Has Anyone Compared the DAC On a Bluesound NODE 3rd Gen to a Separate DAC?

The Gen 3 NODE has an upgraded DAC.  Just wondering what differences there might be in a separate DAC.


yes, plenty

differences heard depends of course on specific choice of outboard dac, and quality of balance of the system/room in question (not to mention how skilled the listener is...)

Thx jjss49.  Im probably not too skilled of a listener.  My listening area is an 8’x8’ corner of the 16’x32’ open ground floor of our house. 

My other equipment is: B&O Beolab8000 powered speakers, Hsu ULS MkII sealed sub, and Paradigm Series 7 sealed 12” sub.

Any suggestions on an outboard dac?  The Denefrips Airies II and the Topping D90SE were high on my recommended list.

For the most part, people who start with the Aries 2 end up moving up the line. If it were my money, I'd start with a Pontus 2 and be happy for a long time.


I initially ran my BS Node 3 with a Venus 2 and it was great for what it was.

You want opinions on a unit with a build in DAC compared to separate DACs in what price range?  Almost all of the better DACs will be better.

Yes. It’s about as good as the built-in on my Hegel integrated and not as good as either the Schiit Bifrost or the Denafrips Pontus ll.


I'm no expert but I have a BlueSound Vault 2i, which I think has the same specs/DAC/ as your Node v3 (or slightly behind as my unit came out before the gen 3's). I'd just offer this; on the rare occasion that I can crank up the music (WAF!) I am pretty satisfied with the sound through my Schiit BiFrost into my AVR (NAD) and finally into my listening space. Do I wish it was even better? Of Course! But when I think about the cost to move to higher-end streamers, higher-end DACs, etc., I stop and say to myself "this sound pretty good." If I hit the lottery, I'll definitely go out and upgrade everything in my system, but in the meantime, 'this sounds pretty good."

So, the long-winded answer to the question you posed is, yes, there are differences with a separate DAC, but only you can decide how much they matter to you. I certainly don't think you would be disappointed if you get any well-known DAC currently discussed on these boards. Whether you decide to keep it, trade for a higher-end model, etc. is what you'll have to wrestle with. Good luck. RG 

Thx for the ideas!  

The audio store where I bought some of my equipment suggested a miniDSP DDRC-24 DAC / Room Correction Processor; D/A Converter; DDRC24.  So that’s why I was thinking of a DAC.
But I would guess that the limitations on my room and other equipment would make a high end DAC a waste of money, like putting a Ferrari engine in a Subaru.  Nice, but they don’t match.

As people upgrade, used Ares come up frequently here and on USAM. Little risk 
trying one. I have a Pontus II and have no desire to upgrade. You may find the
Ares a perfect fit for you. I have no experience with Topping, but some here
like their gear.


Instead of Pontus II you could also get Musician Pegasus which is basically almost the same as Pontus II. It was my previous DAC and it was a really competent DAC and nothing else came close at that price point. 

"But I would guess that the limitations on my room and other equipment would make a high end DAC a waste of money, like putting a Ferrari engine in a Subaru.  Nice, but they don’t match."

Poor analogy in this case.  Based on your existing room and equipment, I'd bet you hear a significant improvement with either DAC you mention.

I have a node 2i. Am considering upgrading my dac. But really not sure if it will yield signifcant improvement or subtle differences where the latter may not exactly justify the price point. Have been looking at the Ares II which is sold locally. Its said to be more analog and has gotten rave reviews. However, I already have a schiitt freya + tube amp running with a class D XTZ A2300 which gives a slightly  warm feel. Speakers are Klipsch RP  6000f which has been tamed down a little with the current combo. So not sure if Ares II will make it even more warm, and result in a loss of details.  Anyone has experiences with a similar combo with the Ares II as a dac to the node2i.  Will the Ares II provide an audible difference as a dac to the node? Appreciate your thoughts. 


Been there done that.  ARES II will provide a significant upgrade to the Node's built-in DAC.  Only problem, it's just the starting point to the next DAC upgrade and the one after

that :-)  At least is was for me.

