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Bluesound Node Review (Streamer)

TK33

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Wow. This place is educational!

After reading the glowing reviews all over the internet about the Bluesound NODE (Gen 3), I finally put it in my shopping cart last Friday. Then I discovered this place, and this review-

This is sad. There is a lot of distortion which in this day and age is just not acceptable. I looked up the DAC chip and it is the TI PCM5242. Sadly it is specified at 94 dB SINAD at -1 dBFS. So it is bad to start with but the Node knocks a few more dBs from that, landing it straight in our "poor" bucket of DACs in red

And decided not to buy it.

I should mention that this is my first serious attempt at getting into streaming. Since I am new to it, I don't know exactly what I will want or need. The Bluesound looks to have an epic laundry list of features-

Supported Audio File Formats: MP3, AAC, WMA, WMA-L, OGG, ALAC, OPUS
Supported Hi-Res Audio File Formats: FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, MPEG-4 SLS
Apple AirPlay 2, aptX HD Bluetooth

I'm mainly doing this to finally try some hi-res streaming. Maybe TIDAL or Qobuz or Roon.

But back to the bad DAC performance. Who wants that? After reading through this whole thread, it sounds like I can get better results by using an external DAC. My P6 preamp has an ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC. I think both optical inputs might be full, but I can run coax out on the Bluesound and into my preamp that way.

What else- I won't be using USB and I do have an iPhone. I'll also be on Wi-Fi only, as my networking gear is in a different room and I can't run an ethernet cable to the Bluesound.

So given that I already have what should be a nice DAC sitting around, and I think this has all the features I need, should I give the Bluesound a try?
In my opinion, the Node is for someone who wants to easily stream high quality music from their own collection and online services and offers a pretty unique and great set of features for the price. I own two of the older version (Node 2i) and dont find the Node 2i any less enjoyable just because I do not use the internal DAC. The one on my desktop is connected via coax to my RME ADI-2 DAC and works great. The other is connected via coax to my Denon X4300 in my living room. The one on my desk makes for a very simple headphone setup that I use while working without the need for a computer (got sick of having to minimize my screens everytime I wanted to change tracks on Amazon HD or Qobuz). The Node 2i also allows me to steeam bitperfect from Amazon HD, which my Android and Windows devices cannot do. I have been pretty happy with BluOS as well. I wouldnt worry about what DAC chip is in there and just get it if it has the features you are looking for. I am very happy with mine.

Regarding wifi, I have most of my devices, including the Node 2is, wired to nodes in my Linksys Velop mesh network and they work great (Velop Nodes communicate with each other over a 5ghz wifi connection). BluOS/Node 2i is very fast and responsive, unlike my HEOS speakers, which I got fed up with and boxed up. I dont think the fact that you have an iPhone is relevant since the music is streamed from the device and the BluOS app on your iPhone is just a remote control, unless you are trying to play music that is only on your iPhone via bluetooth for some reason, in which case bluetooth, and not the quality of the internal DAC chip, is probably your weakest link (even if you had aptX HD). You generally would be streaming from Qobuz or other service/local library --> NODE instead of Qobuz (or other library) --> iPhone -->Node (as an example).
 

MaxBuck

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In my opinion, the Node is for someone who wants to easily stream high quality music from their own collection and online services and offers a pretty unique and great set of features for the price. I own two of the older version (Node 2i) and dont find the Node 2i any less enjoyable just because I do not use the internal DAC. The one on my desktop is connected via coax to my RME ADI-2 DAC and works great. The other is connected via coax to my Denon X4300 in my living room. The one on my desk makes for a very simple headphone setup that I use while working without the need for a computer (got sick of having to minimize my screens everytime I wanted to change tracks on Amazon HD or Qobuz). The Node 2i also allows me to steeam bitperfect from Amazon HD, which my Android and Windows devices cannot do. I have been pretty happy with BluOS as well. I wouldnt worry about what DAC chip is in there and just get it if it has the features you are looking for. I am very happy with mine.

Regarding wifi, I have most of my devices, including the Node 2is, wired to nodes in my Linksys Velop mesh network and they work great (Velop Nodes communicate with each other over a 5ghz wifi connection). BluOS/Node 2i is very fast and responsive, unlike my HEOS speakers, which I got fed up with and boxed up. I dont think the fact that you have an iPhone is relevant since the music is streamed from the device and the BluOS app on your iPhone is just a remote control, unless you are trying to play music that is only on your iPhone via bluetooth for some reason, in which case bluetooth, and not the quality of the internal DAC chip, is probably your weakest link (even if you had aptX HD). You generally would be streaming from Qobuz or other service/local library --> NODE instead of Qobuz (or other library) --> iPhone -->Node (as an example).
You have explained the Node and how it fits into a typical hifi system better than anyone else I've seen write about it.
 

