This is on a considerably lower plane than many of my friends here dwell, but I’ll relate it anyway, in case it interests someone…
It occurred to me a few weeks ago that if my Node 2i would work with both analog and coax outputs hooked up to my SGCD at the same time, I could easily compare the DACs in the two units. As much as I love the Node and value its price/performance ratio as a streamer, I’d always heard that its DAC might be a weak spot, but I chose to use it anyway in order to get the full MQA unfolding. The question was whether the Stellar’s DAC would be noticeably better on non-MQA streams, since it, too, is built to a budget price point, and that price has to support preamp duties, too.
So I confirmed with the Bluesound folks that connecting both outputs simultaneously would work just fine, got myself another coax cable (a Morrow DIG3), and made the connection this evening.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be able to hear any substantive difference, or if I could, it probably wouldn’t be one of quality, but just preference. Wrong on both counts. Once adjusted for level (the Node’s DAC required I turn up the SGCD about five steps of the volume control), the differences were plain. The PSA DAC provided a big increase in small detail, meaning the timbral textures, which are admittedly tiny auditory cues, were improved in a big way. The result of that is manifested in a several ways: sounds decay more naturally, which gives the impression of a blacker background; there’s a greater sense of separation of sounds - instruments and voices; bass notes are less muddy and are much more easily identifiable as instruments (electric/upright/synthetic). All together it allows more detail to come through, which makes every one of the sounds seem one or two steps closer to the real thing. And that’s with no burn-in of the new Morrow cable.
I have no doubt that with the resources PSA can throw into their standalone DACs (supported as they are by their considerably higher prices), those units are an order of magnitude better still, but I tell you, for its price, I think the engineers and designers hit this one out of the park. Great job, everyone!