Yes, but only to some expensive ones.  The blusound is decent, about comparable to ones found in ~$1000 preamps.  But when compared to high end gear, it's rather limited.  Using the DACs built in on my Michi X3 and Mac C47 you can easily tell the blusound's DAC sounds compressed.  Plugging it into my Sim 280d and it's a night/day difference, the Sim makes the blusound sound much better but at that point the Sim has a superior sounding streamer built-in.  

Blow sound sucks period ,$100 dac in the case ,save your money for

a Denafrips aries2 night and day better for $900

Uh oh…sounds like this is going to get expensive.  I tend to buy first what I would eventually buy if I took steps.

I think you speakers may be limiting more than your dac. Belabor 8000 are not known to be high end speakers. I think you should try to listen to some other speakers and amps first.

I have a Bluesound Node 2i. I first did a LPS upgrade on it, which brought about more detail, was a bit more relaxed, more refinement on the top end, and more bass definition. I then upgraded to a SMSL VMV D1SE. Brought about more detail, and again a bit more refinement. Surprisingly the DAC upgrade after the LPS upgrade wasn't as big as I was hoping, but each step for me was about the same in terms of upgrade. But the LPS upgrade was certainly much cheaper. 

The Bluesound Node 2i has a slightly warmer presentation stock than any of the upgrades I did. 

If you like the Bluesound Node, I would first look at a LPS upgrade, as this will help you down the road, whether you use the internal DAC, or decide on an external one. Will improve the sound to either DAC. 

Hope this helps 

Yes, it’s an excellent DAC for the money. And part of why the node is such a good product. However, it’s easily bested by many better DACs out there. It will either satisfy you or get you thru “admirably” until you upgrade. 

All this is a good reason Bluesound should make a streamer only (call it the "Point") without a DAC and knock off $100 from the price. I guess they are afraid it would cannibalize the sales of the Node. Sad, because everyone raves about their U.I. O/S being one of the best out there.

People could start out with a Schiit Modi, Geshelli Labs J2, or Topping E30 and move on up the food chain when their wife and budget allows or just go ahead and get an Ares II as their starting point gateway drug.

Note that previously on YouTube I heard some say the Ares II didn’t pair well with the Node for whatever reason. I never found out why that was observed. Some later said there was a setting "Audio Clock Trim" that needed to be disabled. For those of you who have used an Ares II with a Node was that the key or is there a "deeper" reason such as an impedance mismatch or something?


Thanks, all, for the thoughtful comments and ideas!   I’ll sort through them and make some upgrade in due time.  There are a lot of good choices.  Most of the people on this forum have been on this path, and I appreciate the benefit of your experience. I’m just beginning, and looking forward to my new leisure pursuit.

I love the ifi zen stream DAC in my work space system. Research and reviews I read prior to purchasing compared with node and made major distinction in favor of ifi.


I have done some extended testing. The BS DAC is very good. If you go to the topping you will improve a slight amount. If you go to the Arries you will get a different sound due to the ladder DAC. If you like the Denifrips sound then you have to go to the Pontus2. I have had the BS Node in DACs costing upto $14k. When you get up to that level just buy the streamer option like I did with my Ayre QX-5. Seriously. Save the money for the $1500 to $2000 DAC. Believe me, you want to jump up quite a bit so you notice the difference. Same for turntables/ phono preamps/ and carts. Run the Node through using the Coax. Nordost silver Shadow which was discontinued a few years back so you can get it for about $200. This is my recommendation. You cannot beat that app unless you upgrade to Roon. I hope this helps. 

Thx hshifi!  It sounds like you have done quite a bit of testing well past my price category.  I’ll look for the Shadow.


to give you useful suggestions, please write something about how you perceive the sound of the node in your system currently (and how it might compare to other sources whose sound you enjoy more), and if it could be improved to please you, what aspects of the sound would be improved? 


