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.


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.



traubr OP

14 posts


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.


@traubr if you are using room correction software in your AVR, it should cancel out anything audible you assume a DAC or streamer add.

What you are hearing is the AVR’s software’s “take” on how things should sound based on the measurements it’s making. So the notion of changing the sound with things upstream of its DSP should be a bit of a non-sequitur.

You mentioned certain changes being masked of audibility by cables. Of course the converse of this would be that there simply wasn’t significant difference to be heard. Some industries thrive on innovation that counts on consumers making frequent lateral moves. Take from that what ya will. 😉

Did you mention what speakers you’re using? I don’t re-read block paragraph form of kit listings since this website allows making a kit list on the profile page (wry grin). If you want to change your sound, change your speakers. If you like the sound of your speakers, you’re done “next-leveling”. That’ll also save you and your wife any learning curves on new streamer software, unless you prefer that part.

@traubr I started my home audio journey like you have.  I was all about my HT system and then turned my attentions to my 2 channel listening which is a shared space, finished basement (man cave).  As others have mentioned, you have a great set of speakers, it’s the preamp that is the bottleneck.  If you look at used, for that you’d pay for a new DAC or Streamer, you can land a SS or Tube preamp that has HT bypass.  Likely your best solution, doesn’t have to break the bank.  Music Fidelity, Naim, Parasound, Linear Tube Audio, Aric, Coda would be some brands to give a look.  A quality Pre will provide a much larger jump in sound quality vs a change with a streamer or DAC.  Your DAC is a great DAC, if you like the sound signature of it, you’ll have to spend quite a bit more to really make noticeable gains.   The other direction could be an DAC / Streamer with a Pre but that would likely be more costly than a Pre.  I used my HT Receiver for 2 channel, using a stand alone Pre made a big difference and the commentary on the HT pre using its own processing is legit.  Unless their is a pure / direct mode in the Marantz it’s processing the signal from your DAC digitally all over again.  

Good Luck.

Thanks @mm1tt77, for your input.  As many others have stated, a dedicated stereo preamp seems a worthy alternative as a one-piece upgrade for 2 channel listening.

Alas, ​​​​​​@laps, the two room thing is a no-go for me.  Everything for home theatre and critical stereo listening has to be in the one room I have, as there is no other proper space available.

@benanders, the Marantz AVR has the ability to turn off the room correction and go to pure stereo.  There is a Pure/ Pure Direct mode to cut out extraneous processing, but I find that mode pretty "blah."  To my ears, Marantz provides a very enjoyable stereo sound, gutsy and musical.  The speakers, btw, are Focal Kanta 2, new and still breaking in (almost there).

It intrigues me how universally bashed my Marantz AVR is.  You're a tough crowd!  This Marantz was, until a year ago, their top of the line separate and as stated, does a creditable job with two channel audio.  In all, I understand your collective bias towards pure audiophile gear and am eager to learn about it.  My ears will no doubt be winners as a result.