Bluesound may be a new brand to the audio world, but the people behind this brand certainly aren't new to this game as they're also behind speaker stalwarts NAD and PSB, two well-respected brands in the audio world.
We had the opportunity to be on-site at their very first product offering and demo session, and it certainly sounds to be an impressive start. For starters, the products launched are aimed to bring you "true" high fidelity, with a musical quality you can enjoy in a small space like an apartment.
Featuring clean lines and a minimal interface (you're meant to control them via an app on your smart device), the Bluesound family is a line of wireless streaming music players that are able to stream lossless formats like FLAC, and support high-res audio formats, providing true 24-bit 192Kbps audio playback. The idea being that you have one unit in each room connected to the same wireless network which is linked to your source. This can be a music streaming service like Spotify and Deezer, or a computer on the network. Either way, you will be able to stream music to your selected Bluesound unit and control playback via the free Bluesound Controller app (available for iOS and Android mobile devices, as well as for OS X and Windows based systems). As you can see from the picture above, there are currently five units in the line-up, and apart from the Duo, all seem fairly portable, with the standalone Pulse being the largest of the players.
The Node is a non-amplified wireless music streamer designed to connect all your digital music to any existing stereo system, with full support for music streaming formats (like MP3 and AAC). Its high-performance sigma-delta 24-bit/192KHz DAC lets it handle high-resolution audio formats such as FLAC and Ogg effortlessly, and with its networking capabilities, you can pull all your favorite digital audio sources into your stereo system easily. The Bluesound Node's list price is S$649.
This is a wireless streaming music player (like the Node), a vault and CD-ripper with a dedicated, acoustically-quiet high capacity 2TB HDD built right in so you can rip your entire CD collection to a high resolution audio format using the in-built industry-standard open-source ripping software. The Vault will even simultaneously create different versions for mobile devices that need to sacrifice quality for disc space, and comes with the same quality DAC as found in the Node, allowing it to be a great streaming music player in its own right. The Vault's list price is S$1,499.
Another wireless streaming music player like the Node (but minus the extra features of the Vault), the Powernode has a patented, award-winning 35-bit/844kHZ DirectDigital (DDFA) amplifier that eliminates all distortion and extraneous sound during playback by keeping the signal perfectly digital right until it reaches the speaker terminals. Capable of driving up to 90-watt speaker systems with a subwoofer output to boot, the Powernode is a high quality audio streaming system that's extremely energy efficient to boot. The Powernode's list price is S$999.
The only all-in-one system of the line-up, the Pulse is custom-tuned and designed by award-winning master speaker designer Paul Barton for a 24-bit listening experience and has three specialized speakers in its cabinet (one 5.25-inch subwoofer and two full-range 2.75-inch aluminum cone drivers to produce a total of 80W of audio power) that are independently driven by three dedicated DirectDigital amplifiers for deep bass that doesn't seem like it should be coming from something that small. This unit retails for S$999.
This compact powered subwoofer and satellite 2.1-channel stereo system offers precision equalization with the Powernode's DirectDigital amplifier, allowing it to produce true high resolution sound. It features an 8-inch subwoofer capable of 280W audio total audio output (at dynamic peak), and a pair of matching satellites with 4-inch woofers and a 1-inch aluminum ferrofluid tweeter that work perfectly with the Vault, Node or the Powernode to produce crisp, detailed sound. The Duo's list price is S$1,250.
We were treated to a demonstration in a apartment environment, with one system comprising of the Powernode connected to a Duo 2.1-channel speaker set-up in the living room, and the other being a standalone Pulse unit in the corner of the bedroom. Using an iPad Mini, a recording of the acoustic version of Keith Don't Go by Nils Lofgren started playing. First, through the Powernode and its connected Duo 2.1-channel system in the living room, then with a slide of a finger and couple of taps, in both rooms simultaneously.
As we moved from room to room, it certainly seemed like the music was perfectly in sync, and the volume of the players in each room could be individually controlled, which is a handy touch. According to Greg Stidsen (Director, Technology & Product Planning), every PC on the network can be used as a source for playback, and because the system runs at 320Kbps, there are no disruptions to your music; even if a call comes in. Each room can have its own track playing, and you can assign different music sources to different rooms so every room gets its own stream.
Whether it was the sheer quality of the high bit-rate files used, or the excellent processing by the Bluesound units, all the music streamed sounded excellent, especially how the bass notes were handled. As on the aforementioned Keith Don't Go track, you could almost feel the reverberations of the low notes on the lead guitar, and there was an immediacy to the strings that we'd more commonly associate with a high-quality vinyl pressing. Greg says that 24-bit/192Kbps resolution is what music artists record at in the studios, so only by playing it at this rate, do you truly get to hear how the artiste intended the song to be.
Another differentiating factor, is that Bluesound products always pick the highest bit-rate option possible when streaming music, which is not something all their competitors do. Gapless playback is supported, and the app has an easy to use interface, which allows you to search by track title in all available sources - be it online, on internet radio, or local music files stored on your network. An interesting point to note though, is that multiple smart devices with the app installed can be used at the same time. So there may be a little bit of mayhem if multiple users are trying to set the audio source for the same room simultaneously; perhaps this is the modern equivalent of fighting for the remote?
All in, we'd say the Bluesound line-up offers audiophiles a decently affordable solution to upgrade their existing sound system to enjoy the benefits of listening to quality high resolution audio files and we're keen to see how the standalone Pulse performs in our own extended testing.
All Bluesound product models are available now, exclusively through Lenbrook Asia’s authorized retail partners in Singapore. Bluesound products are also available for purchase online at Lenbrook, which come with an extended 6-month warranty (1.5 years in total) and next working day delivery.