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Mike N

NAD C388 vs Bluesound Node 2i (RF-7 series 1)

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Posted (edited)

Hello fellow Klipsch enthusiasts.   I'm looking to possibly increase wattage AND definitely improve the digital music listening experience with my beautiful, un-modded light maple RF7 series 1s.  I use the RF7's purely for 2 channel music.  I do not use a sub. 

My current setup is using an ARCAM AVR 250 with passive bi-amping from the 6+7 channel. The amp is 75WPC (supposedly in stereo mode it rises to 100/ channel for the mains, but I don't know if it goes back down to 75 when passive bi-amping is selected).  I know I'm not getting 75+75 WPC  bi-amping because the HF will not take that much current (I'd be interested if anyone knows how to calculate how many effective WPC I'm getting with bi-amping?).  The sound is definitely improved with bi-amping.  I also run it using the 4 ohm selector which gives a lusher sound and better definition in the low end.  It's a bit less refined than when using the 8 ohm selector, but much more engaging and just fun to listen to.

I mostly listen to digital sources.  I do not own a record player.  My current streaming setup is a google chromecast audio using optical out.  I use 8player on my iphone to cast bit perfect 16/44 and 24/96 flac files from an NAS server.  The optical output from the CCA is fed to the Arcam's DAC unit (Wolfson 192/24).  Whatever decision I make here, I want to move away from the Chromecast and 8player streaming solution.  The chromecast is an awesome piece of tech for its price, but sometimes I have connection issues, it pauses or "skips" occasionally on high-res files streamed over wifi,  seeking forward or back in a track is hit or miss, and the signal is apparently VERY jittery. I don't know if this jitter is audible or not because I have nothing to compare it to. The Wolfson DAC's in the Arcam are now 13 years old.  Setting aside the debate about whether jitter is audible, I suspect a unit with modern DAC and clocking tech could sound noticeably better - please correct me if this is not true.  I've played with a Bluesound node 2 and the BluOS IOS app at a friend's house and I really liked it.  It also seems very stable for streaming even high res files over wifi, so I know I want to to move to bluesound tech for streaming my music. 

My Arcam sounds very good with the RF7's at my normal 50-70db listening levels and has provided many many hours of enjoyable, mostly fatigue-free listening.  Still you always wonder "what if"...and this brings me to consideration of the NAD C388 which seems to be a one-stop shop for everything I think I want: 1) More power: Double power at 150WPC (and I hear this is conservative); 2) Modern DAC;  3) Optional Blu OS plug in module so I can ditch the Chromecast and 8player. 

So my primary questions are:

1) Has anyone heard the NAD C388 with RF7's?  I hear that the new class D NAD digital amps sound very musical and warm for class D.  What's it like connected to the RF7s (ideally series 1 but any series would give some indication). 
2) Since I don't know how much wattage I am actually getting with the bi-amped Arcam, I can only assume that there will be "some more" watts with the NAD, but I wonder if this would be noticeable?  Anyone know roughly how many watts I am currently getting in bi-amp mode?  I know watts aren't everything but when you have a speaker like the RF7s that love more power, they are important.  The Arcam seems to have plenty of headroom.  I've not seen the amperage specs though.   

3) Are my Wolfson DAC's in the Arcam outdated for use with jittery, streamed digital files?  A cheaper option than buying the NAD C388 would be to just buy a Bluesound node 2i to improve the streaming experience and keep the Arcam for amplification. I hear the bluesound onboard DAC is pretty good too.  Better than the one in the Arcam?  DAC tech seems to be changing and improving so rapidly, so I could definitely believe that a DAC in the $500 node 2i could smoke my 13 year old internal DAC.  

I know this was a LONG post, but better to give all the background stuff I can think of so that those who take the time to read it can provide good answers.  Whatever I choose, I will buy from a company that offers an audition period, but i think the advice of more knowledgeable people is still valuable in helping me decide whether to pull the trigger and audition something new.  Thank you for your advice!

Mike
 

Edited by Mike N

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You'd pick up up to a few dB of overhead with the amp change, so in that respect it might not feel cost-effective.  I can attest to the quality and value of NAD's current products as I'm using a C338.  But I can't draw a comparison to what you've got now.

 

The wi-fi issues you're having would likely follow along to any new equipment unless your CCA just happens to be positioned in a particularly "cold" spot.  The CCA is "state of the art" enough in that respect.

 

Just about any current DAC is going to be more than suitable vs. 13-year-old tech, though it's unlikely to be very much better either way.

