Buying a DAC when you can't try it first


this is a generic "advice please" post.
I'm driving magnepan .7's with a primaluna evo 400 with KT150 tubes.
Most of my music nowadays it tidal streamed via a chromecast audio (CCA) with the optical output going into the DAC of a MusicHall C-DAC (its a CD player with a DAC that can be used by external sources).

I'm planning an upgrade path and leaning toward getting a DAC like the SMSL SU-9 or Cambridge DACMagic Plus and running the CCA optical through the new DAC. But i have no idea if those DAC's or something else at that price is going to improve on the musichall DAC (which some reviews say is a decent DAC).

Or should I ditch the CCA and separate DAC go the streamer route....but I'm worried that tying a streamer and DAC together limits upgrade path. However i am not totally against it. 

I'm just not sure if i even will hear anything measurably better than what I have so thought I'd reach out to you people for your thoughts and experiences. 

....sigh.

mid-fi-crisis
Topping D10 to replace my Philips CD630 refrence Cd player did read only the testing bought it compared it an found it in the lows way more tight an precies.
And it is no coincidence that this 79.- euro DAC had the same outcome in numoures independent test.

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-topping-d10-da...
https://hometheaterhifi.com/reviews/dac/topping-d10-usb-dac-and-usb-spdif-converter-review/
I think the streamer element of the Chromecast Audio is amazing, but it needs to be run through software like Roon rather than casting to it. Casting to CCA is not so good.  Remember they made these in their millions so the costs were stripped back through mass manufacturing.   The DAC on the CCA is not so good sounding. 

So streaming with the CCA via say roon then via a good quality DAC would be the best way of spending your money. If you are keeping the blue sound then just buy a better DAC.  

I was in the same situation as you I found the improvement from CCA streamer to better streamer (using roon) a subtle improvement but the leap from an average to a good DAC a large improvement.  
Another vote for Audio Mirror or MHDT DACs. I own the AM.
@mid-fi-crisis,

Keep in mind, these NOS/Tube DACs are somewhat the flavor of the day in a subset of the audio community. Some love them, some don't.  If you are going for that "vinyl" sound, then perhaps they are the right choice for you. If you are not, then keep your choices open.


Some things to keep in mind,

Supposedly, Tidal Connect now supports 24/96 on Chromecast and includes the first 2 unfold steps. That does not get you the full MQA support that the Bluesound Node2i does, but gets you a lot of the way there.


If you use the Node2i as opposed to the CCA to drive the MusicHall, digitally, it looks like the signal may be similar (24/96 - 2 levels unfolded).  Since you are going optical, there is no electrical interference transferred from either the Chromecast or the Node2i.  The Chromecast is obviously not a high end device, but it is not like the jitter is going to be wickedly bad (optical already is).  If you can use the coax output on the Node2i, that will probably be better, but it can introduce electrical noise.  You probably also want to disable the Audio Clock Trim and make sure you have MQA external DAC turned off in the Node2i since your external DAC is not MQA enabled.

TIDAL is pretty much it for MQA.  Qoboz no. Amazon Music no.  Will Apple, Spotify or Google use it if they go to an HD tier? Seems unlikely. I expect there are licensing fees to balance against data costs that are always declining.
As others have said, try another dac connected to the Node 2.

The Absolute Sound has recommended components in the latest issue, you can find some DACs to investigate. Or just ask in a new thread here about a good dac to add to your Node 2.

Shiit usually gets many recommendations. Chord Qutest is also popular if you are ok with spending more.