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MARCH 2016 ₨100

INDIA'S No.1 HOME ENTERTAINMENT MAGAZINE

MULTI-ROOM

MADE EASY BOSE VS SONOS

Music in every room – simple and affordable

5 GREAT RIVALS

COOL DACS

Brighten up your digital front end DANISH DELIGHT Vifa Stockholm tested


W E LC O M E

Hello/03/16 The hi-fi industry, as we know, is reinventing itself in various shapes and sizes. From the days of yore where Klipschorns and Quad ESLs ruled the realm of purist audio, we now have an army of Bluetooth soldiers ready and willing to invade every room of your domain. The idea of connected multiroom systems isn’t new, but it’s only now that it has truly taken the leap from being a rich man’s dream to working-class reality. In this issue, we look at some of the most popular streaming and sharing systems from leaders of the segment – Sonos, Bluesound, Bose, Libratone and more. Even our First Tests are littered with Bluetooth options from Cambridge Audio Air 200, UE Boom, JBL Extreme and the BeoPlay A6, all different price points but aimed at a similar listener. Of course, we can’t be too far detached from our roots, so, in the Temptations section, you’ll find the new pre/power combo from Mark Levinson, an over-engineered headphone from AKG and a royal couple from Germany and UK. There’s also a new brand to welcome from Denmark, Vifa, and we put it under the scanner in Off the Shelf. Scandinavian design has never looked this quirky before but more importantly, find out how it sounds. Enjoy the new look and the keep the feedback coming.

Raheja Xion, 4th/5th Floor, Opp Nirmal Park, Dr B Ambedkar Marg, Byculla (East), Mumbai 400 027. email us whathifi.edit@haymarketsac.com Call us 022-23787500 / 23787400 EDITORIAL Editor Nishant Padhiar Deputy Editor Yatish Suvarna Editor (Web) Farhan Kapadia Editor-Special Projects Vaibhav Sharma Sr. Correspondent Kaizad S Billimoria Staff Writer (Web) Karan Lohan Sub Editor Shanth Swaroop Video Content Editor Steve D’Souza Deputy Art Editors Kritika Dayal Sr. Designers Sahaya Johnson, Sukhdeep Singh Head Business Solutions Debolin Sen Marketing Sr. Manager Kunal Marjadi Executive Jayson Lobo ADVERTISING Group Head Harvinder Pal Singh Chief Manager Amjad Khan Regional Head Amit Ahlawat (North) Managers Nackeeran (Chennai), Kanika Sood (Delhi), Prasad Brid (Mumbai) Asst. Manager Ratan Deb (Mumbai), Neha Singh (Delhi) Advertising Co-ordinator Sonal Jain PRODUCTION Sr. Manager Sanjeev Govekar Deputy Manager Prasad Gangurde CIRCULATION & SUBSCRIPTION General Manager Gilbert D’Souza Head-Circulation Satish Kumar (North) Regional Manager P Vijayakumar (South) Asst. Manager Saravana D, Vimal Sharma Sr. Executive Ashok More (West) Executives Tapan H, Yogesh S, Anil Raghav Manager Subscription Mahesh Malusare Co-ordinator Rajesh Salian INTERNATIONAL Managing Editor Jonathan Evans Brand Editor Andy Clough Managing Director David Prasher Chief Operating Officer Brian Freeman Chief Executive Kevin Costello Chairman Rupert Heseltine Licensing Account Manager Isla Friend CONTACT Mumbai Raheja Xion, 4th/5th Floor, Opp Nirmal Park, Dr B Ambedkar Marg, Byculla (East), Mumbai 400 027. email us whathifi.edit@haymarketsac.com Call us 022-23787500 / 23787400 New Delhi A2/9, Lower Ground Floor, Safdarjung Enclave, Africa Avenue Road, New Delhi - 110029 Tel : 011-46020600, 32444090, 32969125 Fax: 011-46020633 Chennai M H V Pinnacle, First Floor 8/27 Govindu Street, T Nagar Chennai 600 017. Tel: 044-65446363 Telefax: 044-4212 3230

Nishant Padhiar, Editor

Bengaluru No. 811, ‘A’ Wing, 8th Floor, Mittal Towers, M.G. Road, Bengaluru - 560001. Tel: 080-2559 3775 Secundrabad C/o. IBH Books and Magazine Dist. Ltd., #3-5-587, Vittal Wadi, Himayat Nagar, Lane Opp. ICCI Bank, Hyderabad 500 029

My product of the month

News-stand price ₨100 All prices and content correct at the time of going to press (*denotes indicative pricing) All rights reserved. All the data contained in this magazine is based on the information available with the publisher at the time of going to press. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. The publisher makes every effort to ensure that the magazine’s contents are correct. However, he can accept no responsibility for any effects from errors or omissions. Unsolicited material – including photographs and transparencies–is used in WHAT HI-FI? SOUND AND VISION, but is submitted entirely at the owner’s risk, and the publisher accepts no responsibility for its loss or damage. Advertisements are accepted by us in good faith as correct at the time of going to press. Printed and published by Hormazd Sorabjee on behalf of Haymarket SAC Publishing (India) Pvt. Ltd. Raheja Xion, 4th/5th Floor, Opp Nirmal Park, Dr B Ambedkar Marg, Byculla (East), Mumbai 400 027.

B&O BeoPlay A6 First Test Because it offers an elegant option for those looking for a wireless speaker

Printed at Indigo Press (India) Pvt Ltd Plot No. 1, C/7 16, Off Dadoji Konddeo Cross Road, between Sussex and Retiwala Industrial Estate, Byculla (East), Mumbai 400 027. Published at Haymarket SAC Publishing (India) Pvt. Ltd. Raheja Xion, 4th/5th Floor, Opp Nirmal Park, Dr B Ambedkar Marg, Byculla (East), Mumbai 400 027. Editor: Nishant Padhiar CIN No. U22120MH1998PTC116780 This magazine contains 108 pages including both covers.

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www.whathifi.com March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 33


“If ‘sonic genetics’ wasn’t something CONTENTS we just made up, there’d be no doubt these are family” Page 30

THE WORLD’S MOST

RESPECTED VERDICTS 4 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

One of the best ★★★★★ A serious contender ★★★★ Worth a look ★★★ Disappointing ★★ Awful ★


CONTENTS

THE HIGHLIGHTS

THIS MONTH WE’VE THE DEFINITIVE WORD ON THESE FINE PRODUCTS: DACS Chord Hugo Moon Neo 230HAD Naim DAC-V1 HEADPHONES AKG N90Q PSB M4U 4 V-Moda Crossfade Wireless

6 MUSIC STREAMER

16 TABLET

Flying the flag for great (British) sound

Apple goes maxi with the iPad Pro

MUSIC STREAMERS Burmester Musiccenter 151 Cambridge Audio Azur 851N PORTABLE MUSIC PLAYERS FiiO X7 SMARTPHONES Lenovo Vibe X3 SOUNDBARS Definitive Technology W Studio Micro Vifa Stockholm STEREO AMPLIFIERS Mark Levinson No. 326S/532H STEREO SPEAKERS Tannoy Kensington GR TABLETS Apple iPad Pro

24 INSIDER

49 DACS

TELEVISIONS

The latest news, scoops and launches in Hi Fi

Turn your desktop into a system of distinction

LG 65EC970V WIRELESS SPEAKERS Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A6 Bluesound Pulse/Pulse Mini Bose SoundTouch 10/30 Cambridge Audio Air 200 JBL Xtreme Libratone Zipp Mini/Zipp BT Ministry of Sound Audio M Plus/Audio L Plus Samsung R6/R7 Sonos Play:1/Play:5 UE Boom 2 Yamaha WX-030/ISX-80

59 TEMPTATION

69 OFF THE SHELF

Crème de la crème Audiophile version

The latest in AV put through its paces

74 SUBCRIPTION

77 BUYING GUIDE

106 THAT WAS THEN

SAVE ON THE NEWSSTAND PRICE Big saving when you subscribe

FIND THE BEST KIT AROUND, FAST! Our verdicts on every product worth owning

SONY WALKMAN II The portable player that started it all March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 5


FIRST TEST

FIRST TESTS

RD EXCLUSIVE, IN-DEPTH VE

ICTS ON THE LATEST KIT

Cambridge Audio Azur 851N | Music streamer | ₨1,41,300

This flagship’s a standard-bearer FOR Open and spacious sound; vast file support; well equipped

AGAINST Bluetooth only optional; no analogue inputs

Say hello to the daddy of Cambridge Audio’s network streamers… and then, if you’re fortunate enough to have the money, think seriously about welcoming it into your hi-fi system with open arms. The Azur 851N, part of the company’s flagship Azur 851 Series, is a ‘step up’ from the mid-ranging CXN (our Product of the Year) and, as you’d hope for the price, a pretty giant step at that. Unlike the CXN, it doubles as a preamplifier and can plug straight into a power amp thanks to a volume output controlled by a 32-bit Blackfin digital signal processor. Music signals pass through two 24-bit Analog Devices DACs in dual differential mode, meaning each stereo channel processes information separately for, Cambridge says, greater accuracy. Connections are greater in number too – the 851N adds second coaxial and optical and third USB inputs, as well as an AES/EBU input – and in terms of build it’s more Hulk than Popeye to look at.

The thrashing electric guitars in Band of Horses’ Cigarettes, Wedding Bands that feel a little mashed together through the CXN are more coherent via the Azur. Even with a low-res Spotify stream of Cold War Kids’ Lost That Easy, there’s a sense of isolation to the vocals and depth to the recording that isn’t evident with the CXN. It just about one-ups its little brother in every way, as flagships should do, leaving you with a remarkably entertaining and versatile performer.

One giant leap But it’s the leap in performance over the CXN that really gives it justification for the heavier price tag around its neck. The CXN’s muscular, full-bodied presentation, lathered in enthusiastic drive, bone-rattling punch and class-leading insight, is present in the Azur 851N, yet everything is served with extra helpings of expression and dynamic skill, not to mention extra space and openness.

6 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

★★★★ ★ through the mix, and the delicate bells never have to fight for attention. Striking a balance between power and delicacy, the Cambridge ensures there’s never a dull moment in John Williams’ Cadillac Of The Skies. It drives home cymbal crashes while choral vocals fill the room with power, scale and openness, and the pensive-sounding instruments working away underneath don’t suffer for it. It draws out the finer flurries of detail, and as building strings creep ever nearer to their

“A muscular, full-bodied presentation, lathered in enthusiastic drive, bone-rattling punch and class-leading insight is served up with extra helpings of expression and dynamic skill” Rhythmic cadence and precision comes to the fore; the track’s polyrhythmic structure isn’t lost on the Cambridge as it keeps tabs on the hypnotic bass beat and jagged, melodic synth rhythms, juggling the two without compromising their close collaboration. It’s punctual, decisive and quick on its feet with the fluctuating tempo too. There’s punch and depth down low and sparkling bite up top, with all-you-can-eat solidity fleshing out what’s a clear and articulate midrange. In Sufjan Stevens’ Jacksonville, cascading violins, treading keyboards and lucid banjo strumming are all wonderfully textured around his detailed, tender vocals. Trumpets soar freely

climaxes the Cambridge proves just as capable of communicating the sweeping dynamic swings as the subtler strokes.

The music’s laid bare The Azur really shows what it can do with a 24-bit/192kHz version of Hans Zimmer’s Born In Darkness (from The Dark Knight Rises soundtrack). It’s insightful, open and layered, the nitty-gritty intricacies of the orchestration laid bare. Strings not only have the scale and presence to be effortlessly encompassing, they enjoy huge dynamic sweeps too. If anything can serve as a reminder of the streamer’s dynamic punch, it’s the clamorous claps and drums opening the next song, The Fire Rises.


FIRST TEST

It doesn't just sound muscular, expressive and insightful – it's easy to use too. The standard remote is intuitive but the neat app is even better

The presentation doesn’t sound too compressed when fed MP3 files either. The sound closes in notably, like daylight when you’ve only half-drawn the curtains – with Turin Brakes’ Underdog (Save Me), the acoustic strumming isn’t short of room – but there’s still plenty of dynamics and detail. The background guitar work radiates, the pings of the guitar solo are intact, and there’s expression to Brakes' lofty vocal. The 851N looks expensive, and we don’t doubt its full-metal casework or polished (silver or dark grey) finish will stand the test of time. Taller and chunkier than the CXN, it is nevertheless just as elegant. A modern take on the traditional, it adds contemporary touches to a classic design.

KEY FEATURES 24/192 HI-RES

DSD

The crisp 11cm display, about the right size we feel, looks almost identical to that of the CXN, and the colourful album artwork that fills it looks classy. The on-unit buttons move away from the side of the screen and instead run across the front, and although this makes the Azur’s panel look busier we like it all the same. The large volume dial turns with ease and is helpful for manually scrolling large music libraries.

Access all areas – with ease SPOTIFY CONNECT

While the intuitive remote is on hand too, the free Cambridge Connect app (iOS and Android) is the best way to access and browse your music – not least if you have a comprehensive library.

Scrolling music artists, in your choice of listed or grid format, is certainly preferable to pressing a remote’s down button umpteen times just to get from Alison Krauss to Eminem. Generally, the app works well in our time with it. Freezes are rare, and never for more than a few seconds, and it opens doors to thousands of radio stations, promptly picking up the servers on our network. Just make sure both your device and streamer are on the same network. The interface is easy to navigate, albeit more functional than fancy with its straight-laced grey colour theme and straightforward control design. If you have more than one Cambridge streamer

IN DETAIL...

The main multi-function control knob feels smooth in operation

Cambridge Audio has stayed true to its corporate look with the 851N

The remote has a comprehensive control layout but is still easy to use

UK-based design and engineering is a Cambridge Audio hallmark

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 7


FIRST TEST

3

1

4

2

1 BUILD QUALITY You'd expect high standards of build on any flagship, and the 851N fulfils those expectations – with both materials and finish.

3

2 GOOD CONNECTIONS… Digital connections feature in unusually generous measure: two opticals, two coaxials, a Type B USB and three Type As.

…AND UNUSUAL ONES As well as the usual digital ports, the rarer AES/EBU standard – normally only on studio kit – is also supported.

4 ANALOGUE OUTPUTS Single-ended and balanced XLR ports are available and allow you to output either a line-level or variable signal.

ROUND THE BACK in the household, it’s easy flicking between them in the app too. Whether you connect the Azur over wi-fi by plugging in the supplied USB adapter or via ethernet cable, networked music files up to 24-bit/192kHz can be streamed (and upsampled to 24-bit/384kHz) from your PC, laptop or NAS drive. And where file compatibility is concerned, it doesn’t trip up, handling everything from DSD64 to FLAC and WAV. It’s digital-library-proof then, although if you’re still working on

Storage solution

building one you have the option to stream millions of songs from Spotify via Spotify Connect. AirPlay is on board too, as is Bluetooth if you buy an optional dongle. Naturally we’d prefer it if the dongle were built-in or, at least included in the box.

Some equally sweet kit to use with your Azur

Getting connected Building on the CXN’s impressive connectivity list, the Azur 851N is well appointed around the back. Analogue outputs are taken care of by a pair of RCAs and balanced XLRs, and there are digital optical and coaxial outputs too. Twin optical and coaxial inputs join the single asynchronous USB input for your laptop, and there are three standard USB sockets (one on the front, two at the rear) for connecting external hard drives and memory sticks. As with the CXN, all the digital inputs are capable of playing hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz. There are also system connections for universal control of a multi-component Cambridge system too. It’s an exhaustive list, although if we’re being picky we’d like to see a pair of analogue inputs onboard for hooking up legacy kit.

The natural upgrade

Streaming music from your computer to a streamer might be easy, but if you want the best sound quality you won't be able to run other applications. Then there’s the limited storage space. The alternative? A Network Attached Storage (NAS) device: a 'thinking' hard drive that connects to a home network, so music stored on it can be accessed by any device or system on that network. Most NASs have huge storage capacity – some support 12TB. Yes, really.

SYSTEM BUILDER

Cambridge has done it again. The Azur 851N, a natural upgrade to the CXN, does all the right things and is the ideal high-end streamer whether you’re seeking a capable digital pre-amp or are simply after something to slot into your existing system. If you’re starting from scratch, ATC's SCM11 or Neat's Motive SX3s driven by the Rega Elex-R amp would be a great place to start. We’d like wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity to be more streamlined, but having dongles sticking out of the box is a small price to pay for the accomplished, all-round performance on offer here.

Tablet Apple iPad Air 2 ★★ ★ ★ ★ from ₨35,250 The best tablet experience on the market

Stereo amplifier Rega Elex-R ★★ ★ ★ ★ ₨1,12,500 Bags of energy, power, agility and resolution

Stereo speakers Neat Motive SX3 ★★ ★ ★ ★ ₨1,50,000 Pocket-sized cabinets that pack a real punch

Total build ₨4,39,050

says

RATING ★ ★ ★★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Another knockout Cambridge streamer that justifies its rank above the Award-winning CXN

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 9


FIRST TEST

Cambridge Audio Air 200 Wireless speaker ₨49,000

Fill your room with fresh Air FOR Hefty sound; lots of bass weight; useful app

We see nothing wrong with being a minx. Nonetheless, Cambridge Audio has shaved it from the moniker for the second generation of the previously named Minx Air wireless speakers. The numeral in the new Air 200’s name represents a claimed 200W delivered by its Class D digital amplifier. That clout is emitted via a pair of Cambridge Audio’s 57mm BMR drivers, the same as found in their ₨79,000 Aeromax 6 floorstanding speakers, and a 16.5cm woofer (with a bass port disguised cunningly as a handle).

AGAINST Dynamics could be more expressive

★★ ★ ★ ★

The Air 200 features an understated and uncomplicated design, in keeping with Cambridge Audio’s hallmark aesthetic

Wireless and wired inputs It is fairly weighty – 5.1kg to be precise – which makes it feel like you’re handling something worthy of the price. We like the design too: understated and uncomplicated, in keeping with Cambridge Audio’s hallmark aesthetic. All you see from its fascia is a modest company logo and an LED indicator shining from behind the grille. On its rump are left and right auxiliary inputs, 3.5mm jack, ethernet port and a dial for bass adjustment. On its head, ten buttons: five for internet radio presets, two for source changing, another pair for volume tweaking and the on/off button. There is a remote control included, which performs the same functions as on the unit itself, plus accesses five extra presets. We find the Air 200 is most easily controlled using the free app. It is also through this colourful, fresh-looking app you are able to access internet radio and change EQ settings more freely.

Heavy-handed approach Connecting via AirPlay, Bluetooth or Spotify Connect is straightforward. Network connection without an Apple device is a more cumbersome web-based operation, but nonetheless needs doing only once. Once set up, we play Vennart’s The Demon Joke. The opening track Two Five Five perfectly shows off the Air 200’s power: the soundscape created by those first expansive chords is painted with bold strokes and a wealth of bass weight.

Despite that low end, there is still a decent balance without needing to tamper with the EQ. Besides, the bass adjustment tool tends to be rather heavy-handed.

KEY FEATURES

In the mix There is a good sense of timing as well: the harsh stomp of Doubt is played as a regimental march that isn’t slowed by the anchoring low end but channels energy from the punch the Air 200 packs. Changes in rhythm are well tracked, giving proper effect to Mike Vennart’s often purposefully awkward time signatures. When the album arrives at the more delicate Don’t Forget The Joker, the Air 200 is ably tactful. There is still great body to instruments and vocals, but the speaker is aware enough dynamically to carry the song rather than drive it. It is a versatile and powerful performance, but we'd like a little more from the dynamics and expression. It would also help if the Air 200 were better organised in terms of layering the parts. There is a good amount of detail, but it isn't always clearly separated.

BLUETOOTH

AIRPLAY

SPOTIFY CONNECT

When we compare it with the B&W Zeppelin, the differences are noticeable: the Zeppelin is more spacious, with better detail, dynamics and organisation. But it is also a tad more expensive and isn’t capable of the same room-filling power as the Air 200. Likewise, pitting it against the five-star Sonos Play:5, highlights both strengths and weaknesses: the Sonos is considerably more closed-in, but is capable of more expression and subtler dynamics. The Air 200 is bold, powerful and driven. We would like a little more from its dynamic range, but if you’re after heavyweight punch at a reasonable price, you could go much further wrong.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

“The Air 200 is bold, powerful and driven. We'd like more dynamic range, but if you’re after heavyweight punch at a reasonable price, you could go much further wrong”

BUILD

VERDICT A decent all-rounder with plenty of kick and an impressive amount of bass, but a little more subtlety would go far

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 11


FIRST TEST

PSB M4U 4 In-ear headphones ₨22,500

An act of extravagance FOR Smooth presentation; solid sound; comfortable

AGAINST Bass is too rich; sound could be crisper; pricey

The PSB M4U 4s have very big shoes to fill. Not only are we fans of PSB's overear cans (M4U 1 and M4U 2), but they’re also the company’s first stab at a pair of in-ear headphones. These in-ears come with a hefty price tag, and that puts them up against some mighty talented competition. Our favourites are the Award-winning Shure SE425s. They cost ₨23,220 and are magnificent. How do the PSBs fare next to such formidable competition?

The PSB M4U 4s offer a laidback performance which lacks a little punch and attack. Though on the pricey side for a pair of in-ears, they are worth a listen if you want to treat yourself

★★ ★ ★ ★

The sound of sludge We start with grunge ballad Creep by Stone Temple Pilots, and are met with a full-bodied sound that gives a good impression of what the PSBs are capable of. They go loud. They’re big and open. They have a lot of oomph in the bass department. There’s plenty of detail to pick out the strums of bass strings and the lilting quality of voices. The late Scott Weiland’s raw and powerful vocals shine through with a strong sense of solidity running throughout the midrange. While a day’s running-in will get rid of any top-end brightness, there’s a slight touch of hardness in the treble. It’s not enough to mar the experience, but some may find it wearying to listen to. We could do with a touch more clarity and subtlety, though. Where the Shure SE425s amaze us with their breathtaking insight and transparency, the PSBs offer a more laidback performance. The guitars and drums sound meaty and charge ahead at a decent tempo, but they sound just a little sludgy – even for a 90s grunge band. It makes the M4U 4s comfortable to listen to, although you’ll want a bit more excitement and attack with familiar songs.

Tips to prevent leakage That’s partly because of that warm and fuzzy bass performance. The PSBs plunge deep (admirably so for a pair of in-ears), but they're not as well defined and taut as the Shure SE425s. That deliciously squelchy bassline from Sbtrkt’s Wildfire thuds softly – we want a punchier, tauter impact. Tighten up that bass, and the PSBs

– and it’s worth trying them all out to find the best seal. You’ll know it’s the right fit when you get maximum bass, sound doesn’t leak out (or in), and the buds don’t pop out of your ears when you move.

A black and white choice

could be so much more attacking and rhythmically exciting. PSB has gone for a round-the-ear design for the M4U 4s, which loops around the ears for a more secure fit. We wish they had the flexible wire inserts you can mould to your ear-shape like the Shure SE425s have but even after a few wiggles and tugs, the PSBs do stay put. The chunky earbuds are lighter than they look, though, which means you won’t get worn down when wearing them for hours. You get a good selection of ear tips in the box – three pairs each in foam and silicone

“Guitars and drums sound meaty and charge ahead with a decent tempo, but they sound just a little sludgy – even for a 90s grunge band”

KEY FEATURES

The overall design is fairly muted, with a flash of metal around the edges breaking up the plain design. The M4U 4s come in two colours: black diamond and arctic white. Our one slight complaint is that the in-ears aren’t clearly marked as left or right. You’ll have to go by the colour trim where the cables join the earbuds: red for right, white for left. We do, however, like that PSB has packaged two cables in with the M4U 4s: one with in-line mic and a three-button remote, and one without. The controls are responsive and easy to operate, and both cables are thick and sturdy enough that they don’t get tangled up. Splashing out over ₨20k for a pair of in-ears is an extravagant act, but the PSB M4U 4s are definitely worth a listen if you’re going to treat yourself. However, the standards are high in the ever-expanding in-ears market, and these PSBs need to be just a little bit more discerning – and more accurate – to beat the best.

CHOICE OF CABLES

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND

2 FINISHES

COMFORT BUILD

CHOICE OF EAR TIPS

VERDICT They’re not perfect, but these pricey in-ears are worth an audition for their easy-listening vibes

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 13


FIRST TEST

JBL Xtreme Wireless speaker ₨24,990

Xtremely bold and splashproof FOR Full, large-scale sound; Care with dynamics; Solidly built

When you look at the JBL Xtreme, you see something of a brute. Its broad shoulders and barrel chest promise power, and it feels tough, too. The passive bass radiators at either end of the drum are the only areas in which you'd feel tentative about poking around, the rest you feel could be subjected to a considerable amount of torture.

Weight bate That heavyweight material adds a little to its weight (2.1kg), but it remains a manageable size and there's a strap in the box for easy carrying. It isn't fussed by rain, either; as usual splashproof doesn't mean entirely waterproof – no submerging – but JBL is quite happy with you washing the Xtreme under a running tap. There is a charge point, auxiliary input and two USB outputs for your phone to share in some of the Xtreme's claimed 15-hour battery life – but they’re not waterproof, so keep them dry.

Music's laid bare We're eager to put all this muscle to good use, but start with something more low key: The Tallest Man On Earth's Love Is All. The JBL captures the lo-fi recording nicely – the guitar warbles and the room is laid bare – but there's a richness that keeps the

AGAINST Bass is a little heavy on its feet

sound from becoming clinical. The solidity doesn't compromise dynamics, either. The guitar strings are allowed to bounce with the rhythm of Kristian Matsson's finger picking. His vocal is similarly expressive and keeps its charm despite a thin recording. Then the opening guitar hook of Ryan Adams's Gimme Somethin' Good slashes its way through, followed by a thumping drum kit. A good wireless speaker is indiscriminate about the music it plays best, so let's just say the Xtreme feels very comfortable. The vocal is equally bold, and the sound is undeniably big; it is the power we were expecting at first glimpse. If there is a criticism to be made, it is that the low end, considerable as it is, doesn't quite show the agility or lightness of feet we'd really like. The detail shown throughout the rest of the frequency range is lacking down there and when we shift to a song in which the energy comes from a dancing bass line, such as Bedouin Soundclash's Gyasi Went Home, we'd like a little more composure. To tighten things up, we try a range of tables, a bookcase, speaker stands and the floor. The results vary, but we are never truly satisfied. A more practical solution, given the absence of options, is to adjust the EQ on your phone or music player.

★★ ★ ★ ★

KEY FEATURES

MULTI-ROOM POTENTIAL

RECHARGEABLE BATTERY

Xtreme certainty We'd certainly recommend you take a listen; you may find the Xtreme's fortes, of which it has many, justify a little of your own work to find the right balance. If so, this is a versatile wireless speaker with which you can certainly have a lot of fun.

says

SPLASH PROOF

There is a neat looking zipper that covers all the connections on the JBL Extreme to keep it splash-proof

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Bold and powerful, but capable of great subtlety, the JBL Xtreme needs only to tighten up in the bass to become a real all-rounder

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 15


FIRST TEST

Apple iPad Pro Tablet ₨67,000 (32GB)

“Makes everything you do inherently better” FOR Sharp screen; fine audio; fast processor; accessories

AGAINST Pricey; needs more native apps

★★ ★ ★ ★

Ever since Apple announced the iPad Pro late last year, people have struggled with how they should label it. Is this a laptop replacement or just a really big iPad? The thing is, trying to shoehorn it into a single category is either misunderstanding what Apple has tried to do here, or selling it very much short of what it’s capable of. In reality, it sits somewhere between the two. It looks very much like the rest of the iPad family, with its gently curved edges and brushed-metal chassis seeming very familiar. Of course it’s much bigger – and to begin with feels stupidly so. At 12.9in, the iPad Pro dwarfs the iPad Air 2 and makes the iPad mini 4 seem almost toy-like. But it isn’t long before everything clicks into place and it all seems so obvious. Going back to the Air 2 after an hour with the Pro, we had to check we hadn’t picked up the mini by mistake. All of a sudden it feels like this is the size of iPad that makes sense.

Apple has made sure that making the jump in screen size doesn’t mean any unnecessary bulk either. Assuming you can make room for its bigger size in your bag, at 6.9mm thick it’s close to iPad Air 2 levels of slimness, and at 713g it’s still much lighter than your laptop.

