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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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 Node2i...you just have to find the right component for your budget and system....don't settle on the analog out.