For those that use an external DAC with node 2i

Please describe the shortcomings of the node2i dac, as well as what to specifically expect to hear as an improvement with a truly better (not just different and external dac). My node seems to have what I'd call a bit dark smoothed sound. Cymbals seem a bit faint, but trying another dac that presents a more forward louder cymbal seems to sound less recessed and smoothed; thereby exchanging a bit of dark(warm?) smooth depth for more forward brighter presence that is more forward enveloping but with less depth. It's weird, because depending upon the song one may sound better than the other. I'm not sure which sound is truly more accurate, or even which one I prefer consistently, but I would like to make a choice and start listening to my music instead of critically analysing each component back-and-forth. Perhaps I'm not using enough of a drastic improvement dac, but I'd like to figure that out too. I do realize a lot of what sounds better to one person is different than what another likes, but so far, I'm leaning towards the dac where the cymbals seem louder/brighter even though it's at the expense of what seems to me to maybe be a darker smoother (illusory lower noise floor?).
Also, I was unable to level match this comparison,  so that adds another variable. The external dac I compared to the node 2i was an old parasound zdac version 1. Perhaps if I sampled a higher end dac like a denafrips or an Ayre coda, etc. I'd see what direction was better for a reference point, but if anybody here has actually done their own evaluations, I'd welcome your input, experience and perspective. Thanks.
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your description of the sound of the bs node 2i onboard dac is accurate

you will hear a much more lively, palpable, impactful and transparent sound if you went to a good $600+ (used) outboard dac fed by the node via its digital output ... how dramatic an improvement will be a function of the quality of the rest of your system
You can not be certain of the source of the music available streaming. That is why I only listen to physical media.
With a better Dac you should hear a wider, deeper soundstage and music that's more dynamic.

It's true that you're at the mercy of the streaming service as to how music has been recorded and mastered. But that's mostly the Rock genre. If you listen to classical or jazz, streaming can have excellent sound. Of course, it depends on the rest of your components.

If you play your own(ed) music through it you won’t have to be all jasombourne52 about it.
It is still much easier than monkeying around with physical media. I use both. The SQ is different with every DAC depending on the resolving power of your whole system and the "discernment" of your musical enjoyment.
You want Zuiljans go ESL. 
It is ~ a $100 DAC. I have one.  
Compare apples to apples.
You can not be certain of the source of the music available streaming. That is why I only listen to physical media.

But you're certain of the source of the physical media?  Okay.

On topic - If you'd like an improvement over the sound quality of the Node 2 then an external DAC can help, but my experience was that replacing it with a better quality streamer/DAC (the TEAC NT-505 in my case) resulted in better sound quality than adding a DAC.  As a point of reference, I tried an Auralic Vega (which cost more than the TEAC), a Mytek Liberty, and the excellent DAC in my Sony TA-ZH1ES headphone amp.  

You can not be certain of the source of the music available streaming. That is why I only listen to physical media.

while this is true, in my experience, this is not an impediment to thoroughly enjoying streamed music via top tier streaming services


you and i disagree on this point of relative importance of streamer vs dac in sound quality -- my take is so long as you have a stable wifi/ethernet connection and a decent dedicated streamer (value leaders are bluesound node 2i, w4s modded sonos, elac discovery) and a decent digital cable, the dac drives 80-90% of the nature of sq

@jjss49 ,
You have raised good points.
 I'm not sure which sound is truly more accurate, or even which one I prefer consistently
I can understand your dilemma, but when you get things 'dialed in', you will know for certain.
At this point, I think it would help if you provided the equipment you are using and what DAC's you tried. It might help us determine where a potential 'bottleneck' is.
I am by no means an expert on digital and streaming, but I have done a bit of trial and error. I also used the Bluesound Node until a couple of weeks ago. I used it with the Ayre Codex.
When I visited my dealer, Audioconnection, Johnny A/B'd the Node internal DAC with the Codex. It was a no-brainer that the Codex offered a significant improvement.
-Referring to the quote above:
It wasn't that I could say it was more accurate, but that I found the music more engaging. Engaging is what makes me want to listen.
I am using the Node 2 and I more recently added the Chord Qutest.  My local store never says this is better than that.  They just send me home with the item and I plug it into my system in my environment.  It was my wife that was quick to hear improved detail and better soundstage.   I also enjoy it and have no regrets about spending the additional dollars.