While the screen might be the headline feature, there’s plenty more for the iPad Pro to shout about, including a new, more powerful A9X processor. It promises to be 1.8x faster than the A8X in the Air 2, with double the graphics performance and twice the RAM. There’s certainly no doubting it’s fast. It wades through processor-heavy tasks like movie and photo editing without worry, so it makes easy work of more menial tasks like browsing and multitasking. There are no stutters when jumping between apps or swiping through menus and webpages. Gaming is also super-smooth and lag-free.

Bigger is better Just as with a phone screen, the iPad Pro’s larger screen makes everything you do – whether it’s watching movies, browsing the web or working on documents – an inherently better experience.

Leader of the resolution At 12.9in, there’s 78 per cent more screen to go at here than with the iPad Air 2, and with a resolution of 2732 x 2048 and an iPad Air 2-matching 264ppi, it’s the highestresolution Retina display on any portable device – its whopping 5.6 million pixels tops even the 15in MacBook Pro. They come together and offer a superb video experience that’s hard to fault. Colours are slightly more muted here than on the iPad Air 2, but they never appear dull or washed out – just more natural. Contrast is still superb, with whites bright and blacks deep, while edges and outlines are always well etched and solid. The bigger screen isn’t only better for video. The extra screen real-estate lends itself well to things such as multi-tasking, meaning the split-screen capability brought in with iOS9 makes even more sense here.

App Store only The iPad Pro runs on iOS9, so can only run apps from the App Store, rather than the desktop software your MacBook would be capable of (such as full Adobe Photoshop). If anything, that’s what the iPad Pro is waiting on for its size and power really to make sense – more specifically designed apps that take advantage of its bigger screen and faster processing capabilities. A large part of the iPad Pro’s charm is its emphasis on creating things, removing a level of technicality to put you into a much

IN DETAIL...

Remove the Pencil's cap to reveal the Lighting connector, which connects to the Pro for charging and pairing

16 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

The Pro's larger size means it can house a speaker at each corner, giving sound quality a real boost

Following the established iPad pattern, the Lighting port is tucked discreetly behind the bottom edge

The main camera has an 8MP/2.4 lens with autofocus and the capacity to shoot 1080P video


FIRST TEST

KEY FEATURES

13IN SCREEN

2732 X 2048 RESOLUTION

FOUR SPEAKERS

“The iPad Pro is quite possibly the best tablet on the market today. It proves that size most definitely matters, and that bigger is certainly better”

It costs extra, but the Pencil is a nicely weighted accessory that makes writing and drawing feel completely natural

more natural set-up, with all the simplicity of pen and paper on a hugely advanced digital interface. This is certainly aided by Apple’s Pencil accessory – a stylus-type device available separately. We say 'stylus-type' because this isn’t something you’d use for general navigation, but for more precision design work or notes. It’s a joy to use, weighted perfectly in the hand with sensors that detect its position, level of pressure and angle.

Keyboard is a case in point There’s another official accessory for the iPad Pro, and that’s Apple’s Smart Keyboard – a ₨14,900 protective case that doubles as a stand with a super-slim foldable keyboard built in. With a closed-key design, it is both spill-proof and wipe clean and, unlike some third party alternatives, doesn’t require separate charging. Instead it connects to the iPad Pro via its three-pronged Smart Connector, which powers it whenever it’s in use, by way of conduction. To keep the keyboard so slim (4mm), the keys are quite shallow, so don’t have the same level of travel as you’ll be used to from a laptop, which might take some

adjusting to. Otherwise, it’s the same size as a regular MacBook keyboard, and so typing on it is surprisingly comfortable. We do wish the screen tilt were adjustable though.

Changes with sound too On to music and there have been some significant changes here too. Firstly, there are now four speakers – one at each corner – that create a much bigger, more solid stereo sound. They’re intelligent speakers too, changing their focus with the iPad’s orientation – while all four will produce bass frequencies, the upper two will dedicate themselves to high frequencies for a cleaner, clearer sound. The performance using headphones seems to have a better sense of space, too. Cameras have very little place on tablets at the best of times, let alone those measuring in at 12.9in. But Apple has included them all the same, with the same front-facing and rear cameras as the iPad Air 2. This means an 8MP f/2.4 lens on the main cam with autofocus and 1080P video capabilities, and a 1.2MP, 720p Facetime HD camera on the front. As ever, you’ll get passable shots in good light, but it’s worth

remembering there’s no flash here so it’s not one for low-light snapping. We're big fans of the iPad Pro. Its larger, improved screen makes for a superb movie-watching experience, while its power boost means it’s as fast and smooth as you could ever want it to be. Add that to improved audio across the board, and some excellently considered accessories, and you have a superb tablet proposition – assuming you have the space and budget of course, because the iPad Pro is not cheap. Starting at ₨67k for 32GB with wi-fi and going up to ₨91,900 for the top spec (128GB + 3G), there are plenty of laptops you could get for less. But then you wouldn’t buy this if you wanted a laptop. The iPad Pro is very much a tablet, and quite possibly the best tablet on the market today. It proves that size most definitely matters. And when it comes to tablets, bigger is certainly better.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ PICTURE SOUND FEATURES

VERDICT Apple has again made sense of a market many hadn’t even considered, producing its best iPad yet in the process.

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 17


Zemax House, Old Military Road, Opp. Richard Garage, Marol, Andheri (E), Mumbai - 400 059. • Tel.: 022 - 29207900/01 • www.zemaxindia.com

www.facebook.com/zemaxindiaincorporate


FIRST TEST

Ultimate Ears Boom 2 Wireless speaker ₨25,999

Like the Boom – but better FOR Rhythmic, expressive sound; app functionality; build

AGAINST Distortion at maximum volume

★★ ★ ★ ★ KEY FEATURES

Love at first sight (and listen). That’s how we remember the UE Boom – the first wireless speaker from Ultimate Ears to impress us, but not the last – the MegaBoom (the Boom but bigger) and the Roll (a 2015 Award winner) have hit the mark since, and the new UE Boom 2 is by no means the runt of the litter. If its very literal name isn’t enough of a clue, it’s the next-gen Boom, which brings new internals, a tweaked exterior and a range of new colours. UE claims the speaker goes 25 per cent louder than the original Boom and has an improved wireless range of up to 30 metres too. But, like a good movie sequel, the Boom 2 has a lot of the charm of the original too. Bluetooth (with one-touch NFC compatibility) takes care of wireless connectivity, although a 3.5mm input – alongside a microUSB charging port on the bottom of the speaker, now covered by flaps – provides an alternative for hardwiring your smartphone or tablet. There’s still a claimed 15-hour battery life (from a 2.5 hour charge), a built-in mic to allow it to be used as a speakerphone, 360-degree sound, and a waterproof (to IPX 7 standards), rugged exterior.

MULTI-ROOM POTENTIAL

BATTERY LIFE: 15 HOURS

WATER RESISTANT

Ruggedly durable First-class butterfingers will be pleased to know it’s ‘drop-proof’ from up to five feet too, and designed to ‘get wet, muddy and beat up’. Though we didn’t have the stamina to go 12 rounds with it, we purposely knocked it off the table and briefly ran it under the tap, and it survived to tell the tale. Remaining its fun, colour-coordinating self, UE has dropped the Boom’s seven colours for six new, and even flashier, ones: Cherrybomb (red), Yeti (white), Phantom (grey and black), GreenMachine (green and blue), Tropical (purple and orange) and BrainFreeze (blue). But unless you’re well versed in which colours belong to which generation of speaker, telling the Boom 2 from its predecessor requires a keen eye. The wraparound woven fabric grille simply looks more tightly woven and slightly better attached to the rubberized control strip running down its middle. The snazzy up-and-down volume buttons return (hold them together and a voice lets you know the current battery

level) and there’s also a new tap control so you can pause, play and skip tracks by tapping the top of the speaker once or twice. Just make sure the function is activated in the UE Boom app. Speaking of which… as with the original model, the app lets you pair two Boom speakers to play in stereo mode, or together for a bigger, louder sound. Does that mean multi-room? Yes, it does. The app also lets you rename your Boom 2, check its battery percentage, power it on and off and

The strap loop and tabs covering the USB/3.5mm ports are in the recessed base base, along with a strap loop

set an alarm with your choice of song. A new feature for the app, ‘Block Party’, lets three devices connect to a single Boom 2, Megaboom or Roll and add songs to a shared playlist so you and your friends can channel your inner DJ. When it's standing upright, as it should be, the 360-degree sound is more than big and open enough to fill every corner of the average room – impressive for a speaker that could fit inside a pint glass. In Enya’s Caribbean Blue the ethereal waves of synths and layers of lush, cascading vocal harmonies ooze out of the Boom 2 effortlessly, with space and openness, never sounding strained or muddled. That ease of delivery was a major pull of the original, but the successor moves things on with greater transparency. Underneath, the nimble strings have texture and rhythm and there’s more going on dynamically than you’d expect.

Pumped and synced While it can’t chuck out the weight and power of the Megaboom, bass is better defined than on its predecessor. Mids and treble have more insight too and while it’s still lively rhythmically, its fancy footwork is that bit more surefooted. In Nas’ N.Y. State Of Mind, there’s tighter sync between the beat, piano loops and twinkly chimes. We can vouch for it being louder than the original (not that it needed to be), though despite cramming in two larger drivers and passive radiators the Boom 2 still lets distortion creep in at the highest volume levels. Still, it will happily sprint along trouble-free at 80 per cent volume, which is still good for a party. The Boom but better; that’s what it boils down to. UE has built on the success of its debut wireless speaker with added usability and improved performance, producing yet another winner. Boom indeed.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The original Boom gets even better, thanks to improved features and performance

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 19


FIRST TEST

LG 65EC970V OLED TV ₨5,79,900*

"Every scale in Richards' snakeskin jacket is accounted for" FOR Stunning contrast; sharp, clear picture; upscales HD well

You want an OLED TV? You have a choice of LG or Panasonic. LG has stood out somewhat in the OLED arena for the past five years, but the latest panel technology is now a tale of two brands. That said, unless you’re willing to sell a kidney for Panasonic’s debut OLED – the ₨8lacs TX-65CZ952B – or wait for a more affordable model to appear, then it’s probably one of the LG’s 10 or so models you’ll be after. LG has updated some of its existing OLEDs – its two-strong EF9500 range and 55EG9200 model – with HDR (High Dynamic Range) support for streaming services that provide HDR content (such as Amazon Instant Video), but sadly the 65EC970V has been left out. HDR isn’t even an official standard yet – the UHD Alliance is still working on it – but its omission here is worth bearing in mind for those adamant about future-proofing. The 65EC970V was one of the first confirmed 4K OLED screens that we saw, and it started life around ₨6,00,000 – not so preposterous when you consider the Panasonic’s asking price, perhaps, but that’s not to say we aren’t ecstatic to find it’s been significantly reduced. That puts it among fierce competition for those open to 4K LCDs such as the Samsung UE65JS8500 and UE65JS9500. So is the LG the leader of the pack?

*Price for Indian equivalent model - LG 65EC970T

Deep blacks take our breath We start with the documentary Keith Richards: Under The Influence in Ultra HD on Netflix: a good sell for 4K and an even better one for OLED. This isn't the first OLED we’ve seen, or even the second. But the depth of black the OLED panel can display still has the ability to take our breath away. Needless to say, the 65EC970V ‘out-blacks’ any LCD we put up next to it. Not only that, because the pixels in an OLED panel are self-lighting, when they turn off to produce black there’s no

20 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

AGAINST Picture needs more subtlety; no ITV Player or All4

KEY FEATURES

4K

★★ ★ ★ ★

bleeding into another pixel. So when a black piano key meets a white one, it’s remarkably precise and defined. Both extremes of the contrast range are confidently handled, even if the purity and brightness of the whites aren’t quite as eyebrow-raising. It’s a strong hand to hold, but one we feel LG has slightly overplayed.

Texture in textiles SMART

CURVED

While Richards’ leather jacket looks inky deep – even small black details on his hats and guitars are given the lights-out treatment – texture and clarity is a little jeopardised. Things can sometimes look unnaturally black. Still, the 65EC970V’s savvy picture means you don’t need a close-up of the veteran rock star to make out the subtle ribbed texture of his headband. There’s insight into his rugged face and every scale in his snakeskin jacket is accounted for. You get your money’s worth in terms of crispness and sharpness, too. As for viewing angles, they’re good by the standards of a curved screen. Continue your 65EC970V journey with a Blu-ray and the LG does its best to trick you into thinking it was made for this 4K screen. Jurassic World is alive with bright, rich colour, and the LG makes the park look like a pretty spectacular place. The greens are lush and varied, and the Mosasaurus pool sparkles. There’s subtle shading in the dinosaurs' scaly skin too. Again, colour isn’t the most nuanced we’ve laid eyes on – that honour belongs to the Samsung UE65JS9500. Although not

‘out there’ enough to call gaudy, the LG’s palette has a stubborn vibrancy to it that shirks outright realism. We knock the colour settings down a touch and reduce the impact of colour processing modes for a more faithful picture, but we’re never fully convinced. Setting TruMotion mode to ‘smooth’ or ‘clear’ is a must to iron out some motion instabilities in fast-moving scenes. So Jessica Chastain glides across the control room in one swift, smooth motion and people stay pin-like as the camera pans over the theme park. Despite issues with colour subtlety peeping through HD broadcasts too, generally speaking the LG is a pretty talented upscaler. We’d stick to those motion modes where possible: in SD, the scrolling text across the bottom of the screen. But this is advice we find ourselves giving with regard to most large 4K screens. It’s a compromise. The EC970V’s passive 3D performance is as bright and crisp as we’ve seen, and is comfortable to watch close-up. Contrast is well handled, and that goes for motion stability too. LG has partnered with Harman Kardon to improve the sound of its tellies, and the collaboration has produced good results. It’s bigger, clearer and more dynamic than

"Jurassic World is awash with bright, rich colour, and the LG makes the park look like a pretty spectacular place. The greens are lush and varied, and the Mosasaurus pool sparkling"


LG’s on-screencursor-based smart remote works well, but there’s a standard handset for those who prefer it

the typical sound you get from TV speakers. The ruggedness of Keith Richards’ throaty voice is intact, while the guitar work and instruments playing behind the interviews are clear and detailed. It goes quite loud too, although there will surely be a time when you want the weight, bass and insight of a high-end soundbar.

The art of slimming Its above-par sound quality is surprising considering the EC970V’s physique. It’s what LG calls ‘art slim’, and it’s a fair moniker. The screen is no more than half-a-finger's width, classily finished with an almost-zero bezel that sits flat against the television's slight curve. A thicker back panel does a good job of keeping the screen sturdy (give it a slight push and there’s hardly any wobble), as does the premium-looking metal stand. Not sure how the back of your TV looks? That’s probably because it’s never caught your eye. You wouldn’t forget the LG’s reflective, smooth-to-the-touch rear, though. It just shows the effort that’s gone into making the 65EC970V look as good when it’s off as when it’s on. It’s also where you’ll find three USBs and

four 4K-supporting HDMIs, as well as a host of component inputs and a digital output for, say, a soundbar. LG hopes you don’t miss Corrie or Made In Chelsea because neither ITV Player nor All4 is present in the LG’s smart offering at the moment. Instead, catch-up TV services, and video-streaming services like Youtube and Netflix are under your nose. More apps are available to download from the LG Store too. You don’t have to flick through each one to find your Friday night viewing, either. LG can do that for you. In the card launcher menu, ‘Today’ opens a panel of what’s available to watch that day. 'Recommend’ plucks content in a similar fashion, basing its selections on your viewing habits. ‘My programmes’ is another handy shortcut, letting you pin your favourite channels to the launcher menu. LG’s WebOS has quickly become the darling of TV software platforms with its smart, intuitive interface, and the EC970V packs the latest version (2.0). It feels natural to use and whether you’re changing inputs or tinkering with picture settings, nothing feels like a chore.

Not only is the LG super-slim, its bezel is elegantly flush with its screen, and the slight angle of its curve is attractive

There's no shortage of big-brand, big-screen TVs out there now, so don't rush in. There are the bonuses of OLED here – high contrast, wider viewing angles, thinner panels – but the picture isn't necessarily the best on the market. The 65EC970V is a fine telly, but there are subtler, more accomplished performers available that won’t clean out your purse as much.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ PICTURE SOUND FEATURES

VERDICT This multi-talented LG is another glorious advert for OLED, even if it may not be the most subtle performer

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 21


FIRST TEST

B&O BeoPlay A6 Wireless speaker ₨99,990

“A bit like the Iron Giant's boomerang” FOR Clear sound; textured bass; distictive, stylish design

AGAINST Controls aren't substantial; app could be better

★★ ★ ★ ★

For ₨1 Lac, you can usually buy a pretty good hi-fi streaming system of regular proportions: a Cambridge Audio Minx Xi streamer, a pair of Q Acoustic 3020 speakers and some speaker stands, say. But it can’t buy you space in a room, so if that’s what you’re lacking, an all-in wireless speaker like the B&O BeoPlay A6 could be – possibly should be – where you turn next. At this price, the Naim Mu-so is perhaps its only real competitor. The Naim won our hearts and has had the privilege of walking pretty freely at this sort of price. Until now, that is.

full-range driver (at the front of 60W of amplification) firing backwards and designed to bounce sound off the back wall for a greater sense of spaciousness. The white back panel is perforated to let sound out. You can’t see the drivers though, because B&O has pulled wool over our eyes. B&O has teamed with Danish textiles manufacturer Kvadrat to produce what can only be described as a fuzzy wool-like front, claiming that the delicate weaving pattern of the multi-coloured threads not only produces a look of luxury, but offers acoustic transparency too. In a range of colours designed to match your living room, including light grey (pictured), dusty blue, dark rose and dark grey, the seam-like decoration across the front makes it look all the more homely. As with the A9, the A6 features discreet tap-and-swipe controls on top. Brush your finger along to change volume, and tap the middle to switch between playback and standby mode. It's right to change input and left to turn on or off. Hats off to B&O for creating such a neat and well-integrated control system, although we sometimes find ourselves pressing things twice, and

having to tap quite precisely too. In an ideal world, no one puts BeoPlay in the corner. But if you must, there are settings – ‘Free’, ‘Wall’ and ‘Corner’ – to optimise performance based on placement in a room, activated by a flick-switch under the unit.

Anywhere, any way you like Far from a one-source wonder, the A6 will stream pretty much anything from almost anywhere and in any way you like – whether it’s music from your iPhone over AirPlay, tablet via Bluetooth, your NAS drive over DLNA, or from the catalogues of built-in streaming services such as Deezer and Spotify. If you’re more of a radio listener, there are thousands of internet stations at your fingertips via TuneIn too. All popular file formats (MP3, AAC, WMA, ALAC, FLAC, WAV) are supported, up to high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz too. It has multi-room up its sleeve, and can also pair with another A6, its big brother the A9, or even B&O’s Beovision Avant and Beovision 11 TVs.

Individual shape has function If you’ve seen the discus-shaped A9, you might expect its little sibling to follow form as a miniature version. But B&O throws a curveball. If the Iron Giant had a boomerang, it may look something like the A6. Sticking with the Scandinavianorientated minimalist edge in the design department, it’s gently curved to a slightly pointier middle and slim enough to carry comfortably under your arm. The distinctive shape is key to the angling of the five drivers: two 14cm woofers (driven by two 60W amps) and a pair of 20mm tweeters (driven by two 30W amps) firing forwards, as well as a 38mm

22 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

The minimalist A6 is gently curved and slim enough to carry under your arm, a bit like the Iron Giant's boomerang

Into the ordinary As it’s located in a deep-seated panel, you’ll need to tip the unit upside-down to access it – and the power, ethernet, 3.5mm input and service-only USB sockets too. It’s a bit fiddly manipulating wires to get to them. To connect to your network, going down the more stable wired route means simply plugging in the ethernet cable – the orange-flashing network indicator turns solid white when it’s connected. Those intolerant of trailing wires can connect the A6 to their network over wi-fi by connecting a smartphone or tablet to the A6’s wireless network and then following the steps on the BeoSetup app (free on iOS and Android devices). It’s straightforward and takes a matter of minutes. Either way, the BeoMusic app gives you control in the palm of your hand. While you can stream directly from your mobile using

The A6's fuzzy wool-like front not only produces a luxurious look but is claimed to improve acoustic transparency too


FIRST TEST

If you are lacking space, an all-in wireless speaker like the B&O BeoPlay A6 could be – possibly should be – where you turn next Bluetooth, Airplay or Spotify, you need the app to access internet radio or songs stored on your network. The app works fine, but looks and feels ordinary – when you’ve spent ₨1 Lac on a speaker you want something slicker. Its plain blue interface looks unfinished (in a way, we hope it is) and scrolling through a 3000-song music library takes a while. The bottom line: it needs to be better.

Energetic and fiery The last thing you might expect from a product this slender is deep, rumbling bass, but the B&O surprises us again. When the beat drops in Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ Downtown (streamed over Bluetooth), it’s not only deep-rooted but defined and textured too – more so than via the Mu-so. Move up to the midrange and this is where the A6 excels. Hurling Macklemore’s vocals into the spotlight with clarity and focus, it rolls with the eccentric rap’s tempo changes and sweeping dynamics. It gets right under his charismatic delivery, and captures the counterpoint smooth, melodic vocals that make up the chorus’s catchy hook. With highs (in this case, bells) clear and refined, the BeoPlay serves up a fine balance that values clarity

and crispness, although is just pipped for solidity by the Naim. Spacious, and capable of filling the largest room, the presentation is energetic and fiery too – just what Downtown relies on to get you onto the dancefloor.

Space with cohesion Every instrument – even finer-spun sound effects – is accounted for, and although there’s a lot going on in the bonkers song, it compartmentalises each section and gives it space without compromising cohesion. While the Naim Mu-so is a more fluid listen, better timed and with a tighter hold over the piano cadence, the A6 tugs the rope back with more mid-range expression and bass insight. Each excels in different areas. Use Bluetooth for offline streaming when you can. By comparison Airplay makes music sound more confined and less detailed. However, playing hi-res songs over the air (or ethernet cable) gets the best from the A6. It doesn’t flinch at low-res streams either. Play David Gilmour’s Boat Lies Waiting over Spotify Connect and, although you can hear

KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

AIRPLAY

24/192

the compression, it remains an open, informative listen. Pianos are lifelike, strings swell and layered vocals fill the room. The A6 works best out in the open, although backing it against a wall isn’t a bad option when the ‘Wall’ setting is on – drawing the sting from a fairly overbearing bass, it restores tonal balance. If you’re after a wireless speaker for around a lac, and want both good sound and the simplicity and convenience of a one-box, the BeoPlay A6 (alongside the Mu-so) is certainly worth considering. It’s stylish, sounds as good as it looks, and although we’d prefer more substantial controls and a slightly better app, it’s nevertheless a job well done.

HI-RES

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT With the style and substance to justify spending this much on a wireless speaker, the A6 is a success

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 23


INSIDER

HOW TO SAVE THE FUTURE OF MUSIC DESIGNER

ARTIST

FAN

AUDIO COMPANY FAN CHOREOGRAPHER

PERCUSSION ARTIST

WILL SOUND QUALITY SAVE MUSIC? Downloads service 7digital tells us 45 per cent of customers buying Adele’s latest album have opted for 16-bit/441kHz FLAC, while streaming service Tidal says “nearly half” of its million-plus users are subscribed to the premium Hi-Fi tier. With that interest in quality, things look more hopeful.

24 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

ARTIST

GUITARIST


INSIDER

Music’s in trouble. With physical sales waning and streaming short on profit, most musicians are struggling to make money. But a new initiative could mean that, before long, all of us will be dancing to a different tune BBC Music is planning to put out an app in 2016. “So what?” you may say. “We don’t need another music app.” Indeed, but this one is not aiming to be the next Spotify. It is inspired by Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio service. We think this gives us a glimpse at the future of the music business.

where a human might suggest they listen to Magna Canta. ‘Data-led hunches’ is the term offered by video streaming giant Netflix, and things are certainly going well for them. In the future, music recommendation will straddle the line between autonomy and automation.

The problem

Solution two

Music distribution, as it stands, faces a major problem: it is unsustainable. Physical sales are in decline, even with all the positivity surrounding the comeback of vinyl. Digital downloads have been steadily falling since 2012. Streaming is clearly the way forward, but none of the services is making enough money to survive in the long run. Rdio is dead, cannibalised by Pandora. Qobuz recently went into receivership. Even Spotify, the most ubiquitous of the lot, is making heavy losses. The massive record labels hold the copyrights and so are better placed to weather the financial storm, yet they too are feeling the pinch. But it’s worse still for the musician who depends on streaming services to provide a steady trickle of income. If that stream dries up, it is the beginning of the end of recorded music. What to do? For starters, let’s drum up more interest and ramp up the number of paying customers. That’s where the BBC Music app’s direction serves as a crystal ball. Little has been announced about this app, but the BBC has said it has plans to go big on personalisation – the core principle behind Apple Music.

Solution one

Why personalisation? Because it is no longer enough to offer a massive library of music. There must be more of an incentive for people to sign up. When MP3 players and iPods came along, the idea of carrying all your music in your pocket was an appealing one. Now we have all the world’s music just a tap away, and it is overwhelming. So there has to be a degree of curation, selection and recommendation. That said, it is not acceptable just to trawl through data. Spotify knows your preferences and where, and when, you listen – but that does not encourage trust. BBC Music reckons the solution is part man, part machine. Let’s say the numbers identify a group of people who are into Gregorian chanting. That’s

Curation adds value, but it is still passive. Streaming services need to be more interactive if they are to draw people in. Let’s look at YouTube. It is ruled by internet celebrities with viewing figures that dwarf the biggest music stars. Take PewDiePie, a 25-year-old Swede who posts footage of himself playing videogames and swearing. His channel has nearly 41 million subscribers. Adele? Just under nine million. It’s not because an angry Nordic geek inherently has more appeal than a pop star. It’s because he engages. He might take suggestions. He might post comments, interacting with fans and offering a degree of authenticity. We’re not saying Adele needs to start replying to every comment that comes her way, but spontaneity generates buzz and these days it is buzz that gives you online clout. In-progress lyrics, inspirations, footage of an artist eating pizza – this is the sort of connection that engages. More personality than personalisation – and personality goes a long way.

Solution three

In the long term, there remains the issue of power, held by the record labels in an outdated business model that does little to further the creative aspirations of artists. Grammy-winning artist Imogen Heap is leading a revolution. “Let’s say I decide I want to give my music away for free to students or people over 60,” she says. “Currently, I can’t do that, even though it is my music.” Her solution: turn the whole distribution system upside down to create ‘fair trade music’. “I no longer have a record label. I’m out of contract. Which means I’m free to experiment and find a way of working that works

for the artists.” She paints an image of a streamlined music industry that prioritises the relationship between artists and fans. In this world, artists receive payment directly to their websites. Publicly accessible contracts would show how much any collaborator is owed. Money is automatically and appropriately shared. Online shops and streaming services? They’d get their music from the artist’s website, same as everybody else.

Conclusion

This is not as far fetched as it sounds. The infrastructure for such a system already exists in the form of a global network of interconnected computers. It is called the Blockchain, and it is the next step for the internet. The Economist defines the Blockchain as ‘a shared, trusted public ledger that everyone can inspect, but which no single user controls’. Essentially, everyone’s computer is used to form a gigantic public record, relying on safety in numbers. The system does not tolerate discrepancies, which means it is tamper-proof. Theoretically, it is the most secure way to publicly record information and transactions – so secure it underpins Bitcoin, the digital currency. Would this system work for music? Possibly. The record labels won’t be pleased, but it would straighten the tangles of music ownership and open the path to fair payment, ultimately leading to a healthier industry. While the world prepares for the next step, India is yet to get Spotify. We can only wait and hope. British musician Imogen Heap in her home studio in London

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 25


INSIDER

INSIDER

Get about the city on a Denon

The ₨4299 Urban Raver AHC100BU from Denon are designed to make daily commuting an enjoyable experience. The in-ears with an in-line mic house 11.5mm drivers with Neodymium Magnets on board. Tuned to suit multiple genres, especially those that like an accented bass curve, these in-ears can be synced with the Denon Club Smartphone app for an enhanced and customisable listening experience.

