Sound quality with digital output




  • Official comment
    Tony W. - Product Support Manager

    Hi Carsten

    All Bluesound Players come with a Burr Brown 24/192 on board DAC. When using TOSLink Optical out or COAX digital out on the NODE or VAULT, you are bypassing our DAC and no processing occurs.


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    It is more complicated than that.

    The "official comment" does not mention that the Bluesound only passes bit perfect data to the DAC when the Bluesound's volume control is set to 100%, or if it is disabled in Settings. Also, turning on the Bluesound tone control automatically enables the volume control and then lowers overall volume to allow for headroom when the tone controls are operated. In this case the data sent to the DAC is altered even if the volume is set at 100%. But, if you select that your DAC is MQA enabled, then volume and tone controls are automatically disabled as per MQA requirements.

    I moved from a Squeezebox Touch to a Node 2 and I think the sound quality of the Bluesound S/PDIF is "better". I put quotes around better because the "improvement" may be due to better streamer-to-DAC synergy, and not an absolute that would be true with all DACs.

    Hope this helps.



  • Hi Mark

    "Bluesound only passes bit perfect data to the DAC."

    This is true regardless of volume settings...

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    I am confused. How can data sent to the external DAC be bit perfect when it has been recalculated by the volume setting? That changes the bits.

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    Carsten Junge

    The reason I am asking ist that I use a set of Dynaudio active speakers, which have their own DAC on board and they are connected using optical input. I am trying to determine whether I would get a sound improvement changing my streamer. Now if that is "unlikely" at best, then I can spend my money on something else.....

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    The biggest difference in your current streamer and a Bluesound would likely be in the interface. Bluesound's is better than most. I recently connected my Chromecast Audio to my DAC using the optical input. The Bluesound uses the RCA digital input. The Chromecast sounds pretty good but the Bluesound is much better

    Another thing to consider is how you are doing (or want to do) streaming. Many setups have server software (like JRiver) running on a PC that "pushes" the data to the streaming device. With Bluesound, the BlueOS runs in the streaming device and "pulls" the data from shared files on the network. Both work fine, it just depends on which suits your needs better. I am finding I like the Bluesound approach because everything is in one box, supported by one organization, and I don't have to worry about getting things to "talk to each other".

  • "I am finding I like the Bluesound approach because everything is in one box, supported by one organization, and I don't have to worry about getting things to "talk to each other"."

    Thanks Mark - that's exactly our intended approach...

    "How can data sent to the external DAC be bit perfect when it has been recalculated by the volume setting?"

    It's not quite recalculated - as the DAC is bypassed which handles much of the processing. Rest assured what you are getting is what is intended as the audio itself is not altered.


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    Scott Beall

    I have the same concern about the treatment of the datastream with the variable vs fixed digital outputs. I have some Meridian DSP Digital Active speakers that I am using the coaxial digital output with. The Meridian MSR remote is cumbersome at best, and a hassle to use just to adjust the volume. I always thought that any digital volume control worked by essentially throwing away data and had effects on the ultimate resolution of the datastream? How is this not the case with Bluesound’s approach here? I’d love to be able to control volume in the ap!

  • Hi Scott

    What do your ears tell you?

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    Scott Beall

    Well... that the volume control works that way, lol... but seriously  - and I realize that you have indicated proprietary information rights elsewhere - but could you confirm that Bluesound is doing something different at the Digital Output than garden variety digital volume control that will preserve fidelity??

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    I wanted to connect a Node 2 using optical out into Kef ls50w wireless. I mainly want to do this because of the Node 2's Tidal mqa streaming capability. The ls50w does not support mqa by itself.

    So, how can I get tidal mqa working on the ls50 wireless if the node bypassing its dac and sending unaltered data into the ls50w?

  • Hi Joe

    Looking at KEF's website, connect the NODE 2 using the optical out of the NODE 2 to Optical in on the KEF's to bypass the on board DAC. You will get a partial unfold and files should play at 24/96.

    To listen to full MQA Unfold (up to 24/192), use the NODE 2's on board Burr Brown DAC and connect using the analog outputs.

    We do not have a method to connect the NODE 2 to wireless speakers, you will have to contact KEF if you want to listen wirelessly as they may have a transceiver of some sort after market.

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    Scott Beall

    I happen to have both the Node 2 and the KEF myself. As Tony says, if you want to feed Tidal MQA digital out, you must feed it optical to the KEF, but you will get only the first unfold to 24/96. You will need to choose fixed output and NON MQA DAC in settings. If you choose MQA DAC you will get the raw  unprocessed MQA folded stream at only 24/48. To get the benefits of a full MQA decode you will need to allow the Node 2 to do the full decoding to 24/192 and feed the analogue outputs of the Node 2 to the analogue inputs of the KEF. One might think that the additional A/D to D/A conversion would destroy the sound, but it surprisingly does not as much as you would think. Try it all ways and see what you think. The only problem with this approach is that you must use the remote for volume control then and have no feedback on what the volume is - something I think should be addressed in development of App.

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    Tom Breakfield

    Hmm, so I may be doing something wrong here - I am playing into a Yamaha MusicCast 50. I was using the optical out for my connection. But if I am doing that, then I am using the Yamaha's (assumedly inferior) DAC? I will look into what the Yamaha is using, but it did not occur to me that I would be bypassing the Vault 2i's DAC in this manner.

    Please correct me if I am misunderstanding this. Thank you.

    P.S. I just read further down in this thread and confused myself more. LOL - my question still stands though, very basic - should I be using the RCA outs if I want to use the BlueSound DAC and the optical or digital outputs if I want to use another DAC. I guess that is sort of obvious at some level - but it wasn't obvious to me until we started talking about it.

