Node 2i with Naim DAC upgrade - less of an improvement?

Hi,
I have seen a few threads about non Naim streamers and external or Naim DACs on the forum, so I thought I would add some info on my current situation. And also ask some questions to learn from other peoples experience.

In short: I have a Bluesound Node2i for streaming. Happy with that, easy to manage, and for sure an improvement over bluethooth streaming from an iPhone or iPad. (My main source is vinyl, but I want streaming for exploring and simple use, but of course with good sound) No surprise, a second hand Naim DAC showed up recently, and I got it for a home demo. Dealer thought it would be a clear improvement with this external DAC, compared with a bare Node2i. And from the forum I have the impression that at least some users think this would be a good move to improve sound.

However, I don’t find much of an improvement. The Node2i acts as a transport through a Chord Clearway coaxial (RCA-BNC) to the Naim DAC, which goes to my Supernait 2. NAC5 cables to Audiovector K3 Signature speakers. (I want a Chord shawline coaxial for connection, but it wasn’t available).

During a week I have tried different routes to compare the sound with or without the external DAC. I have been streaming from Tidal master, Spotify and comparing to my Naim CD5x. Initially I found the Naim DAC to ad some depth and pondus to the sound, but on further listening I find it is not so much, certainly less than both me and the dealer expected. Why is that?

A few thoughts of mine:

  1. Is the Node2i not a sufficiently good transport?
  2. Is the somewhat low quality coaxial connection hampering the Naim DAC?
  3. Are the speakers the part of the system stopping me from hearing the DACs capacity?
  4. Or, is the Node2i with its internal DAC a quite good piece of equipment, when compared to adding the Naim DAC, in my system?

Thoughts, experience of similar setups, and advice is very much welcome!

Regards

I tried a Node 2i with a 272 and sent it back.

Very happy with my Naim DAC.

It’s possible that there’s something amiss with the one you’re testing?

Or that it doesn’t mesh with your system or preferences?

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I have a node2i with a bifrost2 dac and while I’m still waiting on my order for nap200dr so I can pair it with my 202 I’ve found the bifrost2 makes my marantz 5008 sound way better than it has a right to.
I used to have an XS2 and a node2i and it was great, but I wanted a naim streamer so I traded for a nova. And that was a great piece of kit also.
But I had a friend bring over his 202/200 and his node2i. And with cd and phono there was a major uplift in sound. With node2i and 202/200 it was different than nova but close. So I decided to change to 202/200/ node2i and bifrost2.
To my ears the bifrost2 pulls out more details has a better sound stage but still has that naim bogey factor and it has detailed yet silky smooth highs. My 200dr should be here sometime in February and I think I’ll have my end game system.

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Thanks for input JimDog,

So you found the that the Node2i was not up to the task to feed the 272 as a transport?

Looking at your profile you run a ND5XS2 and the Naim DAC. I take it you found the Naim DAC to improve on the ND5XS2?

I don’t doubt the Naim DAC, but try to figure out why it doesn’t do much for me in this configuration. Compared to the CD5X I would say that I can’t hear much differance either. Maybe it is my ears…

On the other hand the Dr. Feickert and Superline certainly holds it own with vinyl when comparing to the Node2i and Naim DAC.

Regards


Here is when we did the comparison

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We have a few Bluesound devices around the house for convenience and ease of use.

One Bluesound Node 2 feeds a 42/140 direct via an RCA to DIN interconnect and is pretty good.

Besides an NDX, another Node 2 feeds an nDAC/555PS into a 252/250DR. The NDX is a better transport in this system, but the Node is not too far behind it. I imagine the nDAC/555PS really makes the difference here.

Incidentally, I had an NDX2 on home demo last year and decided that the sound quality improvement over the NDX → nDAC/555PS did not justify the price difference for Tidal and streaming FLAC from a Synology NAS.

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My experience with a Blue Node 2i into Ndac is as follows. In Wi-fi mode I have to say I thought it was very average and was easily beaten by my IPad into Ndac streaming Qobuz. Adding Blue Jeans Cat6a was a notable uplift in performance. Much more solid and believable presentation. Make sure you bypass the volume control in the Nodes player settings. I then found an old Naim power lead and replaced the kettle plug with a soldered and sheathed figure of eight two pin socket. Another big jump, deeper bass and much smoother top end. Then yesterday I slotted in an EE 8 switch. I was not quite expecting such a big jump again. Much better timing, even more shape and an immediacy I’ve not heard before. It’s also worth checking that you are running the latest Ndac firmware update?

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Sorry for hijacking but an Ndac is a massive upgrade even on the ND5XS v1.

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The Node2i is a good transport with an average DAC. Perhaps try a more modern Dac to compare.

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Thanks Geko,

Some good advice and things to try out.

I can’t find a way to bypass volume control on the Node2i, unless you mean setting at fixed output in the app, and adjusting volume with the Supernait 2 control only. This is what I have done from start.

I have seen some ways to upgrade the power part of the Node2i. Might look into that. But I must say that I prefer to get gear that works well out of the box, and from which I can hear marked improvement at once, without the need to buy into a lot of extra stuff and tinker around too much. But a proper cable for ethernet connection certainly seems resonable to try.

