REVIEW: Bluesound Node 2 networked audio player review


The Bluesound Node 2 network player has a higher price than its predecessor. They better have a good reason. Welcome back to the HB channel. In this show we’ll look at the second generation Bluesound Node. The first generation Bluesound players impressed me heavily. The first gen Node was only slightly higher in price than the Sonos Connect but outperformed it on every aspect. All three Bluesound streamers, the Node, de PowerNode and the Vault have been renewed, but in this review I only look at the Node second gen, the other two products are based on the same technology but are not reviewed here. The first thing that you notice is the design, Bluesound has abandoned the cubic shape for a more practical horizontal model. It feels more sturdy and is far easier to place. The front now contains a 3.5 mm headphone jack while the top holds buttons for play/pause, volume and next and previous track. The first generation had no headphone jack and only a mute button. Additions were also made to the rear connections. Here you’ll not only find analogue audio out on RCA and digital out on TOSlink, there now also are a digital out on RCA, a combined optical digital in and analogue in on 3.5 mm jack and an input for a infrared sensor on 3.5 mm jack. The network connection, USB storage, USB service and power connection remained the same. Although it must be said that making connections on the 2nd Gen is easier than on the recessed panel of the first gen. Also added is Bluetooth aptX, so you can stream music from your smartphone or tablet wirelessly. The aptX protocol is better than standard Bluetooth but does not seem to use an uncompressed protocol. For those of you that are not interested in tech, just jump to the time code below. Since you’re still here, let’s start mentioning the new WLAN board that, according to the manufacturer’s specifications, does 802.11b/g/n up to 150 megabits per second over a single band at 2.4 gigahertz. In plain English: it does common Wifi up to 150 Megabits per second. Depending on where you live that might be more than enough for audio, although a cabled network connection always offers a more robust connection, especially since now a gigabit network port is provided. The first generation had a 100 Mbit port. The Node 2 uses a dual core Cortex A9 processor at 1 MHz, has 243 megabit of RAM and a 2.6 gigabit system drive of which only 239 megabit was used by the system during testing. For as far as I could see, Bluesound no longer uses an SD card as system drive. The analogue audio part has been improved too, the Node now has a BurrBrown PCM 5122 d/a-conversion chip per channel as where each chip could have done stereo on its own. Why this is, I don’t know, modern multilayered printed circuit boards aren’t that easy to read. Perhaps it’s a good moment to warn against easy conclusions based on the d/a-conversion chips. Firstly, the print design and component layout is of great importance to the audio quality. In the Node 2 the Bluetooth radio is very close to the d/a-conversion chips. Chances are, the RF signal could interfere with the digital or analogue audio. There is no proof of that in the Node 2, so the engineers did a good job here. Furthermore modern d/a-conversion chips like the 5122 are very versatile, can use internal or external digital processing and filtering, use several voltages for analogue and digital, and so on. It’s like with The Great British Bake Off, they all use the same ingredients but only some manage to bake a real great cake. Back to the Node 2. As you could have guessed from the description of the inputs, the Node can take an analogue or digital input and distribute that over the network to other Bluesound products. Admittedly not a Bluesound original, but handy nevertheless. It lets you, for instance, distribute the cable receiver sound, set to radio. Another feature that I’ve seen before is the preset function. You can define five playback situations, for instance the reception of an internet radio station or playback of a playlist with background music. Combine that with a feature I did not see before: a programmable infrared receiver, and you can easily set your breakfast radio show using just a remote control. How? Up till now the remote control had to be taught codes the player uses. De second generation Bluesound products do the reverse and are able to learn codes from your remote! So if the remote of your amplifier or receiver also contains buttons to control the matching cd-player that you don’t use anymore, you take your tablet, go to configure player, then to configure IR Triggers, choose one of the functions and press the corresponding button on the remote. Do this for those functions you want to use and you’re set. If you, like me, us a programmable Harmony remote, you can install a cd-player at random from the Harmony database – but one you don’t own, of course – and then learn the codes to the Bluesound player. Brilliant! It would be easy to forget to mention things Bluesound users nowadays take for granted, like the