To DAC or not to DAC ?

Wondering if adding a $500 to $700 DAC to my system will make a a significant difference over using the internal DAC in my bluesound vault 2 ?

my system :






Wow, that is a hard one. You have two pieces of high end audio gear and a couple of budget components... and looking at another budget component. I guess, I would save up and buy a used DAC... something that would have originally cost well in excess of $5K. Or maybe as a minimum a Schiit Yggdrasil. Then upgrade your preamp to a much higher level. You have really potential here... but I wouldn't recommend tiny upgrades.

Basically your speakers and amp have much greater capability than your other equipment. The real key in getting the most out of your equipment is matching capability of all the pieces. So, you have tremendous opportunity to get better sound quality by upgrading your other pieces.


+1 @ghdprentice 

I might be inclined to skip the DAC and get a preamp that matches the amp and speaker quality. As has been said, you have 2 really good pieces which are being held back from their ability to produce very good sound imo. 

I've just looked at a Mcintosh mc220 

what do you think ? more in line ?

The answer is yes. Like a Buick is better than a Yugo.

With Porsche taste.



Yes. I’m not familiar with the McIntosh preamp but I suspect it is a worthy upgrade.. I am partial to Conrad Johnson preamp myself. You may want to consider this one along with the McIntosh and choose the appropriate one for your needs.

BTW I am not affiliated with the seller in any way


Krell is balanced you should run blanced

Would agree with the above.  I had a Freya + here and found it...limiting in terms of sound quality.  The preamp stage of my Chord Hugo2 DAC (not TT2, Hugo 2) significantly outperformed the Schiit.  It just sounded more open and less compressed to a point where my wife asked it something was broken in my system with the Schiit in place.  


I am not saying that this is the best solution but a preamp and/or DAC streamer upgrade can yield real benefits.  There are some streamers/DACs that have very good preamp stages and might be worth considering.  You can always add a separate preamp at a later date.  

+1, @ghdprentice.

Sooner or later, you will be back here asking for alternatives for Node 2. I suggest a high quality balanced preamp with internal DAC and Streamer. This will save you headaches and simply your setup. You need something like Aurender A10. Keep in mind, streamer user interface is very important part of the experience. The Aurender has a very robust and easy to follow app outside Roon. Good Luck!

I'd consider a few options:

1.  Upgrade the DAC with a built in Streamer - I upgraded from the Node 2i to Moon 280D and it was a big deal.

2.  Upgrade the preamp to a preamp with a built in DAC.  I used the internal DAC on my McIntosh C2600 when I had my Node 2i after comparing the two

3.  You can get a separate DAC...I've not pursued this path but many folks have.

You have the right idea regarding purchasing a new DAC to use with your Bluesound.  It is common knowledge that the Bluesound DACs are the bottleneck of any of the Bluesound units.

Regarding those suggesting you replace your freya+ preamp, it is true that it is not the highest cost unit, but from every owner and professional review it appears to come as close to being one of the highest bang for the buck preamps on the market.  Maybe change the flavor with some new tubes.

Just be aware that often those recommending you flip your gear to what they have now will have totally different gear in a year or two and be just as hardily recommending that gear then.

DAC in Bluesound is way behind rest of system...Freya+ is great for the price, though for me also not as good as your amp and speakers...

Just be aware that often those recommending you flip your gear to what they have now will have totally different gear in a year or two and be just as hardily recommending that gear then.

My amp was bought last year. Prior to that I had an amp for 12 yrs. The preamp was bought 2-3 yrs ago. Prior to that I had another CJ preamp for 15 yrs. I've had my speakers for 18-20 yrs. You should not speak in generalities about that which you don't know. I love the music, NOT the gear, though it is a tool to listen to the music and therefore important

Yeah you’re really cheaping out here in the context of your system.  Why???  Raise your budget $500 or so and at least that gets you into the realm of the Soekris 2541, Musician Pegasus, Gustard X26, etc. that surely will upgrade your sound quality significantly over the DAC in the Node.  After that I’d agree the preamp should be upgraded as well as that will make a huge improvement and allow you to get much more out of your nice downstream gear.  Last, I’d avoid buying multifunction boxes (preamps with DACs, DACs with streamers, etc.) as it’ll give you more flexibility to upgrade, avoid obsolescence, and potentially get better sound quality.  Hope this helps, and best of luck. 

@fullers for a "plan-B" approach, you might be able to extend and leverage what you already own a bit more with some added effort before you leap on to swapping to other gear. It’s worth mentioning as this is a stepping stone option as an alternative. For some, plan-B can also be a permanent option for many years.

