Bluesound Node 2021: the best network music player

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Successor to the Bluesound Node 2i, the most popular network music player of recent years, the Bluesound Node (2021) features a new touch panel interface that is larger and more intuitive thanks to proximity sensors. The performance of this 2021 edition is also optimized thanks to a more powerful processor and a new 24-bit/192kHz DAC that is MQA compatible. The connectors now include an HDMI eARC port to connect a TV. In addition to streaming services (Qobuz, Deezer, Tidal, Spotify, etc.), web radios, AirPlay 2 streaming and DLNA or Roon playback, there is now voice control by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. A lot of new features that allowed the Bluesound Node 2021 to receive the EISA award for best network player 2021 – 2022. A well-deserved title?

Named “Best Network Player 2021-2022” by EISA, the Bluesound Node 2021 can access music streamed via DLNA, web radios, and many online music services.

Bluesound Node 2021: packaging & accessories

The Bluesound Node 2021 network music player comes in an elegant box with a minimalist design. Inside, the Bluesound Node (2021) is wedged between pieces of cardboard and placed inside a synthetic fabric cover. It comes with a quick start guide, a Toslink to 3.5mm mini-jack optical adapter and four cables: a power cable, an Ethernet cable, an RCA to RCA cable and a mini-jack to RCA cable.

The Bluesound Node 2021 player comes with several cables and a Toslink to 3.5mm mini-jack adapter so it’s ready to use right out of the box.

Bluesound Node 2021: presentation

Design 

For this new edition, the Bluesound Node network music player uses the same futuristic, elegant design as its predecessor. The player is therefore 22cm long, 4.6cm high and 14.6cm deep. It can easily be placed in any hi-fi cabinet, near the amplifier. The Bluesound Node 2021’s chassis comes in either black or white with a matte finish. Although it is made entirely of polymer, the quality of the device seems very good and it doesn’t stand out at all alongside high-end hi-fi elements. Quite the contrary.

The Bluesound Node 2021 network music player has a futuristic design, adding a touch of grandeur to any hi-fi system.

Like its predecessor, the Bluesound Node 2021 network music player has a touch panel interface on the top. Following the lead of the Bluesound Powernode 2021 – the amplified version of the Bluesound Node 2021 – the interface has been entirely redesigned, with a larger and more intuitive control panel that lights up when you move your hand closer. It is then possible to change tracks and control the features of your choosing thanks to five customizable controls. It’s really convenient to be able to navigate between your favorite services and features without using a mobile app. The volume can also be adjusted when the output is set to variable mode or when headphones are used. A visual indicator lets you know the exact volume setting. Despite the fact that it quickly got covered in fingerprints, we really enjoy controlling the Bluesound Node 2021 using the touch interface, which brought a futuristic and user-friendly aspect to our hi-fi installation.

The top of the Bluesound Node 2021 network player features a large touch panel with backlighting that lights up when you reach for it.

The Bluesound Node 2021 player’s modern design isn’t simply an envelope, and the insides of the device are just as innovative. In particular, there is a new Quad-Core 1.8 Ghz ARM Cortex A53 processor: going from a single core on the previous generation to a quad-core provides increased processing power that allows the player to get the best performance from the dual 32-bit/384kHzTexas Instrument DAC. This computing power is also a major advantage for indexing music and ensuring smoother navigation through a large collection of digital tracks. This duo also supports most audio formats (MP3, AAC, WMA, WMA-L, OGG, ALAC, OPUS, FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, MPEG-4 SLS) up to a resolution of 24-bit/192kHz. It is therefore certified Hi-Res Audio. However, the Node 2021 isn’t compatible with DSD files, which is unfortunate for a network music player in this price range. To make up for it, Bluesound has integrated MQA compatibility, which is ideal for Tidal users. 

Connectors

The rear panel of the Bluesound Node 2021 network music player features all of the connectors, which include an RCA output whose level can be fixed or variable. A coaxial output and optical output are also available to connect an external DAC, while the USB-A port allows you to connect a USB stick or an external hard drive. It is bi-directional and can therefore also be used to connect an external DAC. For the 2021 version, Bluesound has included an HDMI eARC port for the first time, allowing you to retrieve the soundtracks of programs viewed on a television. It is then possible to enjoy concerts and TV shows directly with the hi-fi system. Lastly, a sub output lets you connect a subwoofer, a rare feature on network media players that is very useful when the associated amp can’t be connected to a subwoofer. 

