Which component to upgrade 1st ?

Hey folks here is my dilemma I have a budget of about 6K for a new component. I currently have Martin Logan Vantage speakers, Audio Research Ref75 amp, Audio Research LS17SE preamp, Rega P6 turntable, and a bluesound node (makes my ears hurt but you have to start somewhere) and a Chord Qutest dac. My wishlist includes Lumin T2, (sell Qutest and node), Audio Research Ref 5 used ( sell LS17SE), used Phono tube dac (currently have Mofi), or used Weiss 502 dac with either a Lumin U2 mini or Bricasti M5. I know start with source first but I can’t wrap my head around which toy first. Thoughts and be kind.


The Weiss is top of the heap IMO. A streamer is built in and the Weiss has impressive functionality. If you are a headphone person go 502 otherwise 501 will cost less. It also can drive your amp without a preamp in the chain. I owned a T2 and the Weiss is significantly more musical to me, although twice the price of the LUMIN.

Thanks for the reply. Yep the 501 gets such great reviews. Going to have to set some alerts on all of the above soon.

Well, first, you are well on your way to a really great system. Everything you have said suggests you are on the right track.


The Audio Research REF5 is a fantastic preamp. I owned a REF5SE for ten years and now own a REF6se. I think this should be your first step. It will impact everything. If you are not familiar with my systems, look under my UserID. the more ARC… each step will make a big difference. Your budget is good to make a significant step up. Your ARC REF75 is a great classic amp.


I would say, the next move would be the streamer. I would recommend a used Aurender N10. You could get one for around that cost. After owning lots of streamers, my conclusion is that the investment should be at the level of the rest of your components… my amp and streamer are the most expensive electronic components I have, and really well worth it. I currently own an Aurender N100 and their flagship WE20se.


It depends on what you listen to the most ; digital or analog. If you predominantly listen to digital put your money there and the same goes for analog. 

ghdprentice, great advice. I'm still trying to wipe the drool off my keyboard after checking out your systems.  Well Done Sir!! I have the AR phono amp on my list as well. They are pricey, have you ever listened to the lower end AR phono amps?

lwin, ty! I admit currently I listen to mostly digital, and the node is definitely the weak link in my system. I find I'm torn though I keep thinking about how much better my phono could sound with a better phono amp. Then again these are first world problems I am lucky to have.

mwinkc I made the mistake of previewing a the Aurender A10 and N100 streamers in my system, ever since then my ears protest when listening to the node.

lwin, ty! I admit currently I listen to mostly digital, and the node is definitely the weak link in my system. I find I'm torn though I keep thinking about how much better my phono could sound with a better phono amp. Then again these are first world problems I am lucky to have.

Sort of wondering if you should even keep the TT? Or just move it on…

I am the other way around, and just moved from the 5 disc 90’s CD player to a DAC this year… but only use that when I am not run the TT. (Like podcasts and doing the kitchen work.)

The node is definitely the weak link. I replaced mine with a U-1 mini and it was a nice upgrade. Both were using an outboard DAC.

Instead of opting for the T-2, I suggest bringing in the U2-mini and a good NOS DAC of your choice.

For very little money, replace the power board in the bluesound with another from PD Creative and get an external power supply. For a few hundred dollars, it ups the game of the Bluesound by a lot.


Good suggestion on Node mods. I am curious if you have auditioned and compared any of the offerings from Lumin or Aurender with your modified Node.

Given the OP speakers, I would replace Chord Qutest with a good tube DAC before replacing the Node. I would try either MHDT Orchid or Border Patrol DAC.

A change of speakers will always have a greater positive effect than any electronics. Check out Devore!

You've got the foundation for a very nice system.  I'd be  inclined to experiment with some tube rolling so you can tailor the sound to your liking...both pre and amp tubes. If you do, be sure to give ample burn-in time before you draw any conclusions.

You didn't mention what phone cart you're using, but that's always a good place to research and experiment with to optimize what you already have. 

lalitk, replacing the qutest is a great suggestion. I've looked into tube dacs but have not found one around town to audition. MHDT and Border Patrol recos are appreciated.

Keep the Qutest.  Qutest is best dac under $3k.  Avoid the integrated DAC.  If you want to upgrade your streamer, the Allo USBridge Signature with Shanti Power supply is very good will leave you $5600 for another component.


You have solicited some good recommendations so far. @ghdprentice makes a compelling case for upgrading your current preamplifier. No doubt speakers are a noted factor, but only as good as what signal quality they are fed.