 

The streamed files don't have inherent jitter.  They're just series of bits.  Modern DACs are being run with internal clocks many times faster than the highest sampling rates you've got in your files, so even fairly frequent base clock hiccups just don't get thru to the audio.  The networking is being handled by the OS that's overseeing the DAC.  Network packets get dropped or mangled all the time.  The OS merely requests replacement packets and sticks them back into the stream in the proper order before the DAC ever sees the data.

 

The Bluesound node would probably be the best consideration in terms of value.  One thing I dislike about CCA is the constant connectivity to google.com that's required for/during use.

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Further notions.

 

You're not even using the DAC in the CCA which is running a Linux kernel along with some of the GNU stuff.  Some other systems may be as good at what's going on in the CCA but I'd venture to say there's nothing better.  The BlueOS is a more complete GNU/Linux system.

 

Some of the hiccups you're experiencing with the CCA may not have anything to do with your internal wi-fi setup, rather interruptions with your external network service.  This would not be a factor with the Bluesound setup.  Finally, you may find a better control app for the CCA than what you're using now.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the advice Glens.  One of the advantages of the Bluesound is that I could plug it straight into the LAN which should be more stable than my wifi. I agree that wifi signal strength is an issue in my setup. It sounds like the amplification I have is probably fine.  An upgrade to 150WPC probably won't create a huge increase in sound quality on the RF7's, which I would need to justify the cost of the C388.  I originally bought the Arcam to drive my Heresy II's - 75WPC was more than enough for those,  and by the way this was a VERY good pairing (for those interested in amps that sound good with vintage Heresys).  Now the Heresys are in the bedroom system connected to a cheapo Yamaha AVR and they miss the Arcam.  So that's also part of the reason I was considering a new integrated amplifier for the RF7's.  But like I said, I'm reasonably satisfied with the sound I have now with those speakers.  
 

8 hours ago, glens said:

 Finally, you may find a better control app for the CCA than what you're using now.

 

8Player is one of the only smartphone control apps that works with chromecast AND sends FLAC directly from my NAS.  VLC for instance transcodes FLAC to MP3 if you use the mobile app.  You can turn off the transcoding on the desktop based version, but not in the mobile app.  FLAC sounds awful over the VLC mobile app cast to chromecast.  I can't run Plex on my NAS because its too old to run the package.  I could upgrade the NAS though...

I'm now thinking about auditioning something like a Cambridge 851n - to see if its upscaling would make a big difference in sound quality for things like Spotify and MP3s.  I'm starting to think my itch to upgrade is more about "streamlining streaming" since it seems my amplification is enough to get good sound.   

Edited by Mike N

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I recently purchased the Node 2i.  Currently using the RCA outs to Parasound P6 and Rotel power amp. Is a definate upgrade over my Marantz SR7012 internal DAC and the Bluesound OS is super easy to use.  I highly recommend it.

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1 hour ago, Mike N said:

8Player is one of the only smartphone control apps that works with chromecast AND sends FLAC directly from my NAS.

 

Any UPNP/DLNA control-point software that runs on your iphone should do that, and a web search for "iphone dlna control point" returns many references.

 

Just out of curiosity, what NAS & firmware level are you using?

 

1 hour ago, Mike N said:

... to see if its upscaling would make a big difference in sound quality for things like spotify.

 

The only benefit to upscaling is that it allows a gentler antialiasing filter to be employed, which is more likely an improvement to "feel good about" than to "hear a difference (actual improvement) with".  Beyond that there can be downsides, at a minimum either more storage requirements and/or higher network traffic and/or (needlessly) more processing at the DAC (if it doesn't already do it on its own, that is), depending where/when/how it's done.

 

1 hour ago, Mike N said:

One of the advantages of the Bluesound is that I could plug it straight into the LAN which should be more stable than my wifi.

 

That's true, so long as you're able to run a network cable to where the audio equipment is located.  Depending on how you set up both the router and the Bluesound node (or whatever else you may choose), as well as the NAS, there can still be occasional network hiccups while DHCP leases are renewed, for example.

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Hmmm it seems I still have much to learn. Just going off recommendations on other forums for choice of 8player.  It’s one of the more commonly recommended apps available on the apple AppStore for CCA and Flac that also seems to work pretty well with DNLA music “pulling” from a NAS as opposed to “pushing” from a native file on a computer or phone. I can attest that VLC sounds really bad with Flac>Chromecast even when the Flac files are native to the phone itself.  That’s what started my search for an alternative app. 

 

My NAS is a WD mycloud.  Not the best but it’s what I have.  I’m not sure of the firmware but it’s the older model that can’t run Plex or other packages. Thinking about getting a Synology diskstation to replace it anyway as the mycloud is now 5 years old. 