Thanks to the new HDMI eARC port, the Bluesound Node 2021 network music player can be connected to a TV to enjoy soundtracks with a hi-fi installation and on all the multi-room systems in the house.

HD streaming

The Bluesound Node 2021 network player works with the Canadian manufacturer’s flagship BluOS system. With this system, it is possible to enjoy countless streaming options, access to thousands of Internet radio stations from around the world, as well as the vast majority of online music services such as Spotify, Deezer, Deezer Hi-Fi, Qobuz, Napster and Tidal. From the BluOS app, it is also possible to play music shared over the local network thanks to DLNA or, ideally, Roon.

The Bluesound Node 2021 network music player provides access to many online music services, including Spotify, Qobuz and Tidal.

AirPlay 2 and aptX HD Bluetooth

To listen to music saved on a smartphone, a tablet or a computer, but also tracks played via a mobile app, the Bluesound Node 2021 network music player is also compatible with the AirPlay 2 protocol which authorizes streaming in 16-bit/48kHz from any Apple device (iPhone, iPod, iPad and Mac). For Android devices or a source that isn’t connected to the local network, it is possible to listen to music via Bluetooth thanks to the integrated receiver. Although there is some compression, it is limited by the Node’s compatibility with the aptX HD Bluetooth codec, resulting in a very reasonable performance with compatible sources. It is important to note that the Bluesound Node (2021)’s controller is bidirectional, allowing it to be used as an emitter to stream music to Bluetooth headphones or wireless in-ear monitors.

Multi-room 

In addition to opening the gateway to streaming, the BluOS system also allows the Bluesound Node 2021 network music player to be added to a multi-room system comprised of NAD, Roksan or Bluesound BluOS compatible elements. Up to 64 devices can be associated, which is ideal for streaming music throughout the house, particularly via Bluesound connected speakers, wireless hi-fi speakers, wireless home theater systems and soundbars. Multi-room playback is also possible with other AirPlay 2 compatible devices and speakers.

The Bluesound Node 2021 network music player can be used in a BluOS or AirPlay 2 multi-room installation, as shown here with the Sonos One SL speaker.

Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa 

Like its predecessors, the Bluesound Node 2021 network music player doesn’t come with a remote control. However, it is easier to control thanks to its new touch panel, the mobile app, and its compatibility with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Consequently, it is possible to control playback on the Bluesound Node 2021 vocally, simply by pairing it with a smart speaker.

Bluesound Node 2021: key specifications

  • AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth multi-room compatibility
  • MQA and PCM playback up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility
  • Qobuz, Deezer Hi-Fi, Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal compatibility
  • Bi-directional aptX HD Bluetooth controller
  • HDMI eARC port

Bluesound Node 2021: configuration

The Bluesound Node 2021 network music player is very easy to set up using the BluOS mobile app, available for free on iOS and Android. Once it is launched, it scans for devices and automatically detects the Bluesound Node 2021. All that’s left to do is to enter the WiFi network password for the player to be operational.

The Bluesound Node 2021 network music player is easy to set up using the BluOS mobile app.

The BluOS mobile app also allows you to control the Bluesound Node (2021). Well designed, functional and easy to use, it lets you select the source, browse through music files shared over the local network and access web radios and compatible streaming services. During playback, it displays the track, the album cover and additional information about the song, including the resolution. You can also create playlists from your digital files and customize the player (programmable controls, automatic sleep mode, backlight duration, etc.).

The BluOS mobile app handles music playback and allows you to control the Bluesound Node 2021 player.

For our review, we connected the Bluesound Node 2021 network music player to a NAD C375 BEE amplifier using Audioquest Red River RCA cables. We used Cabasse floorstanding speakers and Dali Opticon 2 MKII bookshelf speakers. We also connected Beyerdynamic Amiron Home (250 ohms) headphones to the mini-jack output.