Lenovo positions the new Yoga Tab 3 Pro as a home-theatre tablet Lenovo has brought its new Yoga Tab 3 Pro over to India and says this 10in, QHD (2560x1600) tablet will appeal to home-theatre enthusiasts with its in-built pico projector system which has a 50 lumens output and throws out a 70in image. This new tablet also has four front-facing JBL speakers and Dolby Atmos support. The Yoga Tab 3 Pro runs Android Lollipop 5.1 on an Intel Atom processor and has 2GB RAM. With a 10,200mAh battery, Lenovo claims a run time of 18 hours and standby up to 49 days. Other features include an integrated kickstand, micro SIM connectivity, dual-band Wi-Fi, 13MP / 5MP cameras, microSD support (up to 128GB) and the ability to charge other devices. Apart from this, Lenovo has also launched the Yoga 900 convertible, a 13.3in laptop with a QHD+ (3200x1800) screen, JBL stereo speakers, Dolby Audio Premium support, Windows 10, and a 6th generation Intel i7 processor. The Yoga 900 convertible also uses a new ‘watchband’ hinge system which Lenovo says will make it easier for users to switch modes. The Yoga 900 and the Yoga Tab 3 are priced at ₨1,22,090 and ₨39,990 respectively.

Let Milan address your screen woes

Getting a good screen for a projector has always been a bit of a hassle. ‘Milan’ plans to change just that. Avail a range of screens, from curved ones to acoustically transparent ones that can be placed in front of speakers without affecting audio clarity. There are options for even mobile screens with motorised lift set-ups available with at Milansalesindia.com.

The VPL-VW520ES offers a claimed 1800 lumens brightness and 300,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio

Sony’s projector family now has 4K siblings Velox's 4K UHD cables are here!

Assembled in USA and distributed in India by Sound & Vision, the only brand to be certified by HDMI’s ATCs and DPL Labs, Veloc 4K UHD active HDMI cables are here. Employing TARGA 2(with EDID repair), it is the only copper-based cable brand in the world that guarantees 4K UHD 18GBPS bandwidth (HDMI 2.0A/HDR specs) up to 15 metres in length. Head to soundandvision.in to give your system a cable upgrade unlike any.

26 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

Featuring native 4K resolution and Full HD 3D viewing for some truly immersive movie experience, Sony’s new line of projectors are a spec-heavy bunch. With 4K resolution, the VPL-VW520ES (₨10,58,300) and VPL-VW320ES( ₨7,08,300) are successors of the hugely popular VPL-VW500ES and VPL-VW300ES projectors. The new models feature a new lamp with a claimed life of up to 6,000 hours of performance. Employing advanced SXRD panels for a native picture without artificial manipulation of pixels, the projectors feature a built-in RF 3D transmitter that provides interface to industry-standard 3D glasses with a strong wireless signal for wider coverage and 3D synchronization stability. The projectors are now locally available.


INSIDER

NAGRA MAKES ITS INDIAN DEBUT Pune-based Cadence Audio orchestrates a splendid launch A part of Audio Technology Switzerland S.A.(which is still owned by the founding Kudelski family), brand Nagra made it’s official entry into India via their local distributor, Cadence Audio. Nagra is well-known in the world as one of the brands with the best audio recorders, namely the legendary Nagra III. Nagra’s debut in India featured two stereo set-ups consisting of

Sonodyne at ISE 2016 Well known for its indigenously manufactured hi-fi products, especially powered speakers, Sonodyne participated in the ISE 2016 held at Amsterdam, Netherlands. Models from the hugely successful SRP series shared space with the new line of I.W.O. series and SRT series along with the 7.2 DSP, DE 4348. The IWO series features on-wall and in-wall speakers for home-theatre and custom installs, especially aimed at small spaces. The slim-profiled, two way speakers feature silk domed tweeters in an MDF cabinet. Specially designed LF 6 subwoofer features 6.5in highexcursion subwoofer and an inbuilt 80watt power amplifier are also part of the IWO series. The SRT series are three way speakers featuring the trademark Kevlar woofer and midrange with silk domed tweeter in a rotatable waveguide with custom passive radiators. Intrigued? Head to sonodyne.com right away

Internal processing via DSP in the SRT series allows for detailed user utilization

well-known equipment such as Nagra HD DAC, Nagra CDC CD player, Nagra Classic Amplifier VPA and Nagra 300 I tube integrated amplifier among others. With a pair of Crystal Arabesque loudspeakers and Spendor SP 100 R 2 speakers bringing out the Nagra products, the event was well-received by audiophiles and music lovers alike.

Panasonic launches new hi-res and Bluetooth headphones Panasonic has added two new models to its headphones lineup in India – the wireless BTD5 and the High-Definition HD5. The HD5 features 40mm HD drivers and offers a horizontal slide mechanism designed to improve fit and comfort. Other features include an anti-vibration frame and support for FLAC, AIFF, and WAV high-resolution audio formats. The Bluetooth BTD5 uses 40mm neodymium drivers, and offers an in-built mic and NFC pairing. According to Panasonic, the BTD5 will offer up to 40 hours of playback time from its in-built Lithium-ion battery. The headphones are priced at ₨6490 for the BTD5 and ₨9490 for the HD5.

The hi-res HD5's 40mm high-definition drivers claim audiophile performace on-the-go

INTERVIEW With the recent advent of 4K projection and Dolby Atmos sound, how many screens have you updated with this technology? INOX is today present in 57 cities with 417 screens. All multiplexes of INOX are equipped with 2K digital projection. We have only one screen of Dolby Atmos at Inorbit Mall, Malad.

RAJENDER SINGH

VP - Programming & Distribution, Inox Leisure Limited

How do you see the 4D market evolving? Are audiences enthusiastic about feeling the 4th dimension? Technology is always evolving and

INOX has always been a front runner of embracing new technology. We believe that to get an immersive experience, one has to adapt to the various technologies and provide the best to our guests. The quality of 3D glasses in movie theatres has always been of concern. How does INOX get around this problem? We at INOX take utmost care of our 3D glasses. We make sure that the glasses are sterilized after each use and the

audience gets the best movie viewing experience possible. Luxury cinemas are quite the rage. Do you have plans to expand that portfolio? INSIGINA is our luxury lounge with state-of-art reclining sofas. We believe that luxury cinema viewing has garnered huge momentum over the years. We have a steady expansion of INSIGNIA along with our normal screens and we intend to continue this expansion. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 27


THE ART OF SOUND WITH A FRENCH TOUCH

Handcrafted in France

Triangle speakers are perfect for recreating that sense of musicians playing in a live venue, and the Signature Delta takes that to the max...

In audio terms, this is a combination of near effortless dyamics, good imagery and image solidity, a clean, detailed midrange and a high frequency response. It’s also exceptionally precise across the board.

These Triangles are articulate and agile. They can track fast moving basslines with ease, and deliver each low frequency transient with exceptional punch and precision.

"This is what a great speaker should do: communicate the how and why of what the music makers have done, so that you can understand and appreciate that music on its own terms.�

Exclusive Distributors

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INSIDER

INSIDER

W H F S H OW 1

2016

3

4

2 1 Pro-Ject's Debut III turntable 2 Focal Sopra N°2 loudspeakers 3 BenQ's W7500 Full HD 3D projector 4 Elac's Debut S12EQ active subwoofer with auto EQ 5 Marantz's SA-11S3 (top) and PM-14S1 (bottom)

5

WHF SHOW 2016 returns to Mumbai! After enthralling audiences with its last edition in Bengaluru, the nation’s biggest spectacle for audiophiles and videophiles will once again be held in Mumbai With the majestically rising St. Regis hotel in Mumbai serving as a befitting host, the What Hi-Fi? Show 2016 is poised to be held in Mumbai for the third instalment and it looks set to be the biggest one yet. With more rooms, exhibitors and brands than ever, the count is going up and so are the number of enthusiasts thronging the exhibition. As the first show of 2016, the What Hi-Fi? team is amping up the approachability factor by hosting seminars, inviting the architect and interior designing community and with better navigation for the audience to ensure that every room gets its due share of eyeballs and ears. With a similar layout as the previous year, the show will be spread across three levels of the St. Regis Hotel with the Banquet level serving as the landing pad for registration and also beginning your journey with the four gigantic State Rooms that hold much promise. These four rooms will hold some of the finest hi-fi equipment being sold in the country today with brands like Elac, Focal, Paradigm, Dali, PMC, Denon, Anthem, Accuphase and many more stopping the crowd in their tracks. The expert workshops and seminars will also be held on this level with key industry leaders sharing their views

and educating willing audiences. Amongst the seminars lined up, the Introduction to 3D Audio and The Need for a SmartHome have an immense appeal to both enthusiasts and professionals alike. If it’s the magic of music and movies at home that you seek, the What Hi-Fi? Show has you covered as always. This year, a number of big launches are expected at the show and these include the new Debut range of speakers from Elac. Designed by legendary speaker designer Andrew Jones, this is an affordable line that manages to capture the very essence of music without any audible compromises. The all-new Focal Sopra will be up for an audition as well and with their mix of technologies derived from the flagship Utopia along with some new breakthroughs, means it will be leaving a lot of jaws dropped to the floor. A brand that is popular for its portable audio products, Audio Pro will also make its debut at this show and is bound to interest anyone who’s in the market for a small, but serious contender. Movie lovers can revel in the multi-dimensional sound spheres created by the latest Dolby Atmos and Auro3D surround sound systems with state-of-the-art 4K displays.

Like in every other industry, ‘Make In India’ is an axiom the AV community follows as well and brands like Raylogic, Invention Audio, Little Nap, Casa Digi only prove that it is indeed possible to make world-class AV products in India. What Hi-Fi? proudly supports all local brands and manufacturers that are committed to raising the bar and providing international quality at real world prices, and the What Hi-Fi? Show is the perfect setting in which to audition them. If you haven’t already been to one or even missed this one, fret not. The next edition of What Hi-Fi? will bring you all the action from the show floor and we’ll also be posting a video on YouTube, so check our Facebook (www.facebook.com/whathifimag) and Twitter (@WhatHiFiIndia) feeds for all the latest activity from the Indian AV scene.


GROUP TEST

Plenty of manufacturers let you spread your tunes throughout the house but, when the music stops, who stands out from the crowd?

MUSICALSHARES

BLUESOUND

YAMAHA

SONOS

30 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016


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BOSE

LIBRATONE

T

hink of it as musical five-a-side. It begins, of course, with the players. In this test we have selected two wireless speakers from seven of the market’s leading multi-room systems, and tested them, as we always do, on their features, functionality and, most importantly, sonic ability. But if multi-room is a team sport, it comes down to more than the individual ability of the personnel; those with the best players do not necessarily become the best team. Here, it comes down to how well the speakers work together and how effectively each unit’s sound complements the other, whose fortes make up for their teammate’s weakness, and some money-can’t-buy aspects – in this case, the free app. Is there such a thing as the perfect hi-fi team? This test is our way of finding out.

MINISTRY OF SOUND SAMSUNG

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 31


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NC A M R O F R E P G IN N IN AWARD-W

E

Bluesound Pulse Mini/Pulse FOR Refined sound; good drive; clear mids; punchy bass

AGAINST Bass could be better defined on the larger Pulse

★★ ★ ★ ★

Bluesound Pulse Mini ₨55,000 ★★ ★★ ★

Bluesound Pulse ₨65,000 ★★ ★★ ★

Last year, those wanting to own a bare minimum Bluesound multi-room system had to fork out for two Pulses, totalling ₨1,30,000 – that’s a good few years of birthday and Christmas presents. So what if we told you it could now be achieved for a lot less. Bluesound not only revamped its ecosystem earlier this year, spawning Gen 2 versions of its Node, Powernode and Vault, but added to it with two wireless speakers: the portable Pulse Flex (₨35,000) and the Pulse Mini – you guessed it, a smaller version of the Pulse.

the door to your digital network library. With the Pulse Mini, Bluesound claims to have “shrunk down the footprint, without compromising the performance” and just a few songs into our playlist we are not inclined to disagree. Rich and full bodied, weighty yet agile, it’s the Pulse’s doppelgänger when it comes to sonic character. And although it may not be capable of the same level of room-filling, powerful sound, we’d actually take it home over its big brother. There’s a touch more refinement, and tonally it’s better balanced, even if still slightly leaning towards bass. We’d avoid putting it in a corner, although you can adjust balance through the app’s EQ.

All the trimmings

Agile and punchy

Like its big brother, the Pulse Mini is a bi-amplified 2.1 speaker. A 50W amplifier drives a 10cm woofer (the Pulse’s is 13cm) in a dual-port enclosure, while there are two 5cm full-range drivers in their own acoustic chambers, each with a dedicated amplifier channel. The Pulse can be served Bluetooth via a plug-in dongle, but the Pulse Mini has it built in. There is also an IR sensor and input so it can be controlled by a TV remote control for those inclined to use the Pulse Mini in a video-based set-up. The fresh-faced Pulse keeps the distinctive shape of its sibling, but true to its name is a dress-size down, trimmed back at every dimension. The less-is-more line of attack presents us with a smart, neat box – not unlike its arch-rival, the Sonos Play:5 – with just a simple touch control panel and recessed gap for a handle up top as points of notice. Inside, a 32-bit DAC handles everything from MP3s and WMAs to FLACs and WAVs up to 24-bit/192kHz – not such a unique selling point with the likes of LG and Samsung sharing the hi-res spotlight, but important in the Sonos-versus-Bluesound battle. The most popular streaming services are here. The Pulse Mini matches its big brother for physical connections, with single USB and optical/analogue combo inputs, a headphone output and micro-USB for service. An ethernet socket provides the most stable way to get online, although wi-fi can also open 32 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

The low-end reach may be no match for the powerful Pulse, but it’s far from lacking. Play Local Natives’ Heavy Feet and drumming is agile and punchy, the top-timed Pulse Mini first to sniff out its idiosyncratic rhythmic pattern. The midrange is clear and articulate, getting across the rustic whine and soaring nature of their vocal signature, and the treble is clear and open. It’s an expressive, explicit listen from top to bottom. The piano-playing driving Buena Vista Social Club’s Pueblo Nuevo straddles enthusiasm and precision, with a sense of warmth and texture oozing through the keys. Bluesound set out to shoehorn the Pulse’s impressive sound quality into a smaller, more affordable package, and it has worked. A welcome addition to the Bluesound household, the Pulse Mini is perfect for one room or several.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT A brilliant all-in-one speaker that makes Bluesound’s multi-room ecosystem even more compelling

Forget Ray Winstone and his sock of snooker balls, the Pulse is the daddy of multi-room. Nearly half a metre wide and weighing in at over 6kg, it’s a brute.

Big, and yet graceful

That isn’t to say it’s ungainly. Its rounded edges and smooth triangular back – shrinking its footprint smartly for easier placement in the corner of a room – help give the Pulse a refined sense of grace. Most of the time you will probably be managing the Pulse using the app, which has freed Bluesound to be minimalistic with the control pad too – its touchsensitive rectangle is in keeping with the overall elegance.

APP STUFF... BLUESOUND APP

Bluesound’s app is one of the most extensive around. As well as grouping speakers, it helps you pull in music from NAS drives and grants access to streaming services. In essence, this is a multi-room app created by class leaders for people who are serious about wireless sound. We can’t really pick a fault here. RATING

The Pulse is a brute, but with a sense of grace. Only a soft low end stops it receiving five stars


The Pulse Mini has a reduced footprint, but there has been no compromising the performance

KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

DLNA

24/192 HI-RES

Inside that polished shell, an award-winning, twin NAD Electronics direct-digital amplifiers feed a claimed 80W total power into a 2.1 speaker configuration, comprising a pair of 7cm drivers and a hefty 13cm woofer in a dual-acoustic chamber. But Bluesound’s commitment is not to muscle but to great-sounding hi-res audio. It isn’t snobbish about it – its products are more than happy to work with MP3s, as well as pretty much any other type of file you throw at it – but you’ll really want to let rip with something that pushes the Pulse’s 24-bit/192kHz capabilities. You have more or less free rein in terms of wireless sound. Via the control app, you can access most popular streaming services, any NAS device on the same network and any files you have stored on your phone or tablet.

Detailed, expressive sound

We begin with Kris Drever’s Mark The Hard Earth and are soon impressed with the solidity of the Pulse’s midrange. This isn’t the most spacious soundstage we’ve heard from a speaker of this size, but anything lacking here is made up for by a detailed and expressive core. From the opening track, Drever’s voice is emotional and engaging, the Pulse unwaveringly capturing the intimacy of the song’s opening. Then, as the texture builds with vocal harmony, fiddle and accordion, the luscious warmth does not harden, even with the volume right up.

As we reach pieces of more intricate guitar work, such as Sweet Honey In The Rock, we are similarly impressed by the Pulse’s sense of timing, which keeps this sprightly work dancing to its conclusion. Yes, we’ve experienced more agile footwork by some of the Pulse’s competitors, but rarely is it bettered for expression. We give the woofer a proper workout with Deantoni Parks’s Technoself album. And from the first beat of Black Axioms, it gives us a shake, scooping out frequencies many wireless speakers wouldn’t know were there. But the bass is just a little soft. Music such as this, based upon angular rhythms and samples, does need especially taut bass to keep up, but a lack of detail and differentiation in the Pulse’s low end detracts from whatever you’re playing. The weight is impressive and it won’t ruin your listening experience, but that level of definition is the difference between the Pulse and the class-leaders.

It’s the daddy

Needless to say we are huge fans of the Bluesound multi-room family, and the Pulse has played no small part in securing its Product of the Year crown. You’ll struggle to find a wireless speaker at this price with a more solid, smooth and expressive midrange, nor with quite so much bass. Oh yes, it’s quite the daddy.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The Pulse throws its weight behind hi-res audio with aplomb – a slightly soft low-end is all that costs it a star

Multi-room verdict

We didn’t flatter Bluesound with Product of the Year titles at each of the last two What Hi-Fi? Awards for nothing – so you’d expect it to trump its rivals. Set-up is a web-based operation, with each speaker being added individually to your network, rather than any instant Sonos-like pairing, but you only have to do it once before each speaker shows up automatically within the app. Options for grouping are simple to change and there’s no need to hardwire your speakers, either – though you may prefer that extra stability for the Bluesound’s hi-res capabilities (it’s capable of playing up to 24-bit/192kHz). In terms of user experience, this second generation of Bluesound multi-room runs as smoothly as the first: straightforward set-up, fuss-free grouping and no dropouts. It’s what you’d expect from an Award-winner. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 33


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E S N E S Y R E V E IN R E T R A SM Bose SoundTouch 10/30 FOR Weighty sound; great app; improved file support

AGAINST Short on expression and space; no hi-res support

Bose SoundTouch 10 ₨19,013 ★★ ★★ ★ If we can label any brand a veteran in a wireless speaker market that hasn’t even reached adulthood yet, Bose would be the one. It has been in the game for more than 10 years and, following its SoundDock and SoundLink ranges, is still knuckling down on its two-year-old SoundTouch multi-room speakers. While the desktop-suitable SoundTouch 20 and 30 models are in their third generation, it’s only now that a speaker of more modest proportions has joined the family. The SoundTouch 10 is the new baby, bringing the range’s entry-level price more in line with that of its rivals.

Old-school and proudof it

Bose has played it safe in the design department – ironically refreshing in a diverse market where traditional boxes sit alongside beach-ball, dragon-egg and Zeppelin-shaped structures – even if the word ‘unadventurous’ is on the tip of the tongue. Still, top marks for consistency: it looks every bit a Bose speaker. Classic-looking, juice-cartonsized and available in black or white, the SoundTouch 10 is clothed from the shoulders down and resembles a mini radio. It’s too small to feature its siblings’ OLED display (instead white lights across the top indicate source selection) and omits an ethernet port for wi-fi connection – though is just as well equipped elsewhere. You can stream music (whether it’s MP3, WAV or, thanks to a recent software update, FLAC files) directly from a laptop, NAS drive, smartphone or tablet over wi-fi or access a world of internet radio. Bluetooth lets you take playback offline, while a handy 3.5mm input is onboard for plug-in.

Small speaker, small sound?

Not on Bose’s watch. It may not fill your largest room with music, but perched on a bedside table or kitchen 34 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

★★ ★ ★ ★ Bose SoundTouch 30 Series III ₨57,263 ★★ ★ ★ ★

worktop it will belt out a surprisingly big sound. It has enough about it for a small box too: weighty enough to be deemed a comfortable listen, capable of going pretty loud (even if the midrange hardens up a little at higher volumes), and not shy of making its low-end presence known. The thick bassline-driven Holding On For Life from Broken Bells has depth and substance, even if the Bose’s low-end tips the tonal scales slightly in its favour. Synth lines and keyboard harmonies are clear and perky too, and the Bee-Gees-esque vocals are delivered with character. You get a hint of their dynamic flavour, the SoundTouch 10 lifting them in the right places, although the Audio Pro Addon T3 (our 2015 Award winner, no less) shows truer colours, and asserts its superiority with more detail and spaciousness. And if we’re really scrutinising, there’s a bit of coarseness to the treble that the song’s cymbals can’t shake off.

The Bose SoundTouch 30 is back for round three, and while in the movie world ‘threequels’ rarely get a good rep, Bose is hoping its third-gen SoundTouch 30 will be to its product line what The Bourne Ultimatum is to the Bourne series: the best yet. Going by the specs, it could be. The second-gen 30 stuck to the original’s guns on the hardware side, focusing instead on improving app software and adding more streaming services, and the third-gen presses forward even more. So it’s out with Airplay and in with Bluetooth, which should please Android faithfuls. When we reviewed the first-generation SoundTouch 20 back in 2014, we balked at the lack of WAV and FLAC support. Criminally, the

BOSE APP BLUETOOTH

DLNA

The missing link

Bose has seen a (price and size) gap in its long-standing range and filled it with the SoundTouch 10: a small and talented package in its own right. It’s a sensible move by the company, making all-you-can-stream features and great in-app control even more accessible, and it’s also one that sees the new SoundTouch range off to a solid start.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT A sensible and welcome addition to the Bose SoundTouch family that excels in features and usability

KEY FEATURES

SPOTIFY CONNECT

The app is one of the most comprehensive we’ve seen and works seamlessly, accessing internet radio channels and music on your network – it picked up our NAS drive unprompted. All music available to you can be found on a pull-out bar, where you can access recently played songs too. Also, six presets can be allocated an artist, song, playlist or station for one-button access. RATING


The diminutive 10 ably and smartly plugs the gap at the lower end of Bose’s wi-fi range

In its third-gen guise, the 30 ups its file support and aims for stronger, more reliable wi-fi

second-gen SoundTouch 30 didn’t address this, but finally things are looking up: WAV and FLAC are now supported, although hi-res will have to top the wishlist for a fourthgeneration model. Bose says that through 802.11n dual-band wi-fi the connection is now stronger and more reliable, with the addition of 5GHz compatibility catering for more stable streaming. The subtle refashioning doesn’t go unnoticed. Glossy, patterned panels up the beauty quotient too, although the Bose is essentially still a rather bland-looking yet sturdy box that dwarfs the Sonos Play:5 and Bluesound Pulse.

Extended access

Around the back there’s a 3.5mm input and an ethernet port for connecting to your network (and wi-fi too), so you can stream music from a laptop, PC or NAS drive. Don’t have your own digital music library? Internet radio and other streaming services are on board. Bose hasn’t rested on its laurels with its SoundTouch controller app. ‘Why juggle two apps when you don’t have to?’ asks Bose. A sonic stalwart, the SoundTouch 30 is every bit the powerhouse it looks, throwing out a weighty, full-bodied sound that’s solid, room-filling and goes louder than you’d probably ever want. It feels right at home with Rush’s Spirit Of Radio, chomping down on the

track’s dense, muscular rock-heavy sound. It’s not weighed down by its rich characteristic: there’s decent drive and agility to the pyrotechnic guitar work, and the rhythmic drumming is tight. And while the Bose isn’t the last word in layered detail or texture as the dizzying riffs rip through the soundstage – the B&W Zeppelin Wireless is – clarity and detail levels are satisfying. Vocals find their way through the rich instrumentals with focus and reasonable insight too. Feed it Duke Dumont’s Ocean Drive and the vocalist’s delivery is complete with its breathy, soulful quality. The Bose gobbles up the synth-heavy grooves, divvying up plenty of punch and clout. As with the SoundTouch 10, tonal balance leans a little towards the low end, but it’s more noticeable than particularly detrimental. What we would like is more control at higher volumes; push it to 11 and the song’s chorus gets a little muddled. Thanks to greater space and precision, the B&W and Bluesound Pulse Mini sound more organised by comparison. Third time lucky? Bose has taken its flagship SoundTouch to new heights with improved file support and more comprehensive connectivity. The 30 is a solid all-rounder, but hi-res support and more space and insight in the sound department are high on our wishlist for a fourth-gen unit. Over to you, Bose…

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT A beast of a speaker in more ways than one, it just needs more space and expression in its sound

Multi-room verdict

The app takes care of multi-room tasks so several SoundTouch products can be controlled individually in one place, or grouped together to play in harmony. Tap ‘Play Everywhere’ and, well, you can guess what happens. Grouping (and ungrouping) speakers is intuitive and prompt, juggling different songs on different speakers is a piece of cake, and because each speaker opens its own window the interface is never cramped. Set-up couldn’t be easier either – simply download the app, select ‘add system’ and follow the clear on-screen instructions. It asks for only two minutes of your time, so any multiroom newbies out there shouldn’t be put off. As the app really is the nucleus of any multi-room system we’re glad Bose has put so much thought into this one’s reliability and layout. After all, nothing’s worse than apps that kick you out when asked to multi-task. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 35


M U LT I - R O O M S P E A K E R S

A NEAT TWIST Libratone Zipp Mini/Zipp BT FOR Full-bodied sound; innovative multi-room options

AGAINST Lacking punch; slightly closed-in soundstage

★★ ★ ★ ★

Libratone Zipp Mini ₨30,000 (Approx) ★★ ★★ ★

of buoyant tracks such as Junun as it is of the more sombre Ahuvi. Overall, it’s a decent level of insight from this wireless speaker. The Zipp Mini’s soundstage is not the most immense you’ll find in a wireless speaker of this size, but it organises everything well, with plenty of detail hiding behind that bold and expressive midrange. It doesn’t struggle with the complex and numerous polyrhythms combining Greenwood’s electronics and Rajasthan Express’s more traditional Indian instrumentation, either in terms of separation or timing, and is quite content with those rhythms changing with only a moment’s notice. However, there are a couple of caveats. We feel the Zipp Mini is lacking just a little of the kick and drive to match the the expressive, rhythmic and smooth performance. There’s also a marginal lack of space, and while canny organisation stops thicker textures becoming overcrowded, it misses out on detail further back in the mix that some competitors are able to unearth.

Libratone Zipp BT ₨34,990 ★★ ★★ ★

What’s like a Libratone Zipp, but smaller? The Libratone Zipp Mini, of course! Okay, so that possibly isn’t our most inspired punchline ever, but in case you weren’t tipped off by the rather literal title, that is essentially what the Zipp Mini is. It’s a couple of centimetres shorter and slighter than its sibling, which means the drivers it can house are marginally less substantial and less abundant: a 75mm woofer, 25mm soft-dome tweeter and two 90mm low-frequency radiators. That’s 25mm off the woofer, 12mm from each radiator and one fewer tweeter. There are two, not three, channels through which the integrated Class D amplifier pushes a total of 60W of power.

Sweeping our test room

There’s no compromise on inputs, though: wi-fi, AirPlay, DLNA, Bluetooth aptX, 3.5mm jack, USB and Apple Music are all present. You get the same eight-to-ten hours’ battery life and USB out for charging, and, of course, you can zip and unzip the different coloured overcoats. Then there’s the multi-room aspect, of which Libratone is most proud: an innovative, versatile concept offering up to six speakers freedom of movement via a simple drag-and-drop on the app. The first thing we notice is how well the Zipp Mini spreads the sound. That’s courtesy of a 360-degree reflector, which acts as smartly with the Zipp Mini as it does in its larger sibling. We play the title track to Shye Ben Tzur and Jonny Greenwood’s collaboration with the Rajasthan Express, Junun, and for a speaker of its stature, the polyrhythm, bass guitar and meandering horn intro sweep impressively around our test room.

Good insight for the money

When the group vocal enters, we recognise the same full-bodied warmth in the midrange of the Zipp Mini as with the larger Zipp. As voices become more animated, the Mini is more-than capable of matching their vigour. That is as true 36 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

Even for us, we thought, it would be a tad uncouth anthropomorphising a wireless speaker you can unzip. Besides, what impressed us so much about the original Libratone Zipp, to which we awarded five stars three years ago, was not its colourful anorak but its performance. That’s how it became the company’s best-selling product to date and the one upon which it built its now rather heady reputation.

Sound in all directions

The new Zipp works upon the same principle: an upright, cylindrical design, devised to output 360-degree sound. That’s serviced by an integrated digital

LIBRATONE APP APP STUFF...

