Review: Bluesound HUB
Stream anything, anywhere, wirelessly...
Bluesound's brand new HUB is a a wireless audio source adapter and network preamp that will allow users to connect their favorite audio sources, in any room, to an existing Bluesound system. On top of standard wireless connectivity, Bluesound outfitted the HUB with a low noise, wide-band, moving magnet phono stage, which effectively also enables it to become a network turntable preamp for the Bluesound ecosystem. In all, two streams - one analog source and one digital source - can be streamed simultaneously from the HUB by other Bluesound devices in the system. A total of four HUBs can be added to a Bluesound system. Scroll down for my review of three ways to use the Bluesound HUB.
This multi-room streaming accessory is a true game-changer for music lovers, especially vinyl and CD collectors. You can connect any digital or analog audio source to a HUB to stream anything, anywhere in the house, without being limited by wires or proximity. Turn any old-fashioned music player into a hi-res audio streaming source. Bluesound press release
Bluesound HUB Key Features
- Network audio source-sharing with BLUOS™
- Low-noise MM phono stage
- Stereo analog line input
- HDMI eARC with CEC
- Optical and coaxial digital inputs
- No hard line outputs - provides up to one (1) analog and one (1) digital stream to other BluOS end points
- ARM® CORTEX™ A53 processor
- Dual-band wi-fi + gigabit ethernet
- Powered by usb-c power adapter
- 1u rack height, 1/3 rack width
- Four-way keyhole mounting slots
- Front panel function button
- Black finish
- Phono MM (RCA) and ground lug
- Line level RCA
- Digital optical
- Digital coax
- HDMI eARC with CEC
- Wi-Fi or Ethernet for network connectivity
The Bluesound HUB vs. Node
How does the Bluesound HUB differ from the Node? Unlike the Node, Bluesound's existing popular wireless multi-room hi-res music streamer, the HUB will feature only inputs: HDMI eARC with CEC for a television, as well as digital optical, digital coaxial, line-level RCA, and a moving-magnet RCA phono with a ground connection. This makes the HUB a more cost-effective way to incorporate a source into a Bluesound system if you don’t need local audio outputs, and it has the added benefit of a phono input, which the Node lacks.
Three great applications for the Bluesound HUB:
1. Connecting an audio source to your distributed Bluesound system
When you don’t want to sacrifice performance, aesthetics, or frankly any space in your living area, audio equipment ends up tucked away out of site in a centralized equipment rack. In-ceiling or in-wall speakers are a popular choice for whole-home audio, and the streamers, control systems, and amplifiers needed to power those speakers are often in a closet or in the basement. The convenience of a centralized equipment rack becomes a pain point, if you’re trying to enjoy physical media like vinyl or CDs.
Enter the Bluesound HUB. You can place your turntable in the listening area, and the HUB is the only equipment you’ll need to get the audio playing through your system. It’s fair to expect some latency here, alongside a more “digital” sound to the music. We would expect a hi-res stream from the HUB but don’t know the bit rate at this time.
It’s also easy to imagine situations where it
makes more sense to place a CD player or turntable somewhere else, even if the
equipment is in the same room. Maybe the turntable belongs on an end table next
to the listening chair, so you can drop the needle or change albums without
getting up. Perhaps the CD collection is in the built-in shelving opposite the
stereo system. The HUB is a welcomed DIY solution in all of these cases.
2. Distributing TV audio
With HDMI eARC and CEC connectivity on board, Bluesound clearly envisions the HUB as a great way to play TV audio through a Bluesound system. Often a Smart TV is the heart of a simpler system, and the HUB offers a perfect way to share TV audio wirelessly.
Outdoor TVs present an obvious application. Many contractors will provide an outlet, coaxial cabling (for a cable box) and one Ethernet line at the TV location. If you’ve got the Samsung Terrace smart TV, for example, you may have a tough time getting the audio from your built-in apps out to your sound system. The HUB could connect via Ethernet and is small enough to be tucked into the weatherproof compartment of the Samsung. Now, the TV audio can be played through a landscape speaker system that is connected to a Bluesound Node, without a wired connection between the TV location and the audio system.
Another great candidate for the HUB would be a TV above a fireplace. Chimneys and mantles can make it exceptionally difficult to get new wiring to a TV location, but the HUB would need only a power outlet and a Wi-Fi connection to send audio to your sound system. You could pair a Bluesound Node with the Dynaudio Xeo series to create a wireless stereo system that is wirelessly connected to the TV.
We occasionally receive a request for a secondary speaker, paired to TV, to be placed next to someone with difficulty hearing. The HUB can serve this purpose well, too: a Bluesound Pulse Flex or Pulse 2i could be on a tabletop next to this person while it streams audio from the TV.
Commands for volume and muting can be done
with the TV or cable box remote, making it a breeze to operate the HUB, with
any of the above examples. HDMI eARC connectivity and settings within the TV
can be used to reduce any lip sync issues.
3. Big boy system to go
If you’ve committed to a traditional surround sound system that’s expertly dialed in, the first two scenarios may not speak to you much - you’re not the type to choose wireless equipment for your main setup. Nevertheless, the Bluesound HUB has a compelling offering for your secondary zones.
Many home theater receivers, like the Marantz SR5015, feature fixed-level, analog RCA outputs for Zone 2. The Denon and Marantz family of receivers can also send audio from any source - HDMI, digital optical or coax, analog - out via Zone 2. In other words, when you connect the Zone 2 output from your Marantz to a Bluesound HUB, you’ll be able to use your receiver to send any source from your main system to your wireless Bluesound devices.
Maybe your favorite team is playing on cable TV, and you want to hear the game throughout the house. Enable your cable box in Zone 2, and open up the Bluesound app to activate the analog stream from your HUB, anywhere you’d like to hear the telecast. Is the event streaming instead? No problem: select a different source for Zone 2 on your receiver, and now that’s what will play via the HUB.
Controlling the functionality of Zone 2 can be
tricky and cumbersome, so we would recommend a control system (such as Savant
or URC Total Control) with this idea, especially if you plan to toggle Zone 2
on and off, or switch between several sources on a regular basis. We also
recommend only using a fixed output, from your main system, to avoid any
confusion with multiple methods of volume control.
The Bluesound Hub offers something for
everyone in the market for networked audio. Whether it’s a clever solution to
beaming TV across the room, relocating a turntable without new wires, or
helping enthusiasts enjoy their main system throughout the home, the Hub breaks
new ground. It shares some functionality with the Node, but offers to solve
some of the same dilemmas at a lower price. For anyone with Bluesound gear, the
Hub is a fabulous addition to the family.