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.


My, my, what have I wrought?  I greatly appreciate the comments thus far, it is both illuminating and daunting to consider the options.  I took a break from this thread and went through some similar ones last night out here in Audiogon-land, and there is a common theme: there is no one correct answer; so many people, so many opinions.  That "correct" answer lies within us and our pocketbooks.  As many have said, this hobby/ obsession is not for the faint of heart, not to mention the potential ongoing costs.  Yet the cost is part of the fun, the price of admission.  Even in my home theatre cocoon, knowing now what I didn't know then, I would start over.  AVR?  New one.  Amplifier?  Toss it.  Cables?  Hang the laundry from them.  Room?  Get out the demolition tools.  Wife?  Hmmm... better not go there.

At this point in my journey, which is closer to the end than the start, MY reality is that music plays an enjoyable but lesser role, the supporting actor and not the lead.  A total revamp of my system might be for the next decade, not this one.  I would like to think a single piece, streamer, DAC or streaming DAC, would get me where I am happy.  Thrilled, ecstatic and utterly satisfied?  Upgrade-itis and the steady march of technology make that very difficult.

I'm a geezer and have made many digital upgrades over the years. In my experience you are not going to achieve a "Wow" improvement by upgrading your digital gear or even your preamp. Expectation bias has been mentioned and I appreciate your thoughtful approach. If you spend 3 grand on a new streamer or other component you can certainly convince yourself that it sounds much better.

The best ways to get a big difference in sound are not available in your situation. You can't move the speakers, can't rearrange the room, can't install sound treatment, and you already have an excellent amp and very good speakers. From this point forward any money you spend will be directed at convenience, features, pride of ownership. or another justification. But a big leap in sound quality is going to be elusive.

I do have one bit of advice regarding gear. I suggest that you check out the reviews of the Eversolo A8 mentioned in a previous post. This looks to be an excellent product and the features and ease of use may be worth the money in your situation. The A8 is going to be my next gear purchase even though I don't need the built-in DAC (I have a Berkeley Alpha Reference Series II MQA & Alpha USB) but I'm streaming now through a laptop and the A8 looks to be more convenient and elegant. BTW, the SQ of my CD playback (Jay's Audio CD3 Mk III transport through the Berkeley DAC) is virtually identical to streaming the same song/version through my Asus gaming laptop. I really doubt that spending 5 figures on a streamer is going to make Qobuz sound better than my CD rig.

Another suggestion would be to hook up your Oppo as a transport to your Gustard DAC and see if you can hear any improvement. My guess is that they will be very similar but you have a nice DAC so you might as well use it for CDs.

With the constraints you have you are fortunate that your rig sounds very good. I think it's time to chill and enjoy the music.


As a fellow geezer, and listening to the sage advice and experience offered here, your words ring true. WOW is, as you say, elusive. As a babe in these digital woods, I find it shocking how many streamers and DACs people have gone through to attain a level of satisfaction.  And from the sound of it, most keep on going.

My system sounds very good now, especially with my new speakers, and going back to my original post, I sought the icing on my digital cake: one piece of gear to get me to the next level.  The jury is very confused, and still out.

When I first got my DAC, I plugged the Oppo into it, and was disappointed that the DAC added little, if at all.  That could be a measure of the DAC, a lesser quality connecting cable that underperformed, or the quality of the Oppo itself.  CDs played on the Oppo are still the sound to beat in my system, although with what I have thrown into the digital mix, it is very close now.  Very close. And, I have a meager CD collection, so music listening really makes sense streaming the Qobuz library.

I am happy with and appreciate the input, and will chill, enjoy the music and ponder my options.



I have a Node 130 with a modestly-upgraded power cable feeding an Denafrip Ares II DAC, and I have plenty of "wow" experiences because 1) I try to use high-resolution files from Qobuz when streaming, 2) my room is a good one for a stereo system, and 3) I have great speakers and electronics with plenty of power.

I don't know what limitations your room imposes, but you may not be able to overcome them by upgrading components.  If transparency is what helps provide the "wow" experience, you need to have a high-quality preamp/amplifier.  If it's a matter of dynamics, you need to have enough power as well as a good recording.

Your Focal speakers are excellent.  As others have mentioned, the weak link is your Pre, everything (including future upgrades) will be bottlenecked.  A better/external Pre will be the best place to spend money.