Will adding an external DAC to my setup improve SQ significantly?


Hello everyone,
My current setup is as follows:
  • Buchardt S300 MK2 stand mount speakers
  • Peachtree Audio Nova 125 integrated amp
  • Bluesound Node 2i streamer
  • OPPO BDP93 Universal player
  • ProJect Debut Carbon Esprit DC w/Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge 
  • Bluejeans cables and interconnects throughout

The context:

Nowadays, my music comes 70% from SPOTIFY/QOBUZ/TIDAL streaming to the Bluesound Node 2i, with the rest coming from local files stored in my laptop, as well as older vinyls and CDs.

I listen mostly to all styles of Jazz, Classical, World Music, some Classic Rock, and even some easy listening tunes when the mood strikes me, all of this at reasonable volumes, but sometimes cranking it up some...

My listening room is our untreated living/dining room ( 550 square feet).

Now for my question:

While I very much enjoy the sound I'm getting for this modest but pretty good sounding system, I have read here and there that adding an external DAC can potentially improve on the overall SQ, as opposed to sticking to the Bluesound's internal DAC...

Before I go and spend hard earned money on what may not be a significant/worthwhile improvement, I wanted to ask those of you with much more experience than I your opinions. Of course, Bluesound owners are especially invited to chime in.

I really love the Buchardt speakers and would love to get the very best out of them.

Thanks very much for your input, experiences and of course, eventual advice as to what external DAC would fit the bill.

My budget is limited to around $1000, as it wouldn't make sense to spend more on a DAC in a system this modest, or am I wrong?

I have beend advised to checkout the upcoming SMSL M500. Any of you guy know much about these chinese machines (Topping/ SMSL/ Denafrips...). They appear to be very competitive price and specs wise, but I'm too much of a newbie to tell the difference, especially as it applies to my specific gear and circumstances.

Regards to all!

jlr261
Ag insider logo xs@2xjlr261
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Looks like you may have 3 Dacs in your system already, the BS node, the Peachtree and the Oppo. I have the Node 2i and it is a strong Dac. It compares well with my Yggdrasil Dac, and performs to a higher level in my Reference system. Also does a fine job in my mid level system. Not sure $1000.00 investment will give you noticeable improvement over your Node 2i. Only way to tell is to test a few, if you can. 
There’s an L.K.S. MH-DA004 on usaudiomart for $800 from New York. It’s pretty much half of retail.  That being said, I think the interconnects and cabling are definitely a weak link in your system.  You would probably get a bigger boost on performance by spending that $1k on new cabling instead of a better DAC. 
Thank you all for your inputs and opinions, I suspected that a significant SQ improvement would involve much more expenses.Certainly, I'll give auxinput1's advice to look into better cabling some thought. Do you have any specific suggestions in view of my setup? To be quite honest, I am quite impressed with the SQ I get now, but thought it would be a good idea to continue exploring possibilities...Again, thanks very much and happy listening!jlr261


For all those curious about DACs, the Arizona AV Club is partnering with several manufacturers and dealers to produce a DAC shootout on Saturday August 24th 11am to 3pm.

The event will be held at Acoustic Designs 16074 N. 78th Street, Suite B104, Scottsdale, AZ 85260.

The following DACs will be present:

  • Schiit Yggdrasil
  • Chord Qutest
  • Benchmark DAC3
  • iFi Audio Pro iDSD
  • PS Audio DirectStream
  • Holo Audio Spring DAC2
  • Jolida Glass FX DAC 
  • NuPrime Evolution DAC
  • L.K.S. DAC MH-DA004
  • Line Magnetic

The DACs will be played in an acoustically treated room on a reference system consisting of Focal Maestro Utopia Evos driven by SAE and Acoustic Research gear.

If you have any interest in hearing well regarded DACs on a top tier system don't miss this event! There is a $10 entry fee. RSVPs are appreciated due to limited seating; multiple sessions will be available. There will also be a speaker from Chord present to talk about their technology.

More information here: www.AZAVCLUB.COM


Have you tried using the digital out of the Node 2i to the Peachtree to see what it sounds like using the DAC in the Nova 125? I don't know if it will be better or worse than the DAC in the Bluesound, but it may be a sound you prefer.
I have a Bluesound Node 2i in my main rig and have used it with both a Bryston BDA-1 and more recently with a Chord Qutest.  So for me personally the answer would be a most definite yes.  Depth of sound stage, ability to see into the music, and hear things you otherwise would not are all present with a good outboard DAC.   But a warning, higher quality DACs such as the Bryston and the Chord tend to be more incisive and revealing, and with some recordings, especially poorer recordings, may be less forgiving than the Bluesound's own inboard DAC.  It all depends upon what you are looking for.   You could probably find something along the lines of the Bryston BDA-1 for around $700 used (it's a 10 year old design but was a $2000 piece in its time).  The Chord Qutest is a current model, and with a little looking could probably land a new one for around $1600.  I can recommend both of them highly at those respective price points. 
Dear gadios7, everest_audio, and jazzman7,

First of all, thanks very much for your useful insights.

gadios7: I am keen on learning the results of the DAC shootout. A good number of the units included are somewhere in my wish list...

everest_audio: I currently use the Coaxial out from the Node 2i going to the Peachtree Audio's coaxial 1. As of now, I use our WIFI to connect the Node 2i to our home network, would changing to an Ethernet hookup improve SQ?


