Setting up our Stream Box S2 Ultra started fairly straightforward. In the beginning, there were a few speed bumps along the way getting it to connect with our wireless network, but in hindsight that was our user error. At Audio Advice, we explore the setup process to save you the headache. So, let us save you some time — for example, it helps if you enter the right password to the home network during the initial setup! Check out our Getting Started Guide for a quick rundown on how to get up and running, quickly.
To test the Stream Box S2 Ultra in a few different scenarios, we set it up with our wireless network first and then connected a Chord Mojo to the dedicated USB DAC port. Then we streamed hi-res music files stored on a USB thumb drive plugged directly into the front panel of the unit. We also used Qobuz to stream CD-quality music from a laptop to see how it performed with streaming services.
Mojo owners don’t need us to tell you how amazing it sounds, but for anyone else, check out our Mojo DAC Review for our impressions.
Next, we stationed the little Stream Box S2 Ultra between our laptop and our external USB DAC with a hard-wired USB connection to hear how the special micro-USB “detoxifier” feature sounds when the noise in our digital audio signal is purified with “Bypass” mode.
We used the Grado Labs RS2e Reference Series Over-Ear Headphones which is a great sounding headphone for listening to music at home. As an open-back headphone, it provides a wide-open soundstage with musical dynamics and ultra-smooth top-end.
We listened to a lot of styles of music without the special USB purifier mode activated to give us a good sense of how the music sounded just coming out of our DAC. Then, we tested the same music again with the USB purifier mode activated.
While everything sounded great no matter how we listened, one of the tracks that stood out the most improved was “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” released in 1982 by the new-wave punk outfit, The Clash. Immediately, we noticed significant improvements to the soundstage with crystal clear details. As a rock song recorded in the era of 80’s punk rock, this recording is characteristically “noisy” — probably by intention.
Recorded to analog tape, there’s a lot of inherent noise and other subtle nuances in the recording’s rhythm and pacing, overall — giving this track a great punk rock attitude. So, it surprised us when we heard how much clearer and detailed the overall presentation was when we listened to it with the USB purifier feature activated.
With the Stream Box S2 Ultra in bypass mode “cleansing” the USB signal coming out of our laptop, we were impressed by how much clearer the details were in the stereo image compared to a direct USB connection between the DAC and our laptop. The separation of details presented a little bit more depth and clarity to our stereo image too. To be completely upfront, we were skeptical at first. We truly didn’t expect this much improvement to the soundstage.
While the improvements were subtle, having access to the extra level of clarity and separation of details really drew us deeper into the music. The low-end rhythm and pacing and tuneful sense of timing were more musical. The separation of details were just a tad bit more spread apart, which let us hear the picking of guitar strings and other musical dynamics even clearer.
The vocal also stood out presently with more holographic realism. We enjoyed it so much, we made the USB “bypass” mode one of our go-to configurations for our listening session — we really couldn’t have it any other way!