Next Best Upgrade for Tidal MQA?


I’m trying to decide what my next best upgrade is going to be to improve my streaming music quality (predominantly Tidal, and Tidal MQA, when available).

Current setup:
KEF R11
Custom Deep Sea Sound 18” subs (2)
Marantz SR7012 AVR
Bluesound Node 2i
MyTek Liberty DAC
Parasound A21+

I’m wondering if I’ll get a bigger jump from inserting a Parasound JC2 BP as a pre-amp or replacing the DAC/Streamer with a MyTek Brooklyn Bridge? Or is there something else out there in the $2500-4000 range that will help make a significant jump?

Help and thoughts appreciated!

Ae503619 347d 4d00 96f5 9efffb12aa05bruxesq
info provided is useful, but you need to say what is it about the sound of your system do you want improved while streaming...
All of the Mytek DAC products are going to have a similar house sound so swapping one Mytek for another won't really change anything.  I would look at adding a tube preamp in place of the Marantz. 
I’m generally happy with the sound, but always chasing the cleaner, clearer, better separation, more dynamic, more lifelike...

To answer the question differently, I have a perceived weakness in the Marantz, and then to a lesser extent the DAC, and to an even lesser extent the Streamer... 

I recently went from the A23+ to the A21+ and it was a big jump, so I think there may be headroom in replacing some of the other components.

Suggestions on a tube preamp? Why tube?
I should add, any preamp needs to have a home theater bypass
I would want some more warmth and body to the sound to balance out the Mytek and the Parasound, but that's just me.  
@brux

ok, got it. i agree w jack d - priority 1 is get that marantz avr out of there - it is definitely the weak link

lots of good clean line stages out there, any one of them will improve the purity of sound by replacing the marantz receiver

you seem to like the clean and lean school of sound, more detail, rather than the other school which i would call the 'rich and saturated full fat cream' school... in which case i would say... the mytek dac is definitely in that school already, stick with it

most of the time folks who stream (and stream tidal) say that they want music that is richer in tone, more full and rounded (i.e. more analog in flavor), in which case I would suggest any of a number of different dacs

in your case, upgrade the preamp, remove the marantz, and see how you feel

happy to suggest various good pre’s... parasound jc2 is a good one if you like the brand, maybe even try a tubed unit see if that sound is something you like (dunno if you have had tube gear before)

good luck have fun
Never had tube gear before.

First blush, looks like the Rogue Audio RP-7 might be worth looking into?

Before buying the KEFs, I nearly pulled the trigger on Wilson Yvette’s, but decided that I didn’t want to risk that expensive gear on my (at the time) 3 and 6 year olds. However, what I loved about the Yvette’s was the soul behind the music. The R11’s are the closest I’ve come to conveying that sound at a risk-worthy price, while also having some other strengths (e.g. the Beastie Boys sounded terrible on the Yvette’s, but great on the R11). The point of that long explanation - maybe a tube preamp can bring a bit more of that soul?
@brux

tubed gear has a magic... thousands of us around the world would never have a high end system without at least tubes in one stage...we are not all deaf!

try it... you may well join the club!

rogue is well reputed, i have not had one... you may need to do a little searching if you must have the HT bypass, but they are out there... i know conrad johnsons have them in their linestages, which are truly excellent btw...
How's the heat on a tubed pre-amp?
pretty minimal, but depends on model

for example the conrad johnson et5 runs just a single tube... they don't even vent the top panel...
I’m sure this will not go over well, but I use Tidal and Qobuz both, Tidal was nice enough to send me tickets for a show at the Hollywood Bowl, I think they’re great, but I disregard MQA.  I’ve spent this lockdown time with the MScaler and have placed it in different arrangements with non-Chord DACs.  You may find that, via optical, the WTA thing will work its magic up to 24/192, and I believe the entire filter is still employed even if you’re not at the maximum rate.  I think it lends a certain realism to music and will work well with non-Chord DACs.
Am I understanding your post to mean that you would suggest an investment in an M-Scaler over an upgraded preamp, even with a non-Chord DAC (such as my MyTek Liberty)?

I'm not a blind fanboy of MQA, but to my ears, the format is generally a win.  I have found some MQA albums to have weird soundstaging compared to the Redbook version, but that's been rare.