excellent tablet and smartphone apps for iOS and Android, the Windows and Mac app and the compatibility with Tunein, HDTracks Streaming, Hiresaudio, iHeartRadio, Juke MyMusic, Napster, Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify. Slacker Radio, Deezer, Murfie, Qobus, WiMP and Tidal. Not all these services are available in every country, but if they are, Bluesound has them covered. And as soon as MQA becomes available, it does that too! Check out my videos on MQA to understand what that means. Installation is done using the tablet app or the app for Windows or Mac. If you use a network cable to connect the player, it automatically pops up in the player list that is accessible by tapping in the top right corner. This is also where you can group more players, but since I have only one player installed, I’ll choose that one for now. Tap the left top corner and select Configure Player. Here you can change the name of the player, for instance in ‘Living room’, configure WiFi, change audio settings and many more. But for now we need to tell Bluesound where our music is stored. That’s done in Configure Network Shares. Tap Find Network Shares and if the right share shows up, you can easily select that, otherwise you need to enter the path, user name and password yourself. After this, the Node automatically starts indexing all music on that share. When that is done, you select your music by tapping in the left top corner and tap Library. The main window now shows album art, artists, songs, new albums, folders, playlists or favorites, depending on what you select in the lower part of that window. Tap an album and a pop up window shows the tracks. Press play and the entire album is added tot the playlist. Tap one track and only the track is added. The left top window is the playlist that shows what is to be played. The playlist can be saved and later loaded again. Let’s clear the playlist and go to a streaming service. Tap the left top corner again to find the streaming service you are subscribed to. This demo unit is subscribed to about anything, but let’s choose Tidal. And let’s go for the best rock singer in my country, Anouk and select a track. Now I go back to my own music, and ad a lovely track by the new Dutch band by the name of La Garçon. Then I go to Deezer and again ad a track. As you can see you can mix music from any source together in a playlist. You can even stream music from your smartphone by simply connecting it via Bluetooth. That’s all great, but what about the sound quality? Well, that’s upgraded as well. The original Node was already sounding better than streamers in about the same price bracket when playing cd-quality music. But it also does 24 bit 192 kHz files, which isn’t supported by many others. The Node 2 can do that too but sounds even more refined, more relaxed and more detailed. I love the new features I described earlier, but the improvement in sound quality is even more to my likings. I would now use the Node 2 in my Set 2 where it would be at the lower end of the scale. It’s no match for the fantastic Chord Hugo d/a-converter but is convincing enough to be used in set 2. Even in my Set 1 the Node 2 was acceptable for the occasional listening. It would even be more than sufficient as an internet radio receiver. When hooked up over SPDIF to the ten times more expensive Chord QDB76 d/a-converter, it came at about 80% of the quality the Mac Mini offered using USB. At the beginning of this video I posted the question if the price increase for the second generation Node would be justified. I can wholeheartedly confirm this. The increase in audio quality alone would justify that. Add to that the analogue and digital input, the presets and the remote learning and it might be clear that I am a great fan of the Bluesound Node 2. No, it will not replace the Mac Mini and Chord QDB combination in my Set 1, but it might be a good addition since it does internet radio and streaming services so wel and will do that even better when MQA comes to market. The only limitation might be in the maximum number of tracks that can be indexed. But than again it works with so many on-line streaming services, including the quality services Qobus and Tidal. It is remarkable that Bluesound was allowed to increase the quality since it reduces the distance to the NAD streamers. Both brands are owned by Lenbrook that is not likely to accept internal competition. I wouldn’t be surprised if NAD updates are due. So subscribe to this channel, follow my Facebook page or my twitter account if you want to keep posted. You’ll find the information in the description below. There you also find links to the written version of this report. Questions can be posted below, on my Facebook page or on the contact page on theHBproject.com. And if you have enjoyed this video, please give it a thumbs up and tell your friends on the web about it. I am Hans Beekhuyzen for the HB Channel, thank you for watching and see you in the next video or on theHBproject dot com. And whatever you do, enjoy the music.

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