Impressions: Bluesound Powernode (4G) with KEF LS50 Meta.

Jason Willemse

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Putting together a stereo system from scratch, one that ticks off all the possible boxes, is near impossible. Many a frown already from the audience, but consider these alone as those that are generally the most important.

Functionality ? what are my needs in terms of source and component integration?
Budget ? How much do I want to spend?
Aesthetics ? maybe this is really important? maybe less so.
Footprint ? What fits in my space, considering component and speaker placement.
Sound ? What is my preference? (A personal and subjective point)
Ease of Use ? Will other people be using the system, and how important is its operational simplicity?
Future-Fit ? How reasonably future-proof is the choice, relative to my functional needs?
Power ? Not just how much volume my needs require, but what too about power consumption?
New or Used? ? Or could it be both?

I?ll bet more could be considered, but for the purpose of what is this review of a system, cover my points of consideration. So allow me to unpack further, the significance of each in the putting together of this system.

Functionality (Most Important):
My needs around this were (and in no specific order) are Stereo audio, streaming abilities and Roon compatible, integration into TV audio via ARC HDMI. Network integration, goes without saying.

Budget (Important):
I was a little flexible, but decided that I wanted to come in at under 50K for audio part, so excluding the TV. So that means Roon-ready streamer, amplifier and speakers.

Aesthetics (Most Important):
The system being one that was in my living room, it was of great importance that the system could work with the d?cor and be minimally obtrusive.
Footprint (Less Important):
The room is large enough to accommodate most components, including large speakers. What comes into play need meet the aesthetical requirements of the system within the room, influencing the final decision. Considering the optimal placement requirements of certain types of speakers had to be noted. Ideally, the speakers would have to not be placed far into the room as is so often optimal.

Sound (Important):
As much as I wanted to state the sound quality of the system as most important, I had to be honest with myself in admitting that functionality and aesthetics trumped this, and for this reason had to bucket it into the ?important? category. I wanted the best possible, but not at the expense of these mentioned. I think it is worth mentioning, as I haven?t posted very much in recent months and there are new members coming through, that this isn?t my first or primary system. I?ve been through quite a few as many know, and with some really top shelf kit. What I wanted was something that sounded nice - an expression I don?t think I have used before. The term is fitting, because my expectations were reasonable. Easy to listen to, play-all-day enjoyment, musical signature, detailed enough to appreciate the good recordings.

Ease of Use (Important):
This was noted as important to the system, as I wanted it to be easy to use for everyone. Be they kids playing their games, or friends coming over and being able to use and take control of their own playlist preferences.

Power (Important):
Powerful enough allow for enough headroom at moderately loud listening levels, and low on energy consumption. As part of the rest of what is a rather techy home, I?ve become more aware of everything that contributes to my 7k a month electricity bill.

New or Used (Less Important, budget flexibility dependent):
I chose to go new on this one. The main reason was in wanting to purchase the latest available tech, and also for the sake of giving myself the experience thereof in comparison to so much of what I?ve been used to. If I could have found what I was looking for used, it would have been considered.

Future-Fit (Less Important):
Well, actually it is important. But the fact that this was a relatively small and less expensive system, and the fact that Roon was noted as ?most important?, the risk therein was low. Stuff like MQA would be nice as a feature and to be able to compare and play around with.


Ok, so that explain a little about what I was looking for and that which was going to influence my pickings. I did my research, talked to many. Listened where I could, always mindful of the room dynamics and needs.

For the source functionality and amplification requirements, the new generation Bluesound Powernode (think it?s referred to as 4th gen) was chosen. I?ve read much as of late on this forum about the pros and cons of the Bluesound range. I?ve used these in various generation models for years, and have always found them to be a well-rounded piece of kit. I think I?ve had five Node?s thus far, the comments around their internal DAC being less than stellar, I would agree with more than not. As a streamer though, I cannot complain. Using them with better external DACS has been part of many a great system in my system. The Powernode (simply the same thing with a built-in amplifier), of which have also had a few, has always been seriously impressive. I recall the day where on an earlier generation model, we hooked it up to a set of large Monitor Audio PL300ii floor standers, benchmarked back-to-back against the present 200k amplifier. No, I?m not comparing? but it was ridiculously funny noting the expressions on our faces reflecting just how much the unit exceeded our expectations!

