Bluesound Gen 2i Whole Home Audio System Review
By Mark Vignola on
The full apartment renovation that my family undertook last year allowed me to take a fresh look at whole home audio systems. In our previous home, I had the chance to play with iterations of both Denon’s Heos and DTS’s Play-Fi system. While I liked aspects of both, neither checked all of the boxes I was looking for in this new system. Enter Bluesound Gen 2. Chris had lots of good things to say about BluSound last year – and the recently announced updates seemed to address many of his concerns and my needs.
Bluesound does so many things right, that it is difficult to not recommend: sound quality from all of the pieces is excellent, it’s audiophile friendly with broad support for multiple high-resolution formats including MQA, reliability in our set-up is rock-solid, and the addition of AirPlay 2 is a game changer for those in the iOS/Apple Ecosystem. There are a few things holding it back from being perfect–the app still isn’t great (I continue to struggle with the intended logic), integration with our control system from URC is functional but not terrific, and some Gen 2 features, like Alexa integration, feel like betas and functioned only intermittently. But overall, these are minor, with easy workarounds for daily use.
Key Bluesound Gen 2i Updates
Chris covered the overall design of most of the Bluesound pieces in his review from April 2018. From an aesthetics point of view, the pieces I was sent are identical to the previous generation. The units are all sleek and understated in design and fit well with most décor. Under the hood though, there are several key additions that Gen 2i offers over the iteration that Chris reviewed:
- Dual-band Wi-Fi,
- Apple AirPlay 2
- Upgraded Bluetooth codecs
- Improved amplification and acoustics
Since Chris’s review, Bluesound has also added HDMI w/ eARC to the Pulse Soundbar.
The system that we constructed here included: a Pulse Mini 2i for the kitchen, a Pulse Flex 2i for the kid’s room, a Pulse 2i Soundbar & Sub for the bedroom, and a Node 2i for the main system. I opted for white in the kitchen and kids room. Both colors are available for all units, with the soundbar commanding a $100 premium for white. We like the options, but struggle with the price premium for color change for the soundbar.
Bluesound Gen 2i Performance
Set-up of Bluesound components is easy through the Bluesound app. The app instantly recognized parts of the system that were hard-wired, and for units that we had to use Wi-Fi, instructions were simple and effective. Pairing the subwoofer to the soundbar was also easily accomplished. I connected the Node 2i to my Anthem MRX 1120 via coaxial cable – though there are options for USB and optical.
Whole home audio systems live and die by their usability; if you or members of your family struggle to use the system it really defeats the purpose. I’m happy to report that Bluesound is overall easy to use – though it took some trial and error to figure out the “best” way to interact with each component in different situations. The usability anchor for Bluesound Gen 2i is, without question, the inclusion of AirPlay 2 – which in my hands is fantastic. Grouping of rooms, controlling volume in different zones – it’s all easy and right there. In our set-up this was the preferred method for interacting with Bluesound – easily bypassing both Spotify Connect (in which grouping is still impossible) and the Bluesound app (which still isn’t great – more on that below).
I had equally good experiences with the Pulse Soundbar whose HDMI eARC integration works very well with my Sony X900F. The Sony easily controls the volume on the Pulse Soundbar with no set-up and, through the Bluesound app, you can tell the Pulse to default to HDMI input when it receives a signal. I had no issues moving back and forth between AirPlay, HDMI and Bluetooth inputs – all without any programming acrobatics from my URC Total Control 2.0 remote.
With Apple AirPlay 2 supported services are more or less irrelevant – but Spotify, which we primarily use at home – works well. Other services are supported, but we didn’t use these. I also haven’t been able to test support for Network Attached Storage, but Bluesound was able to find some high-res files in a shared folder on my laptop (a temporary solution). Bluesound had no issues handling these FLAC-HD files. We didn’t have the opportunity to test features like MQA as I’m not a Tidal subscriber but I’ve obtained a login and hope to soon.
Sound quality from all of these units is excellent. I have experience with multiple pieces of the Heos ecosystem, and while I wasn’t able to A/B these, based on memory Bluesound outperformed each of comparable units easily. More power, more detail and more nuance – these speakers are all well engineered and powered. I am particularly pleased with the Pulse Soundbar 2i, which when integrated with the Pulse Sub, produced an excellent video experience. All content is handled well, whether the new season of “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix (Dolby Digital Plus) or The Bachelor from YouTube TV. The sound is far superior to what the X900F’s speakers can produce and is an improvement regardless of the quality of the source material. In fact, the Pulse Soundbar and sub can be paired with other family members for full surround sound – a set-up that I could easily see recommending to someone looking for a low maintenance surround sound system.
Bluesound Gen 2i Improvements
I enjoyed my time with the Bluesound Gen 2i system that I elected to keep it as my reference whole home audio system – that said there are a few things that we’d like to see changed.
We’d like to see a more versatile and secure wall mounting option – which stems from the fact that the Pulse Soundbar itself lacks any actual mounting hardware. All that’s there is a thin groove running the length of the soundbar. This means that there no way to secure the Pulse Soundbar to the included wall plate (it hangs only). While the weight of the Soundbar is substantial enough that the soundbar feels stable, it’s still hanging vs actually attached. The lack of any direct mounting options on the soundbar means it is especially cumbersome if, like me, you are mounting the soundbar directly to a flat panel mount. The result is functional but more complicated than necessary.
The Bluesound App continues to not be great. Despite several months in the ecosystem, I still don’t understand the intended logic when opening the app. That said – this wasn’t an impediment for us given the myriad connection options available – especially AirPlay 2 – which, as I described above, was fantastic.
Alexa integration – rolled out in early February – is still a work in progress. I have no doubt it will continue to improve, but in its current iteration, I found it too frustrating to use. Until that happens, Bluetooth is the most reliable way to use Bluesound units with your Alexa interfaces.
Lastly, all of the components in the Bluesound ecosystem are expensive compared to counterparts from other systems like Sonos or Heos, but at the same time, they also sound better than those components do in my experience.
Bluesound Gen 2i Conclusions
The Bluesound Gen2i continues to be a terrific option for a whole home audio system. Compared to the last time we reviewed Bluesound, important updates like Airplay 2 and HDMI, make the system even easier to integrate and use. Importantly, sound quality remains excellent, and Bluesound remains that the cutting edge of audio format support – being a capable platform for high-resolution audio. Our complaints are more nits than complaints, and I found none of them to be “deal-breakers” – in fact, I like the Gen 2i so much, I decided to make it my reference whole home audio system.
Continued excellent sound quality; Airplay 2 is a game changer in usability; reliable Bluetooth & HDMI Arc which means integration across multiple platforms is easy
Expensive, mediocre app, cumbersome mounting solution
Bluesound has made marked additions to previous generations that make it a terrific option for a whole home audio platform, including Airplay 2, which makes Bluesound a pleasure to use if you are an iOS user. Sound quality continues to be best in class, and while expensive, remains a competitive option for an audiophile focused platform.