External DAC?

Hey guys,

Here's my current setup:  Node 2i > Marantz PM KI Ruby > Dynaudio Special 40.

I am considering getting an external DAC and bypass the Node's DAC.   I have seen great reviews for the Topping D90 but the MQA only works via USB (node 2i doesn't have usb out).  Not that big of a concern because I can always use Qobuz HiRes instead and to be honest, I can't tell much of a difference on most tracks.

Anyway, is the Topping D90 a worthy upgrade to the node 2i?  Or should I spend more and go for the trusted Chord Qutest?  I will be stretching my budget with the Chord but I am to wait and save up if it is worth it.  Any other DACs in this price range?

Please advise! 
d90 or qutest will outperform your node 2i internal dac substantially, will be heard clearly through your dynaudios

mqa is over sold over hyped highly inconsistent in delivering its promise - good dacs converting redbook signal will outperform mqa

that said d90 or chord will have a ’super clear’ solid state-ish sound signature, dunno if you prefer that kind of super hi fi sound, some do

other end of the spectrum are warm, dimensional more analog sounding dacs - in the 700-1300 dollar price range look at ayre codex, metrum amethyst, denafrips ares, neko d100-2
I added a $3500 (when new) DAC (Auralic Vega) to my Node 2 and it sounded better, but I would not go so far as to say it "outperformed it substantially).  It sounded better.  Replacing the streamer and DAC of the Node 2 with a TEAC NT-505 was a much bigger jump in sound quality.  I also considered Lumin's streamer/DAC products or getting a separate streamer and using the Auralic with it.

The Node 2i is built to a price point and performs admirably at that price point.  I don't understand why people don't think the streamer matters and that adding a marginally better DAC to a $500 streamer/DAC is going to substantially improve sound quality.
big greg’s statement and experience notwithstanding...

i replaced my node 2i with brooklyn, auralic and lumin streamers (3-4x cost of the node) running SPDIF BNC into the same DACs I had at that time -- Chord Qutest, MHDT Stockholm, Schiit Bifrost MB, Metrum Octave, RME ADI2, Jolida Tube DAC

SQ improvement of a more expensive streamer was hardly noticeable (say 0-1 on a 10 pt scale)
SQ improvement of any of those DACs over the analog output of Node 2i (3-4 on a 10 pt scale)

my system, my internet feed, streaming tidal masters and quboz HR, my ears, my experience

your mileage may vary
some love the Topping some don’t, some think most DAC’s pretty much sound the same, some think they sound very different...but older high end DAC’s can often be had on the cheap...
I have two systems,the main system has a Node 2i. I’m running that through an April Music DA100 stello signature. I prefer the April over the 2i’s DAC. More detail,and way bigger,and holographic soundstage. The second system has a Node 2. That is running through a Beresford Bushmaster. Very inexpensive. I still prefer that over the 2’s DAC. A little punchier,and again a much larger,holographic soundstage. YMMV. 
“I don’t understand why people don’t think the streamer matters and that adding a marginally better DAC to a $500 streamer/DAC is going to substantially improve sound quality.”

+1, @big_greg.
Go for a better DAC now and later upgrade the streamer. Explore high quality offerings Lumin, Innuos and Aurender.
If you’re not ready for a quantum leap (and big spend) the Metrum Flint Gen Two will do what you ask for, make the BluNode bloom.
For ~$655 delivered to U.S.
30 day free returns.
If you want a Topping buy from Apos.
They’ll match price and ship DHL direct from China.
I prefer Dutch.

Just make sure you can return whatever you try. The Topping D90 you mentioned it a good DAC. If you don't need volume control or MQA try a Topping E30. There are a lot of good DACs out there you don't need to spend a fortune for great sound.

and some would call those you mention (as good as they are) exactly that... "cheap toys" ... LOL

value judgements are always in the eye of the beholder


to me the metrum flint/amethyst is superior to the topping which i bought and subsequently returned to Apos - the D90 sounded clear but shrill compared to the lovely Metrums

Me personally,I can only purchase what I can afford. 
Just check out Denafrips , for $1700 the Pontus is exceptional 
Vinshine  Audio  DHL  only takes 4-5 day free shipping nothing 
compares  in the  $2k range 8 sold my Schiit Yggsdrasil  for it .
If you don’t need volume control or MQA try a Topping E30. There are a lot of good DACs out there you don’t need to spend a fortune for great sound.

