Do different streamers really sound different when using an external DAC

Maybe this has been posted before but it seems that often when a post is made where someone has gotten better sound it’s because it was the streamer with included DAC that was changed, not just the streamer. No doubt a better internal DAC,  better file resolution, a better music service, will make a difference.

But I just want to see comparison of streamer to streamer with the same DAC implementation. I am currently using a Bluesound Node2i outputting via Coax into a high quality tube DAC
So here’s the million dollar question.

What have been your experiences in upgrading streamers, keeping everything else the same ie, DAC, cables, output type (Coax)? No doubt better control apps and having a display will elevate your experience but how about just sound quality. Anyone?


I posted something on this recently. The exact streamer and exact media renderer should not sound very different at all. Yet it is about implementation and of course easy to mess up setting in the process. I find one path to be absolutely flawed. 

 Thread title: "DLNA audio quality test with 3 different media renderers same speakers"
It sure can matter. Noise is the devil and computer vs. streamer, cable type vs others, wifi vs wired, software vs. software can all make a difference in the SQ. Not to mention UX, but that's 10 entirely different searches you should consider. 
A significant amount of content both here and at audiophilestyle cover this in great detail. Cheers,
All great suggestions, thanks.
I have found the node 2i a significant improvement over a macbook via USB so am committed to streaming. Using a better outboard DAC improves further on the internal DAC. 

So now I'm just trying to figure out the next step for further improvement. Hopefully someone who was using a Node 2i with an external DAC who changed up their streamer can pipe in.

What I don't want to do is spend $$$ on another streamer, only to find it to be a lateral move to a different sonic signature that does not serve the music better. 
Every DAC sounds different to a degree. Glad you determined that any streamer sounds better than a computer. When you find a DAC you really enjoy plug the BluSound in. Enjoy the internal one now but remember it’s only a $100-150 DAC.
Sorry, no ’change up’ here. I bought 4 more, all better and use them all.  BluSound is the only one that does Tidal Comnect.

I do have an external DAC that I really like that I have the Bluesound hooked into and like what I hear compared to the internal DAC. Just wondering if a streamer upgrade with my new DAC will bring me more. My external DAC does not do MQA, So I am not getting all the unfolds of the MQA process but despite that, MQA Tidal sounds better with the new DAC than full unfold through the internal DAC of the Node 2i.  I'm not convinced that with Tidal Masters MQA of itself is what makes it better. 
If I recall, the Node doesn't do a full MQA unfold.-Just the preliminary unfold. Only MQA Dac's do the full unfold.
I never found MQA to be superior to a high resolution version.
@ gdnrbob
The Node 2i does indeed to the full MQA unfold if using it's internal DAC but I do agree with your last comment.

I also run a Node 2i and stream Tidal, and use a tube integrated amp. Curious as which Tube DAC you use? Thanks
It can of course  but in practice I’ve found any difference between two good quality streamers is relatively small compared to most everything  else so it’s about the last thing I would tend to worry about in most cases. 
Upgrades for your Node; change stock PC to an aftermarket C7 cable, use CAT8 ethernet from router to Node.
I use a Cullen C7 PC and the improvement in SQ was dramatic. Also, wired is better quality than wifi, also no dropouts.
My Node is connected to an Audio Note dac.

Great question. That is exactly where I'm at now. I want to upgrade to a streamer and use my Classe SSP-800's DAC. I thought about the Node 2i but if you use an external DAC you only get 24/96 out of the Node.

I was looking at the Bryston BDP-π for $1300 which is about as high as I want to go pricewise. I have TIDAL and was thinking I'd want a TIDAL Connect device but since that is WiFi maybe the best sonics comes from a hard wired Ethernet connection?
I have a modem upstairs for my desktop so I'd need a downstairs Ethernet as well.

I'm not advanced enough to know what's better. Maybe one of you wise Sages can help me out. Thanks.
Yes. With their DAC. But I read that if you use the SPDIF digital coax out, only 24/96. Bluesound's website does not clarify.