Jazzman7: I am really impressed with what I read on the various forums, etc. about the Chord Qutest, and of course, Bryston is a very well regarded brand all around. Will the results be available for Audiogon members?


Have any of you had a chance test/hear some of the more affordable Chinese brand DACs. I've read good things about DENAFRIPS, SMSL, TOPPING, etc.
The specs of the units I have considered are quite high, but I do understand that this does not mean that all components used are of a high enough caliber to bring the most out of the units (hence the very competitive prices?). Curious to see what you guys think about these brands.


At this point, it appears to me that a worthwhile improvement in my setup's SQ is not really available unless I upgrade to a way above average DAC...

Mind you, I am currently satisfied with the SQ I obtain, but I have noticed that my redbook CD's going through the OPPO player + Peachtree sound somewhat more refined and detailed than the music I stream from SPOTIFY, etc.


Hence my original post. Certainly, I also want to learn about the various possibilities out there.


Voilà, thanks again, I am in no real hurry, just curious and taken by this most wonderful of hobbies: Music listening/enjoyment!!!

Regards to all,jlr261

As mentioned, you already have 3 DACs.  I have the Bluesound Node2, and Oppo 105 and 203s, which I will presume have better DACs than the 93.  I have never heard the Peachtree.
  The Node2 DAC is ok but can definitely be bettered.  At one point I was running into an old PS Audio DLink3 that I had lying around unused and the old DAC definitely improved the sound.  I gather that you prefer the DAC from the Node over that of the Peachtree so I would think that a modestly priced DAC will up your system
Check out Denafrips Ares II, great sounding DAC and incredible value. It will be a perfect companion for Node 2i.

Spotify offers low resolution streaming hence your CD’s sounds better. Stick with Tidal or Qobuz streaming for better listening experience.
jlr261, to answer your question, you shouldn't hear any sound quality difference going from wifi to Ethernet on your Bluesound.
jlr621,
In your quest, try to tune into what you are looking for.
DACs have different personalities.  Don't get hung up on the chip set.  It is the manufacturer's implementation of a given chip set is where the rubber meets the road, especially with respect to the op amps.  Two different DACs using the very same chip set may exhibit very different personalities based upon differences in their implementation.  What matters most is what you yourself like.  So my advice to you would be to go forth and listen, at friends, at dealers, to figure out what you like best.
Also seek out reviewers that you trust, and have a good sense of how to interpret.   I personally seek out reviews by both John Darko and Mike Lavorgna.   Happy hunting.  
Good morning everyone!
I can't  thank you enough for your various suggestions and advice, it really helps me to learn more about this wonderful hobby, and hopefully, make sound decisions as to what the next move could be.

mahler123: thanks for sharing your experience with the Node 2 and associated equipment.

Lalitk: I am really intrigued by the Denafrips Ares II, on which they are currently offering a 10% discount on an already quite reasonable price... I can afford it !! May very well pull the trigger and resell should it not work out...

everest_audio: thanks,  I wasn't  sure there would be no difference between WIFI and wired connection... 

jazzman7: I hear you loud and clear, each person's  perception will be different. But since I currently reside in the Central African country of Gabon, where there is NO serious audio reseller, I have to pretty much rely on forums,  reviews, and occasional trips abroad  to have a listen... I have read several of John Darko's reviews, and a few from Mike Lavorgna, and enjoyed them thoroughly.  

Thanks again everyone  and keep it coming!

Regards, jlr261
Great advice to you here! 

I agree on trying out the DAC in the Peachtree as it’s a free and fun thing to do. 

I have a NODE 2i as well. It’s a fairly good DAC but nothing special and it’s a tad noisy.  See https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-bluesound-node...

as folks say, it’s really a matter of improving overall quality while zoning in on what you want most. Some DACs are state of the art and won’t offend but may sound sterile to you. 

I moved to a tube DAC.  The Doge Audio 7. See https://www.doge.audio/products/tube-dac/doge-7-tube-dac/

It’s slightly north of your budget. 

One thing you you could do on the cheap is to reduce jitter. I love this product ! See https://ifi-audio.com/products/spdif-ipurifier/


@gadios

Will the results of the Arizona DAC shootout be published on-line?
Good evening everyone!

Just a short message to thank all of you again for your inputs and opinions, I am learning much and so glad to be a member of such a community where I can benefit from the experiences of so many fellow enthusiasts.

I have decided to first invest in a few collateral improvements, such as better cables and cleaner signal transmission, etc.

I also need to do some more experimenting of my existing three DACs before purchasing a fourth one, that certainly makes more sense...

So thanks again, I'll keep you posted on the evolution of things and most of all... keep enjoying the music, beacause it's my main goal and joy!!

Cheers,jlr261