Got a Node 2i, what's next?

So, I admit that I'm not much of a digital guy.  I ordered an Node 2i for the main HT system mostly for Amazon HD.  Much better than roku --> Denon AVR-X3600.  I liked it so much I ordered another for my previously all analog 2 channel system.

It's not bad, and convenient. Not even close to vinyl on the same release and level matched recordings, but then again, I didn't expect it to be.  I keep reading about how you can easily improve the sound by adding in an external DAC.  Here's where I get confused.

I don't want to spend a lot on a DAC, because at best it's a secondary source.  I'd feel comfortable in the $500 - $1000 range, but I'm really confused over the options and how they relate to sound quality.

First, r/2r vs I guess delta sigma?  What are the sonic advantages of either, there are widely differing opinions there.  I understand how each works from reading around, but how does it relate to sound quality?

Second, multibit vs whatever else.  Same basic questions, what are the basic sound characteristics of each?

Third, oversampling or no.

And lastly, what bitrate/bit depth is considered adequate?  24/192 seems to be standard but some dacs only have 24/128 over optical.  Will this make any difference real world with HD streaming?  I also have an old NAD cd player with coax digital out I might want to hook up for kicks.

I've researched three so far, the Denefrips Ares II, , the Schiit offerings below $1K, and the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M.  I would like to have balanced outputs to keep the digital circuitry as far away from the analog stuff as possible.

Thanks in advance for your answers.

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Thanks for those. Unfortunately, most aren't balanced, at least the ones in my preferred price range.

The Musical Paradise looks interesting but I'd have no idea which dac to choose and what it would mean for the sound.

Might want to check out RME. Can likely find a demo ADI-2 demo with full warranty right around 1k. Great sound and TONS of features which you may or may not use. I find the EQ and loudness function useful at times. 
Just curious what is you vinyl setup you are comparing to? 
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Multibit is just a propriety filter on Schitt DACs.
They don’t do DSD.
I have one, you can do better.
Spend up a hair for the RME AD2.
Or buy used, plenty in Europe - they are German.
Along with great sound you get a fine headphone amp and configurable remote loudness plus.
You can do better than the BluOS app but that’s another matter.
Might want to check out RME. Can likely find a demo ADI-2 demo with full warranty right around 1k. Great sound and TONS of features which you may or may not use. I find the EQ and loudness function useful at times.
Just curious what is you vinyl setup you are comparing to?
Thanks for that.

My vinyl setup is a modified VPI TNT4 (air bladders are connected to an air compressor with a precision low pressure regulator) with TNT5 bearing, Eminent Technology 2.5 modified for use with air compressor, also with a precision low pressure regulator, Current cart is a retipped Supex SDX-1100r thru a modified Supex SDT-722 stepup transformer into the MM section of a Herron VTPH-2a. I also have a NOS Audioquest B100 on another armtube that I run straight into the Herron MC stage, plus a few other cartridges that don’t see playing time right now.
Multibit is just a propriety filter on Schitt DACs.
They don’t do DSD.
Isn't DSD Mostly for computer interfaces?  If so I don't need it.

I'm not really interested in a headphone amp, or signal processing on the dac.  Not that I would rule the features out, but I probably would never use them.  
DSD is the preferred repro method nowadaze, talk to Cookie @ BlueCoast
 You can play it on most streamers starting at a $100 Ras Pi 4. No stoopid computer. Your vinyl set up is like a Bentley  and your digital a Yugo.
Do you want to hear what’s out there?
I’m not sure.
If you're not interested in loudness you don't ever listen at low volumes with full enjoyment.
Even on your Bentley class sys.
I have to get up and switch in a Loki etc. for that.

I listen to vinyl all the time, very little digital except background music and in the car, none on my 2 channel system until I got the Node 2i.

I have a full featured preamp (soon to be replaced with a better one) that takes care of the tone compensation duty, but most of the time when I listen to my 2 channel system I don’t listen at low levels. When I do I switch in the controls.
In building reference DACs with both R2R and Sabre 32 bit chips each has their own sound.  The R2R generally sounds a little more musical, more dimensional, and a little more relaxed.  The Chip generally sounds not as dimensional but usually more extended top end, faster, cleaner, and sometimes quieter.  Trade offs aalways.
@bigkidz ,

Thanks for the explanation. I think given my tastes, the R2R sounds attractive.  Great information.
Hi @vinylzone,
You obviously appreciate high quality analogue playback and devote more money in that direction than digital (Limiting DAC to 500-1000.00. USD). So digital may be relegated to 2nd status.

