Thanks Rob, in the end it's all about having fun with the sound, so if cheaper components give a more fun sound then i'm all for it ofcourse. We'll see.I'm sure they'll differ. The powernode is class D and the Audiolab is AB. I had the Audiolab for a bit and didn't like it. And as I've just said here I recently bought the Node 2021 and I stand by what I said above. I don't think the extra detail on offer makes up for what I feel is a rather anaemic sound, especially with vocals. And then if you use the Node as a streamer transport and connect it to another DAC you're getting into quite a lot of money and a growing box count.
I'm not saying that the ifi Zen blue is the last word in sound quality. What I am saying is that this is a product that is superbly well conceived and designed, and with a good amplifier, interconnects and well-chosen speakers can deliver a performance which is going to satisfy many with a discerning ear but who are not willing to just throw money at the latest and greatest. Yes, it's only bluetooth... you're not getting proper uncompromised hi-res... blah, blah.
I think I have pretty good ears and listening to the Zen blue side by side against the Node on another input I can hear slightly more detail, but as soon as you put on the Zen blue and relax into its warming envelope of sound, which in no way makes you stop and check yourself and say "but where's the high hat, and those chimes I love so much at 1 minute and 34 seconds?", you cease to care.
I would say hold off from listening to those who say you've got to spend X and Y thousand to get the sound that you are after.
I tested the node and will put a small review in a new post right after this one.