Bluesound The Vault

Device Type: NAS/DAC/Streamer/Server
Input: Ethernet, USB Type-A (for USB storage)
Output: 1 pair RCA unbalanced, Toslink
Dimensions (W x D x H): 293 x 239 x 208mm
Weight: 3.0 kg
Availability: online and through Authorized Dealers
Price: $999.00
Website: www.bluesound.com

A Musical Vault
The Bluesound Vault is in a category all by itself, at least for the time being. The Vault combines 1TB of Network Attached Storage (NAS) with a DAC and digital volume control so you can connect it directly to your hi-fi with a pair of regular old RCA interconnects. Using the very slick Bluesound app on your smart gadget or tablet of choice you can be playing scads of music in no time flat. No computer or external storage need apply. But that's not all.

The Vault can also stream music from Rdio, Slacker Radio, and Qobuz, (requires an account) and TuneIn Internet radio, allow you to purchase and download music from HighResAudio (geographical restrictions apply to some titles but Bluesound is working on adding additional download services), play music from other network attached storage as well as USB storage, rip your CDs, and control the Vault's internal digital volume all from within the Bluesound app. That's right—all from within the Bluesound app including buying high res downloads so you never have to leave the comfort of...the app.

The curved cornered cubed Vault comes in high gloss black or Apple white with a steel strip running down its center. The front is adorned with a CD slot, the top has a round power/status button that lights up different colors depending on what the Vault is up to, while the backside houses the inputs and outputs. I found the RCA outputs had a bit of side-to-side play but overall the construction quality is very nice if a tad light weight. You can make up your own mind about the sleek, minimal industrial design by David Farrage.

Bluesound is part of Lenbrook America (for more on Bluesound, see my report on their press launch) along with NAD and PSB and it shares some of their hi-fi heritage. I asked my contact at Bluesound for some information on the Vault's insides since I could not figure out how to gain access to them since there's not a screw in site:

ARM Cortex A8 Core, 1600 MIPS
ARM Neon DSP Media Co-Processor & Vector Floating Point Unit for Intensive Audio Processing
256MB RAM
4GB Flash
1TB Low RPM Silent Media Drive
24/192 Cirrus sigma-delta converter

As always, the circuit implementation around the DAC is often more important than the CODEC itself. Getting the potential performance requires careful engineering of power supply and circuit layout as well as other passive components in the signal path. This is where Bluesound's NAD roots give it an edge over computer companies that try to make audio gear.

The Disc Drive is a DVD ROM drive chosen for its high accuracy, and uses Cdparanoia as the ripping engine. Cdparanoia reads audio from the CDROM directly as data, with no analog step between, and writes the data to a file raw 16 bit linear PCM. The VAULT then codes the raw PCM to FLAC or MP3 (320kbps) or both as chosen by the user.

All data is handled asynchronously whether from the Ethernet, USB or internal drive, and is controlled by one of two precision clocks: 44.1/88.2/176.4 and 48/96/192 depending on the file's sample rate. This gives the lowest possible jitter for all sources and is the reason internet radio (and everything else) sounds better on a Bluesound.

The Bluesound Vault runs a custom developed Linux OS, BluOStm, and the Samba file sharing protocol so it shows up on your network as a storage device as soon as you plug it in and connect an Ethernet cable. So you can browse the Vault's contents from your computer and drag and drop music into the Vault if you so desire. Bluesound also recommends backing up the Vault from your computer by simply dragging and dropping the Vault's contents into another drive. The Vault supports MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and AIFF files up to 24-bit/192kHz as well as gapless playback.

Vault Setup
Since I already have a NAS-worth of music on my network, I connected the Vault to my Synology NAS by tapping on "Configure Player" in the Bluesound App. This brings up a list of options including "Configure Network Shares". Tapping on that brings up the option, "Find Network Shares" which in turn brings up a list of all of the storage devices on your network. You can simply click on a share or enter a share name manually so I just clicked on my Synology NAS music directory and the Bluesound app went about indexing its contents. I did not time this first indexing but Reindexing the entire library, which you'll want to do when you add music to your external storage, takes a few minutes for a 10,000+ song library.

You can also set the output level to fixed or variable within this same Config menu, set the file type you want to rip to which includes FLAC, MP3, or both, enable/disable replay gain, play music from an Internet URL, check for OS upgrades, reboot the Vault, and more. Overall I found the Bluesound app to be a snap to use, never once having to look at a manual. If you have more than one Bluesound device there's a lot more you can do and I'll cover these options in my upcoming review of the Bluesound Powernode/Duo.

the Vault app displays horizontally or vertically. Pictured above are two separate screen shots.

