Bluesound Node 2021 DAC - I sold my Denafrips Ares II

I assembled my system last summer, after 20 odd years in the hifi wilderness. I’ve never been a vinyl guy, so wanted all the convenience of streaming, plus a CDP for my old collection.

I went for the latest iteration of the Bluesound Node - N130, a Naim Nait 5si and a pair of Quad S2 speakers, and Audiolab 6000CDT.

From reading various forums, watching YT videos, you know the script; I convinced my self that I needed an external DAC, as the majority view seemed to be that the BS Node DAC wasn’t very good. As I hadn’t owned hifi since the late 90s (Naim Olive) bi-amped system and Audo Alchemy DDE, I had no reference for how DACs sounded these days.

Anyway, in my new found conviction that I must purchase an ext. DAC, I purchased a Denafrips Ares II. Got it, plugged it in, and didn’t look back. I was content, it sounded good.

Then, about 2 months ago, I was fiddling around inside the Bluos app, with the subwoofer crossover, with a mind to buying a sub to supplement the LFs on my little Quads, and I had the belated brainwave to a/b the Node DAC and the Denafrips. I whipped out some spare ICs and off I went.

OK, I felt like such a fool, really stupid - I a/b’d for literally hours, trying to convince myself that the Ares II was night and day difference - it must be right? The Node DAC is sub-par, not good enough, mediocre, if things I read were correct.

But, in my system, to my ears, this wasn’t the case; I had difficulty discerning any significant improvements, certainly not £800 (£600 pre-owned) worth of difference.

I’m not knocking the Ares II, but in my system, the cost and the difference it made - and the difference between it and the much maligned Node DAC could not be justified sitting in my system at that cost.

Feeling like a complete tool, for rushing headlong in to the DAC game, I re-sold the Denafrips, bought a REL T5x and here I am.

I’m not going to look a further fool and say the Node DAC is the best, but i feel it is criticised unduly, at least the newest version at any rate.

Thanks for reading, I’m not sure this is a cautionary tale, but I just thought the experience worth sharing




what is important is you are happy, and you wondered which is better, and you made the effort to find out, you have your own conclusion, so for you you have scratched the itch, satiated your curiosity

others may try with their systems, maybe their conclusion will be different, but that doesn’t matter to you and your enjoyment

just enjoy the music, and best not to obsess over the gear if that part is not enjoyable to you

   I heard the current Node in a system at a dealer last summer and I was very impressed.  I have the Node2 and I am currently using it in a secondary system,, driven by an Anthem AVR 540 MX.  I switched it from a digital input to the AVR (therefore using the DAC of the AVR) to using the analog output of the Node2 (therefore using the internal DAC of the Node).  I did this because the AVR drives Patio speakers as a Zone 2, and Zone 2 will only play analog sources.  So I noted a clear drop in SQ in this system (which is mainly used for video anyway) going from the DAC of the AVR to the Node2.  However, with the improved DAC in the current Node, I would have liked to repeat that experiment.

@mahler123 worth a try. I can’t comment on the previous version of the Node as I’ve never heard them, but I have no further inclination to put an external DAC between my Node and amp following my experience. I must stress that this is very subjective and you may find a different conclusion. But, for me and my ears, in my system/room.......

What I have done recently which has made a difference is to try and clean up the Internet feed in to my Node.

@painter24 .. I recently upgraded from the Node 2 to the latest and I tend to agree with you, the on-board DAC in the N130 isn't nearly as bad as many would have us believe. As usual, how much we want to spend for an incremental improvement in sound quality is quite personal. Seems you made the right choice for you. I already have a couple of DACs of the multibit variety I can use with the N130 and prefer them to the on-board DAC for more critical listening. For more casual listening or when watching a movie I use the on-board DAC. It doesn't suck. At all. Honestly, if I didn't already have some DACs to play with I'm not sure I would bother. At its price point I think the Node is quite a bargain.


The real issue is that between the huge rise in internet sales and online reviews, not to mention the loss of dealers and Covid, we have come to rely more on what people say and less on what we hear. What you experienced is first-hand evidence that buying with your ears is the best way to buy. A very good lesson. Not that others are wrong in opining that the Aries is better than the Node. It may be, but if you can’t hear it, it doesn’t matter. Trust your ears.  