Bluesound Node 2021: listening impressions

From the very first tracks we listened to, the Bluesound Node (2021) impressed us with its exemplary transparency. Whether it was with the headphone output or an external amplifier and speakers, the Bluesound Node 2021 transported us to a world in which no interference or noise was perceptible. The sound was pure and crystal clear. This was all the more obvious with Hi-Res tracks, which benefited from an obvious increase in quality. The tiniest details of the recordings were reproduced with great precision.

The Bluesound Node 2021 provided an incredibly transparent sound, allowing the smallest details of the music to be clearly audible.

The soundstage reproduced by the Bluesound Node 2021 was remarkably spacious, which allowed the arrangements to unfold with precision and conviction. Each tone was reproduced naturally and accurately. The tonal balance was perfect, with deep, energetic and robust lows accompanied by nuanced and warm mids. The vocals were therefore always well embodied, precise and natural-sounding. Finally, the transparent and crystalline highs soared yet remained completely controlled, even at high volume. The sound was always pleasant and never tiring to listen to.

The Bluesound Node 2021 displayed perfect tonal balance and accurate timbres.

The Bluesound Node 2021 network player could handle any style of music. It was as capable of being dynamic and punchy with pop music as it was of being controlled and lively with rock music or delicate and smooth with jazz. The voices of the artists were well articulated and expressed with a finesse that was unforgiving with any undesired sounds. The instruments were materialized with great precision and were so meticulously positioned that even the largest orchestral compositions were perfectly reproduced. The sound was always clear and consistent.

Bluesound Node 2021: compared to…

Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition: old for €499, the Volumio network player is compatible with Qobuz, Tidal and Spotify. It can play music via DLNA up to 24-bit/192kHz internally or up to 32-bit/768kHz via its USB output. Soundwise, the Bluesound Node 2021 is a little more transparent and spacious. The Node 2021 also has the advantage of working with a mobile app that is a lot more intuitive and up-to-date. However, the Volumio Prim Hi-Fi Edition is an excellent alternative for playing DSD files as the Bluesound Node 2021 is incompatible with the latter.

The Bluesound Node 2021 next to the Volumio Primo Hi-Fi Edition.

Denon DNP-800: available for €499, the Denon DNP-800 network player is equipped with a 24-bit/192kHz and DSD DAC. It can access Tidal, Deezer, Spotify and Amazon Music, as well as music shared via DLNA and web radios. Transmission can be carried out via AirPlay 2 or Bluetooth (not aptX HD compatible). Regarding sound, the Denon DNP-800 has a more analytical character with slightly less finesse. That said, the lows are more pronounced with both speakers and headphones. Lastly, the Denon DNP-800 is mainly controlled using the Heos mobile app that is very intuitive, but not as advanced as the Bluesound Node 2021’s BluOS app. 

Bluesound Node 2021: who is it for?

EISA wasn’t wrong when it named the Bluesound Node (2021) “Best Network Player 2021 – 2022”. As such, it’s a no-brainer for any user looking for a high-performance, versatile and highly musical player in this price range. 

As with any new generation of a device, one may wonder if it is worth replacing the Bluesound Node 2i with the Bluesound Node 2021. This new iteration is characterized by a slightly more transparent sound and smoother details, provided that you listen to Hi-Res files. With CD or lower-quality files, the differences are less obvious. However, the Bluesound Node 2021 becomes much more interesting if you want to enjoy the sound of your TV thanks to its HDMI eARC port. It can then be used as an HDMI DAC at the heart of your audio and video installation.

The Bluesound Node 2021 is the best model if you wish to enjoy a powerful, versatile and very musical player.

Bluesound Node 2021: conclusion 

For this fourth generation, the Canadian manufacturer has managed to enhance its most popular network player, making it more versatile and powerful. Its new touch panel makes it easier to control, while the BluOS app provides intuitive and user-friendly remote control. The HDMI eARC input is also a nice addition and allows this player to adapt to new ways of enjoying music. Finally, the new internal components ensure an even more transparent and accurate sound with all music genres. For all these reasons, we can only agree with EISA and call the Bluesound Node 2021 the best network player of 2021/2022.

We liked:

  • The large touch panel
  • The intuitive and easy to use mobile app
  • The transparent and detailed soundstage
  • The HDMI eARC input

We would have liked:

  • A remote control
  • DSD compatibility

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