Streamer/DAC combinations

Looking for opinions on Streamer/DAC combinations.  I am currently using a Node as my streamer and DAC.  Considering upgrading.  The options seem to be endless, so thought I'd solicit some of your opinions.  My node is currently running through a McIntosh C42 Preamp into a McIntosh MC352 Power amp.  Using Klipsh Forte IV's.  The node sounds good, but I think I may be leaving something on the table in SQ.  Not wanting to break the bank so to speak.  Maybe spend in the $2-3K area for budget.  Opinions???


If you want to do it in stages, first try using a different DAC. I believe the Node has only coax/optical outputs (no USB) but there are lots of excellent DACs on the market in your price range with those inputs.  Just check the seller's return policy so you have a way out if you don't hear an improvement.

With your budget and what you’re looking for I’d recommend the Innuos Pulse Mini streamer and Denafrips Pontus II DAC.  When budget allows you can add an external linear power supply to the Innuos for a significant performance bump — they can readily be had for around $400 and well worth it IMHO.  Also, you can add a DDC (like the Denafrips Iris) to be able to take advantage of the Pontus’ i2S connection that that will yield another significant performance boost.  Nice to be able to do this in stages.  Hope this helps, and best of luck.

Thanks for the suggestions.  I've been at the Denafrips Pontus II.  Do you think the addition of that to the Node would yield good results?  Then add an upgraded streamer.  Or is the Node not going to deliver good enough data to the DAC to make an audible difference???  Again, thanks for the suggestion!!!

The Pontus would definitely uplift your system with the node. You might find you will not need a new streamer.

There’s no doubt you’ll hear a significant improvement with the Pontus over the DAC in the Node (you’ll need a good digital cable BTW).  You should notice better tonality and much better imaging/soundstage.  The thing is, and with pretty much everything in audio, it comes down to balance — the audio chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and in this case that would be the Node as a bottleneck.  The Pontus will show you much more fed by a better streamer.  With your budget, and as I mentioned above, you could get both the Pontus and Pulse Mini and solve both issues, so why not?

I recommend upgrading in stages. First a better DAC… as good as you can afford, then wait, save. Then a good streamer. Like every audio component a carefully chosen upgrade of 2x - 3x investment and you will get a very noticeable and satisfying improvement in sound quality.


@soix +1

Improved soundstage. I feel my streaming setup may be lacking in that area.

a few thoughts

1) make sure your networking front end is clean and well filtered (ether regen, lhy switch with nice clock, and/or network acoustics filters and the like ...) -- this can help soundstaging downstream in digital processing

2) you did not say which node you have... the node x should be better (still not great, but better) than prior versions whose dac noticeably dulls the sound and robs it of spatial info

3) a denafrips pontus is a nice dac that images well and brings a dose of midband/midbass warmth, otherwise a chord qutest or gustard r26 will bring even better delineated imaging with a greater sense of air and transient clarity


The current Node model has USB out.  It's what I use as in my system, USB sound better than spdif.

- Bob

I was using my Vault 2i with  RME dac which was good, bought the excellent sounding LAB 12 DAC 1 Reference.   Great sounding combo.   

I ultimately put the Vault in my second system.  It sounds great with my Integrated amp's built in DAC.   

I have Forte IV in my main system and the Vault / Lab 12 combo sounded great.  I ended up getting an Aurender , wasn't really looking to replace the Vault it's a great machine but I got such a great deal on an Aurender N200 I couldn't pass it up

Node/ Vault is a great streamer and pairing it with a great DAC is worthwhile.  

With DACs I think auditioning at home in your system is a must...   you are splitting hairs when it comes to DACs.  They are better than they have ever been.  

davegolf2424 OP

2 posts


Improved soundstage. I feel my streaming setup may be lacking in that area.  

Hi @davegolf2424 , why do you feel that way? If your music stream seems deficient, it’s more likely to do with the masters used by the service, and perhaps the way your speakers x room are rendering the files. Assuming all devices in between those two ends are reasonably competent, they should have less influence. Especially a streamer.

I like the Matrix Audio integrated streamer/DAC/preamp products. They provide top of the line ESS DAC chips (two of them, in some models),  most available I/O options (including I2S and HDMI in some models), and excellent IR remote controls.  They support very high digital sampling rates and are among the best-tested DACs in (FWIW) the ASR measurements.  Priced from < $1K to > $4K.  Lumin is another good Chinese brand.