If I have your comment correct, your suggestion is an interesting one for sure.
If you own a Pc you use for music the Jcat Femto ethernet card 
is a must , a dramatic improvement for it not only has precision low noise regulators but isolates the noisy computer from the Audio streaming signal ,but the Femto clock brings a much better cleaner audio signal using the top Crystek Femto clock.
I will add R2R DAC like Denafrips Pontus 
I also have a Marantz AVR for HT purposes but run a Primaluna integrated for the mains and only use the Marantz via HT bypass. Getting rid of the Marantz for your mains will definitely be a successful upgrade. Also I use the internal DAC within Bluesound Node 2i and have no issues with sound quality running through the tubes.... the MQA files sound legit, dope, or whatever the kids say these days. 

 ***I literally only use the Marantz to drive the center channel for movies and NPR on Sundays for "Wait, Wait, don't tell me" Otherwise it just collects dust. 
My source is Bluesound Vault streaming Tidal and Quboz. Sends signal to JC2BP and then A21. Have yet to hear a DAC/streamer that beats out Vault plus JC2BP combo in shootout. DAC/streamer costs were in 2-4K range I believe. JC2BP is fine.
@alephresearch2

How do you "disregard MQA"?

I have an unusual configuration for TIDAL.
Android with UAPP+Bit Perfect>OTG cable> USB to SPDIF converter>Straight Wire 75 ohm coaxial cable> Classe SSP-800 DAC. I can get 24/96 Bit Perfect first MQA unfold.
It sounds good but I would not mind "disregarding MQA" to get a straight up 24/96 (FLAC?) but I did not think you could get 24/96 without MQA. Did I misunderstand your statement? Thanks.

@bruxesq

1 - stick to replacing the marantz with a proper preamp
2 - be careful when posters with a grand total of 2 posts tell you you should buy a $4000 digital appendage like an m scaler (don't get me wrong... a m scaler is a good piece, i have one, but it should not be your priority... not even close...)
@jjss49 

Appreciate the follow-up - what preamp thoughts do you have?

@vinylshadow 

I took his comment to mean, forget about MQA support in your system, try this upscaler instead.
I would try cable upgrades.  Best I could afford. At this stage I believe the bang for the buck would be much higher than component upgrades. AC cables first. 

 Further, the biggest upgrade ever in my system was CS2 footers.  Not sure if these can be had on a trial basis. 

Best of luck, and enjoy the chase. 
some tube units, couple ss

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisa5hcf-conrad-johnson-premier-17ls-tube -- has ht bypass they call it 'epl'

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisa5418-audio-by-van-alstine-transcendence-10-sl-tube -- lower cost option to 'try' tubes - don't let price fool you, it is excellent sounding - not sure if it has ht bypass

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisa3a50-ps-audio-bhk-signature-preamp-tube -- has ht bypass

..................................................................................................................................... 

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisa46dg-classe-audio-cp-500-bal-single-ended-preamp-gorgeous-soli... -- you'll need to check on the ht bypass

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lisa5784-parasound-halo-jc-2-bp-solid-state
1- Good Tube Preamp definitely. It will be significant upgrade in SQ. Modwright LS-100, Modwright LS-36.5, BAT, or Cary Audio could be in your price range. 2 - Node 2i is entry level streamer. You could upgrade it with some thing like Lumin U1 Mini which is transport streamer so you could use it with your existing DAC or maybe Lumin D2, Teac NT-505 with MQA DAC on board will be upgrade to.  3 - If used staff acceptable you could upgrade both options. It not go with new tube preamp. 
You could improve the sound from your Node2i by fitting a Network Acoustics ENO Ag/Cu network filter.
Hey vinyl-guy and OP, sorry I'm just starting to post here that the callout function doesn't seem to be working in Edge.

