Hands On: Bluesound Wireless Audiophile Music System
Easy music ripping and multiroom access
April 03, 2014 by Grant Clauser

The Vault, in my mind, is the most interesting of Bluesound’s offerings because it’s so different from the other products generally considered in this category. Think of it as a mashup between an Olive music server with a multiroom streamer. Inside the Vault is a 1TB hard drive for storing your CDs. It can rip CDs as high-resolution lossless FLAC files, WAV or MP3 and even do MP3 simultaneously wit the other formats (so you can get a portable version of the music to take with you). It connect to the network via an Ethernet jack (the other Bluesound components can use Ethernet or Wi-Fi). You hook it to your audio system via a digital optical cable (toslink) or RCA stereo jacks. There’s also a USB port of adding an external drive or thumb drive or Bluetooth adapter.

Using the Vault is simple. Just sick a CD in the slot and in 10 minutes the Vault spits it back out again. The music is automatically categorized in the system, and the album art and track names all show up in the app.

So why use a server when you can just rip CDs with a computer? I’m sure every reader of this review already has a computer and the basic tools necessary for ripping CDs. The Vault takes all the guesswork and aggravation out of the process. It also automatically puts your music where it needs to be. In my house, when I rip music with my laptop I then need to move it to the external drive where I keep my music and plug it into the A/V receiver in another room. Getting it to appear in the app for my home music system is yet another step.  I can also access the music over the network directly from my laptop, but I don’t like to leave the laptop on all the time. Bluesound’s hardware is also optimized for recording and playing back music. I’m sure my Lenovo laptop is not. The Vault does the work of a computer, without the work of a computer.

The Powernode is for people who want to have music in a room but don’t have any speakers or music system there already (a Pulse would work too). I connected the Powernode to the Duo speaker system system, launched the app on my Samsung Galaxy tablet and started playing the music I’d ripped with the Vault a little earlier. The sound of the speaker/sub system, with the Powernode delivering the muscle proved to be am excellence combination.  The sound was clear, with plenty of powerful bass, but not enough to overpower the dynamics of the two speakers.

In the other room, where the Vault was connected to a Sony ES receiver and playing through a set of Canton tower speakers, the system was commanding, clear and full of animated details. I was also pleased with the ease of shuffling through the recently ripped CDs on the BlueOS app.

In addition to the Vault music, Bluesound offers TuneIn Internet radio, Slacker, Deezer, WiMP, Qobuz and Rdio. Some of those require subscriptions. I’m told that more music services will be coming to Bluesound as well. A high resolution audio download service called HighresAudio also works with the Vault so you can purchase better-quality tunes and have them land directly on your Vault hard drive.

The app itself gives you app full album art and easy volume and track controls. You can create playlists, shuffle the order and save playlists to return to later. When playing streaming apps the view may vary a little depending on the music service. Navigating the app may be a little confusing at first. Some menus require vertical swipes while other features are found with horizontal swipes. Personally I prefer the Sonos system app, but maybe that’s because I’ve been using it for three years and it’s become second nature.

So ultimately how does Bluesound stand up against the other systems. There are two primary highlights. The first is the high-resolution audio support. For audiophiles who appreciate better music files, low-res MP3 and standard streaming just won’t cut it. Bluesound offers an easy-to-use system that supports better audiophile specs. The second highlight is the Vault. Sure, you could whip together a similarly spec’d PC and software to do what the Vault does yourself, but you’d probably end up spending close to the Vault’s cost and still wouldn’t have the app integration and ease of multiroom playback. If those features sound good to you, find a Bluesound dealer and give it a try.

Bluesound Networked Multiroom Music System
Vault $999
Powernode $699
Duo $999

Also check out:
Should You Install a Wireless Audio System Yourself?
Soundbars: Feature Options and Installation Issues
Great Ways to Maximize Your Great Room

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, 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. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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