Streaming & Digital Review

Node 2i Wireless Streamer From Bluesound 

Part of the company’s multi-room project, the Node 2i features a host of wireless technologies that continue to evolve

I’m a bit late off the mark on this one, I know but I’ve been meaning to check out this streamer for some time and failed to get around to it. That said, there is value in splitting from the crowd and producing a later review. Let me tell you why. 

Even after the initial launch and the early reviews, I was continually reminded of the 2i’s presence by a stream (pun intended) of updates and enhancements. 

2i Wireless Streamer From Bluesound 

Which only proves how committed Bluesound is to this product and how the company sees it as a basis, a platform to build upon. 

This one point is very important, deserves to be dwelt upon for a moment and is hardly ever talked about in the media.

Bluesound’s post-launch actions should breed customer confidence, a fragile thing at the best of times.

I don’t know how many products I’ve seen hit the streets with a loud bang, seen lots of early reviews, heard lots of fuss from the attendant company amongst the lights, music and party hats, heard about the plans and the in-house developments only to realise, five minutes afterwards, that the company has dropped the entire product like a hot potato, turned its back upon it a month later and denied it had ever released it after six months. 

2i Wireless Streamer From Bluesound 

Not with Bluesound and not with the Node 2i. That’s important if you’re looking to make an investment in this thing. Hence, this review covers a rapidly maturing product.

Benefitting from initial research ploughed, by mutual owner Lenbrook, into the NAD M50.2, the Node 2i is the recipient of thought and time taken. Powered by an ARM Cortex A9 speeding along at 1GHz, you’ll find a 32bit/192kHz DAC inside. On the rear of the chassis, audio inputs include a coax and optical while audio outs include a pair of fixed RCAs, coax/optical, 12V Trigger, subwoofer and – on the front – a headphone socket for a 3.5mm jack. 

2i Wireless Streamer From Bluesound 

Digitally? You’ll also find a USB-A at the back which will take USB stick sources and a Type B for servicing.

Internet services include the usual hordes: Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Napster and more. Internet radio is there too.

Most recently, the 2i now supports Amazon Music HD and Ultra HD.

Sound quality has been addressed within the design, just look at the internal isolation between the compact wireless technologies and the basic audio kit for proof of that. Speaking of wireless, that’s dual band (802.11ac) and that comes with Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD, via Qualcomm CSR8675 chip, that runs both ways so you can receive a signal for Bluetooth headphone use, for example.

2i Wireless Streamer From Bluesound 

AirPlay 2 is also included which will aid multi-room set-up, no end. AirPlay 2 also gives you more options for control, including using Siri voice assistance. Amazon and Google Assistant can also be used in this respect too. By grouping a Node 2i with older Bluesound Players in the BluOS App, you can also add AirPlay 2 compatibility to your entire BluOS system.

Finally, the RC1 (£49) remote control should be available now as an additional, alternative control option. 

INSTALLATION

Locating and loading BluOS onto my iPhone was easy. Looking for the 2i via my home’s Wi-Fi was a tad difficult. Now, my Wi-Fi is not the fastest or the most reliable so that might be something to do with my location/broadband but the app steadfastly refused to see the machine. During the tests, I actually much preferred attaching the 2i to a wired connection. In my case, I used a high-speed CAT 6a cable for enhanced signal transfer speeds. 

If sound quality is everything, you should be running the 2i wired anyway. The latter will produce inherently superior sound quality than a wireless link. 

Desktop App

Once the app saw my 2i, it then updated the software automatically. This was a five-stage process which lasted a few minutes only. In the meantime, the 2i produced a red/green flashing light show to indicate that it was receiving the updates. I recommend this action as a first step before use. Getting the late updates may improve usability, compatibility and sound quality.

While I was waiting, I switched on Bluetooth via my phone. The 2i was seen on my phone’s Bluetooth list, immediately. No pairing buttons had to be pressed on the 2i’s chassis.

SOUND QUALITY

Once the All Done! notification flashed on my phone to indicate the completion of the updates, the 2i shone a rather confidant blue light and my app popped up a menu of source choices. 

I started with radio via TuneIn and dived into a bit of chat via BBC Radio 4. Chatty radio is often ignored during streamer tests but I actually see it as the most valuable source in the entire test because of vocal tonal nuances and changes in ambience. 

Tablet App

For example, I was intrigued to hear tonal differences from three voices. More than that, though, I also successfully heard ambient effects. The latter was actually extremely important in terms of evaluating the 2i’s overall sound quality because the sounds behind the voices or the differences in modulation of the voices because of the room are often some of the most difficult suites of information that a streamer like this can project. 

So I heard a studio broadcast chatting about Chinese food. The studio sounded relatively spacious with the microphone at an appreciable distance from the mouth. The guest Chinese chef wasn’t in the studio. It sounded like she was outside on the street with a microphone even further from the mouth. Finally, I heard a continuity announcer. Rich, fruity, obviously sitting in a small, enclosed space with the microphone near to the mouth. The voice full of texture and resonance. 