Given the price constraints I believe that jjss49 offered excellent recommendations. Particularly the final 2 choices on his list. I suspect that you’d be  attracted to a more natural musical presentation. Both the MHDT and Musical Paradise would serve you well.

Both eschew OP-AMPS in the important analogue output stage and utilize no negative feedback (NFB) circuits. The Musical Paradise also offers an exceptionally stout power supply (Two separate power transformers). Either would represent a significant step up in sound quality compared to your current internal DAC.
A used Ayre Codex now goes for $800- I know, I just sold 2.
For the money, it beats the Schiit Gungnir, and is close to the Yggy.
I can also attest to the customer service Ayre provides. They repaired my Codex quickly and at a minimal cost.
The Denafrips Ares-2 nine better or more anti digital glare 
a true high end bargain , and these R2R dacs get nigh5 and day better when you have say $3-5 k  Denafrips terminator,
holospring May dac, lab12 reference tube dac 
also for under $1k the very good vacuum tube Black ice audio wifi dac .actually under $800
Has you stated adding a external DAC will improve the quality. I’ve owned a Bluesound node 2i and they are very capable machines.

I remember when I changed the power cord to an audio grade one the base got tighter and the unit was slightly quicker.

At that time, I then bought a Musical Fidelity V90-DAC that only does PMC but upscale the music to 32bit depth and it was great. 
I can’t remember if it allows you to pass I2S to the DAC.

Don’t get me wrong the node 2i is great streaming machine but has good has it is, In my opinion, it is missing on native DSD functionality, and it is not not balance circuitry. If you want to keep using the node 2i has a streaming device then this points should be taken in to consideration when buying a DAC has they limit your option.

Hope this helps 


I highly recommend Cherry DAC.  Small Designer/Owner run company that does everything in house.  Been in business for 20+ years.  Stands behind his products.  No outsourcing or use of off the shelf parts produced by someone else.  They are balanced.  The specs are top notch and they sound very musical.  I am including the URL for his website.  Two of the Cherry Dacs are currently on AudioMart well within your price range.

checkout the DACs made by Digital Amplifier Company:

Wow, lots of great suggestions.  On my short list so far is the Denafrips Ares II, the Musical Paradise MP-D2, and the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M.

I'm slightly hesitant on the Denafrips only because of having to ship overseas for ant waranty work.  I like the idea of a tube output stage on the Musical Paradise.  I like the Cambridge for price and completeness of features, and I can get up to 60 days trial depending on where I buy from.

Keep em coming, you guys are a great resource.

There are dacs out there that sound just as good as vinyl, read the reviews on the wyred for sound 10th anniversary. Go to their site and look up the review by 10 audio, the reviewer put it up against this VPI turntable with a 5800.00 Japanese cartridge and he said that the 10th anniversary dac was neck and neck with his VPI turntable. One of the most analog sounding dacs I've heard at any price.
I came from same place as you mostly vinyl, hot rodded lp12 and Herron phono. Since you mentioned r2r the MHDT Orchid might work. If you can solder caps are very easy to switch out, you can use 6922 and 6sn7 adapters which can help not being boxed in to one flavor. If you like what you hear you can sell Node and find a nice used streamer. If not the Orchid sells at maybe a loss of $200 and will sell in a day or 2, or find a used one. I've seen MHDT Havana sell for $400 or less its old but nice, I have the Havana and Orchid, Havana may be 80% of the orchid. I also have the current version RME adi-2 and can't say enough good things about it. I have not  felt the need to go out and upgrade to more money dac's. Hate to say it but my turntable is not being used like it use to. 
One thing I would highly recommend would be to use a linear power supply (you'll need an interface avaialble online). Significantly improves the sound. Bigger soundstage,  better low end, better high end. Ended up being around $500. Totally worth it IMHO.
Just an FYI, on the subject of the Node 2i and sorry if it's already been brought up.
The BluOS update (3.14.5) this month added support for Radio Paradise, the first internet radio station to stream in MQA. They have 4 MQA stations and 4 CD quality versions of those stations. 
It's radio, so you get what they send, but it's a free way to sample MQA if you don't have it already.
I didn't like the sound of the internal DAC in the Node 2i so much so I added a Schiit Bifrost 2 and it was much improved.
I used to have a VPI Aries, JMW 10 Arm, Art Audio Vinyl One Tube Phono stage and various high end MC cartridges that rotated through the system. I also have a Node 2i and went through the same process you are going through now. I got the Musical Paradise D2 DAC. It's wonderful! You must however, consider upgrading the tubes and caps. The supplied rectifier tube is crap, the gain stage tubes are very good but there are better.

