Audiophile streaming bliss: Bluesound Node N130 Streamer reviewed



BlueSound Node Streamer (2023) REVIEW

Looking for a music streamer that does everything you need it to do and is genuinely hi-res? PAT PILCHER is wooed by BlueSound’s latest.


Somewhere in my house sits a pile of boxes filled with a vast trove of round shiny things I used to spend money on to play music. While CDs are still hard to beat when it comes to their audio quality, they come with practical considerations. For a start, they take up a tonne of space and need shelving if they’re to be at hand. They also only play for a maximum of 74 minutes, which means that every hour and 14 minutes you’ve got to remove the CD that has finished playing and insert a fresh one before your ears go into full sonic withdrawal syndrome. Equally critical is that searching for, and finding an artist, genre and so on requires time-consuming manual CD case handling. Gaaagh!

Having grown fed up with the clutter and limitations of physical playback media 15 years ago, I spent several months ripping my entire CD collection into FLAC files which I keep stored on a Western Digital My Cloud EX4100 NAS. This allows me to stream near-CD quality audio to the many Sonos devices and other streamers scattered around my house. The sheer level of convenience for casual listening and background music is hard to beat.

While I love my legacy Sonos gear, recent moves by Sonos have strained my relationship with them, so I was pleased to get the chance to test out the latest iteration of the Bluesound Node Streamer N130, a high-end streaming widget that promises to deliver audiophile-grade streamed music.

It can stream music from a huge range of online services, such as Tidal, Spotify, Qobuz and in my case, Amazon Music. Excited by the prospect of audiophile streamed goodness, I was dying to find out if the new Node streamer lived up to its promises.

In the design department, the Node sports a sleek and white-on-white (or black-on-black) minimalist design that’ll look good with most home audio setups. It’s a compact beastie which makes it a doddle to place into an existing setup, shelf or hi-fi cabinet. When I say minimalist, I’m really not kidding either. The front panel has just a status LED/headphone socket while its top has touch-sensitive controls for volume and selecting pre-set audio sources. The touch controls cleverly have a proximity sensor, so it lights up when you approach it.

As nifty as the controls are, they do unfortunately require that the streamer is placed at the top of any audio equipment in order for the controls to be accessible (you can, however, use the Android/iOS app instead).

Around the back, you get RCA audio outputs, an RCA sub out, coaxial and SPDIF digital outputs. The SPIDIF is a combination analogue input, and there is also a USB input for hooking up external drives/DACs, as well as an Ethernet connection for wired networking. Last (but by no means least), is an HDMI (eARC) port for hooking up compatible TVs. While you get plenty of wired connectivity, wireless is also well-catered for. This takes the form of wireless subwoofer connectivity for a sub, aptX HD capable Bluetooth for listening with Bluetooth headphones or speakers. You can also stream music to the Node using a smartphone or laptop.

Under its hood sits a Quad-Core 1.8ghz ARM Cortex A53 CPU and its DAC is a capable 32-bit/384khz beastie. In use, this setup translated into responsive performance with streaming audio loading and playing almost as quickly as the locally stored media on my network. For serious audiophiles, another major plus is that it is Roon-ready, which means that you can ditch the app and really get down with a clever, intuitive selection system.

In terms of supported audio formats, the Node has your back. It supports FLAC, WAV, and AIFF, and can stream music from all the major streaming services as well as music stored on a NAS or USB-connected external USB drives. It also supports AirPlay 2, so owners of fruity phones, iPads and Macs can stream music from their Apple gear too.

The Node streamer is designed to deliver superb sound and barely breaks a sweat while doing it. The sound it cranked out over the PSB Alpha IQ speakers was clear and detailed, with a wide, transparent soundstage. Listening to Diana Krall’s ‘Look of Love’, I could almost hear her inhaling as she sang, and it seemed as if she was standing right in front of me, performing live.

As much as I loved its audio and clean, clever design, its BluOS app was harder to like. Coming from the Sonos app, I found it to be a little counter-intuitive. While I eventually got used to its quirks, it isn’t the sort of app you can just pick up and use straight away without at least a moderate amount of confusion. That said, the app gives you plenty of control over audio and is packed with plenty of nifty settings and tweaks. Sadly, finding them and working out what they do can be a bit of a challenge. Having said that, you can control it directly from the Tidal app (for instance) so you’re not necessarily stuck with the BluOs app.

It looks like a zillion bucks, sounds fantastic, and plays nice with virtually all major streaming services. In short, it’s an excellent high-end audio streaming widget capable of delivering audiophile sound. If streaming is your thing, then the Node is definitely worth checking out. Trust the good Witchdoctor on this, your ears will thank you!

Note: Confusingly, this 2023 iteration (unlike the previous ones) doesn’t have a name that denotes the new model, although the importers know it as the N130.

Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

1 Comment

  1. Use the Blusound V2 storage/player. Great as it does MQA, but only does the first unfolding to 88.2 KHz 24 bit. Does sound better than playing without MQA, purchase a separate DAC to get full decoding. The app is about to change dramatically so don’t get upset by the current one. Ripping is fairly quick but only allows one version of a disc, over writing with new when inserted. Watch for temp rise if ripping more than 5 discs! Outstanding device, now that Lenbrook owns MQA, will be interesting to see if future players get full decoding instead of 24 192 limited.

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