This article first appeared in HIFI AND MUSIC SOURCE, the publication for news, reviews and views.
£1000 = US$ 1215 = CA$ 1669 (Oct 5, 2023)
Bluesound is celebrating 10 years at the leading edge of multi-room hi-res music streaming with an update of the brilliant Node.
Whilst the talk of the town this year has been the entry of Eversolo to the streaming market with their DMP-A6, Bluesound’s Node (Gen 3) is still the one to beat in hi-res multi-room flexibility below the one thousand pounds price point. The Node X is an updated Node and it has some key features over the DMP-A6, notably, it has a headphone amplifier that the DMP does not have however it does not have the ‘sexy’ touchscreen; which is a bit like going into a lightsabre fight, without a light sabre these days.
The Node X is a streaming DAC with preamplifier capability that is centred in the BluOS hi-res multi-room universe. It has no screen or fancy casing, but it is all the better for it, concentrating on the job in hand of streaming hi-res music reliably, instantly and consistently.
There are a couple of big updates here with the Node X. Notably there is a new headphone amplifier stage from THX. It is their Achromatic Audio Amplifier (THX AAA™) and it outputs to a full-sized 1/4” (6.35mm) headphone jack. This is a jump in class from the previous rather ‘OK’* 3.5mm headphone stage.
Also significantly, the Node X has a new ESS 9028Q2M Sabre DAC upgrade on the Gen 3 Node (which was Burr Brown), and this new DAC is in fact the same as the twin DACs in the DMP-A6, it’s not the Pro, however. As we know, it is not just the DAC chip but the processing and power management around it. The chip itself is generally regarded as excellent these days and previous accusations of Sabre DAC glare have long since receded.
This Node X Anniversary Edition comes in a fetching silver that is a clear upgrade on the white or black options of the previous Nodes.
Finally, there is a remote control included (previously it was an optional extra); given the BluOS is so responsive and stable this does seem a bit unnecessary, and I’ve previously commented as such in other reviews.
*review of the Node Gen 3, (2021)
Inputs and Outputs
The connection for streaming is via WiFi or a wired Ethernet connection. There is a USB A slot for connecting an external library which can be managed in the BluOS App. Helpfully, there is an HDMI eARC to the rear in place of the old firmware upgrade slot (presumably this happens over WiFi now?). The usual RCA Sub Out is retained as is a Coax and optical output for pure streaming transport purposes.
The Node X gives access to just about everything including AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, and it is Roon Ready. A full list of Music Services, including TuneIn radio, is included here, it really is everything!
As previously with Bluesound, DSD is not supported, however, MQA is. Other inputs include two-way (transmit & receive) Bluetooth with support for aptX™ HD. We should note, here, for hardline audiophiles out there, the Nodes only support up to 24-bit and 192kHz processing.
This Node X is silky (not glossy or matt) to the touch and has no fingerprint issues thank goodness. The top has touchpad controls that light up as you approach the unit, these can control the volume, skip tracks, or respond to presets, like a favoured radio station for example.
Otherwise, the unit is solid with a decent flat grippy base that doesn’t move about or tip over when you insert heavier RCA leads, there’s no XLR here.
The dimensions are a slim shady 220 x 46 x 146 mm (8.7 x 1.8 x 5.7 in) and the Node X weighs in at 1.09kg. It costs £699 and although it is a limited edition it is widely available until it sells out. Pick a friendly retailer.
…BluOS is the best out there…
I currently have the Node X streaming fixed output to a slightly over-the-top HiFi system that comprises a T+A DAC 200, Reference Moor Amps preamplifier and Angel 6 power amplification to a pair of awesome Node Audio Hylixa Signature loudspeakers, retailing to order at around £30,000. If there are any issues with Node X performance, it will come through in this setup! I’m using Atlas Mavros interconnects and power management, generally.
