The new Bluesound system is taking an upscale, high-performance approach to multiroom streaming music.
If it seems like there’s a lot of activity in the multiroom music category lately, don’t worry; it’s not your imagination. This month Samsung and Bose both launched systems, and category leader Sonos, launched a new, less expensive addition (see review of the PLAY:1 here). Now the Lenbrook group, parent company of high-performance audio brands PSB Speakers and NAD Electronics, is getting into the action with the new Bluesound wireless speaker, amp and music server.
The Bluesound music system uses Wi-Fi (or wired Ethernet if you want) to distribute internet-based or locally-stored music all over your house, controlled through iOS or Android apps on your smartphone/tablet.
Unlike a few other systems on the market, namely Sonos and Nuvo Wireless, there’s no main bridge or gateway. Each system connects to your home’s network to communicate to the Internet or to each other.
There are four main products in the Bluesound family. The Node, Power Node, Pulse and Vault, plus a speaker/sub combination called the Duo.
The Node ($449) is for users who want to play their music through their own speakers and amplifier. It can play any local network music plus a selection of streaming services from the internet. It connects to your sound system via line level (red and white stereo output) or a digital optical output. An ARM Cortex A8 processor handles the heavy-duty work. The system can play MP3, FLAC, AAC, ALAC, WAV, WMA and OGG files.
The Power Node ($699) does everything the Node does, but instead of connecting to your own amplifier, this unit includes a 50 Watt per channel DIGITALDIRECT amp plus a subwoofer output so you can use your own speakers. It includes a 35 bit/844 KHz DAC.
The Pulse ($699) is Bluesound’s all-in-one speaker unit, similar to the Sonos PLAY:5 or PLAY:3. It features three drivers—one 5.25-inch driver and two 2.25-inch drivers, both tuned by PSB speaker wizard Paul Barton. The Pulse is driven by a built-in 80 Watt DIRECTDRIVE amp. A subwoofer output is offered in case you want more bass. There’s also an optical input so you can use this as the speaker for another system—essentially the Pulse can be your TV’s soundbar in addition to your wireless music speaker. It also can be set up as a stereo pair.
The Vault ($999) is something new to this product category. It’s a CD-ripper with a 1 TB hard drive for storing your digital music. The Vault can rip CDs in the lossless FLAC format (or as MP3s if you’re not concerned with high resolution). In fact, it can rip into both formats simultaneously. You can connect it via stereo outputs to a sound system and wirelessly stream the stored music to your other Bluesound components.
Finally, the Duo ($999) is a satellite speaker/subwoofer set designed to work with the Bluesound Power Node. The speakers feature a four-inch main driver and a one-inch aluminum tweeter. The sub is based around an 8-inch woofer with a 110-watt amp. This system also was tuned by Paul Barton’s ear.
The entire system is designed for easy setup with no computer required. Users operate it with a smartphone or tablet BlueOS app. Music from the Vault includes cover art to make it easy to find the album you’re looking for. Playlists can be created on the fly. Each component can be controlled individually, or grouped, so users can play different songs in each room or the same music all over the house.
Bluesound iOS app and Pulse speaker
Currently the system only includes two online streaming services. You get TuneIn for standard internet radio (thousands of stations from around the world) and Rdio, a subscription-based music system. Free (with ads) services like Pandora and Slacker are not available, though Bluesound says it plans to add all the music services available, so expect updates on the app. If you want to play music or apps from your smartphone, just add a Bluetooth USB dongle to the system.
The system can support 8 independent wireless streams. You can get more zones if some of them are wired.
I was able to listen to all the Bluesound components in a hotel suite in New York this week. The performance was pretty impressive on all of them, but what stood out the most was the Duo combined with a Power Node. Even in a room with 20-foot ceilings and one floor-to-ceiling window, the sound was powerful, detailed and offered a three-dimensional soundstage.
The system is currently available through about 40 dealers in North America. Bluesound won’t be sold direct, on Amazon or other internet-only retailers, though storefront retailers may sell the system on their own web sites. After January the company expects to expand to another 50 dealers.
As present the system is not able to be integrated with other control or automation systems. Bluesound looks at the products as a stand-alone music solution, priced at a premium for high-performance, but less expensive than professionally integrated music systems. The company noted that making it integrator friendly is something they’re exploring. I would expect that control driver companies such as Extra Vegetables will develop drivers if they see a demand for it.
Check out more pictures of the Bluesound system here.
Samsung Launches Sonos-like Wireless Music System
Wireless Audio System Basics
What You Need to Know About Wireless Networks
Review: Control4 Wireless Music Bridge
Follow Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.