I actually prefer the ritual of vinyl of sometimes it just isn't convenient so I am glad I upgraded. 
I added the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ to my Node 2i, connected via optical cable. The difference was frankly astonishing and immediate. I use Tidal Hi-Fi by the way.

Music that previously just sounded good, suddenly sounded real. Soundstage, all those things were better. I'm not great with attributions like slam & all that stuff. I can just tell you what I experienced. A massive difference in real sound quality.
I use an Emm labs Dac2x from the Node
i should ab the two and compare
I had two Node 2i streamers and the root of why I sold them was that they do not have USB outputs. I feel the audio shortcomings are, at least in part, related to that. I have since replaced the Node 2is within USB output streamers. 
Just curious if any of you who found better results with external DACs were using digital input to a high end pro/pre?   Or are these DACs just that much better than most preamps?
agree with  jjss49. Running Audio Mirror IIISE DAC into bs node2i. have cat5 cable from router to node 2i, coax from node 2i to DAC. Although $2,500 all in (bought Audio Mirror used), would match it against many streamers/ DAC twice this price.
@fittebd... You mean using the digital out on the bluesound to run to a DAC built into a high end pre-amp? If it is a better DAC than the internal DAC on the bluesound it doesn't matter if it is a stand alone or built into a pre-amp you should hear improvements. 
I'm running a node 2i with a Benchmark DAC 2 HGC. Very happy with the overall improvement to Tidal and Qobuz. 
Why would anyone use optical when you are limited to 24/96?

SPDIF 75 ohm(sic) digital coax.will get you 24/192.

I was looking into the HiFi Rose 150 but you can't argue with the BS Node 2i price. And it would feed into my Classe SSP-800 DAC through digital coax.

Might have to strongly consider that option.
The Audiofool in youtube has comparisons of the Node 2 to Topping E30/D50s. He also has sound demos if you are into that thing, so you can view the Node 2 demo, and compare it to the toppings as well as Schiit Yggy and Chord Hugo 2.
I have a very different take on all this.  I have a Node2i which I have tried with the internal DAC and with external DACs.  I also tried the streamer/DAC combinations in the NAD M10 and M33.  I have tried Amazon HD, Idagio, Qobuz, Tidal and now finally Primephonic (via AirPlay).  Primephonic has made by far the biggest difference because they have so many recordings of various classical pieces.  For example, they have 567 recordings of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.  (This is not a typo.)  The differences in the performances are much greater than the differences across streamers/DACS.  The point is not that you should use Primephonic (it is almost exclusively classical) - or any other particular streaming service - but rather that the performance and the recording matter a lot more than the streamer/DAC. 

the dac drives 80-90% of the nature of sq

So you agree that what comes before the DAC matters but are saying that a 10-20% difference in sound quality doesn't matter? 

I’m using the Node 2i with a Cullen power cord, Cat8 ethernet and a ARC dac7 & Cardas Lightning digi cable. Vast improvement over just the stock Node via wifi. One day i’ll upgrade the Node to a Lumin but I’m in no rush.

So you agree that what comes before the DAC matters but are saying that a 10-20% difference in sound quality doesn’t matter?

yes it matters, it all matters -- but i am arguing points of relative importance and impact for $ spent

i guess what i am saying is in my experience, you reach a point of diminishing returns in music server SQ quite fast (so long as key conditions like stable internet feed, decent digital cable are met), and for most hi fi enthusiasts chasing better SQ for their incremental $ spent, i feel it is much better spent on a better sounding outboard dac once a decent (relatively inexpensive but good) performing streamer is in hand

to make this point practically, i would be very comfortable advising someone who is using the analog outputs of their bluesound node 2i to keep it, use its digital output and buy an mhdt orchid, chord qutest, schiit gumby or ayre codex -- rather than spend that extra $1000-1500 on a fancier lumin auralic aurender streamer
I had a well regarded Hegel DAC that was several years old that I sold when I got the Node2i. I did not discern enough of a difference between it and the internal DAC of the 2i to keep the Hegel and ultimately sold it for twice what I paid for the Node 2i.

