Experience with Bluesound Node 2 use with external DAC


I am very impressed with the Node 2.  So far my use of the Node has been with it's built in DAC.  It sounds great.  Since I don't own an outboard DAC I have had no other choice but to use the Node's DAC.  It is hard to fault it's DAC at any price much less the $500 price of the Node.  That being said, I realize there are alternatives out there than can improve upon the built in DAC.  I am at a point now where I am curious to hear what an external DAC may have to offer in terms of sound quality.  For those of you who are running a Node through an external DAC, what would you recommend and what type of improvement have you experienced vs DAC in the Node.
randyhat
When I visited Audioconnection in NJ. Johnny demoed the Bluesound Node 2 using the internal DAC vs running through the Ayre Codex.
The Ayre was a definite step up in resolution (though the onboard DAC was no slouch).
I ended up buying the Ayre for my Node 1 and love it. The Bluesound lets me listen thoughout the house and the Ayre gives me the best sound output.
B

@randyhat - you would need a pretty good DAC to better the DAC in the Node 2.

I had a Schiit Bifrost with the 4490 upgrade. One might think that a $400 external DAC should be better than an all-in-one box. However, the Node 2’s internal DAC+analogue output stage bettered the Bifrost considerably.

The Ayre Codex (@gdnrbob above) looks like one such DAC that can provide higher quality music - perhaps the Schit Gungnir or Yggy as well

Have you tried treating the Node 2 to some really great cables?

I already had a great power cable, but I used a IEC-C7 figure 8 adapter

Simply replacing the IEC-C7 figure 8 adapter with a C7 figure 8 connector on the mains cable made a significant improvement to SQ.

Good cables provide the following benefits...
- laser precision imaging with more space around individual performers
- larger image that exceeds the room boundaries
- significant improvement in clarity
- improved micro details e.g. more realistic venue acoustics

The Node 2 elevated my digital music to the level of my analogue rig, so I’ve stopped pursuing the next upgrade - for now at least :-).

Now I’m just enjoyin’ the music - Steve
I have never used the Node 2 built in DAC. I have always used my Benchmark or Schiit external DAC, which I have owned for years. But I plan on trying it out.... soon.
@williewonka 
I concur, the Schiit DAC's are pretty good. I have a Gungy (after a Modi and Bifrost Multibit). Though my Gungy isn't a Multibit, it comes close to the Codex.
As, I said, when Johnny played music first through the Bluesound and then the Codex, the difference was instantly perceptible. The Codex sounded alive.
Though, I will admit the inboard DAC on the Bluesound is not to be dismissed-especially for the price.
B
I've read, in these fora and elsewhere, that the Mytek Brooklyn DAC, which decodes MQA, works great with the Bluesound Node 2. I've been tempted by this combo, and nearly made the leap a couple of times, but I'm still stuck -- for some reason. If the DAC in the Node is as good as folks are saying, perhaps I should just go down that road, knowing I could get the Brooklyn later on should I get that itch.
-- Howard
@hodu 
This is only my opinion, but...
DAC technology is evolving quickly. I would be hesitant to spend major dollars for a DAC as it will be surpassed in the near future, hence, my choice of Ayre and Schiit. They are reasonably priced and have a good history for providing upgrades.
I have no experience with Mytek. I know they are well respected, but do not know if their DAC's can be upgraded. 
Bob
Although I have never tried a Musical Fidelity DAC, I did own the v-link192 USB-SPDIF converter, which was superb. Coupled with the Bifrost, it made digital music sing

If they put that amount of effort into a USB-SPDIF converter i would have to believe their DAC’s are also very worthy products

If you want to use USB, then I would suggest you look at the MF lineup - since their USB interface appears to be excellent.