Also the coupling caps are easily upgraded and make a significant difference. The unit was designed so they could be replaced easily as they are held in with binding posts, they are not soldered. With all these upgrades, my digital source is as good if not better than the analog I had.

Also consider streaming Tidal, not so much for MQA but for the access, at times,  to multiple masterings of the same releases so you can choose to listen to the best sounding one. Much of the digital I had on CDs did not sound as good as vinyl because the early A to D transfers were not done well. New remasters often are much better. Streaming Tidal ( we don't have Qobuz in Canada) is my way to access these remasters. Lastly, in my experience, a Coax cable from the Node 2i to the MP Dac is the better sounding way to connect them.
I have the same and I’ve gone pretty deep down the rabbit hole, but I did it in steps. In my opinion it was well worth it. First thing is to use a wired Ethernet connection, I use a fiber optic bridge from my router. Second thing I did was upgrade that janky power cord with a wireworld one. Okay, sq has definitely gotten better. Next was getting a mytek liberty dac. Lucked out and found an open box deal on one. Lastly, no being able to leave well enough alone, adding a sbooster LPS to the mytek. Wow! I’m blown away! 
Forgot to add that the mytek has spdif, toslink, and usb inputs as well as balanced and unbalanced outputs.
I also had the Node 2i in my system, but was quite disappointed. Sonically, it was outperformed by my first-gen Dragonfly USB-DAC. I briefly considered adding a DAC, but instead opted for a full replacement (returning the node 2i) with a Cambridge Audio Azure 851N. Dual-mono DAC construction, streamer, DSD, balanced out, about EUR1.5k. 
I was in the same position as you. Mainly a vinyl guy but wanted a digital front end as an option to hear stuff I love but don't have on vinyl. I got a node 2 and thought it sounded ok. I then went fairly nuts trying to decide on a DAC. I initially ordered a Chord Qutest but it took forever to ship so when a Schiit yggsrassil analog 2 came up on one of the used sites I jumped at it and cancelled the chord. Overall, I've been very happy with the results. Has nice mid bass response and does not sound too bright. 
Even If you like the Node 2I you have to deal with the interface , Yuk
Ive been doing my homework on DACS and you forgot to mention R2R ladder DACs. Im probably going to get that Denafrips ares or Buy american and get schiit maybe even the YGG and be done with it  ,, then I can come off my phone thru Tidal HiFi over lightning to USB keeping it digital for the 9Ft run to the outboard standalone DAC then my receiver. I think I understand DACs now, its for the most part a big Filter because there's DACS on every phone the size of a spec  but to give it the spaciosness, Airiness, chocolate mousse flavor , Every DAC modulates the sound because I dont think it was actually recorded the way Audiophiles are trying to get it to sound like, Audio nirvana is when you have separation , depth spaciousness like a 3d hologram and thats why DACs go from being a sec on a Phone to a cd player size cause theres allot going on not just 00001111's to analog but filtration on top of modulation only then can your amplifier amplify it and your speakers reproduce it. I was lost for a while on DACs and I still dont know everything. I returned my Node 2I because the interface treated me like a second rate citizen in my own home. It had to go!! I demoted the AQ Cobalt to my computer and use it for Porn now cause thats all its good for. Im saving up for a decent DAC . 
I have node 2i for over a year now.  Added an aftermarket power cord, ran a Cat 6 from router to Node.  I bought a Blue Jeans cable for $40.  I use COAX from Node to DAC.  I have a Topping D90.  It is about 700.  Very clean, dynamic, really quiet.  There are lots of brands that will work.  Some of the models are designed to tame that "digital edge" using tubes or R2R.  Whatever you do, don't use the digital volume on the Bluesound ap.  Turn it to fixed volume.  Otherwise it will sound..well..not as good.  I messed around for a year not knowing this.  You will notice that songs come in anywhere from 16/44.1 to 24/192.  I haven't had a lot to compare to but you can make digital sound very good; at least I think it does. 
If you're that much into vinyl, why get a stand-alone DAC at all?
In my opinion, a DAC in the $500-$1000 range may not bring enough improvement to justify the additional cost or device clutter.  

I used to run the Node 2i into a Peachtree Nova 500 integrated, which has its own DAC chip (the ESS 9028 Pro).  In A/B testing between the  Node DAC and the Nova DAC, I did not notice a difference.  

