Bluesound POWERNODE and DUO
Device Type: Integrated amplifier/DAC/Streamer
Input: Ethernet, USB Type-A, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (with Bluetooth dongle)
Output: gold plated speaker binding posts, subwoofer out (RCA)
Dimensions (W x D x H): 248 x 202.3 x 176mm
Weight: 1.9 kg
Availability: Online and through Authorized Dealers
Device Type: Sub/Satellite Speaker System
Input: gold plated binding posts, RCA High level stereo receiver inputs, RCA Low Level stereo preamp inputs
Dimensions Sub (W x D x H): 246 x 401 x 375mm
Dimensions Satellites (W x D x H): 129 x 181 x 213mm/each
Weight: (SUB) 11.16 kg (24.5 lbs), (SATS) 2.45 kg (5.35 lbs) each (2)
Availability: Online and through Authorized Dealers
A Powerful Musical Duo
The Bluesound Powernode delivers network-, smartphone-, tablet-, and Internet-based music via wi-fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth while also packing a 50 Watt Direct-Digital Amplifier and a 24/192-capable DAC designed by NAD Electronics in one small round-cornered cubed package. The Duo is a sub/satellite speaker system designed by Paul Barton of PSB that has been optimized for use with the Powernode and together they can deliver music anywhere your wired, wi-fi, or Bluetooth range allows. Each come wrapped in gloss white or black with steely metal highlights.
The Bluesound products are designed to be used together to fill your house with music (which is a noble goal indeed). It's worth reading my review of the Bluesound Vault (see review) since I talk about the Bluesound app in some detail and I'm not going to repeat everything here.
I asked Bluesound if there are any family ties between the Powernode and NAD products:
This is the same DAC/Amp technology that is part of our NAD Masters Series M2 DAC/Amp & M51 DAC, the NAD C 390DD DAC/AMP, and our new NAD D 7050 DAC/AMP. The DAC is a 35-bit/844 kHz processor that maintains the digital signal purity all the way to the speaker outputs where we have a novel way to drive the speakers directly.
You can read more about the technology behind NADs Direct Digital Amplification that has trickled down to the Powernode here. The Powernode also offers the same basic networking specs as the Vault supporting MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and AIFF files up to 24-bit/192kHz as well as gapless playback. I used the Powernode with NAS-based music, because I can, but you can also serve the Powernode music from PC/Mac shares. The Powernode also runs the same custom developed Linux OS, BluOStm as the Vault and everything is controlled with the same Bluesound app. Strictly on a speed basis, the Bluesound app fitfully outperforms the Apple Remote app with zero noticeable lag with a 11,000+ song library.
The first thing you need to do when setting up your Powernode is to decide if you're going to use it wired or wirelessly. I mainly used used wi-fi and Bluetooth since that's how I imagine most users will roll. I'll state right off the bat that I could play files with sample rates up to 24/192 mostly without incident but I did experience some intermittent dropouts depending on what else my wi-fi network was being asked to do. Your mileage may vary. Bluetooth capability can be added by an optional Bluetooth dongle that plugs into the Powernode's USB Type-A input around back. The only other connections are for your speakers and subwoofer where applicable. The Sub output is a standard RCA jack which I used with the Bluesound Duo system. For the DeVore The Nines, I just connected them using the Kimber Kable 12TC speaker cables.
The next setup steps are accomplished using the Bluesound app which I used on my iPad. To connect to your wi-fi network, just tap "Configure WiFi" on the Configuration menu, select your Wi-Fi network from the drop down list, enter your password, and that's about it. If I had recalled my Wi-Fi password this would have taken all of 2 minutes.
Next up is to connect to your network attached storage. Tapping on "Configure Network Shares" brings up a screen that includes "Find Network Shares" and you just need to tap on that and select your NAS from the list. I connected to my AIFF library on the Synology DS212. Once that's accomplished, the Bluesound app goes about indexing your library. If you own a Bluesound Vault and have already gone through this NAS indexing process, the app will replicate this data to all other Bluesound players so you only have to go through the indexing process once. Nice.
Powernode & Vault
If you use the Powernode in conjunction with the Bluesound Vault, powering on the Vault first sets the Vault to act as the "Master Clock" for your entire Bluesound network of devices. I asked Bluesound to expand on this notion:
Like many network music players we use Network Time Protocol or NTP to sync the internal clocks of our players. When a Vault is part of a Bluesound system all other units will sync their clocks to the Vault and it syncs to the NTP. In a Bluesound system without a Vault each unit syncs to NTP independently. In a perfect world this should work flawlessly but I think we both know that the Internet and LAN networks are never flawless.
If you use the Vault and Powernode (and/or Node), the music on your Vault automatically shows up on the Powernode without you having to do anything. Nice. You can also operate multiple Bluesound devices with the Bluesound app individually so they each play different music or as a Group of two or more so they act, well, as a group playing the same music. Setting up a group involves tapping on the "Group" button and then adding the devices from a list that you'd like to group. Simple. The other Bluesound device worth a mention is the PULSE ($699) which is a stand alone streamer/speaker including 2x 2 1/4" full range drivers and 1x 5 1/4" bass driver with all of the network functionality as the Powernode controllable by the same Bluesound app.
I used the Powernode with the Bluesound Duo, with my Altec Valencias, and with my DeVore Fidelity The Nines and I'll talk about this last pairing first. The Powernode had no problem powering The Nines. Bass was fit and tight while the overall presentation had a nice amount of air and ease. If I were to point to areas where the $699 Powernode was bested by my 10x the price Pass INT-30A coupled with the Auralic Vega, I'd point to tone color, texture, and overall weight. With the Powernode, there was a slight sameness to sounds as compared to the Pass/Vega combo's richer tonal palette and a less fulsome sound overall.
