Bluesound Powernode 2i (with HDMI) review: Bodacious sound from a micro-sized box

    Don’t let the petite dimensions and minimalist design of the $899 Bluesound Powernode 2i deceive you. This self-amplified, multi-room streaming music participant is filled with audio goodness and can ship blissful sonic experiences from almost any supply: Local or community storage, a disc participant, your cellular machine, or your streaming service of alternative—together with their high-res tiers. You can use a turntable, too, however you’ll must plug it right into a preamp, first. Just be ready for a person expertise that’s, let’s consider, a wee bit tough across the edges.

    In my e book, the Powernode 2i’s options, capabilities, and efficiency are value coping with a number of operational quirks that have to be mastered, tolerated, or fastened (extra on that in a bit). Its pluses far outweigh its negatives, identical to that abiding love of your life whose eccentricities you be taught to disregard. I imply, what’s to not love right here? You get whistle-clean amplification (60 watts per channel), high-resolution audio assist (as much as 24-bit decision with sampling charges as excessive as 192kHz), assist for each vital file format (together with FLAC, Apple Lossless, and MQA), strong connectivity choices (USB, gigabit ethernet, dual-band 802.11ac, Airplay 2, two-way Bluetooth 5.0), various inputs and outputs (Toslink, combo Toslink/3.5mm in; 3.5mm headphone, subwoofer out), and even HDMI ARC assist. Just add your personal loudspeakers.

    Unique on this product class, the Powernode 2i can even stream music to your favourite Bluetooth headphones—with assist for the aptX HD codec and distant transport management (pause/play, quantity up/down) in case your cans even have these options. Prefer old-school wired headphones? Just plug them into the 3.5mm jack on the entrance of the unit. I obtained my groove on with Andover Audio’s PM-50 planar magnetics (newly up to date with the larger-cavity ear cups I’d been asking for).

    Jonathan Takiff / IDG

    Bluesound’s Powernode 2i has all of the digital and analog connectivity you would ask for, together with HDMI with ARC.

    It’s laborious to consider the quantity of tech packed into this 3.8-pound chunk of a factor measuring simply 8.7 x 7.5 x 2.75 inches (WxDxH). It even has touch-sensitive controls on its high floor (play/pause, quantity up/down, earlier/subsequent monitor), or you’ll be able to handle it along with your cellular machine (Android or iOS), voice instructions (Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant), or Bluesound’s RC1 Remote Controller (a $59 add-on). It doesn’t sip a lot juice, both: 2.3 watts in standby and hovering round 13 watts throughout operation, in accordance with my Belkin power monitor.

    Streaming high-res audio

    The Powernode 2i is the primary (and nonetheless solely) built-in streaming tuner/amp combo I’ve encountered on this worth vary that may ship the high-resolution tiers of Qobuz, Tidal HiFi (together with MQA), and Amazon Music HD. Bluesound helps nearly each different service, too, together with Spotify, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Neil Young Archives, Nugs.internet, TuneIn, and extra. Curiously, nevertheless, Apple Music, Pandora, and Sirius/XM are not at the moment supported (except you stream them out of your cellular machine over Bluetooth). You can even use the Powernode 2i with what simply may be the world’s greatest music-listening software program: Roon—for those who don’t thoughts paying $120 a yr or $700 for a lifetime license.

    Bluesound’s competitors doesn’t measure up by way of assist for high-resolution audio. Sonos delivers an unparalleled person expertise, and it helps virtually each streaming service underneath the solar, however even its latest-generation S2 parts are restricted to sampling charges as much as 48kHz (albeit with 24-bit decision), and that’s solely with FLAC and Apple Lossless tracks. Older Sonos components are limited to 16-bit/48kHz.

    bluesound powernode 2i caption in email Jonathan Takiff / IDG

    Bluesound’s Powernode 2i has touch-senstive transport controls on high of its chassis.

    Bose isn’t almost as open to streaming companies—it doesn’t supply Tidal or Qobuz—and CD decision is nearly as good because it will get from any supply with its two traces of networked audio gear, Smart Speakers and SoundTouch. Russound provides Hi-Res-certified audio streamers, however neither the MBX-PRE I reviewed in July nor its amplified sibling, the MBX-AMP, can deal with 24-bit FLAC information. Russound helps Tidal, however not Tidal HiFi, Qobuz, or Amazon HD.

    Powernode 2i listening checks

    The Powernode 2i’s detailed, ethereal, and full bodied sound will impress even sonic snobs who restrict their listening to pristine 18-gram vinyl pressings, SACDs, Blu-Ray Audio, and DVD-Audio discs. I carried out a collection of A/B comparisons of high-res tracks streamed from Qobuz and Tidal HiFi with the identical tracks performed from CDs on Oppo and Pioneer common gamers linked to the Powernode 2i. I chosen tracks recorded by well-known studio perfectionists: Dire Straits, Jackson Browne, Norah Jones, Donald Fagen, and Stevie Wonder. I used a pair of Q Acoustics’ 3020i bookshelf audio system (deliciously reasonably priced at $329) and a classic MB Quart subwoofer to spherical out the underside.

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