I have just plugged in the Node X, and it just works, I’m on WiFi! I guess my Android phone knows I’ve used BluOS and it knows my network. At the end of the day the streaming experience, after quality, is all about the interface and BluOS is the best out there, maybe with the exception of Roon, which is quite unaffordable to many.
The remote is lovely, though not really needed if you’re fixed out. When you insert headphones though, the volume returns to variable. I have to say I’ve found the remote unexpectedly handy to be able to mute or pause a phone call or other interruption.
Do I really need artwork or VU meters? Well, not really when the App is this good, but there must be a market for a cheap screen with VU needles dancing around.
Sound Quality, DAC Analogue Output
With the system described above using the fixed analogue RCA out into the preamplifier, there is a fine delivery from this new DAC platform. It is clean and crisp and there is nothing here to disgrace it. I detect no particular treble Sabre glare and indeed the overall clarity and detail are certainly all here. One of my preferred detailed tracks is Arooj Aftab’s Last Night (Qobuz 24-bit, 96kHz) where the double bass vibrates on the snare it is a really interesting demonstration of resolution in a HiFi system. The DAC performance to analogue output, in straight comparison to the Eversolo DMP-A6, is broadly equivalent in my view.
Ethernet or WiFi?
It is possibly worth noting here, I went to connect the Node X straight to WiFi. I usually do this first and then swap things around as I get more familiar with the review product. I often use the Chord GroundARAY in the Ethernet slot if it is spare. In my view, the soundstage and imaging are improved by using an ethernet connection (I just put the GroundARAY in the T+A DAC instead). It is only a small difference but with the system I’m describing here, it was noticeable, particularly on bigger tracks; say The Weeknd’s Save Your Tears (Qobuz FLAC 24-bit, 44.1kHz) over Ryan Adams’ To Be Without You (Qobuz FLAC 24-bit, 48kHz).
Sound Quality, Streaming
As a streamer, digital out, into the T+A DAC 200, I prefer the streaming performance of the Node X basically because of the ease of use and, yes, the familiarity of the BluOS platform. Remember though the Eversolo has the 2TB card in it making it a classy network server. In terms of streaming performance versus the Eversolo DMP-A6, I would wager you would be hard-pressed to tell them apart in a blind test at the end of the day.
The T+A DAC 200, even with these two relatively modest streamers is a real top-quality performer and the DAC performance is clearly crisper and purer in audio terms and fully supports this high-end system comfortably with the Moor Amps amplifiers and the Node Hylixa Signature loudspeakers.
Meze Audio 109 Pro
Inserting the Meze Audio 109 Pros cuts the Node X fixed output to the preamplifier and adjusts the fixed output to variable immediately, all good. The headphone output is excellent and the familiar open presentation from the 109s is accessible from the Node X headphone stage. Similarly, the midrange is clear and warm and is a pure delight.
The remote has more to contribute here if you prefer it and is possibly preferable if you have fat fingers on the touchpad on the top side.
It feels like this headphone stage might give a few mid-priced headphone amplifiers a headache.
Here’s the Musical Interlude Playlist.
As a streamer, this Node X is such a fine performer, both in terms of the serenity of the streaming platform and the consistency, stability and immediacy of the BluOS infrastructure. As a DAC, there is a calm and warm delivery, that is pleasant over long periods.
Look out for a YouTube video on our channel in the next couple of weeks on the best streamers to buy. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that this is such a fine performer for under a thousand pounds.
Node X v Eversolo DMP-A6, which one’s better? Only you can answer this question; it really comes down to whether you want a really good headphone amplifier included or a screen with wonderful artwork, with the option of a decent network server storage. In terms of streaming infrastructure, BluOS wins every time, for me.
… if you’re looking for a streaming DAC, this should unreservedly be at the top of your audition list
As a streamer, outstanding; as a DAC, as good as you’ll get for under a thousand pounds; as a headphone amplifier, excellent. At this price, if you’re looking for a streaming DAC, this should unreservedly be at the top of your audition list.
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