I have used both optical and coax (75 ohm cable), both sound great with my Yggdrasil. Since all 2i outputs are on at the same time (my integrated has no dac) I can run RCA’s to my integrated and coax to my Yggdrasil and A/B the Dac’s, prefer the Yggy, however the BS 2i is a good DAC. Lots of options enjoy. Also the Yggy doesn’t do MQA, nor does the Chord I believe, so with my set up I can compare MQA via the 2i direct to my integrated to MQA through the Yggy, with a partial unfolding, interesting option/comparison.
Another option is to connect your Node to your preamp via its analog outputs to one input, then run a digital cable to your Chord with the analog outputs of the Chord connected to another input on your preamp. Both digital and analog outputs function at the same time from the Node. Now you can directly compare the sound of the Node by itself versus the Chord sourced by the Node by simply switching the source selector on your preamp. I have done this in my big system. All of my system components are powered through a Shunyata Hydra Triton except the Chord Hugo which is battery powered. The Node holds its own, not quite as detailed but exhibits other attributes that are also compelling. I have chosen to use the Nodes analog outputs and use the Hugo as my dac for cd playback. Your results may differ.
Yes, the digital out from the Node bypasses the internal dac. Therefore a straight comparison between dac of the Node versus the dac of the Chord is possible. All you need to do is switch inputs on your preamp. You will also need to adjust the volume control since the sound level between the two will likely not be the same. In my case, volume compensation was necessary.
I have a Bluesound Node 2i feeding a Chord Qutest by both Tributaries Coax and by Audioquest Vodka Toslink. Both sound very good, but if pressed I’d choose the Vodka Toslink. YMMV depending upon the actual cable employed. BTW, one of the nice things about using an outboard DAC with the Bluesound Node, is that for MQA the Bluesound does the first unfold, getting you all the way to 96K. IMHO MQA via the Bluesound / Chord combo sounds superior to my ears than MQA full unfold via the Bluesound’s analog outputs, even though the Chord is not an MQA DAC.
I have a Node 2i and Qutest and they are hooked up as follows: Node 2i RCA analog out into channel 1 of amp. Node 2i coax/optical digital out into Qutest then RCA analog from Qutest into channel 2 of amp. So I can A/B test. I'm baffled. They both sound EXACTLY the same. Not even the subtlest difference. Switching between channels 1 and 2 on the amp sounds like not switching at all. The amp is a Roksan Caspian M2 integrated so should reveal differences if there are any. But they sound IDENTICAL. I have A/B tested the Qutest with other DACs and can clearly hear how the Qutest outshines them. But through the Node 2i ... no difference between the Node's own DAC and the Qutest. Optical vs coax makes no difference either to my ears. I have had friends listen and agree there is no difference. Any ideas?
ddude003, Thanks, I’ve tried that. With (manual) level balancing, still same SQ. Both very good, but from past experience with Qutest vs other DACs I would expect the FPGA 'Chord sound’ from it compared to a more standard Burr-Brown implementation as in the Node 2i. Either the Node’s DAC is as good as Qutest or it is passing data to the Qutest in a way that hampers the latter somehow. It’s not ’different but equally good’ but the EXACT same. I would expect SOME difference. Based on this experience I could sell the Qutest and be happy. But the FOMO part of me feels that Qutest is not fully singing with the Node 2i as transport. Others report clear differences with the same streamer & DAC combo. Wondering if I’m missing something.
@hilly230 My experience with the Bluesound Node2i / Chord Qutest combo is that the Node2i via its analog output using its own DAC produces a polite (some might say forgiving), warm sound that leans to the dark side; by comparison, with the Qutest the sound is richer, more detailed, and the sound stage is both wider and deeper, and may I dare say more ebullient. In my system it's a very noticeable difference. Given that you have already experimented with trying different output voltages, my next thought would be to look to the interconnects, especially the digital interconnects. The quality and character of the interconnects can make a big difference.
@hilly230 My personal experience with 75 Ohm digital coax cables connecting Node2i to Qutest are limited to Tributaries and Transparent. In both cases those cables are terminated with RCA connectors, using an Audioquest RCA to BNC adapter to mate with the Chord Qutest. The Tributaries Delta Digital cable is decent, but as mentioned in my earlier post from 2 years ago in this thread, felt it was outperformed by a smidge by an Audioquest Vodka Toslink cable. Since that posting I acquired an entry level Transparent coax cable which to my ears outperforms the AQ Vodka Toslink. Today my Node 2i resides on my desktop connected to KEF LSX speakers via the aforementioned Toslink. My Qutest still resides in my main rig, but connected to a Roon Nucleus via USB. If I was shopping for a Coax cable today, among the brands I’d consider would be Transparent, Wireworld, Audioquest and DH Labs. On a budget, DH Labs in my experience offers very good price performance. If you don’t have a local dealer to work with, where you can maybe borrow and check out some different cables in your system, you might want to reach out to the folks at The Cable Company. I’ve had good dealings with them, and among other things, they have a cable lending program. Good luck. Hope this helps. And do let me know how things work out for you.
