The renderer is sometimes a separate box or card (like PS Audio's Bridge or AirLens), or part of a more complete grouping of the major components needed to stream music. Its job is to connect with the server, accept the digital bits being streamed to it, convert those bits to a form acceptable to your DAC, and pass them along.
- Connect with the server
- Recognize and organize incoming data
- Convert incoming data to what a DAC wants (S/PDIF or I2S)
- Deliver that data to the DAC
The renderer is the player. *(though this can be confusing because typically, a player produces something we can hear—like the output of a CD player. Renderers are digital in and digital out.)
In some parlances, the renderer is also known as the endpoint.
From a sonic standpoint, the renderer has the most important job of all. For it is here, in the final puzzle piece, where the proverbial rubber meets the road.
If we think back to our streaming system's architecture, we remember that the server is a big network-connected hard drive. Our controller (like Roon) talks to both the server and the renderer and connects the two together when you select a track of music.
What's important to understand is that big hard drive in the sky is sending its digital bits over the internet through a crazy combination of switches, wires, satellites, fiber, coax, etc. There are no clocks to get messed up. It's just millions of little packets of data swarming around like bees converging in the hive. They all know where they need to go but how they get there and in what order doesn't matter.
Our renderer organizes the swarm of bits into a uniform, orderly stream, processes the data into a form the DAC wants, then adds that all-important clock to run everything.
That final clock is where all the magic happens. Get that jitter and noise free and we have perfection.
Skimp on this last step and....
The renderer is the single most important sonic piece of the puzzle.
Make sure it's up to your standards.