The Apple TV's optical output is definitely a weak link. I used one for several years because of the convenience and low cost but I didn't realize what a limitation it was until I replaced it with an Arcam rPlay. The increase in sound quality was dramatic. The rPlay does not contain a DAC, I connected it to first a Simaudio 300D and now a Wyred4Sound DAC1. The rPlay has the added advantage of being able to stream a number of the most popular high-res streaming services through the Play-Fi app. It can be set up using wifi or wired via Ethernet to your router.
I don’t know the DAC that you use, but the DAC in The Node2i is no great shakes. Easiest thing would be to try the Node by itself and make your own comparison running the Node into your DAC.
Remember, you can’t use the Node as a DAC with other digital sources, so eliminating the Schiit comes at the cost of losing some functionality
If you’re on a real tight budget, you can start of with a Chromecast Audio puck for $35 and a HiFi subscription to Tidal at $20/month. You can run the C.C. Audio through your Modi via (mini) optical connection and manage the content from your mobile device. I have mine running through a Modi Multibit in one of systems and the sound quality is very acceptable. Worth a try given the cost.
I tried the Chromecast and was not happy with it. It did not play well with Amazon Music and, to be honest, I do not particularly like dealing with Google.
Since my streaming is mostly low-res and used primarily to find music to buy, I might just need to focus on the DAC.
I keep going around in circles with this.
If I thought the SQ from the Node 2i's DAC was as good or better than the Modi 2 I might give it a try.
THe Node 2 is a renderer. The files on the external HD can be read by the Node 2 and then either convererted in analogue in it's own DAC or sent digitally to an exernal dac.
Whatthe Node 2 can't do is serve as a DAc for another digital component, such as the Apple TV, or a CD player, or even a regular TV that you wish to run through your AV system. You can use your current DAC for all of these components but if you sell off the Schiit and rely on the internal DAC of the Node2 to try and play these other pieces through your system you will not be able to
My node2i has one mini optical in. I wish people wouldn’t make repeated assertions about equipment they don’t use....
To OP, I can relate to your budget limitations.
Although the node 2 was easy to use, it got some bad reviews for its sound quality. The dac in the $500 2i is improved from that in the node 2 it replaced. It’s not the best dac ive heard (for $300 or $400 you can now get a fantastic sounding outboard dac that will convert even MQA) but to my ear it sounds better on its own than when I played it through my Schiit Modi (they call their newest Modi just a Modi, not modi 3) which is supposed to be better than the Modi 2 Uber (but I never had one). That is not saying much though. I’m not very impressed with the modi. I have two different inexpensive wi-fi devices with internal DACs that sound far better than the Modi: One is an old Gramofon that I got on eBay for 20 bucks. The Gramofon plays Spotify connect as good as $1000 DACs I’ve heard converting sonos. The Gramofon does not however play airplay. (The Airplay aspect of Apple TV use is another story and is also part of your current sound quality problem). The other is this inexpensive Klipsch WiFi bridge gizmo:
Klipsch 1063275 Gate Playfi Gateway Wireless Multi–Room Hub
This thing is like an Apple airport express (not a router) but designed specifically for audio. It sounds way better than Apple TV - which I regrettably used for years hooked straight into the optical port of my amp, not through the tv. I also tried Apple airport express, which was a slight improvement over Apple TV but still pretty bad, and Chromecast. (Chromecast audio puck is a non-starter, i tried one and I agree it sounds wretched and cannot be fixed by a dac or reclocker - I tried). Anyway, the SQ from the Klipsch is a little different but about as good (I think) as from my node2i. I feel sort of foolish saying this but the $35 gizmo sounds as good as the $500 toy. Others agree. I will add that I have played amazon music through my node 2i and it worked fine but have not tried it with the Klipsch gizmo. It’s playfi so I’m assuming it works.
Something to think about might be what you’re going to use the set up for. If you’re not playing a lot of your own files off your computer or network drive (which the node does quite nicely) and just using service(s) you can improve SQ pretty inexpensively. My view, and YMMV, you have to spend more than a grand on a good WiFi/streamer/server/dac setup to get significant improvement in SQ over one of the above <$40 approaches.
I have the Klipsch Gate and really like it. Sold both my node 2 and 2i as I didnt care much for the user interface or the sound quality.
My wife uses it for her Amazon music and I use it for Qobuz and Tidal. For $30 its a pretty good deal. Only thing I dont care for is the 3.5 mm out. So I ordered the Powergate which is $150 but has bluetooth, more idigital and analog inputs and rca outputs along with ethernet connection. I will most likely not use the 100 wpc hypex class d amp section.
Have you looked att Raspberry Pi based systems?
You can add s/pdif ports or dacs.
Or try some new integrated solution like this.
The Cambridge Audio CXN. Sounds good, I have one in my secondary system. Proprietary software works very well. Does well with Tidal, NAS, internet radio, and Airplay, I have not tried Spotify Connect. Disadvantages not Roon compliant, no MQA, and only does Qobuz via Airplay. Do believe you will need to use Airplay for your Amazon Music. Open box unit on CA website delivered for $510.
Just recently picked up a Meridian 218 a totally under-marketed little device. Geared towards custom installers, but has a 24 bit/192khz DAC, digital input/output, Roon support, and has full MQA decoding. Only downside, like all Meridian products, can only do 24/96 through Roon, unless it’s MQA. This can used as a preamp as well when paired with an IP controller, as well as Roon.
Been mostly paying Tidal through Roon and got to say it’s an amazing sounding device for the cost (retails for $1,000). To be honest I blew this off since it’s labeled as a Zone Controller, until I heard the 251 (same as 218 but with a digital amp) paired with Vandersteen speakers and I was blown away at the clarity and smoothness, especially for the size of the device.
I’ve just setup a Bluenode into my McIntosh 252 amp. It sounds amazing!
Before I purchased it I considered getting Chord DAC but for my needs I think it’s overkill. I’m quite happy with just the Bluenode.
I did add recently an Amazon Echo Input so my wife can use Alexa commands. The quality is noticeably worse as expected but for background music when we are cooking it’s handy.
This has been mentioned already, but I wanted to comment on a Raspberry Pi based option. Look at the Allo Digione Signature. It’s plug and play and it’s fantastic! I have one in my bedroom system. Play this through your digital coax input on your Schiit dac. You can upgrade the dac later if you feel it’s necessary. I play mine through a Cambridge Audio Dacmagic 100 which is connected to a Rega intergrated amp and a pair of Scan Speak 2 way monitors. Very nice sound.
Just bought an Elac Discovery DAC/Streamer that operates with Roon Essentials - basically a limited version of Roon Server. This licence comes free (lifetime) with the device. No Roon fees. Anyway, some of the limitations are a 30,000 track limit and no DSD. It plays 192/24 files. The hardware has been MQA certified, but Elac has not announced full MQA support yet - I think it will come in a future update of Roon Essentials. The device sounds fantastic. I’ve added a number of Internet FLAC radio stations that sound great. The device has two analog outs and one digital out - either an SPDIF or Optical. So you can output to a better DAC. Tidal is part of the Roon Essentials - so I'm on a 30 day Tidal trial at the moment. Spotify also works well with the Discovery. Good deal at Best Buy - clearance sale.