Dazed and confused about streamer upgrade


I started a thread in the amp/preamp section asking about an integrated amp upgrade and got some good advice that made re-think my upgrade path.  I have a Macintosh MA8900, driving Vandersteen Treo CT’s, with a six pack of Rel S510’s.  I use a BluOS Node 2i as a streamer.  No CD’s, no need for storage.  I had thought about upgrading the Mac to a Boulder 866, but am now thinking I may get a bigger improvement for less dollars by upgrading the BluOS next.  I don’t know much about DACs and streamers, but am thinking that I should look at streamers only, since the 866 has a good DAC, and why pay for a combo DAC/ Streamer when the DAC will be bypassed.   Suggestions for a $3k to $5k streamer?  Or stick with upgrading the Mac? Thanks for any help!
cosmic_charlie
I’m not sure I’m understanding you. You either want the Boulder 866 digital version or get a better streamer for the MA8900?
You can approach streamer upgrade couple of ways, pair Node 2i with a better DAC before you upgrade to Boulder 866. The DAC inside McIntosh is likely no better than the DAC inside Node2i. You will get much better sound with a outboard DAC like MHDT Labs Orchid or Denafrips Pontus II.

If you go down the Boulder 866 route, look into Aurender N100 or N10 (used), either of these would provide substantial SQ upgrade over Node 2i.

Watch out for folks who are incapable of appreciating any differences between different streamers and DAC’s :-)

Good luck!
The Boulder 866 digital is a roon endpoint so I see no reason to buy a streamer with it just use roon.  If you upgrade the McIntosh with the DAC 2 module there are a few streamers without DACs you could use. I use the Lumin U1 mini but Bel Canto and Simaudio are good as well as others. 
No suggestions for wasting $3 to $5K.
I’m not into jewelry.
I just put Sunlight in the best current DAC and it makes a <$500 Allo set sound MUCH better than my BluNode.
You can't get there from here.
I recommend an Aurender, N100SC as a good place to start. I have owned a host of PCs and lessor streamers and an Auralic Aries G2. Aurenders are outstanding products and extremely good value for sound/price. They are audiophile quality construction and execution. You can use your DAC... and see which connection is better USB or AES/ SPDIF. The USB lets your DAC retime the bitstream. Likely the non- USB will be better. Their Conductor app that is used to operate it is very highly regarded. .

.

There flagship streamer is pretty much the standard at many equipment shows for sustems . It’s the kind of product you will have a very long time. When I bought my first Aurender it completely changed my attitude towards streaming. It pushed performance to the audiophile category and showed it was not just a novelty, but ready for prime time. I now listen to streaming 85% of the time and vinyl when I feel like fiddling and being a bit nostalgic. There is no reason to play a CD, streaming either sounds exactly the same, usually better because it is higher Rez (Qubuz recommended streaming service) But both analog and digital ends on my systems are equally satisfying.
I have an Aurender n100 sc. It is good and sounds better than the blue node that I have. But I also tried a Cambridge Audio cxn v2 and it sounds just as good as the Aurender. More versatile and the dac is pretty good also. $1100.00.  The Aurender is going to be for sale.
Imo if you want a reference class  dac $5-7 k you can get a great one  .I have the pontus 2, Holo springs another great price performance . Denafrips terminator$6k+, or Holosprings top May dac $5k and outstanding price performance most would be thrilled to have either.
never count on the dac in a streamer or integrated  to compete 
with a reference stand alone dac.

I too am running a Node 2i and am very happy with it.  

I have never listened to the onboard DAC.  I have tried 3 different DACs with good success.  

That said, I haven't tried other digital streamers and will watch this thread for recommendations. But first I would try a stand alone DAC.
Lots of good thoughts here, thanks for the responses.  Is there any consensus on whether a stand alone DAC, say in the $3k range, will be better than the built in DAC in the MA 8900, or the Boulder 866, or both?  In other words, how good are built in DACs, in amps in this price range?  Are they manufacturer throw-ins, or of a high quality, considering the cost of the amp?

And finally, if stand alones are, relatively speaking, generally better than built-ins, would you upgrade the streamer first or the DAC?
I just sold my Holo May DAC, Auralic Aries G2.1 streamer, Gryphon Diablo 300 Integrated. I ordered the Boulder 866 2 weeks ago and I should have it within a week or 2. I’ll let you know if it works out
@phaastm3
Nice—that is definitely all in on the Boulder!  Will look forward to your report!
I have Vandersteen Treos and I’m running an Auralic G1 streamer with a Benchmark DAC3. I should also say I’m using a Cisco ethernet switch with a Network Acoustics copper cable and copper EON passive filter. My streaming sound quality is extraordinary! (Using Quobuz)
@cosmic_charlie - I have the Node 2i in my system and use the onboard DAC, but I took a very different approach to improving sound quality.

I use very good cables i.e. both power and interconnect cables.

The resolution of the Node 2i is exceptional - i.e. when the cables allow it to be.

Unfortunately the cables I use are an extremely good DIY cable geometry, built from scratch using high quality parts/wires, so they are a little expensive and not for a novice DIYer.

But there are members willing to make them.

Take a look at this thread on the cable forum to give oyu an idea as to how good these cables are...
https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/duelund-conversion-to-diy-helix-geometry-cabling

If you want to go with commercially available cables I recommend cables from
- Nordost
- Inakustik
- KLE Innovations,

It may seem strange to equip, what is seemingly a budget streamer with expensive cables, but most of todays electronics is extremely good, but to keep costs low they skimp on power supply
- adding good power cables elevates the Node 2i to exceptional levels of performance
- adding good IC’s allow the Node 2i to convey its exceptional sound quality

FYI - I use the Node 2i connected via Ethernet - which improved sound greatly and I stream content from internet radio, Amazon Music and my NAS drive - they all sound amazing

I originally had the Node 2, but the Node 2i proved to be a lot better.

Another option would be to use one of the NAD streamers. The two companies are "related" and share a lot of the internal design approaches, but the NAD has a better power supply.

If you have any questions - ask away :-)

Regards - Steve