Best EXTERNAL DAC suggestions

Yes, I have the latest addition to the Bluesound node, I guess third generation, prior to the most recent anniversary X addition. I know they have improved the inner DACS with each version but now I’m asking what would be some thing better in your opinion and one that is in the ballpark.

I have Cornwall Heritage IV speakers, and I am currently running a NAD C 316BEE amp( which pairs well with Klipsch 102 db) at 40 WPC. In the winter my Mancave is heated by a tube Cary SLI-80, UL /Triode 4/8 OHMS. 
either way, I love the ability of the Bluesound node to be my preamp and facilitating my Apple Airplay 2 and the eArc into the TV/CD. Mancave is treated, speakers and me complete a 6’ triangle.

128x128Ag insider logo xs@2xmoose89

What improvements/sound characteristics are you looking for and what’s your budget?

Totally depends on what improvements/sound characteristics you’re looking for, so I ask again…

Mike Moffit, the Schiit digital designer is one of the greats. He's been at the top of his field for over 4 decades.

Soekris dac1421 is worth a look. As a bonus it has variable output, can be matched to an Apple Remote, and has a headphone output with crossfeed. 

+1 for the Denafrips Ares/Enyo - especially if you're looking for warmth and soundstage.

For warmth, a used MHDT Orchid will come in at your budget. +2 on the Ares. 

Schiit is a lot of things, but warmth isn’t one of them. I have a Bifrost2/64 right now and it is clear, airy, detailed and articulate with decent soundstaging. Best analogy is like an economical 4k TV with the contrast and sharpness just a click or two too high. Great for a lot of reasons, but warmth and ultimate natural realism isn’t it’s strongest features. It was better after a few modifications to the output card, but then I went too far and destroyed the board so I’m back to square one with a stock output card.

Just bought an MHDT Atlantis to play with and knowing that is easier to modify I should be able to tinker a little easier. From what I’ve read that dac is supposed to be on the smoother side and modifications and tube rolling brings it back to more neutral and snappy, clear side. We’ll see how it goes.

I forgot to mention, in this price range it's hard to really lose money. Do some testing and trading. Try one out on a whim, especially if you can score a good option used. Live with it a few weeks and if you don't like it, put it up for sale and try another.

@moose89 your comment here "Mancave is treated, speakers and me complete a 6’ triangle" is kinda throwing me. Can’t imagine, and with those speakers. I’m a former owner of SLI-80, fwiw. Selecting the right dac in your case is critical, imo.

As for dacs, I can share recent experience with MHDT Orchid w/upgrades (all possible tubes), current Schiit Bifrost 2/64 and Border Patrol SE-I now too. I’ve enjoyed all three of these dacs for different reasons. Each sounds different.

For anyone to help more - if I may suggest, you need to share a little bit more about this six foot triangle space you are listening in. What are the actual dimensions of this room/space, walls, width, ceiling height? Wow, and how close are you sitting to the Cornwall speakers? (i.e. really, a 6’ triangle?); share more details...


yes. Converted single garage on a raised Peco wooden floor with a space between the cement and floating floor. Room is 20 x 12, listening space is 12 x 12, and ceilings 9’. triangle is accurate, and one speaker is in a corner, and I have put rollers with platforms below the Cornwalls to tweak them as needed. My room is full of performed wall coverings and rug and La-Z-Boy recliner sets directly across from my television and entertainment center and a 7 foot or 6 foot triangle.

Best DAC I ever tried and used myself was the Playback Designs MPD6. I liked it so much that I traded in my MPD6 for the MPD8. I am not the type to spend 20k+ on DACs... first time for me.

If you’re using your Bluesound Node as preamp, you will continue to be held back in the two areas you’re looking to improve. In my opinion, picking up a good preamp, i.e. Rogue RP1, will take you further than adding an external DAC. Just a thought…

DACs under $1000, even used, will not offer much of an improvement especially if you’re bottlenecking the system with the Node as a preamp. 

If you don’t want to get a dedicated preamp, I would then recommend a used Lumin D1 which is a streamer with a built in DAC. It has a better DAC and a much better volume control than the Bluesound Node. Only downside is the Lumin app which is not as user friendly as Blue. 

For warmth and soundstage a used Gustard X26 Pro (i owned) or maybe the new Gustard  R2R version which I have not owned. Both can be bought for under a $1000.



I’ll tell you, I have several systems with one as my reference. In my reference I jumped from a node to an Esoteric network player and it was a quantum leap in DACs, sound wise, performance and the ability to play DSD. However, I’ve played with using external DACs on my other vintage systems with the node as a streamer and the Nodes DACs are hard to beat. Even from their earlier version nodes. The only thing that came close at that particular price point were a Schitt Mani and an Jolida Glass tx tube dac however none or poor DSD support. So, I guess what I’m getting too is if you’re considering an upgrade go big or stay with what you have and enjoy! Otherwise the cost vs benefit isn’t there and you’re just wasting you money. Hope this helps and enjoy!