If I am wrong then I'd sure like to know!
I can weigh directly in on your situation. I have a Node 2 and bought a Mytek Manhattan II DAC with network card (streamer). Initially I set it up as you have with the Node 2 going into the Manhattan via high quality Coax. Then I directly compared it to the network card in the DAC. No question that the Mytek network card sounds better than the node 2 streamer. 
I will say that the difference between the DAC in the node 2 and the DAC in the Mytek was much greater than the difference between the streamers. But yes, the streamer made a clear and noticeable difference. The only reason I ever use the Node anymore is if there is something on the radio I want to listen to - my brother-in-law is a DJ in Irvine CA and I like hearing his show - and the Mytek interface doesn’t allow for radio streaming. 
I responded before realizing I was the first one to actually directly address your initial post. The Mytek is fully MQA compatible - as is the Node 2 (note: I have the 2 not the 2i).  I stream both Tidal as well as Quboz. I’ve not heard a particular difference between those 2 services which surprised me as most on here tend to prefer Quboz. Let me know if you have any specific questions - I’d be happy to share. 
The BS Note2i does not sound good at all without the External DAC. I have to turn on the volume high but it is a convenience. I have been exchanging the Bifrost for the Gungnir and will see in the next few weeks. Hopefully, the Gungnir is much better than.
True that the node 2i output is only 24/96 if using an external DAC. That being said, resolution isn't everything. Implementation is very important.

A bit like cameras where you chase the megapixels as the only determinate of image quality when there is so much more like lens quality that goes into the equation.

I use wifi and have zero dropouts. I have never considered a hardwired ethernet connection.

I have compared the quality of the same file via a drive hooked into a computer on my network vs the same file on a flash drive connected to the USB input of the node 2i and found little  discernable difference. You can't get any more direct than the USB input so I doubt in my set up a direct wired ethernet would make much of a difference.

I have thought about a better power cord for the 2i so thanks for the input on that, lowrider57
I'm using a Musical Paradise MP-D2 Mk3 Deluxe DAC. They are a very small company ( one man show) in Western Canada that designs the DAC and is then made in China.

Really wonderful DAC that punches well above its price point. Also very configurable, and very well built,  great for tube rolling as in can use many different tubes in the gain section and even choose 5  or 6 volt tube rectifiers, all switchable. You can even upgrade coupling capacitors easily as they are attached by  internal  binding posts, just like speaker terminals.
Yes. With their DAC. But I read that if you use the SPDIF digital coax out, only 24/96. Bluesound’s website does not clarify.

If I am wrong then I’d sure like to know!
vinylshadow, there’s a lot of confusion about this, but I would trust our members to confirm Node digital to Dac is capable of 24/192:

And this:
"If not playing MQA content, your external DAC should receive the original bitrate (i.e. if playing 24/192 from Qobuz (non-MQA), your external DAC will get 24/192)."

I second feldmen4’s comments.  I had the same experience, except with a PS Audio DirectStream DAC.  First using Node 2, then using the Bridge II card, each with the same DAC.  PS Audio’s Bridge II is far better as a streamer than the Node 2.  More body, fuller sound, added depth.  But I have to assume that has a lot to do with the Bridge II being custom-built for (and only for) the DirectStream.  Turning to OP’s question, which suggests he’s not changing his new DAC to a DirectStream any time soon: I’ve been swimming in audio for years and, while I can’t prove it or direct you to any authoritative treatises on this, I think a dedicated streamer like an Auralic will sound better than the streamer that is 1/2 of the $500 Node 2.  But I’m not sure I’d expect a big jump from an entry level streamer; that Node is pretty impressive for the money.  
When I switched from the Bluesound Vault2i and Node2i streamers to the SOtM SMS-200 Ultra Neo streamer, there was a definite, noticeable, without a doubt difference.  My DAC stayed exactly the same, no charge.  The SMS-200 was much more confusing and harder to configure and I missed the Bluesound app that I had been used to, but it sounded better with more detail and resolution that was very noticeable.
I’ve been pondering this question for weeks, and the bluesound node 2i’s manual does not clarify. I’m told that the node only does the full unfold via a usb connection. The only problem though, is the node only has a usb input. So this has left me to believe the only way to get the full unfold is by using its dac via rca cables. The node has a pretty good sounding dac, however being that I can’t leave well enough alone, I’ve purchased the mytek liberty which should do the full unfold via toslink or spdif. And yes I’ve replaced the nodes power cord and I have a hardwired Ethernet connection using a fiber optic “ bridge”. I was supposed to receive the mytek today, but with the weather it won’t be till Monday. I’ll report back my findings at that time.
To the OP:

Yes - the streamer function makes a significant difference. I started with a Node 2 going into an outboard DAC. I personally experienced a greater improvement by going to a better streamer than I did going to a better DAC.  Others feel otherwise so YMMV.

I have multiple data points to support my own experience including auditioning multiple units in my system.  One particularly notable experience:  Before I settled into my current setup, I auditioned a Simaudio 390 D - a unit that includes preamp, DAC and their MiND streamer function. I placed the unit in system to drive my amp and connected the unit via Ethernet (not WiFi).  It sounded quite nice  - it’s a good unit overall. 