I'm not saying the Node 2i DAC can't be bettered, but I'd expect it to take more than what you're now willing to spend.  Not only that, but you might get more bang for the buck (and more fun) by adding a Roon subscription and a dedicated computer to run the Roon Core software. 
The OP refers to DACs as a “secondary “ source.  Transports matter, but the DAC imo is much more important.  Think of it like a gourmet restaurant.  You have a great chef (DAC).  The chef has two helpers to purchase the ingredients.  One goes to Walmart and gets reasonable quality food, at least it isn’t rotten and worm filled (Node 2i).  The other goes to Farmer Markets, etc and gets the highest quality food.(any other DAC than the Node).  The chef will probably make a great meal either way, but which would you prefer?
Sorry, the last parentheses should be “any other transport than the node 2).
Assuming you are able to stick to your budget of up to $1K,  please keep us apprised of what you ended up with and feedback would be appreciated...  I
If you're not satisfied with the Node 2i, you can make it sound better with an external DAC.  I went down that route, trying it with a Mytek Liberty and an Auralic Vega.  Better, but still not that great.  

For me, replacing it was a better and more sensible choice than trying to band-aid it with power cords, ethernet cables, or an external DAC.  I chose a TEAC NT-505 which was much better sounding than the Node / Auralic Vega combo (the Vega cost more than the NT-505).  I'd also look at the Lumin streamers. 

The NT-505 must be at or near end of life, TEAC was blowing them out on Walmart for about $1200 ($2000 originally).  You should be able to find one for not much more than your budget.

Save a little more money than your current budget and flip the Node 2i if you're not happy with it.
You have a lot of $$$ invested in your vinyl front end and I assume the rest of your system is of high quality as well. yet you are only thinking of investing $500 - $1000 on a DAC, it sounds like you have already delegated your digital front end to be so much less than it could be. I was once like you, a vinyl diehard, but much has changed in the digital world lately and if you really stepped up your game and spent more, I think you would be very pleasantly surprised. Why not consider buying current production second hand gear. If it then doesn’t rock your boat, you can easily sell it and recoup your costs.
A lot to process since last night. I want to make a few points/clarifications.

I am only using Amazon HD for a streaming service. I am not currently planning to expand to other services. The BluOS phone/tablet app works just fine for this, and my technologically challenged wife is happy. especially with the presets on the phone app.

On the Node 2i, network is hard wired back to the router. Variable volume is off. 0 problems due to streaming, better than using roku, so I’m happy there.

I don’t think the Node sounds awful, just very digital in a 90’s sort of way. When I still was giving digital a try back in the 90’s, I had a Sonographe SD22 CD player that was somewhat analog like to the limits of what CDs sounded like at the time. I guess a more analog sound is what I’m looking for, not to get a digital setup to rival my analog.

When I say digital will be a at best a secondary source, I am talking about in my system. I don’t want to get into debates of what formats are capable of. I like analog, and am still actively buying records. My analog front end will always be my primary source, at least until I am unable to get up and change records :).

The $500-$1000 budget is self imposed. I could go a lot higher, but there are other priorities in my system that I’d rather put money into for the foreseeable future. Once those are done, I might feel differently about what I’m willing to spend on digital, but that’s a ways off.

Congrats on the Node 2i! While I don’t have one, I’ve bought PowerNodes for (granted not very audiophile) family and friends based on the reviews alone and they are really happy with them.

Another vote for RME ADI-2 if you can swing it. Really excellent, neutral but not dry. Much better than Ayre Codex in my experience. With the Ayre I was always itching to go back to my PS Audio DirectStream; not nearly so much with the ADI-2. There’s also a few good comparisons online to the Chord Qutest, where the ADI held up pretty favorably. I don’t know that it will be THAT big of an upgrade over the Node internal DAC though. I thought the Node 2i was pretty good as is?

What I like about the ADI is, as you’d expect from pro gear, they have achieved bulletproof performance through a high degree of technical sophistication. Eg it performs and sounds as it should with a very ordinary power supply. Sure, its performance is capped by the internal switching supply and op amps, so it will never sound like a MSB Reference or what not, and some DACs at 3-5x the price will better it in aspects. But it gets 80-90% of the way there with zero effort. I’ve noticed that while I prefer my DirectStream, it’s not as consistent - eg the “sounds better late at night” phenomenon is way more pronounced with the PS Audio, which is also sensitive to power cords. The RME I can just throw on with an rPi over USB and Mogami interconnects and it will sound reliably great.

