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.



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.  


Others have also said a better/ external preamp will reap benefits.  Curious if this means the addition of this single device (preamp) will make the difference, or is that merely the first step, where I also replace the Node and DAC as well?  Thanks.


My room is somewhat L shaped with speakers in the wider part, 3 windows and 2 doors, listening position on the back wall off center, furniture behind each speaker so there isn't much "breathing room" or to optimize bass response.  Other than that...  Room correction software in the AVR, while geared for home theatre, still helps improve the overall sound in there.  Add to this no more room to add a new component.  As previously stated, hardly ideal, but it is what is, and so be it.

A one piece upgrade (streamer or DAC or combo unit) makes sense to me, but if significant sonic improvement truly requires a new preamp and amp, then I will accept that and maintain the status quo. 

OP, I’m running a Hegel Pre into Sopra no2 speakers. My streamer is the Node with an external LPS. The streamer is my weakest link but I don’t think that’s the case in your system. I think you want to upgrade your Pre. You really don’t want to change more than one thing at a time. Make the one change, let it burn in, then really pay attention to what the change did to your system. The AVR Pre just has so much going on, get a dedicated pre.  In you’re case I would get very good used Pre and see how the upgrade sounds. If you don’t like what it does to your system flip it. Good luck and cheers.