We are family

If sonic genetics were not something we’d just made up, you could be left in no doubt by those of the Zipp and Zipp Mini that they are family. Our opening gag may not have been particularly inspired, but it is the most explanatory line of this entire review. The Zipp Mini’s sound – smooth, full-bodied, rhythmic and expressive – is just like that of its larger sibling, and one without doubt we can fully get behind. It works equally well as a stand-alone wireless speaker or, thanks to Libratone’s Soundspaces feature, as a facet of a larger multi-room system.

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RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The Zipp Mini is every bit the Zipp’s smaller sibling: recommended as either a wireless or multi-room option

The Libratone app’s simplicity only adds to its charm. There are useful features, such as EQ settings for your preferred musical balance and the type of surface, but its main focus is upon controlling your speakers. Though some will prefer greater accessibility, it’s hard to imagine it being much easier to use. It ties together a successful step into multi-room for the new Zipp family. RATING

KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

DLNA

24/192 HI-RES


The premise of the Zipp family is clear: upright, cylindrical design that outputs 360-degree sound

– it is satisfyingly expressive – but there’s a slight loss of impetus and punch. That isn’t helped by a lack of spaciousness in the presentation. Textures tend to become a little congested, although the Zipp’s rhythmical sense and ability to bring melody to the front manage to keep its head above water.

The talent to succeed

The Zipp is a worthy sequel which proves this concept has the legs to keep up with a market that has flourished as much as Libratone’s reputation over the past few years. Given the ubiquity of wireless speakers at this price point, it doesn’t stand out as much as its predecessor. However, its talents give this Zipp every chance of being as successful.

says Not only do the Zipp and Zipp Mini look similar, there’s no mistaking their musical genetics

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND

Class D amplifier, feeding a claimed 100W into a 10cm woofer. The low end performance is tuned by a pair of similarly sized passive radiators. Two 25mm tweeters take care of the highs and are aided by a 360-degree reflector to ensure wide dispersion. Input is more or less as you’d like – wi-fi, AirPlay, DLNA, Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack or USB – and the Zipp is willing to take on board hi-res audio up to 24-bit/96kHz. If you don’t have your own digital music library, Libratone is Apple Music-ready. You can store up to five of your favourite internet radio stations – all controlled via the Libratone app.

Keep it on the hush

As you may have noticed, the Zipp is no longer furry. The new mesh fabric makes the speaker look more sophisticated, and Libratone claims it helps the sound emerge more cleanly. The rest is still plastic but, from 1.8kg down to 1.5kg, it is even lighter and more portable than last time. And the touch-screen dial is nice to

use, with a handy ‘hush’ feature. Playing Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha album, we notice that the Zipp isn’t the loudest wireless speaker, but few spread the sound so well – the result of the 360-degree reflector working a treat. You’d still need more than one to stoke a party, but you really could position them almost anywhere. The mid-heavy guitars and organ of opening number Fiery Crash are creamily smooth, while the pizzicato strings of Imitosis are solid and steer well clear of sharpness. Vocals too are nudged slightly forward, Bird’s voice is strong and purposeful without sacrificing its laid-back charm. There’s a good amount of detail here. The beginning of Plasticities, with its plucked violins, organ, electric guitar and glockenspiel, is coherent and still feels as if there is space to breathe. Changing tack with At The Drive-In’s Relationship Of Command album, the Zipp keeps up with the more energetic rhythms, but it does reveal some weaknesses. It’s not that it lacks feeling

FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The new Zipp is certainly a step on from its predecessor and only just falls short when compared with class leaders

Multi-room verdict

The rudimentary force behind Libratone’s multi-room concept is versatility. Once you’ve connected your speakers with the app, you are invited to create rooms – that is all that is fixed. You are able to move speakers, by dragging them from one room to another. It’s a neat twist on conventional multi-room, which, considering the Zipps are portable wireless speakers, makes sense. Set-up is straightforward, but not the quickest; you match each speaker to the network individually, though you only need do it once. It runs smoothly, with the Zipp and Zipp Mini working in tandem, mono or stereo, or playing different songs in different rooms without experiencing any dropping out. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 37


M U LT I - R O O M S P E A K E R S

CLUB CLASSICS Ministry of Sound Audio M Plus/Audio L Plus FOR Lots of bass weight and punch; features for dance fans

AGAINST Lacks some detail; limited dynamic reach

★★ ★ ★ ★

Ministry of Sound Audio M Plus ₨19,421 (Approx) ★★ ★ ★ ★

the record, but changing tack somewhat as we play Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, this album better highlights some of the Audio M Plus’s shortcomings. There is still benefit from the forward presentation, but there’s a lack of depth to the detail. Drones in Lambs’ Breath are without texture, if audible at all. We aren’t of course requesting hi-fi levels of detail, but we would usually expect more

Ministry of Sound Audio L Plus ₨29.132 (Approx) ★★ ★ ★ ★

The ‘Plus’ here effectively means wi-fi has been added to the Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack connections of the original Audio M, welcoming it to Ministry of Sound’s new multi-room family alongside the larger Audio L Plus and more diminutive Audio S Plus.

Touch-pad controls

Otherwise, it is difficult to spot many differences; both have the same sturdy R2D2-like shell concealing a vertically aligned tweeter and woofer, with touch pad to control your music via a series of taps and swipes on its head. Both also have a claimed battery life of six hours at half volume (four hours at 70 per cent volume) and both come with a pair of complimentary tickets to Ministry of Sound’s London club, access to Ministry of Sound radio and the ‘Live from the Club’ feed. Given our respect for the original, our spirits are stoked by the similarities in their tech spec. And they are further heightened when we play Huarache Lights from Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense? album, to find that same infectious sense of punch to the rhythm. Other similarly priced speakers tend to time a little better but, in terms of drums in particular, few have so much kick. It’s designed by the same engineers responsible for the nightclub’s sound system and, as we fight the urge to fidget, it is clear that Ministry of Sound understands what makes people want to move.

”As we fight the urge to fidget, it is clear that Ministry of Sound understands what makes people want to move” from a speaker at this price. That lack of insight and analysis isn’t helped by somewhat flat dynamics. A more subtle dynamic sense would aid enjoyment of dance music as it would larger-scale post-rock. There is a lack of expression here compared with other speakers with more rounded skill-sets.

38 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

MINISTRY OF SOUND APP APP STUFF...

All-singing, all-dancing

Essentially, it comes as little surprise that the Audio M Plus is no departure from the sonic blueprint of Ministry of Sound’s other wireless speakers. While not wanting to lose what makes the speaker great for the money – its contagious sense of beats and solid midrange – we’d appreciate more subtlety that would allow us to enjoy a wider range of music. Still, if you want multi-room and you want to dance, this

On the same plane

It also brings to the fore Alexis Taylor’s vocal, buoying it against being drowned out by the force of the kick despite his voice’s slight fragility. It doesn’t skew the balance an awful lot – this isn’t the most spacious sound, although there is a decent vertical spread – it is just a forward presentation with a lot of kick. You could argue it’s a very welcome characteristic for a speaker reproducing dance music. That character remains true throughout

Alas, it is not a suave kitchen appliance but a wireless speaker, the grown-up member of the company’s multi-room family. Certainly its armoury is quite sufficient to fill its role. Behind its curving grille are two 2.5cm tweeters, a pair of 11.5cm woofers and a reflex port for added oomph in the low end. It is suitably connected, as well: wi-fi, Bluetooth with NFC pairing, DLNA, 3.5mm auxiliary jack and Spotify Connect, as well as access to Ministry of Sound Radio and its Live From The Club feed. Lifting it from its box, the Audio L Plus

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT A dance-music friendly wireless speaker that will suit Ministry of Sound fans. It just lacks a little subtlety and insight

The app does more than just pair and control speakers. Here you access the club’s radio stations and live feeds. It isn’t as quick as other apps, but it lacks nothing in features or ease of use. The multi-room aspect is more an extension of the brilliant Ministry of Sound app offering an unmatched deal for dance music enthusiasts. But as a tie for multi-room system of this kind at this price, we can’t really fault it. RATING

Not a suave kitchen appliance, the MoS Audio L Plus is the grown up of its multi-room family


With weight on drums and bass, the Audio M Plus follows the MoS sonic blueprint

KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

DLNA

24/192 HI-RES

is true to the quality we recognise from Ministry of Sound: a reasonably solid plastic casing, metal grille and a touch-sensitive tap-and-swipe control centre on its crown, which doesn’t always benefit our clumsy fingers but feels befitting of a fairly high-ticket wireless speaker. Having acquainted it with our network via the free control app, we are ready to play within five minutes.

Driving with conviction

If you’ve heard a similar Ministry of Sound speaker before, you’ll probably find the Audio L Plus entirely familiar, and quite right too. It’s the mark of someone who knows their audience. We begin by playing Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race For Space, and are greeted with a smooth but bold midrange, throwing forward John F Kennedy’s speech that opens the album as an indicator of its priority for highlighting melody and hooks. While that emphasis continues, it isn’t really until third track Gagarin that we get our first proper taste of that sinewy punch. The track’s energy plays straight into the Audio L Plus’s hands, allowing it to throw its weight around and drive on with conviction. It isn’t quite the dance music you may associate with Ministry of Sound, but highlights particularly well the impetus their products are so often able to offer a groove.

Bass for your taste

There is a lot of bruising bass weight here, but Ministry of Sound appears to have been careful in not letting it become incessant. It is always at hand to

keep more placid tracks such as The Other Side awake, but is able to rein in its enthusiasm a little so as not to misinterpret the character of the music. It isn’t all rosy, however. While the throwing forward of the midrange brings melody to the fore, the rest of the Audio L Plus’s soundstage lacks insight. There is relatively little detail beneath the main tune – that, coupled with a shortage of dynamic expression, leaves the overall sound (though it’s rather exciting) feeling just a little cold. Even the more energetic tracks we play – by a range of artists from Beck to Blind Faith – are well driven, but not particularly expressive.

Welcome to the club

We understand why Ministry of Sound’s focus is what it is – the two free tickets to its London club are a giveaway as to its target audience here – but, pitted against competitors who are more balanced all-rounders, it loses some ground. Given the Audio L Plus’s strengths, some extra care with detail and dynamics could make for an extremely engaging, electric listen. But even though it lacks these characteristics, this remains a worthwhile investment for those who want a multi-room

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Like its sibling, this wireless speaker will suit Ministry fans, but again it just lacks the subtlety to be an all-rounder

Multi-room verdict

Whatever your view on Ministry of Sound’s sonic blueprint, the uniformity across wireless speakers makes for a cohesive multi-room system. Functionality is uncomplicated. You have to add each speaker to the network individually, but are walked through the process. Similarly, there are no issues when grouping or playing different tracks through separate speakers, and they work fine in tandem for stereo. As for multi-room, it’s a simple set-up, no dropouts and a set of wireless speakers which act as a perfect foil for each other. If you are a fan of Ministry of Sound’s trademark acoustics, you will like what is an intuitive and wellbalanced multi-room system. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 39


M U LT I - R O O M S P E A K E R S

S R E D N U O -R L L A IC N O IC Samsung R6/R7 FOR Clear, balanced sound; high-res support; design; app

AGAINST Insipid bass, coarse treble on R7; no ethernet port

★★ ★ ★ ★

Samsung R6 ₨NA ★★ ★★ ★

refinement over outright attack, the R6 can feel a little too easy-going at times. Samsung hopes you have a secure wi-fi network, because with no ethernet port or physical connections the R6 can play music only via wi-fi or Bluetooth. Audio from a Bluetooth-compatible Samsung TV can also be streamed directly to the R6 via Samsung’s TV SoundConnect feature. Whether you listen to internet radio or subscribe to a streaming service, Samsung has it covered and you can access all via Samsung’s Multi-room app. Building your own digital library? Everything from low-res MP3s to WAV, FLAC and ALAC files all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz can be played. The smaller, portable sidekick to the R7, the R6 has a six-hour battery life (it can also runs off mains power) so you can DJ your afternoon picnic down the park. It’s small enough to tuck under one arm, although with the semi-exposed soft-dome tweeter and a gap between the woofer and base, we’d be careful about shoving it in a bag as you might the Bose SoundTouch 10.

Samsung R7 ₨NA ★★ ★ ★ ★

While multi-room speakers are all about filling every room of the house with sound, the Samsung R6 is about filling every corner too. Designed to spread sound through 360 degrees so people can ‘enjoy music freely as they move from room-to-room’, it’s unusual. The dome shape – which resembles a modern kettle minus handle and spout – doesn’t just make the R6 look sleek and stylish. Samsung says it’s also the best shape for producing omnidirectional sound. But that’s not all…

Down with the bass

In order to achieve even distribution, a 12.5cm downward-facing woofer fires sound towards a conical base, while a 25mm tweeter on the R6’s peak acts in a similar fashion with a small, arched plate. And it works. With a nice open spread of sound from all directions, it doesn’t discriminate whether you’ve got the front-row seat or are in your favourite armchair off to the side. It’s a sound you won’t mind following you around the room, either. It works its way through ELO’s When I Was A Boy with balance and clarity, and enough space, integration and organisation to keep things coherent. Showing its dynamic talent, the track’s opening piano chords vault forward. Jeff Lynne’s melodic ramblings are articulate and solid in equal measure, and while the R6 isn’t the last word in conveying texture, there’s detectable detail within guitar chords.

A dinosaur egg prop from the set of Jurassic World? An unplugged lava lamp? Try again. The R7 is a Bluetooth and wi-fi (multi-room ready) speaker that shares a distinct likeness to its little brother, the R6. Samsung calls it a ‘standing model with deeper bass’, with the aim of delivering 360-degree sound. “How?” you might ask. While the elongated-dome shape was designed to facilitate omni-directional dispersion, it’s mostly down to the 12.5cm downwardfacing woofer firing sound towards a conical base and out in every direction, and a 2.5cm upward-facing tweeter on the top. Peek through the gap and you can see Samsung’s ‘ring radiator technology’.

SAMSUNG APP APP STUFF...

Touch controls a nice touch

Across the bottom, a light indicates battery level, while touch controls are handy for switching inputs, pausing playback and changing volume. Given a 3.5mm jack and more sonic expression and energy, we’d be looking at a full star set. But the R6 achieves what it sets out to do: produce sound all around, seamlessly throughout your home and from a neat, well equipped portable speaker.

A time of Reckoning

It applies enough weight and power to give the thunderous orchestrations in Hans Zimmer’s Gotham’s Reckoning (24-bit/192kHz) their fair due, without giving the cold shoulder to the fainter trumpets underneath. It all allows the Samsung to communicate the track’s deliberately menacing build effortlessly. For a humble speaker, the undertowing bass is deep and rumbling, if a little soft. The driving beat of Drake’s Hold On, We’re Going Home doesn’t kick quite as hard as it should, so a sprinkle of bass punch wouldn’t go amiss. Favouring 40 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT With good 360-degree sound and a portable design, it’s as complete as wireless speakers come – but no ethernet

The app’s appealing interface is easy to navigate and seamless: full album artwork is displayed, and a control ‘wheel dial’ for quickly browsing queued songs or playlists gives you a welcome break from lists. Also, a widget allows unobtrusive control from your homescreen. Streaming services are out in force (though we would like to see Tidal and Google Play Music) and well integrated. RATING

KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

DLNA

24/192 HI-RES


Stylish, yes, but the shape, along with downward-facing woofers, also aids 360-degree sound

not even a long run-in can purge. To boot, we find it flustered at high volumes, dynamically flat at lower volumes, and lacking a happy medium.

Which one’s better?

Why buy the R7 over the R6? In covering every angle of the room, the bigger unit offers a larger scatter of sound and has a greater presence. But, size and scale aside, we’d take an R6 (or two if you’re ready to dip your toe in the multi-room pool) for its cleaner sound and more competitive price. In a market where speakers have to fight even against their own kind, sonic success is the key to survival. So while the R7’s app is excellent, and hi-res, multi-room and streaming service features are a highlight, overall our praise sadly stops short of ‘good’.

says

For its cleaner sound and more competitive price, the R6 trumps its bigger sibling

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

It’s more of a showstopper than the podgier R6, and it’s nice to see the offer of big-scale sound in something that’s not a bland box. The base has a rather small footprint, although Samsung will point you to its quirky tripod stand. Either way, it’s best to keep it out of reach to avoid damage to the semiexposed tweeter.

A strokable finish

It requires some willpower not to stroke its stylishly smooth rubbery plastic, and touch controls across its waistband give it a streamlined look. Its reflective base is equally unspoiled, being free of any inputs or sockets. And by ‘any’ we mean not even an ethernet port, so all network playback – that of your digital library up to 24-bit/192kHz, streaming services and internet radio – is over wi-fi. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity and a TV SoundConnect feature so the R7 can play audio from a Bluetooth-compatible Samsung TV.

Streaming services are packed in along with the more offbeat 7Digital and 8tracks nestling in Samsung’s Multi-room app. The only oversight is Google Play Music – which you will find on the Sonos’s radar. It’s hardly surprising that the R7 shares its sibling’s weighty, laidback sonic character, its decent insight and strict balance serving up a sound that’s easy to listen to whether you play Avicii’s crashing beats or Sixto Rodriguez’s crooning nasal twang. But where there are ups, there are downs. Like its mini-me, it struggles to get into the jollity of I Wonder, let alone get pumped up for Martin Solveig’s Intoxicated – it’s not quite the pick-me-up it is through the Sonos Play:5, which is a crisper, more upbeat listen (and takes the Samsung for clarity and bass punch too). While it pounds out more (and deeper) bass than the R6, it can feel loose and muggy, and up top the treble has a coarse, gravelly texture to it that

BUILD

VERDICT A stylish multi-room speaker that survives on features and software, but sound quality is its weak link

Multi-room verdict

Download the Samsung multi-room app (free, iOS and Android) and it walks you through the business of connecting your speakers to your home network in minutes. There’s a tutorial for streaming novices too. It picks up our R6 and R7 samples in no time, and if automatic set-up fails it can be done manually. Not only is the app your go-to for general playback (neither speaker comes with a remote), but for multi-room tasks too – where it really shines. It makes easy work of grouping speakers together – two can pair to play a song in harmony, or act as left and right channels. Two can also be used in a movie setting by pairing them with one of Samsung’s wireless soundbars for a 4.1 presentation. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 41


M U LT I - R O O M S P E A K E R S

THE BENCHMARK Sonos Play:1/Play:5 FOR Impressive weight; punchy; smooth, simple set-up

AGAINST No hi-res music; no physical connections

★★ ★ ★ ★

Sonos Play:1 ₨26,999 ★★ ★★ ★

smart wraparound steel grille. That’s not only where the Play:1 keeps up. It’s just as weighty and solid as we remember, with plenty of power and punch for a small speaker. It doesn’t shy away from Ryan Adams’ Gimme Something Good – hearty enough to get stuck into the meaty electrics, but at the same time disciplined enough to keep them on a tight leash. His vocals sail over the top with stark clarity and dynamic expression – the Play:1 throwing them into the limelight – and there are acres of space and scale in the presentation for them to fill. Either side of the midrange, control isn’t lacking, its bass tight and punchy, the treble detailed and refined.

Sonos Play:5 ₨49,900 ★★ ★★ ★

A lot has happened in the multi-room market since the Sonos Play:1 last entered our test rooms in 2013. Amid the rise of the smart watch and smart TV, smartphones breaking the 7inscreen barrier and the anti-climax of Google Glass, the multi-room market has exploded to astronomical levels, with every Tom, Dick and Harry looking to rustle Sonos’s feathers in the field. So it may raise an eyebrow to learn that what hasn’t changed is the Play:1’s charm. That’s right, for ₨26,999 you still won’t regret finding a spot for one (or five) in your home. Sonos brought its entry-level price down with the Play:1, and despite no next-gen models (like its flagship Play:5) or hardware updates since, it continues to set the benchmark at this price.

Let’s get physical

While it’s the same old rounded speaker, software tweaks claim to have brought improved sound, as well as Trueplay technology and even more streaming services – something that is clearly crucial to Sonos staying at the top of the streaming game. It’s the most comprehensive list out there, with the likes of Google Play Music and Amazon Music, plus TuneIn Radio for access to thousands of internet radio stations, all integrated into the Sonos Controller app. Of course it also plucks songs stored on your local network, from a NAS drive for example. Designed to be used purely as part of the Sonos system, the Play:1 still lacks any physical connections for hard-wiring external devices. Bluetooth is still absent too, which in our eyes is points against Sonos. We’d like at least one offline option for when your network’s a bit dodgy.

A solid, sleek design

While arguably looking a little outdated stood next to the freshly redesigned new Play:5, its solid, sleek design stands the test of time. It comes in black or white, though only on the chassis’ top and bottom bands do colours come into it – for what defines the Play:1’s look is its 42 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

Good, clean fun

It’s an open, clean and balanced listen and one that’s just as happy pumping out Bloc Party as Joni Mitchell. Only too keen to show that rhythmic fidelity isn’t left trailing, its agile, athletic posture keeps up with the sprightly keyboard cadence in Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s cover of Blinded by the Light, the cymbal-tapping galloping precisely and punctually alongside. It’s an enthusiastic rendition that isn’t short of attack. You can tell Sonos had one thing in mind when engineering its sonic character: fun. Who can argue with that? If you thought time would have aged the Play:1, think again. It remains a brilliant-sounding wireless speaker, and a decent passage into multi-room for those on a tight budget. It’s not perfect, but if hi-res support and offline playback aren’t the be all and end all, then it’s hard to resist.

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RATING ★★ ★ ★★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Unfazed by time, the entry-level Sonos is every bit as good a wireless speakers as we remember

Sonos launched the original Play:5 in 2009, its first wireless speaker and a product that helped shaped Sonos into what it is today. Seven years later, it makes way for a new Play:5, which the company says is “the quintessential speaker for the digital age”, with a focus on flagship sound and design. The new Play:5 looks and feels different to the original. It can now be orientated in three ways, horizontally or on either side vertically, so the design has to work across all orientations, and as a result it leans more towards the more simplistic styling of the Play:3. This gives it greater flexibility for placement as well as a more ‘natural’

SONOS APPAPP STUFF...

The app’s colourful interface is easy to navigate, with nice touches making the experience seamless. A widget allows for control from your homescreen. Select ‘continuous play’, and when you get home it will automatically start playing. Streaming services are out in force, and though we’d like Google Play Music and Tidal, a beta version of Apple Music has recently been added. RATING

KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

DLNA

SPOTIFY CONNECT


The Play:1 has extra software tweaks, improved sound, Trueplay and more streaming services

can add a sub should you wish, but we don’t see why you’d need to unless you have a grudge against your neighbours.

Rich and articulate

The sub-bass intro to A$AP Rocky’s L$D is enough to challenge any speaker, but even at high volumes the Play:5 keeps a handle on things. It creates a wonderfully rich sound, but with a touch too much bass for neutral ears. Luckily, EQ settings can put this right – a notch or two down helps make it more tonally balanced. With a bigger, bolder, more powerful sound that goes low and wide without forgoing expression and clarity, there’s no doubt that the new Play:5 succeeds in overshadowing its predecessor. The rich, exciting and articulate way of delivering the best the streaming world has to offer, as part of an excellent multi-room set-up, makes it a compelling buy.

says The Play:5 can be placed horizontally or vertically, so placement is nicely flexible

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES

look when used as a stereo pair. Controls have been given a makeover too, with physical buttons done away with in favour of touch controls. While you’re likely to do most of the controlling with a phone or tablet, the touch interface is responsive, with subtle tones that sound as your touch registers.

Grudge match

It’s not just the design that has seen an overhaul. Not one original driver has been reused here, the count jumping from a five-driver set-up to six and offering three times the acoustic horsepower. Placed horizontally along the bottom, there are three custom-designed 10cm mid-woofers, which are bigger and more powerful versions of those found in the Play:1, in addition to three tweeters arranged along the top. The left and right tweeters are in horns, directed out to the side to help give a wider sound. These measure 20mm, while the central tweeter is slightly bigger at 23mm.

Together these are arranged to give a wide sound from a single box. The result is unquestionable – this is a speaker that could fill some of the biggest rooms in the house. Play The Weeknd’s Earned It and the Play:5’s command over dynamics is clear. The dramatic string intro, punctuated with sudden drum strokes, is delivered with fluidity and punch, rising and falling on queue with timing that’s on point. In fact, there is clarity in the midrange no matter what you play, which ensures vocals are always pushed to the front of a mix and never overshadowed. This is one area that has seen an improvement from the previous generation, where vocals could get mixed up in a busy arrangement and lose their clout. Another huge improvement is in the bass. For its size, the original Play:5 wasn’t lacking, but what’s on offer here is in a different league. Not only more, but deeper and more refined too – you

BUILD

VERDICT Bigger, bolder and more powerful, the new Play: 5 is a worthy flagship speaker for Sonos

Multi-room verdict

The Sonos Controller app is still the smoothest multi-room set-up going, but the app’s handiness goes far and beyond set-up. You can make your Sonos speaker feel right at home thanks to ‘Trueplay’ – new software that optimises the sound of any Sonos wireless speaker based on its location in a room. Trueplay uses the microphone in your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch (Android devices aren’t currently supported) to measure the response of the speaker in your room and tweak its sound accordingly. It involves waving your device around the room for a minute, but that’s it. Just watch the tutorial that shows you the art of waving your phone around and it’s definitely worth it. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 43


M U LT I - R O O M S P E A K E R S

A N O D D CO U P L E

The ISX-80 looks like a picture frame, but is an expensive way of listening to background music

Yamaha WX-030/ISX-80 FOR Decent balance; striking design; reasonable timing

AGAINST Lack of dynamics and expression; closed soundstage

★★★ ★ ★

Yamaha WX-030 ₨19,439 (Approx) ★★ ★ ★ ★

just enough force and bass weight so as not to skew what is a respectable balance. Treble is rolled off a little, but this keeps it from becoming harsh or hardening at higher volumes and gives emphasis to a solid midrange. It helps elements such as Frusciante’s rather thin-sounding guitar in this opening track to remain pleasant.

Yamaha ISX-80 ₨34,997 (Approx) ★★ ★ ★ ★

You know when you meet your friend’s partner for the first time and they weren’t at all how you’d imagined? Well, having spent some time with Yamaha’s imaginatively designed ISX-80 wireless speaker, we weren’t expecting this unassuming little box to be its other half. Without resorting to clichés, it is fair to say we like unassuming if it means the focus has been put on sound quality. Judging by the Yamaha WX-030’s slanted quadrilateral design, three sides of which are grilled to emit sound, we feel reasonably sure that’s the case.

Backs against the wall

Beneath the WX-030’s modest exterior, a claimed maximum power of 30W feeds a 30mm tweeter and 9cm woofer, which is in turn aided by a passive radiator – here’s a speaker designed to sound a lot bigger than it looks. That, of course, means no stereo unless you’ve a pair, but Yamaha’s MusicCast multi-room system makes that kind of grouping simple, and the fact you can hang the WX-030 from the wall means a second one need not take up any more work space. The minimalist design continues on the speaker’s forehead, where a trio of lights indicate your connection status – you can do so via all of the most popular wireless routes: wi-fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay or DLNA – and on its crown are touch-sensitive buttons for power, volume and play/pause. It feels like a speaker geared towards easy and speedy listening, and we are soon testing with John Frusciante and Josh Klinghoffer’s collaboration A Sphere In The Heart Of Silence. First, we can’t help but be taken aback by the scale of the sound. The synthesizers that open the album on Sphere are bulky and solid – far more so than you should be expecting from such a petite speaker. There’s a decent sense of timing and organisation as well – it keeps the conversations between the instruments comprehensible and steers them from talking over one another. When the kick drum arrives as the piece’s pulse, it drives it forward with 44 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

A lack of versatility

We would like a little more in terms of expression and dynamics, however. On tracks such as Walls, where Frusciante’s screams should be apoplectic, it is a change of his vocal style more than gauging of expression that guides the listener. A lack of dynamic versatility means the WX-030 fails really to capture the haunting solitariness of Klinghoffer’s piano and vocal on Communique and, though it remains an engaging listen, loses some of that emotion. The soundfield, too, could be wider. Of course we aren’t expecting yawning canyons of space from so small a wireless speaker, but more saturated textures can sometimes become a tad congested – especially given the power and low-end presence that woofer and bass radiator are working hard to release. The WX-030 carries itself like a speaker twice its size without becoming too big for its boots, delivering a solid and coherent performance. The versatility to pair it with another of its own stock as a stereo system, or with more than 20 other Yamaha products as part of a MusicCast multi-room system, only play further into its hands. As a standalone wireless speaker, it isn’t the most talented we’ve heard at this price, but it shouts loud enough to avoid being ignored.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Not strictly an all-rounder, but the Yamaha WX-030 is strong enough to be considered part of a multi-room family

There’s something awfully 1984 about having a wireless speaker disguised as a picture frame. But this is the Yamaha ISX-80. Part of the company’s Restio range and a member of their vast and growing MusicCast multi-room family, it is a two-way stereo wireless speaker – two 30mm soft-dome tweeters and a pair of 8cm woofers – combined with FM radio and alarm clock you can stand on your desktop or pop up on the wall.