You may have thrown in the towel too soon. I had the same experience with adding a MHDT Orchid dac to my Node 2i and latest new Node. The sound was barely different and barely noticeable. I then added (to the Nodes) the PD Creative power board with smps power supply. Things sounded much better. Then came the Sbooster LPS power supply. Things went through the roof good. Audiophile sound from Spotify (!) Sure, you void the warranty, have to lift the lid, unplug a connector, remove a couple of screws. The back panel is held in place by magnets only. Lift it off to see the screws holding the lid on. It’s a simple upgrade. The rewards are stunning.



@wlutke you may be right. But, at that point in time, and where I was, the Ares II paid for my REL, which is definitely an overall improvement.

However, I definitely take your point regarding modding the Node; I’ve been tossing around the idea in my head of ordering the Teddy Pardo upgrade kit/PSU for the Node. It may have kicked the Ares II into full blown glory, but that chapter’s closed. I may still opt for the Teddy Pardo in the next few months as the logic of removing the in-built SMPS for an outboard PSU seems pretty nailed on.



Among all the upgrades I have had, an addition of a subwoofer is definitely most noticeable with the highest performance/dollar ratio. Speaker upgrade can be lateral, depending on the taste and various priority, always gain some by losing other characteristics. Amplifier is a distant next on the list. DAC, especially with current advancement of technology, it is a long solved problem, unless you are uber focus on the sound signature, and most of time you have to listen through microscope to appreciate the difference, which beat the purpose of music enjoyment. And above all, a good recording beats all, doesn't matter what format. When reading reviews, we have to have our own sense of validity and perspective to evaluate how much ourselves can tell and willing to spend to tell this much difference.

Nice share. Your ears are the only thing important to your listening. To my mind this is more of a critique of the Chinese designed big box of resistors. And maybe whatever cables ran into it.


Here’s something that needs to be addressed when comparing the sound of the Node vs.Node with external dac.  The Node’s analog outputs and digital outputs are active at the same time and both outputs are linked to the internal volume control.  Therefore you will have two inputs on your preamp/integrated receiving a full signal at the same time.  This will result in a certain amount of channel bleed-thru negating an accurate comparison.  The sonic result is generally pleasant at first.  I hear it as an increased spaciousness like reverb has been added to the recording.  In any case the sound is altered/contaminated now for both inputs.

I have observed/heard this interaction on my tube preamp which has a conventional input selector and on my integrated amp which has a push button relay switched input.

IMO, the only way to perform an accurate comparison, one will need to physically remove one set of input cables when comparing.

Too bad the Node doesn’t have the option to switch off the digital output.  That would solve the issue.  

I would agree with you in that many situations the BS DAC sounds great without an outboard modern edition of DAC.

I have found that in many cases, the fewer components in the chain sound better than more high quality components. IE a minimalist fewer components shorter signal path approach is the secret.

Thanks for all your thoughts, some great insights.

Just to re-iterate, this isn't meant as a criticism of the Ares II, but for me, and the difference it made to my enjoyment of my system, it just wasn't cutting it. After my epiphany, all I could think was, I have hundreds of £££ worth of electronics sat there that's not really giving me that return in sonic terms. So as I was assessing what sub to buy, it seemed logical to make the trade off that I did. 

It may be that my amp/speakers, ICs, SCs are not allowing the Ares to really shine; other systems may well do just that. 

But, I love the Naim character innate in the Nait 5si, and my Quad S2s have a real sweetness and  character that I find very pleasing. So, I really don't want to break up this pairing right now, as they work extremely well together, As for the Node (DAC), I feel it is much improved by "cleaning-up" the Internet signal fed to it, plus 3rd party PC. (I know you could probably say that about any streaming component) 

Posted here in another thread, I have my router in the next room, sat with the TV, TV box, Sonos speakers, BluRay player, Smart light hub, ISP modem and network switch. Quite congested 😊. Anyway, I have a 15m run of Cat 6a into the listening room terminating in a TP-Link ethernet/optical converter, and another converter, taking the signal back to ethernet. This made a big change to the signal fed the Node, positively. I know I'm still getting noise from the last TP-Link converter's switch mode PS, but not as mutch as I was getting from the jungle of electronics in the other room where the router lives 😊. 

I think to improve the Node further, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I'll look to mod it with one of the available kits/PSUs; probably Teddy Pardo. 

