Help me pick a Dac

Budget 4000

I currently have the latest version of the Bluesound Node and a PS Audio Stellar Gaincell Dac for the digital Frontend. I stream qobuz and flac from a networked drive.
The rest of system is a Backert Lab Rhumba 1.3 , Schiit aiger monos and Zu soul 6 speakers. Also have a Nottingham horizon turntable, Hana cart and Lehman Cube phono pre. I think the modest tt sounds more natural and holographic compared to my digital frontend so I think I can do better.
Also I’m pretty isolated as far as audio goes so I’ve only heard my own system and likely will have buy without an audition.





It could be either your streamer or your DAC. I haven’t heard your DAC. If you read all the professional reviews of your DAC and what they say is what you like then I would upgrade to a better streamer. I recommend a used Aurender N100. This would be a big upgrade and I think that would do it. if that doesn’t quite get you there, then upgrade your DAC. Anyway, that’s my take.

you could Also do a ROON config:

SGC ST i5 for the core:$1.2k

PS Audio Airlens:$2K

1 year Roon Subscription:$150

dump the rest of the budget on cableing. 

Your Node stands out at the inexpensive - entry level consumer component.  

So maybe the streamer first? Any good streamer dacs combos around my budget worth A look?The stellar gain is also a analouge pre amp so I thought its dac might easily be beat by a dedicated unit.  Thanks for the input.  

You have a nice system worth a good digital stack, sell the Node and Gaincell and either go for a streamer/DAC

Budget - Lumin D3


Expensive - Aurender A200

I have carefully listened to 6 DACs in the last 6 weeks in a system set up to do level matched A/B or in one case A/B/C comparisons.  The differences in DACs are generally small so any "upgrade" you make may not provide you with the improvement you are looking for.  Having said that, the Eversolo A8 was equal to or better than some DACs costing 4x as much.  The software is a bit funky but it should meet your streaming needs and if you have a lot of stored music then adding a SSD internal drive is going to provide you with the best quality it is capable of.  I would buy it used for about $1500-1600.  If you buy it new just know that it will need several hundred hours before it achieves its best audio quality.

I can highly recommend Audio Research DAC2 for you. Currently there two units available, one here in Audiogon and the other other at High Performance stereo. I believe unit from High Performance Stereo has new caps installed. 

AR DAC2 is a solid state DAC built around Ultra Analog D20400A DAC chip, one of the best that has come to the market. If you are wondering, some of the top of the line DACs from  Stax , VTL, Manley, Mark Levinson, Sonic Frontier, etc., were designed and built around this particular chip. It is one of the best DACs in addition to Burr Brown PCM63 another best performing DAC chip. Both are 20 bit implementation and multibit DAC chips.

You can get AR DAC2 for $1,300, well under your allocated budget. Keep the rest for software.  

Owned an ARC CD2 years ago and was very familiar with the DAC 2 and 3 which was a tube DAC. I would be really surprised if the old ARC DAC 2 is going to better your current DAC. I own a Bluesound Vault 2 and for the money it’s good. I would explore a better streamer first. If you have a CD player with digital out try that into your DAC and compare to the Node. The CD or Blueray player as transport is likely going to show you the Node is good but you can do better. 

As far as the older Audio Research  CD2 I owned, I sold and went with a Cambridge 851C which is a far better player. I use both the Bluesound and Cambridge into my DAC and the Cambridge is noticeably better. I just picked up a Airlens which I haven’t thrown into my system yet so we’ll see how it does. 

@adg101 AR CD2 is based on Crystal semiconductor CS4329 – 1 bit DAC. This Delat-Sigma chip is no comparison to the UA D20400 and they are universes apart. But I get your point. I think D20400 is so out dated people who owned Stax X1T, ML 30.5, etc., DACs were dumped to the second hand market and gone with the new latest and greatest DACs. There are so many of these DACs now available in the used market, one can buy those under $100 bucks!

But even the new DACs still have to work with the old geezer limited by 44.1kHz sampling rate and 16 bit word length subjected to quantization errors and what not. I get it, they have new clocking mechanisms like accurate for femtoseconds with >120 dB channel separations. I guess it was my bad that I didn't know OP could hear these differences.

@pwerahera Back when I had my CD2 - purchased new, My Dad had the CDT1 and DAC 1. To our ears my CD2 was better, more open where the DAC1 was pleasant but did not have the resolution or bottom end of the newer player.


I used to work part time at a store that carried ARC so I knew those pieces fairly well. We also carried CAL, California Audio Labs, and we all felt the little Alpha DAC more than held up to the ARC DAC’s of the time for a heck of a lot less money. Hate to say it, but back then by far the brand we sold the most for DAC’s was EAD, Enlighten Audio Design. My CD2 was a nice player but compared to the much newer at the time, Cambridge it was a much bigger improvement.


I’ve not listened to the PS Audio Gaincell DAC, but I do own a Direct Stream MK1 and I would bet the Stellar can probably hold its own. I definitely know how the Bluesound sounds, both on its own using the internal DAC and using only as a streamer. I use a Nordost Silver Shadow SPDIF, and a custom power cable so I’m getting pretty good sound out of the Bluesound.


My system is down at the moment as I’m moving things around so I’ll report back on the Airlens I recently picked up which I will be running I2S between the two.