Mansinthe86

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I compared the DACs in my Cambridge cxa 81 (ESS sabre) with my Cambridge Cxn V2 (dual Wolfson), with a Yamaha wxa50 (burr brown and ESS sabre chips) and I had to lie if I would say I could hear a noticeable difference from the DACs in those devices.

I doubt the node is "bad" sounding.

You probably had to stay in a dead silent room where you hear your own heartbeat to make out a difference between 94 dB and 120 dB sinad.

But I might be wrong. I mostly enjoy music first and not test signals
 

curiouspeter

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I compared the DACs in my Cambridge cxa 81 (ESS sabre) with my Cambridge Cxn V2 (dual Wolfson), with a Yamaha wxa50 (burr brown and ESS sabre chips) and I had to lie if I would say I could hear a noticeable difference from the DACs in those devices.

I doubt the node is "bad" sounding.

You probably had to stay in a dead silent room where you hear your own heartbeat to make out a difference between 94 dB and 120 dB sinad.

But I might be wrong. I mostly enjoy music first and not test signals
Also the output must be level-matched. Then perhaps only for certain source materials.

My X16+AX-505 setup sounds more crisp than my Sonos Amp setup. But it could be due to room correction or volume or maybe the amplifier.
 

TMIDT

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the 2021 Bluesound Node wired and wireless streamer and DAC. It is the next generation from Node 2i which I reviewed a while back. The Node costs US $549 and was kindly drop shipped to me by a member. In case you don't know, Bluesound is from the same parent company as NAD.

The Node looks as attractive as the last generation:

View attachment 145926

That said, I can't figure out anything on it. Hopefully the app helps.... Not!!! There is no remote so I downloaded the app to try to figure out how to change inputs. The app downloaded fine and prompted me to upgrade the unit. I let it and it spent some 10 minutes doing so! This is way too clunky. What on earth is it doing for 10 minutes? It rebooted but then nothing would work in the app. The gear icon would do nothing. And neither would the "VCR" (player controls). It thought it was all well but it clearly could not communicate with the unit. I restarted it and the unit and still nothing. I gave up. :(

The back panel shows rich set of connections:
View attachment 145927
Inclusion of eARC over HDMI is very nice as is triggers for integration into the rest of your system. I used Ethernet for testing but there is also Wifi and Bluetooth.

Bluesound Node Meaurements
Roon nicely recognized the unit as an approved endpoint so I used it to stream by 24-bit, 1 kHz tone to get our familiar dashboard view:

View attachment 145928

This is sad. There is a lot of distortion which in this day and age is just not acceptable. I looked up the DAC chip and it is the TI PCM5242. Sadly it is specified at 94 dB SINAD at -1 dBFS. So it is bad to start with but the Node knocks a few more dBs from that, landing it straight in our "poor" bucket of DACs in red:
View attachment 145929

For good or bad, this is almost identical to what Node 2i performance.

Wanting to make sure it was not a pipeline shrink to 16 bits or something, I hooked up the Topping D30Pro to its Coax output. Performance shot way up to what the D3Pro produces on its own:

View attachment 145930

So you do have the option of adding a much higher performance DAC to it.

Surprisingly, the dynamic range is not too bad on the internal DAC:

View attachment 145931

Jitter spectrum is also clean although likely masking fair bit due to high noise floor:

View attachment 145932

Since my Audio Precision analyzer can't control the device directly, I don't have much else I can measure. But I think we know how the internal DAC performs anyway.

Since the app did not work, I had no way of characterizing the input performance even though I was all cabled up and ready to measure!

Conclusions
From pure performance point of view, the Node 2 is a disappointment. OK, I cut it fair bit of slack but come on folks, it needs to at least clear the CD hurdle of 96 dB. Adding fair bit of aggravation was the non functional BlueOS control application. The fact that it didn't work was one thing. But not saying anything when it could not control the unit is something else.

Anyway, I can't recommend the Bluesound Node from performance point of view or reliability of its App. If you use an external DAC, then it works well assuming you can get the app working.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Hi. Maby a stupid quiestion, but this new node would it be good as a preamp? It has a volume control. Im buing node or Rotel RC-1572Mkii as new preamp. Maby the rotel sound way better? Im new to this. Have a power amp, and need a volume control and optical
 

MaxBuck

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Hi. Maby a stupid quiestion, but this new node would it be good as a preamp? It has a volume control. Im buing node or Rotel RC-1572Mkii as new preamp. Maby the rotel sound way better? Im new to this. Have a power amp, and need a volume control and optical
I don't believe the Rotel preamp has a streamer. If you don't need streaming to be incorporated into the device, I don't see the value in the Node, and if you do, the Rotel still leaves you in need of an additional component.