I conclusion, I think, as @melvinjames mentioned, the Node is a bargain, maybe a little unduly criticised. But with a little attention to the ethernet signal fed to it a PC, it can be elevated to something that I feel is an absolute steal for someone working with a similar budget to myself. 

I'm not saying I'll never look at DACs again, but right now, I'm ok👌😊





@rhljazz ​​​​​​

Hand on heart, I can honestly say I never even considered the point you've just made; it makes total sense. I should have thought of it. But hey, no going back now.

In hindsight, I probably should have bought the sub way back, rather than looking at external DACs.

I guess as the cliche says "every day's a school day", especially with this crazy hobby 😊

The combination of the Node version ___ and a Denafrips DAC

is problematic. Alvin [Denafrips] has stated the Aries II and the Node

didn’t play well together, he later broadened the list to include their

DAC’c and the Node. So a different brand DAC may sound better, or a different brand streamer

with a Denafrips may improve on your original conclusions.

My initial email w/Alvin was on the Aries II subsequent Emails to others

included other models.



Thanks for this thread I'm just about to take the plunge into the digital world totally clueless (grew up w/45's, LP's & 8 tracks) and have really would like to have a 1 box solution, preferably wireless wifi connected.  We just got AT&T fiber cable which is a huge improvement over our previous Cox cable and half the price.  Is the current Bluesound Node going work wireless & to be on par w/my current Cary 303/300 cd player which I run direct into my Music Reference tube amp? 


  There is no need to defend what you have experienced.  It’s not like you never tried something,but chimed in with an”opinion”. Like happens so often with cables,or contact enhancers,or….. you get the point. This or any hobby, is about a little self indulgence.  Everyone is after something different.  Congratulations on narrowing your chase down. 

The aries2  is a far better dac then the node that is for sure 

they are both entry level  the node has the streaming built in. ,a dedicated computer server is much better , I use the uptone ether regen 

cables are very important ,I use AQ Diamond Ethernet, and usb 

both are very good and btw the new synergistic purple fuses make a nice improvement also.

Using Node 2i with pd creative/s booster.  Musetec mhda005 dac.  Sounded like crap until I turned off Node setting “mqa external dac”.   

Well, I think that sounds like a GREAT system. Have to say, synergy is a big part of things. May even supersede needing any particularly expensive or separate pieces in the chain. Puts a smile on my face that you mentioned the Quad S2’s. Ive got them, and feel they’re terribly overlooked. Outstanding to me in every way, and they just keep surprising me! Got them at the end off a Creek Evolution 50a and Topping D70s dac, Allo Digione/Rpi.

Sorry, not really in thread with the discussion! But happy you like them too. Also happy you you’ve added a Rel t5/x to good effect. Was considering one of those for my own next purchase.



I would doubt that the Node will sound as good as the Cary, but if the Cary has digital inputs, then you can run the Node into the DAC of the CD player and do your own comparison 

I don't know anything about the NAD, but  I had my own experience with the Ares 2. It is now on my secondary system and hardly played at all because I have a separate listening room which makes it nearly impossible to listen to music anywhere else. The reason for moving over the Ares 2 really has little to do with sound, but rather convenience. It has no remote. And from a captain's seat in a dedicated listening room it becomes a pain to operate. It's that simple. So I got the Gustard x26 pro and its remote operates the filters and NOS setting if preferred. And basically every CD can use different adjustments. So it's wonderful, my ears stay in prime position in the captain's seat to adjust the sound instead of moving over, adjust manually and get back to the seat to figure out if the adjustment helped. And I don't miss the R2R at all, the Gustard on NOS is at least as analog sounding as that. That's one of the advice I got from this site but the R2R isn't all it's made out to be in my ears. But I do love Alvin at Vinshine, to my experience he is by far the most personable person I ever dealt with in online audio. So much so that I also bought a Jay's cdt2 mk3 from him too.


Good job trying things out and being open and neutral. I respect your conclusion too--you limit it to your ears, your system and your experience. As others note, so many here chime in without ever hearing anything they are talking about. 

There are others still who seemingly don't care about how something sounds.  Why?  Because they believe you/I cannot tell much with our ears and brains--they think it's subjective. So, they buy based on test results and stats. 

I've chosen lesser expensive or respected gear before.  That's a great spot to be in.  The other side--when you say, darn it I have to have this because it sounds soooo good--stinks because you have no way out of the purchase. 