I added a Topping E30 to the digital output of my 20 year old Denon DCM-440. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely heard improvement...not huge improvement, but easily audible and easily worth the $130.
If you don't want to buy a fresh Metrum direct, HiFiHeaven has them for pennies more. Again free, superfast delivery.
Designed in Holland by experts.
agree with fuzz

hifi heaven very good, very reasonably priced, very attentive

recently bought an mqa module to try in a sonnet dac from them... they were fast, responsive, excellent all around
The DAC in the Node 2i isn’t awful, but that’s not much of an endorsement. Most decent DACs will be an easily audible upgrade. I ran coax to an Oppo 105 and then stepped up to the Qutest. Definite improvement each step, but I think I’m at the point of diminishing returns while still using the Node as a source. Now I have the Oppo running into the Qutest, too. I don’t find it overly analytical at all, but I also have tubed pre/amp. I’m using the incisive HF roll off filter. The HF roll off is intended to help contain >20k artifacts in high sample rate files. Not that my hearing goes anywhere close to that. There are also warm filters with and without HF roll off, but I like it as is. You might try something more budget friendly like a Schiit Bifrost or some of the other suggestions. I still want to try a few different types of DAC to try to hone in my ear on each one‘s characteristic sound, but I just spent that money on whiskey instead.
I have a Node2. I just bought an MHDT Orchid tube DAC with a Silnote Audio Classic Digital RCA cable. The Orchid cost $1,300 with the upgraded Tung-Sol tube. Love the ability to change the sound with different tubes. Reviews all rave about the Orchid. I also considered the Pagoda XLR balanced that had two DAC chips per channel. It runs around $2,000 and is considered their best model with the Orchid. I highly recommend checking them out. Great fit and finish, very musical,
not etched sounding DAC.
I recently upgraded from a Node 2 to a Mytek Manhattan. Originally planned to get the Manhattan w/o the network card and use the streamer in the Node but Mytek was adding in the network card for free (normally $1200). I played it both ways and found that to me the Mytek network card is noticeably better than the Node streamer but the much much larger difference was the Manhattan DAC (with either streamer). The Manhattan  appears to be out of your price range but I’ve been very impressed with my Mytek experience. 
Bottomline is that I think you would benefit greatly SQ wise using the Node 2i as a streamer with a DAC like the Mytek Brooklyn which is more in your price range. 
I hope whichever way you go you enjoy the journey. 
I have a Node 2i and Topping D90.  Very nice sound.  Dynamic with better sound stage, better bass to name a few.  I think the D 90 sounds better bypassing pre amp i.e. volume all the way up. I think.it is hard to beat for for the $1050 i have invested in both plus $40 coax.
Great input from the community on all the possibilities!  I have both Schiit Modi3 and Topping D50S and I would a very slight edge to the Modi3 although Topping is so rich in features (Bluetooth 5.0 including AptXHD, LDAC codecs) plus Native DSD to DSD512 (on USB).  And yes, APOS is SUPER easy to work with and the shipping turnaround time (3 days max)  is absolutely amazing coming all the way from China.  I even broke down and got their accompanying linear power supply and there is a small improvement on both the Modi3 and D50S.

I am seriously contemplating on getting a Bluesound Vault2i as I would like to finally store all my CD's in a central repository for significantly easier access but it's internal DAC is definitely an issue when I was demo'ing in a store.  

Also, any thoughts on DSD vs PCM ? I don't think Bluesound plays DSD's natively though.  I downloaded a few albums in both  formats and frankly, have a hard time discerning the difference.  Also, I can't tell much audible difference between DSD 64 vs DSD128 vs DSD256 vs DSD512 of the same recording...  

Much appreciate feedback.
Very happy user of RME ADI-2 DAC FS here. Significant improvement over Node 2i's built in DAC! I also use it w/ headphones and IEMs. Pls check out reviews on B&H Photo, where I bought (and reviewed) one. 
I used to have Node 2 with Shunyata power cable, AQ coffee Coax cable to Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ With SBooster and a nice power cable. Sounded good- all things considered. Now I have a Lumin S1 with Shunyata digital power cable and it blows away my Node/ Mytek setup. Speakers REALLY disappear Soundstage wider, taller, better imaging and separation. The money of a Node 2 + DAC, SBooster, + power and coax cables is somewhat in the ballpark of a Used Lumin S1. 
I am seriously contemplating on getting a Bluesound Vault2i as I would like to finally store all my CD's in a central repository for significantly easier access but it's internal DAC is definitely an issue when I was demo'ing in a store.  

Not to derail the thread, but what I've done is attached a USB hard drive to my PC and made it a shared drive.  I use Foobar 2000 (free) to rip to FLAC.  I have another USB hard drive that automatically copies anything new on the first drive for backup using SyncBack (free) and I also upload everything to the cloud for backup.  I use Serviio (free) as a media server and any DLNA device I have can see and play my tunes.  In my two channel system I use my TEAC NT-505 and BubbleUpNp to stream and my Bluesound in my bedroom.  I prefer not to be stuck with a dedicated device that will become obsolete at some point or be stuck with its DAC.  I'm not sure how easy it is to backup the Vault, but it doesn't look like you can do it in an automated fashion like I am.

There are some good reasons to use a dedicated device, and I'm sure there are some sound quality differences in a very revealing system if you have golden ears, but I can't detect any noticeable difference between the FLAC files when streaming from the HD vs. Qobuz or Tidal in my system.

If I want to upgrade my DAC and/or streamer I don't have to bother with getting them out of one device and into another and my files are constantly being backed up in case of failure of a hard drive, which eventually happens to all of them.

Thanks everyone for the inputs, I really appreciate it.  Based on your comments and subsequent research, I have ordered the RME ADI 2 and the Benchmark Dac3.  I'm going to keep one and return the other based on how to they sound to my ears.  

