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Bluesound Node 2i -- Am I missing something?

Milco

Active Member
A couple of days ago I became the proud owner of a Bluesound Node 2i streamer, purchased for £499.00 (plus free CA500 interconnect!) from Richer Sounds in Liverpool. My previous streamer was the humble Google Chromecast and both streamers run / ran through my trusty and redoubtable Arcam A18 amp using Amazon HD.

Now here's the thing... I am slightly underwhelmed by the Bluesound. It's OK. It sounds a little better than the Chromecast. There is slightly more clarity and definition and the bass has touch more meat and punch. But that's about the sum of it. The difference certainly isn't night and day sound-wise.

So my question is this: am I missing something? When I started listening to the Bluesound, I checked into the audio settings and found that anything other than the 'fixed volume' setting and 'non-variable tone' control settings would make the volume level drop off a cliff. I don't understand what the variable volume setting is all about with its minimum and maximum db settings. With everything nailed down on 'fixed' it seems to sound best.

Am I expecting too much? Have I not got the best out of the somewhat arcane and confusing audio settings? Is the difference between a £30 and a £500 streamer really not that great?

Advice, opinions, comments would be really welcome. The Bluesound is OK -- it just doesn't blow me away like I thought it would.
 

Cebolla

Member
A couple of days ago I became the proud owner of a Bluesound Node 2i streamer, purchased for £499.00 (plus free CA500 interconnect!) from Richer Sounds in Liverpool. My previous streamer was the humble Google Chromecast and both streamers run / ran through my trusty and redoubtable Arcam A18 amp using Amazon HD.

Now here's the thing... I am slightly underwhelmed by the Bluesound. It's OK. It sounds a little better than the Chromecast.
The Android Amazon Music app restricts its Amazon HD online server to supplying Chromecast supporting devices with its lossy 256kbps AAC audio file track streams (as Google Cast/Chromecast isn't an Amazon HD preferred audio streaming partner) rather than its lossless CD quality FLAC audio file track streams, never mind its hi-res ones (which the Google Chromecast Audio would be able to play, if Amazon HD's online server bothered sending them to it) - so it isn't even a fair comparison anyway!
 
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AVBeginner

Active Member
The Android Amazon Music app restricts its Amazon HD online server to supplying Chromecast supporting devices with its lossy 256kbps AAC audio file track streams (as Google Cast/Chromecast isn't an Amazon HD preferred audio streaming partner) rather than its lossless CD quality FLAC audio file track streams, never mind its hi-res ones (which the Google Chromecast Audio would be able to play, if Amazon HD's online server bothered sending them to it) - so it isn't even a fair comparison anyway!
But then surely the difference between the two streaming options would be greater? The OP would be comparing low-res through the chromcast and CD quality (HD) or UHD through the bluesound. Instead they are worried about the lack of difference.

I just swapped out my Sonos connect which had similar limitations and the difference was noticeable.

OP what speakers are you running?
 

AVBeginner

Active Member
The ‘output level fixed’ option on BluOS is just that - it fixes the output level. You can only adjust the volume from the amp. With it de-selected, then you can control the volume through the app between the limits you set as min and max (mine are set to -90db and 0db respectively so I have all the control I need).

How are you connecting the bluesound to the amp?
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
I bought a Node 2 after briefly owning and being disappointed with Chromecast. The Node sound quality is far superior, even when streaming a decent bitrate radio station like Radio Paradise.

There must be something hindering the setup; but the Node is just plug and play, the Arcam should do all the audio processing work so I would start there... what does it show it's receiving when you stream from the Node?

What speakers are you playing through?
 
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Milco

Active Member
Thanks for the replies. Yes, sorry...forgot to mention the speakers. They are Dali Opticon 2. They sound awesome with my Cambridge 651C CD player as source. Big, wide soundstage, punchy, great vocals, tons of detail.