Put away your phone

In terms of compatibility, it has much of what you’d ask of a modern wireless speaker: Bluetooth, AirPlay, DLNA, wi-fi and a 3.5mm jack, as well as direct access

YAMAHA APP

The ambitious MusicCast deserves a quality app, and it has one. Creating rooms and connecting devices is simple, and from there all your music is accessible from within the app. We experience a couple of freezes, but not so often for it to become an issue. Most importantly, this is an intuitive and easily navigated app that makes what could be rather complicated satisfyingly straightforward. RATING


The design of the WX-030 speaker feels like it’s geared towards easy and speedy listening

guitar work expose some hardness in the treble, which could also benefit from a little more anchor in the bass.

Better for radio

Switching to radio, the ISX-80 feels more at home. Our issues with the sound remain – more expression, a wider spread of sound and some depth in the bass would benefit radio as much as our own selection of tracks – but this is a different kind of listening. Now we can see ourselves with the ISX-80 hanging on the kitchen wall, part of our multi-room family, as we do the washing up. However, we don’t believe background music should cost anywhere near this much. That’s why, despite our appreciation of Yamaha’s MusicCast concept, we can’t recommend this particular extension of it.

KEY FEATURES

BLUETOOTH

says to internet radio. We have few complaints about build quality either – it doesn’t feel like a cheap piece of kit and the remote control, though not the most high-end we’ve come across, is a welcome addition for when you aren’t using your phone.

Tease out the fighting spirit DLNA

24/192 HI-RES

We connect using the MusicCast app and begin playing Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs. The balance is fairly good – the ISX-80 is comfortable letting the midrange through to carry the melody without sounding out of place – and there is a decent enough level of detail. The layered, stereo backing vocals of opening track Leaf House are allowed to come through, there’s some body to the acoustic guitars and you get a feel for the room in which the drum kit, in particular, was recorded. Timing is reasonable as well, though a greater soundstage would certainly help it in terms of organisation. The ISX-80 keeps up with the choppy rhythms of Who Could Win A Rabbit? without it

becoming confusing – this more upbeat track also highlights a lot of what’s missing, though. What should be childishly excitable is here largely uninterested. There is little in terms of expression and dynamic subtlety, and it feels more like a background listen than the delivery of the level of insight you’d expect from a highish-end wireless speaker. We switch quickly to Rage Against The Machine’s The Battle Of Los Angeles in an attempt to tease some fighting spirit out of the ISX-80, but it’s to no avail. Without its antagonistic spit, the impetus is gone and Zach de la Rocha’s vocal sounds limp.

Low-end oomph required

Moreover, while still well balanced, you begin to miss what’s lacking in the low end. The lack of drive would surely be overcome with a little extra low-end muscle to get behind kick drums and overdriven bass guitars. Crashing cymbals combined with Tom Morello’s

RATING ★★ ★

★ ★

SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT A disappointing offering from Yamaha, which ultimately constitutes a rather expensive background listen

Multi-room verdict

Yamaha’s MusicCast is currently a 23-strong (and growing) family that includes soundbars, AV and traditional hi-fi, accessing your streaming services, internet radio, NAS devices and external sources. It’s a splendid concept, and it appears to work well in practice. MusicCast is simple to set up, we have no trouble grouping or setting products to play different songs and don’t suffer any drop-outs in connection. And although connecting to the network isn’t the fastest process, it is flexible. What’s more, it appears to be evolving. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 45


TEST WINNER

Sonos With so many talented players in the multi-room game these days, you have to work hard to win. And these speakers do

F

ourteen speakers, seven multi-room solutions: it’s been a brawl. But countless app set-ups, several rooms and umpteen hours of listening later, we have a winner – and it’s one nobody should be surprised by. Sonos has not so much cleaned up as defined the multi-room market, and with improvements over the years through both redesigned hardware and software updates, stays at the cutting edge of the multi-room game. We still wish it would give in to hi-res (that’ll be the day), but for as little as ₨55,000 (the price of two Play:1s), it represents excellent value for money. The Play:1 and Play:5 are successes in their own right and, naturally, even stronger in numbers. It wasn’t an easy decision. Bluesound took our multi-room Product of the Year gong – as a complete speaker/amp/ streamer/server/CD ripper/app family it remains number one – and its wireless speakers make for formidable rivals, not least for budding hi-res music collectors.

Bluesound just misses out

The new Mini Pulse is a refined, articulate and insightful listen, and the bigger Pulse – one of the only original products from last year’s first-generation range that remains – adds size and power to that fruitful formula. However, its low-end could do with more tautness and, in light of the Sonos Play:5, struggles to justify its higher asking price. Want something more affordable than Bluesound or the option of offline streaming via Bluetooth (not in Sonos’s repertoire)? Then Bose proves its home-filling worth not just with two consistently good-sounding (albeit not class-leading) performers, but with a competitive feature list and a great app. Apps are the crux of the multi-room experience – the glue that holds the whole thing together – and this concept is something Libratone and Samsung have also nailed with their slick, intuitive 46 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

offerings. Samsung makes a good case for saying “pick me” with its balance, clarity and 360-degree spread of sound too. We’d take the smaller R6 over the R7, although both need tighter bass response and more attack to move up the pecking order. We are already fans of the new Libratone Zipp, and the impressive (and rather cute) Mini is a carbon copy – just smaller-sounding. While there’s more to multi-room than sound quality, performance is still king, and this is where Ministry of Sound and Yamaha need to up their game. The Ministry of Sounds need greater clarity, detail and dynamics to make a mark, and

it’s equally hard to plump for the Yamaha ISX-80’s thin, largely unexpressive sound. The baby Yamaha, however, offers slightly better value thanks to more body and detail. The days of trailing cables everywhere around the house and carrying sound systems into different rooms are gone – and good riddance! Now sound can follow you around the house wirelessly and at a touch of a button. Multi-room speakers have well and truly taken off, and like every trend there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. And in the case of Sonos, the downright brilliant.


M U LT I - R O O M S P E A K E R S

Bluesound Pulse Mini

Bose SoundTouch 10

Libratone Zipp Mini

Ministry of Sound Audio M Plus

Dimensions (hwd)

17 x 34 x 16cm

21 x 14 x 9cm

22 x 10 x 10cm

28 x 20 x 20cm

Analogue in

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Max resolution

24-bit/192kHz

16-bit/44.1kHz

24-bit/96kHz

16-bit/44.1kHz

Bluesound Pulse

Bose SoundTouch 30

Libratone Zipp

Ministry of Sound Audio L Plus

Dimensions (hwd)

19 x 42 x 20cm

25 x 44 x 18cm

26 x 12cm

20 x 60 x 18cm

Analogue in

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Max resolution

24-bit/192kHz

16-bit/44.1kHz

24-bit/96kHz

16-bit/44.1kHz

TEST WINNER

Samsung R6

Sonos Play:1

Yamaha WX-030

Dimensions (hwd)

23 x 16 x 16cm

16 x 12 x 12cm

16 x 24 x 11cm

Analogue in

No

No

No

Max resolution

24-bit/192kHz

16-bit/44.1kHz

24-bit/192kHz

Samsung R7

Sonos Play:5

Yamaha ISX-80

Dimensions (hwd)

42 x 18 x 18cm

20 x 36 x 15cm

30 x 30 x 7cm

Analogue in

No

No

Yes

Max resolution

24-bit/192kHz

16-bit/44.1kHz

24-bit/192kHz

REMOTES ARE OUT, APPS ARE IN The beating heart of any (and we mean any) multi-room set-up, the app groups speakers, controls which ones play what and opens the door to streaming services and music on your home network. Ergo, it has to be intuitive, user-friendly and a good multi-tasker. Thankfully all in this test keep their end up in that regard.

USE IT WITH... Streaming service Apple Music ★★ ★ ★ ★ From ₨120 Class-leading usability and a massive catalogue. It might not offer high-res music, but that won’t affect the Sonos speakers.

Tablet Apple iPad Mini 4 ★★ ★ ★ ★ ₨28,900 Thoughful upgrades have made the Mini a better music source than ever.

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 47


DACS

nverter equals us digital-to-analogue co pl PC s, ow kn t ias us aths th fi en und, so you can do the m aro It’s the equation every hiCs DA st be e th of e re e tested th a great hi-fi system. We’v WHAT’S ON TEST

Chord Hugo Naim DAC-V1 Moon Neo 230 HAD

Digital to analogue Rarely has a product name been as self-explanatory as that of the digital-to-analogue converter. These devices take digital data from an appropriate source – say a laptop or CD transport – and, using this information together with the sampling rate, reconstruct the original analogue waveform. There are DACs in every electronic digital component we use, and in our experience the quality of these has a notable impact on performance.

1 01 0 1 1 0 0 1 01 1 1 1 0 1 1 01 0 1 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 0 001 1 01 1 1 1 01 0001 1 1 01 01 001 1 1 01 01 01 01 1 01 01 0001 1 1 01 1 1010101010100111 1 01 0 0001 1 1 01 01 01 1001010011101101

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 49


DACS

TAKE IT ANYWHERE

Chord Hugo ₨1,59,999 FOR Terrific dynamic subtlety; portability; aptX Bluetooth

AGAINST Connections and power switch are cramped

Hugo? That’s an odd a name for a hi-fi product. It’s a play on ‘you-go’, which gives a suggestion as to the focus of this portable digital-to-analogue converter. Chord claims this to be the ‘world’s first reference-class portable DAC/ headphone amp’. That’s a bold claim, but the company’s track record in digital-toanalogue conversion is terrific since the DAC 64 was introduced 20 years ago.

The Hugo is arguably Chord’s most impressive number cruncher yet. We certainly think it delivers more insight than the similarly priced mains-powered Naim DAC-V1. There’s masses of detail here, coupled to the kind of organisation and dynamic subtlety that is usually only available at far higher prices. Listen to a DSD file of Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and you’ll find the Chord balances finesse and muscle beautifully. Higher Ground charges along with real momentum. There’s plenty of drive to the rhythm and a striking amount of punch to the song’s distinctive bass line. Stevie Wonder’s voice is delivered with all the precision, weight and natural warmth we could wish for. We listen to a range of recordings from Mahler’s Symphony No.4 (24bit/192kHz) to a CD rip of PJ Harvey’s White Chalk

Window of opportunity

So what does the Hugo do? It has an impressive range of connections – as well as the standard optical, coax and (twin) USB inputs, the Chord accepts aptX Bluetooth signals too, opening up use with smartphones and tablets. Alongside these inputs there’s a 6.3mm headphone output and a pair of smaller 3.5mm alternatives. The Hugo’s portable nature dictates it has built-in batteries. It doesn’t take power through USB, as most other DACs do, choosing instead to take its charge from the mains supply. Internal batteries take around two hours to charge and should give around 12 hours of use. Underneath that aluminium case, you’ll find a tightly packed circuit-board filled with some unusual electronic solutions. All the company’s best DACs, including the Hugo, have been based around the same Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) processing technology (large-scale integrated circuits, which can be loaded with bespoke software after manufacture). This makes Chord’s products different from most rivals. The Hugo will accept input signals up to 32-bit/ 384kHz, but only through one of its USB inputs. The second USB will work without special driver software – it’s intended for use with tablets and phones – and is limited to 16-bit/48kHz. The coax input keeps the ultra-high sampling rate of 384kHz, but drops the bit-depth to 24. Optical reduces this further to 24-bit/192kHz. While such numbers are impressive, 384kHz files of either 32-bit or 24-bit are rare enough to render their inclusion moot. The ability to accept DSD music streams is more important, with the DAC processing these natively to protect sonic purity. Incoming sampling rates are indicated by a change of colour in the top-facing window. 50 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

★★ ★ ★ ★ to ‘Maximum’, and for the most part it’s a relatively unobtrusive system. After much listening we tended to alternate between the ‘minimum’ and ‘off’ settings.

Round of applause

A less obvious use for the Hugo – given Chord’s intended portable purpose – is as a stripped-down digital preamp. We try connecting it to our reference system and get terrific results when linked to our Bryston 4BSST2 power amplifier and ATC SCM50 speakers. Here we’re taken by the Chord’s dynamics and transparency. It never sounds out of its depth, and delivers an insightful, entertaining sound which keeps us hooked. There’s no denying that the Hugo is a hugely capable product. We think it’s the best sounding converter we’ve heard at this price. Add its portable abilities, and

”The Hugo is Chord’s most impressive number-cruncher yet, delivering more insight than similarly-priced rivals. There’s masses of detail here, coupled with the kind of organisation and dynamic subtlety usually only available at higher prices” and a 256kbps version of Eric Bibb’s Booker’s Guitar, and the Chord doesn’t disappoint. The shortcomings in the Eric Bibb file are obvious, yet this DAC’s innately musical approach keeps our attention on the performance.

KEY FEATURES 32-bit/384kHz

HI-RES

Right on the wire

This quality helps when connecting to the Hugo via Bluetooth. There’s the usual drop-off in sound quality when compared to a wired connection – a little thinness in the treble and a loss of overall resolution – but on the whole the Chord manages to keep things enjoyable. Tonally, the Chord is an even-handed performer, with no part of the frequency range taking prominence. This helps to make system matching easier. We try a range of headphones from Shure’s SE846 in-ears and Grado’s RS1s to Beyerdynamic’s T1s without issue. Chord has equipped the Hugo with a ‘crossfeed’ switch that processes the sound to reduce the typical ‘in the head’ presentation headphones normally deliver. There are four settings from ‘Off’

BLUETOOTH

especially its fine performance with Bluetooth, and Chord should be applauded on a stunning achievement. Chord has addressed the cramped design of earlier models which meant that connections were difficult to access, but we’d still avoid using chunky cables. Otherwise, the Hugo is the bestsounding DAC we’ve heard at this price. Add in its portability, and it is a multitalented device that will transform your music listening so much you’ll wonder what you ever did without it.

PORTABLE

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The Hugo is a brilliant product, without doubt the best-sounding DAC and headphone amp we’ve heard at this price


DACS

1

2

IN DETAIL 1 Two USB inputs, one for high-resolution signals and the other limited to 16-bit/48kHz

3

2 Colour of the porthole changes according to the sampling rate of the input sound

3 There is no shortage of headphone inputs – one 6.3mm and two 3.5mm connections

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 51


DACS

DER EASY-GOING ALL-ROUN

Moon Neo 230HAD ₨1,15,000* FOR Good file support; fluid midrange; easy-going sound

AGAINST Organisation could be tighter; lacks a bit of punch

It’s been a long time since we reviewed a Moon product – more than six years, in fact – but we’re always excited to see something new from a company with such great hi-fi credentials. This little unit is something rather different than we’re used to from Moon and Simaudio. It’s the company’s first DAC aimed squarely at a desktop audience, featuring a headphone output and a more desk-friendly size, measuring even narrower than the Naim DAC-V1. As part of the Neo range, it’s also cheaper than a lot of Moon products we’ve seen in the past. While some of its components can reach executive car prices, the 230HAD comes in at ₨1.15 lacs*.

There’s no screen here like there is on the Naim DAC-V1, which is a shame, but it’s still more straightforward to operate than the Chord Hugo. There’s a remote included – it’s a little cluttered, but can double up as a system remote for your Moon amp and CD player. Plug in some headphones for a 24-bit/192kHz play through of Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky and the 230HAD immediately shows off a bold, open character, jumping straight into the bouncing guitar instrumental with a good sense of drive and enthusiasm. There’s a good level of detail here, and a decent amount of space too, but the Chord Hugo still comfortably bests it for out-and-out subtlety and transparency. It’s not as precise with its rhythms as the Naim DAC-V1 either and doesn’t offer quite as much punch as it should.

A nice desk job

The 230HAD is based heavily on the reference 430HA headphone amp, its compact size giving it the upper hand over its pricier sibling for those looking for a desktop set-up. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the 230HAD as part of a more traditional system. With two coaxial inputs, one optical and an analogue in, this could quite happily double up as a preamp for any source, offering both fixed and variable analogue outputs to connect to your system. The USB-B input is likely to be the most heavily used though, allowing you to hook up your laptop and use the 6.3mm headphone jack for a more straightforward, digital-focused set-up. The Neo 230HAD supports a wide range of audio including PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz through all inputs and up to 32-bit/384kHz (plus DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256) via the USB input.

What’s Going On is full of expression, texture and detail as it soars louder, but the softer notes inbetween don’t manage to communicate themselves as well, or differentiate themselves from one another, to the same degree. In terms of balance, it’s a fairly neutral listen, but with a weighty enough bass that gives it a little more substance than the Hugo’s leaner presentation.

Take care with partnering kit We do notice the treble showing itself to be a touch harsh with some recordings, highlighting some sibilance in the less-than-smooth Forgiven by Alanis Morissette that competitors glossed over. The effect is minimal though, so as long as you take care not to partner your Neo with bright-sounding kit it shouldn’t be an issue.

Plug in some headphones for a 24-bit/192kHz play through of Mr Blue Sky and the 230HAD immediately shows off a bold, open character, jumping straight into the bouncing guitar instrumental with a good sense of drive and enthusiasm What it offers in return though, is a really lovely fluidity to its midrange that the Naim can’t quite match, and with more body than the Hugo can manage.

Ease versus engagement

This gives it a more relaxed, easy-going character than the Naim. It might not be as meticulous in its accuracy, but in many ways creates a more enjoyable, engaging sound for extended listening. That said, we would like to hear a tad more organisation during more complicated rhythmic patterns. When a Clean design song gets busy, the 230HAD can lose its Looks-wise, It’s a cleanly designed unit, handle on one or two of the rhythmic crafted out of aluminium and solidly elements, just slightly, meaning the song made to minimise resonance. While the sides offer a rougher look, the front panel as a whole doesn’t tie together as has a brushed-metal finish and houses the seamlessly as with the Hugo or DAC-V1. The 230HAD does a good job with standby button, input switch and input/ dynamics for the most part, particularly sample rate indicators. with big bold dynamic shifts where it can The latter illuminates automatically to really let loose. It can go quiet too, eerily let you know what sample rate you’re so, although low-level dynamics aren’t playing, while the former will cycle quite as expressive as the louder ones. through the inputs (which correspond to For example, the saxophone intro to a the labels on the back panel) as you click DSD play-through of Marvin Gaye’s the input button. 52 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

★★ ★ ★ ★

KEY FEATURES 32-bit/384kHz

HI RES

DSD SUPPORT

At ₨1.15 lacs*, the Moon Neo 230HAD is far from cheap, but it does sit at the lower end of the price scale compared with the Naim and Hugo, and it does a good job to largely hold its own against these DAC supremos. There are some issues – it needs to maintain its composure better during busy rhythmic patterns and we’d like a touch more punch too, but it’s hard to argue against its smooth, fluid character that creates a hugely enjoyable listen. At this price, it deserves an audition.

VARIABLE AND FIXED ANALOGUE OUTPUTS

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT The competition is more precise, but some might prefer the 230HAD’s relaxed, easygoing presentation


DACS

1 IN DETAIL 1 Fronted by a brushedaluminium panel, the half-width box is attractive and well made

2 It’s unusual to see an analogue input, but it means you can use the Moon as a preamp

3 If you have active speakers or are using a power amp, plug in to the variable outputs

2

3

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 53


DACS

SOLID PROPOSITION

Naim DAC-V1 ₨1,75,000 FOR Precise sound; supports PCM and DSD; connectivity

AGAINST Not the most relaxing presentation

It’s fair to say Naim didn’t spring into digital music with quite the same gusto as some of its competitors. Instead, it scoped out the market and tackled one thing at a time – first by focusing on streaming, then adding digital outputs to its CD players, before turning to the burgeoning ‘desktop audio’ sector with the launch of the DAC-V1 in 2013. This is the second DAC from the company, but the first that also works as a headphone amp for desktop listening and features an asynchronous USB port for connecting directly to a laptop. This allows the DAC to control the information flow from the laptop rather than vice versa, altogether reducing jitter and resulting in better sound quality.

included a 6.3mm headphone jack for using the DAC-V1 as a headphone amp. We plug our headphones in and are greeted with Naim’s signature sound, which balances the ability to be hard-driving, focused and dramatic with the subtlety and finesse needed to handle more delicate pieces of music. We’re not sure there has been any drastic change to the sound from the recent update, but then there didn’t need to be. The performance it demonstrated in 2013 is as strong now as it was then, and isn’t one that’s about to be easily bothered by new competitors. Play a 24-bit/96kHz recording of Sugah Daddy by D’Angelo and the Vanguard and the Naim immediately shows itself to be a big, full-bodied performer with superb rhythmic ability. There’s real precision here, with the DAC-V1 meticulous in its

DSD file-support

Since we last heard it, Naim has released a firmware update to offer support for DSD files (both single and double speed) via the S/PDIF or USB inputs, an update Naim says has required significant optimisation of the DSP code, (which has in turn improved sound quality). It has also added a Sample Rate Conversion (SRC) mode to help improve the performance of S/PDIF sources that don’t have an accurate clock, allowing the digital input to adjust itself to signals that are out of range. Physically, the DAC-V1 is the same product as in 2013, which means Naim’s distinctive green and black styling is present, as is its half-rack aluminium shell and handy OLED display. There are a handful of buttons on the front panel, which makes selecting your input easy. Or you can use the remote instead.

Same as it ever was

As with the other products in this test, the Naim DAC-V1 can work as a preamplifier too. You’ll find three coaxial inputs (one BNC and two RCA) and two opticals for hooking up various sources. Opticals are limited to 24-bit/192kHz, while the USB port is capable of up to 24-bit/384kHz. All of the inputs, bar the opticals, can accept DSD too. As for outputs, you can choose between regular RCA analogue outs for hooking this up to an amp, or alternatively there’s a DIN output instead. On the front panel Naim has 54 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

★★ ★ ★ ★ be softened to some extent with some careful matching if required. Switch the tempo to Ferdinand Rebay’s Sonata in C for violin and guitar, and the Naim has enough finesse to display texture in each guitar strum, while the violin moves through the track with agility. As the different sounds intertwine, the Naim keeps a handle on dynamics and demonstrates the gliding sweeps from quiet to loud and back down again.

A precise handle on rhythms Newly supported DSD files show similar characteristics. A DSD recording of Marvin Gaye What’s Going On is full-bodied, expressive and punchy, staying organised as the track builds and keeping a precise handle on rhythms. Even online tracks get a sonic makeover when played through this DAC.

”There hasn’t been any drastic change to the Naim’s sound following the recent update, but there didn’t need to be. The performance it demonstrated in 2013 is as strong now as it was then, and it isn’t about to be bothered by new competitors” handling of the starting and stopping of notes. The piano instrumental might be simple, but it’s delivered with attitude thanks to the punch the Naim affords it. Meanwhile the handclaps and percussion that support the melody punctuate it with toe-tapping levels of bite.

Relax? Don’t do it

There’s a huge amount of detail here. Not quite enough subtlety to bother the Hugo, but not a million miles away. You’ll have no trouble picking out each part of the song’s instrumental and vocal, and there’s plenty of space to allow each part to build and develop too. As the song introduces more rhythmic elements, the DAC-V1 has no problem keeping everything organised without ever sounding clinical or disjointed. It’s a solid sound across the board, from its powerful low end and strong, focused midrange to the refined, well-balanced treble that keeps it from sounding harsh. It’s not the most relaxing listen, throwing everything forward in an upfront, exciting presentation. That can

KEY FEATURES DSD 32-bit/384kHz

HI RES

OLED DISPLAY

With the addition of DSD, the Naim DAC-V1 feels a more solid proposition than ever, offering superb build and design, excellent connectivity and a sound that’ll have you hooked. It can’t quite match the superb Chord Hugo for out-and-out dynamics and subtlety, but the extra body and weight here will be enough of a trade off for many. Like a fine wine, Naim’s DAC-V1 is only improving with age, and wholeheartedly deserves to keep the full five stars.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND FEATURES BUILD

VERDICT Bold, punchy and precise, and it now supports DSD – Naim’s best ever DAC has just got even better


DACS

IN DETAIL 1 Distinctive well-built casework stays true to the Naim family look

2 There’s a standard pair of RCA analogue outputs here, alongside Naim’s long-favoured DIN connection

3 There is a good range of inputs, including co-ax in BNC form

1 2

3

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 55


DACS

TEST WINNER

Chord Hugo ₨1,59,999 It might be idiosyncratic in design and use, but the Hugo still bosses other DACs at this price

I

f you’re going to be spending this level of money on a headphone amp for your desktop set-up, you’re serious about music quality. Luckily, all three of these DACs are too. Simaudio’s Moon Neo 230HAD is the most affordable option of the three but has plenty to offer, with a bold, open sound and enthusiastic, fluid midrange. It’s an enjoyable, easygoing listen, but trips up with less-than perfect organisation when rhythms get busy, and has a slightly soft character. These downfalls, despite its more affordable price tag, are enough to deduct a star against its competition, though it remains a good option to audition.

SYSTEM BUILDER Three elements worthy to work with the Hugo

Headphones Grado SR325e ★★ ★ ★ ★ ₨25,900 These open-back cans offer fluid dynamics and a wonderfully musical presentation

More complete than ever

The recently updated Naim DAC-V1 showed itself to be just as good as when we heard it a couple of years ago, and now with its added DSD capabilities it’s a more complete proposition than ever. Its build and ease of use are second to none, and its connectivity is extensive enough not to leave any system wanting. Performance is equally impressive, with a very precise, authoritative sound that’s full-bodied and weighty, not to mention filled with detail. Its direct character means it’s not the most relaxing listen though, and it can be a little unrelenting if matched with equally assertive speakers, but it’s still five stars for this expressive, dynamic DAC. Finally, our Award-winning DAC at this price, the Chord Hugo, proves once again why we chose it. Its presentation

Streaming service Apple Music ★★ ★ ★ ★ From ₨120 Our favourite streaming service combines great sound quality with a vast catalogue

might not have the sonic body of the Naim or the Moon, nor does it have the most straightforward control system, but it makes up for that in every other way. Subtle, dynamic and superbly timed, it brings the best out of your music, plus its Bluetooth streaming and portability (thanks to its rechargeable battery) only make it more of a convincing buy. As such keeps its five stars, not to mention its place at the top of the pile of DACs at this price. Can the multi-talented Hugo ever be topped at this price? Right now, that job’s looking very tricky indeed.

Laptop Apple Macbook Air From ₨62,786 Apple’s characteristic flair with music files is present and correct on the super-portable Air

Total build ₨2,48,685

HOW THEY MEASURE UP TEST WINNER

Chord Hugo ₨1,59,999 ★★★★★ Inputs 2 x microUSB optical, coaxial • Outputs 2 x 3.5mm headphone jack, 6.3mm headphone jack, stereo RCA phono • File support Up to 32-bit/384kHz, DSD64 & DSD128 • Bluetooth Yes • Dimensions (hwd) 20 x 100 x 132mm • Weight 0.4kg

Moon 230HAD ₨1,15,000* ★★★★

Naim DAC-V1 ₨1,75,000 ★★★★★

Inputs 2 x coaxial, optical, USB-B, stereo RCA phono • Outputs 2 x stereo RCA phono, 6.3mm headphone jack • File support Up to 32-bit/384kHz, DSD64, DSD128, DSD256 • Bluetooth No • Dimensions (hwd) 76 x 178 x 280mm • Weight 2.8kg

Inputs 2 x optical, 2 x coaxial RCA, coaxial BNC, USB-B • Outputs 6.3mm headphone jack, stereo RCA phono, DIN • File support Up to 24-bit/384kHz, DSD64, DSD128 • Bluetooth No • Dimensions (hwd) 87 x 207 x 314mm • Weight 4.3kg

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 57


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T E M P TAT I O N

TEMPTATION EXPENSIVE, YES. BUT YOU

M KNOW YOU WANT THE

Leading us astray These five alluring products are the most tempting we’ve ever come across…

TEMPTATIONS: AKG N90Q

p60

Mark Levinson 326S/532H p64 Burmester Musiccentre 151

p65

Tannoy Kensington

p67

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 59


TEMPTATION EXPENSIVE, YES. BUT YO

U KNOW YOU WANT TH

EM

AKG N90Q Noise-cancelling headphones ₨NA

Now just relax while we measure your ear cavities FOR Clean presentation; clever features; excellent build quality

C

elebrity endorsement for a product is nothing unusual and generally it carries little weight with us. But when that celebrity happens to be Quincy Jones – one of the greatest producers of all time and the winner of no fewer than 27 Grammys – we take a bit more notice. The question is whether the N90Qs are good enough to justify the marketing connection.

