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I have been using an auralic Aries for about 4 years. I bought it along with a Wadia 321/315 to listen to high resolution content. Initially I purchased my music from HD tracks now I am using Qobuz as well. I provide the downloaded files to the Aries via a USB drive. I love the Aries I’m really glad I bought it.
I disagree with the comments about 320 streaming. In my experience a budget streamer does not produce as "good" a sound as a "higher" streamer regardless of bitrate. I have for example a DCS Upsampler and that seems to drag lower quality sound into somewhat acceptable.
I would suggest looking at a higher level streamer second hand, they don't deteriorate with age.
Arthurd - before making any changes in equipment, procure yourself a Qobuz account and, providing your connection to the Internet is fast enough (most typically are now), you will now be able to stream true High-Resolution audio, instead of being limited to what Spotify allows in their so-called “premium” service. Even my 62 year old ears can easily tell the difference. You might find yourself happy with the streamer/DAC you have now, too. If not, at least you will know you’ve got the best quality sound streaming to your system!
Arthur, I assume you're using analog-out from your Node to the preamp. If yes, then you can certainly do better. Not to say the DAC in the Node family is bad (it isn't), but there are better DAC's. If you like the McIntosh house sound, perhaps their streamer is your best bet.
Just curious .. have you compared the sound quality of the digital-out connections from the Node to your preamp's on-board DAC?
I have a Bluesound Node 2 which I used for a couple of years in my main system (now in my work system). Using either coax or optical out to a better DAC than the Node's on-board DAC elevated the sound quality significantly for me. Many others have reported the same.
BTW, I have a Spotify Premium subscription. For me, it's great for casual listening and music discovery. I really enjoy it and find the sound quality acceptable for the way I use it, and that's with a cheap Chromecast Audio. The Node is a terrific streamer and is likely all you need for streaming Spotify Premium.
I moved on to a Sonore microRendu for more critical listening. It sounds wonderful with my own library of WAV files and Qobuz and was a indeed an upgrade over the Node 2.
Many ways to skin this "cat". Best of luck with your search.
An option at $2320:
A less expensive balanced dac that gets very good reviews and is feature-packed is the RME ADI-2 at $1100.
Edit: I see you already have a Bluesound node. Is it the 2 or 2i? As I understand it, for just streaming, the 2i might be a small upgrade over the 2 because of the wireless improvements. Something to look into.
I think you will find the biggest difference will be moving from Spotify to Qobuz or Tidal. In my experience the CD quality, and higher, of these services will yield a far bigger improvement to the sound than improving the streamer/DAC.
At 320kbs Spotify is a long way below CD quality. Playing Spotify through a better streamer/DAC will make a small difference. Playing Qobuz or Tidal through the Bluesound will make a massive difference.
You have received good advice from duckworp and others. That is: you can't polish a turd. Life is too short for listening to compressed music.
Start by upgrading to at least redbook res. from Tidal etc. then upgrade streamer. I would suggest separate streamer and DAC. I have heard the Lumin which is impressive but streamers are emerging rapidly and having the 2 functions in one box is limiting. I am using a Wadia 15 (redbook only) DAC and doubt if I could find that perfromance from most combos except at insane prices.
I believe streaming is the Wild West of Audio.
My first venture was with a Linn Klimaxx DS , QNAP TS-231, an iMac and iPad. This resides with my largest system. I’ll get back to it.
My next streaming system was with my headphones. I got some Schiit and a pair of Musicmann HE-1000 cans and used a MacBook and Audirvanna all interface by an Apple Gen III Airport Express.
Round three came about with my office hifi and uses a Cambridge Audio Azur 851.
The Linn suffers from excellent sound and piss poor software. Now that Roon and other platforms exist if you can afford the hardware, it’s going to be very difficult to beat the sound
iMacs and Mac books , in my opinion need to be left alone to do work. I guess I prefer not to share my portal to the working world with my music.
My Azur 852 streamer is the easiest to use and sounds solid. A simple CA app on my phone allows me to add music at will. It’s not the same sound quality as the Linn but it hooks Tidal or my QNAP to my hifi in a snap and I choose where I’m listening. Good luck.
A good variety of choices but having had Spotify on a high-end monoblock tube full range system, you should benefit by giving Tidal and Quobuz. I'm using both and like the fuller sound detail on a system that eats it up.
I would also second the recommendation of the RME ADI-2 at $1100. Although I don't have one, that's the one I have my eyes on to couple with Audirvana 3.5. I want to upsample DSD as I caught a whiff of that.
So, please do give a trial run of Tidal and Quobuz so you have that benchmark prior to making any hardware change.