By the way, I owned 3 (count 'em, three) Nodes over the years.  Damn fine product.  The DAC inside is good and probably better than many of us give it credit for.  I have to remember this is a $600 product.  It does just fine if not great for that price, considering its feature set and overall build quality. 

Now, I'd be curious if you can hear the difference by adding in a second REL T5i. :). I bet you can!

I recently purchased the Pontus, been in my system for 2 weeks. I also have the latest blue sound node. I bought the Pontus to replace my project DAC and the internal dac on the Node.  I was also happy with the node internal dac for a while, but got the itch as you did. After about a week with the Pontus I was a bit underwhelmed, could not figure out why it wasn't sounding as good as the reviews made it out to be. It wasn't until I switched to the USB out on the node and sent the signal directly to the Pontus, instead of coax, that this thing really started to shine. I emailed Alvin about the issue and he suggested using the USB with this combo. Made a huge difference in clarity, soundstage, all of the above. Just wondering how you connected your blue sound to the Pontus, cuz this could be why you were underwhelmed. 



I've done A/B comparisons with internal DAC on Bluesound with Bryston BDA2 and  Topping D30 pro and am unable to hear any difference. When I run the DAC's into various preamps I am able to hear some subtle differences, so I'm not completely tone deaf.

I bought a node 2i and it plays into a NAD preamp out to PS Audio S300 amp to Tebrl performas.  If you just run coax or Optical to the preamp usually that does the trick. 

I believe the Bluesound Node to be exceptional for the price.  I used a friends for quite a while and yes my Denafrips Ares II was used as an external DAC and yes it sounded better. However I recently returned the Node and installed a Stack Link (1). It is more than day and night difference, the combination cost me less than half of a Lumin, Aurender, Moon or other brand name streamer solution. I haven't heard anything better. The Link has now been upgraded to Link 2 and adds $1000 to what I paid, however it is still what I would buy. My system includes 2 subwoofers and the Bluesound didn't seem to cope with that too well on any setting. Bass was either poor or boomy, in fact lumpy would be a better description. Each system is different but I can assure you that my Naim streamer now resides in another room.

I am also happy with my Node 2i’s which live on 2 secondary systems. I tried one of them with external DAC’s, a Cayin and Arcam II I had lying around. In both cases i preferred the native node 2i sound. I have since upgraded both with a external LPS kit and to me that improved the sound. It took a costly upgrade (Lumin/Accuphase DAC) to better them on my primary system so as others say, Node's are great bag for buck.

Well I did the same thing, except with a Venus to Denafrips and a couple year-old note 2i … There wasn’t really any comparison for me the Denafrips was superior.

Excellent outcome.   Other people’s opinions matter not.   Only your ears matter.   Trust them.


P 24- There is a sequence of adding gear that makes the most sense both sonically and financially. Some gear can be bought without penalty-Denafrips is one of the few. Buying used is another way to protect your backside.

There are a lot of tweaks in streaming you will begin to find out about.

Streaming technology is improving SQ every year.  As are DACs.

I added the same Sub in November during the annual  sale.

Love that thing. 

Keep us posted on your next move!


The bright side of your failed experiment is that Ares II has great resale value.

A side thread, anyone compared the Bluesound Node to Cambridge Audio EVO, in sound quality? huge difference in price probably due to the amount of feathres the EVO brings, but the Node is so simple!

"Just wondering how you connected your blue sound to the Pontus, cuz this could be why you were underwhelmed. "


Sorry meant to say the Aries. What did you use to connect the Node to the Aries?



@jin78 ​​​​​​


Hi, I tried 3 different cables, all digital coax RCA cables;

Wireworld Silver Starlight 7

QED Reference Audio 40

VDH The First (the first iteration of this line)

I tend to scour auction sites, scooping up any good used or stock clearance cables I can find. Only cables I've paid retail for are my speaker cables and a pair of Chord entry level, C-line? 

@painter24 you were definitely using some good quality cabling, however, if you would have used the USB out to the Aries it may have made all the difference. I'm only assuming this because that's what happened with my Pontus. Not sure if the USB implementation is the same on both models. As others have said, there is definitely a compatibility issue between the node coax out and the denefrips dacs. Signal voltage coming out of the node coax is lower.  Anyway, the node is a great little device. The app is nice. The internal dac sounded pretty darn close to my project S2 plus dac. Enjoy that new sub, might want to snag one of those one day!

