Bluesound Node 2
Input: Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, USB Type-A (USB Storage), USB Type-B (Product Servicing), Toslink / 3.5mm
Output: Analog RCA Stereo with FIXED option, Coax S/PDIF (RCA), Toslink, Headphone 3.5mm Stereo, Subwoofer RCA, 12 Volt trigger out
Dimensions: 8.7 x 1.8 x 5.7 in (220 x 46 x 146 mm)
Weight: 2.45 lbs (1.12 kg)
Availability: Online and through authorized dealers
The New Node 2
The new Bluesound Node 2 looks a helluva lot better than the original Node, at least to my eyes. It's new beauty is not only skin deep as its processor has been upgraded to a 1 GHz ARM CORTEX A9 Multi-core processor, the DAC is now the BurrBrown PCM5122, and the company has also added more connectivity options, integrated Bluetooth, a headphone amp, and improved WiFi performance. Bluesound has also been been working on improving their BluOS app for iOS and Android devices so we're looking at and listening all new Blue Sound.
The Node 2 can play music from your NAS, USB storage (FAT32 formatted), streaming services including Tidal, Deezer, Rhapsody, Spotify, and more, Internet Radio (TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio), and any Bluetooth-enabled device. The Node 2 supports MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, HRA file formats and can handle PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz (no DSD). While Bluesound demoed an MQA-ready version of their Vault 2 at CES (see report), there is no firm date or news to report on an MQA-ready Node 2. Expect an update from the Munich show in May.
As you can see from the inputs and outputs listed above, Bluesound have added a Combo Toslink / 3.5mm input and a Coax S/PDIF out, options the original Node did not offer (see review). Bluetooth is now integrated unlike in the original Node, which required the use of an optional USB dongle. The Node 2 also houses an IR sensor which can be programmed using a TV remote to control volume or next/previous track.
The newly designed non-shiny-plastic layer cake-like chassis comes in matte white or black and has a nice rubbery feel. Up top reside a number of touch sensitive buttons including Mute, Volume +/-, and Previous Track/Next Track centered in a field of peek-a-boo heat dissipating mesh. The Mute button also doubles as a status indicator using 12 different LED blink codes to tell you what's happening with the unit (solid Blue means you are good to go). Most of the ins and outs reside around back except for the front-mounted 3.5mm headphone jack. The new Node 2 is nearly identical in size to the hardcover edition of The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.
I connected the Node 2 to my network with a length of AudioQuest Ethernet cable and to my Hi-Fi using its analog and Toslink outputs. More details to follow...My main system remained the same with the Ayre AX-5 Twenty driving the DeVore Fidelity gibbon X. One other thing worth mentioning before listneing—the company includes an ethernet cable, RCA to RCA Cable, and a Toslink Optical to 3.5mm mini adapter in the package, a nice nod to the plug and play approach.
I loaded up the BluOS on my iPad mini 2. The app offers the ability to browse your music collection by Artists, Albums, Songs, New, Folders, Playlists, and Composers. There's also a Genre button to filter by your genre of choice. I preferred Album view, I always do, and simply tap on an album cover to bring up playback options including just play it now!, Play next, Add to queue, and Add to playlist. You can also add the selected album to your Favorites and go to the Artist listing which shows all the music you own by that artist.
BluOS allows you to mix and mingle music from your library, streaming services, and Internet Radio in your Playlists and Play queue. There are also Presets which provide instant access to your favorite Internet Radio stations, playlists, albums, etc. When you select an album or track to play, it appears on the right hand side of the screen in the Play queue, which can be easily edited and added to a Playlist. The app also includes an I(nfo) button; clicking on it brings up associated information/metadata provided by Last.fm. The app's search feature works very well and very fast and includes results from your library and Tidal, in my case. There's also a little circular icon indicating whether the current music is CD or HD quality.
If you have more than one Bluesound device, they appear when you tap on that little house-looking icon in the upper right corner of the screen. From here you can control playback behavior for all of your Bluesound devices including grouping and ungrouping. Multi-room audio with high-resolution playback capability being the obvious differentiating factor between Bluesound and the 500lb gorilla in lots of rooms, Sonos.