I agree with the point about Google Chromecast not supporting Amazon's HD service. Surely this should make the difference between my old Chromecast and the Bluesound even more significant!

As far as the variable volume control in 'audio settings' is concerned: I have fiddled around with the min and max volume settings at various points along the db axis which the app provides, and then press 'OK'. It doesn't seem to make any difference to the volume at all! It just stays quiet. As soon as I switch to 'fixed volume' the volume jumps up to a level roughly comparable to the Google Chromecast (and a bit lower than the CD player). Am I doing something wrong? I am notoriously useless at these things!

Like I say, the sound is slightly better than the Chromecast. Compared with the Cambridge 651 CD player, I would say the Bluesound's soundstage is slightly narrower, it has a less three-dimensional sound, but, on the plus side, the bass is tighter and more controlled. (My only minor gripe with the CA651 is a slightly flabby bass.)

I just wondered if I was missing a trick to really make the Bluesound shine. Usually when you buy a new hi-fi product you fiddle around with it until you feel you're getting the best out of it -- and I don't feel like i've hit that point yet!
 

Arcam_boy

Distinguished Member
Well your speakers should be able to portray any difference between the bluesound and chromecast.

With regards to the fixed voulme...you would use that if your are using the bluesound purely as a streamer in to a a pre-amp that would have its own volume control. If you're using the bluesound directly in to a set of active speakers for example then you'd variable volume control so you can control the volume via the app / remote.

I treated myself to a bluesound 2i a few weeks ago but unfortunately only had a few weeks with it as we are currently moving house so its currently boxed up! I also had a 1 month trial of Qobuz to take advantage of HD sound tracks. I was previously using a Sonos Connect and spotify premium.

I would say there was a slight improvement but that was really when doing critical listening on tracks I was familiar with. I didn't do direct A/B comparisons so my findings might be a little unfair but like you I didn't find HUGE night and day differences even though the bluesound should be a much better product than the Sonos and using hi-res files from Qobuz.

I do need to spend more time with it, although in the last 2 weeks and since packing away my hi-fi I've acquired a set of Kef ls50W's which don't require a separate streamer at all so I'm not too sure what to do yet!!! o_Oo_O
 

AVBeginner

Active Member
With the ‘output volume fixed’ switched OFF, you should then be able to vary the volume of the output through the app.
Forgive me if this is obvious, but you want to be changing the volume setting (e.g the slider bar at the bottom when playing music, see the first picture attached) NOT the ‘volume limits (dB)’ slider bar which can be found in the audio settings menu of the player (see the second picture attached) as the latter is simply setting limits on the min and max volume that can be achieved. Leave these at -90dB and 0dB for now.

If you don’t want to vary the volume through the bluesound app, then simply change ‘output level fixed’ to ON and then vary the volume through the amp.
 

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Cebolla

Member
But then surely the difference between the two streaming options would be greater? The OP would be comparing low-res through the chromcast and CD quality (HD) or UHD through the bluesound. Instead they are worried about the lack of difference.
No, the OP mentioned noticing a difference just not a great one.

Plus you're assuming that the OP's particular amp and speaker setup can tell the difference when presented with the audio from the different devices playing the exact same quality tracks. That can only be demonstrated by actually getting the different devices to play the same quality audio tracks!



I just swapped out my Sonos connect which had similar limitations and the difference was noticeable.
Not really similar limitations to Chromecast devices - Sonos devices do actually support lossless CD quality (HD) streams from Amazon HD, so your music source for the Sonos would be the same as the Bluesound's, unless you selected the hi-res (UHD) tracks.
Amazon Music HD Available on Sonos | Sonos Community

You certainly appear justified in saying the Bluesound sounds different to the Sonos in your setup.
 
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Milco

Active Member
With the ‘output volume fixed’ switched OFF, you should then be able to vary the volume of the output through the app.
Forgive me if this is obvious, but you want to be changing the volume setting (e.g the slider bar at the bottom when playing music, see the first picture attached) NOT the ‘volume limits (dB)’ slider bar which can be found in the audio settings menu of the player (see the second picture attached) as the latter is simply setting limits on the min and max volume that can be achieved. Leave these at -90dB and 0dB for now.

