Streamer Comparison - Bluesound Node2i vs Paradigm PW Link

Luxman Amplifiers India

fLUX

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Intro
I got a "Bluesound Node2i" from a gentelman on the forum about a month back and during the recent Amazon Great Indian Festival Sale got the "Paradigm PW Link" streamer primarily because of the presence of ARC coupled with a calibrated mic. Having listened to both for some amount of time using thought of putting in a subjective review of the both the units.

Chain Tested On
Bluesound Node2i (30-70% volume) -> Schiit Saga+ (100% gain)-> Saptak PA Monblocks (50% volume) -> Focal Aria 926
Paradigm PW Link (30-70% volume) -> Schiit Saga+ (100% gain) -> Saptak PA Monoblocks (50% volume knob) -> Focal Aria 926


i) H/W Comparison

Bluesound Node 2i
Paradigm PW Link
Digital Inputs
Coax In, USB​
Optical​
Analog Inputs
3.5mm Analog Input​
RCA L/R Input for bypassing the PW Link as Source & DAC​
Digital Outputs
Coax, Optical​
Optical​
Analog Outputs
1 RCA out​
1 RCA out​
Subwoofer Out
Single RCA Out​
None​
Bluetooth
Yes , 2 Way with AptxHD​
No Bluetooth Support​
The Bluesound Node2i has the ability to connect a powered USB HDD/Pendrive. On the input side you can use either the COAX In/Analog since both share the same input port. On the output side again the Bluesound Node2i allows you to add a Subwoofer via the SW out. The Node2I scores over the Paradigm PW Link in all aspects barring the presence of a dedicated L/R RCA input.​
Winner - Bluesound Node2i​


ii) UI/UX/Playback Comparison
The node2i works via their platform BluOS and the PW Link works using DTS Play Fi which is also the platform for Audiolab 6000N. If i compare the software of the two the BluOS is much neater, has better UI/UX and more fluid against the Play Fi, which already is a well established fact. I use both the apps on an android platform and would say that if you are person who already has a playlist on the music platforms and run it in shuffle mode the DTS PlayFi would not be a big problem. I have used them with Tidal,Spotify & Amazon Music and did not face any apparent issues in streaming. Spotify Connect lets you use their native app across both the streamers. Tidal is very well integrated in the BluOS platform to the point I prefer it over the original Tidal Application.​
In terms of local content Node 2 allows you to connect to shared network, local files, USB drive and also provides 2 way bluetooth to stream local content or connect a speaker/headphone to the Node2i. PW Link doesnt have either of the options but allows you to stream content from your local device being used to stream, this is a potential workaround for lack of USB as you can get a large memory card connected to your device and place your music there.​
Winner - Bluesound Node 2i​


iii) Initial Setup
Node2i setup was a real PITA. It used to get detected for initial setup and while trying setup with WiFI used to always fail. On reading several forums finally a solution worked where its recommended to connect the same via LAN and setup wifi via the same. Once i did the same it worked fine and always connected easily with WiFi post boot. Its quicker than the PW Link in connecting to the Wifi on boot and app also connects to the device very quickly.​
PW Link had a different issue in initial pairing, it was not being setup despite detecting Wifi. I had to take the device beside the router and do the first time setup. After that it automatically connects to wifi on each boot and takes a few seconds more than the Node2i, but nothing much of a difference. The device detection on opening the app sometimes is a challenge, closing and opening the app fixes the issue.​
Winner - Tie​