  • should I be using the RCA outs if I want to use the BlueSound DAC and the optical or digital outputs if I want to use another DAC


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    I am using a Peachtree Nova 300 amp. Streaming from my own library and Qobuz using Roon.

    If I connect using coax from my Bluesound Node 2 and compare the SQ to what I get from streaming same material from my iphone using Lightning-USB cable it is like chalk and cheese.

    iPhone source is far superior with far more detail.

    BS SQ is pretty much the same I get using a bypassed Sonos Connect with optical connection.

    Why might that be and more importantly, is there something you recommend that I try please?

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    Tony W. - Product Support Manager

    Try using Qobuz natively in our App with the NODE connected using the RCA out to the Peachtree Amp and tell us what you think...

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    Bill Mc

    I just got my Node 2i set up and it is working and sounding pretty good. I am using Tidal and I had a couple questions about the best way to control it. I am currently using a laptop with Win7 and using the Tidal tab in the BluOS controller app. I also downloaded the Tidal App to my desktop, but maybe I shouldn't use that one? My concern is that I don't want to stream on my laptop and send it to the Node, I want to stream on the Node for the best quality, correct? Or is there a way that I can use that Tidal app and still stream on the Node and not on my laptop? The Tidal app looks more up to date and might have some options the BluOS Tidal app doesn't. 

    If I keep liking this I might get a cheap Android tablet to use as a controller for this. Any advice on that is welcome. I assume the apps will work well on any Android operating system?  

  • I assume the apps will work well on any Android operating system?  

    Android 4.1 or higher

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    "If I keep liking this I might get a cheap Android tablet to use as a controller for this. Any advice on that is welcome."

    I use a 7" tablet running Android 7.1 purchased at Best Buy for $60. I use it only as a dedicated controller. Works great. I use the USB connection on the back of the Node 2 to keep it charged. I even got a stand to hold it.

    Recently a friend gave me an old Amazon Fire 7" tablet and I installed the BluOS controller - available at the Amazon App Store - on that too. Works fine also. Both the Amazon 7" and 8" tablets are often on sale. As long as you don't need the real Android experience they are well-suited for controller duty.

    I did also sneak the Bluesound app onto my wife's 8" Lenovo tablet running Android 8. Very nice but seems like overkill to use an expensive tablet as a dedicated controller.

    The app also works great on my Android 9 phone.

    In the past I tried using an old Nexus 10" tablet running Android 5.1. The controller app worked perfectly but the 10" form factor seemed too big and awkward to use as a music controller. 7" or 8" is just right for me.

    So yes, you can use pretty much any Android device.

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    Chiosa Emilian

    Is there a product from your company that offers full MQA decoding on digital outputs? We are a lot of active speaker users - some of these speakers are quite expensive  Dynaudio Focus 20 XD, KEF LS50 Wireless, Kii Three etc. -. The producers of these speakers recommend using digital inputs to achieve maximum sound quality. If BLUESOUND products make MQA bypass decoding on digital outputs, it means that none of the thousands of active speaker users will benefit from this performance technology.
    Is it technologically possible that in the future offer full MQA decoding on digital outputs?
    We are many active speaker users and we want this feature - full MQA decoding - for BLUESOUND products, which we consider to be very good.

    Thank you

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    Bill Mc

    Thanks for the tablet info, Mark. I was going to go for a cheap tablet, which I'm sure would have worked fine, but I ended up getting a decent Samsung. I forget now which op system it has but it's one of the newer ones. It works well with the Node, and I'm pretty happy with the Node now. I haven't used much on it except Tidal, and the sound quality is very good. I was playing Beck's Mutations album on my CD player and I compared that one to the Tidal versions. Tidal had it on both MQA and CD quality. The CD quality version did sound about equal to my physical CD (slightly different due to equalization, I think, but similar quality to me). The MQA version sounded quite a bit better to me than both the other versions. I also compared Talking Heads 77 on vinyl vs Tidal's MQA version, and while I preferred the vinyl, the MQA sounded close in quality to me. I think less than 1/4 of the listening I have done on Tidal has been MQA, but the CD quality tracks sound very good to me also. Hopefully they'll keep adding more MQA versions. 

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    Bill Mc

    If you are going to use it as a general-purpose tablet, the cheap ones do fall short. The Samsung should be excellent.

    Tidal CD quality does sound great. I have sometimes noticed slight differences when comparing to my CD rips, but both are equally good. MQA is generally as good as or better than CD. But just recently I ran into three MQA reissues that sound much worse. In each case they were albums I am very familiar with, and have excellent sound quality. I put on the MQA version and almost immediately thought something was wrong. I switched to the Tidal CD version and it was exactly as I remembered it. And I don't think I am talking preference here, all three MQAs sounded unbalanced, less open, and more dynamically compressed than their CD counterparts. I find it hard to believe anyone would find them "better". I don't think it is the fault of the MQA process, but rather it's the fault of the person who made the remastering decisions. Now I feel that I have to sample both versions (when available) and decide which to listen to. Kind of a pain.

  • Hi Chiosa

    No - this is simply not possible as answered to you hear; - KEF needs to build MQA compliant Speakers.

    Hi Mark and Bill

    Interesting observation - I personally found a Jazz recording that I dislike in MQA because the original issue mixed out the bass player humming along with what he was playing... while the MQA picked it up - funny but true.

    This is what happens we we go back to the original recordings sometimes. Read carefully your preferred mixes as they may not be just re-mastered, they may be re-engineered... but on 99% of stuff I have heard, MQA is as close to my vinyl I can get (and far more convenient than getting off the couch every 17 minutes to flip the record).


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