Then I placed my current streamer back into the system (connected via Ethernet again) and used it to feed the 390 D via USB.  No other changes.  It was not even close.  While I liked the preamp, DAC and control app for the 390 D, I passed.  I was looking to upgrade my DAC and was thinking I could sell my streamer and have a better and simplified system.  

I kept my streamer because it turned out to be the most significant component in my chain. 

Some would say this was an unfair comparison as my streamer is 75% of the cost of the 390 which has a preamp and DAC too.  Yes, it was unfair.  But, I was also thinking at the time - how could it make that much difference?  My bias going in was the DAC is the key. 

Audition a better unit in your system.  I suggest specifically listening for spatial information. Perhaps you’ll find an improvement. Perhaps not.  There’s really only one way to find out.

The node has a pretty good sounding dac, however being that I can’t leave well enough alone, I’ve purchased the mytek liberty which should do the full unfold via toslink or spdif. And yes I’ve replaced the nodes power cord and I have a hardwired Ethernet connection using a fiber optic “ bridge”.
By the time you've done all this, you've spent more money than you would on a really good streamer/DAC like the TEAC NT-505 and still don't come close to the sound quality of the TEAC. 

Sell the Bluesound, put the $300 or so you get for it towards the NT-505 which is being blown out for $1200 by TEAC right now and for $900 you have a really nice sounding streamer / DAC that will do MQA, DSD, and pretty much anything you want it to, other than it doesn't support as many music services as the Bluesound.  The Bluesound interface is really its best feature and hard to beat.

I hate to sound like a fanboy for the TEAC, but after having already gone down this path myself I'd like to help others keep from throwing good money after bad. 

The Mytek Liberty is a very "digital" sounding DAC, very analytical.  Adding it will sound a little better than the Bluesound on its own, and the little light will come on for MQA, but unless you prefer etched analytical sound over warm yet detailed "analog" like sound, you'll be replacing it before long.  Of all the DACs I've owned, the Liberty was my second least favorite.

Anything you do to try to make the Bluesound sound better is a band aid.  It's not a bad sounding unit, not by any means.  But if you're chasing sound quality, there are much better sounding sources available.  All the fancy power cords, cables, and external DACs you slap on it are only going to take it so far.  And that won't be as far as replacing the whole shebang with a better streamer/DAC.  

I have the Node 2i & a Mytek Brooklyn DAC+. The Node 2i does not need a USB connection to output the MQA file/stream to the Mytek DAC.

When properly configured as per the manual, you will see the MQA symbol and the blue or green dot next to it on the Mytek display showing it is receiving the MQA.
In your BluOS settings, set "MQA external DAC" to on. I have replay gain disbled, and output level fixed is forced on as long as the external DAC is set.
In answer to your question "Do different streamers really sound different when using an external DAC?", in my meager experience the answer is 'yes'.
I went from using the Node2i internal DAC to an external Jolida DAC and now a Border Patrol SE-i DAC. With each change in the DAC stage I noted improvements in soundstage and detail.

Make of that what you will. :)Happy listening.

In answer to your question "Do different streamers really sound different when using an external DAC?", in my meager experience the answer is ’yes’.
I went from using the Node2i internal DAC to an external Jolida DAC and now a Border Patrol SE-i DAC. With each change in the DAC stage I noted improvements in soundstage and detail.

think you may have misunderstood the op’s question...

but my experience is the same as yours...

same decent streamer like node 2i -----> various outboard dacs results in vastly improved sound quality

changing different streamers -----> same outboard dac sounds basically the same
Silly me!
Yes, total reading comprehension fail on my part. I only got it exactly backwards. LOL
"Never mind." - Emily Latella
Happy listening.

Thanks everyone. I think there are all valid points made.

There is no question that a better external DAC improves on the internal DAC of the Node 2i.  

Seems like the streamer also is key but perhaps not as significant.YMMV!

I suspect it might be a significant point of diminishing returns where one would have to spend a lot more $$$ on a stand alone streamer to have a significant improvement in sound. So many of the top streamers seem to have DACs in them rather than being stand alone so you often need to get the baby with the bathwater so to speak.
FWIW, I found that there was a substantial difference in sound quality with a Pro-ject Stream Box S2 Ultra streamer when turning off the Wi-Fi and HDMI outputs and using an Ethernet cable. Not sure if you can turn off Wi-Fi on the Node 2i.
"There is no question that a better external DAC improves on the internal DAC of the Node 2i.  