There are a couple things things to watch out for with the ADI. It is pretty much dead neutral, so if you are looking to add some flavor to your system or make digital resemble vinyl, look elsewhere. And if you really need to use it with balanced XLR - the performance seems somewhat compromised via RCA. Sounds like that won’t be an issue here.

With respect to all the other opinions here, I would not worry too much about R2R vs. bitstream. My experiences do not align exactly with the character some are ascribing, especially “musicality” which is highly subjective. I don’t find one architecture to be inherently more musical; the most I can say is that ladder tends to have sharper leading edges, which makes sense since it has theoretically infinite slew rate, while the gentler analog filters of bitstream might make it a bit smoother and more coherent top to bottom. In any case, the overall implementation of the entire DAC matters much more. Case in point: my previous reference DAC was based on PCM1704 ladder, passive IV and tube output stage. My current - bitstream FPGA - could not be more different in technical approach.

As always, just $.02!


IMHO, I wouldn't limit yourself to balanced outputs. I think for this application it's not going to make THAT significant a difference. For one thing, when you connected your Node to your preamp, you were using unbalanced RCA interconnects anyways. And when you do get a DAC, you're still going to have a "digital" signal between Node and DAC. I wouldn't sweat it. <G>

I do agree that the Node2i benefits greatly using an external DAC. The integrated one is adequate, but only just. I tried a Jolida first and while an improvement, I knew there was better out there for not that much more money. I'm currently using a Border Patrol and am very happy with it after it's burn-in. I spent a little bit more and had some Morrow audio interconnects made for it and it will do me for some time in my current system.

Happy listening.
IMHO, I wouldn't limit yourself to balanced outputs. I think for this application it's not going to make THAT significant a difference.

I'm looking for balanced because the difference it would make is purely placement.  Currently, my analog gear including my 2 channel preamp is 40 feet of cable run away from the power amp, which is located near the TV/HT system where the power amp (and main speakers) are hooked up to both systems.  I want to locate the digital gear as far away from the analog stuff as I can.
My node 2i runs through a firs gen Schiit Bifrost I found on eBay for $300 used. Sounds amazing. The newer Bifrost 2 has your balanced outputs - go for it:
Frankly, I get a laugh from the guys who buy low bucks for digital because it couldn't be as good, and then of course it isn't because they bought entry level stuff and hooked it up with whatever they had left over lying around, because they didn't want to spend money there either.
If you want better then entry level sound get better than entry level gear and do all your homework with testing power cords, cables and so forth.  If you put the same effort into digital as analogue I think the analogue will be better.
+1 to all the people who suggested upgrading the power chord.

i’m also a vinyl focused listener who uses a Node2i for streaming. Any of the DACs suggested will improve the sound but the PC that comes with the Node2i is exceptionally flimsy and thin. Swapping it out was one of the best bang for the buck upgrades i’ve ever heard. 

no need to spend much of your budget on it. around $100 will do. i got a $130 Shunyata Venom cause that’s what my dealer had in stock. I heard improvement throughout the frequency spectrum but especially in the low end. More extension and clarity there. 
I have a Node 2i. It hooked to my router with a Cat 8 cable. Digital coax out to Esoteric K-05x with DH Labs 750 cable. I am using Amazon HD which works well with the Bluos app. The ease of trying albums, I have not heard before is great. From what I have read SQ is much better with Qobus. Which I may try in the future. Some albums sound pretty good but comparing SQ with their vinyl or cd equivalents it's not even close.   
In this subject, how do you rate the node as a streamer.   I have the bluos module in my NAD integrated.  I assume that the onboard dac of the integrated is doing the conversions.   Just ordered a stand alone R to r dac.  Is there a price value relationship in the streamer?
In this subject, how do you rate the node as a streamer.   I have the bluos module in my NAD integrated.  I assume that the onboard dac of the integrated is doing the conversions.   Just ordered a stand alone R to r dac.  Is there a price value relationship in the streamer?
Frankly, I get a laugh from the guys who buy low bucks for digital because it couldn't be as good, and then of course it isn't because they bought entry level stuff and hooked it up with whatever they had left over lying around, because they didn't want to spend money there either.
Seriously, I have no opinion on how good digital can be because at this point I just don't care.  FYI, I have already replaced the power cords (I build my own).  I'm using the same interconnect between the node and my preamp as I am between the Herron and the preamp, also DIY.  I've been making my own cables since the 90's, and even sold some of them back then to other audiophiles.

At this point, I just want the digital setup to not give me a headache after an hour, so I can use it for background music or to check out some new music.  Maybe sometime in the future I'll look at digital seriously.  Maybe not.
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