Until purchasing a Bluesound Node 2 in April 2016 I used a well-appointed Mac mini (late 2012, quad-core i7, 256 SSD, 16GB RAM) for my 2-channel audio system and I was pretty happy with the sound quality using various apps. (I have licenses for Amarra, Audirvana Plus, Fidelia, HQPlayer, and Pure Music). As such, I got tired of the endless updates from Apple which inevitably broke something and caused undue stress. Listening to music is not supposed to be stressful. After much research I decided to take a chance on the Node 2 music streamer, which proved to be everything I had hoped for, and promptly yanked the Mac mini from my system. I never missed it.

The Node 2 can be used not only with its on-board Burr-Brown DAC but also with a stand-alone DAC using coax or optical S/PDIF out. I’ve used the Chord Qute EX and the Schiit Bifrost Multibit tethered to the Node 2 via both S/PDIF methods and neither of these fine DACs added anything significant to what I was hearing from the Node 2’s DAC. That’s saying a lot. It also simplified my system tremendously, which I like (KISS):

  • Bluesound Node 2
  • APPJ PA0901A integrated amp
  • Omega Super 3i Monitors

The Node 2 is an affordable, capable device which offers great sound, convenience, and great support. Not bad for $499. How does it compete with pricier devices? Don’t know. Don’t care.

On to what this post is really about .. my dB Audio Labs Tranquility USB DAC, which I purchased in 2011. I love this DAC. It’s a wonderful mashup of old and new. The addicting analog sound is in part due to it’s TDA1543 multibit chip. The sound quality is quite balanced from top to bottom and has a midrange to die for .. think liquid and organic. The Tranquility DAC is limited to standard Redbook and 16/48kHz sample rates and sports only 1 input by design (USB of course). An unfortunate circumstance as the Node 2 does not have USB out. The Tranquility was put into storage.

Recently, I placed an order for a Decware Zen SE84UFO amp and remembered reading about the pairing of the Zen with the Tranquility. Curiosity killed the cat as they say and I brought the Tranquility out for a spin. The Decware amp won’t be in my hands for a while but I am using another SET amp right now .. the APPJ PA0901A. Time for a listen.

For this test I used Deezer HiFi** with my Mac mini, an Acer Chromebook R11, and my old iPhone 6. Much to my surprise the iPhone 6 won. By a lot when used with an Uptone USB REGEN. I tried the REGEN in front of the DAC because, well, I have one in storage and it works wonders with some gear. With the iPhone 6 the difference was remarkable. In fact, my audio system has never sounded better! Honestly, I didn’t expect this outcome. Never did I think this would beat out the Mac mini running Amarra or the Bluesound Node 2.

While many in the audiophile community seek high resolution nirvana (I’ve gone down that road as well), I’m content with good old CD quality. What strikes me is just how good well-executed Redbook can sound. I’m happy I held on to the Tranquility DAC. I can hardly wait for the Decware amp to arrive.

Here is the iPhone chain:

  • Apple iPhone 6 (using Deezer HiFi)
  • Apple Lightning to USB 3.0 Adapter
  • Uptone USB REGEN
  • dB Audio Labs Tranquility USB DAC
  • Decware ZSB*
  • APPJ PA0901A
  • Omega Super 3i Monitors

I’m still going to use my Node 2 for casual listening:

  • Bluesound Node 2
  • Decware ZSB*
  • APPJ PA0901A
  • Omega Super 3i Monitors

*I added the Decware Zen Switch Box because the APPJ PA0901A has only 1 input. It’s transparent to my ears.

** An addendum

Of interest to this little test of mine, I was involved in a Deezer/Bluesound discussion on the Computer Audiophile Forum where the question of 16/44.1 flac streaming via the iPhone 6 was brought up. I assumed the Deezer app, coupled with Deezer’s HiFi tier, was able to utilize the same higher-quality flac stream as their desktop app and the Bluesound Node 2. Apparently this is not the case.

My quick research suggests the “High Quality (HQ)” setting in both the iPhone and Android apps are 320 mp3. So, how in God’s name did my testing result in a clear preference for the iPhone 6 chain? Funny, I had some extensive listening last night prior to this new information and honestly, my preference stands.

As I mentioned on the CA thread, no doubt my audiophile club card will be revoked!


One thought on “Tranquility

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