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@Mike N, I can offer a small bit of input ... I have a Bluesound Vault 2 connected to a DacMagic Plus (via optical out of Vault) then to a cheap ($50) Chinese Class D amp into Martin Logan Clarity ... I also use the Sub out of the Vault to a Velodyne DD10 sub.  Helpful input might be ... even the tiny class D amp runs the Clarity well and it is rate (I call BS) at 100 wpc.  The DacMagic Plus  uses Wofson Dacs which I like the sound of ... others might not.  It is a simple setup and I only use about 10% of the volume scale on the Vault which is the attenuator via software.  The DacMagic and the Amp are set to max volume.  To your question ... I think I'd keep it simple in your costs, by keeping as much as you can and at least for me the "modern" Wolfson Dacs are nice, but each to their own in Dac sound land. 

 

The Vault 2 uses an ethernet connection (I use one of those house electrical wire converters for ethernet) and streaming seems pretty good although I listen mostly to local files (ripped from CD or FLAC other sources via the USB connect).  I have done Bluetooth stream to the Vault and it works fine too.

 

Hope that helps a bit ... not apples to apples but ... I guess I always try to keep my investment and keep incremental costs as low as possible... just me!

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the mycloud is now 5 years old

 

Yep, 5 years is likely beyond WD's warranty on the drives anyway.  Let me look that unit up and see if anything comes to mind that's worth sharing.

 

When directing the CCA to play tracks off the NAS the only data passing through the phone should be information about the tracks, not the tracks themselves.  The tracks themselves should go straight from the NAS to the CCA (unless maybe you're trying for gapless playback which might require buffering through the phone).

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Posted (edited)

VLC definitely does something to the flac file when it is cast from the mobile phone app to CCA. It sounds BAD.  


See my link below from the reddit site where this is also discussed. - note you have to actually dig into the thread to see where mobile app vs. desktop is discussed.  It could be utter BS, but I can say from personal listening experience that flac files cast to the CCA using the iOS VLC app sound equally bad (tinny and muffled) whether they are cast from flac files stored on the phone itself, or using the app to direct the NAS to the CCA.   But, if I use VLC on my desktop computer and cast flac files to CCA it sounds great.  This is true for flac files on the computer hard drive, or on the NAS. 

 

Edited by Mike N

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6 hours ago, Kalifornian said:

I recently purchased the Node 2i.  Currently using the RCA outs to Parasound P6 and Rotel power amp. Is a definate upgrade over my Marantz SR7012 internal DAC and the Bluesound OS is super easy to use.  I highly recommend it.

 

That P6 is a great piece of kit.  Part of me wants to just get a P5 or 6 and pair it with a B&K 442 or Bryston 4bst (both of which are for sale near me at reasonable prices) and see what happens!!!

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13 minutes ago, Mike N said:

 

That P6 is a great piece of kit.  Part of me wants to just get a P5 or 6 and pair it with a B&K 442 or Bryston 4bst (both of which are for sale near me at reasonable prices) and see what happens!!!

 

I highly recommend it.  That would he a great combo.

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On 3/12/2019 at 4:36 PM, Kalifornian said:

 

I highly recommend it.  That would he a great combo.

Update: So I did it. Sort of.

 

I bought a Parasound P5 and an A23 on Craigslist at a good price. Came with upgraded power cables.  The improvement in transparency with the Parasound separates is awesome.  The Arcam always sounded good to me, but side by side with the Parasound it sounds somewhat muddy. I hesitate to say that because the Arcam isn’t bad. It’s just not as clean sounding. Clean is the best term. 

 

The Parasound does increase the overall brightness of the RF7s. It’s not harsh like my stock heresys were  - these tweeters just go really high and I have sensitive ears somehow despite years of concerts.  I may look at doing  the resistor mod now (I have the resistors).  It could also be with the cleaner sound I am listening a little louder than I used to.  Strangely - increasing the toe in so the tweeters are pointed right at me seems to help.  Maybe it has to do with wall reflections. 

 

The bass remains great. The original 7s always had bass in spades. The Parasound controls it well. Maybe a slight dip in the upper midrange compared to the Arcam. Not a smile EQ.  Like one or two  slider on the EQ is down a notch. Jury is still out on that. 

 

For low volume listening the Parasound smokes the Arcam.  No contest. 

 

I also ordered a Bluesound node 2i.  I will report on that after I have time to test it.  