I think many Burr Brown based designs will deliver the warmth that you’re looking for. Bluesound Node uses Burr Brown (except for the latest X which uses Sabre).


check out the Parasound Classic 200 (preamp or integrated) which implements the PCM1798 quite well and can be found used for about $1000.


Or, if you use Roon then the best that I’ve heard in that price range is one of the old Parasound D/AC 1000/1500/2000 which used the PCM63. I mention Roon because that chip can only accept 16/48 so you’d need to set the Node output in Roon not to send a signal higher than that sample rate. As an aside, Mike Moffat is on record saying that the PCM63 is the best DAC chip ever made. The fellas from Pass Labs are also on record saying the same.

Might want to check this....but if you're using the Node as a Pre then the output is an analogue signal.  Not sure how you work an external DAC into this configuration.

"@moose89 La-Z-Boy recliner sets directly across from my television and entertainment center and a 7 foot or 6 foot triangle.


Got it. So the room itself if larger than I was wondering about.   Firstly, hundreds of posts over the years of people pairing external dacs with Nodes.  The BB and ESS chips version dacs sound different too, heard them natively on a few buddies systems, and after adding external dacs. Lots of members here who've done it and live well with external dacs today.   Each benefited from external dacs, however they were looking for something different, such as more clarity, less grain, smoother sound, etc.  Two more questions fwiw.

1) What are you looking for "more" or "less" of from your system now, as it stands in your existing room configuration and system setup?  i.e I recall you said warmer and soundstage. How about at the loss of some detail to be warmer, and may lose some soundstage - etc, is that okay, etc.  i.e List what's most important to you 1,2,3. Folks here can get you closer - those who've tried 4+ dacs with Nodes. 

2) Have you experimented a lot with Toe-in vs Toe straitght (zero toe) and Toe out with the Cornwalls on rollers (nice)?  I learned about this later in my audio ventures, free and easy to do, and can be quite interesting with horn speakers too. i.e. I cannot toe my speakers in too much, or it yields a beaming sound I don't like. 

Warmth and soundstage

Your goals are crying out for a tubed DAC.  At just above your price target there’s the excellent MHDT Orchid others have recommended here.  At a bit below your price target there’s the Black Ice Glass DAC.  In both cases you have the benefit of being able to tube roll to further customize the sound to your liking if you so desire, and if nothing else it’s nice to have the option.  If you’re tube averse a good R2R DAC like the Denafrips Ares II, as others have mentioned, is worth a look.  Hope this helps, and best of luck. 

answered in your other thread, but +1 on Black Ice @soix however the stock tubes were just OK - I put NOS Mullard's in almost immediately - they are not cheap but even so still a bargain for how good the sound is. 


i got your drift. And I bought the Rogue RP-1. I took all these wonderful opinions and suggestions in. The reasons for the reasoning. It just makes sense to firstly allow my Bluesound Node3 to run through a hybrid tube preamp. I may even now go back to my Marantz Model 15, at 60 (old school) WPC for fun, after giving my NAD C 316BEE v2 a listen at (40) WPC. 

 I have to see/hear if an EXTERNAL DAC will now be order?

And come tube amp use in the Fall, ( my Mancave is 75 degrees + now in TN with the TCL 55” TV on)as the weather goes chilly, the Cary SLI-80 tube amp comes out to provide warmth… (hopefully this new Rogue RP-1 half-tube preamp runs coolish?) Anyone know? But I wonder how the Cary tube amp will sound with the Rogue RP – 1?

Nice!!! Yes I think this is the best move to upgrade the sound quality. The DAC in the node is not terrible at all. Yes you can do better but not with $1000  

As to RP-1, it doesn’t run hot. There’s a little “window” above the two 12AU7 tubes. One note on tubes - the stock JJs are quiet and reliable but you can do better with Gold Lion (not expensive, good improvement). Listen to it with stock JJs to get used to it first though. One other thing I really liked about RP1 when I had it was the built in phono stage. Surprisingly good!