Restricted to your listed options, I’d begin at the front of the signal chain. Replace the current Node streamer and Chord DAC with the Weiss 501. This is a big step upward and forward (IMO). My next change would then be acquiring the ARC REF 5 preamplifier.

With these two upgrades you have significantly improved your signal chain quality. Now you can address the speakers. You are fine with the ARC REF 75 amplifier (Last item I’d change)



Border Patrol DAC is sold with a 14-days return policy, no restocking fee. Unfortunately, MHDT DAC carries a 10% restocking fee. I would defer to @hilde45 sane (no BS) advise on MHDT Orchid DAC as his setup include both Node 2 and Orchid.

It’s all about synergy, sometimes it takes few auditions with multiple components to find that perfect blend within the context of your system. And please don’t go on changing everything at once, bringing in a DAC, live with it and then plan your next move. In this hobby, decisions made in haste can cost you a pretty penny :-)

@jasonbourne52 A change of speakers will always have a greater positive effect than any electronics. Check out Devore!


Garbage-in = Garbage-out. Everything matters, not just speakers,

if you care about how it sounds.


Good suggestion on Node mods. I am curious if you have auditioned and compared any of the offerings from Lumin or Aurender with your modified Node.

I have not. I'd like to. From what I have heard, especially from very experienced people like @jjss49 and others in my area is that the incremental change of a streamer with a good, quiet power supply and a good DAC (I love my Orchid) is very minor. I am holding off on spending thousands more on my streamer but I would love to compare.

@decooney +100. Yes, speakers just amplify unresolved problems up the chain.


I can’t speak for anyone else but in my system, the audible difference between a BS Vault and Aurender N100 were far from subtle. I won’t pity BS Node or Vault against Aurender N20 or W20SE cause that wouldn’t be a fair comparison. One important distinction during these comparisons, I always used a very high quality DAC. So I can only recommend an audition in your system to find out :-)

+100. Yes, speakers just amplify unresolved problems up the chain.

Yes, this is my rationale for suggesting getting the front end of the signal path improved as the initial move/action. I get the popular heavy focus on the speakers.

However, the better the quality of speakers , the more they simply faithfully amplify the signal (Quality) fed to them.



“the better the quality of speakers , the more they simply faithfully amplify the signal (Quality) fed to them.”

​​​​@charles1dad …..Exactly, I rebuild my current system around my Canterbury’s:-)



Were you referring to a specific dac/pre (Chord Hugo?) when you said basically ’avoid...’

I have an Audio Alchemy DDP-1, a dac/pre, and it is excellent. A side benefit is only one power cord needed, plus clears space in a rack


Thanks for your kind words about my system. All I can say is, it sounds better than that… 50 years putting it together… it sounds better than I had imagined possible.


I have owned a Audio Research PH 2, PH2SE, PH3, PH3SE, PH8, and now the REF3. Each was better than the former. But honestly a really sweet spot was the PH8… I really felt it was incredibly cost effective. Of course you could not pull my REF3 away from me… I can’t help but think about upgrading it to the REF3se.


ah ha! I was thinking PH8 when I get around to it. Thanks for the shout back on that!

@laltik totally agree on the (any really) Aurender vs BS Node. The Aurender's I've auditioned do not disappoint. I do prefer the idea of having a separate dac from streamer vs bundled.

thanks so much to everyone, you've shared some great ideas!! I will update when my next purchase is made. meanwhile keep the beat.

@Charles1Dad. Indeed I think it's a toss up Weiss or Ref5 first. Will likely go for the  one I can find that fits the budget first. Can't lose either way.

A change of speakers will always have a greater positive effect than any electronics. Check out Devore

The TT/cart is also a transducer system… 

I would upgrade the digital source, yeah, if you listen to mostly digital. Otherwise I would upgrade the analogue front end, all of it including phono stage.

Agree with addressing your digital source first. Not sure I follow how changing from a very good preamp to another preamp is going to address the "ear hurt" that the Node will be feeding it

The ear hurt is most likely most due to his speakers. Have any of your heard this speaker? A difficult load for tubes and therein may be part of the problem.

thanks @facten  and @audition-audio  

@audition__audio Her speakers are indeed a challenge to tubes. Likely in a perfect world the Ref150 would be a better choice. Warmth is something I've always preferred hence tubes. My preamp is good but is a hybrid, and I've had the opportunity to compare hybrid vs tube. Big difference, and big price jump. So it is a piece that has long been on the wishlist, just waiting for tons of extra money at my discretion. Like most of us.