Seems like the streamer also is key but perhaps not as significant.YMMV!"

I think you hit the nail on the head there. But IME, you don't need to spend a ton to get a better sounding streamer than the Node 2i. Have you read about the Sonore microRendu? It's very flexible and reliable, with regular firmware upgrades. One key aspect of the SQ with a streamer is the power supply. microRendu can be used with an inexpensive iFi that's great on a tight budget or something better when cost allows such as Uptone, Sbooster, Paul Hynes or Sonore's own. The 2part review by Chris Connaker does a great job explaining the pros & cons in detail. 
I've compared it alongside a number of listeners against many streamers that cost thousands and the microRendu always held its own or better. One caution, this all assumes you are streaming from a service or have your own library on a NAS. There's no internal storage, which while debatable for some, IMHO is an advantage, especially if you have a large library and are on a budget. Cheers,

Thanks for that Spencer. Interesting to read about the Sonore. Unfortunately not a solution for me as my new DAC does not have a USB input and I really LOVE this DAC. The first thing I will do is switch to an ethernet connection, easy to implement. Then moving up the streamer food chain would be a good move I suspect, something like an Auralic streamer perhaps. Certainly open to suggestions in that area, but want to avoid products that have a buggy or unfriendly control app. The control app is one of the nice things about the Node 2i.

Anyone have experience with using the USB input as a sole method of accessing music files on the Node 2i, as opposed to NAS. In the past not really a viable option with traditional hard drives but with the price of SSDs now might be worth considering.
@alvinnir2, one thing to keep in mind when researching various streamers is that many (maybe most) aren't tied to one control app like the Blu and Aurelic, which both are known for pretty nice apps. Look for references to DLNA, UPnP and/or Open Home renderers in streamers. This will tell you that they're compatible with any control app of that type. For example, I used the Lumin app mostly. Linn Kazoo, 8player, Audionet and others can be used with many, many streamers. 

This more open nature was a deciding factor for me years ago when I chose my Sonore over an Aurelic. I didn't want to get tied in with software dependent on a relatively small company that's mainly a hardware manufacturer. Now that Aurelic's newer models are Roon Ready I'd be far less concerned, since Roon has >100K subscribers and agreements with a huge number of hardware manufacturers. With Roon doing the software, I enjoy a better experience and have a much higher level of confidence that my gear will soon be obsolete in that regard.

@sbank ,
Great point!
I ended up with Innuous-mostly because I can run two systems simultaneously- something most streamers don't offer.
But, being able to use either Squeezebox or Roon is a plus.
Though I hate paying for software, I think I am going with Roon as it has a nice interface. Squeezebox seems a little rough around the edges, but what do you expect for a $5 software program?
i agree w the point that streamers' sound quality needs to be balanced against the quality and flexibility of the user interface it affords - it is a huge part of the quality of the user experience!

early on i tried a volumio primo... a very well reputed streamer, but i just could not enjoy the interface and how it interacted with services like tidal... how to save or bookmark music etc etc

i have also tried some of the generic dnla interfaces like bubble-upnp... it’s ok but not all that great to me

part of the reason why i gravitate back to the bluesound... somehow blu os is more agreeable to me, more polished and also more flexible and easy to use

that been said, many i know just love roon and find the additional monthly cost very much worth it - i have been resisting trying it for fear of liking it... 😆
I have a Node 2i going to a Chord Qutest with a Teddy Pardo LPS.
have been pondering an “upgrade” to the streamer/“transport”.

I have read much of a comparison between Lumin U1 Mini and Node 2i. In the end, from at least what I have read here and elsewhere, the difference and increase in SQ may come from the Lumin connected via Ethernet and not WiFi.

so, I wonder if connecting Node via Ethernet will do the trick.
I already bought an audioquest PC for it but can’t say that I really heard a difference. It was just a $75 purchase anyway.

what I have NOT heard of is any review or opinion that shows A to B, apples to apples, that a n alternative to the node is actually better . Assuming DAC is the same. 
I wonder if the hard wiring benefit is for homes with a poor wifi ? My home has very good wifi and I never get dropouts.

It would be great to get some input from Node 2i users who have directly compared wifi to ethernet hard wire without any other changes to cloud the comparison.

For me to easily implement wired ethernet would require a long and unsightly ethernet cable run and from what I read ethernet cables can create their own problems. Additionally, some streamer manufacturers claim that wifi sounds better than ethernet because of their proper implementation of the wifi section of their streamers.

