The world is filling up quickly with wireless speakers and wireless audio components for whole house music enjoyment. That’s good because wires can be a pain, and the product quality has risen significantly over the past few years. The problem is that there are now several products on the market that do essentially the same thing—grab music from your network (via streaming services or your own networked devices) and play it on speakers around the house.
Bluesound, the new audio brand from Lenbrook, which makes NAD and PSB products, launched a system that does that too, but it’s differentiated with a few key features, and that’s what makes it stand out.
The first and most obvious difference between Bluesound and Sonos, Nuvo, Samsung Shape and others is that it offers a CD ripper and HDD music server. Second, Bluesound was designed to be more than just another music streamer to get internet radio around the house. The system, designed with the input of speaker guru Paul Barton, supports high resolution audio files at 24-bit/192kHz. It also plays lossless FLAC files plus WAV, AIFF, AAC, WMA and of course MP3.
There are several components in the Bluesound lineup. I demo’d the Powernode, which is an amplified (40 watts per channel) component for hooking up your own speakers (or Bluesound speakers). I connected the Powernode to a Bluesound Duo system, which isn’t actually a duo. It’s more of a trio—a pair of Paul Barton-designed bookshelf speakers with a 110 watt subwoofer. I also used the Bluesound Vault.
In addition to those pieces, Bluesound offers a Node, which is like the Powernode but without the amp—you connect this to your existing audio system. There’s also the Pulse, which is a stand-alone speaker sort of similar to the Sonos PLAY:5. I didn’t sample either of those.
In design, both the Bluesound Powernode and Vault are shiny cubes. You can get them in gloss black or white. They have a dramatic modern look meant to be seen on a shelf, whereas products like the Nuvo wireless system or Sonos Connect are more likely to be hidden on a rack or tucked behind something. If you prefer a traditional component shape, then this won’t be for you.
As a networked audio system, Bluesound floats on your home’s wired or Wi-Fi network and is intended to be easy to setup. There’s no separate gateway or hub. Each product connects directly to your network via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. Indeed setup was painless. I had the Powernode and Vault plugged in and running on my network in less time than it took to get all the parts out of the boxes.
Like all the other products in this category, the main interface is an app for iOS or Android. The app gives the user full access to internet radio, streaming music services and stored music files. More on the app later.
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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.