I think it will be helpful if you can tell us what is it that you feel is missing, and what type of experience are you searching for?
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Hard to say, but my vocals and guitars are superb and my base is outstanding. I’m looking for the mid range music part of music, like maybe the reverberations in a cello or the in depth sound or residue left over from the various types of drum cymbals
Looking for more realism in each of the other types of instruments
You don’t mention cables, but if you basically like the sound you have now, you might consider upgrading the IC between your amp and preamp and/or the digital cable unless they’re already top notch. Good cables can really open up the sound, giving you a better presentation of what you already have. Sometimes the lack of overtones could be due to a high noise floor, which better cables may help. Or not. When you buy without audition it’s always hit and miss. Good luck.
Given your price range and system, you could look at a Chord Hugo TT2. Nice DAC that has filters which give you a little flex in terms of sound profile.
Alternatively, the PS Audio DSD is a nice unit that could be down in your price range with a trade to PS Audio. They are super flexible in what they are willing to accept.
Rockna Wavelight would be another good alternative and is on budget without any issue. Rockna makes some brilliant products.
Any of these three should be better than the DAC in your pre.
That being said, a lot of folks would say upgrading your streamer will do more than upgrading your DAC. It sounds odd but makes more of a difference than you would think. Check out Lumin as they make some great streamers.
Full disclosure, I am a Chord Dealer and have access to a few other brands.
I have a mac c2600, been using the internal dac streaming from a bluesound node 2i. Also occassionally listen to the node 2i dac analogue outputs. I thought it couldn't get much better. Then I got the bug and started auditioning some dacs. Chord hugo tt2, base model dcs, and bricasti m3. Settled on the bricasti, much improvement over the mac dac and node 2i. Everything you're looking for. I'll probably sell the nose 2i soon if anybody is interested. Chord and dcs sounded very good but I thought the m3 to my ears was better. The review from 'teajay' from I think 'stereo times' was accurate.
In April I went from a node 2 to a Mytek Manhattan II DAC w/ network card. This produced an orders of magnitude increase is SQ. I was right where you are now feeling that the SQ from the node 2 was very satisfying but it seemed to me that I wasn’t getting upper midrange clarity during intense passages. But when I got the new DAC the improvement was across the board - yes the upper midrange became much more defined and detailed but so did the top and especially the bottom. It was really very intense. I learned lyrics I’d been listening to for 40 years (think REM), I started counting the number of backing vocalists and identifying their sex. Didn’t realize digital could be this good.
I also have had a very good experience with Mytek (I bought direct, not through a dealer). At the time they had a special going on - $300 off the DAC plus a free network card. I had been planning to use node 2 as a streamer and did for about a week but found I liked the network card in the Manhattan better - but not by a lot as the main improvement was clearly from DAC.
I have posted several times about this DAC upgrade and have been waiting to be accused of working for Mytek. I have no financial relationship with them other than the $5700 I sent them for the DAC. But my main point is that at your price point, regardless of what DAC you pick, you can expect an amazing leap in digital SQ over your current rig.
I’ll be interested to hear what you decide to do and what your results are.
Based on the components in your system the Node is the weak link imo.
+1 on the Sonnet Morpheus.
I have done A/B comparisons with my Metrum Acoustics Pavane and they are close but the Morpheus has a more focused sound stage especially the center imaging and it has a little more weight to the sound.
Cees uses 16 DACs on 4 boards with FPGA on each as opposed to 8 DACs on 8 transient modules. The Morpheus is a continuation of his R2R design but it's in a less expensive case to bring the cost way down compared to the Pavane and the Adagio
I have a similar system, Mac c46 and 501 amps with Dynaudio C4s and jlaudio e112 subs. I use a Bryston BDA3 DAC to good effect. Natural sounding with a good detailed presentation and wide sound stage. I use all MIT Magnum cabling and power cords. I am currently demoing Audioquest HC storm series power cords for my amps with impressive results. More open presentation with much finer detail from my better recordings. Steve
The DAC in your preamp is significantly better than the Node 2.
There are loads of DACs that will sound different, but better? Only you will be able to decide that.
When I embarked on my quest for a DAC, I too had a budget of $4 - $5K. I went from a Schiit Bifrost Multibit to a Teac UD-501 to a Gustard x20Pro DAC mated to a Singxer SU-1 DDC (connected via IIS). I stopped there. I listen to FLAC (ripped CDs) and DSD files through this setup. I did audition others but this was the sweet spot for my system (and ears).
FWIW I have Martin Logan Spires being fed by Soundcraftsmen PM860 monoblocks (600 W), connected to a Don Sachs Model 1 linestage.
You will receive tons of recommendations but I'd advise auditioning any DAC in your system first. Lots of companies offer a no questions asked money back guarantee.
All you'd be out is shipping which a small price to pay (IMHO).
I use a McIntosh MDA 1000 dac in my Mac system. It's an older model, but the best dac McIntosh ever made. Far superior to the dacs found in their current preamps ( I own a C48). Very analog sounding. They can be had for $3000-$3500,but they sell quickly and are highly desired. Do a search and read the steller reviews on this unit. Had a Electrocompaniet ECD-1 prior to Mac. Similar close sonics. One for sale on USA Audiomart at a great price. My dac search is now over.
Thanks for the tip to turn off the audio clock trim; had no idea of this setting. Pretty noticeable difference and I agree it sounds better off at least with my DAC. I thought it sounded great before, but astonished it sounds better. I’m using a Vault 2 through RME ADI 2 fs/Teddy Pardo. Thanks!
Look for a PS Audio DirectStream DAC used (the latest firmware really opened it up in a way that fits your search). Definitely change to better used cables!! You should be able to do both with your budget. Look for older generations of Audioquest, Synergistic Research, etc. This alone will move you toward your goal noticeably!!
If you are looking into strict D/A conversion performance, it seems like there are quite a bit of new high performance and reasonably priced DACs, such as the brand new SMSL SU-9 Balanced USB DAC (US $439.99), which perform better than most R2R DACs and many of the DACs listed above. The SMSL SU-9 has a SINAD of 120 dB while, for example, the Auralic Vega G2 has a SINAD of 116 dB. You can later decide to color your output signal using whatever, DSP, preamp or amp you like.
I like Gustard A22 DAC’s sound, and how it looks. A22 uses two AK4499EQ latest ’n’ greatest chips from Akamai, buffered with balanced class A "discrete components circuit” outputs. Class A output on my opinion is much better than most design based with Op-Amp chips, and it does sound very close to tubes. Gustard A22 has “professional" look, very heavy for its size, enclosure is CNCed out of thick aluminum and deep anodized ( I have black version) , and internally uses high quality components. Power supplies for digital and analog parts are separated, and use different toroidal, shielded in cans transformers. The only negative note I have is a Display, which looks too simple, and also "Volume dB" setting could be larger. I would recommend anyone to check it out.
Wow, thanks for all the input.
Since I will not be able to audition any of
the awesome products people have listed here, and boy do they sound awesome, I have decided to stick with a DAC that i considerably quite a bit at the beginning of this DAC purchase process.
I’ve chosen the Lumin T2. Mainly because of it close proximity to the X1, the rave people praise it, it’s cost, and it’s branding. The X1 is a little out of my price range.
Since I have these cables now,
I will stay with Tributaries 8 Reference Cables.
At some point, maybe my next upgrade
will be cables.
Thanks for all the helpful input