Right now I don’t have any other sources other than the NODE.  Previously I listened to 1980’s CD’s.  I really like the sound of the NODE listening to Paradise Radio MQA Mellow or World.  I used to listen to internet radio using an Apple AirPlay router.  The NODE is a big improvement, with more sounds seeming to be ‘present/real’; such as a bongo or wood block drum.  The sub base and base sound very good, not boomy, with my Paradigm and Hsu sealed subs.  If the music has some very low sounds, they sound very good.  But I’ve never heard vocals with that same presence.  They sound similar to what I hear on a car radio.  I never hear details of a breath or similar nuances.  My BeoLab8000 speakers are supposed to be excellent with vocals, but I’m not getting it.  So I’d like better vocals, and more sounds that seem ‘present/real.’  Also my present system does not sound ‘airy’, which I would like.

I've got a Bluesound Node 2i from almost 2 years ago and immediately thought its DAC didn't cut it, so I bought a Bifrost 2 and it's a significant improvement (my other DAC is a trusty 2nd generation DacMagic with a no longer available bespoke large transformer power supply and it covers a couple other sources, a "touch streamer" used for occasional background music and a CD player). The Bifrost is for high res streaming...Just installed the "64 bit" update card in the Bifrost and now I can't imagine a better sounding DAC...just elevates the whole thing.

@wolf_garcia that Schiit Bifrost 2/64 multibit seems like a good alternative to the Ares II at a roughly similar price point. I’ve heard others mention it having better quality textured bass than the Ares II. Heck, I’ve heard a few mention that the AKM 4493 based Geshelli Labs J2 DAC (at $300 or $350 with a nice wood case) is very comparable to the Ares II in soundstage and depth, and yes, has better bass (especially if you get a linear power supply for it). I guess it comes down to what a user is looking for and what sonic signatures they like. There’s nothing technically "magical" about an R2R DAC but yeah, they can be very good. So can others.


among standalone dacs, i would suggest you try a chord qutest or 2qute - qutest around $1400 used, 2qute at about $800 of that amount but the sound is very very close - they also benefit from a suitable filtered or linear power supply ($75-150 additional)

both will give as much airiness in soundstage and detailed midrange among dacs in this price range, and much better than the internal node n130 internal dac, which is smooth but lacks incisiveness

the topping d90 and rme adi2 provide a similar tonality to the chords with a crisp clear sound, but without the excellent imaging and as much clarity of transients


I have the 3rd generation node, and did A/B testing with my Denafrips Ponuts II DAC......absolutely no comparison; the Denafrips improves the sound on every single measurable I can think of. Also though the Denafrips Pontus II ($1,825 US) is twice the price of the Ares ($840 US)....it is worth every penny of the upgrade. The Pontus punches WAY above it's price


wow…that’s definitive.  Others have recommended it, so it’s a solid prospect.

I received my Bluesound before my DAC arrived and absolutely noticed the difference when adding the separate DAC. Of course you have to ensure the DAC you use has a better chipset ….. I went with the Gustard X26 pro which is reasonably priced for the quality and sound it produces.  

The Bluesound Node has a lot to be desired when it comes to SQ, try using it connected to a outboard DAC and youll know right away.


Yes the Burr Brown PCM 5242 32 bit / 384 kHz DAC chipset in the Node does leave a lot to be desired. Dual Mono, R2R dual  ladder, and FPGA DACs will greatly improve on the Node DAC

I started without external DAC…sounded good…then Added ares II…sorta sounded better but not big difference….added external power supply…no difference but it looks cool…upgraded DAC to Pontus II and immediate sound quality upgrade. Well worth it. You mileage may vary but that’s my journey…


interesting that for you the $1000 Aires II was not much different than the DAC in a $500 NODE 

My experience of the Node N130 mirrors that of @daveinpa when combined with the Ares II. But very much a case of "ymmv", and very subjective.

I sold my Ares II and later upgraded the Node with a power supply upgrade kit and external PSU - which made a pleasantly surprising improvement. This can be done relatively inexpensively, especially the kit from PD Creative in Poland. Even if you bypass the Node's DAC, the PS upgrade still benefits.

I'm now using a direct sale, hand made DAC from a tiny 2 man operation in England - NJC Audio. A lovely neutral DAC with great clarity.