Just got into streaming a couple of months ago. I started with the Node on its own while I waited for my USB cable to connect to my Pontus II 12th and I was truly blown away! The Node on its own sounded great but when I got my USB cable (Synergistic Foundation) and plugged into the Pontus is when things went from amazing to magical! Soundstage, detail, richness, air, ALL of it went to another level. What a difference the Pontus made! Everything came so much more alive….

I just recently put together a second system and had come across the Eversolo Master and after reading so much about it pulled the trigger. I have since moved the Node to my second system (connected via USB) to DENAFRIPS Ares II 12th. 

Since adding the Eversolo to Pontus it now actually bests my CD/Pontus combo. I found myself for the very first time not listening to CD’s anymore. I never ever thought this would happen. Truth be told the Node/Pontus came damn close but I still found my CD’s sounded a bit warmer with more detail. But now I can’t stop listening to the Eversolo/Pontus combo. It’s actually frightening how realistic and 3D like everything sounds now. This is a level I never even knew could exist…

I cannot recommend the Eversolo and Pontus combo enough. 

Another option might be to trick out the node with a linear power supply and add a fiber connection (ie transmitter and receiver) right before the ethernet connection to the node. All of this may cost around $250 so it’s a cheap upgrade.

@davegolf2424 You are getting some great advice.  I’ve had quite a few DAC’s and Streamers in my system.  A DAC will have more of an impact on the sound than a streamer.  If you have the opportunity to try different DAC’s, find the DAC you prefer before you change, upgrade your streamer.  There are a lot of great options, especially used in your price range.  There are R2R, FPAG, more traditional DAC’s that will all have different sound signatures.  If you love a DAC being fed by your node as a streamer and you upgrade your streamer it will only enhance what you love about the DAC’s sound.  Transversely, if you upgrade a streamer but you aren’t in love with your current DAC, it’s unlikely the streamer will cause you to fall in love with the DAC.  Synergy is also key between a DAC and streamer, once you have a DAC you love, you want to chose a streamer that maximizes your DAC’s performance.  If you have a balanced DAC that sounds best with AES, you want a streamer that maximizes / prioritizes that output.  Or i2s or USB might be how your DAC will perform at its best, you want a streamer that has these outputs but also paid specific attention in design / implementation on those outputs.

Think about the Streamer / DAC relationship similar to AMP / Speakers.  If you love the sound signature of speakers, when you pair them with the right amp, find that synergy that creates magic, the right AMP amplifiers what you like about the Speakers.  If you aren’t in love with the speakers, unless you have a really big mismatch on the amplification swapping out the Amp isn’t going to take speakers you aren’t a fan of the sound signature on and make you fall in love with them. 

Good Luck,  

I have the Pontus 2 12th with the Iris DDC and it raised the sou d quality significantly. Still use the Lumin U1 mini and connect it to the Iris with a Nordost purple USB connector, which allows for the I2S input into the Pontus. Each addition made the SQ improve incrementally. The Iris was the most significant sound improvement.   Good luck.

Definitely,, upgrade the DAC!! Then,  mod the Node with a LPS ( I used a TeddyPardo,  but there are other brands out there too. ) I'm using a Node 2i,  feeding a PS Audio Directstream DAC Mk1.  I  have a great soundstage,  both wide and deep. Great imaging.  The lps made a significant difference.  The internal dac in the Node is just not the quality you need for your system; it was built to a price point!

You didn't state your budget,  but right now TMR is selling factory inspected PS Audio Directstream DAC Mk1 for $1799, which is a smoking deal!! These are units that people have traded in for the new Mk2 unit.  The Mk1 was $6000 when new,  and the Mk2 is $8000.

Another vote for adding the Teddy Pardo LPS to the node. Well worth the small cost. 

Try a Lümin D2 deals are out there on used. 
The D3 is the newer version. 

I have really enjoyed my D2

$3,200 range. 

I’m just getting into the streaming scene, and ended up with an IFi Stream connected to my Schiit Urd through a Schiit Bifrost 2/64. Still warming up to streaming in general, so didn’t go all out like I’m known to do. Time will tell.    Thanks to all in this forum with comments/recommendations getting me started off.

A good Dac will massively improve your overall sound and there are so many good choices these days. Will a good Dac improve soundstage/imaging? Perhaps to a small degree but it will help in a lot of other areas also. I'd say an external Dac is mandatory with a Node.