DAC: There is no doubt you can improve over the internal DAC on the Node, Node2i. I’ve heard it A/B’d several times with the internal vs. external DACs plugged in on a few different setups. Several friends use the Node as their base streamer (in nice tube systems too) while bypassing and adding a variety of $1000-$2000 external DACs via digi coax with suprising and rewarding results. I would not give up on this idea, fwiw. The Node is not a horrible base streamer when adding a really good DAC to it, externally.

Preamp: There is a bit to reivew and worth on leveraging your Freya a bit more. There are a few folks using them even with Pass Labs amps, yet many have done quite a bit of tube rolling with different tubes. If your Freya is the 6SN7 tube model, first hand I can share you can hear quite a bit of difference with really good vintage and (some, not all) new production 6SN7s out there. I have a collection of 6SN7s for my own preamp from a different company. If you have not done so yet, seriously recommending only buying good 6SN7s from an extra reputalbe tube seller with a warranty and guarantee. Totally worth the extra to buy well matched and well balanced curve-tracer tested tubes when buying vintage, IMO. For new tubes, Some of the later model new production 6SN7s from PSVANE, Sophia Electric, and a few others might be worth a try if you have not already done some 6SN7 serious tube rolling in the Freya yet. Call Schitt, they can share more too on this, maybe a few mods they might recommend if you have an older version Freya. Best of Luck.




I have a bluesound node 2 in my system that I use to feed my standalone Maverick Audio TubeMagic D2 DAC.  I had honestly never even connected the analog outputs on the bluesound node 2 before today, but your post prompted me to do so.

I've read that the bluesound node 2 has a very "tube" sounding DAC.  My initial response when I first switched from the standalone DAC to the bluesound node 2 was that it had a much softer tone.  I left some music playing in the background and it's clear that the bluesound node 2 doesn't sound bad in my system.

I decided to take a more direct approach and did an A/B using one of my current favorite songs (Go Tell it on the Mounting by For King and Country) and the Maverick Audio TubeMagic D2 DAC was clearly superior to my ears as there was more air around the different parts of the music, I could hear "into" the music, and the bass was tighter with a more viceral presentation.

I have upgraded the Maverick Audio TubeMagic D2 DAC, so here's what it would take to duplicate it:

Maverick Audio TubeMagic D2 DAC with upgraded OPA627 opamps and GE5670W tube - $289 regular (on sale currently for $229)

Sparkos Labs SS3602 Dual Discrete opamps - $80 (x3)

I have upgraded the tube to a Western Electric 396A that I paid about $90, but I don't think that I can hear a definitive difference from the GE tube that it replaced.  I was able to pick up the Sparkos Labs opamps for about $65 each on eBay by making an offer.  If you wanted to pick your own tube, you can get the DAC without any upgrades for about $30 less.

You should be able to duplicate my DAC for $500 to $600 to your door and I think that you'd find it to be an upgrade to the bluesound node 2.

One cool thing with the Maverick Audio TubeMagic D2 DAC is that it has parallel solid state and tube buffer outputs and my understanding is that the three opamps are all in the signal path of both outputs.  I found the Sparkos Lab op amps to be a significant upgrade.

I think that my DAC performs above its pricepoint, but I can't say how it would fit into your system.  I have a Pathos Classic One MkIII amplifier with Focal 836V speakers for reference.

I'd second the tube rolling option to potentially improve your system.

I have no experience with a SCHIIT FREYA +, but did recently do some tube rolling in my Pathos Classic One MkIII with amazing results.  I had a less than ideal setup before (still sounded great), but replacing them with a quality set of vintage Mullards the improvement was enough to almost seem like I got a new amplifier.  I have two more sets of the tubes on the way to hold onto for the future.  Another Pathos owner recommended and sold the tubes to me.  By far the best $90 I've spent on audio equipment.

You should be able to find someone that's rolled some tubes in your premaplifier and can point you in the right direction.

@mceljo I have upgraded the tube to a Western Electric 396A that I paid about $90, but I don’t think that I can hear a definitive difference from the GE tube that it replaced.