To OP, I think the difficulty here is you've got a complex stack, you seem to like the sound of it and you're wanting to get "more" out of streamed, hi-res files, so targeting that specifically.  We could go down a rabbit hole if we say "let's spend a few grand," haha, and I'm sure you've been there.  This year, I've made some pretty drastic changes in my setup...the importance of some factors were not communicated to me well (or I didn't pick up on it) but was open to try new things.  I'm not really sold on MQA, and honestly, I've found that straight redbook is fine if it's handled by a superlative DAC.  I run an MScaler and a TT2, and I like being able to use the TT2 as a preamp.  I have also run the MScaler via optical into a Devialet Expert Pro.  Seems bizarre, right?  Well, I found that, between the minor upscaling and the WTA process, it would be a combination I would suggest...the handling of the transients, I've had guests comment that it seems as if they're hearing tracks they love as they were meant to be for the first time.  I have never used it with the Mytek. 

I don't have a background in this, but think of it this way: when we're listening to digital music, regardless of the resolution, there is some element of estimation that is happening to convert that signal from the digital domain to analog.  Filters, different processes, and so on.  The MScaler sneaks up on you, whether paired with a Chord DAC or other DAC.  Depending on the recording, the way in which it works with incoming signal results in estimations that generate a much more believable output.  This is not me trying to say "other DACs are trash" but I cannot imagine putting together a system without it now. While it doesn't do the MQA thing, I don't think it will matter to you if it works well in your system. 

Vinyl, I let Roon do an unfold but I don't really seek out MQA support as factor when choosing a DAC because it would mean giving up the MScaler for a final unfold, which I feel is far less valuable.  I think a false assumption made about the MScaler is that you need to be running it at 705/768 and that confers the benefit.  That's possibly the least-important element.  It's the management of transients.  

Full disclosure, I don't want to really list the whole chain but I have an optimized digital transport I built to stream with Roon, and right now I'm running a pair of Focal powered monitors (40th aniv) from the balanced outputs on the back of the TT2/MScaler stack.  Clean power all around.  Vovox XLRs but considering trying something else.  Is it a little hyper-analytical?  Yes and I love it, because it's quite euphonic as well.  Off-axis isn't great.  But I'm shocked at this little setup and what I'm hearing. And a lot of what I'm hearing confirms the benefits I seem to hear with the use of the MScaler elsewhere. 
Does anyone in US mod the bluesound... High fidelity in UK do new PSU and board... I feed this into chord qutest DAC and then into luxman.... So good I sold my Linn Klimax Dsm and pocketed the change.... Not often I get to do that 
I had an Onkyo AV pre that I replaced with the Parasound JC2BP. I think it made a huge difference in opening up the music for me. I'm guessing you are looking at the JC2BP not just for the sound quality but also for the bypass feature so you can still use the Marantz for surround. Since I got the Curl pre I don't listen to the surround system any more. I also switched from VTL tube amps to a used pair of the JC1 monos. That was a nice upgrade also but it didn't make as much of a difference as the pre did.
Depending on your budget I would start with the following 

If you have not already done so -  Upgrade your coax connection from the DAC to your Preamp/component system.  You will be amazed at what an improvement in the sound you will get.   Pangea Audio Premier XL Digital Cable with Cardas Copper - is a good option for the money. 

Another option is to upgrade your DAC to one with a newer DAC chipset 
for example - the  auralic altair g1 ( with the ESS 9038Q2M chipset) -  would replace the Node 2i and the mytec DAC. 

Have you thought about your network? UpTone Audio EtherREGEN switch was an upgrade several audiophile have tried and had good results.
Thanks for all the suggestions - now I’ve got some ideas short and long term.
I heard a big difference going from Node 2i to Lumin streamer. More separation and definition in the sound. Going thru Aries DAC and 300B tube amp or Yamaha A-S2200.
Have you tried subscribing to Qobuz?
Two words: Room Correction

Maybe look at a MiniDSP or something like that
Or one word: Room

You have not said much about your listening space (or, perhaps I missed it), but if you send the folks at ASC a MATT recording, they can tell you what frequencies are lacking articulation and design a solution that will dramatically improve the dynamics and resolution of your system. Chances are that the gear you already own has a lot more potential than what you are hearing.

https://www.acousticsciences.com/matt
@calieng: thanks for the feedback. I guess my real question is: is a new streamer really going to make more of a difference than a new preamp?  The wife is only going to let me do so many upgrades at a time :)

@photomax: have not tried Qobuz yet as I've bee generally very happy with Tidal (minus the lack of Metallica)