Vault Play
Once everything is set up, playing music from the Vault is also a breeze. If you've ever used iTunes or any other app to play music, I'm pretty sure you'll find the Bluesound app familiar and fairly intuitive to use. You can view your music in the usual ways including by Album, Artist, Song, New (meaning newly added), and Playlist. Creating a Playlist is as simple as adding music to the play queue and tapping "Save" and naming it. To add an album to the playlist, just tap and hold its album cover and select "Play Album". You set the behavior pertaining to what happens when you select "Play Album" in the "Settings" menu and your options are "Last", "Next", or "Now". I prefer having these options show up in the playback menu but since I typically listen to albums in their entirety this did not present an issue for me. While I'm in the complaint department, there's no way to fast forward or rewind within a track, but you can skip to the end of a track, which is also OK by me since I also typically listen to everything all the way through except when doing silly things like testing for gapless playback, which works just fine, its handy to be able to skip to the end of a track.

There's also a search feature which works very well and very fast, returning just your search results which you can add to the playlist by tapping on it. I did find a slight lag when adding albums to the playlist from the search results and my impatient double tapping caused the same album to be added twice, which makes sense. You can also play a song from a play list out of order by simply tapping on it. There's an "Info" tab in the app which brings up related Artist information from Last.FM. within the app window for the currently playing song.

Ripping CDs with the Vault proved to be so hands off it took some getting used to. Slip your CD into the Vaults' slotted vertically oriented mouth, I guessed correctly as to CD orientation (label facing right) but if you're wrong the Vault spits it out, and wait. When the ripping is done, the CD gets ejected and your music all tagged and ready to play shows up in the app (ideally). A 60 minute CD, Juliane Banse and Andras Schiff playing Songs of Debussy and Mozart for example, took about 10 minutes to rip. You can listen to music while you rip so this didn't bother me one way or another. There is some self noise that occurs during ripping similar to what you get when you rip a CD using your computer.

I did encounter one glitch when ripping Robert Ashley's Private Parts; while the Vault ripped this album correctly and put its two tracks inside the Ashley- Private Parts (the album) folder, along with its cover art .jpg, inside the "Robert Ashley" folder, it showed up as two separate albums in the app. One album containing just track two and the other album contained track one plus a few tracks from Roxy Music and others. I have no explanation for this behavior but a reboot of the Vault put everything back where it should be but left the unnamed album with the stray tracks. Odd.

I will also point out the obvious which is since the Vault is itself a NAS, you can also rip CDs using your computer and just store them in the Vault. If you'd like to edit metadata for songs residing in the Vault, you'll have to use your computer and a metadata editor since this is not possible through the Vault app.

Vault Sound
I used the Vault in three ways—as a NAS, as a Server/Streamer/DAC, and as a Server/Streamer connected to the Auralic Vega DAC via Toslink. There's really not much to say about using the Vault as a NAS beyond what I've already said. I played back some music that was stored on the Vault on my iMac by dropping music files into Audirvana in playlist mode and everything worked just fine. I also compared the same track played back from the Vault's internal storage to the same track stored on my Synology NAS and did not notice an appreciable difference. I will also note up front that the Vault operates silently except when ripping CDs.

With the Vault connected directly to my Pass Int-30A with a pair of RCA ICs, the sound was surprisingly very pleasant if a touch on the dark side. The presentation lacked the sparkle, liveliness, and resolution I got when using the Auralic Vega DAC with the Vault, but one would hope that adding a $3,500 DAC would change things for the better. That said, using the Vault as an all-in-one device certainly has its pluses including simplicity and price.

I would equate the overall performance of the Vault as DAC to the DACs in the Class C category of our Greatest Bits (see the list). While it does not offer the last word in resolution or upper register sparkle, the Vault does offer a nicely textured and colorful sound. Instruments have a good amount of tone color but not the fuller rainbow of a DAC like the Auralic Vega which I used with the Vault via Toslink or the review Ayre QB-9-DSD which I've also been listening to on and off during the Vault review period.

The Vault's internal volume control worked well for what I consider normal listening levels but things get a bit bleached sounding at lower volumes. Overall I preferred using my Pass' volume control and would say that you could get by with the Vault's in a pinch but if you listen at lower levels you'll probably be happier setting the Vault's output to fixed and handling volume control somewhere else. I'm also not a big fan of an app's slider volume control and generally prefer the old-fashioned up/down clicking of the Pass' chunky aluminum remote. Am I showing my age?

