Bluesound Node 2i review: This high-fidelity music streamer sits at the top of its class

Audiophiles manner the Bluesound Node 2i with suspicion. As a compact song server with integrated DAC that dares to serve up the best quality music-streaming products and services, this factor turns out virtually, you must pardon the expression, too affordable at $549 to accomplish all the ones duties effectively. Severe digital-to-analog convertors on my own can price that a lot—or an entire lot extra.

However pinch me, the Node 2i is the true deal, and the most productive of the “reasonably priced” high-fidelity web song streamers I’ve examined in fresh months. Laying out an ethereal, open soundstage (by no means cluttered or compressed), reveling in precision and finesse, song flows from this small bundle in a maximum swish, personable model. And that well-rounded air of mystery persists, it doesn’t matter what your stylistic style, from AC/DC to Jay Z, Ambient to Zouk, Albeniz to Zappa. This can be a participant that may climb each musical mountain and ford any flow you ship its means.

bluesound node 2i compared to russound Jonathan Takiff / IDG

How they stack up: Bluesound Node 2i merits to sit down atop the pack, with the Russound MBX-PRE within the center and the Sonos Port on the backside.

Evidently, a Node 2i is particularly responsive while you feed it the in point of fact excellent stuff. Say, through touchdown on a meticulously engineered, higher-bit-rate web radio station that obsesses over each hyperlink within the chain. Or through splurging a couple of bonus dollars per 30 days for the very best grade of 24-bit/96kHz (or every so often even 192kHz) content material streaming from a Qobuz, Tidal, or Amazon Tune account. The top-resolution recordsdata pumping thru this song system in point of fact may just move for studio masters, and one supply (Tidal) has classified them thusly. The brand new Sonos Radio HD is some other candidate, even supposing it tops out at 16-bit FLAC.

How a ways we’ve come. Bear in mind when sound purists argued that electronic encodes have been so chopped up and connect-the-dots fatiguing that listening may just actually make you vulnerable within the knees? Now I’d argue those high- (and ultra-high) decision streams may give each you and your sound rig a brand new hire on lifestyles.

Kissing cousins

The Node 2i is an excessively shut relation to the self-powered (60-watts in line with facet) Bluesound PowerNode 2i that I reviewed in September with equivalent pleasure. However as a self-contained, just-add-speakers-and-serve product, the Powernode 2i left me with some questions unresolved. Did I in point of fact listen all that a lot development over Sonos media gamers I’ve run with the similar audio system? I couldn’t make an immediate A/B comparability as a result of I didn’t have a Sonos Amp readily available. I additionally questioned what sonic developments Bluesound’s well-tuned chassis and chipset—together with a 1GHz Arm Cortex A9 processor and a 32-bit/192kHz DAC—may ship if I may just pump up the amp energy and load-bearing audio system, after which take this factor out at the high-tech streaming freeway and in point of fact let ‘er rip.

bluesound node 2i front image 2 Jonathan Takiff / IDG

Like its amplified sibling (the Powernode 2i), Bluesound’s Node2i comes on well with blank cupboard strains, top-mounted controls, and a handy entrance headphone jack.

The Node 2i shall we me do exactly that, with nary a unhappiness. This isn’t simply some other part that brings new content material (streaming) for your equipment. It’s a sport changer, the most productive argument I’ve discovered up to now to promote my crazy-big vinyl and CD assortment, ‘purpose virtually all that content material at the partitions is hiding on this little field’s connection to the web.

Open Sesame!

To uncork the sonic genie, I plugged a Node 2i into my 150-watt-per-channel Yamaha Aventage RX-A3060 receiver mated with Bowers &Wilkins’ Nautilus 803 floor-standing audio system. I then began feeding it high-resolution subject material—artists and shops that I was hoping would do my ears excellent. Like singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, going for the sonic gusto along with her new Extra Love set, snap-happy nation cousin Lee Brice (Hiya International) and Cat Stevens (take into account him?) bold to reshape historical past with a re-arranged 50th anniversary remake of Tea for the Tillerman. All recording execs with (excellent) ears, attuned to finessed manufacturing and engineering efforts.

No longer merely trusting first impressions, it appeared smart to perform a little critical evaluating and contrasting. Because of my receiver’s multitude of inputs and somewhat responsive faraway keep watch over, I used to be quickly plugging in and switching between the Bluesound Node 2i and the 2 different web streamers I’ve just lately reviewed right here. One being the excessive profile Sonos Port ($449), which left me with a lukewarm feeling, after which the Russound MBX-PRE ($399), a dark-horse candidate that bested the Sonos in articulation, openness of presentation, and all-round emotional pleasance, although now not on running comfort and sheer quantity of supply choices. (Truthfully, will someone ever surpass Sonos on the ones characteristics?)

Bluesound Node 2i in an equipment rack Jonathan Takiff / IDG

Be aware how little area that white Node 2i claims in my apparatus rack—and the loads of kilos of vinyl it will supplant.