I'll put in a counterpoint for consideration. Consider isolation, power cords and interconnects. Depending on what you have and when the last time was that you truly evaluated these elements, it may be the biggest upgrade and change you will experience. Good mechanics is essential (as well has room acoustics) to optimizing your listening experience.

For example, I just upgraded my rack and turntable isolation to Core Audio and Minus K from Finite Elemente and Stillpoints Ultras. Earth shattering change. I'm serious--way beyond what I expected. And I expected a lot (even with a system that was pretty darn good going into it).

Give it some thought.

You've got to make spending count.  Must be a case for choosing between analogue and digital sources.  Why spend money on two competing systems?

Meanwhile some are putting money into power cords instead of active components.

I recently had the same dilemma, but took some sound advice: change sources, amps and speakers to change the flavour / character of your system; change DACs, pre-amps and cables to fine-tune it. So I recently bought a 2nd-hand Sonnet Morpheus DAC and a demo Primaluna Evo 400. Kept my Audiosolutions speakers, my Auralic Aries source, and my Ayon pre-amp, but I'm selling both my previous $5,000 (US) DAC and some $15,000 (US) mono-blocks. Couldn't be happier. You need to sort out the weak links in your system and do lots of research, but the answer doesn't always mean spending more, as there are some real audio 'pearls' out there and technology keeps moving on. In that regard, I would definitely think about MQA - despite what its many critics might say. I've dropped Quobuz and focused on Tidal because of it.   

@littlebrownkiwi01 …Change the flavor/character by changing the speakers/amp

…fine tune with DAC, preamp, and cables

Interesting, I hadn’t heard anything like that before. I keep wanting to put the preamp in with the speakers and amp. But… yeah… OK… it’s a generality… it makes sense. It could be useful for your first system or for making a major change in character of an existing system.

About 15 years ago I wanted to make a major change from planar speakers to a more natural coherent sound. I have always had a great preamp… I changed the speakers (to Sonus Faber) and then the biggest of the other changes was moving to a tube amp.

A rule of thumb that can be useful. Thanks for sharing.


The ML Vantage have a powered woofer. So the panel is pretty much the only thing that presents a challenge to the amp. However, I think you’re fine with the ARC amp driving the MLs. I had the ML Montis and used Rogue ST-100 tube amp mostly in triode mode which puts out about 60-65w/ch. I also used Pass XA-30.8 with the MLs and it rarely moved out of pure Class A operation.

Even though the Qutest is a great DAC, IMO upgrading the DAC will be the biggest impact in your system especially if you switch to running all XLRs with the ARC gear. The Weiss 501 DAC should be great and will replace both the Node and the Qutest.
I would then tackle the preamp next and would look into something like ARC Ref5/se. Stay with the ARC for your preamp for synergy, sonics and a piece of mind.

By the time you’re done with either or both upgrades, you’ll sit down for a listen one day and realize that your speakers are not on the level with the rest of your gear. 😀

You mentioned you like warm sound…may be look into Harbeths when you get around to the speakers.

I would ditch the tt and add the funds to budget for the best DAC and streamer combination.  The Node is ok but at this point you are very source deficient 

Oh and let me throw another DAC suggestion into the mix…

Bricasti M3 or M1SE used are within your budget. Find these on a used market with a built in network player and you’re good to go as far as the DAC upgrade is concerned. 

@ghdprentice really interested to know which SFs you chose. When I do swap speakers SF is my choice as well. If I can one day find a used set of Olympic Nova IIs life would be grand. Ty

@audphile1 really enjoyed your reply. I’ve pretty much mapped out my plan. Dac  first, brand TBA at a later date. First replace dac and node. Then preamp, then speakers. These moves will be at least a year apart for each. So here is the new dilemma I don’t live close to either a Bricasti or Weiss dealer to preview. Any suggestions on dealers? I enjoy traveling to cities with Hi-end audio equipment. Such a geek! Ty

@jpan thanks for the info on racks! I am sure mine needs replacement but had it placed lower on the list. Also going to move to a AQ Niagara 5000 from Niagara 1200s eventually. Again ty for your thoughts.

@milo0812 not sure on dealers in your area. Sorry.
I would contact Bricasti with that question. 
In NJ I believe Verdantaudio may be a dealer for both Bricasti and Weiss. He also posts frequently and had a lengthy thread on shoot out between different DACs. 

@milo0812 don’t forget…look into running all XLRs with new DAC (assuming it’s got balanced out).