It’s rare to see a new company enter the hi-fi market with a brand-new product range and absolutely nail it, but that’s what Bluesound did when it launched last year.
It might have the backing of established brand NAD, but few could have expected the fledgling company to do quite as well as it did, scoring a full house of five star reviews and taking home two Best Buy Awards in competitive categories.
This year it’s back, with an upgraded, refreshed design and a larger line up. The second-generation Node 2 is the one of the more affordable components in the range and is a non-amplified streamer for hooking up to your existing hi-fi.
The most obvious change from last year is the design. There has been a big departure from the previously striking, but rather plasticky look, and is instead replaced by something altogether more understated and rack-friendly.
No longer a shiny cube, the Node 2 is now a slim, flat box with a matte finish and around half-rack dimensions.
There’s not much more to the design – the touch-sensitive controls for play/pause, volume and track sit on the top (and are more numerous than on the original Node), with an LED on the front that will flash certain colours to help you during set-up.
While the design has been toned down, connectivity has been ramped up following feedback from Bluesound owners.
Now there are a few more inputs to play with, including one each of optical and analogue inputs to match the Node 2’s outputs, as well as a new coaxial digital out and a higher-powered type A USB port.
Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX is on board too (no separate dongle required) and there’s a built-in headphone amp and dedicated headphone output.
As with last year, the Node 2 is capable of playing uncompressed FLAC, ALAC and WAV files up to 24-bit/192kHz, as well as other popular formats such as MP3, AAC, WMA and AIFF.
More after the break
There’s no remote in the box, so you’ll need to download the Bluesound app (available for iOS and Android) to control the Node’s playback. This opens up the Node to a whole host of streaming services, including Spotify, Rdio, Deezer, Qobuz, Tidal and TuneIn Radio.
If you’ve bought the Node 2 as part of Bluesound’s multi-room system, it’s here that you’ll also be able to see and control all your other devices as well. At the time of testing, the app remains the same as last year, and while functional, it could do with some work to make it as slick as the best control apps out there.
We’d like to see the wi-fi setup process built into it (it’s currently browser-based), a universal search across all sources as well as some more intuitive ways to deal with playlists, such as the ability to play a track immediately on selection. They’re niggles, but a better app would be a real feather in Bluesound’s cap.
While there have been some internal tweakings, such as a faster, more powerful processor and a new wi-fi chipset for a more stable connection, the rest of the workings of the Node 2 have remained the same.
That means that alongside its improved design and features, the Node 2 delivers a similar performance to its predecessor – no bad thing considering its success last year.
Angels by The xx is the perfect track to get started, and it immediately shows off the expressive, revealing nature of the Node 2. Vocals are full of texture, focus and detail, while the instrumental hangs beautifully in between.
It’s a recording that relies on subtlety and accuracy and the Node 2 has no trouble in delivering.
Switch up the tempo to a Spotify stream of Disclosure’s Willing & Able and the Node 2 springs to life, clinging onto the pulsing bassline with rhythmic fervour.
As the beat starts to build, the Node 2 is never fazed by complexities, showing a dynamic adeptness for switching between the laid-back verses and more involved chorus without a stutter.
The bass is precise in its punchiness – it doesn’t deliver the most powerful low end, but it’s solid and controlled throughout.
It balances itself well with the rest of the frequency range, which means nothing feels out of place – the midrange is focused and full of detail, offering plenty of insight to high-res tracks and streams alike, while the treble is clean and open.
It’s only with Bluetooth that you’ll hear this refined character slip just slightly, but it’s largely forgiving and will make the best of whatever file type you throw at it.
There’s a really likeable enthusiasm and fluidity to the Node 2’s character that works across all genres, and while we’d take just a touch more attack for really upbeat tracks, the levels of fine detail and musicality this delivers on more than makes up for it.
The Node 2’s performance has us as entertained as its predecessor did last year, and is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your system with minimal fuss and outlay.
With its improved connectivity and better design, alongside a performance as good as this, the Node 2 is now a more attractive proposition than ever.
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