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I have tried it in my system but I have separates and my results were quite opposite. Putting my tube preamp in between Node 2 and my amplifier profoundly improved the sound quality, in particular the soundstage depth/width was much more pronounced and of course the added lush midrange from the tubes. There are a few threads about folks going directly to amplifiers from DACs and the results are very mixed and highly system dependent. In your case it sounds like the preamp section of the Aria is not contributing to the sound quality.
In a modest streaming bedroom system, I use the Node 2 with good results direct into an Acurus amp and a pair of Jamo bookshelf speakers. You just can't beat the compactness and good quality of this simple set-up. Does anyone hear improvement with an aftermarket power cord on the Node 2? For this purpose I wish that it had a standard IEC female instead of a cable box-type two-pin AC connector.
I go direct with great results as well, however, I also think it's system dependent. For me the Node 2 has worked well as a preamp of sorts. I've used it this way with several amps, all without issue. In fact, I just took delivery of a Decware SE84UFO a couple days ago and once again, no issues and sounds fantastic.
I've had an aftermarket power cord on my Node 2 for two months now. Adding the cord resulted in a quieter more relaxed sound; tone, detail and resolution all improved. I also had the C7 inlet on the Node 2 replaced (the prongs on the Node 2 are woefully undersized). This enhanced the improvements that the power cord made.
Cullen Cable made the power cord as well as replaced the C7 inlet. Here's a pic of the cord and the C7 plug with the Node 2.
I just replaced the Bluesound Node2 in my main system with a Lumin T1 and yes the T1 is better (as it should be for the price) but the Bluesound Node2 has to be one of the best bargains in Hi Fi. I love it. I have moved it to a second system in a bedroom and I am running it directly into an Audio Research 100.2 power amp. I just set it up yesterday so I haven't had time to do much listening but my initial reaction is that it is ok but I think it would probably sound better running through a preamp. Down the road I might try it with a preamp in this second system. I always ran it through a preamp when it was in my main system.
WhatHiFi gave the Node 2 a mediocre review regarding sound quality, and high regarding everything else. That was using the analog outs of the Node 2. I would like to hear from people who use the Node 2 as a DIGITAL source with their own DAC. Does that significantly improve the SQ potential for the Node 2?
I have used the Node 2 in various configurations and performs well in some, mediocre in others. I try to remember the price which makes it a “budget” component. Many are using it as a streamer, wired or wireless link to digital library, preamp and DAC. Those are many and varied tasks. If you pair it with a really good preamp, and really good DAC it will punch way above it’s weight class. Try an ARC preamp and an Ayre DAC. Any really good tube preamp will be better than using the Node 2 as a preamp.
I don’t think it fair to compare it to much pricier components. It will not hold up...
peter_s, I have compared the analog and the digital outputs of Node2 using two different DACs; Schiit Modi Multibit and DACmagic Plus. These DACs didn't seem to add much to the quality of the sound as compared with the analog output, in my system. The Schiit sounded just a tad better but only if you really paid attention. Based on what I've read here and elsewhere, a much higher quality DAC like an Ayre Codex or Benchmark DAC will improve the sound but it ultimately boils down to the system and whether or not the rest of the system is capable of delivering that incremental improvement.
For a budget component, Node 2 does lot of things exceedingly well. As many already suggested, Node2 will sound better with outboard quality DAC.
I have my Vault 2 connected to my ARC preamp and DAC. I listened to MQA tracks using Vault 2 analog output via my pre and non-MQA tracks using SPDIF out to my DAC. In both instances, Vault 2 provides very satisfying musical experience.
I use a Node 2 connected to an Ayre Codex via a high quality glass optical interconnect. The sound of this combo is stunning for the price. Much, much better than the Node 2 with it's own Dac. Although there is nothing wrong with it's on board Dac. One other thing I did that was recommended was to connect the Codex to an amp with XLR's if said amp has balanced input capabilities. The SQ took another leap forward. I pretty much listen to this pairing more often than my CD player or my turntable. To me, it's that good. IMHO.....YMMV.