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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Showing 5 responses by jjss49

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
@jasonbourne

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

@big_greg

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

@big_greg

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
@big_greg

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
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...