Network hi-fi access center
Although it does not have a particularly large range of devices, the company Bluesound is working tirelessly to improve and enhance the existing range, so we are already facing the third generation of the versatile NODE model.
During its market life, the compact Bluesound NODE did not change its basic purpose, nor its visual identity. It is a modern multifunctional device, which combines the functions of a network player, D / A converter and preamplifier for digital and analog sources, with additional options such as bluetooth connection and headphone output. The case is quite small in size and therefore quite discreet, especially in the matte black finish that was found in our test, and control through the application even allows NODE to be placed in the back of the shelf, out of sight of the user. Of course, all this does not mean that the design of the device is not representative enough – on the contrary, NODE has a modern shape, with strongly rounded vertical edges, while the front and sides are visually divided into two units by a horizontal line in a high gloss finish. The front panel does not exist in the classic sense, because the physical commands are missing, and instead there is only a 3.5 mm headphone jack, company logo and a lone LED for indicating the status of the device. Especially attractive is the design of the upper side, which has a large high-gloss panel in the center framed by a metal cooling mesh, but this will be discussed more later in the text.
The new NODE is dedicated to good sound at least as much as to great features.
The manufacturer managed to place a really diverse port on the back of the device despite the small area, so here we find the RJ-45 port for connecting to a local network, USB-A port for playback directly from portable storage, HDMI eARC for connection to TV and a combined 3.5 mm jack, which serves as an analog input, or, with the corresponding adapter, as a digital optical input. An RCA output is provided for connection to the amplification, and digital signal transmission is enabled via coaxial and optical output. In addition, there are outputs for an active subwoofer and a 12-volt trigger to excite other devices, as well as an input for the external sensor of the optional Bluesound RC1 remote control.
We have already mentioned that NODE is capable of taking on the role of audio player, streamer, D / A converter and preamplifier, but the great BluOS platform brings other possibilities, among which the formation of a wireless surround system or multirum import of multiple devices and systems centralized control and simultaneous reproduction from different sources. In addition to the connection options listed, NODE allows wireless network connectivity, and BluOS allows you to easily add additional wireless speakers and subwoofers to form a thoroughbred home theater system. Then there is the always popular Bluetooth with support for a better aptX HD codec, which in this case is bidirectional – this means that NODE can send a signal to a Bluetooth headset or speaker, but also receive a signal from a device like a mobile phone to play it on the system in whose composition it is located. The heart of the device is a quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor at 1.8 GHz, while the sound quality is in charge of a 32-bit converter circuit in a differential design. NODE supports the increasingly widespread digital formats with a resolution of up to 192 kilohertz and 24 bits, including the increasingly popular MQA.
Use and sound
When the device is initially switched on, the aforementioned panel on the top wakes up and detects touch-sensitive commands, illuminated by white illumination. The attractive setting represents the biggest visual change compared to its predecessor, and consists of a total of ten commands and one sliding command. Although they are not marked, the commands are logically grouped and easy to remember, so in the row closest to the front we have commands for switching between tracks on the existing list, as well as the power button, which also serves to signal the status of the device. In the second row there is a slider for adjusting the volume, supplemented by control commands in steps of one decibel, while in the third row there are five universal keys that can be configured via the application.
Although in the category of modern affordable hi-fi devices, the manufacturer uses numerous options to divert customers’ attention from the basic role of the device, which is sometimes not its strongest point, with Bluesound the situation is just the opposite – the new NODE is dedicated to good sound at least as much as big opportunities. We tested it with a classical class AB integral and with the most modern amplification in class D, and the results were extremely good in both cases. NODE is not completely neutral and definitely has its own tonal stamp, which is characterized by a full and rich sound. The lowest tones are solid and massive, and at the same time quite layered, so they provide a good insight into the acoustic properties of the rhythm section – in other words, the bass sounds very convincing, with a pronounced presence in the music. This, again, should not be confused with overvoting the rest of the spectrum because the presentation is quite balanced in that sense. Rich and vivid tones continue in the medium range, where NODE brings an excellent relationship between a noble display and a clean presentation. The separation of tones is stimulated by a very good amount of detail, which is even more prominent in the highest part of the spectrum, as it should be. Bluesound therefore forms a generous stage, with beautifully outlined instruments and excellently presented finesse both in terms of definition and in the timing of the notes and their echo.
During testing, we really liked that NODE is not set up like expensive and raw high-end devices, for which only the best digital formats are good enough, but Bluesound experts did their best to make even the most ordinary MP3 sound quite acceptable. Reproduction of compressed formats is fluid and musical, so it is a very good basis for casual and optional listening to music. This is extremely important, because the BluOS platform offers a handful of music services and internet radio stations, most of which broadcast music in compressed formats. When we touched on the Bluesound digital platform, it should be noted that it is a closed operating system. So, NODE does not support DLNA, UPnP and other open protocols, but only the BluOS Controller application can be used for control via mobile devices, and if you want to stream audio files from a home computer, you will need to install a BluOS software server and player. Although it may seem restrictive at first, we argue that such a solution is better than open platforms, which may have a compatibility issue, and for full functionality often have to (pay) extra. On the other hand, with BluOS you get an extremely well-thought-out and developed platform, which is now free of all children’s diseases and works flawlessly in all modes – whether it’s basic use in everyday music from various sources, adjusting sound parameters via integrated tone controls , connect multiple BluOS devices wirelessly, or use a number of side options.
During our testing, the new NODE proved to be a device with a well-balanced relationship between tonal qualities, practical possibilities and an affordable price. We were somewhat surprised that the manufacturer did not give the new generation the ability to play the original DSD format, but more than made up for it with a fantastically stable and intuitive network platform, as well as sound quality that was quite suitable for use with several times more expensive amplifiers. Therefore, the third-generation Bluesound NODE represents a great basis for the formation of a modern minimalist system, which puts reproduction from network and digital sources in the foreground.
Supported resolution: up to 192 kHz / 24-bit
THD + N distortion: 0.002%
Signal-to-noise ratio: -113 dBA
Podržani formati: AAC, AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, MP3, MPEG4, MQA, OGG, WAV, WMA…
Audio inputs: HDMI eARC, combined optical / 3.5 mm
Audio outputs: analog RCA, coaxial, optical
Network connection: LAN, wi-fi
Headphone output: 3.5 mm
Dodatno: USB-A, blutut aptX HD, AirPlay 2, subwoofer out
Dimensions (WxHxD): 220x46x146 mm
Weight: 1.1 kg
Price: 550 euros
Exceptional BluOS platform.
A handful of possibilities and options.
Full and rich sound.
Solid and precise bass.
It does not support DSD in its original form.
More physical inputs would further increase functionality.
Source: Hi-Files by www.hi-files.com.
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