That I heard all of this from a mere streamer was intriguing to say the least. It also proved a point, that the 2i offers a sound quality that is high in detail and clarity, low in noise and with a potent midrange insight. In many ways, this was the most valuable part of the sound test because it revealed just how sensitive the 2i could be in terms of refinement. 

I then tried Swissgroove Radio – well, why not? – listened and was impressed with the overall clarity and low noise presentation from this pop/funk track. The soundstage was not only broad but the attendant detail was rich. I noted the fine treble performance, focused yet delicate.

I then switched to Amazon Music and sent a stream of Dua Lipa’s Don’t Start Now via Airplay to the 2i. A still lower noise stream sourced this music, like the TuneIn app above, produced a rock-solid streamed connection without the hint of a break or interruption of any sort.  

The quality was very good indeed. Soundstage produced a wide and spacious output with a relatively neutral presentation. Frequencies were disciplined with a rhythmic bass output to drive the music forward.

2i Wireless Streamer From Bluesound 

I then plugged in a USB stick and played jazz via Sonny Rollins’ St Thomas at 24bit/96kHz. Sound quality was admirable. Dynamic reach may have been clipped at the extremes while midrange insight hit a glass ceiling and was a little forward during sax crescendos at high volumes.

That could have been me, though. I was busy using a Wi-Fi extender in my listening room – digital noise from that can have an affect. That said, there was much to like here. I was happy to hear the instrumental separation and how the ear was able to easily pick up either frequency extreme with ease. Hence, the cymbal taps were precise and informative yet the upright bass was never, at any time, masked or hidden by the associated cacophony from the sax and piano. The bass was focused and occupied enough space to create a foundation for the track as a whole.

2i Wireless Streamer From Bluesound 

The midrange focus was an obvious highlight of the music as a whole. The 2i was able to dig deep into the mix to reveal everything. The lot. No piece of information was left on the studio floor. The 2i offer nothing if not musical value here. 

2i Wireless Streamer From Bluesound 

I then looked at Bluetooth via my phone. Pushing a Paul McCartney track, My Valentine, via a lossy file to the 2i, I was happy with the overall playback. Yes, the inherent file type lacked finesse and detail while the 2i repeated that slight forward element at high volumes in the upper mids (nothing harsh you understand, it’s subtle although it is there) but the overall sound was fairly neutral and balanced with no obvious nasties to make you wince. Bluetooth can sometimes produce an edgy and brittle playback, especially via a lossy file but the 2i performed well here, giving a rather civilised presentation. Instrumental separation was satisfyingly implemented meaning that space was able to infuse the soundstage and in between each instrument, adding a relatively full and wholesome tone to the music. 

CONCLUSION

Compact, well built, fully featured and easy to use, what’s not to like? The price is spot on. I’m more than happy with the sound quality, especially at this price point. The Node 2i tackled all sources – whatever their stripe – with aplomb. Whether they be streamed from devices, over the Internet or plugged in directly, this Swiss Army knife of a streamer maintains a high quality of sound across the board. A brilliant little box and no mistake.


BLUESOUND NODE 2i WIRELESS STREAMER 

Price: £499

Website: www.bluesound.com 

GOOD: build, features, overall sound quality, easy to set up

BAD: nothing 

RATING: 8


If you would like to purchase this turntable, you can from the following links: 

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REFERENCE

Arcam rPlay

Audiolab 6000A amplifier

Spendor A1 speakers

Tellurium Blue Cables

Blue Horizon Professional Rack System

Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    John Norris
    12th December 2019 at 5:40 pm

    Paul, I liked this review. Usually when you review one box solutions you sniff out some noise but it seems scant here. I have the Bluesound 2, the unit that preceded this one. If you heard that, and I don’t know if you did, do you think the sonics of the 2i are worthy of an upgrade on my version 2? I do have an iPhone so Airplay would be useful but it’s not something on its own that would validate the purchase and trade in of the old one. But if the 2i is a sonic upgrade then I think I could sell my existing one on eBay for approx £200-£250 and that would partly find the 2i. Opinion?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      13th December 2019 at 12:22 pm

      Hi John – there was a bit of noise but it seemed to derive more from my WiFi Extender. To be honest, I’d stick your 2. The 2i is nice but I’d be looking for bigger, better value for money upgrade. The 2i is worth £500. Sound is excellent but £500 is about right. Save your cash on this one 🙂

      • Reply
        John Norris
        19th December 2019 at 11:11 pm

        That’s sound advice, I am definitely going to do that. I don’t want a minor upgrade. The Node 2 will do just fine. I would love to see a review of the Meridian 210 streamer (hint hint)

        • Reply
          Paul Rigby
          20th December 2019 at 4:05 pm

          I’ll see what I can do, John 🙂

  • Reply
    MarkB
    13th December 2019 at 5:02 pm

    First, for Paul
    Good review. You are spot-on about Bluesound’s commitment. I have the previous gen Node 2 and it gets regular updates that enhance functionality. The controller app (mine is Android) keeps improving too.