The Settings tab includes a number of options as you can see in the screen shot above. Beyond the obvious, the Audio tab includes (defeatable) tone controls, Replay-Gain, Output Mode, Subwoofer On/Off, and Variable or Fixed Output. You can also access these setting options via a web browser by entering in the Node 2's IP address in your browser. The Music Library tab is where you tell the Node 2 where your music is stored. Network shares are automatically discovered and listed.
Overall, I found the BluOS app a pleasure to use and I did not experience one hiccup or glitch throughout the review period.
"Rich, full, and fun"
I've quoted myself from the original Node review because it fits equally well here: a really enjoyed listening to music through the Node 2, including its analog output. Music has nice weight and body and plenty of punch, with nothing being too hot or glared to handle. Think rich, full, and fun.
As I mentioned in the my review of the Auralic Aries Mini, I preferred the sound of the Node 2 to the Mini in stock form. The Mini, by comparison, sounds thinner and frankly simply not as fun. This translates into longer and more enjoyable listening time with the Node 2, which is the entire point, isn't it.
Where the Node 2 falls short of separates is in resolution, nuance, color palate, micro detail, and macro pleasure. The Node 2 tends to make everything sound more similar than say the Auralic Vega DAC being fed its digits from the Node 2 via Toslink. Here, with a $3500 outboard DAC, music sounds more varied, individual voices sing out truer, and the overall sound image is more relaxed, better defined, and more natural sounding. I doubt anyone is surprised to learn this to be the case and it goes a long way in explaining the reason Bluesound includes those digital outputs. This comparison was a snap as the Node 2 outputs to both analog and digital simultaneously so all I had to do was select the related inputs from my Ayre remote.
How does the Node 2 as network player sending its bits out via Toslink compare to my MacBook Pro performing the same function, also via Toslink? Really well. The Mac's Toslink out into the Vega sounds comparatively harsher, harder, and flatter. Ugh. I used the same type Toslink cable, an AudioQuest Cinnamon, to connect both the Node 2 and Mac so this seems to be a clear case of the Node 2's Toslink out sounding simply better than the Mac. I will say I prefer the Vega's USB input for any number of reasons...
If you read my review of the original Node, you'll know that I found it outperformed the much-loved-for-good-reason Logitech Squeezebox Touch. While it has been too long for me to make an informed comparison between the original Node and the new Node 2 from memory, I re-read my Node review and feel that the new Node 2 is the better sonic performer based on what I wrote.
I leashed up the AudioQuest NightHawk headphones to the Node 2 for some intimate listening and was happy with what I heard. I would describe the Node 2's headphone sound as being akin to its analog output in terms of a similar richness and fullness. While I'm not a huge fan of headphone listening, I do enjoy the NightHawks and the Node 2 drove them to musically engaging levels of fun-ness.
Let's point out the obvious—the Node 2 does not support DSD or USB DAC out. If these are deal-breakers for you, you'll have to look elsewhere for a network player/DAC and at present the best place to look is at the Auralic Aries Mini.
Back to the Node 2's analog output, which is where I'd imagine most buyers will start, I listened to whatever music I wanted for as long as I wanted for weeks on end. Bitchin' music sounding particularly bitchin', if you know what I mean. Even Internet Radio, listening to my favorites WPRB and WFMU, was a real treat.
One interesting use-case for the Node 2 is something like, oh heck, exactly like, our home system. We use Apple TV for movies and such and we have our home hi-fi (Leben CS-300XS/Altec Valencias) straddling the TV. Situating the Node 2 in the mix allows me to send the Apple TV's Toslink out to the Node 2, while using the Node as streamer serving up my music and Tidal HiFi through its analog out feeding Leben. I have been using a Sonos Connect for this latter function, the Connect does not offer Toslink in, but the Node 2 can to do more of what I want and it sounds better than the Sonos. Interesting.
Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This
As someone who grew up listening to LPs and radio, having my digital music library, Tidal HiFi, and Internet radio all at my fingertips in one nice-to-use iPad app is a dream come true. Add in multi-room capability and control and we've got a brave new bigger world (I'll be reviewing the company's Vault 2 and Pulse Mini shortly). The fact that the Node 2 makes all of this music sound rich, full, and fun and costs $499 is icing on top of a dreamy cake.
Also in-use during the Node 2 review: Auralic Aries Mini