When a new company bursts into a competitive marketplace and immediately produces impressive results, we have to hand it to those in charge when they still say “we can do better”.
And that’s exactly what high-res multiroom brand Bluesound has done, after a hugely successful first year in which it picked up our Product of the Year Award for 2014.
Over the past year, the company listened to feedback and has decided to redesign the range from the ground up, offering a more streamlined look with new features and a few new additions to the range to boot.
This means Bluesound’s offering now comprises the Node 2 streamer (£430), the Powernode 2 streamer/amplifier (£700), the Vault 2 music server and CD ripper (£1000), and the Pulse Mini (£420), Pulse Flex (£270) and the original Pulse (£600) wireless speakers.
The Pulse joins the 2.1 Duo speaker package (£900) from last year as the only products to make a return this year without any changes.
The designs for the Bluesound second generation of products (Vault 2 above) errs towards a matte finish
The new look for the Node 2, Powernode 2 and Vault 2 is a welcome one. While last year’s look was striking, the shiny plastic finish did feel a little on the cheap side – not to mention that it was a nightmare for using with a traditional rack.
This design feels much more grown up, better thought out and thankfully less of a haven for fingerprints too.
MORE: Bluesound Node 2 review
The rest of the changes cover functionality and usability. For example, there are now both optical and analogue inputs across the range for connecting digital and legacy sources for multi-room playback, a subwoofer out for adding more bass and a built-in headphone amp for private listening.
Bluetooth aptX is now built in as standard (previously you had to use a dongle), the USB input is higher powered to accommodate any hard drive you’ve got and a new wi-fi chipset ensures a faster, more stable connection to the devices you choose not to hardwire. And MQA compatibility comes as standard, so you can benefit from streaming MQA Master albums on Tidal.
Finally, there is a more powerful ARM 9 processor in all of the new additions to the range, which makes the user interface quicker and smoother to use than before.
Bluesound quotes a 20 per cent rise in speed (and a 50 per cent reduction in power consumption), which you’ll see through the likes of shorter indexing and load times.
Ease of use
Set-up remains the same as last year – a web-based operation that could be a touch simpler if only it was integrated into the free iOS/Android app.
Each speaker has to be set up individually on to your network rather than any instant Sonos-like pairing, but at least it’s something you have to do only once.
When everything is online, the play/mute button, which sits in the middle of the top-mounted touch controls, will glow blue to show you’re ready to go.
Each speaker on the network will show up automatically within the app, with easily labelled options for grouping them together and so on.
More after the break
It will also help you to pull in music from NAS drives on the same network, and is capable of playing back files up to 24-bit/192kHz, as well as accessing some of the most popular streaming services, including Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz.
FLAC files on our MusicM8 NAS are indexed quickly and accurately, and show up with associated artwork under the local sources section of the app, with streaming services showing up just underneath.
Spotify works via Spotify Connect, but the rest of the apps we test show up within Bluesound’s app itself, so there’s no flicking backwards and forwards between screens.
The majority of the work behind Bluesound’s second generation has been spent on improving things that needed it, and its sound quality certainly wasn’t an area that needed addressing.
Thankfully that means it’s largely been left well alone, which is no bad thing – we loved the sound of the original Bluesound and that sentiment remains with the new generation.
We set up a system comprising a Node 2, Powernode 2, Pulse and Pulse Mini and find the individual components work seamlessly together – even over an entirely wireless network. Playback is snappy and lag free, with grouped speakers playing simultaneously without any delay.
We’ve already given the Node 2 a five-star review, and revisiting it for the full system review reminds us just why. It’s as expressive as it is subtle, able to pick out fine detail and give real depth and insight to instruments and vocals alike.
That’s not to say it’s a soft touch – turn up the tempo and the Node 2 is able to jump straight in with energy and enthusiasm, offering a punchy but refined performance across the board.
Ideally, we would take a touch more attack when tracks really get rough and ready, but with the level of musicality and insight on offer, it’s a compromise we’re willing to accept.
On top of the improvements Bluesound has introduced across the range, the Powernode 2 has also seen a slight change to its specifications, in that it now has a bigger amplifier and a larger power supply than before. This means it can now deliver 60W per channel into 8 Ohms – up a full 10W on last year’s model.
It picks up where the Node 2 left off, showing a similar level of subtlety and agility, but with some added bite, which we find just slightly lacking from the streamer.
It’s a balanced presentation and the clarity is second to none. Whether we’re listening to Beethoven or Beyonce, the Powernode 2 can adapt its character to suit.
What’s really nice here though, is how the Powernode 2 handles dynamics. It’s capable of conveying real differences between the softer and more powerful sections of the music, moving between the two with a level of fluidity and confidence that makes it such an insightful listen.
For £700, it’s one of our favourite parts of the system, delivering a spacious and exciting presentation that is eager to please.
Moving to the wireless speakers and a play through of Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes shows the Pulse to be as rich and full bodied as we remember, offering up a detailed, powerful performance that delivers real weight to the punching bassline without ever becoming sluggish.
That said, if we had to choose between the two, we might just prefer its little brother. The new Pulse Mini might not be as capable of the same level of room-filling sound, but there’s a touch more refinement there, with a tonal balance that’s a little more neutral.
The midrange is clear and articulate, with a treble that sings, even at volume, and though its low end is no match for the powerful Pulse, it’s far from lacking, with agility and punch in spades.
Though we didn’t get to test it here due to its slightly later release date, we feel it’s worth mentioning the Pulse Flex – the range’s smallest speaker – and its optional rechargeable battery.
The battery brings real flexibility to your multiroom setup possibilities, giving you the option to take a speaker outside into the garden, for example. Sonos should take note.
We’re big fans of the new Bluesound range. It sounds as good as ever, with some well-judged improvements and great new additions making it a stronger proposition than ever.
Price will be a consideration – it’s a little more costly than much of the competition – but if you’re looking for a multiroom system that’s flexible, will support a high-resolution library and sounds excellent, it’s a consideration worth making.
See all our music streamer reviews