As for sound quality, I doubt you'd hear a difference.
 

ivayvr

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It all depends on your needs. At twice the price for a pre amp function only, Rotel should be better sounding. If you have some high end power amp you may want to go with the Rotel as probably a better match.
I am using my Node 2i as a pre amp and a streamer, with universal DVD player, sub and with powered speakers and could not be happier.
 

Orion76

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So I ordered the Bluesound Node after all. Fingers crossed. I've been thinking about getting a streamer off and on for the last six months. Time to dive in!
 

JJB70

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I would be amazed if many people could identity a difference between the output of the Node 2i and any DAC people might nominate in a level matched double blind test. I would be more amazed if many of those who could do were able to do it without serious effort (in other words even differences that can be discerned are pretty meaningless).
 

Frank Sol

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Latest on the USB Out Firmware update

Maybe , "likely" before the end of this year

USB.png
 

BlackTalon

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unbelievable. They are going to have the feature, but 6 months after product launch? Sounds like it wasn't under development yet and now they are having problems
 
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unbelievable. They are going to have the feature, but 6 months after product launch? Sounds like it wasn't under development yet and now they are having problems
I bought it in July and then stared at in wonder when I had realised I had to buy a coax cable to be able to connect it to my DAC.
 

fabtou14

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Hello,
Here is my hi-fi configuration:
-marantz PM 6007 amplifier
-wharefedale diamond 220 speaker
-raspery pi + dac saber ess9038 + Volumio
-Qobuz subscription
I am very disappointed with the Qobuz interface and integration.
Indeed on the latter we cannot for example select the musical styles.
I find the navigation laborious and it takes several clicks to start a song.
I am interested in the node for its application (which I have never tested) but which has good echoes.
One of my questions concerns the poor quality of his dac.
Will I really lose quality compared to my system? Will my amp's dac be better? I intend to find the second-hand node 2i around 300 euros.
 

pjn

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Latest on the USB Out Firmware update

Maybe , "likely" before the end of this year
Encouraged by this thread and another on Audiogon, I bought a Node (the new one) - easy to setup with RCA outputs. I was encouraged by the fairly complete set of cables that it came with (2 types of power cable, ethernet, RCA, headphone adaptor). First thing it did was grab an update and install it. Linked to my Qobuz account easily - slightly ugly interface, but good enough.
Curiously, a very anemic output with no volume control on the receiver. Couldn't get it to talk to my oldish Marantz receiver via optical, so as I just happened to have a Schiit Modi lying around, tried running the DAC off the USB port. It powered on, but didn't get any signal. Never mind, ran the optical out into the DAC and the DAC into the AVR and life was good.

I'm a bit puzzled by the fact that the Bluesound volume still works with optical out (so I set it to max) - to my mind this suggests that it is not actually bypassing the internal DAC. - Ah - there is a setting in audio where you tell it to use an external DAC although this is focussed on MQA unfolding.

I haven't done any critical listening yet - just glad to get another digital lifeform to work! And it sounds pretty good.

Note for Mac users - you need to get the Blu OS Controller from the Bluesound website not the App store - this is just for iPhone and iPad versions - this will enable you to link to any local libraries (hopefully! this seems to be challenging)

Edit - a couple of weeks later - now running the coax output into a Khadas Tone Board powered off the USB port and that into the analog inputs on the AVR - sounds pretty good
 
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pjn

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-Qobuz subscription
I am very disappointed with the Qobuz interface and integration.
Indeed on the latter we cannot for example select the musical styles.
I find the navigation laborious and it takes several clicks to start a song.
Agreed - to discover music the Qobuz app is needed. But once you have your likes arranged in playlists (favorites in the Bluesound parlance), or you know what you want, then the Blue OS Controller is adequate - I find it is fairly responsive. It definitely likes a wide screen.

Added - in BluOS Controller when you select Qobuz on the left, the main menu has a Genres button - this seems to do what you want, although in a more limited way than the Qobuz app.
 
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MaxBuck

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Someone asked, somewhere, about possible time delay associated with audio out to the Node from a TV. I can verify that yes, there is a delay that makes running audio from the TV through it (at least via Bluetooth) a non-starter. :(
 

Frank Sol

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Someone asked, somewhere, about possible time delay associated with audio out to the Node from a TV. I can verify that yes, there is a delay that makes running audio from the TV through it (at least via Bluetooth) a non-starter. :(

On the Bluesound Help Forum where I got the time frame on the USB Out firmware update (See post #552)... The same 'Andrew H' stated they wanted to fix this TV audio problem 1st before the USB Out release
 
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