Upgrade to a good DAC; the Denafrips Pontus 2 (used $1,400 or so), new $1,850 would be a great addition. It will work great with the Node, but is good enough to keep through your next round of upgrades.....and yes this will be very noticeable over the Node's DAC.

As Soix mentioned, a Denafrips Iris DDC will take things to a different level and allow you to go I2S from the Iris to the Pontus. An Iris they can be found used for about $400 or a little more.....if your node has a USB output

You will get a good number of streamer suggestions, so I'll leave that to to others.

Thanks to everyone for all of your suggestions!   I appreciate the input.  An external DAC is the obvious way to go.  Seems like the Denafrips Pontus II is the most popular suggestion.   kmcong mentioned the PS Audio Directstream DAC Mk1.  Thoughts about that DAC  vs the Pontus?  With the pace of improvements in the last few years, is an older generation of a higher level DAC going to outperform a new generation of a less expensive one?  Keep this conversation going,  it's been great to see the different points of view.

PS Audio DSD Mk1 is a really nice DAC. PS Audio is FPGA so I wouldn’t call it older generation as Ted Smith custom programmed it and it upsamples everything to DSD - latest Sunlight firmware is only few years old.
Worth looking into and would be choice between it and the Pontus.

I’m using an Aqua LaScala DAC. Very musical with my LUMIN U1 with upgraded XL - Power supply. 

Consider the MHDT Labs Orchid tube based DAC (single tube), about $1200 new.  You see used ones on occasion around $800.  Very musical and liquid sound, but still plenty of detail.  It’s been my primary DAC for several years.  Recently tried a Denafrips Venus II to potentially replace the Orchid… nope, much prefer the Orchid.  I think I’m going to have to spend over $5K to better the Orchid.

Good reviews on the Eversolo A8

DAC/Streamer/ Preamp/CD Ripper/Music Server.....

@soix If I were to buy a Denafrips Pontus II - 12th DAC, how much will I be leaving on the table if I can't use the I2S connection? Overall, would I be better served by buying a different DAC in the same price range or would I still get a lot of the benefits from the Pontus?  Thanks. I just don't see myself spending enough on a streamer to get one that has I2S out, yet I want a "good" DAC. 

If I were to buy a Denafrips Pontus II - 12th DAC, how much will I be leaving on the table if I can’t use the I2S connection?

@moonwatcher I’d ask @vthokie83 to chime in here as he has the Pontus 2 with the Iris, and we both realized very similar results by adding the Iris. I noticed a quieter, clearer background and a significant increase on overall clarity and a more open soundstage. I’ve read that some people actually prefer the sound of the Pontus with a DDC to the much pricier Venus, so I think another DAC in that price range would have a very high bar to meet. To me, adding the Iris to my Musician Pegasus and using i2S was like getting a big DAC upgrade, and as you can find a used Iris for around $400 that’s an absolute no brainer to me. If you go for i2S from a streamer you’re going to greatly limit your choices and likely pay up quite a bit for it. Better to go with an Iris, which also is a reclocker BTW, and have the freedom to get any streamer you want. My advice would be to get the Pontus and add an Iris when you can and you’ll be a very happy camper. That’s not to say the Pontus isn’t already excellent on its own but that there’s potentially even more to be had by eventually upgrading to i2S, which is really nice. Just my $0.02 FWIW, and best of luck.

@soix thanks! Currently the Pontus II - 12th seems to be the "sweet spot". Might get one, then wait and get the Iris later on.  Although, I had the same question as @kmcong regarding the PS Audio DSD Mk1...whether on discount for its much reduced price would it best a similarly priced Pontus II -12th? Hard to know without doing an honest comparison. 

I am a bit confused by looking at the Iris' specs.  If it is a DDC with a "good" femto clock, why would anyone want to use an external clock feeding those two coax looking inputs on the back? Are even "better" external clocks available for those so inclined?  Thanks again for the info. Food for thought. 

Are even "better" external clocks available for those so inclined?

@moonwatcher Yeah, there’s alway better. The Hermes that’s the next model up uses an upgraded OCXO clock and also offers an SPDIF input, but it’s also much more expensive. All I can say is I’m super happy with the Iris and its “lowly” Femto clock.

BTW, the Pontus and PS Audio DACs sound quite different with completely different architectures and I wouldn’t consider them substitutes.  I’d suggest reading reviews of each to determine which gets closer to the sound characteristics you’re looking for.