 

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On 3/12/2019 at 9:08 AM, glens said:

 

On 3/12/2019 at 8:08 AM, Mike N said:

One of the advantages of the Bluesound is that I could plug it straight into the LAN which should be more stable than my wifi.

 

That's true, so long as you're able to run a network cable to where the audio equipment is located.  Depending on how you set up both the router and the Bluesound node (or whatever else you may choose), as well as the NAS, there can still be occasional network hiccups while DHCP leases are renewed, for example.

 

Just for the record you can get LAN power adapters for the CCA which supplies both wired LAN and power over the CCAs micro USB. The CCA is an amazing piece of kit and I'm not sure I'll ever forgive Google for canceling it.

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On 4/3/2019 at 2:29 PM, MenloBob said:

 

Just for the record you can get LAN power adapters for the CCA which supplies both wired LAN and power over the CCAs micro USB. The CCA is an amazing piece of kit and I'm not sure I'll ever forgive Google for canceling it.

Yeah for the price there’s nothing that comes close. 

 

I decided I didn’t like the Bluesound Node 2i DAC.  I gave it at least 40 hours of focused listening trying to get to like it. It’s heavy on the upper midrange which made the RF7s even more forward than usual.  The soundstage shrunk a lot. Bass was a bit boomy. Male vocals shifted higher and became more nasal sounding. On the positive side, it was very rhythmic and musical.  It was fun to listen to, but occasionally fatiguing and squawky on some tracks with my system and room. I was also getting dropouts even with a wired connection. 

 

And so without using the onboard DAC, I couldn’t justify keeping it for the cost. The Chromecast offers the same streaming functionality at less than 1/10 the cost. True, the Chromecast doesn’t unfold MQA...which if you are a Tidal subscriber is a nice feature for high res music (I do think MQA sounds better on some tracks). 

 

Which brings me to my present solution - the Cocktail audio N15D.  This little black box with ESS Sabre DAC sounds amazing on my system. Highs are clear but not fatiguing. The midrange is back where it should be. Bass is well controlled even with the RF7s.  The speakers are still bright but there is no harshness or glare. 

 

The Cocktail app is nowhere near as good as the Bluesound App (its not even close - the Cocktail UI is just not well developed).  But once you learn to use it, and accept its limitations, it’s workable.  And like I said, it sounds fantastic.  

 

So for me, this system sounds great and I’m very happy with this system as a digital audio solution.

 

Cocktail Audio N15D as streamer and DAC;

Parasound P5 with Sonarquest/Audio Envy power cables;

Parasound A23 with Sonarquest/Audio Envy power cables;

Monster interconnects and speaker cables 

RF7 S1 with resistor mod and dynamat’d horns.  

 

 

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Great to hear! I need to spend some more time swapping between the Node 2i internal dac and the Parasound P5 dac and see if I notice a big difference. I do use Tidal a lot so the MQA is a plus for me.

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On 4/7/2019 at 2:32 PM, Mike N said:

RF7 S1 with resistor mod

 

What's that mod?

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Posted (edited)
On 4/8/2019 at 9:55 AM, Kalifornian said:

Great to hear! I need to spend some more time swapping between the Node 2i internal dac and the Parasound P5 dac and see if I notice a big difference. I do use Tidal a lot so the MQA is a plus for me.

 

The Parasound P5 DAC sounded pretty good to me.  Not much difference to the cocktail audio - just a smidgen more bright and more bass but not boom. Like the EQ sliders were turned up just a little bit on both ends.  My wife prefers the P5 DAC because it’s more relaxed and produces a wide soundstage. Put on Dire Straits Private Investigations and watch the music spread to the walls!  The difference between the P5 DAC and the Node2i was very noticeable in this aspect. The Node 2i was like being front row in a small venue. The P5 is like being nearer the back in a much larger hall.  It really was a big difference on some tracks - less noticeable on others but still there.  You can easily switch between the two DACs if you connect the Node2i by both analog and digital coax. I did find the analog out was about 1/2 decibel louder on average. Bear in mind the tonal differences are in my listening room with its own unique acoustics. 

 

The cocktail DAC is somewhere in the middle of those two and I suppose that’s why I like it.  I don’t have to use the tone controls to tame the treble with it either, which is probably the main reason I’m keeping it. The P5 sounds better with tone controls off. 

 

Glens - the resistor mod adds an additional 10 ohm resistor to the high frequency part of the board.  It’s easy to do.  It toned down the occasional harshness of the highs a lot.  A night and day improvement for the RF7 series 1s for that reason. To me they aren’t too bright all of the time as stock - just WAY too bright some of the time or on some tracks. There are several threads on this board about the resistor mod. 

Edited by Mike N

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