If you don’t want to vary the volume through the bluesound app, then simply change ‘output level fixed’ to ON and then vary the volume through the amp.
Thanks, AVBeginner! Yes, I am on board with the 'volume setting' / 'volume limits' difference. For some reason the system was defaulted to 25% on the volume setting control when I first switched it on....it was very quiet....so straight away I jacked it up to 100%. Even then it was too quiet, so I tried it on 'fixed volume' and it is much better -- to the point where the volume is not really an issue. I was just bemused that the variable volume setting makes the output relatively quiet regardless of how you set it.

I suppose my hope was that in buying a decent streamer I could relegate CDs to occasional use and eventually do away with them altogether! My aim was that the streamer would sound at least as good, or hopefully even better than my Cambridge CD player. My initial impression, however, is that CDs still have the edge as far as sound is concerned. Those twin Wolfson DACs in the CA 651C produce a 'cathedral of sound' -- highly detailed, big soundstage, crisp, clean, 'in-yer-face' forward. The Bluesound is flatter and doesn't quite have that 'wow' factor. I am wondering whether the Cambridge CXN V2 might be the way to go...:thumbsdow

I have the bluesound on two weeks' trial from Richer, so no need for any decisions yet!
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
Thanks, AVBeginner! Yes, I am on board with the 'volume setting' / 'volume limits' difference. For some reason the system was defaulted to 25% on the volume setting control when I first switched it on....it was very quiet....so straight away I jacked it up to 100%. Even then it was too quiet, so I tried it on 'fixed volume' and it is much better -- to the point where the volume is not really an issue. I was just bemused that the variable volume setting makes the output relatively quiet regardless of how you set it.

I suppose my hope was that in buying a decent streamer I could relegate CDs to occasional use and eventually do away with them altogether! My aim was that the streamer would sound at least as good, or hopefully even better than my Cambridge CD player. My initial impression, however, is that CDs still have the edge as far as sound is concerned. Those twin Wolfson DACs in the CA 651C produce a 'cathedral of sound' -- highly detailed, big soundstage, crisp, clean, 'in-yer-face' forward. The Bluesound is flatter and doesn't quite have that 'wow' factor. I am wondering whether the Cambridge CXN V2 might be the way to go...:thumbsdow

I have the bluesound on two weeks' trial from Richer, so no need for any decisions yet!
I wonder if there is something missing from the Node 2 then. I'll be trialling it side by side at home against a NAD M10 over the weekend, it'll be interesting to discover the differences.
 

Milco

Active Member
I wonder if there is something missing from the Node 2 then. I'll be trialling it side by side at home against a NAD M10 over the weekend, it'll be interesting to discover the differences.
Let us know how you get on! In a way, having two units on trial against each other is the ideal way of making a selection. Double the set-up rigmarole, but probably worth it in terms of making a long-term investment.

I am going to carrying on living with the Bluesound for a few more days before I have to make a decision on whether to keep it (I negotiated a 14 day test-period with Richer). I think inevitably when you have a new piece of kit the tendency is to go into hyper-critical mode, rather than sit back and just enjoy it. It's fine: nice clean (but not thin or harsh) treble, more detail than the Chromecast with a solid, punchy bass. I'm still missing something at the moment, though...
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
Let us know how you get on! In a way, having two units on trial against each other is the ideal way of making a selection. Double the set-up rigmarole, but probably worth it in terms of making a long-term investment.

I am going to carrying on living with the Bluesound for a few more days before I have to make a decision on whether to keep it (I negotiated a 14 day test-period with Richer). I think inevitably when you have a new piece of kit the tendency is to go into hyper-critical mode, rather than sit back and just enjoy it. It's fine: nice clean (but not thin or harsh) treble, more detail than the Chromecast with a solid, punchy bass. I'm still missing something at the moment, though...
Will do. At the moment I'm planning to use the Arcam's direct pass through mode to reduce the setup headaches, assuming that's possible from the M10 into the 850.