Next the Powernode took the place of a Sansui AU555 Integrated Amp and a Squeezebox Touch and here the Powernode really shone. There was plenty of bass, nearly too much from the Valencias 15" woofers (I really should raise these speakers off of the floor) and overall the Powernode provided a more stable and believable sound image as compared to the Sansui/Squeezebox combo. It also sounded more powerful than the Sansui/Squeezebox combo which it also bested in terms of dynamic slam and detail retrieval. The one drawback for this particular setup is I need an RCA input for my TV and if I had a wish list item for the already feature-laden Powernode it would be for a single set of RCA inputs.
It also seems fitting to picture the Powernode with the Squeezebox Touch since it, or more appropriately the Bluesound Node ($449) which is essentially the same device as the Powernode without the power, is its very logical replacement. I would say that the Bluesound app, coupled with the other Bluesound component options, make a very nice and much more flexible and feature-rich replacement for the Squeezebox Touch.
The Duo is a straight forward sub-satellite speaker system. The satellites are comprised of a 4" metalized poly midrange driver with a rubber surround coupled with a ferrofluid-cooled, 1" aluminum dome tweeter. The subwoofer sports a 110 Watt Class H Discrete MOSFET amplifier driving a single bottom-ported 8" driver. The sub offers an on/off switch, volume control, variable crossover, phase switch, one pair of low level RCA inputs, and pairs of speaker binding posts. I connected to the Duo from the Powernode with its single RCA output while the satellites were wired directly to the Powernode's speaker binding posts.
The Bluesound app comes with a custom DSP setting, located under "Speaker Setup" in the configuration menu, for the Bluesound Duo and I asked my contact at Bluesound for a bit more information on what this does:
The Powernode has DSP profiles for the Duo sub/sat system. Basically, Paul Barton (the founder and chief speaker designer at PSB speakers) is able to make very fine EQ adjustments to correct minor deviations in the response curve. We call this technology “PerfectPitch” and you can read more about it at the following link.
Listening to the Powernode & Duo
System buyers will delight in knowing that the Bluesound Duo sounds just plain wonderful driven by the Powernode. I set them up in a few rooms just for fun but I mainly listened to this pairing in my office with the Duo's satellites perched atop my DeVore The Nines with the matching sub sitting in between. This combo had no problem filling my modestly sized room with rich, punchy, bass-heavy (where appropriate) music. For a combined price of roughly $1,700 this is a very appealing package.
Let's quickly recap what this Powernode/Duo combo offers—the ability to play music from network attached storage, stream music from Internet Radio, stream music from Internet URLs, Rdio, Slacker Radio, and Qobuz (some of these streaming services require an account), stream music from a Bluetooth-enabled device like your smartphone or tablet, and directly drive the Duo's satellite speakers with its 80W of output power. When used in conjunction with the Bluesound Vault, you add the ability to stream from its internal 1TB of storage as well as purchase music from HighResAudio, and control both devices including output volume all from the same app.
The combined Duo speaker system is rated from 36Hz to 23kHz (On Axis @ 0°±3dB) so we are talking full range sound. And let's not forget the custom DSP correction option that's available within the Powernode which is designed to correct the overall performance of the Duo system in-room. Nice. I played through lots of music including NAS-based, Vault-based, and Internet-based and took particular delight with bass heavy tunes like Jungle Revolution from Congo Natty (see review). The Duo's bass is big and powerful yet controlled and integrates very nicely with the satellites. I did not have any problems sitting back and grinning that big damn, that's some big badass bass grin. Nice.
The Powernode/Duo also offer a very nice sense of resolution coupled with a quickness that makes for an engaging musical performance. Everything from Internet radio, mainly WFMU and WPRB (I know, how silly to remain local), to 24/192 files were served up with the same sense of dynamic slam appeal while remaining delicate enough to tickle the ivories with convincing weight and subtlety. I listened to all of Angela Hewitt's take on Bach's keyboard works from a CD rip and remained in the pocket, mesmerized by the force and delicacy of her performance. While I have heard more richly textured presentations, there's enough meat on the sonic bones, enough timbral richness, to draw you into music's finer and more emotional moments. Nice. There's also plenty of air and space making for a nice, big sound image.
I also played some music from my iPhone and iPad via Bluetooth and I'd say this is a killer app as it allows anyone the ability to play back their music through my hi-fi with just a few taps. While the sound quality is a bit stunted and a touch flat with lossy compressed music, I think this is completely beside the point and misses the beauty of the opportunities for sharing music seamlessly with normal-people-devices as the source. I also used Onkyo's HF Player app on my iPhone (see review) to stream a 24/88.2 file from my iPhone to the Powernode. While Bluetooth is a lossy compressed protocol so this file was not traveling the airwaves at full resolution, Arvo Part's Creator Spiritus sounded just lovely. Eminently listenable.
I Have Seen the Future and It's Less Complicated
Think of the Bluesound devices as pieces of a very simple puzzle. Or how about building blocks for adding music throughout your home. Or perhaps more to the point, like Sonos only in high resolution with the engineering and experience of NAD and PSB ingrained in the Bluesound products. The Powernode and Duo are a no brainer combo for someone looking to add a complete networked hi-fi system wherever they see fit. Adding the Vault only simplifies things further since pretty much everything you need to do from ripping CDs to buying high res music happens from within the Bluesound app. Add the ability to stream music to the Powernode via Bluetooth, and you've opened up your world of hi-fi to the rest of the world. Very nice indeed.
Also on hand and in use during the Bluesound Vault review: Auralic Vega