I’m now passing the “sounds perfect” crown to the Bluesound Node 2i on this three-horse race. With somewhat difficult web radio subject material that used to be simple to sync up—the 320Kbps MP3-streaming Linn Jazz channel tapped on TuneIn—the Bluesound Node 2i and Russound MBX-PRE have been neck-and-neck for the lead, with Sonos trailing through a length-and-a-half. For those who haven’t heard of it, Linn Jazz is a spin-off of a famous UK audio merchandise maker and document label, showcasing their very own audiophile-grade, small ensemble acoustic recordings with artists like guitar grasp Martin Taylor and the delicate cabaret vocalists Barb Jungr and Joe Stilgoe. Continuously striking playback equipment to the take a look at, the Bluesound and Russound streamers each confirmed awesome organizational and articulation powers. And so they shined particularly vivid with rapid temporary demanding situations—plucked guitar and bass strains, sustained piano chords, splashy/ringing cymbals, and damn tom-toms.

Don’t get me mistaken. When fed on by itself, Sonos renderings of the similar subject material are without a doubt fulfilling. I’m blissful as a clam in dust being attentive to Sonos audio system in my bed room, rest room, and kitchen. But if doing severely targeted (k, obsessive) listening comparisons on my perfect rig, I used to be struck anew through the deeper soundstage and sharper focal point; through the extra dynamic, informative, and thus entertaining interaction afforded at the Russound MBX-PRE and much more so at the Node 2i. (FYI: all 3 containers have been attached to the Yamaha by the use of variable-level analog outputs the use of an identical audiophile-grade cables to permit for correct quantity matching and to patronize the gadgets’ personal DACs.)

The place the Node 2i (and its amplified sister, the Powernode 2i) obviously take the lead is their beef up for high-resolution song subscription products and services. Bluesound equipment and the BluOS running machine beef up the very best grade of provider to be had from Qobuz (my private fave as it courts grown-up artists, kinds, and listeners) and from Amazon Tune HD. Each Bluesound containers ship high-res lossless FLAC encoding at as much as 24-bit decision and sampling charges as excessive as 192kHz (which means bit charges as much as three,730Kbps). Why Russound doesn’t be offering the similar is a thriller, as its DAC can care for 24/192 streams. Bluesound additionally stands on my own in supporting Tidal’s Masters tracks, albums encoded with MQA audio generation to ship the standard of the unique studio recordings.

bluesound node 2i user interface image 4 Jonathan Takiff / IDG

The high-res music-streaming provider Qobuz is showcased fantastically within the BluOs app (the similar is correct for Tidal).

Whilst the brand-new Sonos new S2 platform can theoretically leap greater, Sonos stays content material serving Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon Tune, and its aforementioned Sonos Radio HD provider at 16-bit/44.1 Hz FLAC (or much less.) Like Russound, Sonos is having a bet that the majority listeners are glad with that high quality. And in point of fact, who’s to argue, given the selection of subscribers paying Spotify for its 320Kbps streams (and the hundreds of thousands extra being attentive to the unfastened 96- and 160Kbps ad-supported streams on that provider).

Throw it what you’ll

But even so the ones web resources, the Bluesound Node 2i stands able to drag song off your thumb drives, NAS field, or anyplace else you may retailer your non-public assortment (the use of gigabit ethernet, Wi-Fi five, or Bluetooth five.zero—with beef up for aptX HD. AirPlay 2 beef up is onboard, too.) The software helps the high-res codecs FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, and MQA in addition to MP3, AAC, and WMA.

With each a Node2i and a Powernode 2i now underneath my roof, I’ve been luckily grouping the 2 gadgets to output the similar song flow with completely synchronized effects. Throwing Airplay 2 indicators to each Bluesounds (by the use of my Wi-Fi community) has been a hit and miss factor, although, with the Node 2i from time to time chucking up the sponge for a 2d or 3 whilst the Powernode 2i squaddies on. (I will’t blame the iOS platform messenger, a brand-new iPhone 12 Professional.)

bluesound node 2i back panel image 3 Jonathan Takiff / IDG

This rear-view shot displays the plethora of connectivity choices to be had at the Bluesound Node 2i.

The Node 2i doesn’t have an onboard microphone, however you’ll command Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri on different gadgets at the similar community to cause the Nodes with fundamental instructions like “Alexa, ask Bluevoice to decrease the quantity of the den” or “Alexa, ask Bluevoice to play preset six within the theater.”

Each the Node 2i and the Powernode 2i be offering in a similar way swish styling, with top-mounted controls and a three.5mm headphone jack very easily situated in entrance. The Node 2i doesn’t fit the Powernode 2i with regards to HDMI beef up, however you’ll discover a gigabit ethernet port, a USB-A port for a thumb pressure, an IR enter, and a 12-volt cause output. There’s additionally a goodly array of audio inputs and outputs: A combo three.5mm Toslink (optical) electronic/analog stereo enter, an RCA subwoofer out, and Toslink (optical) and coaxial electronic outputs—handy if you want to use a higher-end outboard DAC. Bear in mind, alternatively, that you may lose MQA beef up if that outboard DAC doesn’t beef up it.

If the Node 2i suits your price range, and you’ve got an amplifier and 2 audio system you’d be at liberty to pair with it, this networked media streamer will praise you a great deal with incredible sound.

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