With the Vault connected the Auralic Vega DAC (see review) via Toslink, the presentation gained more color, sparkle, resolution, and life. The Vault's Toslink output can handle up to 24/192 data which the Vega's front panel display confirmed. I can see someone starting out with just the Vault as an all-in-one player and some time down the road adding a DAC for improved performance when the mood and budget are right. That said, I would recommend starting out with just the Vault and seeing how that goes. You may find that its internal DAC suits your fancy and I had no problem listening to and enjoying music played through the Vault's DAC.

I've been sitting on a free Rdio trial subscription and what better time to use it than with the Vault. I created my Rdio account and was streaming album's worth of free music in no time. While Rdio apparently does not share its streaming bit rate, "You may be aware that we’re not actually sharing exact bitrates as we experiment with different rates and encoding formats in an effort to provide the best possible listening and user-experience", I have to believe its not 320 kbps since they'd brag about it if it was and the sound quality sounds just OK. But just OK is perfectly OK for background music and music discovery. I listened to the entirety of the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Live from KCRW and many more albums and had a blast doing so—in measured doses. Personally, I find listening to low bit rate streams to get trying over time, like having an itch I can't scratch, especially if I'm directing all of my attention to the listening experience.

I also let my fingers do the walking and went shopping at HighResAudio and decided on Nina Simone's Little Girl Blue in 24/96 (a great choice if I say so myself). You can set up the app so it automatically downloads your purchases or just tap "Update" in the HighResAudio window from within the app after you've made your purchase. I went auto and was listening to Little Girl Blue within minutes of making my purchase (you can listen to tracks before the complete album has downloaded). Pretty sweet if you ask me if a tad scary in a I-never-have-to-leave-my-chair kinda way.

Doing the Math on the Vault
A product like the Bluesound Vault basically begs for an accounting by function in order to suss its value. We have a 1TB NAS, a CD ripper, a 24/192-capable server and streamer with Toslink output, a 24/192-capable DAC, a digital volume control, and a nice responsive app to control everything. While you may be able to get all of these individual pieces for less than the Vault's $999 asking price, you'd have lots of boxes and cables and power cords to contend with and you'd have to deal with making them all work together with just one app to match the way the Vault works. Good luck with that.

For those people looking for a nice, simple, convenient and good-sounding one box/one app solution for ripping CDs, playing your ripped and downloaded files, streaming music from Internet radio, Rdio, Slacker Radio, and Qobuz, and purchasing music from HighResAudio, the Bluesound Vault has got your number and its one of one in today's' marketplace. Just add an iOS or Android device as a remote and you'll be rollin' in tunes in no time.

Stay tuned for a full report on the Vault in a complete Bluesound system.



Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Bluesound Vault review: Auralic Vega, Ayre QB-9-DSD

COMMENTS
torturegarden's picture

This looks interesting, especially at it's low price point. Can you add more storage and are there back up options? My current music server is an old Mac Book hooked up to an inexpensice DAC and is currently ~1.7 TB. I currently use two 2 TB hard drives, one for backup.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...you are limited to 1TB but you can add as much external storage as you need. For backing up, you can handle that in a number of ways since the Vault will show up as a shared network drive on your computer.

John C Freeman's picture

Hello Michael,

Is there a way to get this product to move the music around my house, say to one pre-existing Stero system downstairs and to another one in the home office-bedroom? In other words like a Sonos.

Thank you,

John

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'll also be reviewing the Powernode which is essentially a network player with a built in DAC and amplifier that works seamlessly with the Vault. You use the same app to control both devices. Bluesound also makes the Node which is the Powernode minus the amplifier and the Duo speaker system which I'll be reviewing along with the Powernode.

For your example, you could use the Vault for storage as well as have it connected to one your systems (the Vault requires an Ethernet connection), then use a Node or Powernode to "move the music around your house" via wi-fi or Ethernet.

Your question hits the nail on the head in that Bluesound is clearly going after the Sonos market space.

John C Freeman's picture

Michael,

Thank you for your reply and answer to my question.  Is there a way to transfer a 400 plus CD collection (already on an existing NAS) to the Vault without feeding the CD's into the machine one by one (a job that is not enjoyable)?

Thank you,

John

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Is there a way to transfer a 400 plus CD collection (already on an existing NAS) to the Vault without feeding the CD's into the machine one by one (a job that is not enjoyable)?