Regards

What's unusual about the Codex is the lack of digital coax input and you need to use the optical port which is generally less desirable, at least based on what I've read. I'm assuming that's how the Node 2 was connected to the Codex since as far as I know Node 2 does not have a USB output port. As for the OP's question, I have used a Cambridge Audio DACmagic Plus with Node 2 using the digital coax output port and I didn't hear much improvement. I now just use this DAC with my CDP which does make the CDs sound a lot better.
@kalali - have you tried a better power supply on the Dacmagic?

I had the original DACmagic prior to my Bifrost and it responded very well when I replaced the power supply. but even with its tweaked power supply, the Bifrost provided better SQ overall. .

The other piece of the puzzle are the IC’s you used to connect everything. If they are not "GREAT" cables then you will not really hear just how good the Node-2 (or any other component) really is

The improvements I hear t this level of performance are image, dynamics and clarity (i.e. venue acoustics)

As far as Optical Input - a good cable again will improve performance - one of the best value cables I have is from DH Labs - it provided a huge improvement over the Chord and Van den Hul cables I already had.

BTW: I agree about the lack of SPDIF RCA input on the Codex - a bit strange in light of the many negative comments about Optical interface performance issues

Hope that helps
williewonka, I looked everywhere for the aftermarket power supply that was at one time available for the Cambridge Audio DACmagic but couldn't find one. I'd appreciate it if you know how to find one. Someone mentioned about changing the Node 2 power cord and I completely agree with their assessment. Definitely a worthwhile upgrade. I'd also read somewhere about putting some weights on top of the unit to dampen resonances but haven't tried it yet. Sort of makes sense I guess.
@kalali - you can simply go into ebay and search for "12v DC linear power supply" - I found lots to choose from and most of them had nice looking construction using toroid transformers.- raniging form around $70-$150

All you might have to do is attach the right power connector

Cambridge Audio will tell you it is not advisable - because they want you to buy the next component up their chain, but getting a new power supply will improve the SQ a great deal.

I had the previous version with a 12v ac supply - so I simply put a good transformer into a case - no DC component ot mess with.

Hope that helps - Steve
@gdnrbob - I just re-read your comments from an earlier post

  As, I said, when Johnny played music first through the Bluesound and then the Codex, the difference was instantly perceptible. The Codex sounded alive.
On second reading I realized this was an in-store audition, which makes a whole world of difference when assessing components,
- mainly because in the store they tend to use the stock power cable/supply that comes with the component.
- why? mainly because the do not know any better most of the time
- or they do not have the time to experiment, especially with lower priced components
-  PLUS - they want you to buy the better sounding, higher priced component if they can demonstrate it "effectively"

So based on my observations while using best quality power cords on everything - I'm left wondering if the improvements of the Codewx would be as noticeable if good cables were used on both these units?
- I'm sure the Codex would have still sounded better, but having good cables on the Node 2 might have narrowed the distance between them?

I've come to a point where I take my cables with me to audition a product.

Just a couple of weeks ago I took in a power cable to assess the Bluesound Pulse Mini... 
- with the stock cable it was "OK sounding" but the bass was a little muddy and distorted on a couple of bass heavy tracks
- with the better power cable there was a whole new level of clarity and control - the bass tightened up considerably and the distortion was no longer present either - it sounded like a much better unit
- and the look on the sales person's face when he heard the improvement was pretty amusing also.

Even when I purchased my latest speakers I took my amp, power cable and speaker cables to the store - I was happy - and they got their sale :-)

I've found that improving the cables and power supplies of components in the "budget end" of the spectrum can reap some very surprising and pleasing benefits and elevate their performance considerably 

Whereas components that have better power supplies do not provide as much of a significant improvement because they are already operating close to their highest level.

But - all components do benefit from great cables. 

I'm not knocking audio stores and their sales approach, because most stores I go into are not even aware of the benefits of great cables - after all,  they are there to sell products - not play with them.