I would maybe have suggested that you were expecting too much vs the Cambridge Audio CD player, but you've got a comparator which you're happy with and if you want a streamer to match that then that's not unreasonable. It just might not be achievable in the Node's price bracket :(

If you have the chance, I find the best way to compare sources and equipment is with the best headphones you can (and ideally which you are used to). Takes away any room issues and gives you a directly comparable experience without the headaches and time lags of setting up kit.
 

AVBeginner

Active Member
Thanks, AVBeginner! ...

I suppose my hope was that in buying a decent streamer I could relegate CDs to occasional use and eventually do away with them altogether! My aim was that the streamer would sound at least as good, or hopefully even better than my Cambridge CD player
You’re welcome. Just trying to help.
I haven’t owned a CD player for more than 15 years and have been streaming music in one way or another for as long as I can remember. To my ears the bluesound, particularly when playing the UHD/MQA content of Amazon or Tidal, is as good as I’ve ever heard it. I’m quite surprised that there isn’t a noticeable improvement over playing lower quality content through the chromecast.

I would also be surprised if it isn’t at least as good as a CD player, but now you’ve got me wondering! It’s been so long so I listened to one maybe I should invest in a player and a couple of silver discs and see how it stacks up...

Let us know how you get on with other devices!
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
You’re welcome. Just trying to help.
I haven’t owned a CD player for more than 15 years and have been streaming music in one way or another for as long as I can remember. To my ears the bluesound, particularly when playing the UHD/MQA content of Amazon or Tidal, is as good as I’ve ever heard it. I’m quite surprised that there isn’t a noticeable improvement over playing lower quality content through the chromecast.

I would also be surprised if it isn’t at least as good as a CD player, but now you’ve got me wondering! It’s been so long so I listened to one maybe I should invest in a player and a couple of silver discs and see how it stacks up...

Let us know how you get on with other devices!
You've just reminded me that my UBPX800 is a SACD player! :facepalm: I haven't listened to one since picking up the Node2

It'll be a Pink Floyd-heavy weekend then - M10 & Node2 streaming, SACD and BD face-off!
 

Milco

Active Member
I wonder whether in about ten years' time CDs will enjoy the renaissance that vinyl is currently experiencing. We'll all be digging out our old disc-spinners and gasping in amazement at how good they sound! :D
 

mushii

Distinguished Member
The vinyl renaissance is the King's New Clothes ;)
 

Milco

Active Member
I couldn't wait to get rid of my vinyl....back in 2004, I think. I can still hear the snap, crackle and pop at various points in my favourite songs; the pressing flaws, the off-centre-hole pitch variation, the graininess towards the end of the album side. I don't miss any of that!

One or two things sounded better on vinyl. My original UK first-press Smiths albums. They just don't sound the same on digital for some reason. I miss some of my old punk singles (Buzzcocks, The only ones etc). but apart from that, nada.

I hated changing the belt over on my RP turntable every time I wanted to put a single on....especially if I had just come in from the pub! :D
 

redknag

Active Member
What is quite surprising to me is that even the digital outputs of streamers played into my Chord M-Scaler\Qutest do sound different. I currently have a Sonos connect connected optically and know that is a limiting factor in my system as it is known not to be a bit perfect output. Nothing I have tried sounds as good to me as the optical out on my Arcam CD37.

I've tried the Bluesound Node 2i & Auralic Aries G1 (Sounded good, but terrible interface) but neither a patch on CD optical out.

Next to try is the Innuos Zenith Mk3, different league cost wise, but if that doesn't cut it I will resign myself to getting off my butt and swapping CD's. :)

I have a revealing system, Kef Blade 2's with Arcam A49-P49 amps which seem to show differences in source quite dramatically.
 

