New Streamer, DAC or Let it Be


Hello.  I am at a crossroads and interested in soliciting suggestions on a streamer and/or DAC upgrade using your collective experience.  My focus is actually home theatre, with perhaps 20% of the time devoted to music.  The space is my wife's office by day, my home theatre/ listening room by night, and furniture placement, windows, doors, etc. cannot be moved; it is what it is. 

Equipment is a Marantz AV8805A processor, Parasound A51 amp and new Focal Kanta 2 speakers.  My streamer is a Bluesound Node with upgraded internal power supply and external LPS, and Gustard U18 DDC feeding a Gustard X26 PRO DAC with SR purple fuse.  The Node upgrades made a very positive difference, and addition of the Gustard U18 was a noticeable and very welcome upgrade as well.  My frame of reference/ comparison are CDs from a modest collection played on an Oppo BD103, fed to the Marantz via HDMI (I tried Toslink and Coax but HDMI to the Marantz sounded best).  I stream a variety of music using Qobuz and the Bluesound app on my phone.  The app is OK but despite a trumpeted recent upgrade, Bluesound has not yet resolved something as simple as the ability to organize Favorites by Artist or Album; they appear in the reverse order added, which is nuts.  The various digital upgrades have made streaming sound just about as good as the CD.  Here’s the dilemma.

I live vicariously through your experience with the enormous breadth of quality digital equipment out there.  I am not necessarily looking to throw money at something I do infrequently, yet am driven by the unknown: will an upgrade provide added pleasure and justify enhancements equal to the expense for the limited time I listen to music?  Obviously, a therapist could help, but I trust many of you have been down this road and can offer insight.  My questions are, would a streamer upgrade alone take me to the next level?  Is a DAC upgrade instead the better path?  Or, am I chasing unicorns, and is my humble setup good enough, to simply let it be?  I learned never to say never, but the likelihood of an investment now and then further upgrades down the road is unlikely, as the wife has zero patience and appreciation for all this.  As to existing equipment, the Marantz and Parasound aren’t going anywhere, and I am very happy with the Kantas.  Any purchase will likely be via the used market, to mitigate costs.  My budget is in the $3K range (preferably less, usually more), which is what I was looking at for a used/ open box Aurender N150.  I am by no means limiting myself to just that brand or model streamer, and have not scratched the surface on a DAC, should that happen.

Thanks for your time and any experience/ suggestions you might share.

traubr

Expectation bias has seemed to run my life, and not necessarily for the better!  Thank you, Mr J-Bourne.

Nek, to your point, something I have been meaning to do is swap the cables around between the Parasound and Emo as an A/B to see if I detect a discernible sound difference.  My setup is such that it requires considerable contortions to get back there, and moving one set of cables always seems to loosen another set I never intended to touch.  But it will be enlightening.  Thanks for reminding me.

Btw, the SQ differences between Parasound and Emo always seemed to be masked by another change, e.g., cable of some sort, so it was hard to judge.  Plus, that darned expectation bias, where I expected the sound to improve when the change was made...

I have had a few streamers in my house. The best being the following:

  • Sonore OpticalRendu
  • Lumin X1
  • PlayBack Designs Streamer-IF

All 3 sound different. I used to also have a Sonore microRendu but that unit is not in the class of the above 3 (likely BluesNode level). All 3 of those streamers support fibre optic cabling. This cable is made of glass and cannot carry analog noise from your network into the DAC. What that means is that it does not matter what is BEFORE the fibre cable. After the fibre is the DAC.

In my case, I use a cheap $500 DELL computer to run my ROON Core. I have this computer under the bed in my guest room (no monitor | keyboard | mouse). My office system and Livingroom system are nowhere near the guest room. All of this does not matter because the streamers I use have fibre.

The following streamer package will do everything that I just described.

Sonore opticaRendu Package

If you do not have an Ethernet cable near your audio system then use what I use,

PowerLine Adapter

Again do not listen to anyone who says these things are not audiophile. It does not matter because you go through the glass fibre cable just before the bits go into the DAC.

With all the money you save by using this top end solution you can get yourself a ROON subscription.

BTW - I owned the Gustard X26 Pro. It worked great with a bright system I had. I think the Schitt Yggi+ Less Is More is a better sounding DAC.

If I was in your shoes, and since you’ve already got an LPS for the Node, if you wanna get to WOW I’d strongly consider adding a dedicated stereo preamp (preferably with a HT bypass feature).  You’ve got a good AVP, but it’s likely a mediocre stereo preamp, and preamps matter — A LOT!  Just another option to ponder FWIW.

So that others and I know, do you use the AVR as your volume control?  What is your music listening path from the node  streamer to the speakers?  Thanks.