DAC comparison: Bluesound Node 2i and SGCD

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!


I just picked up a Black Ice DAC and can connect my Jay’s Audio transport to both the Black Ice and the SGCD at the same time. I need to give some break in time for the Black Ice but plan on comparing in the next couple of weeks. Will keep you posted.


Please do. I see Black Ice DACs pop up a lot in sale flyers from Wally.

Here is my story. I get SGCD + M700 to replace my dead ARCAM Alfa 10. Later, I need to get a CD player with about $5k budget . Instead get a $5K CD player, I thought $5k can get me a DSDAC and I just need to use my old and cheap Sony DVD player as disk spinner (As long as DAC is good, who care about good transport, it just a spinner - I am so wrong about this!) So, I bought DSDAC. Never go back to SGCD’s DAC section since.

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Love your reviews, Craig. Keep 'em coming.

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I had a Bluesound. I sold it as I found it lacklustre with better speakers. The cost of the DAC is probably incredibly low and the Node 2i is still probably the best out-of-the-box streamer at £500 / $600, so there is probably no benefit for Bluesound to make a cheaper streamer-only unit. People use the Node 2i streamer in very expensive systems. I consider the DAC a freebie.

So if the SGCD did not sound better than the Node 2i DAC I’d be very upset. Here the best comparison to the SGCD is probably the Chord Hugo2, 12% more expensive, but an FPGA portable DAC and headphone amp. Otherwise Pro-ject Pre Box RS2, Benchmark DAC3, Mytek or RME. At the SGCD price-point the headphone amplifier is one of the critical components and by all accounts the SGCD headphone output is a good one.

I don’t agree that the SGCD is at all over-priced. It’s a very competitive price, cheaper than the products I mentioned above, except for the much cheaper RME.

My main issue with the SGCD, and what put me off buying one, is the size. Most DAC/headphone amps are very small as people keep them desktop or, better, are portable.


I don’t doubt it. As I said, I’m sure PSA’s freestanding DACs are much better than the SGCD, given their price points.

Yep, the Bluesound dac is entry level and easily beaten by most things you’ll try as an alternative. With node 2i you are paying for the BlueOS interface, which is among the best (I’ve also tried Lumin, Heos, Cambridge Magicstream, DTS Playfi, and probably a couple others - and for me Bluesound probably tops), but the dac itself is meh that you upgrade from as soon as you can, haha, keeping the BlueOS interface and streamer into whatever dac replacement you settle on.


I don’t think the SGCD is overpriced. I think I commented the opposite - that it’s built to a budget price, meaning a small budget, while still containing much more besides the DAC.

As far as size goes, I can understand that concern, but I bought mine for use as a preamp in my regular system, so I expected a standard (non-portable) form factor to begin with. In fact, when I bought it, and for some time thereafter, I never even had a use for its DAC.

Sorry, I though you implied it was expensive for what it is.

There seems to be so little demand these days for budget components that do just one thing, rather than several things or everything, there are components in devices that for some people are critical and others redundant.

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I agree completely. I’ll add though, in case my original post wasn’t clear, my comment about being supported by “considerably higher prices” was in regard solely to PSA’s freestanding DACs, like the DS DAC. My point was that, as much of an improvement I found the SGCD to be, other PSA DACs are certain to be much better than the SGCD, because at their higher price points, the company can put much more/better design and manufacturing resources into them.

Interesting, given you were very pleased with the Bluesound a few months back and decidedly disagreed with me when I opined “I find the sound veiled and a bit dark.” What changed?

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Raidho X1 are a bit bright for the Powernode 2i. Harbeth P3ESR better suited to the Bluesound and I had it for several years. I think the issue was more to do with the amplification side of the Powernode and why I went for a Class A/B amplifier.

The Bluesound Powernode 2i costs £800, I replaced it with a Cambridge Audio CXA81 that cost me £900 (factory refurbished, they are £1,000 full retail, $1,300 retail in the USA).

The other A/B option was a Rega Elex-R (£950), but the CXA81 is more powerful and the amplifier section has better reviews, plus I would still need a DAC.

The problem with the CXA81 is that it’s big - it’s a dual mono Class A/B with a large transformer and internal heatsinks, whereas the Bluesound are much more my size. There is the new Cambridge Audio Evo 150, also quite small, I might have gone there (£2,350 new).