@jnehma1 @dsnyder0cnn: unfortunately, my system has to do double duty (hifi and home theater) all in an open concept shared living area.  I don't think I have much opportunity for room treatment (there is only the wall behind the speakers and a wall with heavy curtains to the side).  As for room correction, I have run Audyssey, but haven't gotten into the REW/Dirac level of detail.  I have briefly looked at MiniDSP before, how does that integrate with what I've got?
@bruxesq I've not used a MiniDSP but I believe you could put one in between your receiver and Parasound amp. It will digitize the incoming analog signal from your pre-outs, perform DIRAC processing to correct the room issues, then spit out an analog signal to your Parasound. That will give you room correction for your stereo speakers. I have heard Dirac can bring great results but have never tried it myself. Personally I have experience with RoomPerfect since I own a Lyngdorf amp, and it brings very, very positive results.

As far as physical room treatments, they are a 100% no go, not only from my wife but also from me. I don't want panels all over my living space. Instead, we have two bookshelves loaded with books, which I have intentionally staggered their depths and therefore created both a diffuser and absorber, since the soft books help absorb some sound and the harder ones at various depths/angles help deflect it. Something like that might be a living room friendly option for you. Either way, I still say room correction software is the way you want to go.
@jnehma1 

I think you're right about the configuration, but would you expect DIRAC to be that much better than Audyssey XT 32?  That's what the Marantz includes, which I believe is (or at least was) the highest level of Audyssey.

That being said, miniDSP's are cheap...

I agree on physical room treatments.  The only ones I would consider is back reflections on the back wall behind the speakers, if they were not obtrusive.  The heavy curtains on the one adjacent wall should be good for absorption, other than that, the space is open for 40 feet in each direction - perhaps that isn't all that bad acoustically-speaking, other than needing to have the oomph to fill the space.
@bruxesq Again with my caveat that I haven't tried Dirac, everything I've read claims that Dirac and RoomPerfect are in another galaxy versus Audyssey. I've used regular Audyssey and it definitely doesn't compare in any way with RoomPerfect, but no experience with XT 32. But as you said, the MiniDSPs are cheap so if I was in your shoes I'd give it a shot to find out. If nothing else, it'll be a fun and informative experiment.

Back wall (technically called front wall) is exactly how I've done it. I have built-in bookshelves sunk into the wall behind my speakers and they help a ton with the acoustics AND aesthetics of the space.
I agree with the posts that are telling you to get a dedicated preamp, that should be your first priority before anything else is done.
Change to Qobuz.  Hi-res sounds better than MQA.
@cycles2 thanks for a completely unhelpful comment based entirely on your subjective view that, regardless of your opinion, is non-responsive to my thread...
I've run my KEF LS50 speakers off some similar gear with Tidal MQA as a primary source. I still have my Mytek Liberty DAC. I traded in my Mytek Brooklyn for a Manhattan I. The upgrade differences in those three DACs was quite a bit. I also upgraded my A21 to a JC5, which was a noticable but smaller difference.

I agree with several others here. The weak point in the chain is the AVR and you should remove it from the signal chain. Any preamp with an HT bypass probably meets what you want. Note that a Brooklyn Bridge if you like the Mytek sound and to keep MQA ability would not only be an upgrade for the DAC portion compared to a Liberty, but it is also a competent preamp. It has both a bypass mode and a good sounding analog volume control option which the Liberty lacks. So you would not need to purchase a separate preamp. I took that route myself and was quite happy with the decision.

I also sometimes use subwoofers with the KEFs. If you want to integrate those for stereo listening better, then you can add some room control ability which has also been suggested. But that's a completely different rabit hole...

I am not sure a tube preamp fits your request for a 'clearer' sound. A tube preamp creates distortion by producing harmonics. We generally consider even harmonics as pleasant sounding. So if you are looking for 'warmth' then that's a good description of tubes. If you are looking for 'clean' then tubes may be the wrong route. You gotta just go listen to some preamps and get an idea of what you want. Or buy a Schiit Freya +, it is pretty cheap and has tubes, solid state, and passive modes so you can switch between all three methods. "Bypass" would be achieved by going passive and turning the volume up all the way.

Best of luck.
@dfansler - thank you very much for the response!