All that glitters…

First impressions are positive. These headphones come well packed, with a neat metal box, a battery pack to top up the N90Q’s internal power reserves, a classy leather carrying case and a choice of cables and adaptors. The first thing that strikes us when we take the N90Qs out of their packaging is the gold on black colour scheme. Fortunately they don’t look half as garish in the metal, and AKG also makes an all-black version for more visual subtlety. Just as AKG’s heritage (and the price point) demands, these headphones are beautifully made and finished. The use of quality leather, superbly machined aluminium and sensible design has resulted in a classy pair of headphones that feel like they’re worth every rupee of that hefty price. They’re relatively large but, despite a weight of 460g, sit comfortably. Some of our test team did feel their ears get slightly too warm as time went on, though. Still, the AKG’s dual-density memory foam ear pads are nicely judged, as is the 60 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

AGAINST The price; favours analysis over entertainment

★★ ★ ★ ★

inward pressure that’s enough to ensure a secure fit that doesn’t make your head feel like it’s in a vice. They’re well engineered and exude an aura of quality.

precise after the procedure is completed. The three sound modes (Surround, Standard and Studio) are worth playing with. Surround gives a sense of scale and space that escapes the alternatives, but we find ourselves using Standard most often – its presentation is more organic than the rather dry-sounding Studio option, and has a sense of purity Surround can’t match.

A sense of purity

There’s plenty of technology here too. Alongside conventional features such as noise-cancelling, AKG has added a built-in DAC, a set-up function to optimise the sound for your ears and various sound modes to fine-tune the presentation to your tastes. The DAC comes into play when you use the micro USB input. Just connect the supplied USB cable to your digital source and off you go. It makes for a neat solution that, in theory, does away with need for a quality outboard DAC, simplifying the system at a stroke. The digital module’s resolution limit is a slightly disappointing 24-bit/96kHz. We would have liked 24-bit/192kHz at least, given the high-end level these headphones are pitched at and the wide availability of such material. We’re used to automated set-up systems in home cinema products, but finding such a feature in headphones is unusual. Simply press the round gold button next to the power switch for around five seconds and you’ll hear a couple of frequency sweeps. The N90Qs measure your ear cavity and adjust the sound accordingly. The whole process takes a matter of seconds and seems to work, with the sound becoming more even and

Dial in the tone adjustments

If that’s not enough adjustability the N90Qs also have three tone settings – changed by a rotary dial on the left earpad – allowing emphasis to be placed at either frequency extreme if desired. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we preferred the balanced, middle option. AKG could have designed a better way of identifying each of these settings though. The headphones emit slightly different sounds when the tone and sound mode settings are

KEY FEATURES

DAC

NOISE CANCELLING

USB

You’ll notice the distinctive gold on black here. But the N90Qs also come in a subtler all-black version


T E M P TAT I O N

�The N90Qs measure your ear cavity and adjust the sound, which then becomes more even and precise�

The N90Qs are endorsed by Quincy Jones, but are they good enough to justify the marketing connection?

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 61


World’s Greatest Brand 2015 ASIA & GCC


T E M P TAT I O N switched, and it’s easy to get confused between them. It would also be handy to have some sort of indicator to show when the ’phones are being charged too. While it’s tempting, we wouldn’t suggest judging these headphones straight from the box. Their sound improves notably with a few days of use, gaining natural warmth, refinement and more expressive dynamics.

And the Beats go on

From the start it’s apparent that the N90Q’s noise-cancelling abilities are excellent. Once they’re switched on, the hubbub of our office quietens to a very low level. The headphones’ welldesigned structure offers a good degree of physical isolation too, helping reduce the amount of noise that gets through to the ears in the first place. All in all, full marks to AKG in these respects. Intrigued by the built-in DAC, we connect our MacBook Air (loaded with Pure Music playback software) and play a 16-bit/44.1kHz rip of First Aid Kit’s Ghost Town. The results are pleasing. The N90Qs have a clean and clear sound. Voices and instruments are rendered in a precise manner, with leading and trailing edges defined clearly. Once the various sound and tonal modes are sorted out to our satisfaction the overall tonal balance is wholly convincing too. There’s no undue emphasis here, and the whole frequency range from low bass upwards gels seamlessly in both level and character. This kind of consistency isn’t as common as it should be thanks to the impact of Beats headphones, which actively promote unnaturally high bass levels.

”By most standards these AKGs are terrific, They’re hugely capable, but a little too sonically straight-laced”

1

2 3

Excitement underplayed?

First Aid Kit’s vocals come through with purity too, and are delivered with impressive articulation and a great deal of finesse. There’s fine organisation and the ability to keep low-level details obvious even when louder sounds come into the mix. After having a careful listen we begin to be a little concerned that the AKGs underplay the excitement and drive in a piece of music. Listening to OutKast’s Hey Ya! shows that to be true, though not to a particularly large degree. There’s speed here and a great deal of agility, but these headphones tend to take an analytical view of the music, preferring to dissect it rather than concentrate on the fun aspect. This kind of presentation may appeal to some but we place fun high up on our list of priorities. The story remains the same with higher resolution files from the likes of Taylor Swift and The Rolling Stones. We plug Chord’s mighty Hugo DAC into our set-up to see what the N90Qs do with top class DAC/headphone amplification, and it comes as no surprise that the

additional ₨1,59,999 buys a notable uplift across the sonic board. We play a range of music, taking in Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson and Beethoven, and find the N90Qs at home regardless. There’s a lot of insight here, and the ability to reveal instrumental and vocal textures that some rivals may overlook. They are capable of punching out huge dynamic swings while having the finesse to caress nuances. We think they’re a little too clinical with music though. That distinctive, layered rhythm track on Billie Jean just doesn’t thunder along as we’d like. Equally, as revealing as the dynamics are, cheaper (though non-noise cancelling) headphones such as Grado’s PS500 are just a bit more expressive in this respect. By most standards these AKGs are terrific. They’re beautifully made with high quality materials, and pack in plenty

IN DETAIL 1 The N90Qs come in a metal box, with a range of cables and extra power pack

2 They’re well made and comfortable to wear. The earpads are covered in quality leather and nicely shaped

3 Most functions are controlled by the sound mode button and rotary controller

of useful and unusual features. They’re hugely capable sonically, too. We haven’t come across an alternative with such a broad range of abilities, yet against this that price tag demands qualities that the N90Qs don’t quite ace. They’re a little too straight-laced sonically to get an unreserved recommendation.

says

RATING ★★ ★ ★ ★ SOUND BUILD COMFORT

VERDICT The N90Qs are capable and cleverly engineered headphones, but they lack a bit of fun

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 63


With huge build quality and price tags to match, Mark Levinson has defined the high-end of hi-fi

Mark Levinson 326S/532H | Pre/power amplifier | ₨12,38,900/₨9,79,900

“There’s an undeniable aura of class about it”

M

ark Levinson can claim to be one of a handful of brands that defined the ‘high end’, establishing a template of over-engineered electronics, lavish construction and, of course, huge price tags. This 326S/532H pre/power pairing may be one of the company’s more affordable offerings, but we suspect it will be all the amplifier anyone ever needs.

Compact, but classy

By high-end standards the 326S preamplifier is a compact unit, yet there’s an undeniable aura of class about it. That impression starts with the superbly made casework. The preamp’s internal electrical layout is dualmono, where the left- and right-channel circuits are as symmetrical as possible to optimise stereo imaging. Connectivity is good, with seven linelevel inputs, both single-ended and balanced XLRs. There’s also the option of a built-in MM/ MC phono module for an extra ₨1,52,200. The 300W-per-channel 532H power amplifier is far simpler. This is a sizable powerhouse at 19 x 45 x 50cm and 34kg. Inside you’ll find a dual-mono configuration right down to using twin mains transformers – one for each channel. There’s also an ethernet connection, but no streaming module built in. It enables the amp to be configured as part of a multi-room set-up when using ML’s Media Console as the source. The 326S/532H combination is nice to use – not always the case with high-end equipment, which tends to compromise usability either in 64 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

the pursuit of better sound or appearance. This pairing avoids both, with an intuitive control layout and one of the clearest displays around. But while the duo is undeniably talented, we initially wonder whether its presentation is just a little too subtle, and whether there is a shortfall of punch and attack. Over time, we realise this impression is a result of the 326S/532H combo’s class-leading refinement and composure. There aren’t any hard or bright edges in the sound, so no artificial excitement. Play a challenging piece of music such as Hans Zimmer’s The Battle (from the Gladiator

Play a challenging piece of music and this pairing takes it all in stride. Played at the volume this amplifier is capable of, it is fearsome OST) and this pairing takes it all in stride. Crescendos crash with impressive force while there’s plenty of drive to the rhythmic elements. It’s quite fearsome when replayed at the huge volume levels this amplifier is capable of. Even with the music at its most challenging this pairing sounds totally unflustered, almost as if it barely has to try to produce all that fury. There’s no undue hardness in the presentation, and certainly no rounding-off of extremes.

The stereo imaging is remarkable too, with a presentation that is wide, deep and very well layered. Instruments are just locked in position, refusing to budge even when a crescendo hits. The midrange is fluid in communicating nuance, and there’s an appealingly natural way with which this amplifier renders vocal-based music. This pair does a good job communicating the changing pace and momentum of the track. The delivery is for one so powerful, and traces the leading and trailing edges of notes nicely.

Forgiving with aggressive tracks

Tonally these Levinsons aren’t strictly neutral, sounding just a little rounded at the top end and a touch rich through the midrange. But these characteristics are mild and give this combo a forgiving outlook with aggressive recordings. The MLs are still revealing enough to show off any shortcomings in production (or partnering equipment) but never overemphasise things. The 326S/532H combination is a hugely capable pairing that delivers a controlled, entertaining sound. Add terrific build and the Mark Levinson brand name, and it’s easy to be tempted.

says

RATING ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ VERDICT Hugely capable, with insight, refinement and muscle that’s hard to better for the money


T E M P TAT I O N

The Burmester Musiccentre 151 may be expensive, but it’s a fine high-end streamer and CD player

Burmester Musiccenter 151 | CD streamer | ₨17,90,000

“Everything we’d associate with Burmester”

B

urmester’s Musiccenter 151 is difficult to pigeonhole. It’s a streamer, server, CD player and ripper wrapped in one superbly made chrome-laden box. That’s a complex array of talents, but it’s easy to see why the German high-end brand has taken such a comprehensive approach.

Back up to the future

Most of the company’s customers have built their systems up over a number of years, and quite likely have large collections of CDs. For these people it’s easy simply to replace their existing CD player with the 151, rather than add yet another box for streaming music. The Musiccenter has two 2TB modules. One mirrors the data on the other, so there’s always a back-up of your music if one of them goes wrong. The built-in slot-loading disc drive makes ripping CDs easy. There’s a choice of two quality levels: very thorough and obsessively thorough. The 151 is happy to take more than 15 minutes to rip a disc – scratched discs take longer, as the player re-reads the damaged sections until the maximum amount of data is recovered.

Swimming with the Tidal

A recent firmware upgrade adds a Tidal app and means the 151 will now work as a conventional (UPnP) music streamer too, able to render music stored on external NAS devices. It will cope with files up to 24-bit/192kHz, though the lack of DSD replay might bother some. A conventional

remote is provided, but streaming operations are probably best handled with the app. To which end, Burmester also supplies an Apple iPad Mini, preloaded with the app, in the box. That’s a nice touch. The app isn’t the only way to control the 151, you can use a web browser on your computer too. The web route may be the way to go for configuring ripping quality or setting output voltage to match your partnering amp. We start off by using the Musiccenter as a CD player and are pleased with what we hear. Its presentation has all the usual refined, creamy

Burmester also supplies an Apple iPad Mini, preloaded with the dedicated app for streaming operations, in the box. That’s a nice touch balance we’ve come to associate with Burmester. Play a hard-edged recording such as Terry’s Song by Bruce Springsteen and the 151 delivers a sound full of finesse and subtlety. There’s plenty of detail, from the coarse texture of Springsteen’s passionate vocals to the precise rendering of the instrumental backdrop. The innate refinement of the Musiccenter means that the hard edges of this demo-like recording aren’t exaggerated.

The music always takes the limelight, and a move to streaming a CD rip of Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring allows the 151 to impress even more. The piece’s dynamic swings are delivered with force, composure and excitement. Its presentation has huge scale and authority. This is a hugely demanding piece, yet it remains easy to follow low-level instrumental strands.

Richness and smoothness

We don’t notice any great difference in quality between using the 151 as a CD player or as a streamer. At all times it remains informative but refined. The balance is tilted (slightly) towards richness at lower frequencies and smoothness at the top end, but it’s never taken too far. It means poorer recordings and lower-quality sources are kindly treated. The 151 is expensive, but it’s a fine high-end CD player and an equally impressive music streamer. The app makes it a pleasure to use too, even if the unit’s responses are a touch sluggish on occasion. If you want a high-end streamer plus the luxury of playing CDs to a very high level, look no further.

says

RATING ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ VERDICT If you’re looking for a top class Streamer, but still need high quality CD reply look no further.

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 65


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T E M P TAT I O N

The Kensington GRs have a rather old-fashioned look, but there’s more here than just nostalgia

Tannoy Kensington GR | Stereo speakers | ₨12,80,000

“Tannoy’s gentle giants are speakers to love”

I

t’s easy to dismiss Tannoy’s Prestige series as old-fashioned, but it’s a firm favourite in the Far East where the fine craftsmanship, retro details and sonic talent have brought huge success. And a quick listen to the Kensington GR proves there’s more at work than just nostalgia. In the context of the range, it’s mid-sized, but this huge cabinet is 105 litres in volume and 110cm tall. The speakers weigh in at 49kg each.

Big and solid – and they sound it

The Kensington GRs are beautifully made, wider than they are deep and covered with design details. Their cabinets are solid, using a mixture of high-density birch ply for the front baffle and rear panel, with particle board and solid wood for other sections. There are two standard finishes: Walnut, or the Black Oak you see here. There are loads of neat cosmetic touches. Items such as the beautifully finished wooden box that houses the biwire links, spikes and nicely produced manual help promote pride of ownership and really boost the feel-good factor. The heart of these speakers is Tannoy’s trademark Dual Concentric drive unit, which builds on decades of development. It has a 25cm paper pulp mid/bass cone with an impregnated twin roll fabric surround. The tweeter – positioned in the heart of the mid/bass to help integration – is a 52mm aluminium/magnesium dome. It fires through a ‘pepper-pot’ grating into a stainless-steel horn – an arrangement said to help sensitivity and control directivity.

The sheer size of the Kensingtons means you’ll need a big room. Make sure you can place these floorstanders at least a metre out into the room to make the most of their stereo imaging. Tannoy provides a good degree of flexibility in the treble. On the front baffle you’ll find adjustments for treble energy and roll-off. These are subtle enough to be useful, so it’s well worth experimenting to optimise performance. The Kensington GRs can be biwired, and sound more precise and lucid this way. As with other Tannoys there’s an additional terminal (an earth connection) next to the two pairs of signal

The retro appearance may not be to all tastes, but there’s enough sonic quality to place the GRs on the top rung of speakers at this price inputs, the use of which results in a cleaner, crisper presentation. Effortless: that’s our first impression of the Kensington GRs’ sound. They’ll deliver a piece of music such as Hans Zimmer’s Where We’re Going (Interstellar) with breathtaking composure. The dynamic shifts of the track are rendered with force and the scale of presentation is huge. Yet it’s all done with an astonishing sense of ease. There’s none of the hardness of lesser

speakers when pushed, nor the restrained dynamics often found with small drive units and compact cabinets.

Gently does it

Then there’s the bass. While it comes as no surprise a speaker this size produces lots of it, we’re impressed by the quality. The Tannoys are subtle, textured and articulate. We’re impressed with the stereo imaging too – positioned with care these speakers set up a wide and deep soundstage populated by focused instruments. We give alt-J’s Hunger Of The Pine a listen and are struck by the Tannoys’ rhythmic skill. The overall presentation is a little gentler than we’re used to, but there’s still enough energy to satisfy. The fine timing, strong dynamics and clarity are more than enough to win us over. The Kensington GRs are speakers to love. While their retro appearance may not be to everyone’s taste, there’s more than enough sonic quality to place them on the top rung of speakers at this price. They’re gentle giants, balancing finesse with force in an appealing way. Consider us tempted.

says

RATING ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ VERDICT Easy to dismiss on the grounds of their retro appearance, but there’s real substance here

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 67


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FEBRUARY 2016

OFF THE SHELF REFERENCE SYSTEM

We use only the best ingredients in the making of this magazine. This in-house system helps us to evaluate incoming products with more insight and accuracy, so you always get the best tests!

Denon AVR-X7200W

Dolby Atmos out of the box and an upgrade to Auro 3D on its way, this is the most future-proof AVR we could get our hands on, yet.

Arcam D33 DAC / UDP-411 BD/SACD Player

Capable of full high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz processing and SACD playback, this duo is state-of-art audio/video decoding

BlueSound Vault

All our CDs and music get stored and served by this elegant solution from the boys at NAD

Mark Levinson No. 585

An integrated amplifier with (almost) no equal, this 200 w/pc dual mono design is the pinnacle of cutting-edge tech along with a 32-bit DAC onboard for added ammo!

PMC Twenty Series speakers

AudioQuest cables

Using the Twenty.26 as mains, Twenty.C for centre, DB1 Gold and Wafer 1 for surrounds, this speaker suite is the ideal blend of neutrality and musicality

Working truthfully between the various components, the DBSequipped line of cables and interconnects helps us see and hear without any anomalies

REL S5 Subwoofer

The cleanest and fastest way to add real weight and dynamics to our system was to introduce the brilliant S5 to the music and multichannel mix. A true legend

Also part of the system: Samsung 75H6400 LED TV, Apple Mac Mini, Audirvana Music Player, JBL Synthesis S800 power amp, Definitive Trinity Signature subwoofer


OFF THE SHELF

Vifa Stockholm Soundbar ₨2,09,900

Serving up a buffet FOR Unconventional looks, connectivity, unencumbered sound with wide stereo imaging Design is synonymous with the Scandinavian region and Denmark in particular. No surprise then, that the Vifa Stockholm relies heavily on the country’s tradition to be trailblazer when it comes to adding a bit of style into everyday products. Now, mind you, this isn’t an everyday soundbar to begin with. The company has been around longer than most, making OEM parts, but now, in its packaged avatar, it wants to stand out from the crowd, literally. Dressed in a vintagelooking Kvadrat textile and wrapped in coloured aluminum, there’s no denying that it is a conversation starter, especially given its generous size. There’s no dearth of soundbars in the market, so any new, premium brand better have its game face on. Under the rugged textile face of the Stockholm, lies a lot of good bits that could translate into a class-leading contender. A proper 3-way driver layout, the 1in soft-dome tweeters are mounted right at the corners for maximum stereo width and are also angled backwards a little to compensate for the different positions it may be mounted in. The tweeter design itself is sophisticated too (at least, for a soundbar) featuring a neodymium magnet, compressed cotton pad damping behind the dome and an isolation chamber behind it. Similarly, its partner in crime, the 3in midrange gets its

70 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

AGAINST Pricey, lacks real low-end response

own chamber and is mounted as close to the tweeter as possible to maintain a simulated point source as well as aid in stereo imaging. The woofer count is amped up to four, since they are mounted in a force-balanced arrangement where two drivers are connected back-to-back to cancel vibrations and boost output. This

The stereo imaging is actually superb for a single piece speaker, thanks to the edge -mounted tweeters can definitely be validated as there is no mechanical vibration to the Stockholm even at high SPLs. But how does it compare to other soundbars in this price segment? To think of it plainly as a soundbar would be underselling it a bit. This is in fact, much more than that. It also has lifestyle aspirations and aims to please audiophiles who don’t have the means to place stereo speakers across the room. One look at its connectivity options and you know why it's much more – Bluetooth, AirPlay/DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, networked Wi-Fi, Optical, 3.5mm AUX or USB (only iOS). That covers a lot of ground, whether you wish to hook up your TV to it or just stream tunes. In

either case, we’re happy to report that the Stockholm has the goods to put a smile on your face. Pablo Nouvelle’s Ice was delivered crisply and deftly with the pounding bass line kept in check with the four passive radiators, so, there was never any overhang or lack of pace. The stereo imaging is actually superb for a single piece speaker, thanks to the edge-mounted tweeters and the sheer width of the unit itself. It gives the impression of having immense headroom without any sense of restricted dynamics. Of course, the bass doesn’t have the plunging depth of say, the Paradigm PW800 or the Klipsch Stadium but it’s a clean and refined sound that you won’t complain about after using a bit of EQ to boost the lower mid-bass. Still, a subwoofer out is sorely missing for the most serious of videophiles. A pricey option in an increasingly commoditised category, the Vifa Stockholm isn't for everyone and won’t even satiate your cravings for deep bass, but what it does best is add a refreshing look to your decor and impress you with its loud, dynamic yet uncompressed tonal balance.

Says VERDICT It’s hard to recommend it at this price, but also hard to ignore it due to its refinement

TECH SPECS Design 3-way Driver 2 x 1in soft-dome tweeter, 2 x 3in aluminium midrange, 4 x 4in woofer, 4 passive radiators Frequency response 42Hz-20kHz Connectivity Bluetooth, WiFi Direct/Networked Optical, 3.5mm AUX, USB, AirPlay, DLNA Weight 9.8kg Dimensions (WHD) 43.5 x 4 x 8.5in


OFF THE SHELF

Definitive Technology W Studio Micro Soundbar ₨85,000

A striking sliver of sound FOR Detailed and powerful sound, stunning exteriors For some folk, soundbars hold no allure. It’s merely a case of picking convenience over quality, they’d argue. Certainly no mark of a true audiophile. However, for anyone wishing to plug in a simple sound system and get straight to listening (without enduring the tedious setting up of several components), it’s hard not to resist the obvious benefits. A sleek, space-sensitive speaker, wired / wireless subwoofer, great affordable options, what’s not to like? But is there any significant trade-off? Definitive Technology would certainly have us believe that’s not the case. They sent us a W Studio Micro to prove their point. At ₨85 grand, it isn’t quite walletfriendly, but what you get for your money is a highly skilled and strikingly sleek piece of kit. The chair-shaped box it comes in includes the soundbar, a wireless subwoofer, cables, documentation and an equally stylish remote wrapped in a rubberised finish. At a stunning 1.75in tall, with sharp angular edges, the soundbar is designed to compliment the slimmest flatscreens available in the market today. Atop the plastic speaker housing is a ‘military-grade aluminium’ layer. With dimensions this sleek and styling this cutting-edge, it could inspire most displays to hit the gym real quick. The subwoofer on the other hand, is a large hefty cube. Owing to its more utilitarian intentions,

AGAINST No Bluetooth / HDMI connectivity options presumably. Inside the W Studio Micro reside independent amplifiers that power seven different drivers – four 3in drivers and three 1in aluminium dome tweeters. The wireless and ported subwoofer uses an 8in driver within to deliver the goods. A healthy set of compatible audio formats include Dolby Digital, DTS, MP3/

The W Studio Micro delivers clear, detailed sound without sounding fatigued through furious drumming sequences WAV/FLAC/ALAC as well as high-res audio streaming via Play-Fi from a smartphone / tablet. Setting up the system is a quick and hassle-free process, while sound tweaking options are kept to a bare minimum – you can switch between Music and Movie modes. Additional options include bass level adjustment as well as centre channel volume. We chose to fire up the W Studio Micro with some exquisite electro swing by Parov Stelar. Immediately, we’re made aware of the soundbar’s transparency and power. Considering its dainty dimensions, the soundstage is huge, with an impressive display of dynamics and depth. The bass compliments the overall presentation especially well without ever being

over-powering or sounding boomy. We switch to a Blu-ray disc of Whiplash to test its cinematic skills. Yet again the W Studio Micro delivers clear, detailed sound without sounding fatigued through furious drumming sequences. Dialogues come through nice and crisp even through the busiest of scenes Everything holds up well as long as volumes are kept to a strict neighbourapproved levels. Crank it up too much and the drivers do feel like they're straining. But at volumes most people enjoy watching their movies or listening to their music, the W Studio Micro is rather accomplished. Overall, does the W Studio Micro offer irresistible bang-for-buck? Not exactly. Instead, it urges you to pay a premium for the following: superb sound, stunning looks and a great feature-set. Yes, it could do with Bluetooth and HDMI support but that isn’t quite a deal-breaker for us. And, taking everything that’s on offer into account, it’s a premium that’s almost fully justified.

Says VERDICT A slick soundbar that's just as appealing to the eyes as it is to the ears

TECH SPECS Drivers 4x3in drivers 3x1in Aluminum Dome tweeters Wireless Connectivity 2.4GHz, 5GHz Inputs 2 optical; AUX; Wired speaker output;USB; Ethernet connection Dimensions (WHD) 43.4 x 1.8 x 3.3in Weight 15kgs

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 71


OFF THE SHELF

FiiO X7 Portable music player ₨49,999

The future is portable hi-fi FOR Impressive detail; Expansive soundstage; 8-hour battery life The portable music player market recently got a shot in the arm by Neil Young and the puny Pono Player, ever since, FiiO has created a bigger buzz and successfully launched some considerable contenders time after time. FiiO’s latest and most expensive flagship is here and ready to take our ears for a treat. Should we ready our ear buds or ear plugs? Looking at that beautiful exterior, it is difficult to ignore the X7. We will get our buds out a tad later, though, after we've thoroughly admired the X7's body. It is a beautiful block of aluminium that looks like a tribute to the older Sony Xperia smartphones or that it might have been inspired by the Zune HD player, if it rings any bells. That's not to say it doesn't look good. In fact it looks mighty neat with the simplicity of the aluminium chassis being the centre of it all. It is made of the same aluminium used for the iPhone 6s and feels solid and built to last. The edges are diamond-cut and the whole unit feels great to hold. Sure, we are used to slimmer smartphones and hence, the X7 leaves us wishing it were a tad slimmer. The sides of the X7 have buttons which are reprogrammable, a good touch for the obsessed kinds. The bottom section is where the amp is and this is detachable. This is a great concept, similar to Samsung's One Connect Box, only for DAPs. So, it makes way for future upgrades and customisation options. Will it become as great a thing as Samsung's clever box, or is it just a one-module-wonder? Only time will tell. But FiiO claims the medium-class, high-power and balanced amp modules are soon to be launched, which can be used interchangeably. The X7 is Android-based and runs on a heavily worked upon version of Android 4.4.4. It has two modes that you can boot it up in – 'Android' and 'Pure Music'. The Android mode allows you full functionality of Android, which includes downloading apps and other regular functions, while the Pure Music mode starts the device up with FiiO's Music app. Simplicity is not on the charts here. The UI can be slightly cumbersome especially to those not used to the Android ethos. Get past that and what the FiiO has to offer in terms of sound is pretty much on the money. We load up a bunch of different formats including a few MP3s. 32GBs of 72 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

AGAINST Unintuitive UI; Could be slimmer; Software bugs storage allows for a couple of our favourite albums, but the option to upgrade the storage to 128GBs via the microSD, means we get a considerable amount on-board. We play Thistle and Weed by Mumford & Sons and the balladesque intro is delivered with poise and stature. Each guitar note is well defined and the FiiO X7 does a great job with the details especially in the mids. That's not to say it falls short elsewhere – play Vivaldi's Der Winter and the X7 has dollops to offer. It presents the intricate sections of the track in a way only more expensive units manage. But where the X7 does fumble a bit is in outright attack. It has a slightly laid back approach to recordings – in recordings such as Schubert's Sonata No. 20, the faster sections that would normally have you up and listening, do very little and come across tame and a tad unstimulating. But the FiiO X7 with its ESS ES9018S DAC more than makes up for that in other areas by putting forward an impressive

The X7 has dollops to offer, it presents the intricate sections of the track in a way only more expensive units manage sound stage that is as wide as the Thar desert. There's also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on-board and connecting to a NAS or a Bluetooth-enabled headphone is as easy as stealing candy from a toddler. Quality obviously dips, though, but the FiiO still manages to retain some of the sonic character it exudes while being wired. Battery life takes a hit too when Bluetooth and Wi-Fi is left on, dropping down to six and a half hours of playback compared with the eight hours you get otherwise. But this kind of defeats the purpose of a DAP and the amplifier module, really. We would always prefer to go the wired way, but it's nice to have wireless connectivity as an option. Keep in mind, though, that what comes out of the FiiO will

ultimately depend on your headphones. FiiO recommends using headphones with an impedance of 16~300 Ω for your recordings to really come through. Invest in a good pair after auditioning a few and you surely are in for a treat. Forgive the buggy UI, which will improve with updates anyway and this is a great player which will only get better with upgrades by FiiO in the future.