Enjoy the music!
For what it's worth, I recently wrote a review for another site....here it is...
The Bluesound is good solid, heavy well-built unit. It can operate in Wi-Fi or tethered via Ethernet connection. For my purposes it was Wi-Fi. One of the selling points of the Bluesound is its abilities to wirelessly connect to small Bluesound speakers around the house. (I don’t have any of these speakers, therefore won’t comment on them.) Bluesound comes in around $499. I connected the unit to my DAC with a toslink cable. Also, the Bluesound does have an on-board DAC of its own, but offers the option to bypass it…which obviously I did.
The ultraRendu is of a far less impressive stature… I did get the power supply which is good and hefty…so it’s a two piece unit. It does not offer Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, it is basically a plug and play unit. It’s priced around $1000 with the power unit. It was connected to my DAC via USB cable.
Both units were connected to my Modwright Oppo 205 by their respective cables of equal, but moderate quality. The processor was a Primaluna Dialogue Premium and the amps were Primaluna Dialogue HP. The speakers were Goldenear Reference, and I streamed Tidal through Roon for all music listening.
After beginning my comparative listening, it dawned on me that there was a fly in the ointment. While reviewing some info on the internet I remembered that after a firmware upgrade, the Oppo 205 could be used as a Roon endpoint. Thus, I had to toss the Oppo into the mix as a legitimate streaming source. From this point forward, for a point of clarity, when I refer to the Oppo…I’m referring to the Modwright Oppo 205, a far different animal than a factory stock Oppo 205.
Bluesound Node 2i: If you’re looking to get into streaming for the sub $500 level, look no further…the Bluesound is great. Convenient and easy setup…although I did struggle with getting it to recognize my network. It recognized my neighbor’s network that is several hundred yards away, but couldn’t find my network. I found it easier to just plug in the Ethernet cable, set the device up and then move it downstairs to the media room. It interfaces with your phone (app), and for the most part works flawlessly. It did drop my network after a prolonged power outage and had to be set up again, and on an occasion I would get a drop in sound, most likely because of spotty internet reception. The audio is best described as warm and full. The soundstage was solid with singers and instruments well placed and the depth was layered. So as not to cast a shadow on the media screen when it’s lowered, the speakers are set fairly wide apart. The Bluesound filled the stage with sound, but I felt the width of the soundstage stopped where the speakers began. The clarity of sound was solid and words and music were well articulated.
UltraRendu: If one can enjoy different types of art, foods, and music, then why not sound? In a word the difference between the ultraRendu and the Bluesound would have to be…clarity. It felt as if the Rendu lifted that last little veil between the listener and the music. In fact I continued to bounce between the Rendu and Bluesound to see if perhaps the Rendu was…to sterile. In the end though, it wasn’t sterile, it simply was clear. The placement of singers and music was precise…there was a real sense of presence with the music. During one listening session I was extremely tired from a day of teaching and drifted into sleep…humorously, while in-between the state of sleep and consciousness, I envisioned Jim Morrison standing and singing in front of me. When it came to the depth of the soundstage I kept vacillating between being thin, or just highly detailed and well placed. Like eating some new wonderful food for the first time and becoming accustomed to the taste, I realized the Rendu removed the filler or fuzz from between the instruments and allowed the music to present itself in a revealing and pleasant way. The unnecessary filler was gone. As for the width of the soundstage, hands down the ultraRendu was far superior. The sound extended well beyond the speaker’s edge to wrap around the listener. A time or two, I had to remind myself I was listening to stereo and not multi-channel music.
Modwright Oppo 205: I would say the Oppo was nearly the equal of the Rendu in every way. In fact, I would have difficulty telling the difference between the two in many situations. I did say, “nearly” and “many”. When playing the higher res music, I felt the Rendu was more clear and articulate…not by much, but it was there with careful comparison. From what I have read and come to understand, the Oppo as a music server is incapable of playing hi res music at the MQA resolution. I would say that my listening experience confirms this…but then again, some would argue that we humans are incapable of hearing this difference anyway.Final word: If you’re looking to get into streaming cheap with great sound and versatility, go with the Bluesound and enjoy. In reality, to lessen my equipment load in the media room, the Bluesound will probably find a home upstairs in my office. Perhaps we’ll give some of the Bluetooth speakers a try in the bedroom and/or living areas. If you own a Modwright Oppo 205 and you use it as a Roon endpoint, I would be very hesitant to invest the extra dollars to gain a very minuscule advantage in sound with the ultraRendu, but with that said, I look forward to many hours ahead of exploring and listening to the ultraRendu.