I might try a ND5XS2 or another modern DAC and see if this works better in my setup. Acctually I’m quite keen to do that, as the uplift I had hoped for with the Node2i and adding the Naim DAC is missing for some reason. To me it is a bit of mystery and I would like to hear what the improved streaming sound quality can be further up the “food chain”.

I would love to have an NDX2, but at the moment I can’t see myself going that way until I have got myself new speakers and most probably a HiCap DR for the Superline. Until then I will enjoy that my vinyl setup is the best source for most of the music, and the streaming through Node2i will be good enough for exploring music and the times when I don’t wan’t to get up from the sofa to change records!

Regards

elevensheep, yes I might to that. The Naim DAC happened to show up as second hand and I felt it was a natural step to try that one, as a lot of people seemed to like it, and it is still considered a good DAC and should bring easy to hear improvements.

I got hold of a Supeline much the same way, and I was happy with that from the first minute. No doubts about good improvement whatsoever.

regards

I would definitely verify that the Naim DAC has the most recent firmware. I use the Node 2i with Wire World Mini Aurora power cable and BJC Coax to BNC cable to a bare 272/250.

I first compared it to the built in streamer and the Node was better on Qobuz and internet radio and the 272 was a bit better streaming from the NAS.

For fun, I completely turned off the streaming section of the 272 and unplugged its ethernet cable.

With that set up, the Node2i is more musically engaging than the 272 ever was and I find myself using it way more than I ever used the streaming section in the 272.

The LP12 (my main source) sounds better as well so my guess is turning off the streamer made the preamp/DAC section better.

But who knows? Audio is wacky. My cup of tea may not be yours.

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nicnaim, thanks for input.

It should have the latest firmware (the printed manual has a drawing on the back from someone who has made a diagram of the firmware test and wrote down = 4.11.8)

Interesting findings compared with the 272. To clarify, I’m not unhappy at all with the sound of the bare Node2i for the price, but I’m still curious about the next level of sound quality when streaming. I thought the Naim DAC would bring something like that without me going all in for a new Naim streamer.

Opinions about the Node2i seems to differ, as with many things in the world of audio, but so far I also find it to do quite well in my current system.

Regards

I would definitely see if you can borrow some different Coax to BNC cables. Never have been a fan of the Clearway. I know @HiFiman uses the Mark Grant Coax to BNC with good success.

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Add a power supply to the nDAC and I am confident you will hear a definite step improvement. I have a 555PS on mine and it makes a remarkable difference.

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Personally if used as a transport I don’t see the Node 2i as the weak link, I have fed the Node into a Qutest then an Mscaler/Qutest and each jump there was a marked improvement.

As nicnaim stated all my digital cables are from Mark Grant, I won’t spend more as the HDX1 digital cables are excellent only £30 per cable, at the point of checkout state if you require RCA or BNC etc

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Can you plug an usb stick in the ndac and play music from that? If this is significantly better you know the issue is in the streaming part. If it is not much better, it is in the dac of further down the chain.

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Ardbeg10y,

Good advice and useful to narrow down the possible things to consider.

Since yesterday I also found I had the Naim DAC grounding set to Chassis, corrected that to floating, as I have a CD source in the system. The DAC should be almost 10 years, but this should still leave about 5 years before need of service according to what I can find out concering the NaimDAC)

Did a testing session with some ripped music to FLAC and put that into the USB on the Naim DAC. Same music compared to the output from the CD5X. No clear result. None of the sources are clearly better or worse than the other, to my ears.

Proceeded to run the same music on the Node2i with the Naim DAC streaming Tidal hires. Compared this to the output of the CD5X. An even match I would say, maybe a slight advantage for the CD. (The Naim DAC wont do MQA, but indicates it was reccieving a HD stream)

Eventually I tried the same music with the bare Node2i, and compared this to the CD5X. I think the CD pulled slightly ahead, but hard to say when volume output differs a bit. (I find it easy to get mislead by volume differences when comparing sources.)

All in all I think the DAC is going back. I can’t find enough of an improvement in my current system. As per Ardbeg10y advice and the testing, the results seems to point to this specific DAC unit itself or my system further down the chain. (Might change in the future with better speakers, another streamer solution, etc.)

I did learn new things about DACs, streaming and cables, so many thanks for the contributions to this thread from all of you.

Next stop is new speakers and to home demo a HiCAP DR with my Superline and/or the Supernait 2.

Regards

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I’m interested in this thread as I have a Node 2i which I find to be excellent for streaming Amazon HD and Radio Paradise. No slouch linked to my NAS either - but I hardly use that as a source as I still like CDs through my CDX2. I had been thinking of taking a punt on a Chord 2Qute just to see if there was any improvement. However the more reviews I have read about the bare Node 2i compared to one driving another DAC leads me to the conclusion that for what I use it for the Node 2i is perhaps all I really need.

As an aside if you want to upgrade the power supply it looks a right faff as you have to dismantle and replace the built in boards. Put me off.

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I’m in the same situation, CDX2+XPSDR and Bluesound Node 2. I want to improve streaming source but I do not know really what may be the best choice, sell the BS2 for a NDX2 or take a DAC to be used both CDX2 and BS2 :thinking:

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