In the meantime, I have put a few Hi Rez files on a USB flash drive that I will hook up to the USB input of the node 2i and compare it to the same files via WiFi. If it is an improvement over the wifi I may be shopping for an external SSD drive; they are quite reasonable in price these days.
I bought an auralic Aries g2 last year, fully planning to return it when I proved to myself that it would not improve on my Sonos connect to my metrum pavane. Much to my surprise it was a very nicely improved sound, with noticeable improvements in detail and still very musical. Both were wired to the Ethernet in my home. I also was using a w4s reclocker with the connect, which did help it, but was not needed with the auralic. So of course I kept the auralic. I later took auralic’s advice and compared the wireless connection to the Ethernet connection and yes as they recommend, it is slightly better again connected wirelessly, counterintuitive as the is.
I suggest you do as I did and just buy a similar product and return it if you don’t hear an improvement.
I've been using the Node2 for about 3 years now through various developments in my system which now consists of;

Ethernet>EtherRegen>Node2>Custom SPDIF Coax>Schiit GungnirMB>Audioquest Mackenzie XLR>Luxman 507uxII>Klipsch Forte3.

I have upgraded cables throughout - mostly Wireworld mid tier.  I can say that each upgrade has made the Node2 sound better and the most recent addition of the EtherRegen has been the most significant.  Lower noise floor and more musical - just better all around.  That said, aside from changing the PSU and adding an external linear supply I've squeezed everything I can out of the Node2 for digital streaming.  I don't use any power conditioners so maybe that could reduce some noise and be the last drop if juice but i'm not ready to spend big money on power conditioners yet.

I recently visited a local hifi shop to listen the U1 mini which they had setup with the Chord Dave doing the DAC duties.  They also hooked up the Node2i with the Chord Dave for direct comparison.  It did not take long to hear the difference between the U1 Mini and Node2i streaming to the same same system.  Deeper bass, wider soundstage and just a cleaner, clearer sound overall.  A definite upgrade.  I also had the opportunity to listen to the U1, T2 and X1 which were in different systems/rooms so it was very hard to know how much of an upgrade over the U1 mini but they all sounded fantastic.

It's clear to me that streamers have a considerable impact on the sound of the digital stream.  In addition the reduction of jitter/noise by the addition of EtherRegen is real.  

I think i'll start saving my pennies for U1.  It's a big nut but I think it will be worth it.  I think it could be the most significant upgrade next to speaker and power.  You gotta start with the best source possible right?

One problem, I love my Node2.  This thing works.  No fuss, Tidal connect, custom radio streams, no dropouts - it has been rock solid.  And, it sounds good!!  Like really good.  If someone came to my house and we put on some tunes they would never know the difference.  The problem is, once you hear what is possible it's hard to go back.  I'll always have that comparison in the back of my mind.  But that's a $500 plastic box vs $7K dedicated streamer!!

This hobby sucks....

@ Alvin

No! Not at all about drop outs, but more about some sort of noise with wifi that can corrpt signal compared to ethernet direct.

and NO AGAIN on your need to get bad wires. just get one of there:
Unsure why the device you recommended would be an improvement over my current wifi set up on the node 2i. It seems as if this is  a wifi extender that I would then hook up via ethernet cable to the mode 2i. Would a unit like this somehow implement the wifi signal better than what the node 2i does? Appreciate your explanation. did using this device sound better with the node 2i compared to the node 2i accessing the wifi directly?
i would think a mesh router system would work better, but i am not at all expert at these wifi gadgets

some time back i had bought a classic plug in extender and it doesn't work that great... sets up its own wifi address and it tends to cut in and out as phone and tablet tries to connect to it at that end of the house

did not use it for my hifi... just general use as wifi extender

So I think I understand now. The WLAN device replaces the wifi receiver part of the node 2i so I can then just use an ethernet cable to connect it to the Node2i. Was this improvement you had with this device worthwhile enough with the Node 2i such that you are no longer lusting after the Lumin?
@mattshere PSU upgrade and also iFi SPDIF iPurifier 2 all powered with good linear power supplies. Add the Gutwire Ultimate Grounding cable on the RCA port and then it's maxed out. You'll be surprised how much more you get out of the Bluesound.
Alvin, I have not yet done this. Yet I am curious as I read reviews where the person only marginally prefers Lumin over BS and I’ve always wondered if it’s just the case where Ethernet is slightly better than wifi.

I may just follow my own advice...
then there’s the choice of 1m Ethernet cables....