So I was always in the Bluesound budget range around £1,000, compared to the Stellar Strata that costs £3,000.

The last time I had a DAC I traded down! I had a PS Audio Mk2 DAC and was facing an upgrade to the DSD DAC at a cost of £6,000 which in those days (2014 or 2015) was $9,000. I was reading here people in the USA were getting dealer deals at $4,500 or less, half what it would cost me. So I bought a very good John Westlake designed DSD DAC that cost under $1,000. I never really saw the point of standalone DACs and these were the only two I ever owned, so I have very little experience of them, other than the dCS Vivaldi, that is the default player for demos over here.

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I bought the Black Ice DAC from Wally to see what all the fuss is about. It’s a hell of a nice sounding DAC. If paying over $1000 is not in your list of things you can do, it isn’t suffering by any means listening to the Black Ice. At the time I purchased it the PS Audio DSD Sr. And Jr. we’re my day to day DACs. When I switched the Sr. for the Black Ice the world didn’t end. Music was still wonderful. The DSD wins, but the Black Ice doesn’t lose. If $700 is your limit, give one a try.


I’ve had an interesting wrinkle to this story, and I don’t quite know what to think of it.

If you disregard discs, you can divide my digital signal sources into three camps: streaming services, digital downloads, and my iTunes library. The digital downloads are on my iMac’s internal drive (because there aren’t that many), but my iTunes library is on an external USB connected drive (because there are so many). The Node works as expected with the streaming services, and with my few digital downloads, but it can’t “see” my iTunes library (Bluesound has confirmed to me this inability to find external drives on a connected system). So if I want to listen to that library, I have to use iTunes Remote on my iPhone, which pulls the files over the wifi to the phone, and then pushes that content to the Node via AirPlay. Resolution in AirPlay is limited, but then so are the iTunes files, so no biggie. And all three of these sources have played just fine through the Node’s DAC.

Cut to yesterday when I connected the Node’s coax to the SGCD. All worked as expected with the streaming services and with the digital downloads. Sound was amazing, and it worked flawlessly. But when I played files from my iTunes library, from phone to Node to SGCD, the music was constantly interrupted by tiny dropouts. When I say tiny, I mean the smallest fraction of a second interruption you can imagine - just enough to catch your ear, but still quite annoying.

I’m not terribly bothered by this. After all, if I want to access these files, I just have to switch the Stellar to the analog circuit the Node is still connected to and I can play them just like before, using the Node’s DAC. And like I said, since it’s an iTunes library (using AirPlay to boot), the resolution is limited anyway. If I want higher performance playback of that music, I can just play the discs themselves, since the vast majority of the library is my own ripped discs.

But it’s interesting nonetheless. I can’t tell if there’s an interruption in signal somehow, or some sort of buffer issue is happening, or what. Since it’s the same connection from the same device that provides perfect playback from other file sources, it can’t be a simple connection problem, even though it looks that way. For one thing, when it happens, the source information in the SGCD display blacks out for a split second (the volume setting number remains visible).

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The latest wrinkle…

Since the dropouts were happening only in one set of circumstances, namely using my iPad to pull my iTunes library over the network and pushing the data to the Node via AirPlay (though only when using the Node’s digital out to the Stellar’s DAC), and since I had an old 1TB Western Digital MyBook external drive sitting around, I decided to experiment and copy the iTunes library to the MyBook and connect it to the Node’s USB port. It took about 10 hours to copy the ~ 950GB of files to the drive, and it took the Node somewhere between 1 and 5 hours to find and fully index the drive (I don’t know exactly how long it took because when I plugged it in, it appeared to be doing nothing, which made me assume it wasn’t going to work - I only discovered it operational when I went back in about 5 hours later). But set up that way, it’s playing just fine through the coax out, using the Stellar’s DAC. All the dropouts are gone.

So for fellow detectives, here’s a summary of its performance:

When using the Node’s DAC and analog outputs
Files retrieved by the Node via any means - no problems.

When using the Node’s coax out (using the Stellar DAC)
Files retrieved by the Node via network wifi - no problems.
Files retrieved by the Node from streaming services (e.g., Qobuz) via network wifi - no problems.
Files retrieved by the Node via local USB storage device - no problems.
Files delivered to the Node from the network via AirPlay from mobile device - massive numbers of dropouts.

Obviously the Node is stumbling on AirPlay data, but curiously only when bypassing its own DAC and outputting it through its coax.