Says VERDICT The FiiO X7 scores eleven on sound but the Android UI is an unappealing let down

TECH SPECS

Display 480×800p 3.97in IPS TFT Processor 1.4GHz DAC ESS ES9018S Frequency Response 20Hz - 20000Hz Impedance 216 Ohms - 300 Ohms RAM 1GB Storage 32GB (expandable to 128GB via MicroSD) Special features separate interchangeable amp modules Dimensions 130 x 64 x 16.6 mm Weight 220g


OFF THE SHELF

Lenovo Vibe X3 Smartphone ₨19,999

Atmos in the atmosphere FOR Great build; price; well-defined external audio Lenovo and hi-fi are not synonyms. In fact, the two have been as far away from each other as the opposite sides of a magnet. That was the case untill the recent inception of the Vibe X3 – the latest smartphone from the Lenovo stable packing in Dolby Atmos tech and promising hi-fi audio. Sounds fancy? Indeed, looks tasty too. The white exterior gives it a dash of elegance while the 175g weight gives it almost the perfect heft that would fool anyone into thinking this is a more expensive phone. It feels very well built and robust, proper flagship levels of quality here. The internals don’t disappoint either – the X3 comes with the Snapdragon 808 processor and 3GB of RAM with 32GBs of storage space, enough to load up a bunch of music and test out if the Dolby Atmos feature is any good on a device like this. We listen to Magic by Coldplay and the external speakers manage to churn out the bassline in the intro with a full-bodied delivery. Switching on the Dolby Atmos mode gives the X3 a shot of detail and definition. The lows are more pronounced and there is a notable improvement in the

AGAINST Atmos effect not that apparent with headphones mids. The highs may sound a bit brash and lose their composure, as we found out while listening to a bit of Schubert, but that’s not the case when you plonk in your headphones. The Dolby effect here becomes a tad less apparent and this is a more uniform-sounding presentation. What affects the output notably, is tinkering with the Dolby modes. We recommend ‘Music’, as we preferred this the

Switching on the Dolby Atmos mode gives the X3 a shot of detail and definition most. Watching a movie is also enjoyable, but colours, overall, may appear a tad saturated. Consider the price, and this is easily passable. There are a few apps and games available in the Dolby Atmos format too, but anyone who has experienced a proper Dolby Atmos set up will scoff at the puny effort put in by the device. However, it might be puny, but for those looking for a phone that can get loud without sounding harsh and abrasive, the Vibe X3 at ₨19,999 is tough to beat.

Says VERDICT The X3 scores well on sound, but a propper Dolby Atmos experience is a far away fantasy TECH SPECS Display 5.5in 401ppi IPS Full HD Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 OS Android 5.1 Memory 32GB RAM 3GB Audio 2x1.5W (1cc each) speakers; ESS ES9018K2M DAC; Lenovo configured 3xTIOPA1612 amplifier unit; Wolfson WM8281 audio codec Camera 21MP (rear) 8MP (front) Dimensions 76.5 x 9.3 x 154 mm Weight 175g

V-Moda Crossfade Wireless Headphones ₨24,990

Not fading away soon FOR Enjoyable listening; battery life; customisable shields First things first, these are a fun pair of headphones that are thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. With a roughly three hour charging period, the wireless version of V-Moda’s famous flagship, the Crossfade are raring to go. The Crossfade Wireless comes with a suave (and useful) ‘exoskeleton case’ containing an AUX cable, a USB charging chord and of course, the headphones itself. The ergonomically placed buttons for various functions definitely get our nod of approval. As the mellow intro of Hey Now by London Grammar rolls in, everything from the haunting vocals at the forefront, to the mellow thumps of the bass drum with the guitar’s picking interspersed about, sounds gorgeous. The cans are not very airy but are analytical enough for an enjoyable listen. Bass-heavy tracks like Skrillex’s Bangarang definitely get the party started. The 50mm drivers, hand-tuned to complement the human hearing limit variance (+/- 2dB) help create a warm and appreciable sound stage. By the time we launch into Prince’s Kiss a

AGAINST Mids-centric; body lacks depth few shortcomings do tend to surface. For a pair of cans with strong mids, the attack lacks bite. Mid-bass elements (like cellos in Mind if I Cut In? from The Dark Knight) are tight and are consistent, yet miss out on admirable depth by a whisker, thus affecting the overall body and are just under the mark for what constitutes as desired crispness. These maybe due to the lack of a powered EQ which were left out to prevent latency issues when the Crossfade are used for gaming and live DJing.

Play anything and you’re bound to have an enjoyable and fun experience While the V-Moda Crossfade might not find many takers among those looking for reference, these unabashed pair of wireless headphones are not sorry for anything. Play anything and you’re bound to have an enjoyable and fun experience. With an impressive battery, the cans are nothing but pure fun.

Says VERDICT Wireless, great battery life, ergonomic construction with a smashing listening experience. What’s not to like? TECH SPECS Design Over-ear Driver 50mm Noiseisolation Passive Impedance 30 Ohm Frequency Response 5Hz-30kHz Sensitivity 107 +-2dB Magnet Neodymium Weight 292gms

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 73


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BUYER’S GUIDE

BUYER’S GUIDE BEST BUYS

NOW WITH THE BEST BUYS IN EVERY CATEGORY

HI-FI INTEGRATED AMPLIFIERS

78

POWER AMPLIFIERS

79

CD PLAYERS

80

DACS

81

MUSIC STREAMERS

82

STEREO SPEAKERS

83

MULTI-ROOM SYSTEMS

87

TURNTABLES

88

WIRELESS SPEAKERS

89

HOME CINEMA

This is the definitive guide to the best home entertainment kit you can buy. From 75in TVs to smartphones, from portable Bluetooth speakers to Dolby Atmos surround-sound packages, here’s where you’ll find the perfect product, fast.

BLU-RAY PLAYERS

91

HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS

91

PROJECTORS

92

SOUNDBARS

93

SOUNDBASES

93

SPEAKER PACKAGES

94

TELEVISIONS

95

PORTABLE HEADPHONES

97

INSIDE From wall-sized 4K TVs, class-topping CD players and transports, to speakers and amplifiers of repute, we have it all, in a whole new layout. Shanth Swaroop, Buyer’s Guide Editor

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 77


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS

HI-FI

Stereo amps under ₨50,000

The only products worth considering

AMPLIFIERS

THE BEATING HEART OF YOUR HI-FI SYSTEM

Marantz PM6005 ₨44,900 The PM6005 is a multiple Award-winner for good reason. Nicely made, well featured and with refinement and insight few rivals can match. Power 45W Inputs 5 line-in, MM Outputs 2 x speaker, headphone

Onkyo A-9010 ₨27,0000 Best stereo amplifier under ₨30,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Our favourite budget amplifier, this is arguably the most entertaining affordable amp around. It has agility and a wicked sense of rhythm. Power 44W Inputs 5 line-in, MM Outputs speaker, headphone

Arcam FMJ A19 ₨90,000

Stereo amps ₨50,000-₨1,50,000

Arcam’s entry-level amplifier is a terrific combination of sensible features, fine build and entertaining sound. Power 50W Inputs 6 line-in, MM Outputs Speaker, headphone, preamp

Cambridge Audio CXA60 ₨63,400

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best stereo amplifier ₨30,000-₨70,000, Awards 2015

This is a lively performer with expressive dynamics and a surefooted sense of rhythm. Build quality is impressive. Power 60W Inputs 4 line-in Outputs preamp, 2 x speaker, headphone

Naim Nait 5si ₨1,39,875 Naim’s starter amp is an exceptionally polished performer which combines drama with the insight and subtlety to match the very best. Power 60W Inputs 3 line-in Outputs speaker, headphone

Rega Elex-R ₨1,12,500 Best stereo amplifier ₨70,000-₨1,50,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Stereo amps ₨1,50,000+

Arguably the best-value amp Rega makes, with insight and the precise handling of rhythms that’s hard to better even at double the price. Power 72W Inputs 4 line-in, MM Outputs Speaker, preamp

Burmester 032 ₨17,79,221 An expensive product but feels it too. Plug the 032 into a system and it sounds lovely: top-class levels of resolution, authority and dynamics. Power 105W Inputs 5 line-in, MM, MC Outputs Speaker, ’phone, preamp

Mark Levinson No. 585 ₨13,60,800 Get past the cost of the Mark Levinson No.585 Integrated and you’ll find a startlingly capable product – one of the finest amplifiers on the planet. Power 200W Inputs 6 line-in Outputs Speaker, headphone

78 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

AWARD WINNER


AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED Naim Supernait 2 ₨3,75,000

Rega Elicit-R ₨1,90,000

Stereo amps ₨1,50,000+

A terrific integrated amplifier. It’s punchy, with a low-frequency performance that brims with authority. Dynamics are strong too. Power 80W Inputs 5 line-in Outputs Speaker, headphone, preamp AWARD WINNER

Best stereo amplifier ₨1,50,000+, Awards 2015 Rega’s top integrated builds on the qualities of its smaller brother, the Elex-R. We haven’t heard a more precise amplifier for the money. Power 105W Inputs 5 line-in, MM Outputs preamp, speaker

Roksan Caspian M2 ₨2,44,000 A supremely rounded product with solid build, classy aesthetics and a brilliant all-round sound that works well with all types of music. Power 85W Inputs 5 line-in Outputs Speaker, preamp

GamuT D3i ₨9,09,000 This GamuT D3i is a brilliant performer with excellent detail and superb transparency. It isn’t packed with inputs, but will cope with most set-ups. Inputs 3 line-in Output Balanced, single-ended DAC No

Mark Levinson 326S ₨9,10,000 Power amps up to ₨35,00,000

This classy unit has a refined presentation and a spellbinding sense of control. Construction quality is deeply impressive. Inputs 7 line-in Output Balanced, single-ended DAC No

Burmester 911 Mk3 ₨24,65,077 The 911 is a real powerhouse, capable of delivering high power into difficult speakers without struggling. Refinement is top class, as is build. Power output 535W Mono/Stereo Stereo Inputs XLR

Cyrus Mono X300 Signature ₨3,25,000 Don’t let the Cyrus’s compact casework fool you. This powerhouse delivers high volume levels with a pleasing dynamic punch. Power output 225W Mono/Stereo Mono Inputs Phono, XLR

GamuT D200i ₨11,28,000 The D200i combines transparency, muscle and agility better than any alternative we’ve heard. Build and finish are excellent. Power output 220W Mono/Stereo Stereo Inputs phono, XLR

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p74 March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 79


CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS

CD players under ₨1,50,000

CD transports under ₨1,00,000

GET THE RIGHT PLAYER AND CD CAN STILL SHINE Cambridge Audio CXC ₨39,800

AWARD WINNER

Best CD transport under ₨50,000, Awards 2015

If you already have a DAC – the CXC is useless without one – we wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this transport over a standalone CD player. Type CD transport Outputs coaxial, optical

Cyrus CD t ₨1,28,000

AWARD WINNER

Best CD transport ₨50,000+, Awards 2015

An exceptionally talented transport, the CD t offers a level of insight, transparency and clarity you’d struggle to find elsewhere at this price. Type CD transport Outputs coaxial, optical

Marantz CD6005 ₨44,900

AWARD WINNER

Best CD player under ₨50,000, Awards 2015

Marantz’s CD6005 is rightly regarded as fantastic player, one that offers sprinkles of improvements on top of its superb predecessor. Type CD player Outputs coaxial, optical, RCA, headphone

Naim CD5si ₨1,39,875 The CD5si boasts a full-bodied, winningly enthusiastic approach to music. The absence of digital outputs means there’s no upgrade path. Type CD player Outputs RCA, DIN

CD players ₨1,50,000 and above

Burmester 069 ₨51,54,435 If you can get past the massive price tag then you have a wonderful player that ranks among the best, if not the best, we’ve ever heard. Type CD player Outputs 2 x coaxial, opt, XLR, RCA Inputs coax, opt

Burmester 089 ₨22,04,752 A top-class player that requires a suitably talented system to shine, the 089 is one of the best digital sources money can buy. Type CD player Outputs coaxial, optical, USB Inputs coax, opt

Cyrus CD i ₨1,59,000

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best CD player ₨50,000+, Awards 2015

Cyrus says this player is its best-sounding yet, and after listening to how confident and entertaining it sounds, it’s tough to disagree. Type CD player Outputs coaxial, optical, RCA

SUBSCRIBE NOW INDIA’S NO.1 HOME ENTERTAINMENT MAGAZINE

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CD PLAYERS & TRANSPORTS CONTINUED Cyrus CD Xt Signature ₨2,24,000 Looking for a top-class transport? The Xt Signature provides a sound that’s cleaner, crisper and more dynamic than its predecessor. Type CD transport Outputs coaxial, optical

Awards 2010

The Caspian M2 CD has been around the block, but it’s showing few signs of its age, showing skill with timing, dynamics and authority. Type CD player Outputs coaxial, optical, XLR, RCA

Roksan K3 CD Di ₨1,69,400 Few players at this price are as musical as the K3 CD Di. It promotes the character of your music, so you’ll never tire of listening to it. Type CD player Outputs coax, opt, XLR, RCA Inputs coax, opt

CD players ₨1,50,000 and above

Roksan Caspian M2 CD ₨2,21,800

Naim CD555/555PS ₨16,40,000 A CD player and a separate power supply, this might not look like much but there are few players better at revealing what’s on your discs. Type CD player Outputs RCA

DACS A DIGITAL-TO-ANALOGUE CONVERTER IS A MODERN HI-FI MUST Arcam miniBlink ₨13,800

AWARD WINNER

Best Bluetooth receiver, Awards 15

This receiver has serious dynamic clout, with a zingy and fluid rhythm. The 3.5mm analogue output means an adaptor is needed for trad hi-fi. Inputs Bluetooth Size (hwd) 2.5 x 3 x 4cm

A good desktop alternative to the Chord Mojo, with plenty more sockets and features. Smooth balance, fluid dynamics and subtle detail. Inputs USB, opt, coax Size 6 x 25 x 25cm Res Up to 24-bit/192kHz

Audioquest DragonFly v1.2 ₨14,700 This tiny DAC/headphone amp remains one of our favourites for its USB-stick size and fine sonic talents. Clear, detailed with a fantastic sense of timing. Inputs USB Size (hwd) 6 x 2 x 1cm Resolution Up to 24-bit/96kHz

Chord Mojo ₨45,000

DACS under ₨1,00,000

Audiolab M-DAC ₨69,000

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best DAC ₨40,000-₨80,000, Awards 2015

The majority of the Hugo’s performance for a fraction of the price. An enthusiastic performer that stays refined and superbly balanced. Inputs USB, opt, coax Size 2 x 6 x 8cm Resolution 32-768kHz/DSD 512

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 81


DACS CONTINUED Oppo HA-2 ₨27,999

AWARD WINNER

The range of inputs makes this ideal to use with any laptop or smartphone. The engaging performance and detail retrieval is remarkable at the price. Inputs USB, optical Size 16 x 7 x1cm Res up to 384 kHz, 16/24/32-bit

Chord 2Qute ₨1,19,000

AWARD WINNER

DACS ₨1,00,000 and above

The 2Qute’s insight, accuracy and dynamic punch outshine rivals with aplomb. The colourful display and the shiny chassis continue to wow us. Inputs USB, opt, coax Size 7 x 16 x 4cm Resolution Up to 32-bit/384kHz

Bricasti Design M1 DAC ₨9,49,000 This high-end DAC is impeccably built. There’s power, rhythmic coherence and dynamic punch, but it majors in analysis of the music. Inputs USB, opt, coax, AESB, HDMI Size 6x43x30cm Res to 352.8kHz

Chord Hugo ₨1,59,999

AWARD WINNER

The Hugo benefits from the genius circuitry informing Chord’s latest products. It has superb timing, remarkable clarity and plenty of power. Inputs 2x USB, opt, coax Size 2 x 13 x 10cm Resolution Up to 384kHz PCM

Chord Hugo TT ₨3,19,000 This ‘table-top’ version is the basic Hugo design, but supercharged. The finish is gorgeous, and it sounds better than its cheaper siblings. Inputs USB, opt, coax Size 5 x 24 x 23 Res Up to 32-bit/384kHz

Naim DAC-V1 ₨1,75,000 Naim’s entry DAC is typical of the company’s sonic signature, combining a balanced tone with strong dynamics and fine organisation. Inputs USB, 2x opt, 3 x coax Size 9 x 21 x 32cm Res 24-bit/384kHz

MUSIC STREAMERS

Streamers under ₨1,00,000

THE BEST WAY TO SHARE YOUR TUNES AROUND THE HOUSE Bluesound Node 2 ₨50,000 Looking for a non-amplified streamer to hook up to your existing hi-fi? The Node is back, and better, with improved design and connectivity. DLNA Yes Inputs Toslink, 3.5mm Storage No

Cambridge Audio CXN ₨79,600

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best streamer ₨50,000-₨1,00,000, Awards 2015

Building on the success of Cambridge’s Award-winning Stream Magic 6 v2, the CXN features an all-new design and improved sound. DLNA Yes Inputs optical, coaxial, 3 x USB Storage No

82 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016


MUSIC STREAMERS CONTINUED Burmester Musiccenter 151 ₨17,90,235 This multi-talented machine is a streamer, server, CD player and ripper, all wrapped in one superbly made chrome-laden box. DLNA Yes Inputs optical, coaxial, USB Storage 4TB

Cyrus Stream Xa ₨1,79,000 Best streamer ₨1,00,000-₨2,00,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER Music streamers ₨1,00,000 and above

The two-time Award-winning Xa is a corker. Its half-width design won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but its truly entrancing sound surely will. DLNA Yes Inputs 2 x optical, 3 x coaxial, USB Storage No

Cyrus Stream XP2-Qx ₨2,69,000 An all-in-one music streamer that serves up an energetic, enthusiastic and immersive performance. Worthy of the sizeable asking price. DLNA Yes Inputs 2 x optical, 3 x coaxial, USB Storage No

Naim ND5 XS ₨3,45,000 Best streamer ₨2,00,000+, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

A forward-thinking design from an established hi-fi company. A brilliant sonic performance and a must-have if you’re after a do-it-all streamer. DLNA Yes Inputs USB, coaxial, optical Storage No

Naim NDS/555PS ₨11,80,000 Hear what this monster of a streaming machine can do and there will be no going back. Can afford the outlay? Lucky you DLNA Yes Inputs 2 x coaxial, optical Storage No

STEREO SPEAKERS THEY BRING THE MUSIC TO YOUR EARS – SO CHOOSE WITH CARE AWARD WINNER

Desktop Speakers up to ₨1,00,000

KEF Egg ₨39,000 Best desktop speaker ₨20,000+, Awards 2015

Our 2015 Best Desktop Speaker Over ₨20k have a distinctive design and flexible connectivity – and a stunning, consistent performance. Size (hwd) 27 x 13 x 17cm Powered Yes Finishes 3

Wharfedale DS-1 ₨16,500

AWARD WINNER

Best desktop speaker under ₨200, Awards 2015

Smart and terrific-sounding; if you’re after small, articulate, affordable desktops with Bluetooth streaming, you can’t go wrong. Size (hwd) 19 x 11 x 15cm Powered No Finishes 1

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STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED B&W 683 S2 ₨1,59,000

Floorstanders under ₨1,60,000

Tremendously talented speakers. We’re impressed by their power, scale and delicacy – they’re wonderfully versatile performers. Size (hwd) 99 x 19 x 36cm Powered No Finishes 2

Q Acoustics 3050 ₨75,400 Best floorstander under ₨80,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Another 2015 Award-winner, and no wonder. The powerful 3050s are so talented, they give speakers closer to a lakh a run for their money. Size (hwd) 100 x 20 x 30cm Powered No Finishes 5

Q Acoustics Concept 40 ₨1,27,000 If you want a talented set of speakers with an easy-going, welcoming sound, you must consider these. Size (hwd) 97 x 17 x 29cm Powered No Finishes 2

Tannoy Revolution XT 6F ₨1,41,000 Best floorstander ₨80,000-₨1,50,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

These Tannoys are something special – they fire out an infectious, entertaining sound that charms us. Superbly finished, too. Size (hwd) 100 x 27 x 32cm Powered No Finishes 2

Tannoy Revolution XT 8F ₨1,89,500 Few rivals will be able to match this combination of muscle and subtlety. Most of all they make listening to music fun. Size (hwd) 108 x 32 x 35cm Powered No Finishes 2

Floorstanders ₨1,60,000 and above

ATC SCM40A ₨6,99,000 The price looks steep but factor in built-in amplification and exceptional sound, and the SCM40As emerge as something of a high-end bargain. Size (hwd) 98 x 37 x 34cm Powered Yes Finishes 2

Focal Electra 1038Be ₨8,99,999 A hefty slice of the performance of Focal’s high-end Utopia range, at a fraction of the cost. Impressive detail, dynamics, bass and timing. Size (hwd) 125 x 30 x 40cm Powered No Finishes 2

PMC Twenty 23 ₨3,12,200 These PMCs show real class, serving up sound that’s both refined and exciting. The 23s stand on their clean insight and unfussy nature. Size (hwd) 92 x 15 x 33cm Powered No Finishes 4

PMC Twenty 26 ₨7,72,686* This range of speakers hardly puts a foot wrong. Here, it’s the insightful yet refined balance and impressive levels of detail that win the day. Size (hwd) 109 x 19 x 44cm Powered No Finishes 4

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STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED ProAc Response D40/R ₨6,33,000 As musical as they come, these are also as articulate, transparent and dynamic as any floorstander we’ve heard around this price. Size (hwd) 120 x 21 x 34cm Powered No Finishes 6

Spendor A6R ₨2,25,000

AWARD WINNER

Best floorstander over ₨1,50,000, Awards 2015

Spendor D7 ₨4,12,000 When it comes to insight and precision, these floorstanders set the standard at this price. Unfussy, and they deliver a huge sound for their size. Size (hwd) 95 x 20 x 32cm Powered No Finishes 6

Tannoy Kensington GR ₨12,80,000 Along with that traditional appearance comes real substance. These are gentle giants, balancing finesse with force in a mighty appealing way. Size (hwd) 110 x 41 x 34cm Powered No Finishes 2

Floorstanders ₨1,60,000 and above

Musical notes have dimension and depth, and vocals are conveyed with reality and emotion. Outstanding. Size (hwd) 87.5 x 19 x 28cm Powered No Finishes 5

Triangle Signature Delta ₨5,60,000 Terrific timing ability combines with strong dynamics and impressive resolution to produce speakers that can stand toe-to-toe with the best. Size (hwd) 123 x 37 x 39cm Powered No Finishes 3

Dali Zensor 1 ₨23,700 If you’re looking for a versatile, energetic pair of affordable speakers, give these a listen. They have a real feel for the the music. Good fun. Size (hwd) 27 x 16 x 22cm Powered No Finishes 2

Dali Zensor 3 ₨33,000

Monitor Audio Bronze 2 ₨42,000

AWARD WINNER

Best standmounter ₨30,000-₨45,000, Awards 2015

For their size, these Monitor Audio Bronze 2 dig deep in the bass. They’re tonally balanced and impressively detailed too. Size (hwd) 35 x 19 x 26cm Powered No Finishes 4

Q Acoustics 3020 ₨28,900

AWARD WINNER

Standmounters under ₨50,000

If they’re made by Dali, they’re going to be fun to listen to. These classy-looking speakers have plenty of punch and winning dynamics. Size (hwd) 35 x 21 x 29cm Powered No Finishes 3

Best stereo speaker under ₨30,000, Awards 2015

These lovingly constructed boxes deliver an exceptional combination of refinement, insight and dynamics. We can’t fault them. Size (hwd) 26 x 17 x 23cm Powered No Finishes 5

Q Acoustic Concept 20 ₨43,000 If you want a top-quality, sub-₨50K standmounter you ignore this one at your peril. Clarity and refinement shine through in abundance. Size (hwd) 26 x 17 x 28cm Powered No Finishes 2 March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 85


STEREO SPEAKERS CONTINUED B&W 685 S2 ₨65,000

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Product of the Year, Awards 2015

Standmounters ₨50,000 - ₨1,20,000

Put simply, the 685 S2s are superb. Hugely entertaining, with power, punch and excellent detail retrieval. Size (hwd) 35 x 19 x 32cm Powered No Finishes 2

KEF LS50 ₨1,10,000 These striking speakers are blindingly good. Get their partnering kit right and you’ll revel in the excellent bass, energy and fine articulation. Size (hwd) 30 x 20 x 28cm Powered No Finishes 1

Martin Logan Motion 15 ₨78,000 A talented and fun pair of speakers. We particularly like the lively, natural presentation, even if the low end could do with more punch. Size (hwd) 29 x 13 x 24cm Powered No Finishes 2

Triangle Esprit Titus EZ ₨78,500 Your hunt to find a supplier for the Esprits might take a while, but it will be worth it for the articulate and agile presentation you’ll hear. Size (hwd) 31 x 17 x 27cm Powered No Finishes 3

ATC SCM11 (2013) ₨1,42,000 Best standmounter ₨80,000-₨1,50,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

These are the most talented standmounters anywhere near this price. The transparency of their sound compares with far more expensive rivals. Size (hwd) 38 x 21 x 25cm Powered No Finishes 2

Standmounters ₨1,20,000 - ₨2,50,000

Dynaudio Xeo 4 ₨2,40,000 The active Xeo 4s (they have built-in amps) offer hassle-free set-up and an insightful, musical sound from almost any source. High-res support, too. Size (hwd) 28 x 17 x 25cm Powered Yes Finishes 2

Neat Motive SX3 ₨1,50,000 If you’re tight on space, or don’t need an overpowering sound, these articulate, fun-loving speakers should be a shoo-in for your shortlist. Size (hwd) 33 x 16 x 20cm Powered No Finishes 4

ProAC Studio 118 ₨1,25,000 Weighty, detailed bass, lively treble and a good natural balance overall. The energy of the 118’s performance will provide hours of enjoyment. Size (hwd) 38 x 19 x 24cm Powered No Finishes 4

ATC SCM19 ₨2,28,000

AWARD WINNER

Best standmounter ₨1,50,000+, Awards 2015

₨2,50,000+

It’s quite a trick for a speaker to be highly analytical with music yet never sound clinical or passionless. And yet so it is with the SCM19s. Size (hwd) 44 x 27 x 30cm Powered No Finishes 2

PMC Twenty 22 ₨2,80,000 Solid build and a quality finish are just the start; it’s a big, authoritative sound, perfect for those who like a natural kind of presentation. Size (hwd) 41 x 18 x 37cm Powered No Finishes 4

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SYSTEMS SIMPLE DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN LOWER QUALITY Multi-room systems up to ₨1,00,000

Sonos System From ₨26,500

AWARD WINNER

Best multi-room system under ₨50,000, Awards 2015

If you don’t need high-res, Sonos is an obvious choice for multi-room. A great user experience alongside a full-bodied, insightful sound. Res 16-bit/44.1kHz App Mac, Android Formats MP3, iTunes Plus, WMA

Bluesound Generation 2 From ₨35,000

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best multi-room system over ₨50,000, Awards 2015

Bluesound’s Generation 2 has a more streamlined design and sounds as good as ever, offering high-res support and good connectivity. Res 24-bit/192kHz App iOS, Android Formats MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG

Best music system ₨50,000-₨80,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Stereo systems under ₨50,000

Cambridge Audio Minx Xi ₨51,300

This terrific system is a joy to use. It has a 24-bit/96kHz resolution limit, but that’s OK in light of its articulate and hugely likeable character. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, internet

Denon D-M40DAB ₨49,900

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best music system under ₨50,000, Awards 2015

Denon continues to reign supreme on the micro-systems front. There are no Bluetooth or wireless features, but the sound makes up for it. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources CD, streaming, DAB, FM

Stereo systems ₨50,000+

Cyrus Streamline 2 ₨1,73,000 Cyrus expertly combines hi-fi credentials and streaming features with ease. The superb sound quality is second to none at this price. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, internet

Naim UnitiQute 2 ₨1,87,965

AWARD WINNER

Best music system ₨80,000-₨2,00,000, Awards 2015

The epitome of a modern streaming system. The insightful, rhythmically precise, spacious sound is tremendous – and worth the high-end price. Inputs Analogue & digital Sources Streaming, internet, DAB+, FM

Systems jargon buster UPnP Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is a series of protocols that allow devices easily to discover and communicate with each other over a network to share information.

