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




Thanks for the correction. On a side note it would be helpful if people gave their impressions based on what OS filters used or if using NOS.

IME, each setting is like having another DAC.

This is a great thread.  I have a newer node 2i with an USB output.  I hooked up an Ares II with a good quality coax cable and noticed a significant reduction is sound quality.  I could have come to the conclusion that the Ares II is a POS, but....., I hooked it up to my older SACD player and heard a very significant improvement in sound quality.  The USB sounds like it might be the solution to the problem.  Thanks to all of the commenters. 

@painter24 Yes indeed, reached out to Alvin and he confirmed that the USB out on the new node is the best way to hook it up. He said the coax out on the node may not be compatible with the denefrips in high res possibly due to a lower the normal voltage output, however I heard a significant drop in sound quality on anything streamed whether high-res or CD quality. When using the USB out from the node, the data retrieval is handled by the dac, and since the dac is of a higher quality it will result in better sound quality. When using the coax out on the node, the dac now has to try to correct the information and apparently is not doing a great job of it due to incompatibility issues. Hence the lower sound quality when using coax. This obviously could all change if using a different streamer. 



I had a Node 2 since 2017 and it recently bricked, and it is apparently quite an expensive repair, so Lenbrook offered me a replacement at a discount which I took them up on. I'm pleased with the sound of the new NODE. I gave it a good listen just last evening. I'm using a NAD C388 integrated amp with an internal Node 2i expansion card and the outboard NODE sounds slightly better to me. I also recently purchased a pair of the new KEF R3s which I am using in conjunction with a pair of Martin Logan 12" powered subs equipped with built-in ARC. I had the system cranked last night for about an hour or so and I can say that I am immensely satisfied with my selections for a change. 

I've had a original Node2 for 5 years now, and it has been mostly glitch free. It had a few connection problems in the beginning, but with successive updates from Bluesound, it has been running perfectly.  My suggestion  to all Node users is to get any and all updates when offered.