The vinyl revival may be in full swing, but, for most people, streaming is the fast and enjoyable way to listen to high-quality tunes. After all, digital music has come a long way since the days of Limewire, and even the advent of Spotify. And thanks to streamers like the WiiM Pro, it’s easier than ever to pump your favorite music through your speakers.
For streaming fans, Sonos makes the best connected speakers, with their integrated hardware and software. But those who already own a “dumb” stereo and speakers essentially have two wireless streaming options: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. With Bluetooth, the range is horrible and objective sound quality is even worse. Wi-Fi is more reliable and delivers considerably better sound, but there aren’t a lot of hardware options. For the most part, the choice comes down to the affordable-but-way-discontinued Google Chromecast Audio or much more expensive streamers like the $449 Sonos Port or $599 Bluesound Node.
At $149, the WiiM Pro not only gives music fans an up-to-date and affordable option, but it’s also more flexible than all those players put together. WiiM, pronounced “whim,” offers pretty much every “open” standard you can think of, while also adding its own easy-to-use app. The device includes plenty of digital and analog connectivity options, some of which are even unusual for the money. Want to stream vinyl on a turntable around the house, for example? It can do that — though there are some caveats.
What’s in the box?
The WiiM Pro is a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth music streamer designed to connect to existing stereo systems, soundbars or speakers. Competing ecosystems like Sonos offer rock-solid performance, but if you’re bringing existing equipment into the fold, it can get very expensive. For example, in my mind, it’s just not worth adding a $449 Sonos Port to a $600 receiver like the Onkyo TX-NR6100 — much less a cheaper system. But the WiiM Pro offers a salve by supporting every single open standard I can think of, as well as its own streaming app in an affordable box. Even adding a WiiM Pro to a $200 soundbar makes sense.
The WiiM Pro is a step up from the $99 WiiM Mini and while it offers the same Burr-Brown PCM5121 decoder, the Pro has more functionality, including Chromecast built-in and analog inputs. Design-wise, the WiiM Pro is exactly the same size as the Sonos Port, at 5.5 inches square and 1.6 inches tall. The WiiM is well made, and though it isn’t particularly heavy, it includes a rubber bottom to stop it from slipping around when you plug in cables.
If there’s one thing the WiiM Pro offers, it’s plenty of connections — both physical and of the streaming variety. The back of the unit includes analog and optical digital in and out jacks, plus a coaxial digital out. This is in addition to a USB-C power input, a microphone for multiroom audio synchronization, an Ethernet port and a 12-volt trigger. The trigger output is unusual, as it’s designed to turn on an external amplifier once the WiiM Pro has detected an incoming stream. But I wouldn’t try to control volume from a honking power amp with the dinky +/- capacitive buttons on the front of the WiiM Pro — too much margin for error. Those buttons, which also include a source button and a Play/Pause button, can be changed from volume to fast forward and rewind in the settings menu, which may be more useful.
On the streaming side, the WiiM Pro is just as thorough with Bluetooth, Ethernet and Wi-Fi, which brings AirPlay 2, Chromecast built-in, Amazon Multi-Room Music, Spotify Connect, TIDAL Connect and DLNA. In terms of competition, the WiiM Pro’s closest rival is the Chromecast Audio, but the WiiM does some things the Audio can’t do, such as gapless audio and support for more streaming platforms.
If you’re familiar with Roon — a server-based music streaming system that aggregates all your music — WiiM Pro is sort of the hardware version of that service. It’s designed to combine multiple streaming platforms in one easy-to-use interface. It’s an essential buy for music fans, and at the time of writing, the WiiM Pro is in the certification process for Roon Ready, which makes this device an even better purchase.
While the WiiM is controllable with a separate Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, the company does make a $20 WiiM Voice Remote (not tested) that includes a dedicated Alexa button and microphone. The remote can also be used to control the WiiM Pro with transport controls such as Play/Pause and so on.
Setting up the WiiM Pro
The device is designed to be set up and used via the WiiM Home app, available for both Android and iOS. The app was smart enough to detect the WiiM as soon as I opened it, and it walked me through setup — all without a single button-press on the device.
The WiiM Home app will look familiar to anyone who’s used Sonos or other music systems. The home page offers access to presets, your library via the phone and network (DLNA), plus over a dozen music streaming services. The device tab collates the WiiM units in your house, while the universal search tab is next and, based on my interactions with it, is excellent.
As with any device this sophisticated, it might take a while to get it to perform the way you want it via the Settings tab. For example, while you can set the input to auto-sense between the optical and the RCA input, it isn’t possible to do the same for the output. Instead, you need to manually select the output from the app — whether line out, SPDIF, coax or Bluetooth –but that isn’t ordinarily a big deal. However, if you find yourself troubleshooting because there’s no audio, try changing the output method first.
Though some people may balk at paying $149 for a streamer, you could think of the WiiM Pro as a source — like a record player or a CD player — and it’s hard to get either one of those for this cheap. Following my testing of the WiiM Pro, I can confirm that it’s “proper hi-fi” with the features audiophiles demand — gapless playback, digital outputs — and the seamlessness and value for the money that music fans want.
In my comparison of the analog output of the WiiM Pro and the Chromecast Audio on my home system, both were surprisingly accomplished. I compared a 24-bit stream of Peter Gabriel’s Don’t Give Up via Roon on the two streamers, with an SACD of the artist’s greatest hits as a reference. While the Chromecast was perfectly listenable, the WiiM Pro was able to capture more of the detail which the SACD had uncovered, in both Gabriel’s and guest Kate Bush’s voices. The WiiM Pro had a bigger, more immersive sound.
Switching to CNET’s reference system of the Q Acoustics 3050i and the Onkyo TX-RZ50, the WiiM was equally enjoyable. What was expressed as detail on my Klipsch system presented itself as midrange forwardness on the 30350is, and it required a little 10-band EQ tweaking inside the WiiM interface to make it more listenable. When I connected the device up to a separate DAC — an Oppo UDP-205 — it put a stop to that instantly. On both my home system and the reference, I enjoyed listening to this device’s digital output the most, though the analog output is more than respectable.
Lastly, I tested the WiiM’s audio input, which essentially turns this device into an audio switch or receiver-lite. It’s functional, but I wouldn’t buy it solely to distribute an analog source around the house. In listening tests — where I switched the output to digital and didn’t send it to another speaker — there was a lack of detail in the upper mids, which made it sound AM-radio-like. I was able to EQ that deficit out somewhat, but of course, your EQ preset would need to be changed manually if you changed input again. Also, the analog inputs can only send to another WiiM unit and not to an AirPlay or Chromecast built-in device. If you want to send an analog device around your house, I found through further testing that the Sonos Port was a big jump in terms of ease of use and in audio quality.
On a WiiM and a prayer
For almost 20 years, I’ve covered streaming music, and the WiiM Pro is the best budget player I’ve tested since the Chromecast Audio. Though people such as myself hope that the Chromecast Audio sticks around forever, its future isn’t at all guaranteed. I’m hoping that the excellent WiiM Pro is here to say.
My one complaint, if you can even call it that, is the WiiM Pro tries to do too much for so little, and if there’s ever a WiiM Pro 2 it could jettison some of the peripheral features. If you want a 12v trigger or an audio input, the Sonos Port and other devices can do that better, though at a higher price. Yet, if you’re looking for a step-up in terms of audio quality and connectivity, the WiiM Pro does everything better than the Google device and at a still-affordable price.