First off, the Denafrips Pontus II (or 12th) is a really really good DAC on it's own.....and one of the greatest bargains in audio in my opinion at $1,800. Adding the Pontus II to my humble Node 130 streamer and the Audiolab 6000CDT transport gives surprisingly excellent SQ. To my ears an R2R ladder DAC sounds best, giving a more analog sound than say a Chord (which is too detailed for my ears).

Other positives for the Pontus is that it is a "true balanced" design, using two complete separate channels for each side of the signal.....and XLR outputs as well. Denafrips also is really good at releasing updates for the FPGA, putting out a couple a year to keep it updated. The distributor Vinshine Audio and it's owner Alvin Chee is excellent to deal with, and unlike many Chinese products, has a US based repair Texas I believe.

Yes you can add a few bits to get even more out of the Pontus II if you choose, and I do have the Denafrips Iris DDC....and I personally preferred the Pontus/Iris combination to the next step up Denafrips Venus DAC.....I know several will disagree, but the Pontus II just has a lovely tone. You can always get the Pontus II 12th, and add an Iris if you want more out of it at a later date.

The Iris has a better internal "temperature controlled crystal oscillator" clock than the Pontus which uses a standard femto clock. In the case of a DDC with a DAC, the clock in the DDC is used rather than the one in the DAC......upgrading the signal to a TXCO clock. Additionally the Iris has an I2S output, and the Pontus II has a fully configurable I2S input.....which I have found to be superior to any other input into the Pontus II. I know others have found the same, not just with Denafrips, but other brands as well.

The Cliffs notes version of why, is that the internal signal transport in most digital audio equipment is I2S serial bus (built into the board, not a cable). Using I2S connections allows the I2S signal to transfer internally and externally from device to device without having to be converted to another format like (USB, SPDIF, Toslink, etc). The fewer times a signal is converted, the more stable and true it will be. NOTE: I am not an electrical engineer, so don't flame me if I got a point or two incorrect.

I just recently upgraded my speakers (Clayton Shaw Caladans), and my amplfier (CODA S5.5); and at no time have I thought the Pontus II was a weak link in the chain. It has held it's own with some seriously good equipment.

Lumin gets my vote. It's great place to start and maybe end. If you are a Roon user then setup the features you life inside the Lumin app then flip it over to setup in Roon Only mode then sit back and enjoy. The T2/T3 or D2/D3 is a wonderful spot to try. In my setup I preferred the T2 over the very nice R2R Holo Audio Spring 3 KTE. I'm a firm believer in streaming DAC's over USB DAC's nowadays. Had a few troubles when trying to get HQPlayer to play well with the Holo. The Lumin products just work with no issues ever and they also have their own decent app if you don't use Roon. The only thing I found with the Lumin T2 or other Lumin with the ESS Sabre chip is that they don't sound the best with stat's or electrostatic speakers for some reason.

Or check out Hifi Rose RS150 or Eversolo DMP-A8 for some good examples as well. Each have their disadvantages but you can't go wrong with any these mentioned above.

A lot of options. How about checking out the Ferrum Wandla DAC? A+ rated by Stereophile, says it rivals DAC’s costing $10K or more. I think that it’s $2,800 (without the upgraded power supply, which you could do at a later time). And Lumin U2 Mini streamer for $2,400. Lumin has leedh lossless digital volume control, so you can also use it as a preamp. Apparently Lumin is part of the Pixel Magic Systems Ltd group-- which has experience in professional broadcast applications, for whatever that is worth. I have no personal experience with either product, but I have been searching for both a new DAC and streamer, and have been itching to buy/try both of these products. Good luck with your search.


My 2 cents- upgrade the power cord to the node and invest in the DAC. The node is just the server!

@moonwatcher and @soix 

I never auditioned any iteration of the Denafrips Pontus, but I had several decent DACs in my system. I just sold Bricasti M3 and am trying to figure out my next move. Meanwhile, since I was always curious about the PS Audio DSD DAC, I picked up the Mk1. I must say that I’m enjoying it a great deal!

It’s a unique DAC in that it’s very detailed but manages that while being very natural and full sounding. Soundstage is excellent and the presentation is laid back and relaxed without losing drive and dynamics. Running the latest Sunlight firmware. It’s an amazing value under $2,000. 