Good luck with your journey 👍


That’s good information!  I appreciate the lessons learned from others who have upgraded from the NODE.  I know that my equipment, room and probably music is different, but it helps me narrow my choices.

I got the 3rd gen Bluesound Node about 2 months ago and am returning it to my dealer.  The sound, to my ear, is thin with a smaller soundstage.  Both my Schiit Bifrost 2 and Topping D90 OG streaming from my iMac Pro sound better. I’m going into the Hegel H190 integrated. 

Do you have to purchase the Pontus II online or any available domestically? Thanks


Denafrips products in the US are only sold by Vinshine Audio, and their amazing owner Alvin Chee. He and Vinshine are based in Singapore, and their US repair center is Tech Specialists in Buda, Texas. All Denafrips products sold by Vinshine include a fully transferrable 3 year warranty

Alvin is quick to answer a question (except night in Singapore), offers what I have found to be honest advice. A good part of why have four Denafrips products (Pontus II DAC, Hades Pre-Amp, Thallo Amp, and Iris DDC. All of  the products that I own punch way above their price, and I am extremely happy.


@tcotruvo I have a Bluesound Node (gen 3) and the internal dac is pretty good.  It was not quite as good as my old Arcam irDAC, but reasonably close. It is nowhere near as good as my current Chord QuteHD dac, but that is not really surprising.  That said, I really enjoy using the Node as a dedicated server and streamer for the Chord.  Functionality and sound quality of the Node used only as a source are both excellent.

Adding an upgraded power cable improved the sound quality of both streaming/server functions and the Node’s internal dac, and its seems others have had success adding and external power supply/kit.

I have been experimenting with different digital coax cables from the Node to the Chord, and through blind tests I have (unfortunately for my pocketbook) yet to find a ceiling on the improvements each step up the quality ladder provides up to several multiples of the Node cost.  My recommendation is to find a good dac to pair with the Node, and then experiment with different cables and power supply as your budget allows.  You will be amazed.

@knownothing Thx for your comments! Since my original post I have added the PD Creative power adopter, an LHY linear power supply, an SMSL M400 DAC and a fiber optic link in my Ethernet connection. The sound is very good, but I’m not sure I can accomplish much more improvement in my room with all the windows and bare concrete floor. Maybe some type of room EQ might work, or it might not. I would try that before I invest in cables.

The DAC in the latest node is definitely an upgrade over their previous DAC.  If you use an external DAC then it sounds the same as the old Node into an external DAC, as they didn’t do much to the transport section 

@tcotruvo understood. My living room has similar issues with lots of windows, plaster walls, tile fireplace and hardwood floors.  I had difficulty getting a system to sound right there.  But, jitter in a digital signal can present as glare or shrill treble, and taming it can provide significant benefits across the board.  In addition to room correction, I might suggest you try a Nordost Blue Heaven digital coax out of your Bluesound. It is not astronomically expensive, it has great PRAT and musicality, and the treble is just slightly under emphasized compared with the bass and midrange.  It is not the last word in detail, but it might pair well with your dac and room.  I am going to guess the Nordost Silver Shadow mentioned previously in the thread would sound similar.  

Another way to tame jitter is to get a reclocker like an iFi iPurifier 2.  I use one with my Node, and it provides smoother sound overall and incredible spatial order and detail, and the benefits multiply as you upgrade coax cables.  I highly recommend if you try the iPurifier 2 that you also get iFi’s iPowerX supply which is only $109 and takes the sound to another level.  

Good luck,


I notice that some vocals do not seem very ‘present’, but seem to get lost in the background.  This varies by recording, as this is sometimes very marked, while at other times the vocals are great.

@erik_squires In response mentioned that, “It’s a common symptom of narrow, but tall peaks in the mid-bass or bass. Clipping them with an EQ/DSP is often the answer.”  So that would be my next project when I have more time to delve into it.

@knownothing Are you using a coax out of your Node to your Chird DAC?  Instead of USB?

@tcotruvo yes, I am using coax out of the Node because I use it primarily as a server and I’’m using the USB connection on the back of the Node for an SSD drive loaded with all of my digital music.  It works great for this.