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Bluesound boldly breaks back into What Hi-Fi? Awards music streamer category

Budget music streamer: Bluesound Node 21
(Image credit: Bluesound)

Hi-fi and streaming are increasingly seeing eye to eye as music services get into lossless audio and manufacturers release better-sounding streamers. The proof of the latter is in two new What Hi-Fi? Award winners in the music streamer category.

The first is the latest iteration of the Bluesound Node, which is now our favourite streamer 'under £750', taking the spoils from the Audiolab 6000N Play that has worn the crown at this end of the market for the past two years. The new, 2021-released Node is not only far more sonically talented than its predecessor (the 2018 Award-winning Node 2i), it is the best example of superb sound quality and vast features we have seen in the entry-level streaming space to date. It was a closely fought contest between it and the Audiolab, but a more musical sound and more seamless user experience decided the result in the end.

Music streamer: Arcam ST60

The Arcam ST60 is our favourite streamer between £1000 and £1500 (Image credit: Arcam)

If you have a bit more cash to splash, the Cambridge CXN V2 is (and has been for years) our go-to for the step-up in sound quality it offers over the budget entrant. You don't necessarily get more streaming features at a higher price point – music service and file type support are generally the same, irrespective of cost – but in this instance, a jump from the Bluesound to the Cambridge does get a screen display as well as USB (type B) and coaxial inputs.

The other newcomer in 2021's haul sits above the Cambridge. The Arcam ST60 is a music streamer we had the pleasure of testing only recently – and we instantly took a liking to it for its engagingly (and very Arcam-like) full-bodied, clear and expressive sound. It's a convincing display over 2020's winner at this price bracket, the NAD C 658, and it backs up its sonic talents by offering almost the full sweep of wireless features plus a vast selection of physical digital connections. If you don't mind the traditional aesthetic and sub-best-in-class dedicated app, it's a mighty fine way to add streaming to your system.

Sitting in its usual place at the top end of the category is the Naim ND5 XS 2, which remains unbeaten in the 'over £1500' price bracket for yet another year. That's not to say there isn't a higher-priced music streamer out there that doesn't perform better, of course – there certainly is! – but we feel that this moderately priced Naim represents a great value higher-end option. It's naturally the most expressive and rhythmically on-point streamer of all our winners, and we wouldn't be surprised to see it (or a future variant of it) in our Awards list for years to come.

So, which of these four Best Buy winners will take home the music streamer category's Product of the Year gong? All be will revealed on the evening of Wednesday 3rd November, when we hold our annual ceremony and announce these most prestigious of What Hi-Fi? Awards. It fell to the budget Audiolab last year, so will it stick at the entry-level space and go to the Bluesound or move up the price ranks? 

MORE:

New AirPods announced! AirPods 3 are official, support Dolby Atmos spatial audio with head tracking

Read our Arcam ST60 review

Read our Naim ND5 XS 2 review

See all our What Hi-Fi? Awards 2021 winners

Here's our pick of the best music streamers you can buy at every budget

Stuck at the first hurdle? Here's how to add a streamer to your hi-fi system

Becky is Hi-Fi and Audio editor of What Hi-Fi?, and has been part of the team for almost eight years, with her current position preceded by roles as a staff writer and news editor. During that time she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching horror movies and hunting for gluten-free cake.