What’s the best streamer for a HiFi Starter? It’s got to be the Raspberry Pi (RPi) hasn’t it? Low cost, sounds good, and it’s small. Why would you want anything else?
Well…….. since you ask. It’s no looker for a start, even with a fancy case. Crucially, an RPi also has just a single USB output, which is no good for digital-capable amplifiers like my Marantz PM6006 that only have coax or optical inputs. The same is true of many powered speakers (see below).
Sure, add a DAC board to your RPi to solve the problem (add-on boards are known as HATs – Hardware Attached on Top). But that adds cost, duplicates the DAC in your amplifier, and exacerbates the hassle of setting an RPi up. Of building it, of loading the software and configuring it. A step too far for many.
RPis are also hard to find right now. Chip shortages have hit hard, delivery dates are often 3-6 months out. Where not, hefty premiums are being commanded. An alternative entry-level streamer is therefore needed. Step forward the £89 / US$99/ €99 Wiim Mini streamer to make a strong case for itself.
As I found when reviewing two powered speakers recently – Elac’s DCB41 ConneX and the Q Acoustics M20 HD. Both have USB inputs but neither plays ball with the Raspberry Pi (no suitable drivers). No problem, I plugged the WiiM Mini into the speakers’ optical inputs. Bingo, everything worked swimmingly well.
I mistakenly thought WiiM was a startup company. It’s not, it’s actually a division of Linkplay Technology, which started out in 2014. Its 100+ employees develop the Linkplay solution; hardware and software modules for other manufacturers to incorporate into their own products, saving time and development cost. You’ll find Linkplay in over 200 products now, hence the WiiM Mini’s refined feel (it uses the same platform). Clearly these folks know their hardware and software. Heck there’s even a published software roadmap, with dates.
The WiiM Mini was Linkplay’s first foray into the consumer market, running alongside its existing business to business (B2B) activity. Basically WiiM decided to put its own name on a product. Subsequently the WiiM Pro has been launched – better functionality, slightly dearer – that we’ll look at soon.
For now the focus is on the WiiM Mini though. Is it honed engineering from an experienced company? A first product where a few foibles can be overlooked given its overall performance? Might it be over-hyped? Let’s see…
What is the WiiM Mini?
The streamer itself appears simple – a small puck with 4 physical connections. Firstly USB-C for power. A power supply is provided with the WiiM. You can also use your own, any 5V / 1A supply with a USB-C connector will work. Meaning better power supplies like the £50 iFi iPower are an option (I tried it).
Next are 3.5mm sockets for analogue input and output. And finally there’s an optical connection for digital output. On top of the device are touch-sensitive controls for volume up/down and play/pause, together with a three-colour LED to indicate status.
On networking the WiiM Mini is WiFi only, there’s no Ethernet socket to hardwire it. Bluetooth 5.0 is present, as is Airplay 2, the latter opening up Airplay 2 multiroom systems. Or use the Wiim app to string several Linkplay devices together for WiiM’s take on multiroom. Chromecast is the main absentee, for that you need the WiiM Pro.
The Mini offers Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect. With these your phone acts as a remote control, the streamer itself fetching music from the Internet. Close the app in your phone and the music keeps playing. The WiiM also has DLNA for accessing music stored on your own computers or network drives.
For Tidal users an MQA Core Decoder is coming (you can try it now in beta mode). And the WiiM Mini can also be voice enabled – just connect it to a suitable Alexa or Siri device.
In whatever mode the WiiM Mini tops out at 24bit/192kHz resolution (do we really need more?) And finally the inbuilt DAC chip is from Texas Instruments.
The WiiM App
The WiiM app is available on both iOS and Android. Plus desktop beta versions, but they have limited functionality for now so sat the review out. In use the smartphone app worked a treat; slick and stable, with a lot of functionality.
Music services are well represented. Amazon Music is supported (which version depends on your geography). Then there’s Deezer, Napster, Pandora, Qobuz, QQ Music, Soundcloud, Spotify and Tidal. There are 6 radio apps, including a dedicated one for BBC stations (thumbs up from the Brits). Plus Radio Paradise – half radio half streaming service, great curation. And finally Apple Music is available via the Mini’s Airplay capability. Of the main music services that just leaves YouTube Music absent. If that’s important to you, the WiiM Pro supports Chromecast.
On the audio side, sophisticated tone controls are provided (parametric EQ). You can change inputs within the app, set the Mini to a fixed output (better sound quality), define the bit rates the WiiM Mini works with (how high resolution it goes) and so on. The app has also been upgraded recently to play gaplessly – continuous play for albums that need it (e.g. Dark Side Of The Moon). Finally there are 12 presets in the app that are really handy. I added my review playlist and a few BBC radio stations, making them easier to access.
The latter is typical of the WiiM app. All the functionality is easy to access, the layout / flow of the app is really good (I didn’t need any instructions). And it looks very nice too without being overly fancy (on a tablet it’s really sleek). Overall the designers have done a great job in producing a polished user interface.
