Over the past several years countless manufacturers have introduced wireless home audio systems. These range from basic Bluetooth solutions, to devices that incorporate Apple’s popular AirPlay, and now a growing number of components that incorporate the Google Cast platform.
Separating its products from the majority of those solutions is the Canadian brand Bluesound. Still a relatively new member of the Lenbrook audio family, Bluesound leverages the research and design expertise of well-respected sister companies PSB Speakers and NAD Electronics, including renowned speaker engineer Paul Barton.
Utilizing its proprietary BluOS operating system, the Bluesound line immediately distinguished itself from a performance perspective. Offering high-resolution audio (HRA) compatibility and a variety of products, installers and audiophile goals were for the most part met with the original launch of Bluesound. Last fall, however, the company stepped up to meet the challenge of critics (myself included) who felt Bluesound lacked the refinement and functionality of competitor products such as Sonos, and introduced its Gen 2 series.
Features & Installation
As with its initial pieces, the Bluesound Gen 2 line is built upon the BluOS operating system. BluOS connects, organizes and controls the way users interact with their streaming services and music libraries. The Gen 2 roster offers six models: Node 2 wireless music player, Powernode 2 combination amplifier and streaming music player, Vault 2 streaming music player and CD player/ripper, Pulse 2 all-in-one powered streaming music player, Pulse Mini smaller footprint, powered all-in-one streaming player and the Pulse Flex all-in-one powered portable stream
The Bluesound Gen 2 series incorporates ARM Cortex A9 CPUs running at 1GHz, and features such as Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX, IR sensors with TV Connect learning options, gigabit Ethernet connectivity, and the latest Wi-Fi support.
CE Pro Verdict
Pros: Improved functionality and software interface than Gen 1; new industrial designs and more product depth; great sound with HRA compatibility.
Cons: More work to be done to match UI and media management benchmark of other manufacturers; more streaming choices would likely increase consumer appeal.
While trying out three products from the Gen 2 collection — the Vault, Powernode and Pulse Mini — I wanted to compare my setup experience from my first interactions with the previous generation products.
Starting with the Vault, I ran a Cat 6 cable from the Luxul network switch in my A/V room to the rear panel of the component. After plugging the product into a Torus Power TOT Max power conditioner, I downloaded the companion Bluesound app to my iPad and iPhone for control of the system.
At first I found the layout of the app a little confusing, but after taking a few moments to familiarize myself with its navigation I simply followed the prompts through the setup process.
With the Vault 2 configured (including naming the zone and supplying my media preferences), I began ripping some music onto the hard drive. I grabbed David Bowie’s Best of David Bowie two-disc set and initiated the conversion to uncompressed WAV files as selected in my preferences. The process took longer than I had anticipated (but not as long as Gen 1), particularly the metadata gathering, and overall was much slower than tools like iTunes.
Next I followed a similar procedure to place the Powernode 2 onto my network. From that point I connected it to an Atlantic Technology 3.1 HSB soundbar running as a two-channel solution. I could easily envision the product installed in homes as the basis of a streaming audio system with an input to augment their TV/video applications, which I also set up.
Finishing up the three-zone install, I placed the Pulse Mini in my bedroom.
All told it took me just over an hour to set up the three components and rip the Bowie discs. To Bluesound’s credit the setup and configuration processes are much improved over the first-generation products. I also think the app layout is much better and easier to navigate than earlier versions.
Performance & Conclusions
Most of my listening was done with the Vault 2 in a system that included a Bryston amp and preamp, Straight Wire cables, and Monitor Audio Platinum speakers in a listening space designed as a “live end/dead end” (with more acoustic absorption around the speakers) room.
Navigating the interface to select content and zones proved intuitive enough; tap the Bluesound logo on the top left side of the page, and the zone in the top right corner. Building playlists are now as straightforward as systems from companies like Sonos and Autonomic.
With navigation sorted out I wanted to perform an audiophile comparison of ripped CDs. I added Lisa Loeb’s Greatest Hits to the Bowie content and listened to the ripped versions of these CDs, and the actual CDs played through a Pioneer Elite disc player. After level matching the two sources, I thought the ripped content more than held its own when compared to the original. I did think the CDs sounded just slightly more focused and detailed, but honestly, I would be more than satisfied if the Vault 2 were my music library source. It sounds terrific.
Listening to the Powernode 2 and Pulse Mini, I found the amp had no issue driving the Atlantic Tech soundbar, and in doing so, it sounded big and warm. The Pulse Mini is a little powerhouse. It throws a big soundstage and sounds full even with low-bitrate streaming content.
Sorting it all out, I think Bluesound has taken major steps to tighten up what is an increasingly competitive wireless whole-house audio category. Bluesound components sound great, the app is much easier to navigate, and the system is much simpler to install and configure than the first-gen version.
The company still has some work to do to really challenge the leaders in the area of interface design and media management (ripping and metadata), but its combination of nice industrial design, outstanding audio performance, and improved UI make it definitely worth checking out.
- Wireless Bluesound products utilize proprietary BluOS operating system
- Choice of powered speakers, amplifiers with built-in stream-ing, and a music server (Vault 2) with 2TB storage
- Gen 2 Bluesound also incorpo-rates Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX
- Streaming services include Tidal, Spotify, TuneIn, Deezer, Slacker, Quboz, Rhapsody, iHeart Radio and more
- Support for 24-bit high-res audio (HRA); recent MQA firmware update
- MSRP range from $299 for the Pulse Flex all-in-one solution to $1,199 for the Vault 2 stream-ing player with 2TB storage and built-in CD player/ripper