Streamer/DAC - Where is the value?

I currently have ($10K) Olympica Nova II speakers, ($11K) McIntosh MA9000 integrated amp and a (~$1.5K) Cambridge Audio 851N network player. The weak link here seems to be the Cambridge unit. 

I'm prepared to upgrade my streamer/DAC situation and my budget is about $4-6K. Although there are SO many options out there and it's tough to tell where I'll find the most value. My assumption is that the DAC is going to play a much larger part in sound quality than the Streamer. I play music primarily through Tidal. I don't have requirements for server storage or any other sophisticated source capabilities. 

Many of the network players come with a pre-amp which I am assuming I should rule immediately. That pre-amp would be taking a share of the overall budget. On the other hand I was thinking maybe I should buy separates. I could max out the DAC and get something good enough for the streaming. Or even continue to use the Cambridge if I really wanted. Having a beautiful screen on a good looking streamer would be nice but seems like lower priority in terms of bang for buck.

Curious to hear people's thoughts. Are there any specific units anyone would recommend as either an all in one network player or as separates? The Auralic ALTAIR G2.1 seems like the ideal all in one but it's at the very peak of my budget.



Kind of back to your original consideration, the newer Auralic G1.1 transport might be worth checking out. It’s supposed to be outfitted with a better power supply than the dac version (Tarun the British Audiophile did a good comparison to the earlier model transport). Personally, separates are so the way to go. Albeit, synergy can be a caveat/challenge unless you have a brand preference for sound.


i have a Lunin D2, which I thoroughly enjoy.  What is S/booster and how does it affect your D2?

77Jovian - quieter, blacker background, less grain, more detail retrieval and more open.  I have an upgraded power supply in the G1 as well.  Tough to really do an a/b comparison as with either the Lumin or G1 you have to open the unit up, take the old power supply out.  The comparison is all based off the memory of the old power supply and the new one, could be some psychology at play.  You void the warranty on the Lumin if you go down that path - big item to point out.  Many will point to the power supply as being key on a streamer, in theory makes sense upgrading the power supply would improve performance.  

I thought it was work the risk and was happy with the upgrade. 

Best of luck.

Definitely try to go separates road. Besides better SQ it will give you more flexibility in the future. Consider Qobuz, cause Tidal with their MQA kind a limits you to MQA enabled DACs (only if highest res of Tidal important for you). Your budget is fine, you could get nice Lumin, Auralic or Aurrender streamer with nice R2R or Tube DAC. Another suggestion- get your streamer hard wired with your router using well shielded Cat-7 or 8 LAN cable. 

My assumption is that the DAC is going to play a much larger part in sound quality than the Streamer.

I disagree with this IME.  Initially I thought the same thing, but everything in the streaming chain from switches to cables to streamers, for whatever reason, seems to make a big difference.  Toward that end, I’d buy a separate streamer and DAC as both technologies are progressing quickly so the flexibility to upgrade one when a meaningful improvement occurs in the other you can just upgrade that and keep the other.  And I’d recommend spending around 50/50 on the DAC and streamer to keep it balanced.  You could do something like a Lumin streamer and a Gustard R26 DAC and have a really great combo that doesn’t break the bank and will likely be a significant upgrade over the Cambridge.  Just one option to ponder, and best of luck.