FYI, the Mhdt orchid has a built in linear power supply, so adding one makes no sense. 


FYI, The Sbooster replaced the Node’s external smps. It was not added to the Orchid.


Perhaps your unaware that the Bluesound Node does not have USB out.  Only SPDIF and Toslink.  Connecting to the Ares via USB is not possible.  


"I'm not saying I'll never look at DACs again, but right now, I'm ok👌😊"


How refreshing! An audiophile who says "Good enough!". Well done mate! IMHO this avocation of ours is very subjective. Sometimes it also means we don't stop to "smell the roses" in pursuit of some audio Nirvana.

Nice job on the equipment choice as well: Why have a box that you can't really perceive any improvement with when you could divert those resources to something that does? Again, well done!


Happy listening!

I have the older Node 2i and an external DAC did make a  difference which I preferred.  I did choose a  DAC with MQA as the node2i will not do a complete unfold prior to sending the information out to the DAC. 


Happy combination. 

I’ve had a refurbished Node 2i for 2 years. I added a Topping D90 and liked it. I also use COAX. A couple other improvements I made:

Make sure volume is set to fixed or max on both Node and DAC and use your preamp for volume control..

I added the PD Creative power supply to my node 2i. I felt this was a really worthwhile $132. His better one only came in 230V. Mine came with a Meanwell switching power supply which is supposed to be pretty good. The improvements in fine detail, bass and soundstaging are worthwhile.  I have not looked into a linear power supply. Teddy Pardo version is higher but comes with an LPS.

Add an aftermarket cord to your Node.

With streaming it seems the more EFI and RMI you get rid of the better it sounds. Lots of debate about optical vs coax vs USB. Lots of debate about R2R vs DS.. Switches, ENO, EtherREGEN are all supposed to clean up things but I haven’t tried them, yet.

Also, spend 25 on some springs for sub and see what you think.


Audiophiles will always tell you what's most expensive, new, and interesting is "better".  Few of them are honest enough to admit they too can be deceived.  

A very significant portion of the population also think Kim Kardashian is hot because they only look at her published face and deny that very large caboose in the back.    

what is important is you are happy, and you wondered which is better, and you made the effort to find out, you have your own conclusion, so for you you have scratched the itch, satiated your curiosity

others may try with their systems, maybe their conclusion will be different, but that doesn’t matter to you and your enjoyment

just enjoy the music, and best not to obsess over the gear if that part is not enjoyable to you"


jjss49, This post sums it up extremely well, at least for me. At times it seems like it is needed in almost every thread here.

I went through the same experience.  I added a Project DAC to my Node 2i and it actually sounded thin.  The DAC inside the Node 2i actually sounded better.  However, I was upgrading my speaker cables and power cords and the sales person from The Cable Company thought we should add a power cable to the node 2i and connect it using digital cable to my ARCAM AVR 550.  He told me a $550 BlueSound can't have the quality of DAC as compared to using the DAC in my ARCAM.  I told him I was not anxious to give up MQA Tidal offers and he said going digital will sound better.  He also told me MQA is way over rated and was perhaps just a marketing tool to attract audiophiles to Tidal.  I am still not sure I hear much of a difference.  However, I have been using a digital connection for months now and have not done another AB comparison.

I would also imagine the Project DAC at its price point may not have been the right choice.  Seems like most DAC's start at $1,500.  I wonder if I were to use a better external DAC if I would be able to hear an improvement in sound quality.  Adding a pair of Synergistic Research Level One Atmosphere speaker cable was probably the biggest upgrade.  I now can hear greater detail in the higher frequencies.  Perhaps adding a Luxman 509 amp might also be the next step to upgrading quality for 2 channel listening.  I have a source where I can purchase the Luxman for $7,000 compared to full retail of $10,000.  

I have had a Node2i for a few years and have a/b’d the internal DAC vs Schiit Modi Muiltibit, Rotel RDD-1580 and Krell SBP-64x (well over 25 years old).  The Krell is the only DAC that I can honestly say adds a significant sonic difference.  I felt that the Schiit and Rotel were very similar to the Node.   The Modi was a little more forward with the soundstage and the Rotel set the stage several feet back.  In my opinion, the Krell sets the stage and PRAT just right for me  I can’t use the Krell for all streamers (NAD CI580) because of it’s age but it works very well with the Node 2i.  I will be holding onto the Krell as long as I can.