iv) Performance as a Streamer & DAC
The songs listened to mainly are across various genres as I dont have a particular favorite, mainy listened to​
Hotel California (2013 Remastered), Keith Dont Go , Billie Jean, Viraah & Labb Par Aaaye from Bandish Bandits, Sawaali Si Raat from Barfi , Bezubaan and Journey Song from Piku. Most of them via tidal with the exceptionn of Bezuban and Journey song which were from Spotify.​
Without ARC
The Node2i seems to subjectively perform better in terms of the seperation, details with very punchy & tight lows. You get the sense of space with much better imaging than using the AVR as a source/DAC for music. Guitar reverb in Keith Dont Go and Hotel California sound amazing, Billie Jean Intro sounds super large, Vocals in Labb Par Aaye sound lifelike and the spaciousness of Viraah all sound really good. I was in awe with the overall performance of this streamer.​
When I first got the the PW Link and listened without any ARC optimization it seemed have laidback vocals with similar amount of details but the imaging was not as precise and spacious, lows was not as tight as the Node 2i. Also when I reduced the gain on pre to half and moved the PW Link to full volume there was some weird effect of the presentation going in and out. This has never happened when I have kept the volume to below 70% and gain on Pre to full (which by the way is ear deafening level of music for long duration). Reverting back to the Node2i was a refreshing change where better presentation of music was immediately noticeable to bare ears.​
Winner - Bluesound Node 2i​
With ARC
While as per the measurements Audyssey XT32 flattened the curve better than ARC , I kind of felt the ARC did a better job at maintaining the liveliness of the presentation. After running ARC and listening to music via PW Link vs Bluesound Node 2i, one thing was very clear that there was lot of unnecesary reverb and boominess in the actual presentation which caused some details to be not so clear (like the left speaker in Hotel Califorina plays a nice tune at the beginning of the song with the guitar sequence) and the imaging also was not pinpoint. Post running ARC calibration with 5 measurements (used suggested corrections) I noticed that the soundstage seems to be slightly beyond the the speaker boundaries and the perception towards center imaging, instrument layering is even more precise and doesnt change much if i move slightly either ways from my spot. The ARC has made the music listenable at higher volumes without causing any boominess due to the bass or reverb (would love the bass to be a tad more post ARC but I understand that till I get some treatment towards absorbing lower frequencies, it would be difficult to maintain balance). I would do some minimal room treatment in future but ARC has made sure that I can take my time.​
Winner - PW Link​
Conclusion
If you are looking for a streamer with a good UI/UX decent dac and dont bother much about room correction than the Bluesound Node 2i is the way to go, it is feature packed , looks slick and very intuitive to use. ARC is a game changer for untreated rooms and tilts the balance in favor of the PW Link by a huge extent despite the PW Link coming short in many aspects. I would go to the extent of saying that PW Link is worth adding in a chain just for the ARC.​
P.S - Attached measurements from ARC. Will try using Node2i as the source/dac to the PW Link , re-run and add my inputs here in future. Also experiment by updating the cutoff frequencies and using some boost for the lower end in future. Suggestions/crticisms are welcome.​


 

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raghupb

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Nice comparison and write-up @fLUX
BTW, how many components do you plan to have/buy for your stereo chain?
Cheers,
Raghu
 

fLUX

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Nice comparison and write-up @fLUX
BTW, how many components do you plan to have/buy for your stereo chain?
Cheers,
Raghu

@raghupb I might go for a dedicated DAC as it can paralell run with my headphone. Component wise I am done , if any there would be replacement of the components in future after I hear your tube setup :)

Also I would most likely sell my current DAC and use the Node 2i instead as it can replace my PC for headphone listenign with the USB/Bluetooth and Streaming functions.
 

raghupb

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@raghupb I might go for a dedicated DAC as it can paralell run with my headphone. Component wise I am done , if any there would be replacement of the components in future after I hear your tube setup :)

Also I would most likely sell my current DAC and use the Node 2i instead as it can replace my PC for headphone listenign with the USB/Bluetooth and Streaming functions.
I have a hybrid setup just like yours. Tube preamp and SS power amp.
But, I have to say this, "You need to slow down, otherwise you'll end up all confused about what's happening in each room"
You are welcome to visit home and listen to the Lyrita/AKSA/KEF/REL rig.

Cheers,
Raghu
 

fLUX

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Appreciate your advise, to be honest I went overboard with the setup in the living room assuming that it would be used by all of us but doesnt seem that way. But I would say that I think i am somewhat clear on the expectation from the dedicated room setup, since there is not much scope for heading out have been experimenting with few things around.
 
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