Fun thread! Good info. As a resident MidFi guy in the group, I’m lovin’ the Auris Audifi. Versatile WiFi devise with ESS Sabre DAC that connects to many music services through the 4Stream phone app. Under $300 and often sold out. The marketplace speaks :)

The weakest parts of my system are my ears, but I’m living in the golden era of Internet info and luxuriate in a recapped high current throwback rig that blends this group’s knowledge with 40 year old pro-audio power. You folks have tipped me to ways I can burrow under HiFi mark ups to find stuff like Mogami cables, the dynamics of “heritage” baffle step box speakers and strong DAC bits hidden in inexpensive devices.

it pays to lurk here! I’m getting huge returns from an unpowered Schiit Sys pre amp switch with an analog pot in line from the Audifi DAC. The discussions here about gain and interconnects were golden. Digital levels maxed with Canare 75 ohm cable into the Sys, with its analog gain pot very low…magically created an awesome soundstage from Mogami 3103 connected Wharfedale Lintons with a small REL sub. Some really smart poster tipped me to try this, noting that “line level” used to be lower into amps like my 1980s era pro audio Crown amps. Might sound like “Red Green Show” stuff to the high end folks here but it is amazingly musical in the confines of our vintage bungalow LOL

I didn't know any better and was using the Node for a preamp.  I have rhe 2i.  It is a digital volume control and "bit strips"  I changed it to "fixed volume".  Very important!  I have very similar speakers.  I use a passive Khozmo preamp.  My system is quiet, detailed and neutral.  You have lots of choices to make your system sound better.

I have to see/hear if an EXTERNAL DAC will now be order?

First, congrats on the new pre!  I’m sure you’re gonna hear very significant improvements, and please let us know what you think once you getter burned in a bit.  
That said, significant further improvements await ridding yourself of the Node’s onboard DAC especially now that you’ve got a good preamp that’ll more fully expose the benefits of a good separate DAC.  I think you’ve got a lot to look forward to in the future, and congrats again on the new pre.

Tubed R2R DAC.........The One and Only...............drum roll please...................................................................Audio Mirror Toubadour IV-SE.............Everyone that owns this unit is Gaga over it. You will be too.

If you are looking for warmth and soundstage, put some NOS Mullard  12au7 tubes in that Rogue. I had a Rogue Pharaoh integrated and replaced the stock JJ tubes with the Mullards. This took the Pharaoh to another level. Warmth and 3D stage in spades! Not cheap, a pair will set you back approx. $140, but well worth the investment. 

@mr_m I used Brimar CV4003 from upscale audio in the RP-1. I think these and your mullards are essentially the same tubes. Very nice improvement but the Gold Lions aren’t too far behind

I have no experience with Gold Lion tubes, but I'm sure they are great tubes based on reputation. 

I think the CV 4003 tubes are military grade variants of the 12au7, but are essentially the same. 


hey appreciate your comments on Mogami … so I ordered a couple RCA pairs off EBay to hook up my Rogue preamp! They are priced right. What do you like about them? Moose

I really like the sound of low capacitance cable, which is a characteristic of most all Mogami products. Clearer high frequencies and overall higher current. My Heritage Wharfedale Lintons got noticeably louder but lost a little of their sound stage at first, but I figured that my analog preamp gain was too high and I just didn’t hear the higher noise floor until I plugged in the Mogami 3103 cables! They are very musical with just enough bite to not add any obvious warmth. Great value IMO.

@retrocrownfan Just curious what have you compared the Canare and Mogami  cables to?  Would be interesting/useful for context. 

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I didn’t listen to both but did build a theory that guided me a try Mogami.My Wharfedale Lintons are tweaked by designer Peter Comeau to deliver a rich low end and uses crossover right at their big box baffle step. Love ‘em but they don’t have a natural sparkle to cymbal crashes or acoustic strings through their fabric tweeters.

As I was digging into the specs and reviews on Canare and Mogami, Mogami had lower capacitance, and was sometimes noted as being “less dark.”

These two brands are similar in price and performance…and are very popular in live stage use and recording studios. I’m impressed with the audible improvement I got from Mogami but it was not a side by side choice over Canare and I suspect I would have seen improvement from either brand.

I’ve watched the audiophile chats here with great interest over the last couple years and have reached the conclusion that the line between snake oil and improved performance is highly subjective. Part of my fun in the hobby is acquire knowledge and apply it to a MidFi budget. I have incredible sound per dollar thanks in large part to knowledge shared here.

My day job for 40 years has been at the steering wheel of a successful boutique ad agency that provides marketing strategy, brand positioning, creative services and placements. IMO no money is wasted if the buyer gets what they wanted, it’s all about marginal utility. I’m thrilled at my $4k system and it is entirely possible that my neighbor gets equal satisfaction out of a theoretical $40k system.

All cables are low pass filters of some sort, and in a high resolution stereo every one will probably sound a bit different at first use. How much that is worth is up to each purchaser.

Hands down beats the Bluesound and under $1k.

Topping D70 Pro Sabre, has to be Pro which is basically the MKII. I have one here at work, a Topping G5, a Mytek Brooklyn; and a T+A DAC 200 at home, as well as a iFi Pro iDSD (MkI, not signature) and this D70 Pro holds its own, very impressive at the price point. Can be used in Preamp mode, missing a headphone amp. 

Not many on this side of the fence care to research. But reading up on Audio Science review you can hear and learn comments from the guys (and gals) who design and build these things...past the pretty boxes.