Cebolla

Member
I've tried the Bluesound Node 2i & Auralic Aries G1 (Sounded good, but terrible interface) but neither a patch on CD optical out.

Next to try is the Innuos Zenith Mk3, different league cost wise, but if that doesn't cut it I will resign myself to getting off my butt and swapping CD's. :)

I have a revealing system, Kef Blade 2's with Arcam A49-P49 amps which seem to show differences in source quite dramatically.
Hopefully your comparison of the CD player transport with the various streamers is using the same DAC (you didn't which mention what DAC you are using as the input to the Arcam A49 integrated stereo amp) and its optical input, never mind using the same CDs (ie, their tracks ripped to a lossless audio file format supported by the streamers) as the music source - otherwise what's the point of comparison?
 

redknag

Active Member
Hopefully your comparison of the CD player transport with the various streamers is using the same DAC (you didn't which mention what DAC you are using as the input to the Arcam A49 integrated stereo amp) and its optical input, never mind using the same CDs (ie, their tracks ripped to a lossless audio file format supported by the streamers) as the music source - otherwise what's the point of comparison?
I did, I said Chord M-Scaler\Qutest. Qutest is the DAC. So yes, all sources were using the same DAC, same optical input on the M-Scaler and either the original CD in the CD37, or a EAC (100% perfect)rip of the same CD being streamed out of the Node 2i or Auralic via optical

All settings on the streamers were set to not alter the bitstream i.e. fixed volume etc.

It is something I would not believe initially as I thought 0's and 1's were just that, but obviously not.
 

Milco

Active Member
Tonight's listening session has finally settled it. The Bluesound Node 2i is going back to Richer! It's decent; it's competent, but there is absolutely no wow! factor for me. Compared with my old Google Chromecast the Bluesound has slightly more detail, a touch more definition, slightly more 'meat' in the bass department and a tad more crispness in the top end, but there is definitely still something missing...

...by which I mean, compare it on a like-for-like basis (i.e. comparing the same album, same release -- so not comparing apples with bananas) with my Cambridge 651C CD player and the Cambridge is better in virtually all departments -- more three-dimensional sound, wholly more engaging, bigger soundstage....and (to use the technical expression) more 'oomph', more grunt, more definition, more balls!

Is the Bluesound constrained by the limitations of Amazon HD? Possibly. Given my lack of experience with these things I have absolutely no idea. But if your £300 CD player (OK, the RRP was originally £449) sounds better than your £499 streamer, then isn't it time for the streamer to go back?

...and be swapped for the Cambridge CXN V2 streamer? Bring on those twin Wolfson DACs! I think I may be addicted to that sound! :thumbsup:
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
Tonight's listening session has finally settled it. The Bluesound Node 2i is going back to Richer! It's decent; it's competent, but there is absolutely no wow! factor for me. Compared with my old Google Chromecast the Bluesound has slightly more detail, a touch more definition, slightly more 'meat' in the bass department and a tad more crispness in the top end, but there is definitely still something missing...

...by which I mean, compare it on a like-for-like basis (i.e. comparing the same album, same release -- so not comparing apples with bananas) with my Cambridge 651C CD player and the Cambridge is better in virtually all departments -- more three-dimensional sound, wholly more engaging, bigger soundstage....and (to use the technical expression) more 'oomph', more grunt, more definition, more balls!

Is the Bluesound constrained by the limitations of Amazon HD? Possibly. Given my lack of experience with these things I have absolutely no idea. But if your £300 CD player (OK, the RRP was originally £449) sounds better than your £499 streamer, then isn't it time for the streamer to go back?

...and be swapped for the Cambridge CXN V2 streamer? Bring on those twin Wolfson DACs! I think I may be addicted to that sound! :thumbsup:
Interesting. Keep us updated.

I was due to collect the M10 for testing this afternoon but got a puncture and waited three hours for recovery.
 

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