I’ve been mulling this over for a while. I have a Denafrips Pontus II DAC, which, from what I can tell, is a really nice DAC.
To stream Roon (both ripped local files as well as Qobuz), I have a Raspberry Pi + Pi2AES HAT + HQPlayer running to the Pontus via AES/EBU. Sounds great. (Might try a better I2S cable at some point.)
Anyway, been thinking about the U2 mini instead of the Pi + HAT + HQP, as I’m curious if it would be a jump in SQ.
But if it made more sense to sell the Pontus and just go with a T3, I wouldn’t be opposed to that.
So the question is, how good a DAC do you need with the U2 Mini to equal the sound quality of the T3?
(Assume I don’t need the DAC for anything else, like a CD transport or whatever. Just focusing on sound quality from Roon.)
I don’t know the Pontus II and I don’t know what’s your HQPlayer configuration.
But I’m using a Lumin T2 (formerly a U1 mini) and many other Roon endpoints with and without DACs included.
What I’ve heard from Denafrips, that they are sounding a little bit warmer and not too clear in the heights.
Lumin T2 is there more on the clear side, but in using DSD resampling (I’m using DSD512) it becomes “really analogue”.
What I would do with your equipment:
Use not AES, but USB and HQPlayer to resample to DSD1024 (if your hardware has the horse power) or at least to DSD256 and compare it with PCM.
Otherwise, the Lumin has a real good DAC implementation, but for example my exaSound e68 “makes more music” and I would prefer a MiniPC (exaSound needs a Windows or iOS) with thd exaSound against a Lumin T2/3.
But everyone has other preferences and so only you can compare and decide.
I have always thought that separates offer more flexibility and can be a better value over time. My system has Nucleus, Lumin U1, Chord M-scaler and Chord Qutest and IMHO the sound is great. Lumin makes great products and you know the support is very good.
I could replace the M-scaler/Qutest and buy the most expensive DAC available and feel that my streaming capabilities will be equal to the task. The answer to your question about “how good a DAC would I need” can only be known by finding a DAC that sounds great to you. I would start with the Nucleus, Lumin U2 mini and Pontus II. I upscaled the signal to 352.8/384khz using the U1 software to a McIntosh DA1 for years before I bought the Chord equipment. I don’t think changing FLAC/ALAC to DSD is the best way but YMMV. Best regards with your system.
I can definitely test this. I have a spare Raspberry Pi and could use that without a HAT to go USB upsampled DSD to the Pontus II. Easy enough to compare.
But really just wondering this: “How much DAC do you need to have U2 + DAC be better than a T3?”
And yeah, I know it’s all subjective, but these are the things we think about.
I’ve written about my comparing between the Lumin T2 and the exaSound 68 DAC (or you can also try the exaSound S88/S82)…
But: If you read in ASR, then the technical best DACs are coming from Topping, RME, … and you need only a few bucks for them.
Measurements from your Pontus II DAC will not be perfect, but I believe it will sound in your ears much better than anything from Topping (I’ve also a Topping DAC, which is ok for me, but not my favourite and a RME ADI-2 I’ve sold, because I’ve missed here some music feeling) or so…