Looking to add some serious network audio smarts to your AV system? Bluesound’s Node 2i streamer has what you need, reckons Ed Selley. Read our BLUESOUND NODE 2i Review.
THE FIRST GENERATION of Bluesound audio components won many friends when it launched in 2014, thanks to excellent performance, smart design and the brilliance of the BluOS smartphone/tablet control app. The basic product range remains the same five years on, only we’re now into a third generation – albeit one with the same physical design as its predecessor, hence the addition of an ‘i’ to model names/numbers rather than a ‘3’.
Junior sibling of Bluesound’s Powernode 2i
Sonos Connect; Yamaha WX-AD10
|CONNECTIONS||3.5mm input; stereo phono analogue output; coaxial audio output; optical audio input/output; USB; 3.5mm headphone jack; subwoofer output; 12V trigger; Ethernet|
|SUPPORTED AUDIO FORMATS||FLAC, MQA, WAV and AIFF (hi-res); MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, OPUS and ALAC|
|SUPPORTED SERVICES||Spotify, Amazon Music, TIDAL, Deezer, Qobuz, JUKE, Napster, Tuneln and more DIMENSIONS: 22|
|DIMENSIONS||220(w) x 46(h) x 146(d)mm|
The Node 2i tested here is a line-level and preamp device that can output to a stereo amplifier, AV receiver or powered speaker set. An onboard headphone amp caters to personal audio junkies; a version with a 2 x 60W amplifier (the Powernode 2i) is also available, in addition to the 2TB HDD-toting Vault 2i, and the Pulse family of soundbar, subwoofer and standalone speakers.
The Node 2i features a Burr Brown DAC that allows it to decode material up to 24-bit/192kHz, either fed in via digital connection or wirelessly. Supported formats cover everything you are likely to encounter (FLAC, ALAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, MP3…) – with the possible exception of DSD.
Joining this DAC is support for a wide selection of streaming services, including the usual suspects of Tidal (including Tidal Masters), Qobuz (including Sublime+) Spotify and Deezer, plus ‘net radio. Only Apple Music remains an obvious hold out.
The Node 2i then supports aptX HD Bluetooth streaming and AirPlay 2 for even more flexibility. You can also control multiple Bluesound devices in a multiroom setup (streaming from the Node 2i to Pulse speakers for instance) from the same app – and this includes BluOS-compatible devices from sister brand NAD, such as the M17 V2 processor [see HCC #293].
BluOS has evolved into a very lovely piece of software indeed. It’s available for Android and iOS devices and offers a logical, fast and well-engineered user experience that is equally happy controlling one device or several. One of the reasons it can do this is that the Node 2i is not a true UPnP product.
It can use a standard NAS drive as a library, but it compiles its own database and can’t be controlled by any form of third-party app.
The Node 2i itself is a compact and reasonably well-finished box that is available in either black or white. The build quality is good and the decision to fit a small selection of hard controls on the top panel is an underrated bonus, as it means you can silence it there as a means of last resort when your smartphone has gone walkies. There are some more ornate streamers available around this price but the Node 2i isn’t something you’d be embarrassed to have on display.
Be My Baby
Having completed the painless setup procedure and let the Node 2i complete a scan of my digital music library, I kicked off listening with a 24-bit/44.1kHz download of My Baby’s Mounaki. The Bluesound responded well to this innately groovy piece of music. There is a decent bass extension combined with a feeling of get-up-and-go that leaves you involved in the music rather than just listening to it. A very likeable trait of the Node 2i is that it never comes across as hard or overtly ‘digital’ in its presentation either. Vocals, in particular, sound rich, weighty and possessed of believable scale and nuance.
And the joy of a ‘net-connected streamer is that you don’t need to own the music you are listening to either. Anxious to see why Twitter had suddenly exploded, I selected the new Weezer covers album, available as a Tidal Master. Whether the world is ready for this American rock band to cover girl group anthem No Scrubs (and it probably isn’t), it is hard to argue with the quality of the performance from the Node 2i – it also proved been entirely stable used via Wi-Fi.
The presence of AirPlay 2 and a digital optical audio input also means this preamp can do a fine job hijacking other physical systems (taking a feed from a TV, perhaps), or using an Apple iPhone or iPad as a source. AirPlay 2 in particular is impressive, as it allows you to form an ad hoc multiroom network with any other compatible gizmo, and introduces Siri voice control talents in addition to Amazon Alexa.
It all adds up
This level of functionality, the excellent BluOS interface and the Bluesound’s superb sound quality all add up to make the Node 2i a bit of a bargain. If your AV system doesn’t have network audio capabilities (or the ones it does have aren’t very advanced), this is a one-stop shop to bring it up to speed. And then you can start thinking of adding Pulse speakers for hi-res multiroom adventures…
This hi-res streamer looks unremarkable but offers a superb sonic performance, ease of use and plenty of flexibility.
As well as a headphone jack, the Node 2i streams to Bluetooth cans
FEATURES: AirPlay 2, aptX HD Bluetooth (two-way); dual-band Wi-Fi; BluOS app