Multi Speaker Wireless Music System – Wireless home audio is a growing segment of the audio industry. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of all the music, in any room, by swiping your phone’s touch screen?
However, the sound quality of wireless whole home audio systems is all over the map. Also, software varies widely in both features and uses. BlueSoud fixes both of these problems. Fine-tuned components deliver native audio quality up to 24-bit/192kHz. Blueos music library management software is powerful and intuitive.
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BlueSound and BlueOs were my highlights at last year’s HiFi Buys grand opening in Atlanta. A full BlueSound setup drove the KEF LS50 speakers, providing a terrific sound whether seated or standing. PSB founder Paul Barton used Blueos to stream music from Tidal to his NAD Masters Series electronics during a beautiful demonstration of the PSB Imagine T3 speakers.
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Bluesound is the hi-fi analogue of “Supergroup”. They’re one part PSB speaker engineering genius, one part NAD electronics connoisseur, and one part music lover, who understand that the world’s greatest soundstage is nothing without the intuitive software to bring it all together. The Pulse Mini, Powernode 2 and Volt 2 in this review are second generation Bluesound components. While there are both significant changes in appearance and performance improvements in the second generation compared to Bluesound Gen 1 units, both generations of Bluesound units work together.
Bluesound sent me three components for this review: the Vault 2 music server, the PowerNode 2 integrated DAC-amp, and the Pulse Mini all-in-one streaming system.
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All Blusound units have a common control interface and a 1GHz ARM Cortex A9 processor. They’re primarily designed for use with iOS apps, but also have IR remote control capabilities and top-touch controls for play/pause, skip/back, and volume. The overall look and feel of BlueSound units has a refined aesthetic, with subtle curves and soft-touch plastics in contemporary matte black.
Bluesound also welcomes Globetrotters. Each element has a universal energy supply. BlueSound ships both flat and round power cords with each unit.
Bluesound BlueOS unifies all elements of the Bluesound ecosystem. BluOS is currently on version 2.2. All of my initial setup was done with version 1.x, as was most of my listening. With the current version, BluOS updates all your Blusound components with the latest software or firmware in one click.
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The BlueOS app makes setup easy. The only thing you need to know is your WiFi network password! I went from “plug” to “play” in less than five minutes.
I’m a little old when it comes to music. But only a little. I’ve embraced computer-based storage and digital music playback for ten years, never using music streaming services like Tidal or Apple Music. So while I’ve tried many streaming services on BlueOS and appreciate how easy it is to find and play music, I can’t offer any detailed comparisons of ease of use etc. compared to other platforms.
Normally when I hear something I like, I buy the CD – then import it to our music server in Apple Lossless format. Fortunately, Apple Lossless (“ALAC”) files play well in BluOS, as do all other formats I’ve heard. Specifically, the latest release of BlueOS includes MQA support. Unfortunately, this update came after listening, and I don’t have any MQA encoded music to try anyway.
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Adding my music library (stored on a networked Mac Mini) to BlueSound Universe took some work. This computer illiterate couldn’t work through the 34 steps in the Blusound support document to share the iTunes library with Blusound components. But my computer inconsistency gave Bluesound’s customer support team a chance to show up. They made an appointment with me, took my Mac remote, and had my iTunes library set up as a network share in no time. The current version of BlueOS even offers in-app tech support.
Vault 2 is BlueSound’s standalone music server and DAC. BlueSound optimizes everything in both the Vault 2 hardware and software for high-quality sound. Bluesound has optimized Vault 2 for audio! A 2TB hard drive holds a lossless music library measured in months, songs or hours. Double the image in the last column of the table below to indicate how much music fits into 2GB.
If you don’t rip your CD from the hard drive, you can put it in the drive with a bootable CD slot. Reps takes some time, I guess because it runs a lot of error-checking. It took me about 15 minutes to install Adele 24, for example, compared to about two minutes when I plugged in my MacBook Pro with a USB CD drive. Vault 2 only records CDs. I tried ripping two SACDs and a DVD-AS without success.
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The Volt 2 also sports an analog input, so it can be used as a preamp for a server/streaming system with a TV or TV and phono preamp. Like all Bluetooth components, it also supports Bluetooth. On the output side, the Vault 2 has a digital optical output to feed your DAC of choice. If you use the Volt 2 32-bit DAC, BlueSound also provides a subwoofer output with an 80Hz crossover. The Volt 2 is the nerve center of a BlueSound system, so it should be hard-wired into your network. There is no wifi.
The Powernode 2 integrated HybridDigital (Hypex) amplifier delivers 60W per channel into 8 Ohms. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the front. The Powernode 2 can accept Bluetooth Power and USB sticks as well as wired connections via a combined 3.5mm line-in and optical jack. Like the Volt 2, the Powernode 2 offers a subwoofer output with an 80 Hz crossover. The speaker terminals have multi-way binding posts positioned to fit standard dual banana plugs. While BlueSound recommends connecting the Powernode 2 over Ethernet for high-definition streaming, it also has WiFi.
Bluesound equips the Pulse Mini with DSP equalization and a 60W DirectDigital power-DAC for three drivers: a 3.5″ woofer and two 2″ wide-range units in a twin-reflex cabinet. The Pulse Mini has an attractive shape, with a rounded grille, smooth edges on the back and a stylish carrying handle on top.
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Bluesound equips the Pulse Mini with the same inputs as the Volt 2 and Powernode 2: Ethernet, USB, and a 3.5mm combo analog/optical jack. Even the Pulse Mini has a dedicated headphone amplifier, although the headphone jack is awkwardly placed on the back of the unit.
Because BlueSound gear is so compact and easy to move around, I’ve used every piece except the Vault 2 in different locations. Vault 2 had to stay in the main system, because it’s the only place we have wired network access.
I plugged the Volt 2 into my main system Anthem MRX receiver using digital analog and optical connections. Some people like to plug a high-end DAC into an AVR, although it doesn’t really make sense: you’re using the DAC at the end of the chain anyway, and you’re introducing two unnecessary digital-to-analog conversions into the signal chain. It’s a testament to the quality of both the BlueSound Player DAC and the Anthem AVR ADC that I couldn’t hear any degradation in idle conversions in regular use. Both digital and analog connections have the same sound.
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USB port 2 patch and RCA cables are routed directly from port 2 to my reference ATI amplifier for left and right channels. I was immediately impressed by the combination’s low noise floor. I couldn’t hear a whisper from the Tannoy Revolution XT 8F Concentrated Tweeter even with my ears touching the center horn. My favorite Beatles tracks like “My Guitar Softly Weeps,” “We Can Make It” and “In My Life” effortlessly flowed through the room.
I listened to the PowerNode 2 on my desktop, two separate sets of speakers in my living room.
My desktop system is 2.1-channel, with custom closed-box satellites and three brass subwoofers. Satellite speakers drop below 4 Ohm in the power range, to 150Hz. Also, they are fairly efficient (around 90dB/2.83V/1m) and only an arm’s length away. Therefore, they need electronics with a very low noise floor. The Powernode 2 featured a black background, and it had no issues with every detail and punch from the speakers. The Powernode 2’s onboard bass management integrates the main and subs well, but not as well as the Dirac Live in my reference desktop setup. Still, true subwoofer crossovers are rare in DAC/integrated deals, so kudos to Bluesound for including this useful feature.
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I set up the Powernode 2 and two speakers in the living room: the aforementioned Tanyos and the NHT Classic three bookshelf speakers.
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