Wireless Streaming Music Speaker – The BlueSound Plus 2 all-in-one streaming music system packs quality amplification, great-sounding speakers and a streaming player into one stylish box. Available in white or black, it makes whole-house audio a breeze with easy installation and connection to your local Wi-Fi network.
Using the BluOS operating system, it unlocks thousands of Internet radio stations, pulls music from local media servers and streams it via Bluetooth to your device of choice. And that’s only from a handful of systems that support MQA right now. With three high-tech DirectDigital amplifiers, it makes no sacrifice in sound quality.
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Recently, I reviewed the NAD M32 direct digital amplifier. The model also came with a BlueSound Plus 2 all-in-one streaming music system. I originally thought of combining the two products into one review, but I quickly discovered that the Plus 2 has more than enough chips to merit its own article. Both Bluesound and NAD are under the Lenbrook umbrella. This means that both brands can easily create products that bridge the gap between audiophile sound and practicality. The M32 is equipped with a BluOS module that is easily the best in both areas. The Plus 2 is something for a more modest budget, but doesn’t compromise on sound quality, while selling for an affordable $699.
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Convenience in audio is something that consumers have always wanted and manufacturers are constantly striving for. The record and tape era is not so long in the past and I remember when the compact disc first came out in the 80’s. We were amazed at the convenience and quality of this shiny disc and had no idea it could get any better. Thanks to Steve Jobs and his iPod, we now have music that exists without physical media. We no longer need to shuffle discs or any other small thing for that matter. Now we just pick up our smartphone, scroll through a playlist and press play. Music flows into headphones or carefully installed speakers in our homes.
The BlueSound Plus 2 all-in-one music streaming system brings iPod-like convenience into the home. Place it on a shelf, connect it to your Wi-Fi network, and within minutes you’ll have music playing. Now this in itself is nothing new. My goal today is to see how the Plus 2 stands out from its competitors. Let’s take a look.
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Most products in this category are simply called “wireless speakers,” but that hurts the Plus 2. BlueSound more accurately calls its entry an all-in-one music streaming system. That last term is the key. The word system indicates that more than one component is combined in one box. And the Plus 2 is exactly that. So everything you need to play music is included. Only need to add internet.
I talked about DirectDigital amplifier technology in detail in my review of the NAD Masters Series M32 amplifier. The basic premise is that all information about an incoming signal remains in the digital domain until it exits the speaker. Volume and tone control is achieved in software rather than with analog potentiometers that change the sound. This approach virtually eliminates distortion and creates an honest, neutral presentation with an extremely wide soundstage and plenty of detail. It’s the perfect canvas for playing music that can range from great to poor quality. This purity really helps extract every last ounce from even the most compressed streams. While you might think this would emphasize the negative, in practice, it does the exact opposite.
The stereo speaker system uses two 2.75″ drivers that cover the mids and highs, while a single 5.25″ cone handles the low frequencies. Bluesound isn’t releasing crossover specs, but rates the Plus 2 at 45Hz. Although deeper tones are beyond its capabilities, it delivers good bass in both classical and rock recordings. It won’t shake the furniture, but most listeners will be surprised by its small physical size when they hear the wide dynamic and frequency range.
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The player is the same BluOS part I tested in the M32 amp. With the free BluOS app, I was able to listen to Internet radio and other streaming services, access locally stored music over Wi-Fi, and connect to my iPhone and iPad via Bluetooth. Basically, if your music is stored somewhere on a computer, the Plus 2 can play it. Cloud services make a long list. Some are free and others require a subscription. Spotify, for example, will play for free on your phone, but requires a charge to play on external devices like the Plus 2.
You can also stream from a media server if you add Bluesound’s Vault 2 to your network. It has a 2 TB hard drive and a built-in CD drive. You can rip your collection and make it available on multiple BluOS devices such as speakers and amplifiers.
The Plus 2 has a simple design with a slight curve on the face, rounded corners and three sides on the back. The cabinet is finished with a rubberized surface that absorbs light and resists fingerprints. The front grille is metal and hides the drivers well without significantly coloring the sound. I couldn’t remove it for comparison, but fine detail and high frequencies played without apparent coloration.
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At the top is the touch-sensitive keyboard, though I don’t expect to use it much. You can control everything from your phone or tablet, and even the status light repeats on the front so it doesn’t have to be visible. Once the Plus 2 is set up, you can hide it on a high shelf if you like. The light shows the network status. Different combinations of red, green and blue plus flashing or solid operation let you know what’s going on. As soon as the light flashes blue, you are ready to listen to music.
There is no remote control in the box, but there is an IR receiver on the front of the system. You can use it with the BluOS app to program a universal handset or control system. I never needed this feature during my review. I was able to access all the necessary features from my iPhone.
The back has several physical connection options. If you don’t want to use Wi-Fi, you can connect an Ethernet cable to the Plus 2’s RJ-45 port. There’s also a 3.5mm input that works as TOSlink or analog stereo. You can also plug in a pair of headphones for private listening. A standard USB port accepts thumb drives and will play most common music file formats. As shipped, the Plus 2 includes a TOSLink adapter, an Ethernet cable, and power cords for North American and European power outlets.
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Setup shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. The only physical connection required is the power supply. Simply plug the Plus 2 into a wall outlet and it will instantly enter hotspot mode. Download the BluOS app on your phone or tablet, then open your device’s network settings. The system should appear in the list of Wi-Fi devices. Select it, then return to the BluOS app. Follow the instructions to complete the setup. In my case, I had to open BlueSound’s website from my phone’s browser to install the firmware update. After a few minutes the status light was solid blue and I was ready to rock.
If you’re wondering about tone controls and the like, the app has a screen for that. You can adjust the traditional bass and treble sliders, set the volume threshold and select the amplification method. I left everything at the default settings for my preview and never felt the need to change anything.
The easiest way to get started with Pulse 2 is to sign up for a number of Internet radio services. Radio Paradise is included in the BlueOS app and does not require a login to access it. iHeartRadio is also free after signing up through your web browser. You can access thousands of feeds and most of your local stations will likely be there. I got all the big ones here in Orlando with genre channels like classical and alt-rock.
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Quality will vary widely and depends on the service you choose. Obviously, Tidal and other premium feeds offer less compression and will sound better. But you will pay for the privilege. I expect a typical Plus 2 buyer to be looking for value. At $699, the system is reasonably priced and you can get great sound from Internet radio and free streaming services.
The quality and fidelity of streaming audio varies greatly depending on the source and, of course, the original content. You can take a bad recording and rip it to the highest bitrate without compression and it will still sound bad. This fact was proved to me in this experience when I heard a classical performance. Many internet radio channels are rated.
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