@soix ​​@vthokie83 ​​​​​​@audphile1 thanks for your input regarding the Pontus II -12th and the PS Audio DSD DAC Mk1. That Mk1 is available at TMR for around $1700 to $1800 or add another $200 and get their network streaming card. Very tempting considering it was selling for $6K not too long ago. As others note, DACs have all come a long way in the last say 5 years. Good to have great options in the $2K range which suits my interest and budget (and likely would get all I can from my system without buying "too much" DAC). Then again, all the reviews of the Pontus II make deciding pretty tough. At some point, since we can’t hear these in person, we make a choice and go with it. Thankfully there is the TMR to trade in gear (or Audiogon for selling) if we get something that doesn’t suit us. Thanks again. Also note that yes, I have concerns about getting anything serviced. Anything made by man can break after all. Glad to know that Denafrips does have a service center here in the U.S. I’m not sure how good any additional warranties through 3rd parties at Amazon would really be in practice.

Mine’s just a DAC. I got it from TMR. 
The PS Audio bridge doesn’t have a good rep. I wouldn’t bother with it.

@navyachts I do like the PS Audio DAC. Is it better than the M3? No it’s not. It has a different presentation and is slightly warmer sounding than the M3. 

@audphile1 thanks. Like @davegolf2424 here, I too am still on the hunt (at least for the DAC part of things). Whilst at the same time, slowly getting around to upgrading all those darn cables!

A second suggestion here for the MHDT Orchid.

This DAC raises an interesting question - how much of the evolution of digital that has taken place in the 30 years since its’ Philips TDA 1541a chip was invented actually contributes to the enjoyment of music?

I’m not saying that modern digital isn’t significantly better than vintage digital. I am suggesting that it comes at a cost. On the lower rungs where I tend to be able to afford things the MHDT Orchid strikes an excellent balance between resolution and timbre.

I’ve tried several well-regarded modern DACs in my system but found their additional resolution actually detracted from my ability to relax and listen to the music. Weird, I know. Several of my friends who also own MHDT DACs also have tried DACs with more modern technology, like those mentioned above on this thread and have not switched over to them. Of course, this is just our ears, our systems, our listening preferences. I am not "arguing" in the academic sense, that our listening preferences are any better than anyone else's.



Just placed my order for the Iris and Pontus combo.  vthokie83, how do you recommend wiring?  Alvin gave me a suggestion, but would like yours and other Pontus users input.   Many thanks to those who contributed on this thread.  It was great to have other opinions.  I'm sure others will benefit as well.

Davegolf2424, got in the way of my audiophile life. I don't believe you mentioned which Node you have. The Node 2 and Node 2i, do not support USB out.....and the Iris only accepts USB input.

Input USB into the Iris using a nice cable, you don't need to break the bank. I've used a Supra Excalibur (they sell on eBay) to good results in the past....and it's $130 if I recall.

DEFINITELY I2S from Iris to Pontus II 12th using a really solid HDMI cable, I'm currently using an Audioquest Vodka 48 which I believe is around $450...but be careful of eBay, those may be Chinese fakes. I've also used Supra 2.1 HDMI (which is legit on eBay) and Audioquest Cinnamon 48 as well......better cable will produce better results

I also use XLR out of the Pontus to my preamp, works a treat

Yeah @vthokie83 brings up a very important point. I think only the latest Node has a USB out so the Iris won’t work with older Nodes although I read something that one of the model’s maintenance USB port can be reprogrammed to work as a USB out but not sure on that.

That aside, agree that i2S is absolutely the way to go, and along with the recommendations above I’d add the DH Labs HDMI 2.1 that gets very good feedback from users here, and I think they’re offering 10% off on their site. BTW, for i2S you wanna keep the HDMI cable as short as possible and preferably down to a foot or less although not many manufacturers offer that length. Just go as short as possible.

If your budget is tight, I got this 6” HDMI cable from Monoprice for less than five bucks and it was still very capable of conveying the considerable improvements with the Iris and i2S connection so a very cheap/easy way to get your feet wet until you upgrade. There seems to be mixed feedback as to how much difference the HDMI cable makes — some hear a difference but others who spent some $ on an upgrade didn’t get much improvement, so pick yer poison. Anyway, congrats on the new DAC and DDC and hope all works out with the Node. If it does I’m confident you’re gonna be one very happy camper.

Don't know if the Moon Ace would nock your C42 off its perch but ListenUp has them marked down to $3.5K.  Collapse the streamer,DAC and pre into one tidy unit.