Recently I purchased a Musical Paradise DAC that, after I upgraded the tubes and Caps, sounds way better than the internal DAC of the Node 2i.

DACs have come a long way in the last 5 years. I don't mean to knock the internal DAC of the Node 2i, it is a great unit for the money, but there is no doubt in my mind that it can be improved on. 
@jjss49 If you want to talk about value, I just bought a second TEAC NT-505 for $1200. It sounds better than any of the Node 2/DAC combinations I tried. The cheapest of those combinations would have been the node 2 and the Mytek Liberty which combined would have been over $1,500. I don't have a way to compare with the same streaming source, but the TEAC sounds better than my MHDT Labs Orchid ($1200 by itself) streaming from USB. 

i have not heard your teac unit... but i am sure it sounds excellent and is a terrific value

usb connection for streaming has its challenges, known for high electrical noise and jitter if not carefully implemented... i don’t know if it affected sq of the orchid in your case

i think our individual experiences can stand side and side, and offer a somewhat different perspective for those who are reading and gathering info here
you need to also think about whether you want MQA in the external DAC as that's what you have in the node
The Node 2i has a perfectly serviceable DAC, but “good enough” isn’t usually the goal. I noticed an improvement running into an Oppo BDP-105, but the Oppo is limited to 96kHz input through S/PIDF. I’m not saying the sample rate makes a huge difference but I wanted to at least have the option of running the Hi Res material that is out there. Contrary to what some people keep insisting, the Node 2i can output 24/192 over both coax and optical. So while the Oppo opened up all the buzzwords (air, articulation, detail, bass, etc.) over the Node’s internal DAC, it was close enough that I doubt I could identify which I was listening to cold, but it was obvious with an A/B comparison. So I did what most of us would do and decided to throw more money at it. Using a Chord Qutest now and my DAC is at the bottom of the upgrade list. Everything else will need marked improvement before the Qutest becomes the weak link in my system.
An external DAC is not necessary with the Node 2i, but it can definitely be worth it.
When I purchased my BlueSound Node 2i, the dealer convinced me to add a ProJect S2 DAC.  I connected the BlueSound and thought the sound was great.  For some reason I think I can hear a difference when listening to MQA.  I then plugged in the ProJect DAC and the bass sounded much thinner.  I was concerned also by adding a DAC it prevents MQA from unfolding completely.  It would have been nice to listen to a better DAC such as the Cutest.  I talked to another dealer and he suggested buying a Belcanto streamer.  I had not heard of this brand before.
I run a Node 2i into a Schiit Bifrost...sounds great.
”You can not be certain of the source of the music available streaming. That is why I only listen to physical media.”

So every pressing, every reissue, every care regime, etc etc is exactly the same when the media is physical?  I’ll bet my physical copy of DSOTM sounds different to yours. (Mine was used as a coffee mug coaster for much of the ‘90s. The CD hung above my veg plot to scare away the birds.)
My first exposure to steaming was a simple BT receiver which went to my pre and I just streamed Pandora and iTunes from my phone. Not the best sound of course but I was hooked by the convenience. So I upgraded to a Node2i and really enjoyed the uplift in SQ and convenience. Next step was a Jolida Glass external DAC. It was an improvement in detail and soundstage. Finally I recently upgraded my DAC again to a Border Patrol SE-i and am delighted by the improvement in dynamics and soundstage. Taking into account my current system and budget, I'm content to enjoy this setup for now. There's a Jadis/B&W system in my future however so depending on how the Node and BP DAC sound with it, I might be looking into something more commensurate. We'll see.
Happy listening.
+1 big_greg. I’ve got exact same experience with switching from node 2 to NT-505, perceptible upgrade in SQ. My next upgrade in SQ was switching to cat8 shielded Ethernet cable. 
I ran my Node 2i into my Willsenton R8 integrated amp to my Tekton Perfect Set 2-10’s and the sound was glorious. Then I purchased a DENAFRIPS Pontus. Oh my god! There’s no going back. Everything sounds better. It was like I had my ear canals professionally cleaned. The only way I could possibly imagine a similar jump in sound quality would be going to a live show. I’ve heard great things about the Aries DAC, which is the little brother to the Pontus. Also, I thought Spotify was great, then I got turned onto Gobuz. It’s not a night a day improvement but Gobuz clearly has more information, more dynamics, and blacker backgrounds, depending on the quality of the recording of course.

