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BlueSound Takes Second Look At Wireless Multizone Audio

New York — BlueSound packed its second-generation wireless multizone-audio products with feature and performance enhancements and expanded the selection of amplified tabletop Wi-Fi speakers with smaller sizes and lower price points.

The Lenbrook-owned brand unveiled its first BlueSound products in October 2013, all with high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz music decoding and playback. With the six models in the BlueSound Gen 2 lineup, the brand continues to position its products as a step up from Sonos and Bose. BlueSound sees its mission as reaching music enthusiasts who have not grown up with full-size audio components offered by such brands as Lenbrook’s NAD but who are nonetheless interested in high-performance audio.

The lineup: The latest BlueSound products, which are compatible with first-generation models, consist of the $799-suggested Power Node 2 streamer/amplifier, which drives separately purchased passive speakers; the $499 Node 2 streamer, which lacks amplifier and connects to existing sound systems; the $1,199 Vault 2 streamer with CD ripper and 2TB hard drive; and three single-chassis amplified speakers. They expand the tabletop-speaker selection to three from the first-generation’s sole $699 model.

The three new speakers are the $699 triamplified 80-watt Pulse 2, which replaces the original Pulse, and two line additions, both of which are smaller than the Pulse 2. One is the $499 Pulse Mini 60-watt biamplified 2.1-channel speaker, and the other is the 20-watt mono $299 Pulse Flex. Two Flexes can be paired for use as separate left-right speakers, and they can be placed horizontally or vertically. A battery pack is in the works for using the Flex for use as a portable outdoor speaker. All speakers can be placed in corners because of their angled back sides.

The system runs on the brand’s proprietary BluOS.

The pitch: The amplified speakers and Nodes stream music via Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n or wired Ethernet from mobile devices, networked computers, the Vault 2’s 2TB hard drive, and sources plugged into any of the networked devices. Sources can be connected via analog and optical inputs and via USB. All devices also stream music from the cloud via embedded music services including the CD-quality Tidal service.

BlueSound apps let users select music and control a BlueSound system, which can be expanded to up to seven wireless music zones or up to 35 wired music zones.

The Vault is the only BlueSound device that lacks Wi-Fi, using Ethernet to connect to a wireless router.

Wi-Fi streaming from mobile devices became available on the first-gen products just a few months ago.

Key enhancements: With the launch of the Gen 2 lineup, the brand added multiple product enhancements, including:

–faster processor, with an ARM 1GHz Cortex processor replacing an 800MHz  processor and the Vault 2 getting a dual-core version of the 1GHz processor.

–doubling the Vault 2’s storage capacity to 2TB.

–the ability to use a tablet to shop for high-resolution music downloads from HD Tracks and have the Vault 2 download the content directly from the Cloud.

–built-in Bluetooth, replacing a plug-in Bluetooth dongle. Like before, a Bluetooth stream can be retransmitted over Wi-Fi to other BlueSound devices.

–aptX to enhance Bluetooth sound quality.

–Gigabit Ethernet in all devices but the mono speaker.

— the addition of analog and optical inputs on all devices to stream music from sources ranging from turntables to TVs.

–improved DACs in the Nodes and Vault, delivering 32-bit/192kHz performance.

— higher power USB ports in all devices to connect USB hard drives, not just USB sticks like before.

–headphone output and headphone amplifier, available in all new models.

–coaxial digital outputs on the Nodes and Vault, joining an optical output, to connect to AVRs and DACs.

–higher power Power Node 2 amplifier at 2×60 watts.

–more robust Wi-Fi b/g/n performance.

–IR front input and IR learning on all products but the mono speaker, enabling them to respond to the commands of TV and cable-box remotes

–and slimmer, less boxy Node and Vault designs, with soft-touch black or white finishes instead of glossy finishes.

All feature optical and analog inputs and USB Type-A input.

Custom integration: The brand also revealed that its wireless multizone products can be integrated into installed Control 4 home-control systems. The brand is also working to integrate its products with all major home-automation systems.

Future plans: BlueSound’s roadmap includes:

–adoption of Meridian’s MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) audio technology. BlueSound products will likely be in the first wave of MQA-equipped products, which will likely be available this year, the company said.  For streaming and downloading music, MQA files deliver higher performance sound quality in smaller files compared to today’s high-resolution music files. Music from analog, PCM and DSD masters can be MQA-encoded and placed inside any lossless-audio “container” such as FLAC, ALAC or WAV and can be played back in lower resolution on non-MQA devices.

–adoption of DSD high-resolution playback to complement 192/24 playback, likely later this year as a software upgrade that will convert DSD to PCM.

–expanding the selection of NAD audio components that accept BlueSound-enabled circuit boards, making them part of a BlueSound multizone system.

Two stereo integrated amps got BlueSound cards in the second half of 2014, and four AVRs will get a BlueSound card option later this year, as will the M17 preamp/surround processor.

Distribution: BlueSound products are available through 120 dealers, almost all of which have storefronts. About 80 to 90 percent of them display the products on a BlueSound-provided display.

The brand also sells through seven online dealers, most of whom also operate brick-and-mortar stores, including Listen Up and Crutchfield. BlueSound also sells the products on its web site, and the brand is working with Best Buy to bring the brand to the retailer’s Magnolia Design Centers, possibly this year.

Lenbrook Americas, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lenbrook International, is responsible for the sales and marketing of NAD Electronics, PSB Speakers and BlueSound in the U.S. and Canada. In Canada, Lenbrook also distributes B&O PLAY and Tivoli Audio.