I've purchased this Bluesound NODE (2021 Model) Wireless Music Streamer for a single purpose: to stream music from Amazon Music HD (or alternative streaming services) to my system that already comprises a more sophisticated Matrix Audio X-Sabre Pro MQA DAC, a Benchmark LA4 Line Amplifier (preamp), a McIntosh MC302 power amp, and KEF Blade speakers.
I cannot say anything about the DAC part, as I am not using it. But I can compare the performance between this steamer connected to the DAC using a high-quality coaxial cable and the Windows mini-PC connected to the same DAC via a quality insulated USB cable.
1. BluOS is one of the few operating systems on the market that supports a wide range of services, including Amazon Music HD streaming. Most proprietary systems I dealt with, including Naim, Cambridge Audio, and Roon, only support selected services, and they are neither scalable, nor futureproof, with no published support plans or commitments. That is exactly the reason I got rid of all these components.
2. BluOS in general proved rather simple and user-friendly. I had a small issue with the audio signal gaps but fixed it quickly by unchecking the Audio Clock Trim checkbox in the device Audio settings. The streamer supports all HD music streaming services of interest and can also play music from file servers on the local network (accessible via the SMB protocol; checked - it works).
3. The app is available for both Windows (what a nice surprise when you work on your laptop and can also control music streamed through the system), Android, and Chrome OS (using the Android app), and it works on all of them, which is a good thing. Most proprietary systems do not have a Windows app, or it's very basic and stripped of most features.
4. I have not discovered any difference in the perceived quality of Hi-Res music (typically, 24-bit x 96 or 192 KHz) streamed from the Bluesound NODE (coaxial DAC input) or the mini-PC (USB DAC input), either via Amazon Music HD or from the local file server. I have even synchronized both sources and switched the DAC between these inputs multiple times while playing one and the same track. I have also discovered no noticeable difference in quality between the (Bluesound NODE + Matrix Audio X-Sabre Pro MQA DAC) combo and Naim Unity Nova, both streaming from my home file server. IMHO this means that the digital part of the streamer (which costs nothing compared to other components in my system) works quite well, and it's definitely much easier to use for streaming than a PC. I mostly listen to acoustic jazz and classical music; cannot comment on other genres.
5. Downsides/gripes. There are some, even though I would not consider them crucial.
- DSF files (SACD format) are NOT supported (streaming from the local network server or USB device). A rather perverted patch is to convert them to FLAC, but it defeats the purpose. When I need to play a SACD image without extra digital conversions, I need to use the player on the PC.
- Amazon Music HD integration works, and it's getting better (earlier on the app did not see/support playlists I have created in the Amazon app), but it is still limited. For example, the app doesn't show recently played albums, the Search function is annoying, and its results are weird, etc. (The Search ALWAYS requires you to select the source - My Music or Amazon Music first, even when you select Amazon Music prior to that. If I select Amazon Music and go to My Music, i.e. my library, the Search still returns results not from my library, but from all music available on the Amazon Music platform, etc.). I haven't tried other integrations yet...
SUMMARY: Overall I consider that at its price point the Bluesound NODE is unmatched at least as the universal, futureproof digital streamer that supports all HD music streaming services. I am fully satisfied with the quality, and 90% satisfied with the UI. (I am a rather experienced and demanding listener, with multiple HiFi systems and an extensive history of owning high quality audio devices from numerous brands).
Jun 16th 2022