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Bluesound Node 2i Wireless Multi-Room High-Res Music Streamer

Bluesound Node 2i Wireless Multi-Room High-Res Music Streamer

For the last year and a half I’ve been exploring the world of streaming music, experiences I wrote up in the course of a review of NAD’s M50.2 music streamer/ripper and Aurender’s Model 10 streamer/DAC (Issue 305). While neither of those products is outlandishly expensive by the norms of high-end audio, both are still expensive enough and of very high-tech manufacturing and sonic excellence. Not long ago I decided to treat myself to an audio system for my office. A quite small room, it has no space for a turntable (nor did I want the fuss and bother of vinyl there). CDs I can play if necessary through my iMac, but the main source was to be streaming, mostly from Qobuz and Tidal, to which end I began casting about for a compact high-quality music server with a built-in DAC (all the other electronics had likewise to have small footprints and be stackable). Have I mentioned it also had to be value driven, i.e., inexpensive?

Enter the Node from Bluesound, launched in 2013 under Canada’s Lenbrook Group as a spinoff from NAD (see sidebar). The following year the new company introduced a suite of products for streaming, including the Node 2, of which the 2i under review is the third iteration—a music server, streamer, and DAC that via the proprietary NAD/Bluesound BluOS app accesses most of the popular music-streaming services (Qobuz, Tidal, Spotify, etc.) and Internet radio, as well as music files off hard drives, including your downloads, your iTunes library, and other musical content from a NAS drive, all without a computer. (It’s sophisticated and versatile enough to control systems in several rooms. Though I did not use it that way.) The “i” suffix indicates AirPlay2 capability plus 5GHz Wi-Fi, two-way aptX Bluetooth, and a substantial sonic improvement over the two previous versions (again, see sidebar). Additional connectivity includes Ethernet, USB-A, RCA stereo outputs (plus a subwoofer out), RCA coaxial USB, TosLink, and headphones. The Node 2i will support 16–24-bit depths, sampling rates of 32–192kHz, the high-res formats of FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and the full unfolding and rendering of MQA. Like its parent company’s M50.2 server/streamer, it’s PCM only, no DSD. The DAC section can be used independently of the music server, while the music server can feed an outboard DAC (if the outboard unit doesn’t handle MQA, then you lose the final rendering but still benefit from the first unfolding, just as you do with NAD’s 50.2). 

All this functionality, connectivity, and versatility fits into a nifty, stylish box (available in black or white) smaller than a trade paperback and retailing for the princely sum of $549. One of the things I’ve always liked about NAD, in contradistinction to so many other high-end manufacturers, is the company’s refreshing lack of snobbery, i.e., its components come with pretty much everything you need to get started, including requisite cabling. This Bluesound is no different, supplying Ethernet cable, a pair of RCA interconnects, and power cords (two, one for the U.S., the other for Europe)—all generic, to be sure, but so what? They’re of good quality and they do the job. (For what it’s worth, I conducted substantial portions of the review period with the supplied cabling.) 

Once you download the BluOS app to your smartphone or tablet, setup is easy and virtually foolproof. I used it both wired and wirelessly and it performed for the most part flawlessly in either mode. I say “for the most” part for two reasons. First, although I have strong and reliable Internet, there are always glitches that occasionally confound the most scrupulously designed streamers, including every one I’ve ever used, and this happened with the 2i, but only infrequently and was always quickly resolved (typically by the Internet service righting itself). Two, if any external drives (G-Drive, Samsung, Western Digital, Seagate) I used contained files in addition to PCM music files the 2i is incapable of reading, none of them, including the PCM files, showed up in the BluOS app, even though the drive itself was visible. According to Bluesound’s (excellent) technical support, the presence of DSD files or even non-musical files (like photographs or documents) on a hard drive can cause the app not to recognize any files, even those it can read. The solution? Make sure the drive contains only PCM music files. (I should add that this is not the first time I’ve encountered this issue with music streamers and DACs.)

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