@stu20 I would hope you’re using coax out and not toslink? If you are running toslink, I would make that change first. I’m guessing you probably started running your Node direct before you added in the Gaincell? Would think you heard a noticeable difference there. When I first purchased my Vault I ran it direct to my preamp which was ok, but then went into my Cambridge 851C which has digital in and it was clearly better. Later I had a RME ADI2fs/Teddy Pardo which was a big step up. Power cables make a difference on my Vault so try that too if you haven’t on your Node. As mentioned it will be interesting to hear how the PSA Airlens compares to the Bluesound.


Lastly if you’re running single ended RCA IC’s maybe experiment with balance from your DAC to Preamp. I bet you’re already doing that,  it if not give it a try. 

Please take a look at Cary audio dmp650 for a 1 box solution and an outstanding DAC.

@stu20 -

The Musetec DAC-005 has garnered many positive reviews by Audiogon users. It utilizes two ES9038 Pro x2 chips, and has a large power transformer. It meets your requirements WRT music presentation and sounds phenomenal.


Look at Lumin products.  I have owned 2 of them and very pleased.  There is a used T2 streamer/dac for sale on Audiogon and USAudiomart for $2.6K.  This is their latest model and is probably over $4.0K new.  


Good luck and let us know how you make out!

I really like the fat sound of the PS Audio Direct Stream II.  It was a big step up from my Mk1.  You can buy them direct for 8K return it for a full refund if you don't care for it. 

There's a New In Box one on US Audio for 7400. I'd bet he'd take 7.

Im currently running a Node 2.1 with PSU upgrade and had the Gain Cell for quite a while before switching to an Pontus II as my DAC. This was a very nice upgrade. Also added an ARC LS25 II and have improved my sound considerably.

Just a correction regarding the post above from @woots, the Lumin T2 is not a current model. They've had the improved model T3 which has been out for some time.

Gold Note DS10 EVO with separate PSU 10 EVO.  Must be the EVO version of the power supply.  Around $4000.  Best bargain in digital

I'm running a Bluesound Node 2i moded with a TeddyPardo Linear Power Supply; the power supply upgrade made a significant improvement.  The problem with the higher end streamers for me is their OS lack of support for many streaming services.  I  use Amazon HD and Idagio and can't find one that supports these,  however the BluOS does.  I'm using a PS Audio Directstream DAC Mk1; prior to that I had a Stellar Gain Cell dac; big improvement with the Directstream.  From everything I'm reading,  the Mk2 is even better. Another one to consider,  if the Mk2 is not in your budget,  is the new Stellar Gold DAC.  I  purchased the new Stellar Gold Preamp and am very happy with it, and the Stellar Gold Preamp is getting great reviews. 

Thanks everyone, also dammit I sorta want a lumin t3 now. 
To answer some questions above I’m using coax from the node to the dac and balanced out of the dac. Additionally I had the dac first and the node replaced a laptop running Audirvāna usb to the dac.  The difference was subtle but I could never get Audirvāna to maintain a connection to my apple devices so it went. 


Count me in as another one who has had both and the SGC dies NOT "hold it's own."

Fuzztone, that has been my suspicion and adding the Backert pre confirmed that thought. Thus the urge to upgrade. 



I agree with Pinwa.

I bought the Eversolo A8 and like the internal Dac better than my Gustard r26 ladder Dac which cost about the same as as the A8

The Music Room is selling factory freshened PS Audio DirectStream Mk I's for $2000 with a factory warranty. I got one and it was in brand new condition and I also bought an Air Lens. The DAC deal has got to be the best deal anywhere near the price!

It would be best if you could digitize a few of your albums and play the files back through your current streamer/DAC combo before assuming the streamer files you access can be of comparable enjoyment to you (as those on the LP’s). Your present comparison of source files might be apples to oranges for some/many albums. Wouldn’t be able to know without a more direct comparison before swapping components.


Thank you for the correction!  My mistake.  I had the Lumin T2 and loved it but the T3 is even better!

Try the Wyred4sound 10th anniversary DAC It's about $4,500 US, one of the reviewers put it up against his VPI turntable with the $5,000 Japanese cartridge and he said that the 10th anniversary DAC sounded just as analog, on that review I bought it to try it and I totally agree this thing beats DACs 3 to 4 times the price and they also give you a 30-day trial. can't beat that.

I have a Backert Labs Rhythm 1.4 . Before I purchased an Aqua Acoustics LaScala DAC I had a Bryston BDA-3 DAC. Look For one on the preowned market. 

Thanks for all the input. Above my budget looking at the aurender a200as solution for the streamer as well.  

I was underwhelmed by the Stellar Dac/pre. I have a Audio Alchemy DDP-1 + PS 5 which is amazing. Absolute Sound did a great review. Do a search. One is FS on US Audiomart for $1100


Why not check out the schitt dac's since you have their amps? Plus they have 15 day trial.

@dwest1023 i like the amps but have had problems with other pieces from them. 
And the customer service reflects the lower price points. Just my take. 

I recently purchased both a Denafrips Ares II and a Schiit Bifrost 2.

I did NOT like the Ares at all, and I do love the Bifrost.

I also have a 10yr old Lynx Hilo, which sounds very nice, but very different from the Bifrost. Bifrost is more punchy & dynamic in the lows, sharper transients in the highs, but the Hilo sounds smoother through the mids, with a natural texture. Hilo also has A/D and had many routing functions... far more than just a DAC, it’s meant for studio use.

I have the Aqua LA Voce DAc as well as a Saturn audio. Both in the $4K range. both sound close.