Streamer/DAC combo or stand alone DAC with Node2?


greetings,

I am looking to complete/upgrade my hifi setup and would appreciate divergent thoughts on the topic.  

System:  McIntosh MA252 Hybrid, Spendor D7, Node 2 for Tidal.
Budget:  Anything under $3000.
Based in Belgium with a journey to the States in the summer.

I listen to Tidal 95% of the time. The Node2 is fine, but is now the weak link in my system.   I've heard the Chord DAVE and the Qutest, both good.  I found Mytek LIberty and Brooklyn + to not do much beyond the Node. Surprising.  

As I pretty much only use Tidal and will never use a computer or Roon etc., I want one more box to either improve the Node2 or replace it.  I don't want to open up the MQA debate, bit it would be nice to have a MQA capable device.

Suggestions please. 
alchemyman
I was recently confronted with the same decision to upgrade from the Node2.  I too wanted a meaningful upgrade as we all know the Node 2 packs an exceptionally large amount of performance into its modest price. I also stream Tidal 95% of the time.  Having a similar budget constraint I ultimately decided to go with the Auralic Vega G1.  At $3799 USD it's a little above your budget but perhaps still worth considering.  An excellent streamer/DAC and made a profoundly positive impact on my system.  I A/B'd a bit between the Node 2 and Vega G1 and the impact to the overall dynamics and soundstage were really nice.  You get a nice iOS control platform, Tidal integration, MQA, and Roon ready.

Here's a link to a recent review. http://www.the-ear.net/review-hardware/auralic-vega-g1-streamer-dac 

The Node 2 has since been moved to my 2nd system in the mancave where it fits perfectly.
What cables are connecting your Node 2?

I have had great success in improving sound quality by using top notch interconnects and power cable on all of my Bluesound devices. I also installed brass cone feet under the unit, which stands on a granite tile.

A lot of fuss for such an affordable unit you ask?
- Yep, but it paid off and I have stopped looking for other devices.

Am I bothered that my cables cost more than the Node 2?
- not really, ALL components require great cables, so I simply saved a bundle by buying a Node 2 in place of upgrading to a more expensive unit

Allowing any component to perform to it’s best abilities just makes sense to me. The Node 2 is one of those components that improves to levels that far exceeds its modest price tag - it punches way above it’s class!

I stream mainly from my NAS drive and play tracks from MP3 up to 24-192 resolution.

As you can see I’m in the "cables DO make a difference" camp.
- that "revelation" did not come over night
- I’ve tried different cables of one different types over the last 12 years
- more recently I have completed over three years of very detailed cables and connector auditions/evaluations on my modest system
- I have also developed my own DIY cables which are exceptional
- My system now performs to levels I never expected it to achieve
- Like many. I thought component upgrades were the route to achieve improved sound quality
- I’ve since learned that even the most modest of components can achieve great sound if treated to great cables
- Now, I view my cables just as important to my system as any other component

What can i say - I’m just "a cable guy"

Hope you find your path - Steve

@williewonka 
Just using some rather ordinary Chord Company 60 euro interconnects.  I'm hardwired into the ethernet cable.

I can't say I am a cable guy. Though I would not go so far as to say it's snake oil.  Thanks for the well thought out response.
@three_easy_payments 
I was looking at the Lumin D2, PS Audio Direct Stream JR/SR, but it seems you need the bridge to get Tidal to work and as I'm looking at the PS Audio Website from Europe I can't get prices.  I was thinking about calling them next week. I know the PS is above my enclosed budget.  I have also been looking at Schitt as a DAC for the Node.  They seem to be quite polarizing.

Using the Node2 I was impressed at how the Chord Qutest enhanced the sound stage, air, space and articulation.  I can't say I have an opinion on if it offered "analogue" style sound. I do know that when I changed to the Mac it's tubes added some magic to the equation and make for a more emotional listen.  Enhancing this might be interesting.  I definitely do not want to go more analytical.

And of course, six months after I purchase the Node 2 they come out with the 2i.  Thanks fellas. :)

@alchemyman

You could also continue to stream from your Node2 but use an upgraded DAC before connecting to your McIntosh. I know many are happy with the Mytek and Benchmark DACs in this same price space.  I know there are many other choices.  
@three_easy_payments 

Yes, this is a serious option.  Outside of the Chord and Mytek Dacs, there is not so much on offer here, or that I am familiar with.  Additionally, given that something like the Brooklyn DAC+ has a good ten features I would never use, I don't see the point in paying for them.  The Qutest is the only DAC I know of that really seems to be meant for conversion only from a preceding digital source like a transport or streamer.