There are stores that sell great cables, but trying to sell a $400 power cable for a $600 component might seem absurd - to most people :-O

So, it's up to people like me to try stuff that may sound a little "off the wall"

Just tryin' to maximize my investment :-)

Cheers

@williewonka
I don’t know what cables were used, but I do recall that the cabling was not cheapo stuff. Besides, we’re talking about AudioConnection, Johnny has given me way more advice and help than I have given him sales.
When I say I heard a distinct improvement using the Codex over the onboard Bluesound DAC, I meant it.
And, it is not to say that changing power cords won't aid in sound reproduction.
B
Randyhat,

Bluesound Node 2 plus Nordost power cable and Acoustic Zen Matrix interconnects is what I have installed and it's the ideal player for me. Not to mention the interface the Node 2 has. It's the best product out there period. 
I have a very revealing system: Rogue 99 magnum preamp, Pass Labs XA30.8, Goldenear Tritons One, with sources fed clean AC via a PS Audio P5. The slightest weak link is ruthlessly revealed. I had thought my Bluesound Node 2 sounded great by itself initially, but it started to grate on me. The mids over time were harsh and the bass was not very full compared to my turntable. I suspected the built in analog section in the Node 2 was not up to snuff. After all, it's done with integrated circuits. So I picked up a used Bryston BDA-2 to fix the problem. And man does it sound awesome. The discrete class A output section in that unit is much better than the conversion in the Node 2. So yes, do yourself a favor and get a good DAC. You may not need the latest and greatest with regard to MQA and DSD. What really matters is the execution on the analog side, I believe. The BDA-2 is certainly up to the task for me for a while.
I'm fascinated to read so many rave reviews about the Bluesound.  Sounds like most folks have the Node, rather than the Vault.  Which makes me wonder where you are storing your music files, in the case of Node users.  Are you streaming music files from your computer, or from a NAS?  I have a MacBook Pro  - what's the SQ like with a Node streaming music from such a computer?  Is this done wirelessly or hardwired?  Thanks for your insights.
I wirelessly stream my ripped cds from my Vault 2 in my study to my Node 2 in my listening room. I was sold on the Vault 2 because it supposedly does a better job ripping than a regular cd drive on a computer by ripping a "bit perfect" copy to Flac, plus the Vault is always on, unlike my computer. I like having a dedicated server to play my music. I also store downloaded Hdtracks files on it.
As far as wireless quality in and of itself, I'd think the source wouldn't matter, whether it's your computer or a Vault, but that's just a guess. I do know there's no loss in quality from wirelessly streaming from a Vault to a Node vs having the Node also wired by Ethernet. I do get signal loss sometimes though. I'd like to run Ethernet cables in more of my house but I'm not ready to do that because it's quite a project.
@janehamble 
I use Spotify almost exclusively. I had Tidal for a while, but they didn't have a great classical library and I just don't get hip-hop.
Sound-wise, Spotify is great. I suspect they will go to higher definition, as there have been posts that they are offering it to a select group of subscribers. As far as MQA, I will wait for the dust to settle.
B
I bought a Node 2 primarily for streaming Tidal Masters. The internal DAC doing full MQA decode is very smooth and non-fatiguing, though less incisive than playing the first "unfolding" through my Bel Canto 3.7 via S/PDIF. As others have mentioned, it benefits from upgraded cables (I use Nordost Purple Flare AC and Red Dawn interconnects with a Blue Heaven S/PDIF cable). Finally, I found that using an iFi S/PDIF Power Purifier was quite beneficial at the input to the Bel Canto to clean up the feed from the Node 2. Having said all that, on ripped 16/44 files, my Bryston BDP-2 smokes the Node 2 as a streamer which it should at many times the price.
Running Tidal MQA music is surprisingly clear, coherent, and made a huge leap (for me) in musical enjoyment on the BS Node 2. It took me a long time to match album .jpg artwork with albums songs in folders for me to access my local drive of music. But that music does not sound better than the MQA stream from Tidal. I just hope they keep adding more and more album titles.....
Has anyone on this thread or otherwise had an opportunity to compare the overall sound quality (DAC and analog stage) of the Node 2 to the Oppo UDP-205? If so, what are your impressions?