Another streaming newbie

Guys, I have tried to search and figure this out, because I know this topic has been well-covered. But I am still wandering in the dark, so plz forgive my redundant questions....

First, here's my current rig,: I built a Lenco table 15 yrs ago with a JMW 10 arm/London Super Gold that I run into a phono pre that I built from a pretty high end kit  (can't see the name, have no idea what it is now!) thru a VTL tube IT-85 integrated amp and then thru some SF Electa Amator II, supported by a sub I built.  So pretty mid-fi setup, but it really works for me.  Sounds great, to my ears.  

The Covid thing has me home (no golf in Los Angeles!), listening to music more. Would love to stream something that approaches the vinyl sound quality with a music service, but being retired, budget is more a concern now... I just subscribed to TIDAL with its premium level (MQA) that I was running straight from my iphone 6 to the VTL. Meh.  Then my daughter ran same stuff through her iphone 11 and, hey, that sounded better.  So, clearly, I am in need of a streaming DAC.  

I know MQA gets mixed reviews. I have no way really to test this or to go listen to stuff. Everything is shut down here. So here's the criteria that matters most to me:
  • A great UI app because now streaming is like going to the Smithsonian.  There's a lot to organize. 
  • Great sound. (whatever that means!) 
  • One box.  Cables get expensive & messy.  
  • I'd like to keep it under $2K. I'd really like to keep it under $1K, but that may be wishful thinking.  I mean, is Bluesound Node 2 up to it? I am sure it would beat my daughters iphone 11, but ... what are reasonable streamers/DACS?  Where's the killer solution that isn't $10K?  I know it's out there....
I am not so far into TIDAL that I can't change. My system is in the same room as my router, so I can run an ethernet cable to the DAC.  As I have looked at all of this, it has occurred to me to get an older, much higher quality used DAC that I can somehow mesh with TIDAL (or another service with high quality streaming) and forget the MQA.  But this has to somehow hook into my internet directly and be able to be run by a remote UI.  So now my head is spinning.

Thanks for your input.  Chuck
I vote for the Blusound Node 2i, especially if all you want is streaming from Qobuz and Tidal, and Internet Radio.  The box provides MQA decoding as well as 24-bit / 96 Khz hi-rez recordings.  Outputs are both analog (internal DAC) or SPDIF digital.  It SOUNDS great - as good as any other digital box I have used.

These black (or white) boxes are simple to set-up and much simpler to use than Roon or J River.  The GUI on your desktop computer or your iPhone is easy to use and offers almost as much of the capability of Roon, but at a much smaller price.  I am using mine with a Meridian Direct DAC and have no complaints - it works great and no H/W/S/W monkey business to worry about.  

Streaming servers are where the biggest libraries are, and in fact the day is coming where having a big self-contained server that you rip a bazillion CD's into is already outdated.  Qobuz will always have more albums than you can ever buy or download, and they are always available for playback on your beck and call.  IMHO, the best digital music component you can buy !!
I just ordered Rasberry Pi based PI2AES.  I am right at my $2k budget. Yggdrasil GS plus this streamer. This will sound better, be more user friendly than my phone and I am not unhappy with what I am hearing already. My takeaway: DAC is a big deal. Big deal.  

Thanks to all who took the time to help me figure this out. Great stuff and I really appreciate it. 

Now, to the listening! 


In case this was not mentioned before as an option: you could look at a used Auralic Altair (1st gen). It will stream all the usual services and file formats, it comes with one of the better free music management softwares (Lightning DS) and even lets you browse through 10,000-plus internet radios. And it can be found around the $1200 mark.
@big_greg (and others with knowledge)

"Adding an expensive DAC to the Bluesound is kind of like putting a $1,000 cartridge on a $500 turntable. Sure, it’ll sound better than the stock cart it came with, but you won’t come close to what that $1,000 cartridge is capable of, because the turntable isn’t up to the task."

I am curious on the basis of this comment. Is the digital output of the Node 2i so poor? I have heard/read that older streamers like Sonos Connect etc etc can have a jittery digital output but the Node 2i is a very recent unit. I would understand they cheap out on the built in DAC, but the digital section too?

There are cost effective digital stream cleaners/reclockers out there, well reputed, from Wyred4Sound and Ifi - but supposedly those are really useful for older/known poor digital sources like mid fi CD players, Macbooks, Sonos Connects, the like...
It's based on my experience trying outboard DACs and comparing to a better quality streamer/DAC (the TEAC NT-505).  The Node 2i is a nice product, and adding an external DAC can make it sound better.  Some say much better.  My experience was that it was a little better.  The NT-505 was much better. 

I still have a Node 2 in my bedroom system and am using the DAC in my Sony TA-ZH1ES instead of the Node 2's DAC.  It sounds really good.  I enjoy it and am not disappointed with the sound quality. 

However, I wanted to get the most out of my main system and when I compared sources - my turntable, CD player, and the Node 2 with an Auralic Vega DAC, the Node 2/Vega sound quality did not hold up to the rest of the sources in my system.  When I replaced the Node 2/Vega with the TEAC NT-505 it took streaming sound quality to another level.

I am not an engineer and can't tell you technical reasons why, but if it makes sense that everything in your system matters, then how can you expect a budget device like the Node 2i to provide a solid foundation that you can build on?  

For me, it was similar to my experience when I tried adding a bunch of "upgrades" and a nice cartridge to a budget turntable.  It did make improvements in sound quality, but at the end of the day, a better constructed turntable with better isolation, a better tonearm, and motor sounded much better, even with a cheap cartridge than the tricked out budget table did with all the upgrades.