There have been few greater contributors to budget hifi in the last 30 years than Pro-Ject. When the Austrian company burst on the scene with the Pro-Ject 1 turntable in the early ’90s, it flew the flag for the vinyl genre that many saw as already in the reception lobby for room 101. Back then its raison d’etre was all about upping the level of performance you could expect at the entry level and so good were Pro-Ject’s early offerings, I ran a Debut II deck for years as part of my main system.
In more recent times, the brand has expanded into other hifi electronics and add-ons, offering everything from CD players to streamers, as part of a range of great value small boxed products to build an entire system around or enhance an existing one. Priced at £269, The Pro-ject Stream Box S2 is designed to give users an affordable way into music streaming, with S2 Ultra model being the next rung up at £629 and bringing with it a USB ‘detox’ feature.
With no display, the device gives away little externally around its capabilities, as all that’s on show is a power button with a blue coloured light, 3.5mm analogue input jack and USB-A connector. Around the back you are greeted with an ethernet port alongside a set of fixed level RCA and variable level 3.5mm analogue outputs, alongside optical-out for digital signals, plus stubby wifi antenna.
Spotify Connect is supported alongside Tidal via Pro-ject’s Stream S2 app, while radio fans are also catered for via iHeart and TuneIn apps. Apple and Raspberry Pi users can use the Shairport support to connect their devices using AirPlay. Multiple steam boxes can also be stereo paired to drive an active speaker setup while avoiding unnecessary cabling, alongside multi-room support for 10 or six devices over ethernet and wifi. Up to 24-bit/192kHz data quality is supported on a single device and 16-bit/44.1kHz for multiroom applications. DLNA and UPnP are also both supported and as with the majority of Pro-Ject electronics, it is very compact, measuring just 37x103x122mm (HWD).
Setup is a relatively straightforward affair. An ethernet connection is effectively plug and play while wifi setup requires a short routine in the app to configure the unit with your home router. The latter method took a couple of attempts to complete successfully, though this is more likely as a result of a temperamental router in my home network than any failings with the Pro-Ject. When the S2 is connected to your system, audible prompts are then sent to indicate that the setup is successful or otherwise.
While not the last word in sophistication, the Stream Box App is very usable and offers a window into all services without disrupting the experience. Stream quality is not reported when playing tracks through Tidal within the app though, however the app always defaults to the highest quality available.
If I’m being picky, compared to some rivals the app demonstrates a degree of lag when playing, pausing or advancing tracks but it’s not to a degree that it causes any real issues. It’s also worth noting that TuneIn for internet radio doesn’t provide access to BBC stations due to licensing restrictions, although Apple users can use Shairport instead to connect via AirPlay.
With the Stream Box S2 hooked up to myArcam A85 amplifier and Q Acoustics 3030i speakers, Pink Floyd’s The Endless River kicks things off nicely over Spotify. What’s immediately apparent is how the Stream Box S2 gets the most from the relatively modest bandwidth on offer with fine manners and an even handed delivery. Dave Gilmour’s celestial guitar jousting with Richard Wright’s synth on Allons-y (1) and its later reprise sound nicely judged, with both elements sharing the limelight front and centre in the soundstage.
As you’d expect, Tidal master recordings via the Stream Box S2 bring greater clarity and this is borne out exquisitely on The Doors’ Love Her Madly track from their LA Woman album with guitar, piano and percussion penetrating through the recording with much more attack than lossier formats can muster. Again, the Stream Box S2 handles these elements respectfully by delivering a satisfying presentation, granting space to all elements without undue favouritism.
Serving up directly connected media via a 32-bit/192kHz file of Jeff Buckley’s Last Goodbye from his Grace album demonstrates that the S2 has no issues entertaining a richer musical serving. While minding its Ps and Qs once more, the S2 gets to work on the lush string arrangement by laying it down as a dense canvas for the rhythm section and guitar to paint their sonic picture on. The resulting music sounds full of life and showcases what the S2 does best in presenting the music through an engaging but never fatiguing window, which given the price is worthy of high praise indeed.
At this price point, the S2 sets the entry level bar to get your system into the streaming age. Its performance is balanced and sympathetic to a range of recordings and file types, showing why Pro-Ject is top of the pack when it comes to great value proper hifi. As the badge says, the Stream Box S2 really is best in class for value.