Bluesound Node 2i
The ‘2i’ upgrades brought real benefits to the Bluesound ecosystem, which has been solidly sound-focused from the beginning, and now sounds even better.
One of the key advantages of the Bluesound ecosystem (and the BluOS streaming and multiroom platform within) is the company’s co-habitation with stablemate NAD. Each company benefits — NAD has produced a string of stunning smart amplifiers which use the convenience of BluOS to bring in streaming and multiroom operation, while Bluesound-branded boxes have had access to NAD’s amplification expertise to help them sound fabulous. But of course this Node, from Bluesound’s ‘2i’ tweaked second-gen, doesn’t have any amplification: it’s again a streamer which plugs into an existing system to bring it into the 21st century. And yet even without that power advantage, the Node 2i proves an absolute little beaut of a product.
The Node 2i’s upgrades began with trickle-down high-end circuit design and architecture from those higher-end NAD-developed products, optimising the layout to fit the Bluesound chassis, with further isolation inserted between audio and Wi-Fi frequencies. It’s little discussed in these streaming days how the evil effects of Wi-Fi and speedy digital circuits can affect audio paths, and the company has admitted to being surprised by how much this affected the Node 2i’s audio performance.
Bonus features also came with the 2i update, including the dual-band Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay 2, and Bluetooth which includes the aptX HD codec for better-than-CD sound if your device supports it. The Bluetooth also became two-way with the 2i update, which means you can listen on wireless headphones via the app.
Bluesound didn’t need to upgrade to handle high-res audio, as this was always a focus from the start — indeed a differentiator until others caught up. Here there’s a 32-bit/192kHz DAC, though file reading is limited to 24-bit/192kHz across uncompressed WAV, FLAC, Apple Lossless and even WMA Lossless (which we didn’t know was even a thing). Better still there is MQA support throughout Bluesound, so all Bluesound devices can decode Tidal’s Master-level streaming to 24-bit/192kHz high-res as well.
The Node 2i is not exactly bristling with inputs — there’s just a single combo socket which can take either minijack analogue audio or mini optical digital, plus a small USB socket to which a stick or hard-disk of files can be attached.
But you get a full choice of outputs to feed your system — coaxial or optical digital, a 3.5mm headphone socket on the front, plus analogue outs which presented our reference system with a rich and detailed sound, able to deliver timing and dynamic expression, the subtleties which make music come to life. Add the top-notch Bluesound app, the multiroom grouping in the Bluesound/NAD ecosystem, bonus points for a remote control being available, even if it’s an extra, and the price here is entirely justified by the quality on offer.