Wisdom of buying high priced digital gear (given new advancements underway)


Wanted to ask for thoughts from others on the forum who have been playing with digital front ends longer than I... I only recently dove into streamed hi res music given the Covid shut-in...(although I am climbing the learning curve pretty fast)

I have been an avid trader/tester of good used hifi gear for many years now, a cost effective way of auditioning and understanding high end pieces in my own system, my own home.  Not for publication or posted reviews, just for my enjoyment and improving my own rig.  Buy smart on the front end, can usually get all or most of your money back when you sell, so it is a fairly low cost trial and ownership experience.

As I am fairly new to the world of stand-alone streamers and DACs, as well as combo units like a Hegel amp with onboard DAC, my question is whether it is wise to buy some of the more expensive high end streamers and DACs, say in the 3-4-5 grand (and up) range.

For instance, a Bluesound Node 2i is a capable digital bit-source (weak internal DAC noted) at only $500, so I question the benefit of buying a $2-3-4k unit from Innuos, Brooklyn, Auralic etc etc?  But if I do, just to try them, I am concerned there will be newer units out in the future, and these used units may take significant value hits.

Same thought for high end DACs... there are so many DACs out there, from high-value units like Chord, Schitt, RME for around a grand (or even less) -- what is the downside risk of climbing the curve of diminishing returns to get, say, for example, a Denafrips Terminator or PS Audio DS or Chord Dave for $4-5-6 grand used?  

I guess what I am really asking is what is the relative stability of the technology, product development, and the trickle down effect in the streamer and DAC markets, and does this materially affect the loss of value for the higher priced units more so than with old school analog gear.  This is something I feel I pretty well understand for speakers, preamps, turntables, the like...but not so much for the digital stuff, especially as streaming is really developing fast on the high end scene in recent years...

Thoughts welcome.  Thanks in advance.
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Showing 3 responses by jjss49

Good discussion so far, thanks for the thoughts.

I have pretty much decided for now it is not worth it to go for a more expensive streamer than my Node 2i and Sonos w/ reclocker - both are nice, clean bit sources with good useability. I think todays’s streamer choices are more tied to user interface, which can vary all over the map in quality, flexibility and ease of use. SQ is pretty decent as long as the bitstream is low jitter. I have not given in to the Roon thing yet, despite its purported superiority - prefer to see if Roon survives the streaming shake-out that is likely coming. Shouldn’t surprise us if a few years down the road only Spotify and Amazon are the whales -- having eaten Tidal, Deezer, Quboz all niche players...

DAC’s are more challenging and unclear. I agree that some inexpensive DACs sound really really good. On a lark, I picked up an old Van Alstine TOPP FET tube DAC for $400 - old thing, 15 years old, NOS Philips chip, big box, redbook input only -- but OMG it sounds so right!   Better to me than hi res thru a ’modern DAC’ like a Topping D90 with newest AKM chip... which is clear but somewhat bleached out, much more mechanical sounding...

Also got a nice MHDT NOS R2R tube DAC and a Border Patrol to try... they are both sub $1K pieces used, sound very organic and musical, with excellent detail and slam in my system. Just wondering how much better the DACs are that are 3-4-5-6x in price.... not sure I want to pay to find out!


@gdnrbob

ayre codex... workin’ on it! thanks!

@lalitk

re the node 2i, yep, i have it... good streamer, poor dac, good interface, but really can’t complain for the $

@big_greg

i pretty much agree with your definition of expensive... i am lucky to be able to afford most audio equipment, short of the insane megabuck pieces. losing a couple hundred bucks on a piece is no problem, when its over a grand or more on a single piece, i think carefully

i also agree on your notion that it is all about how good it sounds, could care less about MQA or high res in and of themselves, but since they have a lot attention through marketing if nothing else, i have checked them out to see what they have to offer... and in doing so, the original posted question has come to mind

streaming services are in flux, wifi bandwidth and usage is in flux, chip companies and hifi equipment makers big and small keep working on new stuff, for better or worse, from an audiophile sound quality perspective


@photomax

your point is well taken but the intent of my original post is to define a price point where purchasing modern digital gear makes sense (for normal people who value money and have competing priorities for spending of it) to get very good quality and minimizing the risk of 'wasting' money as things move on

i have come to the conclusion that about $1000 for a streamer (used) and $1500-1800 (used) max are the cut off points for me... i have tried several highly regarded streamers and dacs more expensive than these levels now, and i have formed my opinion of where the sweet spots are in their value curves - just my opinion, using my system, my ears, my sense of the value of money

@jetter

don’t know about modi - it is schiit’s bottom dac... i tried a bifrost mb it was ok but somewhat sibilant, sold it, currently have a gumby in house, it is nicer for sure. warmer, clearer, less sibilant all at the same time than the bifrost as i remember it

if you want a really inexpensive dac to beat the pants off the internal node 2i dac i suggest a chord mojo... some ergonomic differences to be navigated but the sound is absolutely superb for how inexpensive that cute lil thing is