Gear

Bluesound 101

By Graham Verndon

When it comes to home audio, two trends are booming, and one company is fast becoming a leader in both by combining them.

Bluesound, a Canadian company, is creating wireless speaker ecosystems and audio components that bring high resolution sound quality to your favourite music streaming services. They achieve this audiophile-level performance with technology from two of the most respected brands in audio—amplification is provided by NAD and the speaker drivers are made by PSB. The result optimizes high resolution sound of 24-bit (versus 16-bit CD quality) with convenient, moveable speakers loaded with features not offered by competitors.

It is the preferred digital approach of even the most ardently old-school analogue audiophile. Dan Schmalle of Bainbridge, Washington, is an expert in classic tube audio equipment and founder of an audio kit manufacturing company, Bottlehead Corp. Known in audio circles as Doc. B, he has 27 years of experience in analogue audio reproduction that includes an effort to bring back audio tape with an initiative called The Tape Project. His knowledge and eagerness to get his hands dirty are mirrored in his other activities; he recently set the land speed record at the 2018 Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials in August on a vintage 1962 Honda CB77 Superhawk he restored himself.

“Anyone with a heartbeat should spend their lives striving to better their audio experience. High resolution is one more avenue for that. For me, high res digital gets a lot closer to the magic sound of analog tape than CD,” Schmalle says.

Many experts who have listened to a Bluesound high resolution system agree. Whether you’re listening to music online or listening to the studio-master-quality sound of MQA, Bluesound produces greater volume and truer sound than the competition, with a precision that just can’t be achieved at 16-bit.

Needless to say, the system is compatible with top music streaming services, such as Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer, and the two providers of lossless high resolution streaming you would expect, Tidal and Qobuz.

There isn’t room to explore all the great features of Bluesound’s products. But here are three nuts and bolts ways they beat the competition: You can use a traditional infrared remote control, as well as the BluOS smartphone or desktop app; the speakers have multiple direct-connection options, like Bluetooth and line-in; and most speakers even have handles for easy maneuvering. The versatility with which you can control music for the various rooms in your house is also amazing. For instance, when you’re streaming music you can switch from one speaker to the next with the tap of an arrow on the interface.

Perhaps the greatest fun in building a wireless home audio system comes with optimizing the sound for a given room. Schmalle stresses the importance of not only speaker placement, but also room treatment. This is a whole art in itself, but attempting to achieve equal distance from front and side walls is a starting point. For him, too much room treatment is usually better than too little. Rugs and couches, which soften the echoes in a colder, harsher environment, are essential.

“There is free room modeling software, like Room EQ, that can be very helpful in determining an initial setup without having to coerce someone to move speakers around while you listen on the couch,” he says.

For most modern audiophiles, even those like Schmalle who look to vintage technologies of the past for inspiration, it all comes down to a desire to reproduce a sound in your room as faithful to the musicians’ original intentions as possible. In that way, the future of streaming music is in the high resolution solutions offered by Bluesound.

“Maybe it’s time to start buying up CD players and throwing them in a storage unit,” Schmalle says.

Sources:

Email interview with Dan Schmalle / Dr. B

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