This Bluesound Node 2i Review isn’t some yabber yabber exercise at going through what specs mean, design, connections and sound quality, although I’ll list specs at the end. Get that anywhere else on the internet and take your pick.
This is the brutally honest view from a HiFi aficionado who has been scolded so many times as a reviewer and punter, that I’d have 99% burns by now, with only eyeballs poking out. Maybe that job might be finished of by throwing acid…which is wrong in some people’s eyes. 😉
You get all the connectivity you’ll need for a stand alone streaming box for a HiFi and so many streaming services to gander at, as well as a good control app : BluOS. The squeezebox based players that started the streaming revolution, leading to Sonos boxes like the Zone Player, then Connect, were all used with much more expensive HiFi. This was mainly a function of streaming infancy ten or so years ago, and lack of development of audiophile branded products perhaps. Bluesound however developed the original Node, an unwieldy boxy cubey looking thing. Then we had the Node 2, of same form as this upgraded model – the 2i. Out for a while – I know, but no less decent, being my first poke.
‘Bolt’ the Node 2i onto an existing HiFi amp
I tried the original Node 2 and had it on a par with my £1500 ish Cyrus Stream X Signature, in a different sonic way. Not hard, but indicative of a nod to the old early streaming days I mention, that streamers well designed don’t need to be over-engineered. That they can work well in expensive systems. To my ears on a £20k ish HiFi it sounds qualitatively as good as an expensive and very poor value for money Auralic Aries G1. The thing is, the Node not only sounds as good in the type of premium, but admittedly not uber premium system, that I am using it in. But also, by implication, it will sound good in budget set ups. I’ve tried the 2i across Hegel Amps, Cyrus Amps, and various speakers over about a month now (including the new PMC twenty5 23i’s) and every time it impresses for only $549 (£500).
When you start throwing in bias of products, a view expense means better, HiFi brand fanboys, and thinking an aluminium cased product looks better, it is easy to sinker people to a view the product sounds better. Not always is this the case, particularly in streaming. What HiFi said the Node 2i isn’t out of place in their reference system comprising ATCSCM50 speakers, and I’d definitely mirror such sentiments of its ‘punching above weight’ credentials. If you’ve bought one on a budget, you’ve bought an absolute steal of a product and if you bought one for a premium system then congrats with sensible thinking because it will hold its own there too. A dealer told me a customer was happy with one in use with a £8k Chord DAVE DAC instead of more expensive streamers. The mantra junk in junk out is definitely less important nowadays with well designed digital audio.
Plug your TT into the Node 2i and share across network to other BluOS devices
In my system the 2i sounds better streaming Qobuz and Tidal from the Internet directly and over Roon, as of course it is a Roon Ready device, than my £2300 Innuos Zenith Mk2. Noisy ethernet controllers on the Innuos are a reason bandied about. The Innuos pips it playing music off its hard drive though, with the usual greater dynamics, and relative flattened approach with the Node 2i on song. But with streaming the 2i is more clear and open in presentation with a bigger soundstage to the Innuos’ overly smoothed presentation where is compresses the mids and adds to much of a tonally thick presentation with bass. It is equally on par with the brilliant Allo DigiOne Signature, used with an Allo Shanti linear PSU. The DAC is decent in the Node 2i too, if not anywhere near standalone DAC products of the ilk of Qutest, RME. It’s in similar territory to the Musical Fidelity MX-DAC.
Recently BlueSound teamed up with Jazz Re:Freshed and MQA this Sunday gone, to bring live MQA streaming to BluOS for the first time. I watched all the way through and I’m sure such functionality will be on trend in the future. Sets from Anthony Joseph and Sahra Gure were captivating watching on YouTube on a Panasonic GZ2000 50″ OLED TV, whilst playing the live concert through my Cyrus/PMC system.
You wont be able to convert those people who say a 4x more expensive streamer like the Auralic Aries G1, sounds better to them. I’m not going to say they are all wrong, but yet again I might because how many times have we bought HiFi and then done a reality check later? Also I’m looking at it impartially. I really don’t care if a Node 2i improves on what I’ve bought because I have no ego with HiFi and products are always improving against what I own. It’s a brave person to admit a purchase isn’t VFM when they own it therefore and a lot of variables come into purchasing, as I’ve discussed. It might only be enough to think price means better because I have a £2000 budget, to place the Auralic beyond Node 2i!
In an article on Tech Radar posted way back in 2007, AVI chief Ashley James, now retired from the industry, but very interesting to talk too as prep for this article, raised criticism that some HiFi companies were ripping off customers and that the HiFi press are failing to point out price discrepancies and opinions on whether HiFi gear is value for money. I think this is still true in most online HiFi review circles. Dressing up value for money with the evergreen ‘you decide’, which doesn’t wash in consumer circles.
It means that if you can’t ever say that a component is of similar performance at a lower price, because it would offend the sensibilities of the manufacturer who is paying your advertising revenue, then you aren’t doing reviewing at all. As Ashley points out:- one of reviews golden rules, he says, is never to say that a cheaper product is better than a more expensive one. But what if cheaper bests expensive? Where do you draw the line on your own integrity, if you have one, that is? In my experience this isn’t true most of the time, probably 80-90%, since I’m a firm believer in you get what you pay for, except possibly audio cables (in the types of systems I use). This approach of not cutting price corners to performance and investment in it, works most of the time. Not here though!
What does work so well here, trying to hazard a perceptive summation of this product, is that when we utilize a mass market streaming box of 2i’s credentials, a well designed and engineered, but not overly engineered streamer, is probably bound to be good and sell well. Often I just feel that in streaming many Audiophile players are scrabbling around trying to sell £2000 plus streamers for single percentage points in performance for not much value for money. The sensible money is here Mr Darko, despite the fact you’d never say it, because this streamer is a very accomplished product indeed. And yes, I am allowed to wax lyrical when HiFi is this good, at sensible prices but performing as well as some more expensive gear!
Video Coming Soon
Watch out for my video on the Node 2i which I’m currently producing. It is a music graphic video without any commentary, to describe the 2i and it’s main selling points.
- Hi Res Formats : FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF
- Sampling Rated : 32 – 192 kHz
- Bit Depths : 16-24 bits
- DAC : 32-Bit, 192kHz
- Compatible with UPnP NAS drives, Windows PC’s and MAC’s
- Internet Radio
- Connectivity : WiFi and Fixed Ethernet
- USB Input for music drives (FAT32 or NTFS formatted)
- Audio Inputs – 3.5mm analogue / Toslink Digital combo
- Audio Outputs : headphone 3.5mm, 12V trigger, Coaxial RCA digital, Toslink / Optical digital, Analogue RCA (to HiFi)
- Bluetooth : 5.0 aptX HD
- Processor : ARM® CORTEX™ A9, 1 GHz
- Weight : 1.12 kg / 2.45 lbs
- Dimensions : 220 x 46 x 146 mm
£500 / $549