So the new gen unit has around 25% more power than the last, has eARC HDMI inputs, and improved power supply and DAC. The most influencing factor being the HDMI option, allowing smooth integration with the existing television, single remote operation and ease of use. Extremely simple and comprehensive. As per the earlier model, Roon tested, does all the streaming stuff, MQA, radio channels etc. its own BlueOS operating system is rather slick and glitch-free, but I only use this for settings and the like. Most of the time, I?m on Roon or using Tidal/Spotify to cast directly. It also has an analogue input, so should you wish to add a turntable with external phonostage, you can do so. The new larger proximity touchscreen is also a big improvement, as well as the assignable 5 ?dots? that one can assign to specific inputs, radio channels or streaming playlists.

For the speakers, I wanted to fetch a set of KEF LS50?s. They are small bookshelf speakers with a dual-concentric type driver (in simple terms, the tweeter sits in the middle of the main driver), and are highly regarded by most. The LS50 Meta was the newly released model, and ended up purchasing a set of these with OEM stands. At first I was a little unsure of their looks. They were pretty enough and lent themselves well into the aesthetics requirements? but maybe just felt as if they were hard to take seriously as a serious speaker. They are really beautifully made, solid as a rock and have a good weight to them? just a little quirky! Anyway? on their OEM stands and in the room, they look pretty smart! They aren?t the most efficient of speakers at 85db, with a quoted frequency range of 45 kHz down to 47Hz. Bass was expected to be on the light side? but adequate.

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In the room now. The Powernode (alongside a 2nd to drive speakers in an entertainment area) was placed on my existing oversized component stand that previously housed 4 power-amps, separate processor, disc spinner and all the rest? looked tiny and lost. I did some neat wiring, and made thick high-density foam backing plates for each shelf to conceal all the wiring and neaten things up. Simply press them in. They share the stand with and Xbox SX and router, all making for a neat and presentable little system.

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The speakers and the positioning thereof, took weeks of listening and tweaking to optimize. The room previously had treatment applied and had been removed for the refurb. Upon completion? this wasn?t going to do. New panels were assembled and hung, in fact a few more even than before.

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The room itself measures approximately 6.1m (L) by 4.0m (W) by 2.74m (H), and the layout requires the system be placed on the length wall. The final speaker position is centered at 3.5m apart, a little under 1.2m from the side walls, and about 61cm away from the front wall. The listening position is 1.2m from the back wall, and a distance just under 3.5m to the listening position from each speaker. A scaled graphical representation looks something like this.

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This, after many tested positions and realizing the room mode dynamics, stage and imaging, gave me the best balance between aesthetics and optimal audio placement.

So on to my impressions. When I first set the system up, it has to be said that I was a little frustrated. All of my traditional positioning methodology was greatly tested, many a time scrapping it all and starting over. I have said this so many times - most will never realize the potential of their systems until they are able to reasonably understand the room and what is going on in it. Careful trial and error, noting the effects of various speaker placement and understanding where the optimal listening position lies in respect to each placement, will go an incredibly long way. This was no different.

The little system far exceeds my expectations. I still have my serious room? but the exercise has certainly given me a different perspective. It?s simple. Does everything well? REALLY well. There isn?t even a sub, and perhaps I?ll add one at some stage? but that thought only seems to occur to me when away from listening to it. It produces solid, tight lows that are more than adequate in its presentation.

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It just makes me smile and tap my feet every time! I welcome anyone who wants to have a listen someday.

A quick shout out to Bizkit for getting me the first new gen Powernodes as they arrived in SA. As always? your service is the benchmark.


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BiZKiT

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Thank you Jason, anything for a long time friend and client :dop:

I think the new power node is the product for 2021 by far :2c:
 

Kgomotso Mabokela

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Interesting read, this review gave me a whole lot of confidence based on ideas that I had. Had a similar idea compared to yours but with an addition of either the kef kc62 sub or the B&w pv1d.