    Then, for John Norris
    I have not heard the Node 2i, but my impression, from Bluesound product info, is that sound quality is the same as the Node 2. The “improvements” are confined to features like Airplay, Bluetooth output, and upgraded WiFi. For an improvement in sound quality I would recommend using a high quality external DAC with the Node 2. I have one that uses the ESS Sabre 9018 chip. It’s connected to the Node’s digital coax output. The external DAC gives a cleaner, more detailed, more dynamic sound than the Node 2’s internal DAC.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      13th December 2019 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, MarkB.

    • Reply
      John Norris
      19th December 2019 at 11:12 pm

      I already have the Node 2 plugged into the Rega DAC-R, Mark.

  • Reply
    Eli
    13th December 2019 at 5:27 pm

    I’ve had a Bluesound Node 2i for a few months now. I originally purchased it to compare directly with my Sonos Connect and then a Sonos Port that I later purchased.

    Here’s my experience:
    The Sonos app is much better than the Bluesound app. Easier to use, less likely to crash and freeze.

    Node 2i wins with sound quality. It’s not even close. The built-in DAC is really, really good. I also directly compared it with an older high-end ($5,500 when new!) AVR’s DAC and my ears preferred the Node 2i’s DAC.

    User experience goes to Sonos. My Node 2i has all the latest updates and yet, if I’m using it on wi-fi as most of us will be, the Node 2i crashes constantly. Listening just last night for about 2 hours and I had to unplug the Node 2i two times to get it to reboot. Then it crashed a third time…. tired of this experience, I simply switched over to my Sonos Port.

    While the Port might not sound as good as the Node 2i, nothing kills the mood/enjoyment of music like faulty gear.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really want to like the Node 2i and want to replace all 5 of my Sonos boxes with the Bluesound but the current performance is disappointing at best. Also, Pandora might not be high-res audio but the lack of Pandora is ridiculous.

    Bluesound, I’m cheering for you guys but this product needs some work.

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      13th December 2019 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Eli – interesting stuff.

    • Reply
      MarkB
      13th December 2019 at 7:17 pm

      I have had my Node 2 since August 2017, so over 2 years now, and it has NEVER EVER crashed or needed rebooting. I use it solely on WiFi. The help/diagnostics screen typically reports a signal strength of ‘medium”, about -63 db, so not especially strong. Given the severity of your problem I would say you should contact Bluesound support and see if they can help. Hopefully the 2i’s new “better” WiFi is not the problem. Maybe your’s is defective?

    • Reply
      Eli
      19th December 2019 at 4:54 am

      UPDATE:
      Came home this evening and decided to give it another shot tonight. The last time I had used it, the Node 2i locked up and refused to respond to commands from the app. Because of this, I wasn’t shocked to discover that I needed to do a power disconnect and reconnect cycle.

      When the Node 2i came back online, I was annoyed to find that the Node 2i had lost all memory of my setup – reverting back to factory settings.

      After repeating the setup, I began listening to music through the Node 2i. Oh my, this little black box sounds amazing with tubes and horns. Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Daft Punk, Stevie Ray Vaughan… I’ve been listening for roughly 4 hours without a single hiccup. Hopefully that’s the end of my challenges because I am a big fan of this product when it’s working properly.

      • Reply
        Paul Rigby
        19th December 2019 at 10:49 am

        Phew! Hopefully all is well from now on Eli.

      • Reply
        Eli
        29th December 2019 at 3:55 am

        Additional Update:
        Over a week of frequent listening without any of the previously-seen issues reappearing.

        We even experienced a brief power outage when I turned off the wrong breaker in the middle of replacing a light fixture. Once the power was back on, the Node 2i quickly reconnected to my network and even remembered the album I had been enjoying prior to the power loss.

        Time to buy a couple more of these awesome-sounding little black boxes!

        • Reply
          Paul Rigby
          29th December 2019 at 1:54 pm

          Good to hear, Eli – glad everything is ok.

  • Reply
    geoffrey
    14th December 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Hello,

    Indeed the Node 2 is very stable and the app is also lovely.

    Best regards
    Geoff

  • Reply
    Gar
    15th December 2019 at 11:30 pm

    The Node units do sound decent and they are a reasonably priced streamers, but the App is broke. Not sure if anyone has been trying to hook the units up via Ethernet but I have 2 newer units and the App quits working once you hook the unit up. Everything else you plug into the cable works, computers other device etc.. but once you hook up via the Node 2i the App doesn’t work. Anyone know of this issue?

    • Reply
      Paul Rigby
      16th December 2019 at 11:43 am

      Hi Gar – talk to your supplier about this because I had no issues with the App with Ethernet.

    • Reply
      Mark E Brauer
      17th December 2019 at 2:15 pm

      GAR
      It sounds like your Ethernet and your WiFi, even though using the same router, are on different “networks”. Bluesound requires the streamer and the device running the controller app be on the same network. I searched the Internet for “ethernet wifi different network names” and found users describing cases where the Ethernet connections and the WiFi connections on the same router do not communicate with each other. This causes printers not to be accessible, makes file transfers to other devices impossible, etc. Also, with multi-band WiFi, one band could be “on the network” while the other one isn’t.
      Hope this helps.

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