DLNA DLNA focuses on media formats and management, allowing content (video, audio, pictures, etc) to be shared across devices, with the user able to manage said files. Most DLNA tagged devices are UPnP capable too.

CD-quality CD-quality refers to the resolution of an audio CD, which is 16-bit/44.1kHz. CD-quality should not be confused with high resolution audio.

High resolution High-resolution audio has a higher sampling frequency and bit rate than CD-quality audio. Hi-res files tend to use a range of sampling rates, the most common being 96kHz and 192kHz at 24-bit.

NAS NAS – Network Attached Storage – is an intelligent storage device. Content stored on a NAS can be accessed through a media streamer via a network.

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 87


TURNTABLES DECKS TO KEEP THE VINYL REVIVAL THRIVING

Turntables under ₨50,000

Pro-Ject Elemental ₨22,500 As plug-in-and-play as you’re likely to find, this is a quality entry-level record player for those taking their first steps in the world of vinyl. Speed 33.3 & 45rpm Size (hwd) 9 x 43 x 30cm

Pro-Ject Essential II ₨30,900 Best turntable under ₨40,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

A frill-free, entry-level product that gets all the basics spot-on. Easy to set up and even easier to enjoy, it’s an obvious Award-winner. Speed 33.3 & 45rpm Size (hwd) 14 x 46 x 36cm

Rega RP1 ₨36,000 The unadorned RP1 is an impressive turntable in its own right, with a good sense of drive and pleasing transparency. Speed 33.3 & 45rpm Size (hwd) 12 x 45 x 36cm

Clearaudio Concept ₨94,600

Turntables ₨50,000-₨1,00,000

Best turntable ₨80,000+, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

A thoroughly sorted, easy-to-own package with tremendous sound, combining punch, extension and tonal variation in equal measure. Speed 33.3, 45, 78rpm Size (hwd) 14 x 42 x 35cm

Pro–Ject 1 Xpression Carbon ₨70,800 The Pro-Ject 1 Xpression Carbon UKX is a terrific package for the price; it is balanced and insightful, rivalling the class-leaders in overall ability. Speed 33.3, 45rpm Size (hwd) 13 x 42 x 34cm

Rega RP3/Elys2 ₨72,000

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best turntable ₨40,000-₨80,000, Awards 2015

Turntables ₨1,00,000 and above

Few rivals are as fuss-free or sound so good, building on the balance, resolution and excitement of prior generations while adding more clarity. Speed 33.3, 45rpm Size (hwd) 10 x 45 x 36cm

Rega RP6/Exact ₨1,35,000 The RP6’s simple styling belies its engaging, detailed sound. One of the most expressive and enthusiastic turntables you can buy for the money. Speed 33.3, 45rpm Size (hwd) 12 x 45 x 36cm

Rega RP8/Apheta ₨2,97,000 A terrific turntable that sets standards at the price. A detailed sound delivered with superb agility, strong dynamics and exceptional precision. Speed 33.3, 45rpm Size (hwd) 12 x 45 x 36cm

88 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016


WIRELESS SPEAKERS CONTINUED

WIRELESS SPEAKERS FREE YOUR MUSIC WITH ONE OF THESE STREAMING WONDERS Audio Pro Addon T3 ₨29,999

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best portable wireless speaker ₨20,000-₨30,000, 2015

This classy boombox from Audio Pro ignores gimmicks and focuses on delivering the best sound possible for an extremely tempting price. Size (hwd) 12 x 22 x 14 Battery Yes

Cambridge Audio Go ₨12,500 Awards 2014 Wireless speakers under ₨30,000

Few wireless speakers offer such a great combination of build quality, battery life and enjoyable performance as this former Award-winner. Size (hwd) 24 x 12 x 6cm Battery Yes

JBL Xtreme ₨24,990 The Xtreme delivers all the power suggested by its brutish physique, but is also capable of great subtlety and insight. Powerful and portable. Size (hwd) 13 x 28 x 12cm Battery Yes

Monitor Audio Airstream S150 ₨15,500

AWARD WINNER

Best mains-powered wireless speaker under ₨20,000, Awards 2015

Ultimate Ears Roll ₨8,495

£300-£500

The Airstream S150 boasts impressive clarity and detail with solid, weighty bass and an agile and dynamic delivery. Size (hwd) 27 x 12 x 14cm Battery No AWARD WINNER

Best portable wireless speaker under ₨10,000, Awards 2015

Super-portable, waterproof and with great sound, the Roll is the ideal on-the-go companion. We haven’t heard better for less than a ton. Size (hw) 4 x 14cm Battery Yes

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Wireless speakers ₨50,000+

Wireless speakers ₨30,000-₨50,000

WIRELESS SPEAKERS CONTINUED KEF Muo ₨35,000

AWARD WINNER

Best portable wireless speaker ₨20,000, Awards 2015

The Muo brings a touch of luxury with its detailed musical performance and great looks. You won’t get better without going mains-powered. Size (hwd) 8 x 21 x 6cm Battery Yes

Q Acoustics Q-BT3 ₨43,000 Few products are as versatile as these for the price: wireless speakers, soundbar replacement, iPod dock or powered stereo speakers. Size (hwd) 31 x 19 x 24cm Battery No

B&W Zeppellin Wireless ₨58,000 Eight years on, the Zeppelin speaker is still a must-have for the audiophile who wants fine sound in a convenient package. Size (hwd) 18 x 66 x 18cm Battery No

Naim Mu-So ₨1,39,875

AWARD WINNER

Best mains-powered wireless speaker ₨80,000+, Awards 2015

The Mu-so has a rich, powerful sound, a huge sense of scale and soaring dynamics – and it’s now been updated to accommodate Tidal. Size (hwd) 12 x 63 x 26cm Battery No

Getting the most out of your wireless speaker

Wireless tech explained The most used wireless transmission methods tend to be the following: aptX Bluetooth, regular Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay and Kleer (used by Arcam). AirPlay is Apple’s proprietary solution and works only with Apple devices. Bluetooth, and its higherquality aptX variant, will work with any Bluetoothcompatible device, while Kleer requires a dongle. If it were our money, we would opt for one of the Bluetooth variants – it’s versatile and the quality is fine, albeit lower than with a wired connection.

90 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

How much should you spend? This all depends on what you want your dock to do. If you fancy something to take to the park for picnics, then you’d want to consider a unit that has a good battery life. If you’re replacing a micro or mini system, then something like the B&W Zeppelin Wireless will do a commendable job. As ever, try before you buy, especially if you’re heading towards the premium range. A good tip is to take your library with you to the dealer/ retailer and play some of the greatest hits straight from your portable.

Choose the right file type Whichever one you go for, and especially if you’re connecting your device, it’s important to supply the dock with a high enough quality file. We find that 320kbps is as low as we’d go with MP3 files, with Apple Lossless, FLAC or uncompressed WAV far more preferable. If you use an Apple device, and use WAV files on your computer but don’t have space for them on your portable, iTunes has a handy option to sync slightly lower-quality versions of your tracks to your device.

Instant multi-room music If you’re looking to build a multi-room system, you’re in luck. Some docks won’t be able to play music on more than one device at a time (unless you have more than one which can stream to each other), but it does mean you can simply select each device on your portable as you move between rooms and have your music instantly switch between docks. Alternatively, you could fork out for a Sonos system – but that isn’t really the point. Wireless docks mean minimal set-up – always a bonus.


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS

HOME CINEMA

The only products worth considering

BLU-RAY PLAYERS

ENJOY HIGH-DEF MOVIE THRILLS

Cambridge Audio CXU ₨1,25,600

AWARD WINNER

Best Blu-ray player ₨30,000+, Awards 2015

Pioneer BDP-LX58 ₨1,10,990 Rivals offer more smart content, but if that’s not an issue you’ll be wowed by the jaw-dropping movie experience from this 4K-upscaler. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD

Oppo BDP-105D ₨1,29,999

Blu-ray players ₨30,000 and above

A universal disc-player, packed with features and connections, that pushes the boundaries with both picture and sound quality. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD

It might seem a lot for a disc player, but if you want a quality component that’s as adept with music as it is with movies, you’ll want this. Top class. Compatibility Blu-ray, DVD, CD, SACD

HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS STUNNING SOUND THAT TRULY BRINGS MOVIES TO LIFE Denon AVR-X2200W ₨69,900

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best home cinema amplifier ₨50K-₨70K, Awards 2015

Yamaha RX-A850 ₨93,990

AWARD WINNER

Best home cinema amplifier ₨70K-₨1Lac, Awards 2015

In the sweet spot of balancing price, features and performance, this has a hugely entertaining combination of power and precision. Power 7 x 100W Dolby Atmos Yes

AV amplifiers ₨50,000-₨1,00,000

Our AV amp Product of the Year is an articulate and detailed amp, with stacks of functionality and future-proofing. Packed with features. Power 7 x 95W Dolby Atmos Yes

Yamaha RX-V679 ₨59,990 No Dolby Atmos but Yamaha does offer a big, spacious sound with decent detail and balance, though some others are more nuanced. Power 7 x 90W Dolby Atmos No

March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 91


HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS CONTINUED

HOME CINEMA AMPLIFIERS AV amplifiers ₨1,00,00 and above

STUNNING SOUND THAT TRULY BRINGS MOVIES TO LIFE Onkyo TX-NR3030 ₨1,90,000 Looking for high-end, high-quality surround audio? This amp delivers with a spacious, subtle sound, a plethora of features and Dolby Atmos. Power 11 x 185W Atmos Yes

Pioneer SC-LX59 ₨1,32,000

AWARD WINNER

Best home cinema amplifier ₨1,00,000+, Awards 2015

The SC-LX59 makes it six ₨1,00,000+ Awards in a row for Pioneer. This latest offering is better than ever, making it a class-leading receiver. Power 9 x 140W Atmos Yes

PROJECTORS

Projectors ₨1,50,000 and above

Under ₨1.5lac

BECAUSE A MASSIVE PICTURE IS HOME CINEMA BenQ W1080ST+ ₨1,25,000 Best projector under ₨1,50,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

This short-throw projector can sit less than six feet from the screen at max zoom – and looks brilliant thanks to its crisp, eye-catching pic. Throw ratio 0.69-0.83:1 Inputs 2 x HDMI, component Speakers Yes

Epson EH-TW7200 ₨1,80,000

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best projector ₨1,50,000-₨2,50,000, Awards 2015

Versatile and easy to set up, this one raises the bar for picture quality in the sub-£2000 arena with its realistic, subtle and punchy performance. Throw ratio 1.34-2.87:1 Inputs 2 x HDMI, component Speakers No

Sony VPL-HW55ES ₨3,16,667 Best projector ₨2,50,000+, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

This well-specified Sony produces a very natural picture that’s precisely crisp and bright, and demonstrates exemplary contrast. Brilliant. Throw ratio n/a Inputs 2 x HDMI, component Speakers No

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SOUNDBARS AN IMPRESSIVE WAY TO IMPROVE YOUR TV’S SOUND Under ₨50,000

Q Acoustics Media 4 ₨45,000

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best soundbar under ₨50,000, Awards 2015

Q Acoustics’ debut soundbar is remarkable value – even more so at its reduced price – and more than worthy of its two-time PoY status. Size (hwd) 9 x 100 x 14cm Inputs Optical, RCA Subwoofer No

Best soundbar ₨50,000+, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Soundbars ₨50,000 and above

Dali Kubik One ₨1,05,000

A gorgeous and complete package, Dali’s debut soundbar impresses with its hugely engaging sound and smart, well-equipped exterior. Size (hwd) 15 x 98 x 10cm Inputs Optical, 2 x RCA Subwoofer No

Philips Fidelio B5 ₨54,990 Thanks to two detachable (wireless, battery-powered) speakers, it can add surround sound or be a multi-room system. Great sound, too. Size 7 x 104 x 16cm Inputs 2 x HDMI, optical, coax, RCA Sub Yes

SOUNDBASES AN ALTERNATIVE SOURCE OF SUPERIOR TV SOUND Soundbases under ₨30,000- ₨70,000

Cambridge Audio TV5 ₨37,100 The TV5 shares its TV2 sibling’s rich presentation, but with an extra driver and bigger chassis there’s better detail, clarity and dynamics. Size (hwd) 10 x 73 x 34cm Inputs Optical

Canton DM55 ₨69,000 Best soundbase under ₨70,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Replacing the DM50, the cheaper DM55 is even more appealing – its meaty yet subtle sound is a huge audio upgrade for your TV. Size (hwd) 7 x 55 x 30cm Inputs Optical, coaxial

Select the right cable for your system

Speaker cable What is it? Solid-core or stranded cable. What’s it for? Connecting multiple speakers.

Digital optical cable What is it? Cable that transmits audio as light. What’s it for? Transmitting audio in the digital domain.

HDMI cable What is it? A digital cable that transmits video and audio. What’s it for? To link HDMI sources.

Stereo interconnects What is it? Analogue cable. What’s it for? To replace your kit’s freebie leads.

Mains cable What is it? Heavy-duty cable upgrade. What’s it for? To replace your kit’s inferior mains cable. March 2016 | What Hi Fi? | 93


SPEAKER PACKAGES

Style packages ₨1,10,000-₨2,00,000

Style packages under ₨1,10,0000

GOOD SURROUND SOUND IS A MOVIE-MAGIC MUST

Q Acoustics Q7000i ₨1,06,000 Got a lac to spend on a sub/sat package? Spend it here. This compact set creates a cohesive and expansive soundfield, with strong bass. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 12 x 20 x 16cm Finishes 2

Tannoy HTS-101 XP ₨72,900

AWARD WINNER

Best style package under ₨1,00,000, Awards 2015

The latest incarnation of a multiple winner has a sonic character that retains its fast, spacious quality, but with extra detail and solidity. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 19 x 10 x 11cm Finishes 1

B&W MT-50 ₨1,76,000

AWARD WINNER

Best style package ₨1,00,000+, Awards 2015

These speakers sound crisp, clear and insightful, and the sub and satellites integrate so well. Value and versatility combined. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 25 x 11 x 16cm Finishes 2

B&W MT-60D ₨2,95,000 Compact and stylish (we love that sub), this package presents a dynamic, powerful sound that excels with surround sound and stereo music. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 25 x 11 x 16cm Finishes 2

Before you buy: equipment racks Choosing an equipment rack can be tricky. Here are a few things to consider…

1) Equipment supports have a difficult job to do. Ideally, they should isolate your system from external vibrations, so that it can perform optimally, but also act as a ‘sink’ for any internally generated vibrations – say, the effects of a spinning disc or the low-level buzz of a mains transformer. Make sure there’s enough air space around your kit to avoid it overheating, though. 2) Racks come in different sizes and lengths. Do you need a full-width bench-style rack? If you have lots of hi-fi equipment, a wider rack might suit you better if you have the space for it. For those with only a CD player or amplifier to support, there are rack companies which sell half-width versions.

MODULAR RACK Ideal if you plan to grow your system, but check its ease of assembly

3) Plan for the future by choosing a rack with a modular design. It’s a good halfway house if you have one eye on later system expansion. How easy it is to assemble may be something to consider in this situation, too; a fussy design could bring frustration. However, while another shelf won’t be cheap, it’s likely to be less expensive than investing in a new rack altogether.

“Equipment supports should isolate your system from external vibrations, but also act as a ‘sink’ for internally generated vibrations”

94 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

FULL-WIDTH RACK The solution for those with plenty of hi-fi equipment to support


SPEAKER PACKAGES CONTINUED Best traditional package under ₨1,50,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Traditional packages under ₨1.5Lacs

Dali Zensor 1 5.1 ₨1,12,200

Why did it win an Award? Because of the sound’s punchy dynamics, abundance of detail, expression, articulation and impressive integration. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 16 x 44 x 29cm Finishes 3

Q Acoustics 3000 Series 5.1 ₨99,500 A budget package that makes the sound from films come across as subtle, atmospheric and detailed. This is a fun listening experience. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 15 x 43 x 20cm Finishes 5

Monitor Audio Bronze B5 AV ₨2,42,500 Best traditional package ₨1Lac-₨3Lacs, Awards 2015

Traditional packages ₨1.5 Lacs+

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Our Speaker Package Product of the Year is beautifully designed, has ample punch, creates a spacious soundfield and is very musical. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 17 x 46 x 19cm Finishes 4

KEF R100 5.1 ₨3,13,000 Best traditional package ₨3,00,000+, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Gorgeous looks and superior sound quality – the R100 5.1 has both. There’s great scale, seamless integration, and an expressive midrange. Size (hwd) Centre speaker 17 x 53 x 31cm Finishes 4

TELEVISIONS MAKE THE FOCUS OF YOUR ENTERTAINMENT HUB A GOOD ONE AWARD WINNER

Televisions ₨50,000-₨1,10,000

Samsung UA40JU6470U ₨83,900 Best 40-46in TV ₨50,000+, Awards 2015

You don’t need a huge screen to appreciate the benefits of a 4K pic. This sleek 40in set combines features, functionality and performance. Type LCD/LED Screen size 40in Resolution 3840 x 2160

Samsung UE48J6300AK ₨1,04,900

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best 47-52in TV under ₨1,10,000, Awards 2015

It has a pronounced curve, but the picture quality is a fantastic proposition at this price. Astonishingly good Full HD performance. Type LCD/LED Screen size 48in Resolution 1920 x 1080

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Televisions ₨1,10,000-₨2,00,000

TELEVISIONS CONTINUED Sony KDL-55W800C ₨1,24,900 Ultra HD 4K screens may be grabbing all the headlines, but Full HD screens are still in the majority. A Android TV with the flair to dazzle. Type LCD/LED Screen size 55in Resolution 1920 x 1080

Samsung UA48JU6470U ₨1,31,900 Best 47-52in TV ₨1,00,000+, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

This Samsung is special: super-sharp 4K, realistic textures, a smart interface, and a slim, attractive physique. Impressive. Type LCD/LED Screen size 48in Resolution 3840 x 2160

LG65EC970T ₨5,79,900 One of the very best TVs on the market, this LG is a lovely looking telly with a fantastic picture. Whisper it, but OLED is becoming accessible. Type OLED Screen size 65in Resolution 3840 x 2160

LG55EG960T ₨3,84,900 Televisions ₨2,00,000 and above

Best 52-60in TV ₨2,50,000+, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Top-drawer 4K Ultra HD resolution meets OLED technology, and the results are simply stunning. The price seems to be slipping too… Type OLED Screen size 55in Resolution 3840 x 2160

Samsung UA55JU7500K ₨2,41,900 Best 52-60in TV under ₨2,50,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

This 55in beauty produces not just excellent 4K content, but will make your HD TV channels and Blu-rays look awesome too. Type LCD/LED Screen size 55in Resolution 3840 x 2160

Samsung UA65JS9000K ₨4,40,900 Best 60in+ TV, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

005£-003£

This curved set combines excellent smarts with a gorgeous, insightful picture. If a big screen and 4K are must-haves, your search is over. Type LCD/LED Screen size 65in Resolution 3840 x 2160

Sony KD-65X9300C, ₨4,04,900 A great, and very big telly, its stunning picture (and brilliant sound) is everything you would expect from a flagship television. Type LCD/LED Screen size 65in Resolution 3840 x 2160

Gaming TVs

Input lag Televisions come with their own built-in latency, and high latencies lead to less-responsive controls. Manufacturers rarely mention these figures, but look online and you’ll find some useful sites that list television latencies.

96 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

If you’re into gaming then a television that gives you an advantage is vital We’ve highlighted four areas to ensure you won’t be left on the losing side

Local dimming Local dimming works by dimming the backlight in the image’s darker areas, resulting in deeper blacks. TVs with good dimming can have excellent contrast, making for more vivid, expressive colours but they can also add to a TV’s latency.

Don’t believe refresh rates Higher refresh rates update the image faster, which should reduce motion judder. Console games run no faster than 60 frames per second, so refresh rates of 120Hz and more won’t hugely improve performance. A 60Hz set is more than capable.

Game mode Game mode disables processing modes thereby reducing input lag. That’s the good part. Less good is that contrast and image quality suffer, resulting in a drablooking image. A game mode can be useful, but it can also compromise the image.


BUYER’S GUIDE

BEST BUYS The only products worth considering

PORTABLE HEADPHONES

BIN THE BUNDLED BUDS, AND INVEST IN BETTER SOUND

Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEi ₨6990

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

Best in-ears ₨5000-₨10,000, Awards 2015

You wouldn’t think anything so small could sound so good for the cost. But good they sound, wonderfully smooth, expressive and balanced. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.3m In-ears under ₨10,000

FiiO EX1 ₨4,999 These monitors are nicely judged tonally, with plenty of detail. Add an expansive soundstage and you’re looking at great value for money. In-line controls No Cable length 1.2m

SoundMagic E10S ₨1999

AWARD WINNER

Best in-ears under ₨5000, Awards 2015

Paying ₨2000 for a pair of buds like these ranks as one of the simplest, most affordable and most satisfying upgrades available. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.2m

Shure SE425 ₨23,220 Best in-ears ₨10,000-₨30000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Sennheiser IE 800 ₨54,990

In-ears ₨10,000 and above

If you’re serious about the quality of your in-ear headphones, we’d point you here. The energetic, immersive performance is irresistible. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.6m AWARD WINNER

Best in-ears ₨30,000+, Awards 2015

You might think it a waste to spend so much on buds, but don’t make up your mind till you’ve heard these – they’re astonishing performers. In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.1m

Shure SE846 ₨84,700 Stunning detail, supreme tonal balance and extraordinary dynamics. You just need to ensure you use an equally talented source In-line controls Yes Cable length 1.2m & 1.6m

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Noise cancelling heaphones up to ₨30,000

HEADPHONES CONTINUED Bose QuietComfort 25 ₨25,200 These cans are a real treat. Their noise-cancelling capabilities are extraordinary, their clear, balanced sound a joy to hear. Quoted battery life 35 hours

PSB M4U2 ₨23,900 As well as obliging with a powerful delivery the PSBs offer a choice of listening modes (passive, active and noise-cancelling), to suit. Quoted battery life 55 hours

AKG K451 ₨4999 Great agility and precision timing combined with excellent build and compact size, makes the K451s a must-audition pair of cans. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 120g PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

On-ears under ₨15,000

AKG Y50 ₨7990 Best portable on-ears under ₨10,000, Awards 2015

Our Product of the Year cans for 2015 are portable on-ears, and deliver a rhythmic, clear, detailed, dynamic sound. At this price they’re amazing. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 190g

Philips Fidelio M1MkII ₨10,999

AWARD WINNER

The Fidelios offer an unusually smooth delivery and plenty of weighty, punchy bass. Clarity and precision are further strong points. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 166g

On-ears ₨15,000-₨30,000

Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H2 ₨15,990 Not only do these headphones look great, they also do a fine job of music reproduction – and offer great pride of ownership. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 155g

Beyerdynamic T51i ₨19,999 Awards 2014

It’s satisfying when great design, premium build and top performance all come together. These on-ears really do sound as good as they look. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm/6.3mm Weight 174g

B&W P5 Series 2 ₨18,800 Clear, precise sound, bags of detail, punchy rhythm – these gorgeous ’phones have the lot. We can’t think of anything to say against them. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 195g

System Killers

Mission Impossible Out now 98 | What Hi Fi? | March 2016

Inside out Out now

Mad Max: Fury Road Out now

Ex Machina Out now

Fast and Furious 7 Out now


HEADPHONES CONTINUED Grado SR125e ₨13,200 On-ears ₨15,000-₨30,000

These might have looked at home on the ears of a wartime radio operator, but they sound great. Stay at home, though: they’re leaky. Type Open Connection 3.5mm/6.5mm Weight 363g

Grado SR325e ₨25,900 Best home on-ears £15,000-₨30,000, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

If you don’t mind the sound that leaks from them, you’re free to enjoy the fluid dynamics and wonderfully musical presentation. Type Open Connection 3.5mm/6.5mm Weight 330g

AKG K812 ₨99,052 On-ears ₨30,000 and above

For outright insight you’d have to spend thousands more than this on speakers before you get close to the resolution and agility on offer here. Type Open Connection 3.5mm/6.3mm Weight 390g PRODUCT OF THE YEAR

B&W P7 ₨33,000 Worth every penny. The solid build quality and comfy fit we expect, but the level of detail and dynamics swept us off our feet. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 290g

Shure SRH1540 ₨41,300

AWARD WINNER

Best home on-ears ₨30,000+, Awards 2015

Once the music starts you’ll focus on the expansive, beautifully balanced sound. There’s agility, enthusiasm and genuine musicality too. Type Closed Connection 3.5mm Weight 286g

Best wireless headphones ₨25,000+, Awards 2015

AWARD WINNER

Wireless headphones up to ₨40K

B&W P5 Wireless ₨28,950

All the characteristics of the P5 Series 2 without the wire. The Bluetooth connection works well and the sound is nigh-on as good as the Series 2. Folding Yes Quoted battery life 17hrs Wireless range n/a

Philips Fidelio M2BT ₨14,500 Bluetooth here is the superior aptX version. There’s also NFC connectivity and – most important – a rich, balanced, musical sound. Folding No Quoted battery life 10hrs Wireless range 15m

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EN SII JUTLYH A THSOANYTWW 81 19 ALKMAN

“Sony started the ‘personal stereo’ craze, but its competitors seem to be catching up” July 1981

N

ot only did the Walkman start one of the most recognised product brands in the audio business, but it also cemented a place for Sony in popular culture. Back in July 1981 we pitched Sony’s second generation player, the Walkman 2, against rival personal cassette players from the likes of Sanyo, Aiwa, Panasonic and Binatone in a personal music player Group Test. Although it lost out to the Aiwa S30 for pure sound performance, the Walkman 2 had plenty in its favour, being the smallest, lightest and most portable player of the bunch.

Small? For its time

LESSONS OF THE PAST There’s a difference in physique, clearly, but the Sony Walkman 2’s traits of good sound in a neat package seem to have been retained today

We noted that, from the front, it was “only marginally bigger than a cassette box, and only around twice as thick.” (Our concept of what constitues a ‘small’ personal player has changed a bit since then, of course.) To help it in its quest for a slimline physique, the Walkman 2 used two HP7 batteries (aka AA), whereas most rivals added to their bulk by using three. The lightweight headphones needed to be “positioned precisely over your ears to get maximum bass response”, but “the clear treble quality and openness [was] something of a revelation”. Over the years we’ve seen the Walkman brand migrate to portable CD players, hi-res music players and even mobile phones, all with varying degrees of success. The latest unit to bear the famous name is the Walkman we review on page 11 of this very issue. The fact that it is still going strong more than 30 years after its launch is surely testament to the fact that the Sony Walkman is one of the iconic hi-fi products of the 20th Century.

PUBLISHER’S STATEMENT Statement about ownership and other particulars about ‘WHAT HI FI? SOUND AND VISION’ required to be published under Rule 8 of the Registration of Newspapers (Central) Rule, 1956. FORM IV (See Rule 8) 1 2 3

Place of publication Periodicity of publication Printer’s name Whether citizen of India Publisher’s name Whether citizen of India Address

: : : : : : :

Mumbai Monthly Hormazd Sorabjee Yes 4 Hormazd Sorabjee Yes Haymarket SAC Publishing (India) Pvt Ltd Raheja Xion, 4th / 5th floor, Opp : Nirmal Park, Dr B Ambedkar Marg Byculla (East), Mumbai 400 027. 5 Editor’s name : Nishant Padhiar 6 Names and addresses : Owner of individuals who own the newspaper and partners Haymarket SAC Publishing (India) Pvt Ltd or shareholders holding more than one per cent Raheja Xion, 4th / 5th floor, Opp : Nirmal Park, Dr B Ambedkar Marg of the total capital Byculla (East), Mumbai 400 027. Shareholders 1) Hormazd Sorabjee 4, Rockdale, 16 L D Ruparel Marg, Mumbai 400 006 2) Haymarket Consumer Media Ltd Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP, United Kingdom. I, Hormazd Sorabjee, hereby declare that the particulars given above are true to the best of my knowledge and belief. Sd Hormazd Sorabjee Publisher 146 www.whathifi.com Dated 1st March 2016


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