I’m starting to doubt that digital outputs from the Node 2i are bit perfect. Some processing is going on in there before the digital output. Otherwise, how to explain the extreme (in my system, to my ears) similarity of Node 2i internal DAC and Qutest feeding off the Node? When I A/B test Qutest against other DACs using USB and UAPP, the differences are obvious. But everything downstream of the Node 2i sounds the same (in my limited experience)? That seems plain wrong. Nothing against the Node, it’s a fantastic product. Just puzzled as to why my precious Qutest, which is meant to be a pretty significant 'upgrade' to it, sounds EXACTLY the same as its internal DAC.
@hilly230 First off. In general, regardless of source device, bits are never just bits; with respect to the Bluesound Node in particular, some of its flavor is being imparted, even if you are using its digital outputs (it's like there will always be some NAD in there, and that "NADness" can never be completely eliminated). The Qutest is a highly resolving DAC. In my opinion it's in another league as compared to the Node's internal DAC. That being said, the Node's internal DAC is very listenable all on its own. I also think that the Node 2i / Qutest combination can be stellar, and that the impact of the wire linking the Node to the DAC should not be discounted.
hilly230, you don’t, by any chance, have MQA in mix do you??? I would expect some shenanigans going on if your source material has been tainted by MQA as the Node does MQA processing and the Chord Quest does not support MQA...
I am not saying MQA sounds bad, just different horses for courses... My Quest sounds head and shoulders better in all ways then my ex Burr Brown DAC... Also moved on to a Lumin U1 mini...
@jazzman7 Thanks for the comments. I am not discounting your suggestion of trying different interconnects. At the moment it's a Chord C-Digital coaxial and a cheap Toslink. I have tried the Chord cable vs a cheapo one and heard zero difference, which only increased my scepticism about cables. But I am trying to keep an open mind. I just want to think it through before spending on interconnects. I agree about 'NADness' from the Node potentially colouring everything downstream. After all, when I use UAPP on USB from an Android phone into the Qutest and other dacs I own, I can clearly hear the Qutest is far better, almost holographic, etc. UAPP is definitely bit perfect digital output. Not so sure about the Node. Bluesound support say the Node's output is bit perfect even with variable volume, which raises an eyebrow. I might use UAPP on USB out of Android for serious listening, and use the Node 2i for convenience when I'm wandering around. But that doesn't explain why you in your system with your ears can clearly hear the difference when feeding the Qutest from the Node. Maybe your system is better. I've got a good amp and speakers and fairly experienced ears though, so I'd expect them to be resolving enough. The mystery continues ... I hear you about interconnects, but want to explore a bit more before splashing out on them.
@ddude003 Yes, I'm using TIDAL and the Node 2i is an MQA renderer. But it's the same with CD-quality tracks from TIDAL too, internet radio, everything. I'm going to try the same setup with a different amp I have to see if it's the amp that is putting out the same sound regardless of input! I'll post again when I've done that. Thanks for the input/output!
Also my Node 2i is wired on ethernet from the router. I'm gonna try wifi to see if that makes a difference! No idea how it could, but nothing else makes sense! (I can hear jazzman7 coughing politely and saying something about interconnects ;)
@hilly230, Glass is better than plastic for Toslink... Coaxial is susceptible to RFI... Wifi may give you some physical isolation at the cost of increased RFI... Ethernet cable is pretty clean at cat 6 and above...
I use Wifi to/from my laptop to my local router, wired ethernet from the router to the streamer and USB to the Qutest which has galvanic isolation plus some other trix Rob Watts designed in...
For testing, and to be fair, I would turn off all MQA processing in the Node and use known quality and resolution source files to compare the two DACs... I, and many others, are suspicious of any source material from Tidal now a days...
I also wonder if your amp is doing something to the signals... Maybe digitizing the incoming analogue for further internal processing?
Thanks for all the help guys. FYI I have cut the Gordian knot and bought a Naim Uniti Atom one-box streaming system. I guess I ran out of patience with all this. Anybody want a Roksan Caspian M2 integrated, a Node 2i and a Qutest? :D
All the best with the move! I am looking to get into the quandary that you have with the cables....just missing the Qutest DAC :D. Please feel free to message me if you do decide to offload your Qutest. Thank you!