By chance have you tried using better digi-coax cables? The GE and Tesla tubes sound notably more transparent compared to the WE396/2C51 tubes in my own MDHT Labs Orchid DAC. The WE is much less transparent, a bit more veiled over in some systems, and so much so that I really cannot use it in my all-tube system. Maybe yes with a more detailed SS amp/preamp setups like I had years ago. I’ve tried four different digi-coax (Cardas, Analysis Plus, Audioquest, others) and was suprised to hear a difference with DAC tubes after advancing to better Digi-Coax. Ended up with an OCC copper digi-coax cable for the stremer to DAC, and OCC interconnect cables again from the DAC to my preamp. Now i notice every single tube change in my DAC for better or worse.

Tubes will make a difference. But the don't generally make a dramatic imnprovement.

Here are 2 DACs that will make a significant difference in the price range.

1) Topping D90SE. Maybe the best mesauring DAC and it sounds so clean and detailed. I love this DAC with my warm CODA amp. It costs $900 new. This one uses the ESS chip while the D90 uses the chip which had the factory fire (forgot the name)

2) The Gustard X26 Pro. I just sold it for $925 last week. It is on sale today for $1275

GUSTARD X26 PRO Full Decoding ES9038Pro*2 Chip DSD512 Bluetooth 5.0 X (

This is a warmer DAC and not as detaieed as the Topping D90SE or Benchmark DAC3B, but pretty close. It also has NOS | OS mode with 4 filters for each mode. The sound does change with the filters. This is a great DAC for the price. I sold it to buy the Musetec 005 which is also on sale today for $2969. So that is a big jump in price.

@fullers If you are also considering preamps that have no sound to them, the Topping pre90 ($600) sounds like the Benchmark LA4 ($2600). Both are like wore with gain and do not seem to add to the sound. They measure the same and sound the same. However, the LA4 works great with every amp I had while the pre90 has only worked properly (the volume) with my Benchmark AHB2 amp and Parsound A21+ amp. Not so with a CODA #8 or a few Class D amps I have now sold.

There are a few people on ASR website using the pre90 as their preamp, such as a Stereophile reviewer. He dumped his Benchmarlk LA4 for the pre90. I plan on dumping my pre90 and keeping my LA4.

This is just a very low cost suggestion to get a reference level nuetral sounding preamp. If you want warmth then these 2 preamps are not the correct choices.

Have you ever thought about a used PS Audio Direct Stream DAC and Bridge 11 combination. They can be had quite cheaply now if you scout round then you could have Streamer, DAC and Preamp all in one and have a piece of hardware more comensurate with your other equiptment and also get some money for your other stuff into the bargain. 

A standalone DAC makes a huge difference in SQ over using a component's onboard DAC.  I replaced a combo Headphone Amp / DAC with a Denafrips Pontus II and it was day and night. I run both my Buesound Node 2i and Audiolab CD transport into the Pontus and have never looked back on my decision. Which DAC to buy will depend on your listening tastes. Denafrips makes R2R ladder DACs which are described as having a "natural" sound. If you're on a budget, the Ares II is their entry level DAC.  

Thst makes no sense you need to spend $ 5-6 k

like the Bricasti M3 dac- streamer $6500:retail  would be perfect and night and day better ,for I owned  Krell and latest dac not even close  and the Freda 

is in the beginners class of audio in comparison to the Krell amp,and Wilson 

quality does count !!

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The bluesound gen 3 node is a nice improvement over its predecessors. 

In my opinion - $500-$700 DAC nothing special.  Probbaly better to upgrde the power supply in the Node for better sound until you can affored a much better DAC.

I used the node 2i until I went Roon recently.  The node 2i has a very good digital streamer but not a very good dac  I used an older but excellent external dac..  So when I went roon, and the roon wouldn't recognize the older dac,  I had to use the onboard DAC of my was at best ok (but better than the dac in the node, which I found to be lifeless and lacking definition..  Not making good progress choosing a DAC, I decided to just buy an inexpensive schiit Bifrost 2.  It was recently redesigned and is now R2R design.  I am very impressed and in much less hurry to find a flagship dac   So for $699 I highly recommend the Schiit Bifrost 2.  It was actually in stock last week.  

Lots of good banter here...

I can recommend considering the RME ADI-2 DAC FS.  You need to Google this one because saying it's a DAC is a substantial understatement.  In fact, I got mine as much for its headphone amp and its DSP features as for basic conversion.  If you have significantly different hearing, L vs R, plus would like to enjoy your headphones with a massive leap in enjoyment--it is a MUST consider.  Once you go German, you can't go back--it's verboten :-)

It initially used AK4490, later on the AK4493 (I have this one in mine).   Last I knew, new production used ES9028Q2M for its supposedly high-quality DA conversion. I have read this chip is similar to the AK4493 in features and technical specifications, which must be why RME continued without a model number change to the ADI-2 DAC, kept its quality, and with only slight change in features.