The Brooklyn Bridge was on my list already as an alternative and would make a lot of sense.  This tube preamp concept is new to me and is intriguing.  I didn’t articulate very well what I’m hoping to achieve - I suppose “clearer” is a bad description.  I remember demoing (for fun) some Tannoy Kingdoms that were $80K backed by probably $150K in electronics (I forget now the specifics).  When the dealer played some sample Digital tracks, listening with my eyes closed, I could have honestly said the singer was in the room. It was astonishing.  I want to continue to build toward that experience. The voice was solid, hovering stable in the room, natural, believable...

If a tube preamp gets me a step closer to that, I’m all in.
I have apogee duetta 2 speakers, a krell amp and a bluesound node 2, I used a marantz sr7007 for a preamp and then an adcom preamp both sounded really bad harsh and not detailed. I bought a tube preamp and now I have exactly what you described, the sound is clearer more detailed and voices have a more human sound to them.
@bruxesq Actually my reply was spot on to your request to improve the sound quality of your system.  I was a TIDA user for 2 years and thought MQA was terrific until I heard the same tracks in hi-rez on Qobuz.  That's why so many of us ex-TIDAL users switched from TIDAL to Qobuz and aren't switching back.  It's not subjective, hi-rez just sounds better than MQA.  Besides I think you replied that TIDAL doesn't contain Metallica titles.  Qobuz has an extensive Metallica collection, most in hi-rez.
Seems like the real issue is you want to do some kind of system upgrade, which bites all of us from time to time.  An upgrade to a Mytek Brooklyn Bridge isn't a significant upgrade.  I'm afraid you're going to have to spend approx $10k for a Lumin X1 or a pre-owned dCS Bartok to experience a jaw dropping upgrade.
Hi bruxesq,,  Based on your:

I’m generally happy with the sound, but always chasing the cleaner, clearer, better separation, more dynamic, more lifelike
...

comments is sounds more like my taste and that is not tube gear.  I think tube gear is better than bad SS stuff, but some SS stuff is sooo good in all the things you mention.

I think the Parasound is good and I have heard it. I had PS Audio gear which is hybrid tube.  Nice and warm and sweet.
But to me any AudiNet Preamp, sounds much better.  I started with the Pre 1 G3 and it was a big improvement in clarity, soundstage, definition. Used for 4000 easy GTT Audio...now I moved up to the Pre G2 and oh my...but much more.  No one will ever agree, tubes or SS. It is a preference.  I prefer clear and detailed but not harsh or fatiguing.
@bruxesq

i will chime in here, briefly with my 2 cents

imho qobuz is worth a trial - i believe they give 30 day free

tidal masters is excellent, know you have made investment in mqa via the mytek, i can easily live with it and be quite happy if quboz did not exist

but many audiophiles do prefer quboz (i would say a majority, like maybe 60-70% if i were to estimate) - to me it has a slightly more ’solid’ sound than tidal - tidal is a tiny bit more phasey/processed in direct comparison

so as you pursue better sound and system improvement i think it is worth a listen on your part (AFTER you get that proper linestage in... :) )
@cycles2 @fastfreight @jjss49

Thanks all for the comments.

RE: Qobuz - I’m not anti-Qobuz in any way, and I’m not wedded to MQA for all time. I did ensure that my streamer and DAC could properly handle MQA, but would not be the end of the world to switch. That being said, I do enjoy most of the Tidal Masters I listen to and the goal here was to improve the sound quality from
my existing service.

I’ll sign up for Qobuz and provide some feedback when I can, but I have serious doubts that it will blow Tidal MQA out of the water. Could it be better? Sure! But, even if I made the switch, I’d be looking for the next best hardware upgrade, which (again) is the focus here.
https://www.whathifi.com/us/qobuz/review

https://uk.pcmag.com/services-players/127046/qobuz

Both fairly recent reviews that tip toward Tidal as having better sound quality than Qobuz...
hear it for yourself brux

that is what matters

the difference to me is noticeable but slight in magnitude ... as i said i could live happily with either

cannot say that for spotify... 
You should take the advice of myself and several other posts about changing from the avr as a preamp and get a dedicated preamp, that will be your biggest hardware upgrade.