Finally, I heard both the Brooklyn and Liberty bypassing the Node's DAC into an Octave V40 tube integrated and then into Q Acoustics concept 500 loud speakers.  The difference in sonic quality was negligible.  I was a bit surprised given Mytek's reputation.
I use an Ayre Codex for my Nodes.
They are redily available used and offer a significant upgrade to the Dac inside the Node.
Bob
There are also a new 1500$ Nad c658 dac and pre-amp with bluos coming now in december with essabre dac inside. Should be a notch or two up from bluesound node 2(i) i believe.

https://nadelectronics.com/product/c-658-bluos-streaming-dac/


I say keep them separate. I am using the Node2 and just bought a Cutest and am very happy for streaming  Deezer FLAC. I thought one unit less cables, but upgrading down the road will be easier one piece at a time. My thought, anyway.
@theo 
I just picked up the Qutest for a couple days home demo.  As the Pre-Amp of my Mac integrated is tube based, a "valve-head" advised me to set output voltage at 3V.  The very initial impressions are that the articulation and space between instruments is enhanced.  I need some quality time tomorrow to make some more informed judgements at a greater SPL. And, I need to explore the filters a bit.
@alcechemyman

as a side note, I see your speakers are the D7s. What size room are you using them in and how do you like them? Maybe I should have messaged you privately...feel free to respond to reply in private so we don’t go into a tangent.
Alchemyman, I will be curious to see what your thoughts are. I tried 4 different DACs before deciding and the first couple hours had me committed. I am using a Audio Research Ref5se and contacted Audio Research as to what output setting and if there might be a concern of overload, and they said that 3v was no issue. But they went on to add that the Chord products were well respected and that I should experiment on 1,2 or 3 to establish the best sound. Right now I am using 2 and find it sounds so good I see no reason to experiment. I just ordered a new Synergistic Research cable and should have it later this week. I had been using a Kimber AGDL but wanted to get 75ohms.
Again let me know what your experience are with the Cutest.
@theo 
I read an interesting post from Rob Watts, lead designer at Chord, on Head-Fi. He essentially said, try the different voltages and if you don't hear a difference, don't worry about it. I don't know beans about electronice so the subjective approach is good enough for me.

I would imagine it is system dependent as to the results. But I figured Audio Research had some experience for them to include it in their answer. I will try it sometime, but to busy listening for now.
OP
i am surprised that you didn’t find the Brooklyn to be an improvement over the DAC in the Node2.  I have found the Manhatten, the Bryston DAC3, the Oppo 105, and the PS Audio Digital Link III to be significant upgrades over the Node2 DAC
I recently purchased a Node 2 to act as a streaming device to output digital signal to a NAD M51 DAC. Once I return home from vacation and get the Node 2 hooked up I'll report back on my experience.

I fully expect, based on feedback across various forums, that the NAD M51 DAC will handily best the internal DAC of the Node 2.
@mahler123 

It's possible this was because of the system, but even when listening closely and the dealer was telling me he was switching I could not hear much difference. For 2K, i need more than  that.  Even thirty seconds with the Qutest was enough to hear an obvious difference. 
@theo 

Everyone who has a solid state amp has told me it does not matter as well.
The node2i according to their marketing uses newer tricke down technology from the NAD masters 50.2 which is one of the differences between the 2 and 2i but it does use the same dac as the  node2. I have never heard the node2 but the 2i sounds great to my ears. 
@djones51 
I was lamenting to my dealer yesterday the fact that six months later my Node 2 is replaced by the 2i.  He claims he's heard it and there is no difference.  I reckon he said it to make me feel better.  Many reviews have intimated there is an improvement in sonic quality.
I don't see how there could be sonic differences between the 2 and 2i.  They use identical DACs and the only differences are connectivity options.
as much as I would like a R2R DAC
the NAD C658 checks most of the boxes and would be way more useful for a lad of limited means such as moi
the ESS chip... is that "better" than the flagship AKM?
@three_easy_payments 

The company is claiming a new circuit design, isolation and improvements to the streamer itself are resulting in better sound. 
https://www.whathifi.com/reviews/bluesound-node-2i
@alchemyman

Interesting.  I find it hard to believe that the types of wiring differences they cite would create a major sonic change as they are claiming but who knows.  I understand your frustration at your dealer not getting you into the 2i at the end of 2 product cycle.  For me, I still dont think it would have been worth $500 to upgrade from the 2 to 2i.  Perhaps when the next model generation comes out I will consider this.
@alchemyman

I suggest looking at the Lumin D2.  Is it a streamer/dac that will do Tidal with full MQA unfolding.

The only inputs are for USB drives, but if you're only going to be streaming Tidal, it shouldn't matter.  It has single ended & balanced analog outputs.

In the past I've used an Auralic Mini to Mytek Liberty, Brooklyn+, and Benchmark DAC2HGC.  While all of those sounded very good (to me), I enjoy the Lumin D2 more.

I use it with Roon, but it has it's own app, that let's you put in your Tidal credentials, and there you go!
The dac in the node2i is pretty good but I prefer using the dac in my integrated amp which uses some version of an  AKM 4490 
Looking for reviews of NAD C658..  cant see any yet.
Thinking to match with a pair of Alecto's