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

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Audiophiles method the Bluesound Node 2i with suspicion. As a compact music server with built-in DAC that dares to serve up the very best high quality music-streaming companies, this factor appears nearly, you must pardon the expression, too low cost at $549 to carry out all these duties properly. Critical digital-to-analog convertors alone can price that a lot—or an entire lot extra.

However pinch me, the Node 2i is the actual deal, and one of the best of the “reasonably priced” high-fidelity web music streamers I’ve examined in latest months. Laying out an ethereal, open soundstage (by no means cluttered or compressed), reveling in precision and finesse, music flows from this small package deal in a most sleek, personable style. And that well-rounded aura persists, it doesn’t matter what your stylistic style, from AC/DC to Jay Z, Ambient to Zouk, Albeniz to Zappa. It is a participant that may climb each musical mountain and ford any stream you ship its method.

bluesound node 2i compared to russound Jonathan Takiff / IDG

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

For certain, a Node 2i is particularly responsive once you feed it the actually good things. Say, by touchdown on a meticulously engineered, higher-bit-rate web radio station that obsesses over each hyperlink within the chain. Or by splurging a number of bonus bucks monthly for the very best grade of 24-bit/96kHz (or often even 192kHz) content material streaming from a Qobuz, Tidal, or Amazon Music account. The best-resolution information pumping via this music machine actually may move for studio masters, and one supply (Tidal) has labeled them thusly. The brand new Sonos Radio HD is one other candidate, though it tops out at 16-bit FLAC.

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

Kissing cousins

The Node 2i is a really shut relation to the self-powered (60-watts per aspect) Bluesound PowerNode 2i that I reviewed in September with comparable delight. However as a self-contained, just-add-speakers-and-serve product, the Powernode 2i left me with some questions unresolved. Did I actually hear all that a lot enchancment over Sonos media gamers I’ve run with the identical audio system? I couldn’t make a direct 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 pump up the amp energy and load-bearing audio system, after which take this factor out on the high-tech streaming freeway and actually let ‘er rip.

bluesound node 2i front image 2 Jonathan Takiff / IDG

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

The Node 2i lets me do exactly that, with nary a disappointment. This isn’t simply one other part that brings new content material (streaming) to your gear. It’s a recreation changer, one of the best argument I’ve discovered up to now to promote my crazy-big vinyl and CD assortment, ‘trigger nearly all that content material on 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 materials—artists and shops that I hoped would do my ears good. Like singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, going for the sonic gusto together with her new Extra Love set, snap-happy nation cousin Lee Brice (Hey World) and Cat Stevens (bear in mind him?) daring to reshape historical past with a re-arranged 50th anniversary remake of Tea for the Tillerman. All recording professionals with (good) ears, attuned to finessed manufacturing and engineering efforts.

Not merely trusting first impressions, it appeared smart to do some severe evaluating and contrasting. Because of my receiver’s multitude of inputs and fairly responsive distant management, I used to be quickly plugging in and switching between the Bluesound Node 2i and the 2 different web streamers I’ve not too long ago 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 not on working comfort and sheer quantity of supply choices. (Truthfully, will anybody ever surpass Sonos on these traits?)

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