Which one would you keep if you had the choice?
Hard to say they are both really good DACs you won't go wrong whichever you choose.
The Benchmark DAC3 HGC sounded very good to me. The Benchmark DAC3B (no volume) with the Benchmark HPA4 preamp sounds even better. Both of these DAC3's have the same conversion engine. The volume control on the HPA4 is one of the best and it is super quiet.

I use to think the DAC direct to amp is the best choice but not anymore, at least with the Benchmark pieces I have mentioned.
The Benchmark Dac 3 HGC arrived today. Boy, what an improvement over the node, simply blew it out of the waters.
Rme is arriving tomorrow. Can’t wait to compare the two. Will let you know which one I decide to keep. My wallet hopes that it will be the rme.. lol
Alright, the RME arrived this morning. And after hours of A/B testing, I have decided to keep the RME and return the Benchmark. To my ears, the difference was marginal (Dac3 > Rme) and in ways I can’t even properly explain. Something about the Dac3 felt like the sound stage was wider. Perhaps even a best t more musical (probably just in my head coz I expect the Dac3 to be better given it’s price point).  Anyway, the Benchmark Dac 3 is a fine piece of equipment but I just couldn’t get myself to spend almost twice as much.  Thanks everyone for your inputs. Rme is a keeper and I’m very happy with it. Cheers!

you made a good call imo

the rme is remarkably clear and clean sounding, while still coming across as fairly natural and relatively non fatiguing - benchmark dacs are cut from the same cloth tonally but cannot compete with rme on value - the rme sounds just as good but does so much more and costs less

you have identified tne only, quite minor weakness of the rme being its highly centered image with inadequate width and height... depending on other gear this can be compensated for

have fun listening, you have chosen a winner
@prashanth13485 Congrats on the new DAC, enjoy. I was going to chime in and recommend the Qutest since I just got one and I am very happy. I thought the Node 2i was a nice piece on its own for the money, but a nice DAC just takes it to a whole different world. If you're still looking at testing, try a Qutest. I am amazed at the impact. I hear so many things, but what comes to mind is clean, detailed, black backgrounds. Each note is so defined and clean, yet not a hint of analytical or sterile or bright at all, and I haven't even played with the filters, I am using the incisive neutral. It is also soooo much more open, each instrument more separated from the rest. Just some food for thought if you still want to experiment.
@jjss49 thank you so much. Quick question on volume settings on the RME. 
I’d like to use my Marantz to adjust volume. I see a couple of options in the RMe and wasn’t sure what should I go with.  I guess I’ll have to lock the volume and switch off auto ref level. But then what should I set as the reflevel and volume in the dac? I have it at +1 dbu and 0 dB volume. Any suggestions?
I believe page 62 in the manual talks about this.
Congrats on the good decision to keep the RME. Try headphones and IEMs with it too. Manufacturers charging more than RME's price are in trouble :-) I believe that with digital to audio conversion you can only do so much... Even if you were spend 1 million dollars, what can it do "even better"? The rest depends on the quality of the recording itself, speakers, headphones etc. WRT output levels consult the excellent https://forum.rme-audio.de/index.php

Setting is different between using RCA cables vs balanced. I am getting better results w/ balanced cables into MF M6si. I change volume both on the RME and the amp.
@daleberlin you’re right, I went through that section but couldn’t figure out which ref level and volume should I go with. Looks like it depends on the output Volts of the amplifier. Any idea what’s the output V of my PM Ki ruby amp? I couldn’t find anything on marantz manual either. 
@ghjuvvani I understand that balanced will mean +6dbu to the ref level selected. Any idea why you chose to use volume on both instead of locking one? Any sonic benefits? 
I typically just leave the volume on the integrated amp (which has balanced input; Marantz doesn’t seem to have it) at about 9. It can be controlled from a remote but very ergonomically, so it is simpler to adjust volume from the (great) remote that now comes with the RME ADI-2 DAC FS. I sometimes also adjust balance, a control that my MF M6si does not have. Volume is changed in the digital domain so it’s perfect. Withe the remote you can also dim the display which is a great feature. This DAC is great with my beyerdynamic headphones and IEMs!
I don’t remember my settings for balanced vs RCA but can find out that discussion

I found it: "I just changed line out reference level to +1dB, as XLR out adds 6dB, to achieve the recommended +7dB"

So for balanced, I use +1 dB out ref level (higher levels were leading to distortions). I don't use line out any more but the ref level was higher. It is important to get this right!
If you lock or set the volume to fixed on the RME can you still use the EQ features? IMO that is one of the best features of this unit. 

your settings are correct i believe, it is how i used it

you want the auto level working at max db for max effect, it uses the full dynamic headroom of the akm dac chip set that way
In my case (Musical Fidelity amp) the settings have to be different between RCA and XLR. RCA setting was pumping too much voltage into the amp and reducing headroom. At first I thought that the balanced cable I used was to blame (for RCA I used AQ Colorados, that I don't need anymore since I switched to XLR). Finding the correct setting brought the sound to perfection. I think the Marantz (in spite of its price doesn't offer balanced in)