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).
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.
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.
I had problem discerning which was the “hard copy” and which the stream. And generally the latter received the race. As a discerning (okay, obsessive) listener, I can’t let you know how comforting it’s to lastly hear streaming music that’s uncompromised. Recordings that replicate the unique masters, quite than seeming one step faraway from actuality; that sound veiled—not fairly as sharp-edged and targeted, with a tad much less forcefulness and curve within the bass notes, much less chunk within the brass.
Norah Jones’ basic “Come Away With Me” was filled with Technicolor, 3D moments within the 24-bit, 192kHz therapy from Qobuz. Annother odd however telling deal with was listening to cricket-like tape-recorder sounds chirping within the background on Jackson Browne’s blended hotel-room/concert-stage recording of “The Road,” from his musical verité-styled Running on Empty. I by no means heard these tape reels spinning on the unique vinyl urgent.
On the fresh-baked music entrance, I felt like I used to be sitting within the entrance row listening to Chick Corea’s new Plays solo live performance mash-up of well-known jazz and classical airs; likewise with the sunny, spirit-lifting, gospel/soul/jazz fusion of Gregory Porter’s All Rise. And I gladly took a deep intestine punch from Public Enemy’s slamming Fight the Power: Remix 2020.
The Bluesound person expertise
Don’t let my warning concerning the Powernode 2i’s studying curve scare you away from contemplating this machine. BluOS has developed through the years and continues to enhance. Its present menu construction, with its giant album artwork, is greatest at school. On the different hand, I’ve a significant gripe with the way in which Bluesound expects you to navigate its BluOS Controller app.
Diving into the core music-streaming companies is simple sufficient, however performing another duties will be complicated and tedious. It takes approach too many faucets, for instance, simply to arrange a station record or playlist as one the 40 accessible presets. I’d a lot favor a easy “tap the heart symbol to save your favorite.”
Bluesound touts Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, however you’ll must memorize extremely particular phrases to name up one of many 40 presets you programmed. You can’t simply say “Play Beyoncé,” as an illustration, it is advisable say “Alexa, ask Blue Voice to play preset four on Living Room” (or no matter identify you’ve assigned the Powernode 2i). Hardcore smart-home dwellers, in the meantime, will admire the system integrations the Powernode 2i provides, together with Control4, Crestron, Elan, and Lutron.
Audio settings are one other head scratcher. A bunch meant for EQ are mainly ineffective, and one other one is totally counterintuitive: Plug in a powered subwoofer, as I did, and also you’ll must navigate to “Select Attached Speakers” within the app. Once there, you’ll faucet a button labeled “No Subwoofer.” This prompts a crossover to route frequencies under 80Hz from the stereo audio system to the subwoofer out. If you don’t have a sub, you’ll must make it possible for the “With Subwoofer” icon is glowing. Got it? Took me some time.
The Powernode 2i additionally reacts poorly to community outages. Even quick breaks prompted it to lose its connection to my Xfinity XB7 gateway, which meant I might not management the participant through Android, iOS, or Windows till I rebooted every little thing.
Happily, there’s a straightforward repair for this. Go into your router’s person interface (or ask Bluesound’s tech-support team to do it for you) and reserve the IP deal with assigned to the Powernode 2i. That change made a world of distinction for me, altering my outlook from “Enough already!” to “I could happily live with this.” The apps on my Lenovo laptop computer, iMac desktop, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and iPad now all run easy and tremendous fast. I’m nonetheless encountering the occasional app lockup on my iPhone X, however Bluesound instructed me “we’re looking into it. We’re never finished tweaking this product.”
I had hoped that the Powernode 2i would use HDMI to show album artwork on my TV, however it doesn’t. Its sole function is to play audio coming in out of your TV. And it does that completely high-quality.
The Powernode 2i is for music lovers who care deeply about audio high quality and are prepared to undergo with a number of quirks and a less-than-stellar person interface to get it. Most of its shortcomings are software program associated and subsequently fixable. There’s no assure that may ever occur, although, so don’t purchase one if usability trumps musicality in your e book. Check out Sonos’ choices, as an alternative, simply know that you simply received’t get high-res audio that approach.
Bluesound packs numerous worth into this machine, but when you have already got an amplifier you want, it additionally provides the passive Bluesound Node 2i at $549. It has all the identical options much less the amplifier and HDMI. We’ll have a overview of that mannequin quickly.