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AlleyCat

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Hi Jason

I just read this review on my Magster sub two days ago, didn't know this mag existed. Googled it now and it's all there. What was more interesting was the full set of measurements (and a couple of comparisons). Maybe there's something in it for you :

KEF LS50 Meta Loudspeaker -  A Material Development
https://audioxpress.com/article/fresh-from-the-bench-kef-ls50-meta-loudspeaker-a-material-improvement

KEF LS50 - The Measurements
https://audioxpress.com/article/fresh-from-the-bench-kef-ls50-meta-the-measurements

I would love to listen to them, mainly because they are so far apart and from that listening position. Those distances apart is surprising. Well done!

(Not so strange now, but true, I just checked - " All on- and- off axis data is referenced at 1m for sensistivity (2.83V), and increased to 3m for some evaluations in the listening field.")  How lekker is that?!
 

Jason Willemse

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AlleyCat said:
Hi Jason

I just read this review on my Magster sub two days ago, didn't know this mag existed. Googled it now and it's all there. What was more interesting was the full set of measurements (and a couple of comparisons). Maybe there's something in it for you :

KEF LS50 Meta Loudspeaker -  A Material Development
https://audioxpress.com/article/fresh-from-the-bench-kef-ls50-meta-loudspeaker-a-material-improvement

KEF LS50 - The Measurements
https://audioxpress.com/article/fresh-from-the-bench-kef-ls50-meta-the-measurements

I would love to listen to them, mainly because they are so far apart and from that listening position. Those distances apart is surprising. Well done!

(Not so strange now, but true, I just checked - " All on- and- off axis data is referenced at 1m for sensistivity (2.83V), and increased to 3m for some evaluations in the listening field.")  How lekker is that?!
Thanks Allan! Like I said, I had to scrap certain preconceived ideas and start over. Simply using my ears and listening for what works best, guided me to this current layout.

Knowing the amount of testing that was engaged, I?m very comfortable that given the layout constructions, that this be a solid bet!


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Jason Willemse

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Kgomotso Mabokela said:
Interesting read, this review gave me a whole lot of confidence based on ideas that I had. Had a similar idea compared to yours but with an addition of either the kef kc62 sub or the B&w pv1d.



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I listened to the KC62. I?m still not over it. Its tiny!!!! Loved it? though expensive for its size. It would probably be my choice, and it?s is so easily hidden away, and a match.


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AlleyCat

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Jason Willemse said:
Thanks Allan! Like I said, I had to scrap certain preconceived ideas and start over. Simply using my ears and listening for what works best, guided me to this current layout.

Knowing the amount of testing that was engaged, I?m very comfortable that given the layout constructions, that this be a solid bet!


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Jason, I was trying to get my mind around that -  as my Vivid B1's are nearly as wide, and I remember listening to the original KEF LS50's in Rodney Gold's room. I understand that the Meta's are a different animal. Glad that you getting the best out of them.

Dynamite does come in  small packages!
 

Kgomotso Mabokela

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AlleyCat said:
Jason, I was trying to get my mind around that -  as my Vivid B1's are nearly as wide, and I remember listening to the original KEF LS50's in Rodney Gold's room. I understand that the Meta's are a different animal. Glad that you getting the best out of them.

Dynamite does come in  small packages!
Would like to audition the B1's for critical listening.. Which amps are you using to drive them?

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AlleyCat

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Kgomotso Mabokela said:
Would like to audition the B1's for critical listening.. Which amps are you using to drive them?

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Pathos Classic Remix, valve pre to Modwright KWA 100 power amp. Post Covid, you are welcome to visit.
 

Kgomotso Mabokela

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Jason Willemse said:
I listened to the KC62. I?m still not over it. Its tiny!!!! Loved it? though expensive for its size. It would probably be my choice, and it?s is so easily hidden away, and a match.


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Where did you audition it? Haven't had an opportunity to as yet. The other alternative speaker I looking at were the Kef ls50wii. I really need to do a proper A/B comparison before pulling the trigger.

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AlleyCat

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Kgomotso Mabokela said:
Wonderful..we chat privately for more

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For sure, will send you a pm. let's not detract from Jason's thread.
 
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