happily listening
Also added external dacs to the BS nodes...SMLS400, Topping D90...much improved sound...the Teac NT-505 streaming DAC, also big improvement 
I added a Denafrips Ares Ii to my Bluesound node 2i and could not be happier. So smooth yet so much more detail and sound stage. I listen for hours! The Coax connection is just a bluejeans cable, but for the analog out I used Silver Solids Interconnects from Stagersound (Marc Stager ).
It’s a $550 streamer ($450) on sale when I bought it. Don’t expect miracles. I added an aftermarket power cable and a GOOD Kimber Kable D60 coax cable that runs to my Cary dac. “Improvements” that can help with sound quality. I’ve never heard the onboard dac of the 2i nor do I want to. Point being, you can improve the sq of the streamer, with upgrades in cabling and an external dac.  
I own a Node 2 and find the DAC pretty good. I’ve owned better DACs that contain more detail, but the sound is enjoyable. Recently, I found a used but upgraded Schiit Bifrost to find out if there was an improvement. There wasn’t much improvement, or at least the kind that is easily discernible though blind AB testing. My sense is that you would have to spend at least $1000 to easily hear a difference.
As mentioned previously, I also use a Bifrost...the improvement over the Node 2i internal DAC is substantial and immediately obvious in my system. The Node DAC sounds tinny and weirdly low-fi by comparison. 
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I used the Node 2i internal DAC for a number of months when I fist got it, but once I ran it though my Benchmark DAC 1, there was a significant difference in detail, sound stage, and holographic imagery.  Everything just opened up more. 

You're description of the Node's DAC was very accurate. It's also a description that fits the Parasound ZDac, which I used to own. The Benchmark DAC is a big improvement over the ZDac. I would recommend trying a better DAC. 
some have mentioned the mqa capability of the node 2i

as i mentioned quite a few months back, i feel there is more than a little irony in that the poor, grey-sounding onboard dac in the node effectively becomes the first introduction for many people as to what mqa purports to do for sound quality, yet the sound is still very mediocre at best 

the node 2/2i is such a good value as a streamer, with an excellent user interface, but like the factory-equipped cartridges on high value/low cost turntables from project and rega et al, the dac in the node is very much just something 'minimally capable' to get one started on the journey of high fidelity streaming

the mqa guys, when they licensed mqa to bluesound (a major coup no doubt, given the sales volumes) probably have some regret as most decent low cost outboard dacs fed by the node will sound better playing basic redbook resolution than the node playing fully unfolded mqa through its own dac...
Everyone has confirmed the importance of the DAC as well as the vast range of quality across all the options available.  I tried the Vault 2 a couple years ago when I had ARC separates.  I could only go analog out of the BS into my preamp and was quite disappointed in the SQ compared to vinyl.  I resold it and forgot about streaming.  A few months ago I took a leap of faith and got the ARC GSi75.  I sold all my separates and am loving the new system.  Streaming was not my goal of the purchase but as I read review after review it seemed there was a special DAC on board.  I picked up the Node 2i and connected via the coax out and I was blown away.  I also compared with the analog out into one of my SE inputs so could easily A-B these two options.  The analog out is pretty much that same SQ I had before in comparison to vinyl.  The GSi75's phono preamp is also of surprising high quality.  When I am using the ARC DAC the SQ is incredible.  I mostly prefer the sound of vinyl but there are occasional albums that sound almost the same or slightly better.  My streaming service is Amazon HD.  I did a trial with Qobuz and Tidal.  I found their sound the same and Amazon offers a better value for me with other devices in the home.  There is MUCH better sound to be had from your just have to find the right component for your budget and system....don't settle on the analog out.