and sound quality. But three drivers in a seed the size of a seat cushion? Throw away notions of “soundstaging” and “imaging.” Embrace the notions of dynamic range, audio fidelity, and pure fun. As much as it would seem to defy logic, the Stream 1 threw a generous envelope of sound -- monaural sound.
However, the real test of any sound component is fidelity: high or low? I played five different PCM and FLAC files through both Stream 1 and my Big Rig (AVA Omega III EC preamp, Sunfire power amp, and original Legacy Classic speakers). In a sense, the comparison was unfair, but if I have a standard for hi-fi, it’s set by the Big Rig. I didn’t expect the Stream 1 to come close to that standard, but I wanted to hear what had been compromised by squeezing three speakers into that big seedcase.
Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man,” covered by Bruce Cockburn on his Nothing but a Burning Light (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, True North), displays Cockburn’s dexterity on acoustic guitar and T Bone Burnett’s consummate production skills, which the Stream 1 reproduced quite nicely in clear, focused sound. The Lightning Seeds’ remake of the Turtles’ nugget “You Showed Me,” from Like You Do . . . Best of the Lightning Seeds (16/44.1 FLAC, Epic), is one definition of a lush, layered studio confection. While the Stream 1 got everything right, it felt slightly pinched vs. the glorious spaciousness of the stereo version. “Lifeboats,” from Snow Patrol’s A Hundred Million Suns (16/44.1 FLAC, Polydor), is loaded with deep bass that the Stream 1 slammed home with confidence. In fact, the Stream 1’s one glowing constant was its consistently strong bass reproduction.
“Real Slow,” from Megafaun (16/44.1 FLAC, Hometapes), rings with intricate, edgy, jangly electric guitar, and as the title says, its pace is leaden, giving each carefully plucked note the time and space to sink in. I felt that the Stream 1 got all the notes right tonally, but part of this track’s formula is “space,” which the Stream 1 could deliver only in small portions. “Faces of You,” from Blitzen Trapper’s VII (16/44.1 FLAC, Vagrant), features sharp percussive attacks that the Stream 1’s generous dynamic-range capabilities nailed outright.
While no mono speaker could seriously compare to a bona-fide hi-fi stereo, the Stream 1 showed me that its driver complement was more than capable of rendering whole sound. It is and it isn’t hi-fi, but for what it is, it’s very, very good.
We’re on the cusp of what I believe is the next important evolutionary stage of home audio, and must continually remind ourselves that any technological innovation in its market infancy must undergo growing pains. AwoX, a wireless controls concern, has sensibly aligned itself with Cabasse, a respected, time-honored audio designer and manufacturer. The result is the Stream 1, a great-sounding box that you can put on any surface in any room and have quality audio at your beck. And, as in any alliance, it seems the maker of the newer technology drives the bus. However, I’m suggesting, as I did with Bluesound, that the target market/audience isn’t only modernes who want wireless control over their appliances. This market also includes folks who care deeply about sound quality, access to their music, and would prefer the computing component to be as painless as possible.
As I conclude this review, I’m back on the porch listening to a FLAC file of Bonobo’s Black Sands (16/44.1 FLAC, Ninja Tune) via the Stream 1 -- so much more elegant than listening to MP3s over a modest Bluetooth speaker. Very cool beans. The Stream 1 is sleek and stylish; it has streaming chops, a plethora of inputs, and clean, sparkling sound. I can imagine you putting it in your rec room or on the pool deck, to use for background music at a party -- or on the back porch. So long as your Wi-Fi connection is strong, the Stream 1 can go anywhere. If you’re ready to leap into wireless streaming, the Cabasse Stream 1 should be on your list of components to check out.
. . . Kevin East
- Preamplifier -- AVA Omega III EC
- Power amplifier -- Sunfire
- Loudspeakers -- Legacy Classic
- File source -- Bluesound Vault
Cabasse Stream 1 Bluetooth Speaker
Price: $900 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
210, rue René Descartes
BP 10 -- 29280 Plouzane
Phone: +33 (0)2-98-05-88-88
Fax: +33 (0)2-68-05-88-99
18 Park Way
Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
Phone: (201) 818-9200