And so to listening, the WiiM Mini feeding a Marantz PM6006 amplifier and Monitor Audio Silver 100 7G speakers. Complete system £1,210 excluding cables & stands.
I tried the WiiM’s digital output first, playing into the PM6006’s internal DAC via an optical cable. Straight away it sounded really good. A big soundstage, with plenty of detail on show. Real depth and heft to the bass without it being wallowy at all. Surprisingly good dynamics. Neutral midrange, and treble that certainly got the message across. Slightly too much at times, the rasp in Lady Blackbird’s voice on “Blackbird” was a bit prominent. As was Andy Shephard’s sax on the live version of “1974” with the Espen Erikson trio (see Jan 23 playlist). But I’m nit picking, trying to find fault. Truth is the WiiM / Marantz / Monitor Audio trio was a fabulous setup.
With a better power supply
Time to plumb in the iFi iPower to see if a better power supply makes a difference. £50 may seem a lot – five times the cost of a standard 5V supply – but the iFi has proven its worth here many times before.
Into the system it went. “Oh yes!” read my notes. Justifiably so, the system was now operating at the next level. Gone was that slightly prominent top end, the treble now more refined. There were gains across the board though. The sound was fresher, clearer. Instruments deeper in a mix were now easier to hear, the bass line on “Blackbird” a good example. The low end was tighter too, the grumble of the mighty organ on “Saint Saens Symphony No 3 (2nd movement)” having more shape than before (Charles Munch, Boston Symphony Orchestra). And the silences were quieter, “Drop Drop Slow Tears” from Voces8 (After Silence) rose and fell beautifully from the pin-drop-still acoustic.
Overall the better power supply removed a smear from the sound that I hadn’t realised was there. If you can stretch the budget slightly – it only adds 4% to the cost of the review system – it’s a no brainer.
Next up was the WiiM Mini’s analogue output, having reverted to the standard power supply. Analogue out still sounded nice through the review system, but where the better power supply elevated the WiiM’s digital output the analogue output diminished it. By a similar amount, maybe slightly more.
It was like an impressionist painting, the main features being portrayed but much of the detail left to the imagination. Similar to Portrait Mode on my Pixel 7’s camera, where the main subject jumps from the screen thanks to the background being blurred. Both are stylistically effective, neither gives you the full picture.
Sonically that meant a warmer, looser sound from the WiiM, with supporting musicians less distinct. The bass line in “1974” was difficult to pick out for example, the sound more amorphous. Detail was curtailed, likewise dynamics. A big soundstage was still presented but delineation of performers within it was poorer.
Which sounds damning, and yes the digital output is better. The analogue output still sounded very pleasant though. Maybe not ideal fronting a main system. Very useful around the house though, maybe playing into radios and wireless speakers that often have auxiliary analogue inputs.
We opened the review extolling the virtues of the Raspberry Pi. Yes there are some key functional differences between it and the WiiM Mini. On a like for like basis how do the two streamers compare sonically though? Both were connected to a Mytek Liberty II DAC to find out (it has both USB and optical inputs).
I expected them to sound very similar, they didn’t. The WiiM Mini bested the Raspberry Pi, to quite a degree. It sounded clearer, fresher, more vibrant. In comparison the RPi was softer, dynamics muted, detail curtailed. The soundstage it presented was also diminished.
The decay on Kham Meslien’s double bass on “Ta Confiance” (Fantome..Futurs) was much clearer through the WiiM, much less present with the RPi. Roger Waters’ “Mother” (The Lockdown Sessions) was more vivid through the WiiM, the musicians more palpable, far more detail present. The RPi dampened things down, Waters sounded gentler (which ain’t Roger!) Gerald Albright’s “Sooki Sooki” (from 30) exploded from the speakers with the WiiM. Through the RPi it was less impactful.
Overall the RPi still sounded great, much better than the WiiM’s analogue output for example. And remember the RPi is cheaper than the Mini (‘normal’ price for a 2Gb RPi is around £50). Sonically it cedes the top spot to the WiiM though, the magnitude of the gap between them surprising me.
Out of curiosity I then pitted the WiiM Mini against my usual £600 Pro-ject Stream Box S2 Ultra streamer. I was slightly relieved; the Pro-ject sounded more assured than the WiiM, more refined. The key differences were greater detail from the Pro-ject, with an even bigger and deeper soundstage that just made everything sound more live. As it should for 6 x the price. The WiiM was far from embarrassed though.
The WiiM Mini is small and discrete, and stable in use. In analogue mode, using its internal DAC, it sounds more than passable. In digital mode, using the optical output, it sounds excellent. Pamper it with an upgraded power supply for the icing on an already-lovely cake.
The app is slick, and a wide range of music options are catered for. All for £89, low enough to have several around the house, whether synced in multiroom mode or used standalone.
When giving of its best the Mini is arguably all the streamer you need in systems up to £2,000. The conclusion should be obvious by now. No ifs, no buts, the Wiim Mini is a fabulous streamer for the money. My advice would be to fill your boots before WiiM catches on and puts the price up.