If you are like me and love classic audio equipment, in today's modern world of streaming there is always the fear you may finally have to retire your older setup. The speakers may sound fantastic and the tube amplifier may still manage some amazing sound, but the lack of any digital input does put those older systems at a disadvantage—at least without some help. This is where the Bluesound Node 2 comes in. This little device brings the world of digital music to your standard system, and despite some minor issues, it does it perfectly.
Unlike many forms of technology, great audio systems age very well. The speakers will often sound as good today as they did when they first came off the assembly line back in the 70s—that is if you took care of them up to this point. I have one of those setups, a classic Kenwood system, hooked up to my turntable, a tube amp, and some fantastic speakers, all circa 1979. It may have no inherent ability to connect to the streaming services we all know and love, but the sound it produces is hard to match.
This is the setup I used for testing the Bluesound Node 2. It gave a good baseline of what I expected out of the sound and I replaced (for testing) the Sonos Connect I previously had hooked up. While I enjoyed how the Sonos Connect worked, I was eager to see how the Bluesound Node 2 could compare and whether or not it could offer a similar level of audio fidelity.
The Bluesound Node 2 is a handsome little device. The small rectangular box fits right at home with both modern and classic stereo equipment. It manages to be simple while still having that look of quality I have come to expect from the Bluesound lineup of products. The top of the device has a simple set of controls that includes the standard play, pause, forward, back, and volume toggles you’ve come to expect from Bluesound products.
The back of the Bluesound Node 2 offers a plethora of ports you can use to set the device up for your specific setup. It comes equipped with Ethernet, USB Type-A, optical and analog inputs, digital, optical, and coaxial outputs, along with stereo analog outputs for good measure. If all this were not enough, Bluesound has also included an IR Sensor that can be used with most universal remotes.
Under the hood, the Bluesound Node 2 is packing a 1GHz ARM Cortex A9 processor, a 32-BIT/192kHz DAC, Wi-Fi, and aptX Bluetooth wireless connectivity. All this technology is running on the BluOS, the company’s own Linux-based OS that manages all aspects of the device.
On paper, the Bluesound Node 2 sounds very similar to many streaming boxes currently on the market. The only difference here is that the Node 2 is focused on delivering high-quality audio rather than pushing images to your new 4K TV.
The Node 2 connects your system to a verity of audio sources. It can play music from your current NAS device, USB storage, streaming services such as Tidal and Spotify, along with a slew of other offerings. The Bluesound Node 2 supports MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, HRA, and AIFF file formats, and can play PCM resolutions of up to 24-bit/192kHz.
The setup of the Bluesound Node 2 was as simple as one would hope. I plugged everything in via Ethernet, although I did test the Wi-Fi setup as well, and from there I just jumped into the app and started testing the audio. The BluOS app is what you would expect, and it gives easy access to a range of music services, all with a simple click of a button. It manages to mix all your music, from a personal library, streaming services, and internet radio all into one simple list.
If you happen to have any other Bluesound based devices, you can also use your main setup as part of a multi-room audio system. You can control everything from within the BluOS app, and overall, it was a joy to use. The small touches make everything easy, even for people who know nothing about tech, or audio for that matter. If you are coming from a Sonos based setup, the app feels very similar.
Now the real question with any piece of audio equipment is how it sounds, and thankfully, the Node 2 sounds good, although falls a bit short of great. The soundscape it offers using standard stereo connections to my Kenwood system was full and had a good body to it.
I also tested out the Bluetooth feature of the Bluesound Node 2, and while this is not the ideal way to listen to music, it was a great feature, especially when we had friends over. Being able to quickly throw something on from any Bluetooth enabled device is a nice feature and one that is especially fun when considering the fact the vintage setup I was hooking it all up to offered little beyond stereo ports for connectivity.
As with the Sonos Connect, the Bluesound Node 2 will allow any device currently in your Hi-Fi setup to plug into the Node 2 and be enjoyed throughout the house. While I personally love sitting next to the record player, listening as it turns, this is not for everyone. In testing, it worked very well. You simply plug into the Optical in/Analog, ensuring you have a pre-amp already set up for your turntable, and you’re good to go.
The Bluesound Node 2 allowed my speakers to fill the room with rich, deep sound, and while I am a fan of how the Bluesound Pulse Mini sounds, I enjoyed how the Node 2 with my system combo a bit more. Managed to have a richer sound when looking at all things equally.
Now, as with everything, the sound the Bluesound Node 2 can provide is only as good as the original source. If you are just listening to a Spotify playlist, the advantages that Bluesound offers will be lost. You need to utilize high-resolution audio to actually hear a difference.
Listening to the Bluesound Node 2 and the Sonos Connect side by side with a Spotify playlist and I had a hard time telling any discernable difference. Now if you were to pump music from Tidal, that is when things get interesting. This is something Sonos at this time cannot do, and the difference really is night and day. There are some devices that may sound better, but nowhere near this price range.
Having used the Bluesound Node 2 now for over two weeks I will honestly say I am sad to see it go. The sound that it pushed through my classic setup was far better than I was expecting. The ability to hear crisp, true-to-life audio is something that needs to be experienced to really be believed. If you are looking for a way to connect your vintage hi-fi to the digital future, look no further than the Bluesound Node 2.
A retail version of this device reviewed was provided by the manufacturer. You can find additional information about CGMagazine's ethics and review policies and procedures here.
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