Sure. When you connect the Vault to your network with an Ethernet cable, it will show up as network attached storage (like your NAS) on your computer. You could then just drag and drop your music library from your NAS to the Vault.

sete's picture

Hi,

Is the the DAC in the Node the same one as in the Vault?

Cheers,

 

Sergio

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I will have an answer for you in my review of the Powernode (I don't have the answer yet).

deckeda's picture

Hi Michael. I noticed HIRESAUDIO (you were referring to the German music site, right?) uses a "Download Manager" application to aquire purchased music and that there's a Linux version.

Could that be installed on the Vault, thereby not requiring a computer to even be in the loop, assuming that (or similar stores) were your only source, apart from ripped CDs?

I'm not saying this would necessarily apply to me but I can see how it might be attractive to others, who "never" want to have to deal with a computer.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

The BluOS app allows you to search, purchase, download, and play music from HIGHRESAUDIO from within the app. No computer required.

deckeda's picture

Perhaps this aspect is the topic for another day, but anything that helps remove someone's computer from the equation should help, uh, spread the computer audio gospel so to speak.

We've lost something with file formats, software configurations and DAC considerations and that something hasn't been lost on music lovers who prefer to merely touch a virtual button on their semi-virtual phone to hear a song.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

As I said in the reivew:

"Pretty sweet if you ask me if a tad scary in a I-never-have-to-leave-my-chair kinda way."

;-)

deckeda's picture

A foot in each camp as it were.

But then I got handed the iPad and an album to hear from the Amazon cloud player AirPlayed over to the stereo.

Back to the couch!

jazz and cocktails's picture

congratulations Michael, you seem to have found the only album on Hiresaudio that's actually available in the U.S.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

It was my first pick as well. I do know that Bluesound is working on adding additional download sites and some of these players, like Qobuz, are working on expanding their geographic coverage.

jazz and cocktails's picture

Qobuz is great, and will "unlock" content if you ask nicely. i find hiresaudio virtually worthless in the US, which makes then an odd choice for Bluesound for their initial rollout.

arnolfini's picture

Hi Michael,

Obviously the Vault is a NAS and a Streamer (with DAC) and you have established that the sound quality from the NAS aspect is equivalent to that of your Synology.

On the streamer/transport front, you found that better sound can be obtained using the digital output with a better DAC, very much like the SqueezeBox Touch. However you do not compare the sound quality from the digital out of the Vault (+Auralic) to another streamer like the Touch or to a computer (+AUralic). Do you have a feel for the performance of the digital out? 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

....I would say that it works very well as a streamer using its Toslink out. I have the Bluesound Node here for review and I will be getting into some direct comparisons with the Touch since it is more of an apples to apples kinda deal.

sfjain's picture

I have it hooked up via toslink to my mcintosh D100 dac
And only get 14 bit. This is the response I got for bluesound.

"Thanks for your feedback and testing. Our engineering team has reviewed this in the Bluesound Lab and confirmed there does appear to be an issue with 24 bit playback via digital output only recognising the first 16 bits. This issue does to appear with digital playback. We are looking at implementing a fix very shortly and will keep you posted. Look for a resolution in a future software update of BluOS®.

A*** W****
Bluesound Support Crew Analyst"

It's been a little less than a year this has been out and this issue not fixed
I can't recommend it until this issue is resolved

Sam

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Thanks for this info. I'll contact Bluesound and see there has been any progress.
sfjain's picture

Thx mike.

I just looked at your review and looks like you got confirmation from the auralic vega of 24 bit. I was under the impression this was with all dac's. It's a phenomenal piece otherwise. I've been waiting for a server that wasn't in the megabucks for years. This is the first accessible at this price and works like a charm. It's simple to use and very responsive without glitches. I don't think I'll best it for a while. I'm happy because I waited on a source for year waiting on the long delayed olive one. For some one in need of a dac this is its an unbeatable value. Just have to get this glitch resolved.

sunnysal's picture

A great review, thank you. One of the Achilles heals of many of these rippers?servers is the use of proprietary OS, file systems, etc. that make backing up music, replacing HDs, etc. a headache. It seems form your review that we can forget about all these problems with this unit. I can simply copy files ripped on this unit to disks anywhere on my LAN without any special measures, right? If so, this unit should blow most other totally out of the water, its price to performance ratio is unheard of compared to most units out there and its corporate pedigree makes me comfortable I am getting a reliable unit! keep up the good work here. T

jazzman53's picture

Is the Toslink out volume controlled via the phone/tablet app or merely a pass thru?

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