When summer finally comes around up here in the North, all thoughts turn to leisure, social events, and escaping the city by whatever means. It’s not the ideal time to launch a new audio product. But in these upside down times, launches are often delayed by several months. And that happened here, with Bluesound’s new line of gear. So around comes June, and we have a new Node and Powernode.
The third revision to Bluesound’s ever popular streaming DAC is named, simply, NODE. On your sales receipt it may say NODE N130, but for all practical purposes, it’s just NODE. Pretty straightforward.
NODE of course replaces the best selling and highly regarded Node 2i, a tall order – the Node 2i was considered an entry-level-great streamer, with MQA. So how did they do?
I’ve spent the last two weeks playing with the new NODE: I think they’ve pretty much nailed it. Again.
Visually – not a big change; you still can’t and won’t mistake this for anything else. Smart to retain the visual identity of a popular product. The packaging is also basically identical..no point making unboxing videos for this one. So, the same shape and footprint, and colour choices (black and white). But look closer and they’ve ditched the rubberized finish for a harder material, with a flat eggshell type finish. Very nice paintwork too. I was a fan of the tactile feel of the Node 2i – but this one promises to be easier to keep clean, so I’m fine with it. What’s more distinctive (and functional) is the new top panel – it’s a glass touch surface which lights up when you’re in proximity. It has a new slider for controlling volume, and a large row of five buttons, for instantly starting your NODE with one of the memorized presets. Very nice touches (pun intended).
As for core functionality, all is familiar as well. Connect the NODE to powered speakers (or a traditional amp/speakers), download the BluOS app to your phone or tablet, and start streaming. Dead simple, with a superb interface. If you’ve never seen how feature-rich the BluOS offering is, well, once you start using it, it becomes hard to go back to physical media – or even regular old remote controls.
Internally, both the processor and DAC sections have been revamped. You now have a Quad-Core 1.8ghz ARM Cortex A53 processor, and a 32-bit/384khz “premium DAC design”. Gotta keep up with the Joneses. This is a big deal though, because every time you change the topology, you have to ensure your perfectly specified player still sounds like music. Bluesound products still don’t do native DSD, but they do virtually everything else.
Around back, two things are new: an HDMI eARC input, and a USB DAC connection. We’ve seen eARC on other Bluesound products, and why not on the NODE – it’s a great feature that lets you use the unit as the sound control center for your TV audio. Works like a charm and is something that should be included with more preamps, in my opinion. The USB port works two ways: you can insert a thumb drive of music, which BluOS will index and play. And, once the next BluOS update arrives (within weeks), you’ll be able to connect the NODE to an external DAC via USB. With three digital outs, optical and HDMI in, analog out, and two-way Bluetooth, the NODE is one very flexible tool that gives you a myriad of ways to stream.
See also: MQA: Other Perspectives On Streaming
So how’s the sound quality?
In a word: excellent. I’ve mostly been using the NODE in its simplest configuration – WiFi in, analog out. Compared to the old Node 2i, I hear slightly better detail, yet the sound is also a little more relaxed and natural. There’s better separation of instruments, and the image seems to have grown wider. Overall it’s an incremental improvement – maybe 10%? If such things can be quantified. I’m not advising Node 2i users to run out and replace their machines. But everything here is a step in the right direction. Bluesound is proving to be one of those companies that rarely makes a misstep.
Using the NODE with a NAD power amp, I’ve had it connected to the brilliant DALI Spektor 1 monitors, and the DALI C-8D subwoofer. The NODE has a sub output and along with BluOS, gives you real bass management, in the digital domain. It works quite well too. This baby does it all, as the audio heart of a 2.1-channel music and video system. It sounds better than a stereo in this price range ought to.
As a Bluesound dealer, I’m very pleased with the new NODE. The price has remained the same ($649 Canadian), and just about every aspect of this digital player has been improved. As a bonus, it retains everything that made its predecessor a winner. Two thumbs up from me. The main issue will be keeping them in stock.
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