I attribute the lack of significant difference between the GW and WE tubes to them being in a tube buffer output. I wouldn’t expect a tube to make as much difference as it potentially could in something like a Jolida FX Tube DAC. I am using a 3 foot Blue Jeans Cable silver plated coaxial cable. On a whim, I opted for the silver plated cable vs. their standard copper version.

Take a look at the Simaudio 390 or it's predecessor the 350. Excellent preamps with very good DACs on board. Really, it depends on your listening preference. If your world is digital it's worth going bigger. The 390 gets you a full use preamp, for not too crazy money. Both it and the 350p are highly regarded. I would agree overall your preamp is most likely the thing to upgrade first. 

I have owned a McIntosh C220 for about 10 years.  Absolutely love it.  

A Mac preamp is of the right caliber for your system. But make sure you audion it or at least a Mac system before you commit. Many people love it. Mac is a well respected and loved brand, but it has a very distinct sound, heavy on the bass, good midrange bloom but soft in details. It excels at playing rock. It may perfectly match what you want, or not. It would not hurt to listen to a few systems to set your direction. Might try, Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, Sim. 

I was in a similar situation; good amp and speakers, mediocre pre, Bluesound Vault (which uses the Node 2i and adds a CD ripping ability). I added a used Benchmark 1 for $300 (at the time), and the difference was immediately noticeable; a big improvement.  I'm told that the later Benchmarks are much better, and have been hoping to upgrade to a $1K to $2K DAC for over a year; the Gustard X26 mentioned above by @yyzsantabarbara is currently at the top of my list, as is the Brooklyn DAC+, but there are SO many possible choices.  When I do pull the plug, I'll be surprised if the improvement is as noticeable as it was from the addition of my Benchmark 1; I'd strongly encourage you to get a better DAC than the one you have in your Bluesound 2i; Your range of $500 to $700 should work, expecially if you buy used.  Or, if you're willing to spend more, get a pre with a good DAC in it; either way I'm sure you'll enjoy the difference!

You need a good dac the bricasti is Excellent however the volume control is anoying  it is a tap tap tap to get louder


Lumin t2 excellent dac superb.streaming and its volume control is exemplary


You need to invest The right pieces will make the system come alive


Your source is as important as your loudspeakers



Dave and troy


audio intellect nj

Bricasti and lumim krell dealers





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You will wet yourself when you buy a real DAC.

$790 will buy the Denafrips Ares 2. 

Best thing about buying this one is that if you

decide against it, 2 hours on Agon and it will

resold for exactly what you paid.

Get back to us when your shorts dry!!!


My first recommendation is upgrade the tube of your Freya plus with pavane tennis ball 6sn7 on the tube buffer. And pavane 6sn7 uk version tubes on gain. It will transform your Freya  closer to a highend preamp, for $250 cost, I love my Freya plus ,For Dac Tmr audio has Ares Dac and Schiit gungnir listed..check it out.

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The Freya with a good power cable , it improve also considering it match.

@cheeg I sold the Gustard X26 Pro last week. I really liked it but wanted to try the Musetec 005 which I ordered yesterday (on sale).  The only thing the Gustard lacked was uber levels of detail as my Topping D90SE and Benchamrk DAC3B.  Not eveyone likes the level of detail that I like.

I agree that it sounds like a good idea to change both dac and pre-amp. If you want one integrated unit or two separates are up to you. I did take a look in the latest TAS, issue 321, since it has a buyer's guide. There are a lot fewer on-box solutions than dacs or pre-amps, you will have less to choose from but maybe get a more cost effective solution.

They did list NAD C658 and Nuprime DAC-10H as combos. The latter may be more of a dac with volume, I don't know if it has any analog inputs or if you require any.

You will wet yourself when you buy a real DAC.

$790 will buy the Denafrips Ares 2. 

Best thing about buying this one is that if you

decide against it, 2 hours on Agon and it will

resold for exactly what you paid.

Get back to us when your shorts dry!!!


Anyone who would pey the new price for something used probably shouldn't be allowed to live alone.


+1 The Absolute Sound and Stereophile Recommended Components issue.


A two box solutions allow greater flexibility to upgrade one aspect... save up for next upgrade... etc. you might save a few dollars with a single box solution... but long-term is unlikely to be as cost effective unless this is your only upgrade.



Cool. Good choice. Take your time, you will be rewarded.